Tag Archive for: ecology

The Land and Me

I have been thinking about ecology, which is the study of how beings interact with each other and their environment, to better understand what terms like “eco-spirituality” and “spiritual ecology” mean. Ecology seems pretty science-y, and science and spirituality are often thought of as opposites. Both spirituality and ecology are about relationships, however, and there is crossover in the way we relate to the land and the beings with whom we share the land.

I was disappointed in my religious tradition of origin and many of the others that I have explored because the concept of relationship seemed to end with humans, and often did not even extend to all humans. The land, and living on it, seemed to be something to overcome or control. I cringed ever time I read or heard about the “lesser beings” who we supposedly had dominion over. My own experience taught me differently.

grey squirrel on my snow covered landI do not work with deities in my spiritual practice. The personification of divine energy does not resonate with me; instead, I see that energy expressed in every living thing and in the land itself. After struggling to even say “God,” which felt like an obstacle to an interfaith ministry, I redefined that name for myself to mean the universal divine energy.

If I am an expression of divine energy, the other animals and plants are expressions of divine energy, and the land is an expression of divine energy, where is the separation? How can we possibly have power over another life or the land if we are all, essentially, the same?

I contemplate those questions during my morning outdoor meditation time as I watch the squirrels and birds in their morning activities. That contemplation has shifted my relationship with the land I am on. Like a human family has shared genetics, the land and I are of the same stuff.

It is in this realization, I think, that spiritual ecology comes to be. I, as a human animal, interact with the land and the other beings differently when I see us as the same. My spirituality influences my understanding of ecology, and my study of ecology influences my spirituality.

And here we sit, the land and me, divinely intertwined.

A Blanket of Snow

After a warmer-than-average December melted the little snow we received and early January froze that into a dangerous coating of ice, I appreciate the blanket of snow I see now. Even very cold days are brightened by the sunlight reflecting off the ice crystals.

Perhaps it is due to pursuing interfaith seminary, Druidic studies, wildlife rehabilitation, and conservation at the same time that I am immensely curious about everything that catches my attention now. The latest snowfall was light, powdery, and very sparkly. I needed to know more about how snow worked.

grey squirrel moving through powdery snow

The grey squirrels are less enamored with dry snow, because all the nuts I toss disappear into the powder.

I learned that snow needs two things to form: an atmospheric temperature at or below freezing and moisture in the air. Basically, as I understand it, a cloud containing water droplets rises into the cooler part of the atmosphere or cold air moves down. Then water droplets within the cloud freeze into ice crystals. More droplets freeze onto each ice crystal until snowflakes are formed. Once a snowflake is heavy enough it falls towards the ground. If the ground is also cold, the snowflakes pile up without melting. If there are enough of them, we get blessed with a blanket of snow.

Dry snow, which means the air at ground level is cold enough to keep everything frozen, is the kind that sparkles. The individual ice crystals remain separated so there are lots of reflective surfaces. Wet snow, on the other hand, happens when warmer temperatures melt the crystals causing snowflakes stick together and to everything they touch, like trees. The wet stuff is great for building snowmen but is also heavy and hard to shovel.

This bit of knowledge has helped me to be less bothered by the deep freeze we have been experiencing. Although getting outdoors for morning meditation means putting on extra layers to protect myself from the cold, my mood is elevated by the glitter of snow.

Good Morning, Blue Jays (Part 2)

About the same time the “Vs” of geese could be seen heading south, the blue jay who had become my friend disappeared. For a few days I continued to leave peanuts then, assuming the blue jays had followed the geese, gave up and stood the canning jar that held the few remaining nuts on the floor inside the door. By the time the snow melted the following spring, I had all but forgotten about the jar and its contents.

one of the blue jays sitting on a branch over snowBy May, mornings include a cacophony of all the returning species. It was during an early morning interlude that I heard the familiar caw of a blue jay. I jumped out of bed, donned my bathrobe, and dug the canning jar out from under the snow boots piled by the back door. I left a peanut on the rail and called out, “Good morning, blue jay. Welcome back!”

The peanut was gone the next morning when I brought another peanut from my now refreshed supply and called out my greeting. After only a few days, the blue jay was sitting in the tree before I opened the back door. We enjoyed another summer of our brief daily encounters before the fall sent him away again.

The following spring he returned, but not alone. I heard the pair of blue jays calling to each other from tree to tree, and occasionally caught sight of the two following each other across the sky. I upped the daily peanut ration to there was enough for both. By the end of that summer I counted four blue jays perching in the trees and it appeared their family had grown.

Fall came, but the blue jay pair did not leave. Their fledges seemed to have moved on, but the two were still visiting the tree overhanging the deck once or twice a week. Now, a few years later, even the youngsters stay. I am blessed to see them daily and to say, “Good morning, blue jays!”

Ritual of Protection for Yellowstone’s Wolves

While grey wolves no longer roam the wild in New York (they were eradicated in the late 1800s), I have had opportunities to sit with, witness, and learn about captive wolves. These experiences have deepened both my connection with my wolf helping spirit and my desire to help North America’s wild wolves.

collared yellowstone wolf seated in the snow where wolves have protection

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

This month has brought distressing news, as reports of wolves being poisoned and shot come in. One of the most upsetting was reading that twenty of the wolves from Yellowstone National Park, where they were reintroduced 25 years ago and became a conservation success story, were killed by hunters in the months since protections were lifted, just outside of the park’s borders. The news from Yellowstone inspired this ritual.

