Our view of the Tetons
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
I usually write about the animals here, sometimes about the trees. But the land itself has a voice that needs to be heard. It is the living ground that supports us and all living beings. The land also needs to be seen and loved.
The part of the earth Earthfire calls home spoke to us as soon as we saw it. There was something about it, hard to express… It felt like a strength of being. Was it the vivid awareness of the bedrock upon which we stood, the solid ground beneath our feet? Or energy welling up from the center of our Earth to its surface, up through the bottoms of our soles, entering and enlivening our own energy systems? Over time, we came to feel the presence of the “stone people”—as the Native Americans call them—scattered about the land, each with their own story to tell of where they came from, how they arrived here, what forces shaped them before they came to lie where they are, their perspective of time.
To the east rise magnificent young mountains, reaching far into the sky, catching the clouds which give us healing rains. Sunlight outlines the peaks with the rays of the dawn—turns them a warm gold in the late afternoon, then a glowing rose in the evening. Are they enjoying the endless play of light that shows off their beauty? The wide open sky presents an ever-changing kaleidoscope of shapes, colors, moods. As I write this, the skies rumble and crackle. Massive dark thunder clouds move through dropping sheets of life-giving water. Then suddenly, the skies are clear and the fields of gray sagebrush turn a lovely delicate blue. I once knew a man who lay on his back, watched the sky, and fell in love. He spent the rest of his life helping people see its beauty, its endless shades of color, the drift of the clouds. It is good to fall in love with something and share it.
The winds are also a presence here. They stir the grasses and the trees ever so softly. Sometimes, they lash the trees with gale force and they respond in a wild, ecstatic dance. The trees can’t move on their own, but the winds can do it for them. And the birds can visit them and twitter and nest and bring forth young among their branches. Soaking in the warm midday sun, the trees seem to radiate. We know that complex chemical reactions are taking place, but beyond that, perhaps they enjoy the light and warmth from the sun in their own way.
The soil, made up of finely ground stones and the leaves of plants that once soaked up the sun, is a miracle of intricate life whose secrets we have only begun to understand. It is full of tiny microbes living their lives, supporting more life. The roots of the trees in the forest are connected by a vast, unseen, underground network of fungi. Trees communicate with each other from one end of the forest to the other through these living conduits, sharing information and nutrition. And as a crowning glory, observed wildlife artist Bruno Liljefors, the animals arise as the ultimate expression of the land.
Out of all of this, I think I most want to share with you the deep sense of companionship that is available to us if we spend time with the land. Any land. Earthfire is especially beautiful, perhaps because it is still relatively undisturbed, its full vitality able to express itself. But land everywhere is the source of renewed life and hope and magic. Even paved over, the asphalt cracks, plants push through, and life reasserts itself.
I write this for the joy of it, and because if we see the ground on which we walk for the treasure it is, we will make better decisions in using it and we will be better off. I also write this to remind us that there is healing companionship always available to support us on a deep soul level. It is a different companionship than we find in the cities. Cities are wonderful—exciting and full of creativity. They support the best that humans have to offer in art, music, and intellectual pursuits. But we need a balance between nature and civilization to lead a full human life and to live in harmony with the sources that sustain us. Without a connection to the land, we are ultimately lonely. We need to feel part of the community of life from which we arose.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.