By Donna Carey, LAc & Ellen F. Franklin, PhD
The ancient human-Earth relationship must be recovered in a new context, in its mystical as well as its physical functioning. There is a need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, and the sky and its sun and moon and clouds, all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans, which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. – Thomas Berry, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, 2006.
In late April of 2019, we celebrated a ten-year milestone dedicated to forest stewardship. Under the direction of the New Mexico Forestry Division and the Forest Heath Initiative we have been actively engaged in a program to care for our 34-acre property located on the western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in north central New Mexico. Approximately 20 acres of our land is heavily forested. The initial goals and objective for this long-term project have been met with the final difficult piece of land, on a steep heavily treed slope, at the top of our property recently completed. As the work comes to an end, a walk through our land evoked many emotions. Not only did we achieve the established goals and objectives for the forested acres, but many additional creative projects were also completed throughout the land. There is a sense of wonder and accomplished at what we have manifested as time, Max (our rent a husband), woman power and economics have allowed.
Our forest management experience is not just a reflection of the past ten years of life here on our land in rural America it is also a statement about our movement through time and stands as a testament to the constant teachings we receive from the natural world. Mother nature resists imposition and management but welcomes and teaches us to understand and interpret her intentions, not bound by guidelines and end dates she lives in non-linear time with no attachment to outcomes. It is, however, human nature to live in chronological time filled with expectations, deadlines and the imperative of measurable results. The change of seasons, droughts, floods, fires, snows and other things that become impediments to our end objectives both constrain and dictate our movements, providing a not so gentle reminder that we are not in control. The government agencies, providing some cost sharing for this massive undertaking remind us they are in charge of withholding and abundance. These are the dichotomies that face us, but creativity and commitment propel us forward with unexpected surprises and outcomes that are beneficial and a source of growth and renewal.
Over the years our engagement in the management and stewardship of our forest has been rewarding, exhausting and expansive. We learned the language and expectations of clearing, chipping, piling, burning, scattering, cutting, and transporting. We came to see the intelligence of zones, the importance of dead trees for bird habitat, how to promote wild flower growth and encourage beautiful nurseries to flourish. It took courage, strength, and a positive attitude along with perseverance to interact with this vast, beautiful, emotional ecosystem that is capable of regeneration, selection and preservation. There were so many lessons and discoveries as we came to understand how to work in harmony toward human and forest health.
Among the many accomplishments we have thinned and trimmed the forest, created new habitat areas for wildlife, and cut and cared for the many new nurseries that have sprung up from greater sunlight and water retention. We have restored pasture land and constructed bridges to cross over the acequia and to prevent erosion. We have built roads to improve access to all of our forested acres. Hiking trails have been created and many art installations have been added to the land. These include a solar chamber for tracking the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and summer and winter solstices. A labyrinth with serpentine processional trails was built. Murals were created in the woods and a large metal sculpture representing the I Ching trigram Kun, which means union and community, was crafted from steel, recycled metals and copper. In the area we just completed thinning we plan to create a meditation hut and hiking trails are being added.
This property is not only our home, but home to Acutonics. Students journey here from all over the world to study and to deepen their understanding of how to live a truly balanced life in right relationship with the natural world, our greatest healer and teacher. To support these classes and visits we have created many special spots on the land for meditation and ceremony. Some of these areas in the heavily forested land help us to recognize and acknowledge strengths and vulnerabilities and to celebrate human and environmental renewal, a gift to all of those fortunate to journey through this land.
The forest and the natural world provide direction and expression. These valuable and palpable experiences of interaction and communion with nature encourage our spirits to remain wild and free, so that we are able to reclaim a part of ourselves that is too easily lost in the overly manicured and controlled urban high technology worlds we inhabit.
This year we were blessed with abundant snow and were able to burn 30 slash piles and haul cedar posts and blocked wood down for future use. As a wet spring slowly unfolds, we welcome new growth and evolution for us all. It has been a great honor to learn, grow, and participate in this program and these practices, and finding our own unique expression of land stewardship and caretaking for this precious land during this pivotal environmental time. There have been so many gifts deeply embedded within us to continue the work and expand the vision we have collectively set in place for the present and future generations. We hope you’ll visit and walk the land.