RWK quote

What’s Good for the Land is Good for the People

Glastonbury Oracle, January 2021

​Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass is well worth reading. She is part Indigenous and part European-American, and so she has both understandings of the world. She is a University Professor, and she is part of the growing movement to reclaim indigenous culture in North America … in Turtle Island. She is not living on a reservation, in fact her lifestyle has all the trappings of someone who is white and middle class, but there’s a particular value in that. It makes what she has to say that much more accessible to most Americans and Europeans.

As a biologist, and as someone who is rediscovering her own indigenous connection to the Earth, a lot of what she says is about the desperate need to restore the land. The first thing here is to understand how deeply destructive western culture has been, and is being, to the planet and its natural processes. In her case this has been combined with the deliberate destruction of her ancestral culture; but for us too, distanced from such a culture by two thousand years, the pain of this understanding is just as real and just as difficult to really feel.

She points out that how we approach the restoration of land depends on what we understand ‘land’ to be. “If land is just real estate, then restoration looks very different than if land is the source of a subsistence economy and a spiritual home.” And this is what we are missing: a real connection with the land, a real understanding that this is the source of our life and our health, a genuine acceptance that there is no escape from this wherever we live and however we lead our lives. I hope I am right in believing that this is why many of us are here in Glastonbury – that this is our spiritual home.

So how do we go about restoring the land around Glastonbury? It’s a big question, and one that needs to be answered, first, spiritually; and then culturally, politically and practically. Many people are already working on aspects of this enormous project – enlivening our mythology or creating new patterns of living for the future, putting the well-being of the Earth onto the political agenda, growing food for the community with care and respect in the process. All this needs acknowledging; and perhaps we also need to rediscover how all these facets are intimately interconnected.

For several years my own focus, my own connection with the natural world around us, has been the River Brue. When I asked Her where I should go next with these articles She said that I should bring it back to the river. And the river here once existed in the context of a wetland. This is our spiritual home – the Isle of Avalon. It is so called because it belongs in the midst of a very special landscape, but one that today exists only in stories and can barely even be recognised in real life.

So I was very encouraged to read in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Freshwater marshes are among the most highly productive ecosystems on earth, rivaling the tropical rainforest.” That is something to value, that is something worth working towards restoring. I shall explore the idea further next time.