"Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. Food chains are the living channels which conduct energy upward; death and decay return it to the soil."
(A Sand County Almanac)
By Dale Olen
The living cells within my blood stream probably cannot sense much of an outside world. They register movement and temperature of other cells in the area and perhaps the slight flow of liquid around them. It’s hard to imagine these cells have any awareness or view of the tiny blood vessel in which they swim, much less the finger that houses the vessel, the arm that holds the finger, the torso from which the arm extends, and the body that throws the ball. Those cells have no idea that the container in which they live, also lives.
Because of the added complexity of the human brain compared to the cell, we are able to take note of the container in which we live. For instance, we notice that we live in a family. Is the family a living entity? We live in a neighborhood. Is it alive? We live in a nation. Living or dead? We live in the planet Earth? Is it a living being in much the same way as the human body lives in relation to the tiny cells that play and work in its rightly-temperature parts? To all these questions I say yes.
With that affirmation in mind, I can step into my neighborhood park. Here it is not difficult to see life all around me—other humans playing, talking, walking dogs; trees rustling in the breeze, flowers receiving visits from bees and butterflies, even mosquitoes landing occasionally on my arm. Now I try to sense all these living players as so many parts in a larger living body that also moves, breathes, attracts, and repels various neighbors, nurtures the many parts it holds, feeds and soothes, corrects and adjusts, and re-makes itself on a daily basis, keeping its body temperature in balance and the entire house fit for the great biospheric family.
Sitting up against a tree I can almost feel a slow vibrating heart beat (Earth’s sound and light waves). I feel healthy knowing Earth’s immune system strengthens by the electro-magnetic shield surrounding the planet. I rest in peace, for the living Earth orchestrates the harmony of all its parts, like the lambs lying down with wolves, and tectonic plates raising up mountains and water washing them away.
I remember yesterday when I held my small grandson in my arms and rocked him before his bedtime. I know how safe and loved he felt as he heard my humming songs and gentle touch on his shoulder. He and I were in harmony and at peace. Now, at the base of this maple tree I feel as my grandson, tucked into the nurturing embrace of Gaia, this living planet.
Without scientific knowledge, but with body knowledge, I know that Earth lives. In the first years of their lives, children learn through their bodies. They are fairly incapable of much conceptual learning, some psychologists suggest, until around age 15, when they get good at it. Until then, they learn through their bodies. In relation to Earth, we humans are still children, very new at living in this planet and understanding it. While science is giving us conceptual knowledge and a deep awareness of Earth, we may still come to know Earth best through our bodies and our direct experience of her.
If I am quiet in Earth’s presence and use my senses to see her beauty, hear her song, taste her fruit, smell her wild fragrance, and touch her hard and soft, I will experience her life. I can compliment that body knowledge of a living Earth with the intriguing thought and study of the Gaian scientists and the collected understanding of Earth handed down by students of Earth from 60,000 years ago to today.
I realize the skeptics claim we believers in a living Earth are anthropomorphizing. Guilty as charged. But we can only see Earth through human eyes, adapted that way to help us survive in a planet racing through a continually expanding universe. In fact, when we “de-anthropomorphized” our worldview, saw Earth as a machine without life we began behaving in ways that led to our harm and ultimately our extinction.
Anthropomorphizing, at least to an extent, seeing Earth as a living organism in ways like the human organism, actually serves as a survival trait improving our chances of making it as a species. Once I see the Earth as living, I take on quite a different attitude toward her.
First off, she becomes a lady rather than a robot. I replace the cold “it” with the warmer “she” and “her.” The words I use in talking about Earth create and reinforce my experience of Earth. As I continue to refer to Earth as “her,” she comes alive, at times when I’m feeling romantic, even turns into a goddess.
My general experience of Earth, however, revolves around her nurturance. Earth is my Mother. I am made of Earth materials that have been recycled through her systems for over four billion years. I live on the same planetary street in a giant galaxy. Perhaps this is the only living planet in the entire galaxy, although I doubt it. This, though, is my only home, the single neighborhood I know, the place where I receive food, water, and energy to nurture and mature me.
Most people, I think, approach life with respect. We certainly value and regard human life, despite the small minority of people who start wars, set off IED’s, abuse women and children, and so on. The vast majority touch other humans gently and with care.
Many who respect human life also respect the life of mammals, especially larger creatures like lions, leopards, and elephants. Those few who kill these “lads” — as South African safari guides like to call them — for sport-sake or for selling tusks are exceptions to the common attitude of respect.
When we see Earth as living, our respect for all the moving elements in the living Earth extends to insects, reptiles, fish, birds, plants, the living soil, even the rocks that contain living micro-organisms and carbon, which is the backbone of all life on planet Earth.
When I experience Earth as alive it become easy to respect her. It exudes as awe in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountains of Nepal, caution over the approaching tornado sweeping across the Kansan prairie, reverence in a patch of lavender in southern France, contentment in the shade of the linden tree in my own backyard.
Birthed from Mother Earth, fed and warmed by her, placed in a perfectly constructed and run home with systems of water, oxygen, and soil to support my development, how could I hurt her? How could I brutalize my Mother by exploding her mountains for coal, damming her rivers for electricity, polluting her oceans with spilling oil, and spreading concrete over her lovely skin, just so trucks can move consumer goods?
If Earth is a living entity, my respect for her emerges in caring for her, protecting her, and walking gently in her bounty.