My mother was a master photographer, an artist
through and through, and the best of her work speaks deeply what words cannot
convey. She knew she was a gifted artist, but she was never able to admit that
she was also a gifted writer. She tells the story of her life – her unusual
childhood with many long trips into the wilderness and to remote places of the world,
her family's history, her college years, her emotional breakdowns and
hospitalizations, her learning, always, always her learning, her teaching, and
then her poetry and her philosophy, and at the end, her old age – all of this
she tells with skill and wisdom and writing both adept and beautiful. And
interspersed throughout her text are her photographs, taken mainly in the
second half of her life as she slowly and painfully learned how to live in this
world, but also from her youth. Also included are photographs take by her
father on his many trips around the world, some from before the turn of the
But it is not the exquisite photographs of my mother’s later years that strike me this particular day. Rather, it is the many photographs from my childhood home in rural southwestern
So much of my childhood was spent outdoors! In grade school, I often walked home with my brother or one or more of the neighbor children, frequently pausing at the culvert over the stream to search for tadpoles and other signs of life. With a neighbor, a brother, a parent, or a friend, and frequently happily by myself, we explored every nook and cranny of our 70 acres, and often went further afield into the neighbors’ land as well. We sledded and tobogganed down hills, between trees, and over mounds of snow that sent us flying. We raised a variety of animals – mine were the chickens and the goats.
We played in the barn, the loft sometimes full of hay, sometimes empty. We played in the neighbor’s barn and beside and in their pond. We watched the storms roll up the valley. We climbed to the top of the windmill, no longer functioning, its pump having been wired for electricity. We fashioned a make-believe home on a tiny island in the stream. We waded the stream in search of pretty stones and water striders. We examined and identified flowers. We gardened. We opened our home for walks, wood-cutting, hearty food, and fellowship. We struggled to get out of our driveway during snowy winters. We lived close to the land.
Those photographs helped me better understand,
they helped me see the depth of my passion and my commitment to the Earth. They
helped me better understand why I am pushing forward with all that is closest
to my heart. They helped me better understand just why the things I do are so
close to my heart.
I think of Aldo Leopold, who spent his most famous
Earth, and only one. That is all we have. What will we pass on to future
generations? The answer is up to us, to you and to me. We are the ones who make
the decisions that determine the future. And so I continue to do the work I do,
each passing year with a greater sense of urgency. This is how I channel my
grief. This is how I assuage my guilt. This is how I keep my head and my heart
above water and maintain the faith needed to go forward day by day.
I invite you to join me and/or others in doing the passionate work l’ovdah u’l’shomrah, to serve and to protect (Gen. 2:15) this One Earth that is sacred to us all, crucial to our physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing, and threatened by the very ones who depend upon it.
May we find the strength and the courage and the fortitude to truly guard and preserve this land and all that lives upon it.