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In Service of the Wild: Restoring and Reinhabiting Damaged Land by Stephanie Mills

1995; 237 pp. $23 Beacon Press

Once you feel that land and water bodies can suffer, the path to healing yourself as part of the "ecological self" begins to reveal itself. Stephanie is the tutelary spirit, guiding her heart, the reader's, and the heart of place; shepherding them through watersheds of ideas as well as landscape. Whenever I ask, "What's the most beautiful essay on restoration?," her epilogue to In Service comes first to mind. The restoration paradigm shift is as much Biblical as technical. From "dominion over" to "stewards of" to "servants of" the Earth, each has its chapter and verse in the Old Testament. Stephanie, through stories and passionate prose, reminds us that a life of planetary service may satisfy be-ing and beings more than any other endeavor.

" The land I look out from has suffered.... The author Wendell Berry says that the story of our time is one of divorce and I fear that he is correct. We treat the Earth as we treat our affiliations. We demand outlandish things from it before we ever stop to pause and listen, and there is no love in this.

In thinking about [restoration projects] the Shack and the Arboretum, about the work in Auroville, and on the Mattole, and the North Branch prairies, one must be struck by what seems to be altruism, or an extraordinary imaginative empathy with nonhuman nature. To move to India and spend twenty years reclaiming a laterite plateau, to devote one's adulthood to the preservation, in context, of a native race of salmon, or to find vocation in resurrecting within city limits a whole forgotten ecosystem with its membership of rare and endangered plants?these are, given the dominant (but crumbling) paradigm, peculiar, nonsensical behaviors. The economics are unusual, for one thing, and for another, the beneficiaries of this seeming altruism?Carnatic bird species reinhabiting their range, king salmon fry sheltered in a hatch box, the fringed prairie orchid germinating for the first time in a century in ancestral soils?do not repay their benefactors with ego-boosting thanks and praise, or even social justification.

However, the people I know who do this kind of work are satisfied by it in some basic and profound ways. It may be that they have developed what some thinkers are characterizing as an "ecological self," a sense of the human as being continuous with Nature, which, after all, is the simple truth. It's just that the political, economic, religious, and social forms that have come to predominate have required that we put the blinders on, and limit our concerns to self, state, and our own species. Ecological restoration is an act well-suited to rooting up this weedy, invasive paradigm and to reestablishing?with the significantly new amendment of conscious choice?ecosystems where ecological selves can make themselves at home and reproduce psychologically, if seldom physically.

It remains astonishing that people are willing to bend their backs working under punishing tropical sun or wade into icy rivers not for personal gain, but out of devotion. They are the bodhisattvas among us, and their numbers are growing. Someday, I hope, humanity will be a lot like them. This expansion or evolution of the human soul, its reintegration with the specifics of the planet, is an obvious and sensible step, the lifesome move. It is quite a threshold to be poised upon."


ISBN: 0807085359

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