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Are We the Land?

It’s raining.

Just another rainy summer day.  I hear the sighing of the traffic moving by on the road.  The spatter of the drops from the gutter against the stones of the porch.  The softer sound of individual drops against the leaves and soil of potted plants, and beyond that, the steady, murmuring sound of rain on maple leaves, hemlock needles, pines.

Probably because it is summer, and now that I am a school teacher, my summers are very much like those I had when I was a girl, growing up in a very similar New England landscape, my mind flows backward over all the rainy summer days of my childhood and adolescence.  Days I spent much as I have spent today: reading books, listening to the rain, venturing out into it, to the garden where a bird sits on a fence post, indifferent to the rain but timid of me.

I wonder, idly, how many rainy summer days I have lived in my life, surrounded by wet maples and wet grass.  A thousand?  I make some guesses, and conclude it is probably only five hundred or so.  Still, five hundred days or a thousand, this day of dripping skies and the smell of wet stone, wet grass, wet earth is so familiar, it is like looking into my own mother’s face.  More familiar, perhaps, for my mother’s face keeps changing; she gets old.

This rain feels unchanged.  This rain, this rainy landscape, feels part of me.

I spend my winters closed inside a box of fluorescent lights and tile.  Schools all smell like schools, and I certainly spent plenty of time inside of schools as I grew up, but spending time inside my school does not leave me feeling, as I do now, reconnected with myself.  All winter long, I look forward to being outside again, in the rain or sun or whatever weather New England suffers.  I look forward to the smell of leaf mold and the feeling of earth beneath my nails.

This landscape feels like part of me, like who I really am.  Apart from it, I feel a stranger to myself.  But is the land a part of me?  That makes no sense, considered logically.  Tiny though my landscape is–the rain-soaked land and gardens, and the road and woods beyond them–it is too large for me to contain it.

Say, rather, that I am part of it.  Like the bird who perches on the fence post, the deer and bears hunkered down and listening to the same rain I hear, I eat the food this landscape gives me, breathe its air and smell its scents.  They say you eat a peck of dirt before you die, and no small amount of that dirt, for me, will come from this place I love.

When I was a girl, spending my summers with my books and my guitar, looking out my bedroom window at a different New England rain, I felt very much the way I feel today.  Before there was a Pagan movement, my Paganism was taking shape within me, watered by New England’s summer rains–and by the fireflies and wild blackberries, the scrub and rusted out barbed wire fences where pastures used to be, the hollow log of a fallen chestnut tree, dead of the blight long years before I was born.

This land raised me, gave me shape, taught me to love the things that are green and growing, or furred or scaled or feathered that live here, too.  Before I had the words for gods, I knew I needed to answer back the thing that I was hearing, wordless, under the sound of the rain.

My bare feet curl against the wet and gritty stone of my front porch. I remember my bare feet walking over grass, pine needles, and the grass mulch of my father’s garden, so long ago when I was young.
My religion is connection.  My theology is what my bare feet know.  Are we a part of the land?  Is the land a part of us?

Maybe, when we’re doing it right.

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