This week is the beginning of our foray into Nature Awareness for the Dedicant’s Path. I live in New York City and it is early December, so the months ahead will be dark and cold and the accessible parks few and far between. In Rev. Dangler‘s Wheel of the Year study guide, he suggests that we spend one hour a week out in nature, preferably the same spot. I am modifying this for my own schedule, physical disability, and neurodivergence to mean bringing an attitude of nature awareness with me wherever I go.
I do not believe in a difference between “nature” and “not nature.” “Nature” for me is another word for “reality” and I don’t think the act of humans living in a place or even making the environment hostile to certain species means that we somehow aren’t nature. Nothing can be created or destroyed, merely transformed, so yes, there are nature currents in city streets, skyscrapers, plastic bags, and smog. Nature is not pure or even good; at best, it just is and we can work with it to our benefit or our detriment.
I’ve especially been thinking this since seeing a question on an ADF group about book recommendations about Druidry for incarcerated individuals that do not have easy access to the outdoors. But even before this particular post I’ve been very concerned about the ideas of accessibility and putting a certain type of nature beyond all others. I am disabled. Unless I can have a very comfortable seat that supports my back, I’m not easily going to spend an hour in “nature” as some want to understand it. I’m certainly not going to be able to stand up for the entirety of any rituals ever again in my life, so I’ll have to bring my “unnatural” folding chair and ruin everyone’s aesthetic. And I’m not always going to have the energy to fight the battle of “I can’t attend your service, can you move it to an accessible location?” when I get responses like “you’ll ruin our aesthetic.” (This is a rewording of an actual response I received from Pagan group leaders in the past, both when speaking on my behalf and on the behalf of others.)
My response to this is: the human world is fine. Indoors is fine. Those of us who cannot easily, or at all, get into nature? We’re fine. We are just as beloved by our gods as folks who do cartwheels in the forest and follow an ultra-recyclo-vegetarian diet. And if we aren’t? Well, it’s probably time to get some new gods, honestly.
So how can I reflect this in the Dedicant Path’s requirement of Nature Awareness?
First, everything is subject to the first law of thermodynamics. My apartment is constructed entirely out of things the earth itself gave us, along with some help from carpenters, builders, and scientists. A quick study of my immediate environment tells me:
- My wooden floors were once trees – the most popular of druidic symbols – that, like the chant goes, were “rooted deep, crowned high.”
- The glass, ceramic, plaster, cardboard, and canvas all around me have been transformed from other elements coming from the earth.
- The plastic that allows me to function, from my computer to my air conditioning unit to some of my clothing to the bottles my medicine comes in, is literally the transformed bodies of ancient creatures. I’m literally drinking seltzer out of a dinosaur. Forget fossils locked away in museums, that’s a visceral connect to the ancient world of extinct animals.
- My hearthcraft practices all feed the spirit(s) of our home and family, which definitely live in my apartment and not beyond it.
Not to mention the spirits of the subway cars, library books, and electronics I interact with on a daily basis. That’s the thing about animism; you don’t get to pick and choose what has a spirit. To (probably mis)quote Diane Duane, you’d be mighty surprised where you can find life if you only look.
Now that all said, do I understand the requirement to study the parts of nature that exist alongside, beyond, around, or without humanity? Of course. I come from the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve worked in the garden and volunteered at a nature center for more than two years. My patron goddess Brighid is, among other things, a goddess of healing wells and sunlight, and the picture I commissioned of her is placed in a tree-lined meadow for a reason. And it has been difficult for me to connect with my new urban surroundings in NYC compared with being saturated in trees, wilderness, and deer hopping the fence to eat all my tomatoes. That’s what makes seeing plant and animal kin so important.
There’s a stump on my way to the subway every morning that was cleared and its square plot left empty. Last summer, every day I watched how weeds, grass, and even some flowers overtook that open dirt. City plants grow with a fever, taking over every inch they can. No matter how many times the weed whacker tore it down, that little patch of green came back with a vengeance. And every day I walk by trees that I have watched through an entire year of seasons at this point. I see the rats that live around New York (they’re just as important parts of nature as majestic megafauna connected with popular gods) working just as hard as humans to make a living around concrete and stone. And who can forget this past summer’s fruit fly infestation, where I got a very strong lesson in just how persistent our insect kin can be, and how futile are our own attempts to keep them out?
This post feels disjointed even as I write it because I feel disjointed in how I feel about how other Pagans feel about nature. I expect my conflicted feelings will only increase as I continue to explore Nature Awareness as the Dedicant Path goes on. But I am determined to connect with nature – all of nature, and not just the parts that are available if you have the time, money, or physical ability to access them.