Land has memory. Just walking along a road you can often see the remaining marks of past land use. Here in the Northeast you can see the patterns of agriculture in stone walls, once boundaries of fields and property, now running through woodlands—an impression of past economy and past society.
Recalling with a critical and cataloging eye the landscapes of our youth, as well as the current landscapes we live in, can be a useful tool to assess the natural world and to help ground us in it.
As families we pass on traditions like special occasions, recipes, holiday traditions, and favorite pastimes. We establish new ones as time goes on, tastes change, and opportunity allows. Why not start sharing a new tradition where everyone observes the landscape? You might share how the trees have changed, how spring is different, how the heat waves in summer are more intense, how there used to be so much more farmland but somehow farmers markets now have so many more types of apples and tomatoes than they used to.
If you examine your recollections you will likely find changes worth noting. By contemplating these changes and writing them down we begin to build the kind of relationship Wendell Berry advises us to have with our environment, one where love and care can grow.
Here are some questions to get you started. Whatever you notice, remember, and cherish is important. (These are questions for temperate areas. Tropical, desert, and arctic places have their own. Please substitute as necessary.)
What do you remember about the landscape of your youth?
- Where did you grow up?
- What was the land like?
- How many trees were in your yard and neighborhood?
- What was the undergrowth like?
- How many birds were there? What about small mammals? Did you ever see bear or coyote?
- Is what you notice today different than what you saw 10 or 20 years ago?
- How are the open spaces filling in?
- How has the human imprint on the land gotten deeper, contracted, or changed in its character?
- What do you remember about the seasons?
What are you observing in the landscape now?
- When did the first leaves pop in spring?
- When did the first truly hot week of summer arrive, and how hot was it?
- When did the leaves first change color in autumn?
- When was the first snowfall and how deep was it?
- Are things similar or different to what you remember from your youth?
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies