Everyone has their issue – for some it’s abortion rights, for others it might be domestic violence. Some people focus their attention on caring for children, or the elderly and others on health care or climate change. My issue is the land ethic as initially developed by Aldo Leopold.
All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. Sand County Almanac
When I say I love “the land” this is what I mean. Yes, there is beauty and sometimes even glory. Yes, there is peace and often joy. But those are my experiences and the value of the land – the community of the land – is inherent to itself and not dependent on me other than, at this time, for protection and caretaking.
Today, I asked the I Ching* for guidance on our responsibility for the land. This is what I received. Thunder below and Mountain above produces the 27th hexagram: Yi / Nourishing.
I do not pretend that I am any kind of an expert on the I Ching. Like the other systems of divination that I use, it is a stimulus for my intuition to rise up and inform me based on what I see and read. Like clouds in the sky.
This hexagram is described as jaws – the top/Mountain remaining still while the bottom/Thunder is in motion (now it’s time for you to pretend to chew to see if this is true – aha, it is!).
Nourishment is something that we take in first, for ourselves and then to share with others. There’s a quote from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars that I love: enough is as good as a feast.
We used to know this. But then humanity became gluttonous for more. And more. And we can’t create out of nothing, so we take from what’s there. Instead of seeing members of our ethical community, too many see the land as a resource – to be used until it’s used up; until the land is devastated and we have to move on to the next place, and the next, and the next, and then … what happens when it’s all gone?
I see these jaws now as the jaws of the machinery of industry – the instruments of destruction and construction that have no respect for the land. Tree farms instead of forests. Open pit mining. Industrial farming. Like a Pac-Man gone wild, chomping up the earth and all her creatures. Nourishment shifted to gluttony and then to devastation.
How do we fix it? Nourishment. The original Latin is nutrie which means both feed and cherish. Other words are: nurture and sustain. That’s how we do it.
We start with ourselves – nurture yourself and cherish yourself. When you feel satisfied, because now you know enough is as good as feast!, then you feel safe enough to give.
So, we turn to the community around us and we find ways to nourish and cherish them – not just with food but with attention, with kindness, with respect. As we listen, we begin to hear what is truly necessary — for ourselves and for others to flourish. And so, as we can, we offer those things.
Finally, we turn our attention to the land. We learn to see and hear in a new way. We walk with kindness, we are attentive to the life that is already there, we cherish without infantilizing. We take the patch around us – whether a planter on a fire escape or the back 40 – and we begin to tend it. We learn its rhythms. We plant, not just for ourselves, but to revitalize the native flora and fauna.
As you nourish the land and the community – you will receive an abundance of nourishment, cherishing, kindness in return. Imagine, for a moment, and perhaps even another moment, what the world would be like if we each did this in our own small piece of the world.
*I use The Complete I Ching, 10th Anniversary Edition, by Taoist Master Alfred Huang