The New Mexico feather grass has one big seed with a really sharp point and a long feathered thread attached to the top. As the seed ripens and dries, the thread, sometimes 6 inches long coils and creates a spiraled feather. The grass seed detaches from its perch and floats away to a bare patch of ground. The sharp end of the seed drops to the ground. The spiral feather catches the wind and winds around in circles, drilling the seed into the Earth. It’s perfect and beautiful. This is what I love.
Many people have lots of passions. Me, I really just have this one. My love of the living being of the Earth.
I have this memory of when I was seventeen years old, interviewing for colleges and being asked what I saw myself doing in the future, what I wanted to study. I can still see in my mind the vision I had of this ditch in the ground. I was looking down at a gash of bare soil. I knew that it needed healing, but I didn’t know what the problem was or what the solution would be.
Well, I continued down that path. And now I know not only the problems, but also some of the solutions. And that is how I have constructed my life.
The solutions begin with the grasses. The blue grama holds the sloping soil through floods, the stands of alkali muhly grass with their massive trailing root systems help soak the water deep into the ground. All the grasses in these hills create a welcoming habitat for wildflowers when the weather is right.
But the grasses are just the beginning. Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center started with land full of grasses and also a few of those gashes in the landscape that need healing. And we have learned about the many aspects that healing takes.
To embody my love of the earth I have always striven to live like a creature – wild and interconnected.
So at Ampersand, we create our shelter out of the Earth. Our buildings are burrows carefully designed to harvest the sunlight when we need heat. And to create cool shade when we don’t.
We grow food and gather what we can off the land. We catch rainwater and live year round off of this sacred gift. Over the years (and we’ve been building and tending this land now for eleven years) we have created quite the compound. We have our physical space, the East sloping hill where we have perched our lives. We have the yurt, the tipi, the strawbale cottages, the outdoor kitchen and our main house, along with the winding pathways, the homemade technologies, the water harvesting garden patches, the lush hiding spaces and grand overlooks.
As we have grown as a learning center, people have inhabited these spaces we have co-created with the land, and we have discovered more of the dimensions that make up a healing space. The physical spaces themselves of course can be healing to the land. We create oasis environments that add to the fertility of the land and wildlife. But through careful design we are also healing another important part of the Earth, ourselves.
I feel the earth needs us to notice her and to speak with her through our actions, and she does respond. I’ve seen the more we participate in this dialogue, the more we realize the intelligence and magic of the Earth. She does respond, with spiderwebs floating in the descent of the evening air, and she speaks through our neighbors and comrades.
This business of healing the land; the Earth’s time scale is larger than we can imagine. She will certainly survive and adapt through this phase we are in.
I know this, but still I am called to that bare dirt ditch, and doing what I can to heal it. But now I know that I’m feeling the Earth’s instinct to heal herself. The work we are really doing is restoring our relationship with wildness and harmony and vitality and even death.
Although I’m a leader in this group, everyone is equally attending to this healing process and it turns out it includes things like chore wheels, tracking water use, and saying I’m sorry.
So while my love of the Earth still starts with the grasses I’ve witnessed it grow to embrace these strange human creatures because that’s where the most powerful healing potential is. Restoring our dialogue with the Earth through the actions in our lives very well may mean planting grass seeds, but it might be also in recognizing the wildness and interconnectedness between us all, here, right now.
Written by Amanda Bramble
Interested in Arid Land Restoration? We have an class coming up on Saturday, June 13th.