Ecology & Our Coming to be Human Beings, Part III

One essay in our OSE book came from Trevien Stanger, instructor in environmental studies at St. Michael’s College, who writes:

For some years now, I’ve made a conscious decision to define myself based upon what I do for my home, my watershed, my community, and my spirit:  I plant trees.  I am a Tree Planter.  Let me explain.

An ancient Standing One in the Sequoia National Park. Photo by Nina Luong on Unsplash

Like many of my fellow millennials (I was born in ’82), I grew up in what Buddhist scholar David Loy has called “the religion of the market.”  As organized religion failed to bear much fruit for our parents’ generation, the fields of spirituality were left fallow for us. 

Potawatami elder Robin Kimmerer asserts “We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world.  We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of earth’s beings.” 

Father and son planting a tree, Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Crema Joe on Unsplash

As we restore this honor to ourselves and others, we can begin to feel our own “impeccable warrior” rise up to participate in what Joanna Macy has so aptly called “The Great Turning.”

I, for one, plant trees.  Literally.  When I look around at the apathy, the neglect, and the confusion amongst my generation and the ones coming up next, I feel compelled to act, and act I have….I’ve had a hand in planting just shy of 100,000 thousand trees over the past twelve years.  I’ve planted trees alongside people on every stage of their journey.

But why trees, you may ask?  While I could certainly retort with some significant reasons why trees are nevertheless so good for us and our communities (shade, fruit and nuts, erosion control, flood mitigation, clean air, green space, pollinator support, etc.), I argue that the revolutionary power of trees may also lie in the act of planting them.

Tree planting as a revolutionary act: The International Solidarity Movement resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods. Photo by ISM on Flickr.

What happens when you plant a tree?  What happens when you wield a shovel in one hand (a human artifact) and a tree (a provisional mystery) in the other?  What happens when you dig a hole (a Kali-like destruction) and plant a tree within it (an act of creativity)?  What happens when you learn about your local ecology not just as an observer, but also as a participant?

What happens when you embrace the wildness of a tree-being and integrate it into the semi-wild streets and streams of your local community?  What happens when you crack open your isolated sense of self and plant within your heart this symbol of our ever-branching inter-being?  What happens when you consider your actions in terms of your ecological and cultural legacy?  What happens when you move beyond your concerns of today and inquire as to what type of ancestor you will be? 

Nelson Henderson posits that “…one true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” 

Adapted from

Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, Jennifer Listug, Order of the Sacred Earth, pp. 180-184.

Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, pp. 19-32

Banner Image: Conifer sapling, taking root in the decaying wood of an elder tree. Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash

Are you also a tree-planter?  Does the author’s meditations on tree-planting inspire you to appreciate trees and tree-planters?  Spend time with the wisdom in this essay letting it wash over you as if you are a tree coming to life.  Are you eager to plant something under whose shade you do not expect to sit?

Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action
By Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jen Listug

In the midst of global fire, earthquake and flood – as species are going extinct every day and national and global economies totter – the planet doesn’t need another church or religion. What it needs is a new Order, grounded in the Wisdom traditions of both East and West, including science and indigenous. An Order of the Sacred Earth united in one sacred vow: “I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.”
Co-authored by Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Berit Listug, with a forward by David Korten, this collection of essays by 21 spiritual visionaries including Brian Swimme, Mirabai Starr, Theodore Richards, and Kristal Parks marks the founding of the diverse and inclusive Order of the Sacred Earth, a community now evolving around the world.
“The Order of the Sacred Earth not only calls us home to our true nature as Earth, but also offers us invaluable guidance and company on the way.”  ~~ Joanna Macy, environmental activist and author of Active Hope.

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

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4 thoughts on “Ecology & Our Coming to be Human Beings, Part III”

  1. Carol Kilby

    Oh, the truth of the millennial. Reading these words from OSE, “as organized religion failed to bear much fruit for our parents’ generation, the fields of spirituality were left fallow for us,” I am wounded. A former clergy trained in the 80’s, my colleagues and those who studied at seminary before me were indeed trained to serve and preserve the church of the market.
    Trees called me out of the pulpit and into the woods. There, Grandfather Tree was my source of strength and wisdom. Teaching ecology and cosmology and Creation Spirituality at the Gaia Centre, I took our guests to the trees, through the trees. In this morning meditation, I celebrate my niece who travels the world planting trees. I celebrate my daughter and niece who plant trees for their children.
    Planting trees — here is where sustainability and salvation become one.

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    We had to memorize poetry when I was a child, and Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” remains dear to my heart. We also sang it. There is a wonderful book, the Overstory, “by Richard Powers that details the gifts and wonders of trees and our relationships with them.

  3. Avatar

    Excellent. A tree is not just a metaphor, i.e. Judaism’s Tree of Life, it is a living being. It enhances our home, beautifies our neighborhood and helps to clean the air.

  4. Avatar

    Although I have always loved trees, I got a whole new perspective recently when I read Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees-What They Feel and How They Communicate”. He is a forester, and tells how trees actually “talk” to each other, are actually social beings. I loved it!

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