For some time now, I’ve been in the habit of taking a weekly walk on a nearby nature trail. It’s relaxing, and helps me to consciously connect with the natural world. Part of the ritual of the walk is to give a small gift to the land. I’m not a pantheist or a pagan, so I don’t consider that I am actually offering anything to anyone in particular. It’s more a question of adjusting my own mindset.
The act of leaving behind a few crumbs of bread, or a handful of nuts is an acknowledgement of the fact that, in the words of Thomas Berry, “the Earth is primary, and humans are derivative.” As a species, we don’t really act as though this is a true statement. But by gently placing a bit of bread at the root of a tree, I affirm it. It helps the weekly walk seem to be less of a hike and more of a pilgrimage. It helps me move into the experience of sacred, liminal time. It quiets me. It puts me in my place.
Last week as I pulled my car into the parking space, I realized that I’d forgotten the offering. Looking around the car, I found a small package of cookies, probably left there by one of my kids. These were the highly processed, mostly sugar and preservatives variety, and thought that although it wasn’t my first choice, it would do. I took out a cookie and began my walk.
As I went, I began to ponder the cookie. It was about as far from homemade as one could get. It was a synthesized, processed, industrial, chemical, artificial thing. It was perfect, but not for eating. It was the perfect symbol of twenty-first century culture. We live in a synthesized, processed, industrial, chemical and artificial culture. Using this particular cookie suddenly seemed profound.
As I laid it at the foot of the tree, the thought came to me that this was symbolic of technology bowing to wildness. Technology bows to wildness. Wow. What a concept. It seemed to me that this was more wishful thinking than reality. And mostly, that’s true. It’s not very often that our technological society bows to anything, much less wildness or the natural world in any form. Usually, it tramples, brutalizes and destroys the natural world.
Except when it doesn’t.
This past week, parts of the U.S. experienced several massive tornadoes. Entire towns were flattened in a matter of minutes. Dazed and traumatized faces dominated the nightly news. All our technology couldn’t stop a tornado. Whether we wanted to or not, for a brief moment, the culture bowed to wildness, to Nature in full fury. Did we get the message? Do we understand that the Earth is primary, and we are derivative? Maybe in the moment, we did. But soon, the talk turned to rebuilding bigger and better than before, and as a society we once again wrapped ourselves up tightly in the delusion of our own supremacy.
I wish only the best for the people who lived through the experience of the tornadoes. Like many others, I will donate to the Red Cross, and do my tiny part to help them rebuild their lives. And that’s all fine and good.
But I will tuck away in my mind the understanding that for all our technology, we humans are less in charge than we like to think we are. Technology will bow to wildness, one way or another.
Rebecca Hecking is the author of, The Sustainable Soul: Eco-Spiritual Reflections and Practices, and lives in northwest Pennsylvania, USA, where she wanders among the oaks and maples every week, causing a stir among the resident chipmunks along the way.