A Moment to Pause
Slowing Down Reminds of Us of Our Responsibility in Nature and to Those Around Us
I was raised in the Shunock River watershed of coastal Connecticut before moving to mid- coast Maine in my teens, eventually settling in the Monadnock region during my late twenties, where I’ve now lived for over a decade. No matter where I’ve lived, my life has been defined by a deep connection to nature and the acknowledgement that I am as much a part of the natural landscape as the forests, rivers and wildlife.
North Stonington in Connecticut, where I spent my childhood, used to be a small town, not unlike many towns in the Monadnock region. With the construction of a major casino a few miles from my home, the landscape was altered dramatically. Farms turned into strip malls. Acres of forest, where we would play, hike and camp, were cleared for condos and housing developments. An influx of people, anxious for new jobs, changed the culture of the place as much as the new construction changed the physical face of the place. This was the first major realization of how much we humans make a significant impact, and that we are part of the natural landscape, even as unnatural as some of our actions seem. It also drove home the idea that when we conserve land we not only protect it from future development, but we also ensure our culture and communities remain intact. By conserving and preserving the natural landscape, we preserve and sustain ourselves.
Traveling Route 124 from Jaffrey to Marlborough, one moves along curvy winding roads with an array of stunning scenery of Mount Monadnock and the surrounding region. But at 50 miles per hour, one misses far more than he or she sees. Conservation brings us to a place of slowing down, of seeing the unseen, of understanding our connection to the land more deeply. When we hike the many trails of this region we are presented with the opportunity to slow down, to engage with the environment beyond having a simple destination in mind. Each step is grounded in the present. We focus on the now and the reality that is in front of us. In my time as a volunteer trail steward for the Monadnock Conservancy, it didn’t take long to start appreciating this region on a more profound level.
What became apparent was that when I go out into the forest, whether to camp, hike or to work on trails, I don’t do it to disconnect or “get away from the world.” Conversely, I do it to reconnect and plug in to what really matters. Life fills us with distractions from the truth that we are as much a part of nature as the deer, fox and ancient oaks. We are all made of the same stuff, the same biological matter. When my hands are rooted in the earth, moving stone for a step or grubbing out a new trail, I’m connecting with my past, present and future.
Conservation allows me to see the land and space around me as sacred, whether I’m in a village center, an open field or a young forest still maturing. It allows me to connect to my natural self, my wild mind, and reminds me of my obligations not only to the land, but also to the community and to the future. Through the practice of conservation we take a moment to pause, to stop living consumptively and to feed the element that is feeding us, acknowledging with mindfulness our reciprocal responsibility in nature and to those around us.
Originally Published in the Monadnock Conservancy Quarterly Newsletter, Spring 2014