Nature Awareness 1

1.      Describe the customs of two or three Indo-European cultures regarding the land and natural resources, and compare and contrast these practices with the prevailing modern attitudes. (minimum 300 words)

In most neo-Pagan religions there is a pervasive myth that the ancient cultures lived in harmony with nature and were conscious of the effects of their behavior on the environment. However, it seems obvious to me after a little study that the ancient Celts of Ireland, while aware of seasons and how they work, were probably not as aware of the repercussions their activities would have on the ecosystem at the time and looking forward to the near future. This is evidenced by the fact that the people of this area clear-cut so many trees in ancient times that the country is still trying to recover from the devastation of deforestation. This period of forest clearing and expanded human activity arising in the middle of the Iron Age and continuing into the Roman period is noted at other locations in the area as well. (Wells 53-166) Widespread forest clearing during the Iron Age was also verified at White Moss from two cores, dated 600 BCE and 460 BCE, in the Duddon Estuary in the county of Cumbria in North West England. (Wimble 422)

Peter Reynolds writes that the Celts used a method of cross-plowing, which at right angles does break up the soil. At first the fields tended to be small and while many were outlined by boundaries of fencing or hedges, others followed the contour of the land. Cereals were the primary cultivar with wheat, barley, oats, rye and millet being grown, but also flax. “The principle of autumn sowing is traditional in the Mediterranean zones and presumably with the arrival of the first farmers to Britain in the Neolithic this practice was continued” (183). The concept of two sowing seasons allowed for a greater return and a diverse use of the land. They also appeared to inter-row the growing of beans in with the cereal crop. This may have been to help replace nitrogen and rebuild the soil, but it could also have been for the stronger bean stalks to hold up the cereals. (Reynolds 176-209)

Likewise, the Romans were also extremely insensitive to the environment. They were perhaps the least environmentally sensitive of the Indo-European cultures. This disregard for nature may even have contributed to the fall of Rome. The huge amount of wood necessary for military operations alone permanently altered the landscape. To move legions into forested areas roads had to be cleared and wood was needed for “siege terraces, catapults, battering rams, and beacon fires.” (Hughes 73)  In one section of Trajan’s Column a beacon fire of 144 logs is depicted. (Hughes 73) Forts, camps, warships, and bridges also took an enormous amount of wood. Deforestation and erosion were a huge issue for the Romans and were the principal causes of soil exhaustion. (Hughes & Thirgood 68) This agricultural crisis was responsible for rising costs and shortages of food. It also led to labor shortages.

Attitudes today do not seem very different among the general world citizenry. The predominant philosophy favors the reaping and raping of the bounties of the earth regardless of consequences. There is a relatively recent movement that started with environmentalist and nature worshipping groups that is starting a return to acknowledgement of the dire straits that we have placed Nature in. Only time will determine as to whether this tide of concern will prevail or be swept away in the tidal wave greed of the affluent conglomerates. Although the concern that if the present path is continued there will be nothing left for future generations, people are not looking to history to see that we are perpetuating the downward spiral that was started by our progenitors like the Celts and the Romans. More so than these two cultures ‘we’ appear to be a more immediate gratification society and that is deplorable when one looks at the devastation of natural resources.

2.      Describe your understanding of the term “nature spirits”? Discuss this concept in relation to both ancient Indo-European and modern ADF practices. (minimum 300 words)

I see the Nature Spirits in a several ways. Sometimes they are spirits of locality, some are a force within specific animals, plants, stones, or waterways and others may be beings that are in-between being Nature Spirits, ancestors, or deities in their own right. In the article “The Worlds and the Kindred” by Ian Corrigan, nature spirits are explained as the Noble Ones. “The Noble Ones are the Spirits of non-human evolutions, both mortal and never-born. They are of a multitude of kinds, from small spirits of stone and herb and beast to the very Queen Under the Hill and Her Consort. Each has their own power and should be approached with respect, whether a simple herb-spirit or a mighty mountain.”

