Marriage to the Land: Part 1 of 3: Promise & Commitment – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

by on April 6th, 2009
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 Marriage to the Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Part 1 of 3: Promise & Commitment

riverpondeve-sm.jpgOur relationship to the land, like our relationship to other significant people, is in some ways a reciprocal contract.  But while it’s a hopefully lasting agreement, a healthy relationship with place is more of a marriage, binding similar rather than disparate parties, and formalizing promises between like hearts with shared values, desires and priorities.  It is a commitment unenforceable by law, and yet fastened by love, a lasting emotional and spiritual coupling and – in time – a mixing of the bones.  In its deepest measure it actually outlasts the flesh, not like the ghostly or risen but like energies alchemically enjoined, like a song that continues to reverberate down the canyon long after the singer has turned and gone.

Already once divorced at age 23, I cannot claim to have always lived up to the intent and goal of matrimony, but when I’ve promised I’ve given my all.  And likewise in my marriage to this land, nothing is held back.  I have given myself completely, while opening completely to the gifts of this place.  With full commitment, full belief, and full certainty that this marriage between inspirited ground and devoted man – and between those who tend that ground – will last.  Not until “death do us part” but somehow, some way, forever.  Holding on to each other not “by our teeth” but by hugging.  And more than that, by intertwining form, spirit and purpose until there can be no telling where the one starts and other stops, the lover and the beloved.

When the relationship is at its best, coming back to one’s home or home to our spouses is a return to our selves – to the wholest expression of what it means to be.  We feel the other, the land and lover, as integral extensions of this expanded self.  When we leave we carry them with us in our devoted hearts and minds.  When we are gone from the place we love most, as when apart from husband or wife, we ache for reunion.  We awaken to the comforting breathing of spouse, wind and land, work best all day for them or with them.  We can lose them to failed health or forest fire, and yet we hold them still.  They’re in the dreams we love to remember, and their absence is usually the mark of a nightmare.  We sleep deepest in the familiar arms of the mate or home that fullest knows us.  We plant ourselves in them, and feel them grow inside of us.  If we were to do something so vulnerable as to write a poem, it would be for that special him, or her, or there.

Far too many ceremonies retain the forms without the commitment, pledging allegiance to a country or cause without really meaning it, mouthing the sacraments of a church and then doing the opposite, pledging  a lifetime and then breaking apart in a few years or less.  When it comes to a relationship you want to last, as our relationship to the land, we’re well served by at least one line of the traditional oath, taking it one step further by promising and knowing that “even with death, we shall not part.”  We promise to give ourselves fully to one another, to respect and to nourish each other’s unique needs and vital expression, to share adversity and fortune equally, and to defend each other’s honor and form against all outside threats.

In any healthy marriage we praise the qualities and gifts of the other, consciously celebrate our relationship on a daily basis, infuse every moment with an attitude of deepest thankfulness, and seek to give back equally to the other with no resentment or restraint.  Whether a marriage to a person or to the land, part of what we give back is care, and this care is most significant when it is truly heartfelt.  However we might manifest them in the physical realm, the essential exchange of gifts are at the core emotional and spiritual in nature.  What we properly give back is the best of our selves, and our lasting devotion… voluntarily, out of love.

willowsbeaverpond-sm.jpgThis is not to say that we can’t yearn as much for a lover we’ll never marry, or ache as sweetly for someone who consistently spurns our attentions, but for something or someone to feel irreplaceable they first need to feel promised and attached.  An observant traveler should feel at least a slight tug in passing through each region, an entreaty from colorful roadside aspens and enticing lakes, but no other person or place can equal the pull of either mated land or fated mate.

I came to this river canyon a suitor, but quickly promised to serve her in deed and in heart – first as caretaker, and then as spouse.

(to be continued)

(photos (c)2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, Practicing Animá Lifeways, The Search For Home

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