“It is wrong to think that bodily health is compatible with spiritual confusion, or cultural disorder, or with polluted air and water, or impoverished soil.” – Wendell Berry
I was a hunter with her spear. There in the distance was a the deer, ambulatory grace, caution personified. She would become part of me, and part of my family. All at once, I threw the spear true, and brought down my quarry. All of her would be used, not one bit wasted, and I was thankful for her.
This is how I would play as a child. What fascination the idea of living in a tribal society, migrating with my food supply, entirely aware of my dependence on the natural world and entirely in sync with its rhythms, held for me as a child, and still does.
Our culture is sick, and one of the most troubling symptoms of that sickness is its alienation from the natural world. Our existence has become almost exclusively artificial. It is screened off from the sources of our health and life. And the more artificial our existence becomes, the sicker we become. This is proof that we are not independent of the Earth, but completely dependent upon it not just for the raw materials which we use, but for its energies, its rhythms, its sights and sounds and smells. In short, we need to live close to earth, and we need earth intact, unpolluted.
Each human is a microcosm of our environment. We are like small planets, reflecting almost exactly the condition of the larger planet which we inhabit. Dump toxic waste in our waterways, and the tiny oceans of our bodies will contain that waste. Belch filth into our air, and the filth will sully our bloodstream. Spray neurotoxins on our food, and those toxins will pollute our cells.
I have a very deep, visceral grief connected with these things. The home that was very carefully crafted in all its detail to be a self-sustaining, life-giving system, has itself become so compromised by the activities of humans that there is actually doubt not only about the health of the air we breath, the water we drink, and the food we eat, but about its continued ability to sustain life at all. The very things that should give life and health, sometimes do the opposite. Going outside for a breath of fresh air often instead results in a lungful of diesel fumes and a head that aches. In addition to hydrating the body, drinking a cold glass of water may also dose us with chlorine, fluoride, rat poison, and prescription medication residues. Eating a deliciously crisp and sweet apple not only provides nourishment, but also a hit of malathion.
It’s very sad that even if a person wanted to reject this culture which is so alienated from its life sources and find a place in the wilderness to set up camp, that person would still not be any safer than the deer who end up with tumors from chemical drift, the starfish that are dying of a mysterious disease all along the Pacific Coast, or the ring seals and walruses that are dying in Alaska from something that looks suspiciously like radiation poisoning. Humans have done a pretty good job of spreading their malignant influence all over the earth.
But humans don’t have to be a plague. God made us guardians, and I have confidence that in the future, that is exactly what we will be.
Photo By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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