This piece was originally published in Perspectives in Bioregional Education, edited by Frank Traina and Susan Darley-Hill, North American Association for Environmental Education, copyright 1995.
This Earth on Turtle’s Back
Once, the story goes, a woman fell from the land in the sky. She fell through a hole made by the uprooting of a great tree and as she fell she grasped in her palm a handful of seeds. Down she fell, a long long way. Below her there was no Earth, only the ancient waters and in those waters birds and animals swam.
“Look,” they said, “Someone is coming.” Then some of the birds – Swans or Geese – flew up to catch her on their wings. Below the other creatures held council.
“There must be a place for her to stand,” they said. “We must bring up Earth.” So, one after another, they dove down to try to bring up some mud from below that ancient sea. All of them failed but the last one – Muskrat. It brought up a tiny pawful of wet dirt.
“Now where shall we place it?” they said.
“Place it on my back,” a deep voice answered. It was the Great Turtle swimming up from the depths. When they placed the earth on the Great Turtle’s back it grew larger and larger until it became this continent on which we stand, this Earth on Great Turtle’s back. There Sky Woman was placed by the birds. There she dropped the seeds which grew into the good plants. So that story of Creation begins.
It is a very old story, but to some it is as new and real as if it happened yesterday. It reminds us of the interconnected nature of all things, that we humans — grandchildren of the Sky Woman — exist because of and in relation to all of the living world around us. The earth beneath our feet is alive. It is more than a beautiful myth, it is a legend to live by.
Living by Life: Some Bioregional Theory and Practice (Dodge, Chapter 2) and Where you at? A Bioregional Quiz (Charles, Dodge, Milliman, and Stockley, ) are reprinted, with permission of the authors, from Coevolution Quarterly, #32, 1991.) The journal is now published as Whole Earth Review.
Shaping Bioregional Schools (Smith, Chapter 4) is reprinted with permission from the author and publisher of Whole Earth Review, Winter 1993. Subscriptions to Whole Earth Review are $20 per year (4 issues) from PO Box 38, Sausalito, CA 94966, (415) 332-1716.
Coming of Age in the Ecozoic Era (Berry, Chapter 5) is reprinted with permission of the former editor of Katuah Journal, #26, Winter 1989-90. The journal is no longer published.
The Role of Shaman (Abram, Chapter 6) first appeared as The Ecology of Magic in Orion Magazine, Summer 1991. It is reprinted with permission of the author and publisher. Subscriptions to Orion are $20 per year (4 issues) from 136 East 64th St., New York, NY 10021.
Getting Outside (Dodge, Chapter 14) is reprinted with the author’s and publisher’s permission from Raise the Stakes, #32, 1994. Planet Drum Foundation offers yearly memberships for $20 from PO Box 31251, San Francisco. CA 94131.
Community Pageantry and Bioregional Education: Environmental Education for the 90’s (Wells, Chapter 16) and How to Put Together a Seasonal Wheel for Your Area (Lassman,Chapter 18) are reprinted from Third North American Bioregional Congress Proceedings (1989) with permission of the authors. Proceedings II, III,IV and V are available from Planet Drum Foundation, PO Box 31252, San Francisco, CA 94131.
Credits for illustrations
Thanks to Paula Kable for the illustrations on pages 49, 73, 88, 122, 129, 130, and 138.
The remaining illustrations are from Earth First! Journal, various bioregional journals and green publications, and Eco Clip Art for Educators Mac Clipart. Yearly subscriptions to Earth First! Journal are $25. domestic rate, $35. first class (US, Canada, Mexico) and international surface mail, $45. international air mail, $50 institutional and $15-20 for low income, non-profit or libraries. A sample copy is available upon request.
Write: Earth First! Journal, POB 1415, Eugene, OR 97440, USA
Special thanks to Brian Hagemann for his excellent work in the design, layout and editing details of this project.
This monograph is part of a series of publications supported by NAAEE in order to encourage debate and discussion on important topics in the field of environmental education. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAAEE.
Frank Traina &
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North American Association for Environmental Education
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To my wife Debbie for all the love and support she has given me. And to all the “farmers” and critters at Sunrock Farm for their incredible efforts at helping children touch the Earth.
To my friends and family, especially Brian, Emily, Eamon, and Caitlin, who make my Earthly life such a joy. Special thanks to Frank and Debbie for sharing their dream with so many folks.
About the Authors
David Abram is a philosopher and essayist whose writings have appeared in The Ecologist, Orion, Parabola, Wild Earth, Environmental Ethics, The Utne Reader, and numerous anthologies. An accomplished sleight-of-hand magician, he has traded magic with indigenous sorcerers in Indonesia, Nepal, and North America. His forthcoming book, The Sensuous Mind: Perception and Language in Ecology, will be published by Pantheon in 1995.
