Nature, Culture, and Community

Introduction to Part Three

This piece was originally published in Home! A Bioregional Reader, edited by Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant, and Eleanor Wright, New Society Publishers, copyright 1990.

“Our understanding must grow to encompass a union of nature and culture in which the sacredness of all life is honored. As long as we saw all other life as outside and apart from ourselves, we treated it carelessly. Embracing the interconnectedness of all life, we can again weave together the rift between sacred and secular, and the totality will be seen as sacred.”

Nancy Jack Todd and John Todd

The web of life on earth is a vast interdependency, maintaining a balance of tensions within which all species find some part to play. Yet, within historic times, humans have got out of joint with the whole. Cultures everywhere have been broken up by the on-rush of commercial empires. This is the global problem that humanity faces. The demand is to build new cultures, new communities—to extend the adaptive, caring practices of community even beyond our own people, embracing other species and surrounding ecosystems.

Certain leaps of consciousness will be required for the new life-ways to emerge. The effort of understanding is greatly supported by the recent work of Lynn Margulis and other workers in the natural sciences. The contemporary view of nature is profoundly social, providing fact and metaphor that inspire cooperative action. Cooperation, community building, is the strategy of nature.

Speaking of the new, positive approach to evolution, Nancy Jack Todd and John Todd, in Bioshelters, Ocean Arks, City Farming, lay out a history of the transition from a mechanical to an organic perspective, beginning in 17th century Europe. Humans are viewed as participants in creation rather than mere observers, or controllers. From the same book, the Todds outline a basic paradigm of “design” in nature, to help orient activities within a biological framework.

“Totem Salmon” illustrates the relations between human cultures and a grand scale ecosystem, the North Pacific Rim. “Totem Salmon” is noteworthy as one of the first bioregional sketches in the early days of the Planet Drum Foundation before the term “bioregion” came into use. Here is a classic “all-species” essay.

Through culture and community, humans find their place in nature. “How Humans Adapt and “Culture is the Missing Link” briefly state the case.

No Foreign Land brings us to the topic of community. As a result of alienation, civilized people often lack any image of being “at home” in community. Wilf Pelletier takes us there, giving us an inside view of everyday experience in his own native village. The promise of community is that we shall get to be ourselves.

Judith Plant’s “Searching for Common Ground” and Helen Forsey’s “Community: Meeting our Deepest Needs” continue the discussion of how best to care for each other and our places. The necessary connections between ecofeminism and bioregionalism are clarified. Concerns of domestic life are brought forward and valued. Marnie Muller’s “Bioregionalism/Western Culture/Women”—once again an early formulation, preceding the term ecofeminism—draws the several themes together with an overview of patriarchal history and a commitment in the present to regenerate our homeplaces.

The summary essay, “Earth Diet, Earth Culture,” is a model of bioregional description, comparing the ways in which successive societies, primitive and modern, have adapted to place in the San Francisco River watershed, New Mexico. A focus on diet highlights crucial differences in cultural adaptation.

Nature, culture, community…chant these words and be reminded of primary connections, worlds within worlds.

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