I believe that the nature spirits are those that are physically perceived all around us. They include the complete spectrum of animal, plant, stone and water. I also believe in the invisible spirits, those beyond our capabilities of sight and sound. Spirits of the Celts known as the Fae or Sidhe, the Slavic have the Leshii, the Domovoi and more; the landwrights of the Norse; and all the other land, river and forest spirits from the other IE cultures.

The ancient Indo-Europeans (IE) probably understood to some extent the effect they had on nature, but their understanding was likely limited to agricultural issues. They did; however, appear to show respect for certain elements of nature, particularly bodies of water like springs, rivers, and lakes by making votive offerings to the waters. This respect for water and its power is evident by the number of river and ocean gods and goddesses worshipped by IE cultures.

In ADF we honor the spirits of nature in both our rituals and in our daily activities. We form ghosti (reciprocal) relationships with them by making sacrifices to them and asking for their contributions in return. We show our respect for them by being reverential to the earth, protecting and conserving natural resources, reducing our footprint on the earth by recycling or reducing our use of various products, and by being active in our communities in regards to environmental issues. By developing personal relationships with the Nature Spirits, something that takes time, consideration, deference and dedication, we can achieve something magical that benefit not only ourselves but our communities and the world at large.

3.      Describe the park or patch of untended nature closest to your home and what kind of park it is. (minimum 100 words)

The patch of untended nature closest to my home is just across the road and is the Fishlake National Forest which was established in 1907. The forest covers 1.5 million acres and is split into four districts encompassing parts of nine counties. Located in central Utah, the area features majestic stands of aspen encircling open mountain meadows that are lush with a diverse community of flora and fauna that attract so many visitors to the area. Fish Lake, from which the forest takes its name, is considered by many to be the gem of Utah. The largest natural mountain lake in the state, it offers trophy fishing and bird watching. The mountains of the Fishlake are a source of water for many of the neighboring communities and agricultural valleys in the region. Elk, deer, black bear, cougar and moose can be found in the Forest, as well as wild turkey and mountain goats not to mention the wide variety of fowl that inhabit the environs. (Fishlake)

4.      Explain where your household water comes from; what waterway is nearest to your home, and where its source is; where it drains; if there are any large bodies of water (lakes, ocean) near your home; what you know about the quality of water in your region; and what the major concerns in your area regarding your water supply are. (minimum 300 words)

Our household water comes from a well that is shared with one of our ranch neighbors. The well extends to a depth of 380 feet below the surface which places the inlet into the underground lake at a depth of 130 feet. In 2006 the water in Beaver won the National Rural Water Association’s Great American Water Taste Test last week in Washington, “…an achievement that city leaders hope will lead to economic good times and nationwide publicity.” (Tushar) As snow melts at high elevations it percolates into a series of 15 springs and is naturally filtered as it flows underground. It is part of this system that feeds the underground lake from which our well draws water.

The Beaver River Watershed is located in the southwest-central part of the State of Utah and encompasses 500 square miles. Elevations range from over 12,000 feet on Delano Peak and Mount Belknap to 5500 feet at Minersville Reservoir. The Beaver River, Minersville Reservoir, and three small lakes in the upper watershed, Puffer Lake, LaBaron Reservoir, and Kents Lake are the major above ground bodies of water. (Utah Dept.) We live on North Creek of which the north fork has headwaters that I have visited about ten (10) miles from our residence. The south fork of the creek joins the north fork about two (2) miles from our property and we have to cross the conjuncture as we journey to the headwaters spring. The Beaver River itself is in the next canyon south of us and is fed from Puffer, Kent’s and LaBaron lakes. It flows down through the city and across the valley to the Milford Reservoir.

There are numerous small creeks and streams that traverse the county providing water for the many herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. While some might be thought to be irrigation ditches they all form a part of the natural water system in the county and the irrigation ditches branch off of these established waterways.

