A few weeks ago I shared about Fiona and her invitation to live in a more intimate relationship with the land. Today, I want to share about a second big influence: Mary Reynolds. You may have heard of her through the film “Dare to be Wild,” about her wild, native garden entry in the Chelsea Garden Show, or from her book The Garden Awakening. I discovered her through an NPR interview, shared by a friend, and have since been reading her book and her website We Are the Ark
Mary weaves together a love for land as a living being, the honoring of native plants and creatures, and the importance of growing our own food. She began her career designing gardens that had multi-levels of trees, plants and shrubs which provided both habitat for wild life and fresh food for humans. She is now calling for those of us who are caring for some piece of land to allow half of it to return to its wild state to provide an Ark to help retain diversity of both plants and animals. Growing our own food allows our land to nourish us. It frees us from mass produced food which poisons our bodies, the land, and all living beings through its use of GMO crops and the pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers they require.
While many of our friends are having to take out the shrubs and trees near their homes to reduce fire risks, we are fortunate to live in small dwellings on about 2.8 acres of open grassland with trees, manzanita and other scrub. Beyond the “defensible space,” for human habitat, there are a number of different areas within this land. There is maze-like area of manzanita bushes and pine trees settled near the road, and extending north to Grandfather Tree. There is a gathering of pines, manzanita and other bushes at the back corner, with Grandmother tree in its center. There are a dozen 30-year-old pine trees (The Sisters), which follow the contours of the land in a way that implies a stream leading to a small pond. There is another small cluster of bushes and the small pond I have set out at the other rear corner. Then there is open grassland which has been mowed on a yearly basis, but is basically natural.
During this past week, we have followed Mary’s advice in several ways. She recommends that each year, you walk the boundaries of your property and tap stones together to let it know that within this place you will be caring for the land. Part of this is to honor it as a living being and to learn to listen to what it wants to be, as well as to communicate your wishes for it. We used our drumming to set this boundary of care and to share our intentions that this be a place where people can discover deep, healing connection with nature and that all the living beings here thrive in harmony with one another.
Yesterday, we brought two small trees from the edge of the road into the stream-like pattern in the field. Again, Mary’s words inspired this experience. Mycorrhizal networks extending beyond the root systems of trees communicate both with the soil to seek needed nutrients and with other trees to provide information and mutual support. We started by finding a few small trees that were willing to be moved from their current network out into the field, and trees among The Sisters to be foster family connections for these young ones. We dug up the small fir and cedar as carefully as we could, using our fingers to untangle their roots from the stony soil and then carried their roots, surrounded by some of their own soil in a damp towel out to where they were planted. I cradled them in my arms and sang to them, and spoke of the sunshine and love they were being moved into. Bill helped plant them at just the right depth and gathered pine needles to mulch around them.
We returned to the places where we had taken the trees, and made offerings, restored the soil as much as possible and offered gratitude to the surrounding vegetation.
Later in the day, I made a mixture of water, a handful of rich soil we had gathered from a hillside that has never been cleared, and a bit of sugar. I sang to it and again placed intentions into it for it to bring light, love and vibrant life to all it touches. At the close of the day, we poured good amounts of this water onto the two new trees and then gave a bit to each of the Sister Trees in gratitude to them.
I am deeply grateful to Mary Reynolds for these and many other suggestions she makes for creating strong relationships with the land on which we live. She helped me bridge a sense of environmental responsibility to nurture this property and the symbolic ritual that has become familiar in my shamanic practice.
I will continue to share with you as the seasons unfold, and I learn more as I listen to the land.
Places to Begin if you have a small yard, or if you have voice in the landscaping near your home or work pace:
- Visit Mary Reynolds’ website wearetheark.org. We Are the Ark
- Read the opening chapters of her The Garden Awakening, to nurture your sense of relationship with land as a living bring.
- NSPR Interview – Best of Cultivating Places: Dare to Be Wild, Aired Oct. 10, 2019, by North State Public Radio in Chico, CA.
- Do not use any chemicals on your land – not fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides … they poison land, water and all living beings.
- Let go of lawns — they gobble up space, usually require chemical support and excessive watering, and cause us to categorize many native grasses as “weeds.”
- If you can not grow your own food, buy organically grown to reduce our dependence of agribusiness farming practices.
- Allow nature to bring forth what it knows is fitting for the soil and the climate of your area. Sometimes leaving it alone will allow it to reintroduce a balance of plants and grasses which can thrive in current conditions, and support living creatures of many sizes and forms.