Photo by Kailani Clarke
Ben was right. He warned us at the start of Chesapeake Semester that we would look up and see that it was November, that the time would blink by. It’s December now, and I find myself looking back on the entire tumultuous semester, and what has changed, and what has stayed the same. This is especially interesting in regard to my Chesapeake Ethic, and how our readings and experiences have altered and enhanced it. Though my views have remained fundamentally the same, in that I believe we, as inhabitants of the Bay country, have a mandate to protect and take care of it, many of the previously grey areas have come more into focus. There was a lot I didn’t know going into this semester, and I am proud to say that I am at least a little less ignorant than before. One example of this is in farming.
Though I have been on the Shore for five years now, and have become quite familiar with the sight of combines on 213 and the smell of chicken shit wafting on the breeze, I did not actually know that much about agriculture on the Delmarva. Journey 4 is not yet over, but through the readings and the field experiences I have already felt my view expand. Kant’s and especially Singer’s pieces on animals inspired me to, once again, scrutinize my species’ relationship with the domesticated and wild creatures we grow or harvest for food. The excerpt of Singer’s work “Animal Liberation” was particularly mind-twisting, but questioning our speciesism toward animals used for food was an interesting and expansive exercise. I have always known to express and extend empathy toward all living things, but imagining all animals to deserve the same moral consideration as humans is something I have never tried before. It has left me with plenty of fodder for later ruminations, and it made our visits to the Davis’ poultry operation and to St. Brigid’s farm even more layered. Berry’s “A Return to Husbandry,” in which he reminisces of the times before industrial agriculture made me look at Trey Hill’s farm through a more critical light as well, wondering if, despite Hill’s advances and progressive work, it truly is just a band-aid on a dying, broken system. Overall the farming readings further reinforced the reality that there is no truly polarized issue, especially in one as expansive and uncertain as how to feed the world without destroying the environment.
Another area where my ethic has changed is the harvest of wild things. Spending time with several of the hunters in the group has changed my view on the culture around the practice, and increased my appreciation for it. Though I have long known about the fierce culture of the Chesapeake watermen, my understanding and respect of their way of life and their practices of working the water has deepened. Though part of me recoils at the killing of anything, I understand the necessity of it, and how people like those of Smith Island sustain their livelihood and culture through harvest.
Perhaps the most profound and challenging shift for me occurred in the re-imagining of the wild. This was spurred mostly through William Cronon’s piece, as well as several of the Berry readings, especially “An Entrance to the Woods.” The wild, for me, has always been a landscape in which to dream. It is where I am allowed to run away to. As someone who mostly grew up outdoors, and who struggles at times to find a sense of belonging among my own species, I have always felt the in tune with the world when I am out in it, alone. The wild, as I knew it, was defined by danger. It was often empty of people and mostly untouched. Its rules were those of nature, and to survive you had to set down parts of your human-ness, and pick them up again on your way out. You were forced, utterly, to pay attention. To become a piece of where you were. In many ways, my view of the fundamental wild has held firm, though I imagine it now in a broader context. I still think the true wild is defined by danger, and the necessity to pay attention and defer to your surroundings. But I know now that there is no land left in my country, and indeed in most of the world, that has never felt the altering touch of my species. Many of the empty places in the lower 48 were stolen from the Native Americans. With where we have come, as humans, there is no wild left that comes without a price. Perhaps there never was.
This saddens me, but I take comfort in knowing that it doesn’t take much to connect with a sense of place. Yes, I long to go get myself lost in some lonely and alien land. I have always longed so, and always will. But I have also learned, as Berry and Burroughs did, to go into the tiny wilds just outside my door. That energy I seek is everywhere. It’s in the waste-spaces on the margins of the road. It’s in the boughs of the beech tree, as they grow russet with the coming cold. It’s in the night sky over the stadium. It’s at my fingertips. In this again comes the call for attention.
This, I believe, should be applied to a larger Chesapeake ethic. It’s not terribly complicated. From this experience I have gleaned a few absolutes that form the backbone of this ethic:
Look up, and pay attention.
Realize that nothing is black-and-white.
Everyone, in the end, is just trying to live and provide for those they love, so be good to each other, no matter how angry you may be.
Care for the land, for the world, however you can in the position you are in.
Question everything, and challenge most of it. There is always more to the picture than meets the eye.
Dig. Innovate. Seek.
Tell the story.
Everything– everything– is connected.
Perhaps this will be enough.
Or if not enough, at least, a place to begin.