by Cherice Bock, Editor
“Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great [individuals] have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Having grown up in a Western culture, I have a complex relationship with trust. On one hand, I was taught to trust in the inevitability of the seasons, the rhythms of the Earth, the sustaining power of this planet, and the underlying assumption that since we’re sentient creatures, it is here mainly for our use and benefit. On the other hand, Western culture teaches us that we can always improve on nature. We can trust human ingenuity to create bigger and better products than can nature alone. If we run into a problem, we can just create a better solution. We can trust that human beings — experts — are at work diligently shaping and controlling nature into a form that will better serve all of us.
And yet, the more we learn to control aspects of our environment, the less possible it is to trust that nature will be benevolent to us. We watch, horrified, from our television or computer screens as massive tsunamis, hurricanes, and super-typhoons destroy the carefully planned human structures of the modern world in a matter of minutes. We attempt to control the forests, setting aside swathes of land for conservation, only to watch these areas literally go up in smoke. We are confronted with the reality that the more we attempt to control, the less we can trust the world in which we reside. As those who care about the environment, what does it mean when something we thought we could count on forever, the trustworthy appearance of each season in its turn, is not as reliable as we once thought? What or whom can we trust?
By focusing on trust in this issue, we are not encouraging a sentimental, Romantic ideal of “trusting nature” and idealizing its sublime qualities. On the contrary, the thread common to the pieces in this issue in many ways turns this idea on its head. These authors ask, “Am I trustworthy? Am I — are we as human beings — living in such a way that we are worthy of the trust of those around us, human beings and otherwise?” Can we, as Emerson implores, trust our very selves?
Jeff Todd Titon, soundscape ecologist, wonders if we can hear climate change. Are other species sounding alarms? Are we trustworthy enough to hear them and take heed? Russian artist Tviga Vasilyeva creates art installations on a similar theme. She recorded the internal sound of trees before they were cut down, then erected large cutouts of the audio files on the clearcut landscape.
The fiction of Allison Augustyn imagines a future dystopia where our trust in technology has clearly been misplaced. Humanity cannot escape nature, however. Her protagonist must find out whether he is worthy of the trust of the natural world.
Clarisse Hart evokes the deep flow of distant time through her ancient grandmother, an even more ancient tree, and the still more ancient fossilized pollen that indicates a completely different climate once flourished in her area. Trusting ourselves to that ancient temporal flow, we may not be able to fix the environmental problems we’re creating for ourselves, but we can trust the steady beauty of time like we can trust our old, gnarled grandmother.
Through an interview, Elizabeth Claire Alberts brings us the story of Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist who did not trust the sight-unseen and outdated estimates of the number of flesh-footed shearwaters residing on remote islands off the coast of Australia. Instead, she made herself the trustworthy advocate for these apex predator seabirds and the ecosystems they represent.
Our relationship with the land appears in a number of essays, playing on the other meaning of the word “trust”: land trust. These pieces offer perspectives on our trustworthiness as stewards of the land, passing it on to future generations, and also recognizing the impact of our land use on the lives of our contemporaries.
Cindy Ellen Hill problematizes environmentalists’ assumption that land trusts and conservation easements are automatically good. She questions the motives of many who are utilizing land trust laws as tax shelters, backing up her criticism with solid data.
Presenting a different tack on land trusts, Heidi Watts shares her attempts to place a beloved stretch of Canadian beach under conservation. She realizes there can be no land trust without relational trust between the people who live and vacation there.
Evan Pritchard also invites us to consider our relationship with the land. Through Algonquin stories and traditions he shows the relationship of trust and respect built up between this group of native people and the land that sustains them. Pritchard models a worldview entirely different from the West: interpersonal, interspecies, and spiritual trust developed between people and the land, invoked via ritual and community.
Our poets, Lené Gary and New Terrain Award winner Sophie Dillon, verbalize the dissonance between the beauty of the natural environment and the written word, and the brokenness that accompanies so much of human behavior. Gary shows the destructive power of pesticides in rural Vermont in her prose poem triptych, “Three True Stories About Dispersion.” Dillon wryly calls out the anthropocentric orientation of the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree in her reply, “A Letter from the Giving Tree.” Taking things a more hopeful direction, her poem “Ham & Cheese” manages to encourage child-like trust, healthy distrust, and maturity all at once.
Artists Jason deCaires Taylor and Sarah Bowen trust the artistic process as they incorporate natural elements into their work. Bowen tells how hibernating animals emerged in her art as she healed from an illness. DeCaires Taylor places sculptures in the ocean to act as artificial reefs and tourist attractions designed to draw people away from natural reefs. He must trust the natural processes of marine life to help shape his artwork over time. The night photographs of his sculptures included in this volume show them five years after submersion, teeming with vibrant marine life.
The clean blue lines of Dmitry Borshch’s pen and ink art invite the viewer to reflect on the content of his drawings, approaching a deeper level of awareness. These pieces invite reflection on our complete reliance on the natural world — or something supernatural beyond and within it — to sustain us. When we let go and trust, these pieces suggest, we experience the transcendent inner spaciousness that simultaneously is so minute and so vast that it cannot hold the full beauty of life and breath.
Michael P. Branch sheepishly allows us join him on a now-humorous Boy Scout trip from his childhood, after which he was deemed to lack the important Boy Scout characteristic of trustworthiness. Though missing the mark in his troop’s understanding of traits that lead to manhood, he eventually found his way on his own, following the lights of less authoritarian nature lovers such as Emerson and Thomas Jefferson, who he says “would have made abominable Boy Scouts.”
Two final pieces explore trust between people and animals. Deborah Galle, an animal rehabilitator, explains her philosophy of mutual trust without imprinting as she cares for neonate cottontail rabbits. Her careful attention to the rhythm and needs of each individual creature guides her intuitive care, creating a bond of emotional trust alongside her clinical actions. Both are necessary in order to holistically heal the animals. Carolyn Munro recounts her experiences at Mission:Wolf Sanctuary in Colorado. As she comes face to face with these predators, she asks herself if she can trust them, and realizes she must first be worthy of their trust.
Reflecting on these multiple angles on the theme of trust, I find myself raw, grateful, able to open my heart to a deeper form of trust than I had before. I cannot trust the experts to solve all our environmental problems through technological fixes, nor can I trust natural cycles to continue in perpetuity without change. I cannot trust other people (or even myself) to always do what is right, or trust sublime landscapes to turn us all into conservationists. And yet, there is something beyond, something deep, a place of true wisdom and beauty, to which each of these pieces point. It is not reached through naive trust or absconding from decision-making, but through direct, personal interaction — through looking cynicism and fear in the face, and choosing to let go and trust anyway. I want to be that sculpture beautifully effaced by a sea urchin someday, or that gnarled old woman, indistinguishable from a beech tree.
Cherice Bock is the editor of Whole Terrain for Volume 22: Trust and Volume 23: Breaking Bread. She is pursuing her PhD in environmental studies at Antioch University New England. With a BA in psychology and a Master of Divinity, Bock’s varied background and interests bring a unique angle to Whole Terrain. She teaches undergraduate and masters students in religion, creation care, writing, and interdisciplinary courses at George Fox University in Oregon, and she also runs the campus community garden. Bock received a Re:Generate Fellowship through Wake Forest School of Divinity in 2015, and is a 2016 GreenFaith Fellow. She believes literature, the arts, and spirituality can be avenues for connection between individuals and our world, aligning our inward and outward landscapes and producing deep conviction that can lead to active, holistic justice for our planet.