By Connor Rockett
I spent this past week working with the four members of the Regional Field Team – a group of land stewards based out of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust who spend a week at a time helping different land trusts in the area tackle projects. In just four days together, we built a new trail at Woodward Cove (which you should go visit!) and mapped invasive plants at Crystal Spring Farm. These two projects were significant tasks but the RFT had an incredible work ethic and we completely finished both of them.
Working as a team provided the opportunity to discuss different viewpoints and problem-solving approaches. It was important for me to see how the RFT stewards work and to learn from their experience with trail-building. All in all, the exchange of ideas and the insights they brought to our daily tasks made for a rich learning experience in stewardship and problem-solving generally. It was inspiring to be working with such a dedicated, thoughtful crew. I’m sure they will go on to make important contributions in environmental protection.
Speaking of problem-solving, last week I asked “what would a land-friendly economy look like?” One way to begin answering this question might be to think about which structural, systemic features it would not have. Working from the lessons we’ve learned about the negative effects of our industrial economy on the environment (and, therefore, our health) and tracing those effects back to their causes, we should be better able to define a land-friendly economy. From this negative, exclusionary start to our definition, the positive, creative process of defining a land-friendly economy will be more manageable. Having determined which aspects it could not have, we will have a place to start thinking about the institutions and forms of economic life that will replace the environmentally destructive ones.
What’s more, that positive process can also be informed by our past. Using the environmental ideas that have been transmitted throughout our cultural history as well as those that come from elsewhere, we can reflect on and re-learn the attitudes that helped our ancestors to have a closer relationship with nature. In connection with those attitudes, we should also think about the economies and societies that fostered them to see aspects of past ways of life that might be included or, more likely, modified in our way of living in the future. Without romanticizing our past or elevating one culture over another, we can still learn from the thoughts and practices of our ancestors to be better prepared to come closer to nature. Implicit in this approach is a critical attitude towards the notion of “progress.”
Finally, the ingenuity and problem solving of people like you, me, and the members of the RFT – people who seek an attentive understanding of the land and how we relate to it – will be another crucial element in constructing a land-friendly economy. Going out and building a trail or mapping invasive plants or tending a plot at the community garden, getting hands-on experience with the environment teaches us how to solve problems related to it and, ultimately, what our relationship should be with it. By doing this kind of work, we understand the land, where we fit in the pattern of it all, and what a healthy degree of give and take looks like between us and our surroundings. These were the types of experiences that, when they were shared across the community, helped our ancestors to develop complex, subtle theories of our place within nature. While studying and relating to those ideas in a second-hand way, whether they are contained in sutras or parables or oral traditions, is useful, it should also push us to acquire that wisdom through our own experiential learning. With that wisdom, we can better determine how our economy should be structured and how we should live.