By Violet Oakley, Pennsylvania State Capitol, 1906
Remarkably, and counterintuitively, in Europe one result of this tumult was the formation of several “peace” churches. In England the Religious Society of Friends managed to get in trouble with both the Church of England and the Puritans for their refusal to fight in wars; their belief in equality (including women preachers), freedom of worship and continuing revelation; their lack of paid clergy; and their insistence that the Bible was not the inerrant word of God, but was “written by Man.” They often met out of doors in fields and orchards. During Meeting for Worship, they sat in silence “waiting on the Lord,” and members spoke as so moved. American “unprogrammed” Friends continue in this old tradition, radical by some lights even today.
|Quaker Tapestry, "Ecology," Kendal in Cumbria|
Humans often “speak to” nature, as when we assume a dominant attitude and expect to be able to “improve” upon nature with technological solutions to perceived (or real) problems, rather than looking to see how nature does things, learning from nature’s processes, and coming up with nature-based solutions—all of which could be considered a form of answering that of God. This idea applies to many areas of concern. For instance, there is the difference in approach between those who favor technological fixes for climate change (itself a result of speaking to rather than answering nature), and those who would look to how land heals itself, often with the aid of humans who have combined closely studied ecological processes and traditional indigenous knowledge. The word “land” I mean in Aldo Leopold’s sense, that is, the whole package of rock, soil, and all the living things therein and thereon forming all together a well-functioning ecosystem, the “biotic community.” Of which humans can and should be citizens, for after all, we belong here too. There are quite a few people—ecologists, biologists, regenerative farmers, carbon ranchers, permaculturalists, agroecologists, ecological restorationists, and I’m sure, readers of this publication—who, however they articulate it, believe this very thing. To help solve climate change we must help our ecosystems heal themselves. One way to do so is to start with the earth we are walking over (hopefully cheerfully), in other words, with the soil.
For much of my life I didn’t think about soil, though I grew up playing in the mud and later gardened partly so I could keep digging in the dirt. I’ve been lucky enough to live in pre-WWII houses built on prairie in a place blessed with good precipitation. As a child I believed all soil was black—a sign, I later learned, of good organic content. As an adult in another house, whatever I planted grew just fine as long as other factors such as climate and available light were paid attention to. I’ve dug a trench for rhubarb starts and holes for shrubs and never hit sub-soil. Lucky, lucky me. Though I’ve always made compost, not until I trained as a master gardener did I learn very basic soil science: about pH factor, the difference between clay, silt and sand, the existence of subsoil, the need to improve fertility, how organic matter improves the soil, and the importance of good tilth.
In the last few years I have learned some new, astonishing things. With proper attention and care, the earth beneath our feet—in city backyards, in gardens, parks, on corporate campuses and on farms and ranches—has the potential to sequester enough carbon to help us mitigate drastic climate change while we transition to a low carbon society. In fact this effort rightly can be seen as a major part of the transition. Not only that, but organic gardening, regenerative farming and carbon ranching, which actually improve soil, if taken to scale across the globe have the potential to feed billions sustainably. This is a far cry from standard landscaping and industrialized agriculture that strip the soil of its organic content—and its carbon—and destroy the complex web of life involving billions of tiny creatures, bacteria and fungi interacting with organic matter, minerals, water and plants that we call “topsoil.”
|Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration, EPA|
|Green sweatbee on butterweed, |
Arie Crown Forest, Cook County, IL
Answering that of God includes having a vision of what a restored piece of land—restored earth—might look and function like, nurturing it so that it can repair itself, and in so doing, repair and restore the humans who are tending it. Eventually it might mean taking on an earthcentered identity, in the sense of the deepest green recognition that our selves are formed by the ecosystem of which we are a part and the earthly place in which we reside. When QEW members say we “seek an earth restored,” we literally need look no further than our own backyards. In seeking to answer, in putting ourselves in relationship, in remembering we literally are of the earth, in changing our practice: there lies hope.