Nature plays an important roll in any pagan path, particularly those that style themselves as Naturalist or Pantheist. Atheopaganism definitely falls into that range on the Naturalist side. When considering the principles of Atheopaganism “Honoring the Earth” comes in at number two, right after skepticism.
I often find myself lacking in the nature department, which is nobody’s fault but my own. I have a car and I live fairly close to a number of fabulous parks. I just don’t make the effort to go as often as I should. On top of that, we own three acres on the side of a mountain only a 90 minute drive from our house. Three acres of oak, pine, cedar, elderberry, manzanita, toyon, gooseberry and unfortunately a preponderance of wild rose and deer brush.
This piece of land is wounded, though. Nature was thrown out of balance in 2003 when a lost hunter decided to light a signal fire in the middle of a drought parched landscape during fire season. The Cedar Fire would go on to burn 273,246 acres, destroy 2,232 homes, 588 other buildings and kill 15 people, including one firefighter.
We purchased the property in 2015, twelve years after the fact, and the scars of that fire had indelibly marked the surrounding landscape. The skeletons of dead trees, some still standing, some laid out upon the ground, haunt the mountainside.
But there were survivors too, a grove of old black oak a massive live oak. And there was recovery as well. Black oak is an amazing survivor. Cut it down to the ground and it will sprout anew. Many of them had, and the cycle of life continued as well, with saplings growing from acorn and taking their place.
There were a few pines and a cedar too. But mostly there was wild rose and deer brush in vast thorny, impassable quantities. Without the trees, to shade them and stunt their growth, they’d spread out of control.
Little by little we’ve been working to put nature back on it’s course here. We’ve lost some of the old oaks, weakened by fire damage, drought, mistletoe and possibly invasive oak borer beetles, we’ve cut a few smaller oaks down to make way for their bigger neighbors, we’ve removed massive amounts of deadwood, mowed down endless swaths of wild rose and poison oak, and hacked our way through uncountable amounts of deer brush.
This winter the State Park next door to us (which lost 94% of all it’s mature pine trees in the same fire) planned another big reforestation project. They had a bunch of pine seedlings leftover and offered to sell them to locals for a few cents a piece. After some delays due to back to back snow storms, we picked up our 50 little pine seedlings yesterday morning and spent the day planting them, the majority on the park’s land behind us, and a few in the depths of our property where I hope they will eventually help shade out the worst of the deer brush overgrowth. It was a very wet, cold, muddy and exhausting process.
Yet… it was amazing. Soaked to the bone by the time we’d planted just the first dozen, hauling my out of shape butt up the rugged slope, over dead-falls and through thick brush looking for the perfect place to plant these little guys was no easy feat. Had I not been spurred on by a desire to help this beautiful place recapture even a small part of its former glory, I might have faltered.
Now we wait and see how they do. It will be a long hard road for these saplings without anyone to provide continuing care. They will have to be wild, untamed trees and stand on their own– nature willing.