Finding my New Love

“Do You Yearn for Wilderness?” read the pamphlet at the counter of my local bakery. It was 1998. At the time, I was yearning for one of the most scrumptious no-bake cookies found in my city and not much more. Who knew that picking up that pamphlet would lead me to a life of activism and a new mindset about the health of this planet?

It all started out quite innocently. The pamphlet was on the counter and as I stood in the long line for a treat baked by the best bakery in the city, the images on the front beckoned me to pick it up. Inside, the copy invited me to visit a nature sanctuary about two hours south to enjoy hiking trails in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

But this place was no ordinary destination for a day-hike. The owners of the sanctuary (and the bakery) believed in the sacredness of nature. By only allowing a very limited number of people to hike there each day and encouraging solo hiking, the sanctuary was the perfect environment for the sacredness of nature to unfold. The likelihood of meeting any other human on the trails was almost nil. I had never been alone in a forest, so when I embarked on my first solo hike about two weeks after picking up the pamphlet, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I’m not sure if it was the red columbine hearts dripping from the limestone cliff walls in spring, or the buzz of the hummingbird that mistook me for a flower in June, or the drone of the cicadas that melded into the rhythm of my heart in August, but I fell in love. And I found myself returning to the sanctuary more and more often to visit and listen to the drones and buzzes and everything else it had to say.

And when you fall in love, you often seek out others who have also fallen in love with the same things so you can share your experiences. Over the next two decades I immersed myself in Muir, Abbey, and Leopold, just to name a few. And I sought out others in my community that also shared this new love of mine. And along the way, I discovered many people, who like me, had pushed away cultural and social constraints as best we could and lived each day in awe of nature surrounding us.

But I also met many people who had not done this, either because the opportunity to do so did not exist in their worlds, or simply because they did not choose to. And many of the people that did not choose to had been my friends for years. I watched over the years as they built financial and social cocoons of denial so they no longer were aware of anything outside of their small worlds.

So I went through a period of Dark Enlightenment. I read much more of Edward Abbey and dove into Derrick Jensen’s writings, and I thought dark thoughts. And I was immobilized for about a year. But eventually, I came out of it.

I remember reading an article in Orion Magazine by Rebecca Clarren about a coalition formed in New Mexico to stop gas drilling in the Carson National Forest. The coalition brought people together that respected the land and the reasons behind their respect no longer mattered. What mattered was saving the land from gas drilling. In December of 2006, the coalition became the first of its kind in the drilling boom era to succeed in getting federal legislation passed to prohibit oil drilling and mining in the area it fought to protect.

A quote from this article particularly resonated with me –

“I’ve been sitting across the table with people I normally couldn’t relate to because we just have a different walk of life. I’ve learned to have a lot of respect for another point of view. It’s really helped me grow as a human being,” says Alan Lackey, a National Rifle Association member, Republican, and former hunting guide in the Valle who now ranches on ten thousand acres in Roy, a town of around 350 people southeast of the Valle. “If we’re successful with this, people are going to realize they have to put their personal things aside, because it’s taken this broad base to get anything done.”

I took this notion and began my path as an agent of change and have been learning how to break down the barriers between people from opposing sides to develop a common ground ever since. I’ve always been a person of extremes and I think that’s helped because I can typically see both sides. My current path is focused on developing a grassroots effort that encourages individuals to use their personal funds to support sustainable agriculture.

This goes beyond shopping at farmers’ markets and buying from local producers. It involves taking personal funds that you might use to invest in a mutual fund or 401k and instead, using these funds to help someone you know. It’s a form of crowd-funding for the community.

Participants in this effort take on some of the financial risk with farmers and food producers. It typically takes awhile to warm up to this idea. But when you realize that these people are using the land not just to farm, but to insure that the land will be healthy and fertile for generations to follow, it’s easy to take on that risk with them.

The movement aligned with these ideas is called Slow Money, and I, along with many other supporters around the world, coordinate events to raise awareness and develop opportunities aimed at making Slow Money happen in our communities. Instead of using our money to invest in global economies halfway across the globe to support businesses that seldom align with our values, we create ways to invest in our communities and the people in them that share our values and beliefs about the land and future.

Any time you say the word risk to a new financial investor, things get a little buggy. But Slow Money is redefining risk and return on investment. The risk of not having fertile soil is a reality that many people are waking up to as we realize the repercussions of using fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides on our soil for several decades. Return on investment isn’t just about numbers. Success is defined as growing and shaping your community to be stronger, more resilient, and diversified.

Over six decades ago, these words of Aldo Leopold were published – “Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays.” As a member of the generation that grew up in the decade of decadence and awarded the best motion picture of the year award to Wall Street, I can attest to the fact that the acting on this advice has been a long time coming. Perhaps that’s why the term “slow” is used in our movement’s name.

I still have a lot to learn in my role as an agent of change. And although I certainly don’t prefer it, I have found that I learn the most useful skills of activism by being on the front lines rather than on the trails of a nature sanctuary. But whenever I get a chance and my schedule allows my head to clear its cloud of busyness, I find that I still “yearn for wilderness”. The message in the pamphlet I picked up all those years ago still beckons me.

If you haven’t visited nature in awhile, whether it be a forest, desert, beach dunes, a creek bed or your own back yard, you owe it to yourself to do so. Go alone. And listen. If you go often enough, you might just come back as an activist.

Lisa Daris the the founder of Slow Money Ohio Valley based in Columbus.

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