Begin as you intend to continue


“Begin as you intend to continue,” my grandmother Chris used to say whenever I tried her patience as a child. She was of Scots parentage, and most likely  inherited that practical streak and her love for aphorisms from her father, a Vermont stonemason. I’m taking her admonition to heart in this new year, when difficult times make it seem especially relevant. How best to handle the economic uncertainty, peril of global climate change, and other stresses that seem beyond my control? Begin as I intend to continue:  One step at a time, living out  my beliefs, day to day.  For me that means articulating more clearly what I believe—the essence of my passion and my mission.  Hence this new blog and my newly re-designed web site.  (You can read earlier posts from the last couple of years at my old blog,  Community of the Land.)

The title of this blog comes from my belief that nature, the community of lives that animate this living, breathing blue planet, is our home. At some point we decided that humans were above the fray of  the messy stew of wild relationships that birthed our species, Homo sapiens. Since then we’ve attempted to run our lives  largely as if we and nature somehow no longer need each other. Yet its community is part of who we are, from the myriad microorganisms that digest our food and clean our skin among other services, to the plants that respire in tandem with our breaths, exhaling the oxygen we breathe in and taking in the carbon dioxide we exhale.  It seems to me that the reason many of us feel so lost, or needy, or incomplete is precisely because we are alienated  from nature, the home of our species. 

We may have cut ourselves off, but nature hasn’t cut us off.  The community of the land still goes about its business around us, regardless of our lack of awareness, care, or connection. It’s not hard to come home to a relationship with the quadrillions of other lives whose interactions make our planet a green and habitable place. And doing so brings subtle and powerful rewards. Research over the past few years credits exposure to nature with a wide range of  healing properties including increased concentration and learning ability for kids with ADHD, lowered stress and faster healing for patients recovering from surgery, strengthening bones and preventing a range of cancers,  as well as generally improved physical and mental well-being. Nature doesn’t just enhance our physical and mental health. Spiritual seekers of all sorts—the Christian Desert Fathers, Native American vision-questers,  Jewish mystics, the Buddha—have turned to time in nature  for enlightenment. Nature, it turns out, has a lot to give us. 

And I believe that humans have a lot to give nature: we can play a positive role in the community of the land, even if we’ve forgotten how. What does it mean to be human, and where do we fit in nature? How can we live in a way that is comfortable, nurturing, inspiring, generous, and honors Earth’s diversity of lives? Those are the questions that fascinate me, and the ones I intend to explore  here. Like my grandmother Chris, I have a strong practical streak, so while I’ll muse on the big questions, I’ll also be considering the nitty-gritty of being at home in nature. Please join me in the conversation!

On a personal note: The photo above shows our windowsill greens garden. (That’s Renee Shepherd’s Paris  Market greens mix, with assorted lettuces and herbs. The lacy leaves are chervil, a sweetly  licorice flavored cool-season herb that’s delightful in salads or on sandwiches.) The windowsill garden is our experiment in growing greens inside in the winter. So far it’s working—I pick fresh greens for my lunchtime salad every day, warm from the sunlight that powers their cells.

I’m beginning as I intend to continue in my writing as well: In a few days, I’ll be starting a  writing fellowship that frees me from my accustomed deadlines for three months.  For that time, I’ll have the luxury of  working on my next book without worrying about generating income. Thanks to Terra Foundation for generously supporting my work, and to Colorado Art Ranch for making this fellowship possible!