Like the comfrey and mugwort that fills the small garden bed just outside my window, we are transplants. Yet we have done much to integrate ourselves with this place. We are literally made of the land and that which fills it…of deer and bear and rabbit, raspberry and ramp, wood nettle and morel. Our shit fertilizes the garden beds nestled throughout the forest and the water flowing across the edge of our property sustains all. In time, I too shall fertilize this place as circumstance or age draws the breath from my body.
A wonderful written picture (with lovely photos as well!) of this amazing place.
So, we have an un-necessarily polarised debate, not least because the ecological-forestry discourse of woodland management (adopted uncritically by local green groups?) appears to be privileging ‘evidence based science’ at the expense of the (often well informed) feelings of local people. Personally I’d like to see them take a leaf out of the Woodland Trust’s book, and register notable trees; trees that are culturally important, or ‘of personal significance‘. In the context of advancing Ash Die Back, Richard Mabey makes a case for valuing Sycamore (‘the weed of the woods’) as a replacement for Ash trees. Now, more than ever, conservationists should be ‘welcoming outsiders’ rather than ruling non-native species out of court.
Arguably the more charismatic animals, plants, and places are often seen as the most irreplaceable, when in fact all are important and often it’s the tiny ones on whose backs and stems the rest of the ecosystem rests. But if we look instead at the greater concept of the numenon as Leopold uses it, rather than just the individual species chosen for it, it’s a great deal like the Genius Loci, the spirit of a place. And all of the above are representatives of what gives a place its unique qualities, the je ne sais quoi, even if we can’t put a label to those qualities themselves. These are not quantifiable in the way that bird counts and the momentum of a waterfall are. They’re exceptionally subjective; it’s arguable that those of us who value a place for what it is create its spirit, while we cannot make a land developer or oil baron see beyond the cash value of the physical natural resources. It’s an aesthetic judgement, but no less crucial for that.
My sincerest apologies to both Bryan and Brian for not getting you in on the first round; here’s to readers getting a fresh look at these!
This month I’m hosting the Animist Blog Carnival (a couple of days late, I’m afraid–life got REALLY busy in the past few weeks!) The theme I chose was “Bioregion”. Why? Well, in part because it’s a concept I’m very interested in for a variety of reasons, practical and spiritual. The bioregion I live in here in Oregon was the first place to really get me out of my animal-centric perspective and show me that the other parts of the bioregion aren’t just a backdrop for critters. And I wanted to see what other people had to say about their bioregions, near and far. So, let’s get started!
[Earth] is suffused with life, and that life is diverse as a result of the different environments this planet holds. Yet, even with all this diversity none of these life forms would exist without the intricate interconnections of a vast network of life-sustaining processes. This larger system is, itself, composed of many smaller networks of life – each local system is a vital part of the whole.
What do you know of your local environment?
Don’t worry–she’s added some tips for your epxlorations as well, so if you don’t know your local growing season or how geology shaped the local land, you have some good starting points.
When and what are the major yearly bioregional events and how can you celebrate them?
One major one is maple sugaring. Both Paganaidd and I have spoken with the maples about this and received the same answer, which was one I would not have expected. As the keystone tree, the sugar maples are pillars of society. They are modest divas. They like the attention. Be it the sugaring or the tourist leaf-peepers stunned by their beautiful colors in the fall, they dig it. Also they have deep relationships with all the other species in the forest. I get the vibe that they are like my grandparents’ generation, the Great Generation of WW2, with the same 1950s values of being respectable and respected on committees.
Come closer, all of you. Put your faces against this ancient Ponderosa Pine, breathe in her amazing vanilla fragrance, feel the puzzle piece texture of her bark and notice the deep green of her needles. Now look around at the smaller plants growing in her shade, at the Oregon Grape Root trailing down the hillside beneath her and the mushrooms crowded around her base. See these beautiful little lavender flowers? They grow only where the Ponderosas grow and nowhere else. Oh, do you hear that chattering? That’s a tassel eared squirrel, it’s dependent on the Ponderosas as well, harvesting pine nuts and the underground truffles that grow among the tree’s roots. And in turn, the Ponderosa needs the squirrel, as it helps to propagate the trees, spreading their seeds through the forest. The Ponderosa forest is a small ecosystem within the larger ecosystem of the Gila, within the Intermountain Southwest within the American West. One inside the other, like concentric rings, with some species completely endemic to just the Ponderosa Forest, like the tassel eared squirrel, and some expanding out to the whole American West, such as the Western Mugwort.