Concerns for the negative effects from this agrarian culture are addressed more in Question 6 regarding the predominant pollution problems of this area. One cannot help but wonder though at the limits of the minerals that purifies the underground water system when so much chemical is washed through the leaching process. One question that I have is to the breakdown that is occurring that we may be unaware of at this time.

5.      Explain where your household garbage ends up and what recycling is available in your area? (minimum 100 words)

For those who dispose of their garbage via the city waste disposal system it ends up at the county landfill. Because we are so rural the county has provided dumpsters in three (3) locations for us to utilize if we so choose or we can transport large items that are non-bagged to the landfill ourselves. There is no recycling service available in the county.

Because of our stance in living in harmony with the Earth and reducing our footprint, we do our own recycling as much as possible thus alleviating the need for excessive use of the dump. For example, the ashes from our wood burning stove go into our garden to enhance the soil. Our coffee grinds, eggshells, vegetable and fruit peelings go into the compost with our grass clippings and when ready are blended into our gardens to provide nutrients. The few meat bones we encounter are usually boiled to make soup stock and then crushed to use as aeration in the garden. We use primarily papers bags and cardboard boxes which we recycle by placing under the mulch around our trees and in the flower gardens. Through these efforts very little of our ‘waste’ goes to the landfill.

6.      Briefly describe the major sources of air and water pollution in your area, what the biggest source of pollution in your area is, and what impact it has. (minimum 100 words)

Because we are an agricultural rural area the major source of air pollution in Beaver County is agricultural burning and the major source of water pollution is from agricultural runoff. Every spring and fall there is a ‘burn period’ during which time the farmers are permitted to burn their fallow fields prepatory to plowing and planting in the spring and to burn off weeds and accumulated brush as well as whatever is necessary in the fall. Because there is a lot of flood irrigation in the area we do get considerable detritus that is carried with the flow of water as it crosses the fields that may contain cattle, sheep, chickens, deer, elk etc. feces remnants. This all goes back into the water system and eventually travels to the reservoirs downstream. Although the soil and minerals in the earth do an excellent job of filtering, there is still the need to employ mechanical filtration before using the water for personal use and most wells in the area employ filtering systems before they reach the surface.

7.      Describe the basic climate of your region, the primary influences on your weather patterns, major economic resources of your region (for example, crops, minerals, ranching, tourism, manufacturing) and how are these affected by climate and weather conditions. (minimum 300 words)

Beaver County is the epicenter of renewable power producing resources in the entire region. The county has abundant economic resources in wind, solar and geothermal. Geothermal energy was the first renewable resource in Beaver County to be harnessed for beneficial use and remains the only region in the state with operating geothermal plants delivering electricity to the grid. Beaver County is home to some of the most catalogued wind resources in the state.  The county’s wind potential, while well known to residents since its settlement in the mid 19th century has only been carefully studied since 2001. While the wind efficiency factor may be slightly lower than elsewhere in the country, it is well balanced with the load as the wind blows here during peak demand periods. Beaver County does not as yet have any solar developments within its bounds.  This is mostly due to the fact that the solar industry is in an earlier stage of maturity than wind or geothermal.  (BCEDC)

8.      Name and provide the following information for each of three species of animals (birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc.) and three species of plants native to and currently found in your area:

  • Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated)
  • A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where.
  • Describe at least one of the following:
  1. a.      a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.)
  2. b.      a way in which it has been affected by human presence or development
  3. c.       a way in which it has adapted to or entered into an ecological relationship with human presence or human development.

