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Nature Work

My relationship with Nature and the Earth is more practical than religious. My intent for many years has been to live as lightly on the earth as possible. As a result, many actions which affect the environment positively have become habits. My tendency to wear clothes until they wear out (and sometimes beyond) or use electronics long after theyíve become obsolete is a running joke among my friends. These are some more examples:

My town has mandatory curbside recycling of plastic (1-6), cans, glass, aluminum, and paper. Itís mandatory in the sense that if you donít put out the recycling bin with something in it, your trash doesnít get picked up. Itís pretty clear from the relative emptiness of many of the bins, however, that a large percentage of households are complying just enough to get their trash picked up. My own bin is usually full. This isnít because I produce more trash, and thus more recyclables, than other people. Itís because 1. I usually only put out one trash can every other two weeks, so Iím putting the recycling out only every two weeks as well, 2. Iím fanatical about making sure everything recylable is put out. Everything plastic, including the bubbles that cover merchandise on cards, is checked for a number. 3. My wife, whoís almost as dedicated to this as I am, brings home both her and other peopleís recyclables from work.

All paper, and light cardboard such as cereal boxes, can be recycled. Every piece of paper that my family receives is put in the recycle bin when itís no longer needed. This extends to such things as sales receipts; if oneís been printed up, I make sure I take it, because I know the store will just throw it out. Thereís a recycle bin in the kitchen and the room with the computer to make sure every piece gets in there.

The paper will be picked up curbside, but I never put it there. I shred all sensitive documents, such as cancelled checks and credit card offers, and they wouldnít do well in a paper bag at the curb. Fortunately, the dump is about five minutes from my house, and it has a paper bin. It also has a bin for corrugated cardboard, something that isnít picked up curbside, so I take that with the paper. Before curbside recycling was available, there were bins for other things there too, and I would bring them there.

This is one reason my family creates only enough trash to put out a can every two weeks. Another reason is that we use as few disposable items as possible. We use cloth napkins, and about the only thing we use paper towels for is sopping up grease; for everything else itís cloth diapers.

Yet another is that we compost. All vegetable waste goes in the compost heap, as well as eggshells, egg cartons, and the diaper towels when theyíve become too ragged or stained. The compost in turn goes into our vegetable gardens, which eliminates the energy needed to transport the vegetables which we would otherwise have been buying.

The compost also eliminates the need for artificial fertilizers, and it cuts back on water consumption to the point where once the plants are big enough to be mulched none is needed at all. Since I also use yard waste for mulch, itís thick enough that the ground under it never dries out.

Cutting back on water is important in our area because we get all of it from reservoirs, which in turn are dependent largely on snow. If we have a dry winter, weíll have shortages come summer. Even if the reservoirs are full, however, too much demand can overload the water plant and result in shortages. If nothing else, the less water is used, the less energy is needed to pump it.

These are just some of the resource-saving things I do to lessen my impact. The fact that I do them so much makes me constantly aware of my place in the environment.

My spiritual relationship is less overt. The practical things integrate me into the life of the planet, of course, and I suppose that could be seen as spiritual.

In a more concrete way, I try to keep a relationship with the spirits of the wild. Iíve built an altar of undressed stone for them at the edge of the woodland which borders my property. I make offerings there, including disposing of ones Iíve made to other Kindreds indoors after theyíve been out long enough.

My garden planting is the occasion for ritual. I offer cornmeal to the spirits who have lived in the garden since I closed it in the fall, asking them to use the land for my garden. The rest of the ritual proceeds in a quasi-Wiccan way; I put up poles in each of the four directions and the in the center, with ribbons the colors appropriate for each and for its element. I consider them prayer flags; as they flap in the wind they bring elemental blessings to my garden. I keep them after I take them down, and use them to decorate my deck and some trees on May Day.

More spiritual as opposed to ritual is the connection I have with the seasons. Besides the eight festivals, I am continuously aware of seasonal changes: what trees have their leaves out in the spring, what ones have lost them in the fall, when the pokeberries become purple in late summer. Some friends of ours from southern California visited us last spring and commented on how we kept noticing new flowers and leaves.

Iím lucky enough to live near an important hill. Massachusetts is named after a tribe of Indians, whose name means ďunder the big hill.Ē This is the hill near me, which I pass every week or so. In other words, I frequently see the eponymous hill of the state. When I see it, I always acknowledge it as that hill, although at that time I donít think of it as having a spirit. (My grove did do a ritual on it last year that was from that point of view, however.)

My awareness on a large scale is mirrored on a smaller one. I am personally aware of each tree, bush, and rock on my property. When I pass trees in the city or even in my small town where they are more common, I notice them and what theyíre doing.

The time I am most at peace is when Iím in the forest. I spent a fair amount of time in the woods when I was a kid, especially in high school, so that may explain it, but my Pagan days have certainly had an impact. I pass under the leaves, and my cares slough off. Iím at home. I hear every bird, see each tree and plant, notice each stone. Most of the larger stones in New England were left by glaciers, and I think of them when I see them; my awareness of the forest isnít just for today, but for thousands of years ago. I read more recent history by observing which trees and bushes would have grown up on land that had once been cleared, or more easily by the stone walls that snake through New England woodland. I can see todayís environmental patterns by reading the plant life; hemlocks and skunk cabbage in wet areas, for instance.

I guess that my relationship with the wild when Iím out in it is to see what things are in it not as holding or manifesting spirits, but as being numinous themselves. That is, I see trees as trees, stones as stones, but as being sacred as trees and as stones. I think itís sort of like Shinto, with its concept of kami. A kami is a spiritual presence which may or may not be personal. A sword may have a kami, or, more precisely, may be a kami; Mount Fuji is itself a kami; an old tree may be a kami.

Thatís the way I try to relate to the wild: to see things as they are, and to see how they are as sacred. Sort of like what Chíing Yusan said:

Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instructions of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters.

I canít say that Iíve ďattain[ed] the abode of rest,Ē but I think I understand what heís saying. To me mountains are mountains and waters are waters, and thatís OK. To me, if not to Chíing Yusan, those mountains and waters are sacred, just as they are. And thatís good.