The Gatekeeper is not an imposing presence. The Gatekeeper is not a beautiful tree; well, yes it is, it is perfectly imperfect. Each scar, each sheared off limb, blackened piece of trunk, borer riddled root is testament to past challenges, lessons learnt, survival, life wisdom. The Gatekeeper is a revered Elder of the Reserve.
Who can but guess at how many persons The Gatekeeper has been there for, helped, (and for those so able to perceive, inspired) but it would be thousands and thousands, as they commence their journey along the track.
In one section of the trunk, the rough, ancient looking bark has been smoothed over by human touch.
What an incredible starting point to one’s journey through what must be a truly magical place! Be sure to check the links to other relevant articles at the bottom of that post, too.
But the personality of a place shifts over time, in part because of migrations of people who shift the balance toward one aspect or another. Often this shift is just a matter of reinforcing something that is already there, taking an aspect that is already established and making it iconic of the region.
A good reminder of some of the human elements of a bioregion.
Our first week at camp, we took a sunset canoe ride out to the island and back. I saw our camp sitting tiny on the shore and teared up, realizing that this is my father’s legacy. He has worked hard to keep this home in the family, so that myself and my siblings are able to experience the same magic that he did as a kid. On the way back, as we reached the middle of the lake, suddenly it seemed that we were going neither forward nor back, but had always been in this place, paddling, sights set on shore. I was myself, and I was all ancestors, those who have already passed and those who will in the future. As the lights of life faded out behind, suddenly arising in the mist was this little house in the woods, and all would be, will be silent, except the water lapping at the prow, except the far off cry of a loon.
No wonder the place is full of ghosts, since I too, hope that it will be these shores that welcome me home for all time.
An incredible introduction to a place we may never ourselves visit, but which we may know just a tiny bit better now that we’ve read this.
For both of us, the Cotswolds are a sacred place. The escarpment that stretches from the Midlands to the south of England has been a backbone to much of our lives. For me, it links the Cotswold stone of my childhood, the bedrock upon which I now live, a significant part of my life for the last decade, and the ancestral land of my mothers line deep into Gloucestershire and Somerset. We knew that to make a pilgrimage along the escarpment following that line down to its natural end in Bath where the steaming red water pours from the rocks into the roman baths at the shrine of Sulis Minerva, who became our constant companion en route, would be powerful.
It is not just quantity, but quality, of connection that speaks in these words.
Fuji’s religious role stems from the country’s animist tradition of mountain worship, prompted not only by its dominating presence but by its volcanic activity. Since 781 there have been 17 recorded eruptions (the last being in 1707), and to appease the mountain deity Sengen shrines were built around the base.
Animism does arise from the land and our interactions with it; we are not mere passive observers, but active participants together.
Water is a sculptor.
As Ice, it can hold its shape long enough for us to notice & appreciate, if we look.
When Water-as-Ice plays with Air, together they fashion breathtaking & sometimes familiar figures.
When Water-as-Ice plays with Light — the gleam of our Sun or Moon — they style a lively, stationary dance.
There is a Life to this Water, unlike that of any other creature.
I want to know it.
Perhaps not the easiest partner to dance with, but worthwhile just the same.
Which brings me back to foraging. Animism is a not a lifeway for those who deny death. All that lives will die and all that lives will kill. On the macro level of modern animism’s monism, all is one so it’s just transformations of that All. On the micro level where we are all persons it’s often very scary and shameful. That’s why I say we have to get it right with food first.
The bioregion is an interconnected network of lives and deaths, and food truly is the most immediate reminder we have of that every single day.
Finally, Pit River elder Dr. Darryl Babe Wilson shares a very old story of the creation of the San Francisco Bay in this wonderful video:
Even when we’ve surrounded a place with cityscape, the bioregion still breathes.