PeerSpirit Newsletter – The Owl and the Tree
by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea
May Day 2021, we ventured out to have dinner with four friends. We brought our contribution to the feast, wore layers of clothing, carried lap-robes, prepared for dining alfresco. The strangest thing happened: our hosts opened the door and we stepped inside. Six of us, all fully vaccinated, our county in “phase 3,” smiled and opened our arms to one another. We became again friends who hug; friends who sit down at the same table; and friends who eat together—local salmon, salad, wine. The sweetness of this privilege savored again and again. We are refreshed and raising the question: what do we want this to mean?
Our hostess invites us to settle into the living room chairs and check in. One at a time, without interruption, we tell each other how it has really been to live through the pandemic. Pre-Covid we met three or four times a year to dive into an evening of intellectual, political, and spiritual discussion. Tonight, it is deeply moving how authentic and vulnerable we are in speaking of the physical challenges, depression, fear, and stamina required of us in the past fourteen months of isolation.
We eat, spread out along an ample table and dive into conversational territory reminiscent of our past, but also vibrating with the depth of our check-ins. Chatting in the car on the way home, the phrase rises “we belong to one another differently now.” This phrase continues to live inside us as we progress into the weeks of slowly extending into the social sphere, and as we consider how we want to belong differently to the wider world.
The BBC and AppleTV+ has produced a documentary called “The Year the Earth Changed” that begins with drone photography of empty city streets and freeways. It shows the impact of the human species sheltering in place and begins documenting how swiftly nature rejuvenated when we stopped. Within weeks… within months… please watch this, or documentaries like Planet Earth, anything David Attenborough is narrating will provide this message: Nature needs us to belong differently to the larger biosphere and living community of which we are a part.
The documentary shows residents in Jalapur, India, climbing to their roof tops to see the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years. With no cars or mopeds on the road, air pollution dropped and the glimmering world’s largest mountain range 200 miles away suddenly became visible. There was a global drop of 6% in carbon dioxide—the largest ever recorded and a welcome decline: literally a breath of fresh air.
Last summer, marine biologists observed humpback whales in southeast Alaska leaving their calves alone for short periods so the adults could bubble feed together (see photo below), thus increasing the food intake of nursing mothers providing huge nutritional boost to the babies. The mothers could leave the calves and still communicate while apart because “it was twenty-five times quieter in the bays of SE Alaska” without the drone of cruise ships with their ever-present underwater noise pollution.
Our role within Nature is to remember our belonging, not our domination; to practice stewardship not subjugation. Last month (“Living the meaningful questions of Now”) we addressed questions that focus on the human realm: this month we ask about how to belong in nature.
It is spring in the north half of the world. We are starting to eat salad greens and root vegetables out of our garden and from local farms. Berry bushes are in flower. Garlic, peas, and potatoes are growing. The lawn needs mowing every four days. These are seasonal tasks and connections— but this year we notice anew our interconnectedness. We are resilient and fragile: nature is resilient and fragile.
So, as we step over the threshold out of our bubble and into nature’s spaces we are asking, “How can I take up human activity and remain respectful of the earth and the environment? How can my new normal be kinder to the planet?”
As Attenborough says, his voice worn hoarse from years of messaging his love and concern for nature, “Now is the crucial moment to find ways to share our planet with all life on Earth.”
Just like we hung the phrase “Return only blessing,” in our dining room to hold us to our intention, as we look out the window and across the yard into our view of Puget Sound and Olympic mountains we are reciting a companion phrase: “Our existence depends on co-existence.”
Now is the crucial moment. We sat down at a dinner table, newly aware of the preciousness of one another, of hosting, sharing a meal and thoughts and feelings. We step outside, newly aware of the preciousness of nature, of fresh air, sharing space with all who live with us — from ants to birds to mountains. Savoring. Moving at the pace of guidance. Doing everything we can to stay awake to this threshold we are in. As Rumi invites us to “kiss the ground.”