Reflection for Earth Day 2010

As part of my spiritual practice these days, I have been writing a morning Haiku. A three line poem- five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables, whatever comes to me in what is sometimes painfully squeezed out “automatic writing.”

A couple of weeks ago, in the early hours of daylight, I looked out my window and saw the always astonishing glory of spring in Atlanta, which didn’t roll out slowly this year after the harshest winter here many of us can remember, but brazenly, in lusty array, almost from the first day. Every tree that could blossom, nearly every bush ( except the azaleas and rhododendrons , that began adding their colors to the palate this past week) was already, it seemed to me, in full and precarious bloom.

Why on earth precarious? Indeed, why on earth precarious? What difference did it make if the cherry trees or redbuds were in flower on April 3rd than April 17th—none actually— I was glad to enjoy their blooming: the fairyland created by rows and rows of pale pink and deeper pink and purple petals on streets that had been so bare and grimly cold for months on end.

No, it was the dogwoods I worried about and wrote about in my daily Haiku:

Nature’s clock is off
Festival not for two weeks
Dogwoods out too soon.

The dogwoods were out too soon, because our annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival held in Piedmont Park was not for another two weeks, and knowing what I thought I knew about the longevity of dogwood blooming, I experienced a ridiculously high level of anxiety, of cosmic responsibility for the timing of their color show. What if, like so many years, by the time the festival came, and there were the usual thousands of people strolling through the park, and the dogwood trees were already fully green, done with spring, all leafed up for the long summer?

How disappointing that would be. How unfair.

When I re-read my anxious haiku a few days later, mining its meaning for me as my practice requires, it occurred to me that I had responded to nature the same way a not so favorite brother in law had many years ago, when he and his wife had visited Yosemite National Park and my favorite place there, the meadowlands right below the beginning of the John Muir Trail. Upon returning, he said that he was somewhat disappointed, wishing they had been a deeper shade of green.

As if he were critiquing a landscape by a human artist, indeed not even a realistic one, but perhaps an Impressionist or even a Post-Impressionist one, where there might have been an error in aesthetic judgment when the paints were mixed: a tad too much yellow pigmentation perhaps, not enough blue.

He was a city boy, used to manmade, landscaped parks, and to his eyes, his human eyes, this meadow, this million year old habitat, eons older than any human visitation, had missed the mark.

Seeing this wilderness, this incredibly famous, much photographed, much written about wilderness ( of course not so much a wilderness anymore) from his human perspective was of course all he had. It was for me, his lack of self-awareness about the narrowness of this perspective that was so perplexing ( of course denying in myself what I so clearly saw in him)

Could he not see that he did not own the earth and the way it chose to show its colors? Did he not know that we shared the earth and should not, in fact ultimately could not control it for our exclusively human purposes?

Whether it was to systematically replant it, like a private backyard garden, as in yanking up its native plants for ones more to our liking: maple trees, for example, in exchange for cactus in Arizona, or damning up rivers for better fishing and boating, and to feed our unquenchable thirst for more and more electricity.

Cutting away our hillsides, chopping up our seashore, fencing in our cattle, raising our hogs.

We share this earth we live on, even though it takes discipline to remember this as we want what we want. It is not a manmade object ( though it increasingly may seem so) or an artist’s rendition. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, written at the beginning of what we began to call the ecology movement, she noted:

Van Gogh, you remember, called the world a study that didn’t come off. Whether it came off, is a difficult question… But Van Gogh, a study it is not. This is the truth of the pervading intricacy of the world’s detail: the creation is not a study, a roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly and in fine.

Annie Dillard wrote this in humility and reverence.

The earth is this, complex and diverse, wondrous and sometimes terrifying, as the earthquakes in Haiti, Peru, Mexico, and China remind us, as the planet heaves, and in Iceland where a volcano erupting this week unleashed a menacing cloud of ash moving eastward across Northern Europe, causing human havoc, ranging from cancelled opera performances, to food shortages, to stranded airline passengers.

We share the earth, its glories and its terrors.

As one of our seven unifying principles, we covenant to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. This is what has guided our congregational work, from our mindful tending of Fern Creek, as it flows through our property to the native butterfly garden we have planted to the way we renovated and are continuing to upgrade the energy efficiency of our building to the “green” Atlanta Progressive Preschool we have created.

May we share and care for this planet Earth, our one wild and precious and unpredictable home—starting here.