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A living Land Ethic

Not your average staff meeting…

True confessions of a former White Violet intern: staff meetings were sometimes a chance to daydream and pay just enough attention to the conversation that I could jump in with a great garden pun when needed. In my defense, I did generally take interest, but found myself in the background as others with decision-making power hashed things out. So, sitting down to the all-Sisters-of-Providence-staff meeting about the Land Ethic in February 2013, I looked forward to taking a passive role and getting in some much needed doodling. I quickly found that this would not be that kind of staff meeting.

As Sister Dawn Tomaszewski opened the session and began to share the details of the Sisters’ of Providence (SP) dedication to and discernment of their own Land Ethic, she had my full attention. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, nodding in affirmation, and beginning to understand a Land Ethic as more than a static document. The Land Ethic would come alive in the questions we ask as the Sisters of Providence community, decisions we make, and the way each of us as part of that community relate to the creatures we encounter in our work. This was big.

A new level of inclusivity

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” –Aldo Leopold

As the session continued, I found the concept of a Land Ethic, based on Aldo Leopold’s work, simple but challenging. In his words, “…a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”

“…a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” -Aldo Leopold

“…a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” -Aldo Leopold

We replace “ego” with “eco.” Of course – plants, animals, air, soils and rocks are impacted by our actions, and we by theirs. Why shouldn’t we hold this mutuality as a foundation for the decisions we make? Then again, what would the world look like if we did? What would we sacrifice? Would our lifestyles and patterns of work and play be interrupted?

As I’ve often found true of the Sisters of Providence (one of the many reasons I love this community), they are not afraid of these questions. They do not shy away from challenging the comfortable for the sake of the common good. The Land Ethic is another example of this.

Shifting from a framework of human dominance to one that values the delicate biotic community is not kid stuff. It will mean letting go of some commonly held values in our culture – expedience, self-interest, control – to make space for others – thriving wilderness, natural balance.

Time to eco-vangelize

Sister Dawn’s presentation and the SP Land Ethic have made clear to me that the value we hold for the common good of all creation is not bound by the borders of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The Land Ethic calls us to eco-vangelize! We are to “be advocates for ethical principles in resource use at local, state, national and global levels” and provide educational opportunities for the broader biotic community. The SP Land Ethic compels each sister, each Providence Associate, and each SP staff member to “see land as a community to which we belong.” And seeing differently means acting differently.

In my life, this Land Ethic did not end with a passionate, post-meeting buzz two years ago. I went on after my time as an intern to help develop a gleaning program as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Indianapolis.

By gleaning excess from farmers’ markets and local farms to deliver to food pantries, we promoted intentional use of food resources and worked to eliminate food waste. I also helped organize a “Food Revolution Day” event to promote food justice. We collaborated with Food Not Bombs for the event – all the food used for the kids’ cooking workshop and potluck dinner was rescued from local groceries, where it would have gone to waste. And it was delicious!

During the past year, I found myself called back to the Woods to be a more intimate part of playing out this Land Ethic as a Sister of Providence (in training). I look forward to the ways our Land Ethic will continue to unfold as we reverence, in Mama T’s words, this “portion of (our) inheritance.”

Wanna be like Aldo?

• Connect with the White Violet Center – basically everything White Violet does oozes Land Ethic. Get involved – attend a workshop, volunteer, buy a garden share, support the work, and tell a friend.

• Are you more EGO or ECO? Find out. Do an inventory of your own “carbon footprint” or go more in depth with a book like Radical Simplicity, by Jim Merkel. Pay attention to what it brings to light for you, and do something about it!

• Make your voice heard – find out how local incumbents relate to the biotic community, and rally around those who value ecological justice. Vote!

• Say hello – shifting perspectives start with personal experiences. Say hello to a fellow creature each day for a week, regarding the creature respectfully, and see how your attentiveness grows.

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Sister Tracey Horan

Sister Tracey Horan

Sister Tracey Horan is a Sister of Providence in formation. She professed first vows in 2017. She is a former intern at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. She currently ministers as education coordinator at the Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera where she works with an education team to coordinate and host individuals and groups for immersions to the U.S./Mexico border in order to engage participants on the current reality of migration.

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