The Utah chub (Gila atraria) is a minnow native to parts of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. In Utah, the species is native to the Bonneville Basin. Utah chub are abundant and common in Utah, adapting to a myriad of environmental conditions in numerous lakes and rivers. In fact, Utah chub are so common in some areas of the state, that they can greatly reduce sport fish populations through intense competition for food and space. Utah Chubs are a nongame species of fish, and therefore the taking of them is not regulated. You can keep as many as you like. The smaller ones make excellent bait, which I among many other anglers have used for catfish, cutthroat trout, walleye, pike, and many other predator fish. (U.S. Fish)

Ephedra viridis also known as Mormon Tea, Indian Tea, or Joint Fir, is a 3’ – 4’ tall, spreading to erect shrub whose open stems are upright and parallel, bright green and turning a yellowish green as they age. The leaves are tiny and scale-like. There is minimal wildlife value but the Mormon Pioneers were known to use it as a tea for medicinal purposes by steeping the green stems, a use that was learned from the Native American residents when the pioneers settled in Utah. Because of its prolific growth it is easy to see in the back country and I can attest to its medicinal properties in settling an uneasy stomach. (Native Plants)

The Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is a medium-sized tree is valued for its attractive white bark scarred with black. The glossy green leaves, dull beneath, become golden to yellow, rarely red, in autumn. This tree is also valued for the way it sounds! The trembling noise the leaves make with the slightest amount of wind can virtually transport the listener to their favorite mountain retreat. The Quakie has quickly become one of my favorite trees to sit under and meditate because the gentle, soft rustle has a calming and centering effect which is very conducive to meditation. The Aspen bark contains a substance that was extracted by Native Americans and the pioneers of the American West as a quinine substitute. The leaves of the Quaking Aspen also serve as food for caterpillars of various Lepidoptera. (Native Plants)

The Greenleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) is an attractive evergreen shrub recognized by its smooth attractive reddish-brown bark. It has striking bright green oval shaped foliage. Its pinkish-white urn shaped flower can be somewhat inconspicuous, but are attractive and come on very early in the growing season. This shrub can be readily found traveling the back country hills and mountain trails. Although it is supposed to be hard to grow through propagation in my area it seems to be very prolific and I have seen it in the forest along the trail to the headwater springs of the North Creek. The fruits of Greenleaf Manzanita are utilized by bear, deer, other small mammals, and a wide array of birds. Infusions of the leaves and bark were used by some Native Americans to treat cuts and burns. The crooked wood of the central stems and the lower branches are used in several cottage industries, including lamp stands and other decorative wood crafts making the plant very beneficial on several levels. (Native Plants)

The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is a deer whose habitat is in the western half of North America. It gets its name from its large mule-like ears. The mule deer is the largest of the Odocoileus genus, standing, on the average, 40–42 inches (100–110 cm) at the shoulders and stretching 80 inches (200 cm) or so nose to tail. An adult buck will weigh from 150–300 pounds (68–140 kg) on the hoof, with does averaging 125–175 pounds (57–79 kg). During the winter, most mule deer must move down from mountains, where the snow is deeper and covers most of the food, into the valleys, where there is less snow. Sometimes, in response to perceived distress, concerned people create feeding programs. Such supplemental feeding efforts may be harmful if not properly implemented. I have two herds of mule deer within easy sight of my home and most evenings they spend sleeping in the grove of trees on the south end of my property where I have established my outdoor altar and ritual space. I do supplement their winter feed with cracked corn and some other nutrients but work within the guidelines that only small amounts be given daily so that they do not consider it a major source and cease foraging for themselves. (Mule Deer)

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is a medium-sized Owl averaging 34–43 cm (13 to 17 inches) in length and weighing 206–475 grams (11 to 13 ounces). The plumage is buff brown with dark streaks on the chest, belly, and back. The wings and tail are strongly barred. The yellow eyes are circled with black and set in whitish or buffy-white facial disks, which are suffused with a ring of brown. The bill is black. The head appears round without ear tufts, but at very close range small ear tufts are visible. Like many species dependent on grasslands or other open lands, the primary threat to the Short-eared Owl is the destruction and degradation of open habitat. From agriculture to human development to successional reforestation, this species is losing open fields, meadows, and marshes where it prefers to nest and spend winters. The species may also be affected by pesticides accumulated through its prey, especially during winter when Short-eared Owls often occur in agricultural areas. It has been interesting to observe this bird as it works the fields near my home. Although it provides a threat to my rodent habitat it does not seem to view that area as a buffet which was a concern of mine. I have concluded that the proliference of field mice, squirrels, chipmunks and other easily obtained food have rendered my habitat somewhat safe. (Audubon 566)

