Care for the earth is one of the three ethics in permaculture along with Care for People and Care for the Future (more on permaculture in future articles). But, why care for the earth?
There is an activity in the book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (2005). It instructs you to close your eyes and think about your favorite place as a child. Where are you? Imagine yourself there, what is around you, can you remember the smells or sounds?
Stop here and take a moment to do this exercise. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths putting yourself in your favorite childhood place, and then continue reading.
Louv bets the majority of you were outside somewhere, most likely in wilderness. Children know that is where to find solace. My special place was in the woods along the local lake where I grew up in Wisconsin. By the park, you could sneak through the gate, and go back to a primitive foot bridge over a swampy creek. I would sit there alone most of the time; sometimes I would share my spot with friends. I witnessed the frogs eating bugs, watched the fish swim under the bridge, laid on the ground enjoying the trees, birds and clouds overhead. Now nice homes and a wide road sit along that part of the lake where the woods once stood. That was a planned development, and I am sure the town carefully protected the lake, but it doesn’t change that fact that so much of our natural environment is being developed with expanding pavement and structures. Does your special place still exist?
Homes and roads will be built; however, carefully planned developments that protect our important natural resources is critical. Wilderness areas must be protected not only because of the health of the earth, but for our own as well. The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is the practice of spending time in nature, especially with trees. “Forest bathing has proven to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being,” (Mother Earth News, January 8, 2013). Humans are part of nature and we suffer when we are separated from her.
The definition of Gaia is the hypothesis that the living and nonliving components of earth function as a single system in such a way that the the overall organism maintains conditions (such as the temperature of the ocean or composition of the atmosphere) so as to be suitable for life (Merriam-Webster). In this philosophy, humans are not individuals but part of the single organism of Gaia. Therefore, we are healthier when we spend time in our natural environment, and we are responsible for the stewardship of maintaining a habitable planet for us and all life.
If we do not get to know our environment, we will not protect her. Around Grand County, we are blessed with so many opportunities to explore and learn from our environment. This year, spend more time outside and learn the names of the mountain peaks, and local flora and fauna. There
are many opportunities to learn about our unique ecology. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park offers free educational tours throughout the summer, or visit the ecology center at the new Headwaters Center in Winter Park. By realizing we are part of a single organism, we will protect her from any attack, in our backyard or on the other side of the world. We will have more motivation to change some of our personal habits, become more involved, and elect officials who also care. Care of the earth means caring for our only home, ourselves, and all beings.
Robyn Wilson has master degrees in Sustainable Communities and Bilingual and Multicultural Education. She teaches permaculture at Colorado Mesa University. Robyn returned to Grand County after 17 years to manage the cabin community of Grandma Miller’s New Horizons.