Thomas Berry, scholar and geologian, has authored numerous articles and books including The Dream of the Earth (1988) and, with Brian Swimme, The Universe Story (1992). He is an historian of cultures, educated at Catholic University of America. He founded the Riverdale Center for Earth Studies in New York and is associate professor emeritus at Fordham University.
Chet A. Bowers teaches in the School of Education at Portland State University and has recently developed a graduate program in the area of education, culture, and ecology. His previous publications include The Cultural Dimension of Educational Computing (1987), Education, Culturalness, and the Ecological Imperative: Towards Deep Changes (1993), Critical Essays on Education, Modernity, and the Recovery of the Ecological Imperative (1993), and Educating for an Ecologically Sustaining Culture (in press).
Sharilyn Calliou, born in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) in 1953, is of First Nations ancestry and a member of the Michel Band. She taught at an inner-city school from 1979-1989 and designed and developed a variety of community-based curricular experiences, including an urban environmental education unit for junior high. Currently, she is lecturer with the Faculty of Education, the University of British Columbia, with the Native Indian Teacher Education Program.
Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman, and Victoria Stockley lived on Root Hog Ranch in the Alta Pacific bioregion for 17 years and, as partners, founded an environmental consulting company.
Marti Crouch resides in Ohio River bioregion and teaches Biology of Food at Indiana University. She inspects wild mushrooms at a farmer’s market and is involved in promoting local foods by growing her own and lecturing and writing about food systems.
Susan Darley-Hill has lived in many river valleys across North America, currently enjoying life in the Central Ohio River Region. She credits her strong feelings of kinship with the natural world to her parents who, through example and gentle instruction, continually nurtured love and reverence for all creatures and plants. Susan has taught biology at the college level for several years, but also enjoys exploring the wonders of manure with Sunrock Farm’s young learners.
Jim Dodge is a poet (Palms to the Moon) and novelist (FUP, Not Fade Away, and Stone Junction) who lives in the Six Rivers area of Shasta Bioregion.
Brian Hagemann is a native of the Central Ohio River Region. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology in 1987 and is currently pursuing an M.Ed. in Educational Foundations at the University of Cincinnati. He spends 90% of his free time in environmental and political activism and is the local coordinator for the Greens/Greens Party USA. Brian’s vocational aim is full-time political activism (professional rabble rouser). Donations gladly accepted.
Amy Hannon is a philosopher, drummer, and teacher. She is a creator and organizer of Coastal Carolina All Species Project and has designed and directed quarterly soltice and equinox rituals for the Croatan Bioregion since 1983. She is a member of the NABC Education Committee and one of the founders of the MAGIC (Mischief, Animism, Geomancy, and Interspecies Communication) committee. She is currently an adjunct faculty member of the Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio and staff member of Genesis Farm Learning Center in Blairstown, New Jersey. She resides in the highlands of west central New Jersey with her husband and three teen-age children.
Cub Kahn lives in the Hudson Valley Bioregion. He is a professor in the Department of Math, Physical, and Computer Sciences at Dutchess Community College, Poughkeepsie, NY. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University in 1988.
Ken Lassman is a 5th generation resident of the rich transition zone of oak-hickory forest and tall grass prairie in the Kansas River Basin. He is a co-founder of the Kansas Area Watershed (KAW) Council and has been active for many years in the seasonal activities of KAW. He is the author of Seasons & Cycles: Rhythms of Life in the Kansas River Basin (1985); “Ecological Niche”, a series of articles in Well, Well, Well Newsletter (1990-1992); and My Home on Earth, an ecological inventory for land owners/stewards which helps them reconnect their piece of “real estate”, in its natural context, to the larger patterns of Earth. This project, enhancing our understanding of the Earth through our own backyards, is Ken’s current focus, in addition to building a passive solar home for a 6th generation on the family farm.
Marnie Muller lives in Katuah, in the Southern Appalachians, in the Little Sandy Mush Creek Watershed, which flows into the French Broad River, which flows into the Tennessee River, which flows into the Mississippi River which flows into the Gulf of Mexico…into Earth’s Ocean. She is former co-editor/co-founder of Katuah: Bioregional Journal of the Southern Appalachians. Her work has appeared in such publications as World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution, Raise the Stakes, and the book Home: A Bioregional Reader. She served on the bioregional panel at the 13th International ITA conference, “Toward Earth Community: Ecology, Native Wisdom, and Spirituality” held in Killamey, Co. Kerry, Ireland, May 1994. Currently she continues to explore the bioregional story in relation to the wider Universe story.
