Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Can A Pagan Environmentalist Not Like Being Outside?

How can a Pagan environmentalist not like being outside? Easy. I just don't. Doesn't that mean that I must not be a real Pagan and I must not be a real environmentalist? Apparently not since I am clearly an environmentalist and I am clearly a Pagan and I clearly do not like being outside. A zebra with spots! Good Lord! I am proof that such an animal exists. Let me explain my deviance.

1. There are lots of insects outside. I love insects. They are endlessly fascinating and beautiful comrades in my journey through life. I refuse to kill or injure them--- but I'm also not keen on having them land on my lips and eyeballs. I'm not thrilled about mosquito bites either and I can live without bee, wasp, hornet,or yellow jacket stings. I find it distressing when an insect, the fragile and exquisite handiwork of my Creator, dive bombs my potato salad. Being outside seems to invite this unpleasant insect attention.

2. I am almost always too hot or too cold even indoors. In Upstate NY, the weather changes rapidly. My children went swimming for the first time this year during the first week of May. Later that week it snowed. We have snow in May and heat waves in December. We have ice storms, windstorms, and lightning storms. These are great and interesting phenomena but I prefer to be indoors during them. I also find that prolonged exposure to our more typical forms of weather which consist primarily of icy cold, clammy drizzle, and muggy heat bums me out. I do like to spend time outside sometimes, but I like it to be purposeful and I like it to be limited in duration.

3. Indoors is where people read and talk. I find these activities stimulating Outdoors they throw spherical objects at each other and insist that I help them with yard work. I do not enjoy these activities.

4. The outdoors is very dirty. I do not like to feel soiled. Yucky.

5. I live in rural America. The outdoors smells of flowers. And manure. Mostly manure. Do the math. Also, one of our primary crops is cabbage. Have you smelled cabbage fermenting in the fields?

I always say, "I love theory." This is a joke. Mostly. But I do love Nature. I support it as best as I am able and hope to keep learning how to increase my abilities to be Nature's ally. I am a committed Crunchy Green Earth Mama. I breastfed all my children well past the age at which they could engage in stimulating conversation with me regarding the merits of breastfeeding. I am a vegan who chooses locally grown and organic foods (when I can get them in a region that has a growing season of about six days somewhere near the end of August). I stand opposed to wastefulness, consumerism, commercialism, capitalism, and unnecessarily shiny fabrics. I support environmentalist causes, read environmentalist publications, and teach environmentalist topics to my students. I just happen to not like gardening, outdoor play, or having to stand anywhere that is too sunny, breezy, nippy, or damp.

My "God" is in Nature. True. But my "God" is also in intellect, in conversation, in relationships, and in thought. These things are natural too. Just as lots of Christians do not really like to spend their entire day worshiping in the temples of their faiths (often there is a funny smell), I do not really like to spend my entire day in what others perceive as the temple of my faith. So I will continue to honor nature in my own way, here by a window. The trees are indeed, lovely, dark and deep. But I have kitchen floors to sweep, and lots to read before I sleep, and lots to read before I sleep.


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Great essay! You've put your finger on one of the great contradictions within the Pagan movement.

As a Pagan environmentalist who loves the outdoors, and whose quality of life has improved immensely since moving to a more rural home, I can't help but feel you (and others who prefer indoors to outdoors) are missing out. So many of my peak spiritual experiences have occurred to the sound of rustling leaves or soughing pine boughs, and been accompanied by the incense of a campfire, that I find I cannot imagine my own spiritual life as complete without regular infusions of these things.

As I say, I can't help but feel that way. My imagination is a bit limited, I suppose.

But. (And however.)

It turns out there are a lot of things I can't, personally imagine, like how some people can prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate, dislike coconut, or prefer the round, soft body of a woman to the hard, angular body of a man.

Yet, there it is. No accounting for it--everyone is not me!


One thing is true, counterintuitive though it may be. When it comes to living a green, earth-friendly lifestyle, it is not the outdoor-loving Pagans who live in the countryside like me who are doing most to demonstrate their love for Mother Earth, but the city slickers, the people whose lives are in some ways most artificial and cut off from nature.

Because in cities, one can find economies of scale in things like transportation, distribution of goods, heating homes, and so on. I moan and groan about carpooling or not carpooling--city Pagans tend to take public transit or bike or walk to work. I talk a nice story about earth care--but keeping my lawn mowed costs more energy than it probably does to heat the entire home of some of my city friends... whose houses don't sprawl or waste energy as much as the rambling old pile I call my home.

I know--you live in a rural area, too, Hystery. My point, though, is that it isn't always the life that is most stereotypically "natural" that actually is the most earth friendly... or the most Pagan, the most reverent.

