ADF Dedicant Path: Nature Awareness (final essay)
When I was a little girl, my parents took me on regular Sunday drives. We visited the most beautiful locations. I grew up in Montana, so even the shortest drives provided amazing scenery. But as the immature child I was, I complained about having to sit next to my siblings and tried my best to hide in whatever book I brought with me. My parents warned me that, someday, I might regret not having looked out the window on these drives. I looked sometimes. I even acknowledged from time to time that it was pretty out there. But I took it for granted. I didn’t know that these were special places, gems among the wonders of nature.
Then I grew up and I moved away. I always assumed that driving 30 minutes out of town would yield “the wild.” I was terribly wrong. I spent three years in Florida immediately after leaving Montana. An eight hour drive from one end of the state to the other was one of the most depressing experiences I have ever had. I discovered a very long boring interstate crowded with semi-trucks the entire way and no scenery to write home about. I felt immediately claustrophobic. Not only from being cramped in a small car, but also from the feeling of not being able to escape “city” for so many hours.
I am currently living in Colorado, in the Denver metro area. When I first moved here, I was bummed with the lack of pretty parks. I knew I was going to a city, so I didn’t expect too much, but I thought Colorado, of all places, would have decent pockets of nature even within the metro area. It has “open spaces;” boring flat lands surrounded by visible urban life. I was especially sad to find that most of the trails nearby are concrete. If I want to walk along the South Platte river, I have to use a sidewalk. There are some short (less than half a mile) stretches of soft ground, but for the most part everything has a manmade feel about it.
After a year or so in Denver, I joined ADF and began my dedicant studies. On the ADF website and elsewhere, I read accounts of urban pagans finding nature in the city and I felt a renewed sense of motivation to connect with what is available to me. Per the recommendation in Michael Dangler’s Through the Wheel of the Year, I found a nature spot to begin this part of the dedicant’s path. There is a very small nature preserve only a ten minute drive from my house. It consists of a gravel trail around a lake. Despite being such a small area, it packs a lot of wildlife: coyotes, great blue herons, geese, pelicans, bullfrogs, and bull snakes to name only some of it. I dutifully visited this spot every few days for a few months, trying my best not to let the surrounding urban landscape get me down. When the winter hit, my visits became less frequent.
I found it easier to visit my own back yard during the winter than I did the nature preserve. When the weather warmed up again, I explored a few other areas away from home and returned to my previously-selected spot a few times, but I found that my bond with the Earth Mother was strongest in my own yard. At the end of the day, the nature I found out and about in the city wasn’t much different from what I had at home already. Everything around here is still “city” no matter what natural-sounding title they give to the place. So I returned home and started forging a bond with the land spirits on my own land. I did a small land-bidding ritual and took up the task of gardening for the first time in my life. My time spent working the land has increased my bond with the Earth more than any other activity over the past year.
I took new interest in the trees growing in and near my own yard, identifying for the first time what an Ash tree looks like and a Russian Olive Tree. I’ve always loved trees, but besides my favorites, I never knew how to identify any of them. I began purchasing houseplants, having always feared my brown thumb in the past. I now have hanging baskets, a succulent plant, two ivies, a money tree, and of course my fruit and vegetable plants.
I take the time to talk to the Ash tree in my back yard, whom I’ve named Lou. I discovered that Lou is sick and has Lilac Ash Borer. He has since been pruned, balanced and scheduled for a bug treatment later this year. While he was being pruned, the arborists discovered an owl’s nest. It wasn’t currently being used, but appears to have been used last year. Owl is my current life totem, one I recognize as having replaced my birth totem due to significant spiritual transformation. I performed my initial dedicant’s Oath under Lou last year and I think it no small omen that Owl was nearby at the time, though I didn’t see her.
In my front yard, I planted a young red oak tree named Atlas as representative of my new found connection with the land and in honor of my patron, Thunor, who led me to my current spiritual path.
I like to consider myself an environmentalist, but it wasn’t until I started gardening that I became especially aware of my impact on it. I have gone through phases of more or less environemental-friendliness, but the Earth wasn’t on my mind all the time and when it wasn’t, an anti-hoarding condition compelled me to dispose of things irresponsibly. Now that I am out in my garden everyday, and watering plants indoors as well, nature is on my mind more often than not.
Despite my anti-hoarding condition, I am donating and recycling more than ever before. It stresses me to hold onto stuff I don’t want for too long, but I have been finding ways to cope as well as relying on my husband’s support to get things to charity before I throw them out. I’ve also started composting this year. The changes I’ve made may be small for now, but they are steps in the right direction and my journey has only begun.