This summer, Techie Boyfriend and I bought four acres of land for a little over three thousand dollars. Here is a picture:
The land has a nine foot swimming hole, a creek where crawfish live among the rocks, a babbling waterfall, and soft flat stones for hopping on. It has bigleaf maples, cedars, and ferns. It has deer and birds and bugs. And it was ours for less than the price of a used car.
I haven't gotten used to being a land owner yet. "I own this cedar," I think to myself, and the thought is uncanny and absurd. I walk around the land, experimenting: "I own this giant maple." "I own these boulders." "I own the ground this beetle burrows in."
If I wanted to, I could cut down the trees, rip out the ferns, squash the bugs, and sell the boulders to a landscaping company. If I wanted to, it would be within my legal rights to turn the place into this:
Or, with a few permits, into this:
I could go up there with a chainsaw this afternoon and lay waste to the place, and there would be nothing you could do about it except spit in my coffee the next time I stopped in at the local diner, or chain yourself to the last big maple and get hauled to jail. In other words, I am legally permitted to be a savage--even rewarded for it, if you consider the economic benefits I would gain from "developing" the land's resources. When it comes to these four acres of the biosphere, there is almost nothing forbidden to me, short of dumping gasoline in the creek and setting it on fire.
This, dear readers, is what they call a mindfuck.
A long, long time ago, all land was sacred land. There wasn't some land designated for "preservation" and some land designated for strip malls. It was all alive and rich with significance--you couldn't point to a single inch of the earth and say, "This part doesn't matter."
A thousand years ago, all art was sacred art. The Salish didn't have one type of dance they did for the gods, and another kind of dance for getting on TV. The Vikings didn't tell one kind of story to explain the origins of the universe, and another kind of story to make money. If someone sang, danced, or told a story, it was an act of communication with the divine--you couldn't point to a single moment of it and say "This part has no spiritual significance."
And I can't help but wonder what it means that we live in a world where you can buy a waterfall on craigslist, and sell your stories on the internet, and do your dances on TV. That our songs are no longer intended to make rain fall, our stories no longer function as thinly veiled maps of the underworld, and our land is a thing to be ransacked, paved over and ignored instead of a true and living friend.
And I wonder how much richer, how much more miraculous our work would be if we were audacious enough to reach past our industrial roles as producers of entertainment and act as if our stories mattered--not just on a human level, but for the benefit of all beings.
I think about the creek land often. It enters my thoughts the way a friend does whom you love dearly but don't see every day. I go out my front door and wonder what it used to be like here before someone decided this land was an appropriate place to cut down all the trees and build a town. Then I go back to my writing room and sit at my desk, wondering what I can possibly type on this keyboard to call the old songs and dances back again.