Gregory Smith holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin and currently lives in Cascadia bioregion. He teaches in the Education Department at Lewis and Clark University. He is active in the Tualation River Keepers working on River Gray Watershed issues. His publications include two books: Education and the Environment: Learning to Live with Limits, (SUNY Press, 1992) and Public Schools That Work: Creating Community (Routledge Press, 1993). He is currently investigating ways in which to link environmental education with social justice and equity issues.
Frank Traina lives in the Central Ohio River Region and is director of Sunrock Farm, a nature and farm education center in the Cincinnati, Ohio-Northern Kentucky area. He holds degrees in Philosophy, Urban Sociology, and a doctorate in Sociology from Cornell University. Sunrock Farm activities occupy most of his time. The farm provides a place where children can experience the natural world first hand. Pollen, a bioregional education journal, is published at the farm on an occasional basis. Frank gives presentations on bioregional topics throughout the region, is the author of several articles on the subject, and served as editor of Voice of the Turtle for TIBG-6, August 1994.
Chris Wells is a founder of the All-Species Project, and a musician whose tape, Missing Link, “is probably the most elegant bioregionalstatement anywhere!” (Stan Slaughter, 1995.) Chris spent seven years travelling from Argentina to the UnitedStates, becoming fluid in Spanish and Portuguese and steeped in the culture and natural history of the regions through which hejourneyed. His All-Species work has led him most recently to Ecuador, Sweden and, shortly, toChile. He is working with indigenous peoples in recounting their rituals and remembrances of the past, incorporating art, ecology, andeducation to culminate in community-wide celebrations. Home is the Upper Rio Grande Bioregion.
Few people like the name “bioregionalism.” It is a clumsy word describing the philosophy of a growing community of people feeling connections to the Earth and to their local natural area. Yet the word seems to persist. Perhaps because it is derived from “bio” meaning life and “regio” meaning governance; or perhaps because it is a folk or popular name and not a scientific term. The word has a respectable 20 year usage among rural countercultural settlers of the land, and with its fusion of human and natural forces, it offers an unchallenged conceptual niche in our ecology of mind. So it would seem that we are stuck with the term.
The reality behind the name is far more important. And the reality described by the word existed before the name was applied to it and will continue long after the word drops from usage. Bioregionalism represents a community of people struggling to redefine the human within the context of nature and to establish a new nature-centered culture which is both humane and ecologically sustainable. It is about exploring, appreciating, and enhancing the natural life and systems of the regions we inhabit.
One of the distinguishing hallmarks of “bioregional education” is its positive, hopeful approach to enriching our personal relationships with the Earth and our local natural area. It aims to drench folks in the flavors, odors, rhythms, sights, and sounds of a particular piece of Earth which we inhabit. It offers both a romantic vision and practical advice on how to live in such a way that will enrich, and not diminish the ecological well-being of our local natural places and the depth of the human experience. In getting to know our planet at an intimate level, we seek our place in the grander scheme to live as part, not apart.
Bioregional education is a journey of character development, a strengthening of innate skills which go undeveloped unless discovered and practiced. Bioregional education, at its best, builds an individual in whom compassion and equanimity flourish, whose physical skills and behavior reflect the experience and understanding gained from a life close to real plants, rocks, and creatures.
This book is aimed at classroom teachers, but it will hopefully find a warm reception among parents and people everywhere who are searching for ways to develop their own and children’s relationship with the Earth and their natural homeplaces. Through its emphasis on celebration of the natural world and corresponding development of values concerned with the well-being of all inhabitants, bioregional education has enjoyed appeal among parents and homeschoolers. Now we wish to extend that appeal to teachers in the classroom. May the ideas presented here find fertile ground in the minds and hearts of teachers who are striving with their pupils to create a humane and ecologically sustainable culture and society.
Frank Traina, August 1995
“Farmer” Frank Traina (1943-2014) was an educator and writer. After earning his PhD in sociology from Cornell, he moved to Kentucky to teach at Northern Kentucky University, but ended up devoting himself instead to the farm he purchased in Wilder, KY in 1978. Sunrock Farm hosted educational programs that “raised consciousness,” serving mostly Cincinnati-area children. About 25,000 people visited annually for decades. Farmer Frank also published Pollen, a journal of the North American Bioregional Congress Bioregional Education Committee.
Susan Darley-Hill (b. 1954) is a biologist and educator. After earning her degree from Virginia Tech, she taught college biology for a number of years. She also served as the Director of Education at Sunrock Farm from 1993 to 2001. Currently, she is the Environmental Program Coordinator for the Lake Superior Sanitary District.
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