I acknowledge that rituals alone are not enough to save North America’s wolves. Rituals like this, however, ground me and reaffirm my intentions, creating an empowered center from which to make phone calls and write letters to relevant elected and appointed officials. I am sharing my wolf protection ritual in hope that you, too, may feel ready to pick up the phone afterwards.

I have a working altar which is always ready to go for short workings like this. I only added a printout of a map of Yellowstone Park, to help me journey there. If you do not have a standing altar, you might gather a few things that you associate with protection and that bring in wolf energy.

I like to work in safe and sacred place. You can cast a circle any way that you like – I use the Reiki symbols to clear and protect the space – and call in the directions, your helping spirits, and any deities you work with.

Next, sit in front of your altar, close your eyes, and put yourself in the center of Yellowstone. If you have experience journeying you can do that, otherwise just imagine yourself sitting there in middle of the park. See or sense the presence of the wolf packs. The wolves know you are there for their benefit. You are safe.

Now bring your attention to the base of your spine and drop a cord down into the Earth. Draw energy from the Earth up into the base of your spine and into your heart. Next, notice the crown of your head. From your crown, extend a cord up to the Moon. Draw Moon energy down through your crown and into your heart.

Empowered by the Earth and the Moon, feel a bubble expanding from your heart. Send loving and protective energy into the bubble, surrounding the wolves in safety. Grow the bubble in all directions until it encompasses all of Yellowstone National Park and the wolves that have roamed beyond the human-made borders. Continue to supply protective Earth and Moon energy until the bubble feels strong and solid, impenetrable by anyone who would harm the wolves. Feel the power of the bubble of protection you have created and know that it will hold when you leave this place.

Now add a prayer, such as:

Mother Earth, I come to you humbly, with gratitude for all you have given me, and ask that you hold this protective bubble around your children, the wolves.
Keep the wolves safe from humans who kill for sport or greed.
Provide them with clean water, abundant food, and warm dens.
Empower me with a heart full of compassion for all your beings.
Grant me the strength to stand against those who would harm the wolves, the courage to speak out, and the presence to change minds, until the wolves are free to thrive.
May it be so.

Release the directions and open your circle.

Resilient Wetlands, Resilient Humans

Resilience: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens (Merriam-Webster)

In my last post, muddy and buggy wetlands were something people wanted to change so the land would be usable for recreation or development. What humans fail to notice, however, is the value of unaltered wetlands in keeping us safe and helping us recover when bad things happen.

wetlands ecosystem with forest in backgroundThose bad things include flooding, erosion, wildfires, and water pollution. Made larger by climate change, storms more frequently bring flooding rain. When rivers overflow, floodplains absorb the excess water and release it slowly. Without the spongy barrier, the water flows quickly onto roads and into houses, sometimes washing away whatever is in its path. Fast water that remains in the river channel erodes the riverbanks and can undermine nearby infrastructure.

On the coast, brackish marshes reduce the impact of storms by slowing and shrinking the size of ocean waves as they head inland.

When wildfires blaze, wetland areas provide shelter for many animals. Wetlands also slow or stop a fire’s spread. Unfortunately, most residential and commercial development reduced or eliminated the wetlands that would have provided a barrier against wildfires.

Wetlands act as water filters. When water flows through wetland vegetation, sediment is trapped; nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which feed harmful algae blooms, are absorbed; and toxic chemicals are buried or neutralized by sunlight. Clean surface water enters the aquifer to provide safe drinking water for humans.

Wetlands help humans become more resilient in the face of climate change, but we need to help them, too. Existing wetlands should be preserved and altered wetlands should be restored wherever possible to mitigate against flooding, erosion, wildfires, and pollution. Not only will we be safer, but the whole web of wetland life will thrive.

Get Out of My Swamp

For my Druidic studies I have been reading books about my local ecology. I couldn’t resist the crossover with my work with turtles, so my current read is The Ecology, Exploitation, and Conservation of River Turtles by Don Moll and Edward Moll. In there is a section on wetlands and the harm caused by draining that swamp.

swamp edge of pondThere are four types of wetlands in the Adirondacks: marshes, bogs, fens, and swamps. The designations have to do with the types of soil and plants in each, but in general wetlands are wet places. Wetlands often link dry places and more defined bodies of water, such as the spongy edges of ponds, but sometimes they are just there, at least for part of the year.

Most of Dancing Turtle Rescue’s healed turtle releases happen in wetlands. I invested in a good pair of waterproof boots after having a few shoes sucked off my feet by mud while escorting turtles home. The still water is a good breeding ground for insects, so wetlands are also often buggy. Because humans usually complain about the mud and the bugs, alterations are made to make wetlands more enjoyable, such as installing walkways and treating the water with pesticides. Wetlands are also unsuitable for building, so swamp after swamp has been drained for development.

Now, thanks to all that swamp draining, we have lost some of the most biodiverse places on Earth. And turtles have lost much of the ideal habitat for hatchlings and juveniles to grow and thrive. As wetlands disappear at an alarming rate, so do turtles.

To save turtles, we need to save wetlands from alteration and development. Shrek said it better, but, seriously, get out of my swamp.