Deepening Ecology ~ The Acknowledging of Grief

This is a hard blog for me to write, harder to post; it’s confessional in content, and I don’t yet have the experience of the healing and redemptive power that comes on the other side of a willingness to step into grief and mourning, into bereavement. So, this is all about blind trust. Some would call it faith. Faith in what? I have no idea.

I have not been a person willing or able to stand in what I’ll call a field of destruction, whether it’s a West Virginia topless mountain; a local clear-cut; an NPR story about the thousands of dead fish rolling up on the New Jersey shore during and after Hurricane Sandy; the reporting of two thousand birds inexplicably yet literally dropping dead from the skies; a New Hampshire moose harvest; even a barrage of rifle shots during deer season which says to me that the person behind the gun has absolutely no pride nor skill in placing his/her shot(s). I could not bring myself to listen to the destroying of the Ohio exotics, the homeless animals from Hurricanes Katrina, Irene, and Sandy. I cannot look at the grim images of wolves laying dead throughout Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska, some by aerial gunning, others by traps; cannot ingest stories of elephant ivory poaching, the likely extinction of snow leopards, the disappearing black panthers from the Florida Everglades; cannot look at images of polar bears floating on ice caps too far from land and sustenance to survive.

I could go on; I am not proud of this. And little by little, I am being called into account – some years ago, by Joanna Macy and the Council of All Beings, more recently by the Orion magazine-sponsored teleconference with Trebbe Johnson. Both of them have placed a gate along my particular journey a gate which I’ve pretty much tried to circumvent, until at last I’ve reached the point where I get to choose – will I continue to be an intellectual deep ecologist, or will I find the courage to do what’s required to integrate mind, heart, soul, and body? The jury is out as I write this. But I believe that in naming my own seemingly bottomless capacity to disconnect, lays the ground for radical hope. Much as I resist it, I also believe that there is no other way.

It has to do with standing in the grief of destruction of all I hold dear, not just intellectually, but viscerally. It has to do with bearing witness to the pain, often despair and hopelessness, of our ceaseless and indiscriminate,destruction of Earth – of the ground itself, of creatures and habitat, of water and air. It has to do with the relentless spiritual cost to us humans as we wreak havoc wherever we focus our greed, our sense of privilege and entitlement, our refusal to awaken to our own infinite capacity to destroy.


In my book I wrote of the power of ritual to reclaim our human interconnectedness. What I knew then but couldn’t yet say, has to do with the first step toward healing: to step into the pain.

With that in mind, I want to share with you two ritual possibilities, the first forms the content of this post; the second will come shortly: both are about bearing witness.

You can find Trebbe Johnson’s essay, Gaze Even Here, in the November/December issue of Orion Magazine. Trebbe blogs at, whose mission is to find and make beauty in wounded places.

Trebbe writes and speaks about the ecology of grief, and the capacity to find beauty in our broken world. What follows is a digest from the teleconference of October 23rd, in which she describes a recent pilgrimage she and several friends undertook in a clear-cut on Vancouver Island.

The experiment begins by a commitment on the part of Trebbe and her friends to be present and active listeners in a wounded place. In no way does she ignore the dark side of the natural world (a la Rachel Carson), but insists that grief must also include all that is darkened by the insatiable appetites of the humans – in this particular case, those who see the clear-cut as a sign of progress.

Once we were connected, Trebbe says, And now our tendency is to ignore the diminishment and destruction. After all, those mystical place and creatures are now dead to us. And so she and her friends commit to spend time in a clear-cut, grounded in the question, is it possible to fall in love with a place so very wounded?

The small group camped in a protected area, rich with mosses and ferns, cedars eight hundred years old. Each morning, after breakfast, they separated, to spend the day at the clear-cut. They gathered for dinner, and to share the stories of the day. (Trebbe herself chose a stump for her place, a stump great enough in diameter so that she could lie across it. )

The stories were tales of beauty: a black bear and her cubs, lichens, mosses and ferns, a plethora of insects.

One of the women experienced a psychological and emotional shift; her grief over the clear-cut opened her heart to years of not-yet-acknowledged bereavement. She built altars on a tree stump, and experienced a profound knowing of forgiveness of her past, of the tree cutters, and of us who use the trees for our own purposes.

Trebbe Johnson asks the question: how might we start thinking about and behaving differently towards the wounded places. She acknowledges the value of those who tend the beautiful wilderness places and of those who tend to the replenishing of that which has died. Yet she names the missing piece. Grief. She speaks with eloquence about her own daily pilgrimage to the clear-cut, and her discovery of beauty, grace, compassion, and insight.

She insists that we owe the vanquished and the vanished something. We cannot reconstruct what has been destroyed, but we can ourselves become agents of beauty, creating of found materials, symbols of redemption and forgiveness for what has been lost, for what we humans have destroyed.

The wounded places are alive, she insists, filled with beauty and delight, a constant reminder that the world is bigger and more mysterious than we can imagine, and that we all participate in the mystery.

I am posting this as the first step towards healing, my own for sure, and perhaps a wider circle as well. In the next post, I will share what I know about Joanna Macy’s Council of All Beings. It’s another sacred and ritual avenue to the deep listening that’s required of us to remember who we are, and what’s required of us.

I’ve posted this before, and I imagine I will again, that earth healing is not to be accomplished unless and until we (humans) can embrace and practice the spiritual and ritual ground of confession, forgiveness, love, beauty, and transformation.



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.