Friday, June 24, 2011

Farms, Childhood, and a Native American

When my now 23 year old son Jimmy was 2, I made a trip back to Walled Lake, Michigan to visit the land I grew up on. I was excited to show him the special natural places I had enjoyed as a child. I couldn't wait to show him the pond edge where I had found baby small...tiny replicas of big ones. I wanted him to stare in to the murky waters and see the wiggly polliwogs, their tiny legs starting to protrude from their fat bodies. I imagined him running carefree through the tall grass to my secret reading spot or checking out the old barns. I figured things may have changed a bit over the years but I didn't think it would be all GONE!!!

Coming down Ladd Road to where it intersects with West Maple brought immediate confusion. Expecting to see the softness that nature lends to an area- fields and ponds and clumps of trees- my eyes met factories and parking lots, roads and manicured green grass. I shook my head in disbelief, tears welling up in my eyes. How could this be? The wetland area where I had found the baby frogs was filled in and a road clogged with busy cars was built on top of it. The barns, my house, all of it gone- a busy industrial park there instead.

Even today, I cry with the memory.

Last night, I heard a similar story of loss. While attending a talk at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center, Carl Big Heart, a spiritual teacher and medicine keeper in the Turtle Clan, told a story of losing his boyhood home located next to Pendle Hill when a highway was built through it. Big Heart's family was pushed off their land when the government seized their land using eminent domain laws, after which time the family moved away to Vermont.

Years later, Big Heart found himself back in the Philadelphia area for a family funeral, and as he was traveling along a highway one dark and foggy night to pick up a relative from the airport, he began to sob uncontrollably. Through his tears, off to the side of the highway, he spotted his beloved beach tree. The tree he had visited repeatedly as a boy- it was still standing! Saved from the destruction of the highway. Big Heart wondered if this living land of his youth remembered him. The cells of the soil, the tree, did they know he was there? As he traveled over the land of his youth on the highway across it, he vowed to come back one day and visit. To hug the beech tree and have it hug him.

These stories of loss show me how connections to the land made early in life bring about a care for the earth that runs deep to the core. So deep these connections run that there doesn't appear to be a separation between oneself and the trees, the ponds or the fields. The living beings that inhabited the land. These connections to the land, to Mother Earth, have been broken as we have moved away from raising our children on wild spaces and replaced them with groomed subdivisions. Filled their lives with images on a screen.

We need to get our children out into wild spaces again and allow them to form relationships with the land. Let the roots of the trees dig deep into their souls. Let the Great Mystery of life speak to them and bring them compassion and awareness. To revel in the beauty of the water that flows in the creeks and also in them. To breathe the air the flows through the trees and also through them. To feel that we are part of the web and wholly and totally connected and dependent upon Mother Nature.

*Pictures above taken from my childhood home.

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