Land and the Human Soul

A sign to remind us in our vineyard.

Land and the Human Soul

What damage do we do to our own souls when we treat the land as if we own it?

This is a question that often inspires incredulous rage fueled by the assumption of the primacy of property rights. I remember a phone conversation several years ago with a new next-door neighbor whose vineyard management company was flail mowing a meadow of native grasses, sending clouds of dust onto our soon-to-be harvested lavender. I told him that the mower did not need to be cutting into the ground, destroying the root structure of native grasses.  “Are you telling me how to farm my own land?” he spouted.

Actually, yes. We had lived by that meadow for two decades, my husband for three decades. We had botanists identify native plants still surviving (and there are quite a few). We learned how to select for these plants in grazing/browsing our goats on our own land and in mowing techniques (when and how short). We had something to offer our new neighbor as he became acquainted with the land he had just bought (and yes, I was feeling some propriety!)

The question of property rights shape-shifts as we face the challenges of changes in climate, the rising of seas, the extinction cycle we are in. What we do on our “own” land not only affects our land, but the larger ecosystem it is in.

And it’s not about stewardship either. I remember Stewardship Sunday in June when I was a child in a small country church. Our fathers were all farmers. We felt this urgency to take care of the earth in our care. But stewardship is another patriarchal construct that is only a step away from dominion-over. Although many of our fathers were also in communion with the soil, the water, the weather, the seeds they planted, at least subconsciously, they also were quickly converted to the use of dominion-over techniques in caring for “their” land: herbicides, ammonium nitrate fertilizer to push production, and then GMO seeds. These techniques have a deleterious affect on soils, water, and, as it turns out, the ground of our own bodies’ digestive systems.

We are in an evolutionary cycle in which Nature is having her say. She cannot be suppressed or ignored, or she will come back in a vengeance, as she is! We must learn to stop doing things that damage our environment, and we must also learn to live in ways that support its health. But if we are to survive and to evolve, we must listen to the natural world and learn her language. This is key!  We live in a world in which we are only one part of an interrelated community which includes plants, animals, and soil microorganisms.

The skills required for this transition come from the human heart and love. Taking in our part in the whole expands us, and builds soul. The soul’s organs allow for seeing and hearing in ways beyond our five senses, in ways Nature speaks. When we attend to the soul of the world (for that is what we are then doing), we grow stronger–and so does the world. We feel the relationship between land and the human soul.