I recently finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The author is a SUNY Professor of Environmental Biology and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She shares a journey of her training in the sciences with her indigenous community knowledge of ecological systems. She is a master story weaver. She begins sharing their story of Creation, of Skywoman, then writes:
“On one side of the world were people whose relationship with the living world was shaped by Skywoman, who created a garden for the well-being of all. On the other side was another woman with a garden and a tree. But for tasting its fruit, she was banished from the garden and the gates clanged shut behind her. That mother of men was made to wander in the wilderness and earn her bread by the sweat of her brow, not by filling her mouth with the sweet juicy fruits that bend the branches low. In order to eat, she was instructed to subdue the wilderness into which was she cast.
Same species, same earth, different stories. Like Creation stories everywhere, cosmologies are a source of identity and orientation to the world. They tell us who we are. We are inevitably shaped by them no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness. One story leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banishment. One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good green world that would be the home of her descendants. The other was in exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven.”
At the very foundation of Judeo-Christian heritage is a disconnection from the natural world. There are actually two perspectives on Creation in the book of Genesis, which are seemingly contradictory.
When working through texts it’s an opportunity to engage in personal reflection. How we choose to highlight or embrace the tension within them is a recurring question. Our relationship with the natural world is complicated. It ranges from domination, to stewardship, utilization and conversation. It encompasses awe and radical amazement. There is glory to be had in fullness and abundance, production and productivity. No perspective stands alone, the key is the balance. I declare (attempted) dominance over the aphids, flea beetles and chipmunks.
We do have the power to affect the ecosystem on a massive scale, and we are the only species that does at this point. With that power comes responsibility “to till and tend it.”
On our gardening journeys, we determine our personal philosophy of gardening. Aldo Leopold, in his book, A Sand County Almanac, encourages the development of a set of values, a land ethic. He understood “the land” as a community that includes a not only humans, but all of the other parts of the Earth, as well: soils, waters, plants, and animals. He proposed the relationships between people and land are intertwined: care for people cannot be separated from care for the land. A land ethic is a moral code of conduct that grows out of these interconnected caring relationships.
I encourage you to find time this Shabbat, or this growing season, to consider how you embrace the story of Creation, or what your land ethic is.