This Place That You Belong To

  Voices, so very many voices fill the solitude of Covid days that stretch endlessly into an unseen future… voices on CBC Radio describing disasters: volcanic explosions beneath the Pacific Ocean inundating nearby islands… spectacular snowstorms in North America depositing more snow than some areas have seen over many winters past… political tensions around the globe. Between these realities my radio offers up Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Brahms … soaring melodies that speak a different truth about our lives…

         On Sunday afternoon, I turn off the sounds, dress in warm layers, set off for the nearby woods.

   After a challenging climb to higher ground, I enter the narrow snow path reserved for walkers and cross-country skiers….On either side of the trail the deciduous trees stand in stillness, unashamed to be seen leafless, naked. It takes some time before I notice the silence. No sound, not a breath of wind. In the quiet, though they say nothing to me, the trees welcome me home …peace rises in me, fills my being, body, mind, spirit, soul.

   Two days later, those of us who are journeying through Jean Houston‘s book The Quest of Rose, (co-written with Anneloes Smitsman, 2021) gather on ZOOM to continue our reflections on Chapter Eight. Our conversation begins with the wonder, the joy each of us experienced the night before as the full Wolf Moon lit up our skies, as her golden light made its way into our home places.

We’ve seen over these weeks since early November the possibilities of newness for our lives, for our planet, for all that lives upon and within her, all that is nurtured by her.

The vision is alluring, yet each of us struggles, as does Rose herself, with the disconnect between our dreams, hopes, visions and the daily news of the planet. Once again, we’re drawn to the way Rose’s grandmother Verdandi responds to these concerns:

Have you asked Mother Earth for her support? You are a child of the earth, composed of the same elements as the earth herself. Your bones are composed of the same minerals and elements as her rocks, mountains, and soil. Your blood and tears contain the same salt that is in her oceans. Your bodily fluids are fortified with the same waters of life. Your body has been formed by her and nature’s wisdom from billions of years of experimentation, learning and evolution. You literally contain within you all evolution’s intelligence and wisdom as her abilities extend into and become your abilities and you evolve each other. (The Quest of Rose, 192)

Today as I think of all this, I remember my experience on Sunday in the snowy woods. This sends me searching for a poem I’d read recently by Wendell Berry. It holds a deep wisdom that weaves the themes of hope and our earth-home into a tapestry for our time.

This Place That You Belong To
–by Wendell Berry

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
place that you belong to though it is not yours,
for it was from the beginning and will be to the end.

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
and the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
in the trees in the silence of the fisherman
and the heron, and the trees that keep the land
they stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
and how to be here with them. By this knowledge
make the sense you need to make. By it stand
in the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

Speak to your fellow humans as your place
has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
before they had heard a radio. Speak
publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
from the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
by which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

from This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint, 2013).


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