In Genesis, God creates a beautiful world, with a garden where 4 rivers come together. He places two people in this garden and gives them two different words to describe the ideal relationship of people to the earth. One is steward, and the other is subdue. Most parents know that there is some sense of subduing in stewardship, but I believe that the key element is stewardship. A steward manages a resource for a good greater than his own, and hopes to leave his charge in better condition than he got it. This seems to me a good model for our stewardship of the land.
We only have one planet earth. It’s beauty and intricacy never cease to surprise me. Every piece of it is important, has value. Interrelated systems spread across the planet. Polar ice fuels ocean currents that control the weather. Certain mushrooms are necessary for the health of trees in our forests.
There are several kinds of good that can be measured; economic, agricultural, social, aesthetic and ecologic. The trick is to produce these good things without degrading the systems of the earth that we depend on. For instance, logging and mining costs should include the cost of restoring the environment. Current practices charge far less than the environmental costs for the extraction of these resources. Farming should be done in a way that maintains our topsoil and water quality, or we will destroy our very capacity for producing food. Aesthetic good can be the hardest to steward, because one person’s treasure is another person’s junk, but natural wonders, architectural heritage, and historical monuments have a value in teaching us life lessons. Ecologic good is the most interdependent, least understood, and probably the highest value in terms of keeping our blue-green gem of a planet live and functioning.
16 years ago I married into 5 acres of salmon berry and hard pan. It had been logged twice, and the topsoil had been sold. A natural pond had been filled, illegally and ineffectively. This was not a promising place to start. On the other hand, it had been so badly used, that almost anything I did would be an improvement.
Some of my stewardship has involved waiting, watching and working. Over the years, the filled pond has settled into a seasonal swamp, but it is possibly the best wildlife habitat I have on the place. Most years we raise a crop of woodpeckers. Compost and digging in have improved the glacial till. I have subdued invasive species. Now dozens of native species thrive here. There are more trees on the property than when we bought it, and several wildlife snags. My organic apples are not pretty, but they taste good.
So where do I stand after all these years? I have not turned this land into the Garden of Eden I wanted to. My son enjoys prowling the swamp, and I hope to pass some of my values on to him. It isn’t perfect. Nothing is since Eve ate the apple. I am trying to do well by the resource entrusted to me. If everybody used some of these ideas in their suburban lots, it could create acres of healthy ecosystem, winding throughout our communities, restoring some of the earth that we have been given.
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