(Tell me you prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, though! Some matters of taste transcend idiosyncrasy... *grin*)

Thanks for lending voice to a point of view not many are confident enough to admit to--though, truly, we are not all alike, and probably not meant to be.

Blessed be.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

How deep the "frost;-)" is in upstate New York and the bugs in summer.

Too bad, you don't live in God's world on the central coast of California.

Oh California, I cannot hold thee close enough...thy mists that roll and rise...Lord, I do fear thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.

Daniel Millay;-)

Hystery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hystery said...


California is indeed a beautiful place. I have fond childhood memories. But it cannot be as beautiful as the Finger Lakes. There is nowhere on Earth as beautiful as the Finger Lakes. But that's another post.

Cat, I do not actually think that my appreciation of nature is too far off from yours. I resonate with your descriptions of walks through your woods. I also have those experiences. I have my own woods.

of course I am making fun of myself. I am also making fun of the notion that somehow love of nature means that one is a kind of rugged, natural soul comfortable with camping. That seems like a very urban approach to Nature to me. When the woods and creek are a few steps from your backdoor, camping seems just a little silly-- just visiting a place like home but without a proper toilet.

There are other ways to enjoy nature that do not look like a Nature Valley commercial. I think there are differences in my perceptions of the natural world based on my context here in an agricultural community. What is most meaningful to me about Nature is often tied up in my memories and with my relationships to my ancestors.

I am a country girl born and raised. I am amused by city people who make expensive vacations of visiting this place where I live my everyday. Not that I blame them for wanting to get away from the cities. I could not live for long, at least not happily, in an urban environment. I don't like to sit by campfires but I like to be able to see the stars when I walk outside at night to fetch my rabbits into the house. How can people stand the lights of cities? I do not understand it. I like to walk through the old cemeteries and to trace the names of my ancestors on the stones. I love the fragrance of lilacs and horse chestnut trees on my night time walks with my mother. I love that I can smell the rain coming. I love that my children can name not only trees and flowers but also can tell you the names of the crops in the fields.

But I freely admit that my temperament is that of a bookish contemplative. I am an observer, not an actor.

Re: chocolate. I do not eat milk chocolate. I used to prefer it to dark but that was many years ago when I was still a teenager. I enjoy dark chocolate when I'm in the right mood but I can live without it for long periods. I cannot quite understand why people are rhapsodic about it though I agree that has a nice enough flavor.

Leslie said...

Oh, You are so right about people assuming Pagans are "woodsy" folk.
I have lived in an assortment of settings in my life, from farm country to big city suburbs. After college I moved from the large and loved college town to my boyfriend's house at the edge of nowhere in a large forest.
It is the absolutely perfect place for a Pagan to live, about an acre of cleared land with house and garden, surrounded by acres and acres of trees and wildness. It is Pagan Bliss.

And I miss town.
I Seriously Miss Town.

I miss long walks with my dog early each morning and late each night.
Here it is 1/2 mile up a steep hill to the road, and the road is not a safe place to walk at any time of the day or night.

I miss the nod or short chat with neighbors as we pass on the sidewalk.
Here the neighbors are far, far apart, and are at work in town.

I miss walking anywhere my two little legs can carry me, or hopping on the city bus to get places faster.
Here it is 12 miles to the edge of town. I must consider whether an errand is "worth the gas" and "worth the time".

I miss having a job and walking to it.
Here I've been doing temp jobs when I was not snowed in, but iffy ability to get to town does not bode well for job hunting. Can one actually say, "Please hire me, I may or may not come to work" ???

I miss being five minutes walk from the food co-op and the farmer's market.
From here going to those places is a major production and takes half the day.

I miss having a wee little garden and stepping outside my door to cut a fresh salad.
Here we have a huge garden that is an enormous and exhausting amount of work, and the deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, possums and birds manage to destroy most of it year after year.

We have this ideal in our culture of loving the country and wishing we could live there....but for many of us it is lonely, impractical, inconvenient...and it doesn't help at all that I'm allergic to a lot of the forest plants. It hurts to breathe here far more often that I'd ever have believed it could.

I like the privacy of country life, but I'd happily give up the privacy to live in town again...if only my own true love weren't convinced he can never live anywhere but here.


As for spiritual experiences, the forest doesn't seem to hold more of those for me than any of the many other places I've lived.
The heart can open in any location.

I love the earth, truly I do, but I also love and miss the lovely city that was built from this earth.

Finally Spring

My kids and I planted bulbs today.  What a difference one week makes!  The spring warmth has brought everyone outdoors.  People are walking ...