Spider web covered in dewPhoto by Thalerngsak Mongkolsin

— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

What I am trying to do with Earthfire is impossible, but maybe trying will get us humans closer to living in tune with the Earth. It is essential to start with spirit, that mysterious force larger than us that infuses all things: to spirits of the land, soils, plants, and animals to human input from shamans, intuitives, artists, and scientists. For a new way of living on our Earth, we need all voices, all perspectives, all types of wisdom and knowledge, from all beings. As I said, impossible—but at the very least, we can have the honorable intention to try.

During the process of designing new animal habitats, it occurred to me that it was important to ask the land what it wanted—or at least acknowledge its existence as a living entity full of billions of life forms that we would disrupt as we went about our human plans. Many great thinkers have explored the nature of spirit over the centuries, some believing, or perhaps seeing, that each living being has its own guiding spirit that brings the atoms and molecules of matter into its particular form. In our planning, we need to respect the energies or forms that shape all the living beings that make up the land before we build anything upon it.

To design well, we need facts. Not isolated facts, but facts that are embedded within a whole system. Permaculture works with natural ecosystems instead of against them, using physical knowledge of the winds and the sun and the rains and the rolling of the seasons, the heat and the cold and the qualities of the soil, and the efficient interaction of waste, compost, and reused water. It is beautiful, but it is not enough for a full expression of Life and the land. We need to integrate the incredible new science of the plants, trees, and soil into our awareness. And we need to foster the ability to tune in to how we, and land upon which we walk, are part of an immense, shimmering, harmonious, interconnected web. Without including the mysterious presence of spirit, there is a sterility to what we do. With the mystery infusing all that we do, there will be a sense of enchantment. Starting from that point, it will enrich all we do, even as we dig up the land to build. [1][2]

My hope for the land and the animals is that they will set an example of how to re-enchant the world for all of us: a way of living in modern times that also includes ancient human wisdom and the wisdom of nature. By beginning from the understanding that it can be one harmonious whole—from the land and the wild animals and plants, to the Earthfire animal habitats, to humans—it will become a living model for how each of us can be in our particular place. We hope that this idea will be taken up and adapted in a million other places around the world, each small, intimately in touch with their own place, but interacting with others in a supportive, interconnected web. We hope that each of them works to link up with wildlife corridors and core habitats as part of an effort to conserve or rewild vibrant wildlife corridors and habitat throughout the continents, interwoven with vibrant human settlements.

Because of our location at Earthfire, we have an opportunity to try to save the last wildlife corridor in the valley and connect it to the Yellowstone to Yukon Wildlife Corridor. But my thought is that if there isn’t an opportunity where you live, then let’s make one. Even tiny corridors will give wildlife a chance. Life will take every opportunity we give it to thrive. If you are interested in learning more about how you can better work with natural ecosystems in your own backyard or community, study the work of those who can guide you in listening to the land, plants, and trees, such as experts in permaculture, biomimicry, architecture, regenerative agriculture, rewilding, the circular economy, and the many other heartfelt, creative approaches emerging every day.

This is all theoretically possible.

Please feel free to share your favorite resources for learning about permaculture and living more harmoniously with the ecosystems that surround us.

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.

[1] What if that is how real estate developers thought? They would make a lot of money if that is their goal. The current system and set of values is a radical failure of imagination and a failure in every way.

[2] I struggle with making any impact on the land at all, knowing that I will be killing or disrupting something. The best answer I can come up with is the same as with eating and food: we have to eat and we have to kill something living to eat. We have to make homes for ourselves. But we can do all of this mindfully, using or building no more than we need and only after carefully considering the difference between want and need, honoring what we use.

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