Listening to the Earth
As soon as the tip of my shovel cut a small crescent in our front lawn, I knew I had forgotten something important. I stopped digging and listened.
The hole was for a rosebush we had bought months ago from a friend who was moving. I found the rose fertilizer, paced out the distance from the sidewalk so that the bush would be symmetrical with the other rose next to our front walk, and filled a bucket with rich black compost. But my preparations were not complete. I had forgotten to ask permission before digging.
This was not just any hole in the earth. It would be the final resting place for the body of our beautiful corn snake who had died of liver failure just a few days earlier, on my birthday. Each step was part of the burial ritual. At such times it is especially important to be in tune with the earth spirits.
But even when I do simple gardening tasks like pulling up wintered-over forget-me-nots to make space for peas, lettuce and bok choi, I try to remember to check in with the spirits of the land beforehand, to go slow and listen. Each plant, each plot of soil, is infused with life and spirit. It’s easy for us humans to go too fast and do too much, to disturb the web of life in ways we might not intend. Sometimes, when the garden is wildly overgrown, I jump in and pull up hundreds of weeds without taking time to ask and listen. When I do so I feel out of balance, and so does the garden.
As I paused, leaning on my shovel, I became aware of the blooming white hawthorn tree to my left, the rose in its large plastic pot, the other rosebush with peach-colored buds to my right, the grass below me with its hundreds of tiny white lawn daisies. I felt the energy from deep in the earth rise up to meet the soles of my feet. One of the pair of crows nesting in the hawthorn perched on the telephone wires in front of me. A robin flew past.
I silently articulated my purpose in digging this hole and asked for permission to do so in this place at this time, and then waited. After a beat or two, I felt the response reverberate through me: Yes.
I used to work downtown, across the street from two huge construction projects, the noise almost deafening as I walked from light rail. How would our lives, our world be different if, before starting such a project, the landowner and construction company had to ask permission of the earth spirits? The thought immediately arises, how would we get anything done? And one response might be, how is what we are so busy doing serving the needs of our communities? Here in Seattle, growth is far outpacing our insufficient efforts to ensure livability and affordability. This city has radically changed over the past 40 years I’ve lived here. If we had to slow down and think through the impacts of our actions on the human and natural environment, I believe we would use our resources and creativity differently. In an ideal world all of us would benefit from the abundance flowing in, not just the privileged few.
And I’m not even talking here about the most destructive human activities, like coal and uranium mining, fracking, burning fossil fuels, and dumping waste in the oceans.
Today, on Bealtaine, the newly-planted rose stretches its branches and pink, fragrant buds in the breeze, reaching for the sun. Its beauty will be fed by the beloved creature below, and its roots welcomed and embraced by the earth. After circling the hawthorn with rattles and tying colorful rags on its branches in our yearly Bealtaine ritual, we sit down in its shade, feeling joyful and at peace.