9.      Identify one species of plant or animal in your local area which is threatened, endangered, or locally endangered, or which became extinct in historic times. Explain what destroyed or threatens this species locally, how does or might the absence of this species affect your locality, and what, if any, steps were taken or are being taken to preserve the species. (minimum 100 words)

The Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens) is currently listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened. The total length of an adult Utah prairie dog is approximately 12-14 inches, the weight of an individual ranges from 1 to 3 pounds. Utah prairie dogs range in color from cinnamon to clay, with dark markings above the eyes and white on the tip of the tail. Utah prairie dog populations began to decline when control programs were initiated in the 1920s, and by the 1960s the species’ distribution was greatly reduced as a result of poisoning, sylvatic plague (a nonnative disease), drought, and habitat alteration induced by agricultural and grazing activities. Efforts are now underway to encourage the conservation of existing colonies on private lands – e.g., safe harbor agreements and conservation banks. In addition, recovery actions include continued habitat improvements and research to improve success of translocations on federal lands, plague research and management, adaptive management strategies to respond to unpredictable threats such as changing climate conditions, and expanding public education and outreach efforts. Since the discovery of some Utah prairie dogs on my property two years ago I have established a habit where they can live in harmony with the squirrels and chipmunks. During the past couple of years I have noticed a slight increase in population and am working to improve my knowledge in order to provide some small aid in their recovery.

10.  Identify one plant or animal species which was introduced to your area and explain how its introduction and continued presence has affected the local ecology and what, if any, steps are being taken to mitigate those effects. (minimum 100 words)

Since the early 1900’s following its introduction from Eurasia tamarisk infestations have dominated and altered many watersheds in the west including the Colorado River Basin. Tamarisk infestations are generally located below 6,500 feet in elevation primarily in the riparian zones along waterways within the basin. Invasive woody species such as tamarisk are concentrated along rivers and waterways which contain important wildlife species and habitats. The area is formally designated Critical Habitat for four endangered fish; the bonytail (Gila elegans), the Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychochelius lucius), the humpback chub (Gila cypha), and the razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus). The Nature Conservancy has also indicated that the Upper Colorado River’s amphibians have the highest percentage (75 percent) of imperiled species and subspecies. In addition, Federally-listed or candidate threatened and endangered (T&E) bird species known to use the area include the yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis), and the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). There at present several ongoing projects to remove the tamarisk including, chemical, biological and mechanical methods. (SETUP)

11.  Based on your experiences, meditations, and research, describe what, in your opinion, makes a place seem “natural.” (minimum 100 words)

To me ‘natural’ means an area that does not appear to have been developed or “improved” by humankind. Areas that seem especially ‘natural’ to me are areas that have been allowed to grow over, where fallen plant materials like leaves and branches are left to decay on the ground where they can return to the earth.

These areas pulsate with the energy that flows within them and they appeal to us in powerful understood ways that I am incapable to articulate in the written word. The most powerful natural spaces just have a different ambiance or pulsation to them. I tend to avoid the use of the word “energy” in my spiritual practice very often but conceivably it is the best word that describes the intangible quality that I am attempting to explain. The most “natural” spaces simply just emit a natural “feel”

12.  Based on your research for Questions 1 above, describe what sort of offering would be appropriate to make to the Nature Spirits in your area, and what would be an appropriate way to make such an offering and why. Discuss the potential ecological consequences of making this offering and ways to modify the offering in order to minimize any negative environmental impact. (minimum 100 words)

There are several different appropriate offerings that I make to the spirits of nature. I rarely offer bird seed as I do not wish to introduce an invasive non-native species to the local habitat. If I do use seed it is a native grass or wildflower variety. The widely practiced tradition of throwing bird seed is irresponsible to our environment. It encourages birds to rely on humans for food, many of the seeds sprout and become invasive plant species, and the offerings do not encourage the growth and strength of native plant populations.

