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When Nature is a Mother: The Sacred Mile Project

Oh how we nature revering sorts love to talk about Mother Nature. Look at the Empress card in all the nature themed tarot decks to see our vision of her: eternally fertile, eternally beautiful, waiting to shower her beloved children with gifts as she cradles us in the bower of her maternal love.

And yes. Mother Nature is often indescribably beautiful. Nature DOES give us everything we need to survive, because everything comes from nature. But mothers aren’t always doting caregivers in flowered dresses, and it’s too easy to forget this when we’re anthropomorphizing the land.

I was just reminded of this quite forcefully. At the beginning of January I started The Sacred Mile Project with much delight. The first week of the month was lovely: long rainy walks, buckets of inspiration from the beauties of the land, and a fun trip to the Oregon coast with friends.

The day after we arrived home from the coast, one of my teeth started hurting. Two trips to the dentist over the course of a week revealed that I’d need to see an Odontologist, and I was given a referral … and before I could even get in touch with the specialist, an ice storm hit my city.

Thanks to Mother Nature’s ice and wind, I waited nearly two more weeks in horrible pain to finally get my tooth dealt with. We also lost power for about 17 hours and got VERY cold (and we were lucky, some people were without power for much longer than us). I felt quite sorry for myself, but also laughed at myself a bit for romanticizing nature in my moments of delight just a few weeks before.

Talk of “Mother Nature” calls to mind the beauty of tender leaves, blooming flowers, and for some of us, gentle rain or softly falling snow. There seems, often, to be an implication in the phrase of an idealized mother figure, the tender, doting mama, ever gentle, ever mindful of her fragile babies. When we face devastation at the hands of natural forces, we turn our thoughts to the imbalance created by human ecological damage. We tend to think and speak about nature’s fiercer moments as if they are an aberration from her gentle loving personality.

But have you ever met a mother who was always gentle and doting? Who never had  a cross word? We forget, in all our idealizing of Mother Nature, that mothers can - sometimes, must - be fierce. Sometimes mothers can even be harsh with their children. A mother is a provider and nurturer, but also a teacher of values, boundaries, safety, and coexisting in community. A mother  must teach their children how to navigate life, and sometimes this means challenging them or doling out consequences. If nature is our mother, then surely sometimes nature will handle us firmly.

Another thing we forget as we use our mother metaphor is how a mother loves ALL their children. And this mother has many, many children. Humans are not nature’s only precious babies. I do believe we are loved by the earth. But so are storms, and bacteria, and viruses. So are avalanches and ravenous bears and rabid dogs. We can’t expect the mother of all beings and all forces to prioritize human wellbeing over the wellbeing of all their other children. We are also very silly if we think major weather events are all us.

As I suffered with pain and felt very battered by the world, the bacteria in my body, the gusting winds that tore down tree branches and power lines, the ice that coated every outdoor surface, and the snow that swirled over it all, were thriving. They were being loved by their mother. What was happening to me wasn’t an act of punishment by angry forces: it was mother nature letting their wild children play for a while. It might have been awful for me, but I imagine it was quite joyful for the forces and beings who were having their day.

Sacred Mile Project Journal Prompt Number Two:

Take a moment to sit with the thought that humans are no more, and no less, valuable to “Mother Nature” than any other being. That we not above anything in a hierarchy of worth, but are instead only one species in a world of species, energies, and spirits who all matter as much as we do. Are you comfortable with that thought, or do you find it suprising or challenging? Write about how it feels to think of yourself in this nonhierarchical way. How does awareness of our place in the web of life make you feel? How might your interactions with the land shift if you really grasp this view of humanity’s place in the world?

All photos and text in this blog post copyright Michelle Simkins, 2023. Please don’t reproduce or use for purposes other than personal, private use without permission.

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1 Comment

Feb 01

Good morning! I must say that I feel much more comfortable with the idea of "smallness" in Nature's web of life. The alternative, man's subduing Nature, is what has gotten us in this mess. And still is! Living in a quasi-natural environment, (I say "quasi" because we live near a lake with Oak woods surrounding us---plenty of wildlife, etc.) we have more than our fill of noise pollution and chemicals, with leaf blowers galore and neighbors who strive for the perfect lawn! Yes, I can "forgive them," for they know not what they do, but I'd much rather let my Gardens speak for themselves---totally organic and flourishing year round...and Gardens do flourish in the Winter! Beneath the soil the roo…

Image by Annie Spratt

Michelle Simkins

polytheist . writer . maker . witch

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