From the Chair: “Pass It On”
This past weekend I flew into Jacksonville. Having left from North Carolina, the pilot skirted the coastline southward. Sitting on the left side of the aisle, my heart quickened as we came up over Cumberland Island – I was scrunched down to peer out the little plastic window as one of the most beautiful spots on the planet came into view before my very eyes.
There was the pristine unspoiled coastline, meandering creeks, full ripe vegetation could I catch a glimpse of any wild horses? There – the building JFK Jr must have gotten married in, then the magnificent St. Mary’s River, Fort Clinch – the spot where we launch our kayaks to go over to the Island. Geez, was I ever steeped in querencia*.
Our Sentry newsletter often asks one of us in the “member glimpse” section: “who opened the world of nature to you?” My Uncle T showed me how to love a place, to have a sense of place. His was western North Carolina. Passionate about the mountains – particularly the “Noble Roan” which separated Carolina from East Tennessee, Uncle T loved to walk in the woods, identifying trees, plants, birds, and other critters. He was an accomplished organic gardener (he’d write me instructional letters labeled “organic gardening 101”) and he loved animals, particularly strays who either showed up at his door or those he rescued from the pound. His favorite dog, Speedy, had once been North Carolina’s “volunteer of the year” based on T’s taking Speedy to area nursing homes – often a visit with that sweet, loving collie was the highlight of a resident’s week.
I was returning from North Carolina because I had been to Uncle T’s funeral.
America’s greatest living poet, Gary Snyder, talks about “nature literacy” – how “any moderately aware person would want to know some of the flowers, birds, grasses, and trees, who would want to be attentive to the weather cycles, who would want to have a notion that at certain times of the year these birds come and at other times they’re gone.” In Snyder’s poem “What Have I Learned” he concludes that we must take this kind of awareness and “pass it on.”
Last month I extolled the virtues of watching out for the “7th generation yet to come” in our national policies – being mindful of the unborn who have yet to inhabit our planet. But as my plane ride home was winding down, I thought about the grace, during one’s current life, of actually seeing and knowing a real example of one who truly loves nature and is passionate about it. Uncle T never lectured me about the dangers of environmental destruction, he approached the matter from the positive side. The message was implied – if you love something you want it protected, you want no harm to come…..and you enjoy it, celebrate it….savor it. This weekend, first listening to my family talk about Uncle T’s wonderful influence and later, alone in an airplane high above the Appalachian mountains and then over the marshes of Cumberland Island, I truly felt the blessing of having Uncle T “pass it on.”
* querencia – the need to identify with a place, to understand one particular land area as home – a homing instinct to return to the place to which we have grown accustomed, so that whenever we return our “soul releases an inner sigh of recognition and relaxation.” (see March issue of the Sentry)