For the birds and the deer spirits I use cracked corn which squirrels provides a continuing source of growth if spilled. For the small squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs, deer spirits and Sidhe, I often use oatmeal and apples or squash which assimilate into the ground and are very acceptable to these entities. But more important than providing just the correct offering to the Nature Spirits is the planting of more trees and bushes to help the spirits of the plants those that live among them as well as to help the environment. It is not just a matter of giving offerings to the Nature Spirits, but making them feel wanted and protected.

13.  Based on the research and conclusions you have drawn from question 1 through 12, describe how you might further extend your personal and/or group spiritual practices to include the Nature Spirits and other natural elements. (minimum 300 words)

Since retiring and moving here I have made a vow to decrease my footprint on the Earth. I have already made some efforts toward this by natural recycling through compost and mulching whenever possible, decreasing my dependence on the electrical grid by implementing the use of energy star appliances. My next step in this process is the investigation of solar and wind power that is affordable and feasible for my location. I have also begun the growing of my own vegetables and fruit that is adaptable to this area and of most beneficial health use to us. By doing this I am showing the Nature Spirits that I am honestly concerned about the environment thus allowing a closer personal relationship to develop.

I always find time during the day when I am outside to devote strictly to the ongoing development of the companionship of the Nature Spirits whether that is by meditation, ritual or simple communication with them. This is easy to accomplish as tend to the trees and shrubs by cleaning the dead growth and mulching around the base of them. I devote some time to improving my small animal habitat that was established with the remnants of the excess concrete from the building of our house, just another form of recycling.

I am also working on several devotional prayers and rituals that will be addressing the Nature Spirits in general and those of my locality specifically. These bardic creations are a further process to form trust, companionship, and acceptance with the various Nature Spirits that I know dwell hereabouts.

By reading and researching more about the Nature Spirits I will feel more comfortable as well as knowledgeable regarding the wants and needs those with whom I am living among. This will demonstrate my teachability and willingness to adapt and communicate sincerely with them. I am always seeking new and different methods by which I can draw closer to these entities on both a personal and spiritual level.

 


 

Bibliography

Beaver County, Utah. Web Nov. 16, 2010

Beaver County Economic Development Corporation, Web Nov. 16, 2010

Corrigan Ian. The Worlds and the Kindred, ADF Web, Nov 23. 2010

Fishlake – USDA. Web Nov. 16, 2010

Hughes , Johnson Donald, An Environmental History of the World: Humankind’s Changing Role in the Community of Life, New York: Routledge, 2002

Hughes, Johnson Donald, and Thirgood, J. V., “Deforestation, Erosion, and Forest Management in Ancient Greece and Rome,” Journal of Forest History, 26, 2, 1982.

Mule Deer Foundation, Web http://www.muledeer.org/ Nov 26, 2010

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Alfred A. Knopf, NY 1998

Reynolds, Peter J. “Rural Life and Farming”. The Celtic World. Ed. Miranda J. Green. London: Routledge, 1997

SEUTP- Woody Invasive Species Management Plan. Southeast Utah Tamarisk Partnership, July 2007

Tushar Mountain Bottling Inc. Web Nov. 18, 2010

U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Web Dec. 27, 2010

Utah Dept. Of Water Quality. Web Nov. 18, 2010

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Web, Dec. 24, 2010

Utah Native Plants. Utah State University Horticulture Dept., Logan, UT 84321

Wells, Colin, Huckerby, Elizabeth, and Hall, Valerie. “Mid- and late-Holocene vegetation history and tephra studies at Fenton Cottage,” Vegetation History & Archaeobotany, 6, 3, 1997.

Wimble, Guy, Wells, Colin E., and Hodgkinson, David, qtd. in Sarah Lomas-Clarke, Keith

Barber, and Keith Barber, “Human Impact Signals from Peat Bogs – a Combined Palynological and Geochemical Approach,” Vegetation History & Archaeobotany, 16, 6, 2007.

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