The Circle of Reciprocity
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
I’m looking out on a blustery March day, waiting for words to flow. I watch the supple cedar branches bowing to the north wind. Held by the earth, firmly rooted oak and hemlock sway and bend as the wind’s invisible breath animates the whole forest in dance. The scene is alive with light and shadow. The winged and four-footed lend their movement and song. And in all this activity, peace is present.
This little patch of earth, now given back to herself, is restoring a natural order, uninterrupted by human intervention. Two decades ago, this land was a forgotten and forlorn site, laid waste and abandoned by former inhabitants. Generations of humans had abused the place and exploited the soil, woods, and water. They created a wasteland that ultimately brought their own fate. Those people are gone now, part of a dark history.
Today, everything is different. But back when I first came here, it was if the land was waiting to be rediscovered by new eyes and seen again for her possibilities. Not to be used again, but to be unburdened and allowed the chance to regenerate the life she can offer with such generosity.
It was a leap of faith, my leap, to adopt this orphan. Agreeing to undertake the task of removing hundreds of tons of debris wrought by generations of disordered, squalid existence required an ability to see beyond what was there, to imagine a vision of possibility and renewal. But the process also instilled in me a deep sense of commitment to the land and to all the life held here. Clearing the land became a responsibility, an invitation to steward and protect, that I humbly and gratefully accepted.
Seasons came and passed. Today, the hundreds of sapling trees planted for wildlife now provide forage and shelter. Succession sowings of nectar and pollinator crops attract and sustain beneficial insects, the garden’s allies, from spring through fall. The way of becoming more than human unfolds in ever-deepening relationship with the wild beings, in seeing how everyone has a gift to offer to sustain, and then to be sustained, in the greater body of life. Stepping into that circle of reciprocity was an undiscovered privilege – until it was revealed.
That moment of awareness burst open on an afternoon when I stood in my kitchen, holding fresh honeycomb harvested from the colony of wild honeybees that had taken up residence in the hive box I had built and placed in the field, awaiting their arrival. I was filled with a sense of awe at the exquisite architecture, this delicate geometry able to support pounds of honey. My hands, these hands that had built the box and planted the flowers that fed the bees, whose bodies created the wax they formed with such perfect precision, slowly tightened, and crushed the comb, releasing a rush of golden nectar that would nourish this farmer. I was overwhelmed with the realization that I had become part of the circle. I felt the fullness of experience expand to include the entirety of existence. Singularity of self dissolved, and heart and spirit became one with creation.
And so this place, now named Earth Eden Sanctuary, has been given back the right to be herself, to freely express her own natural intelligence and creativity and beauty. And in those years of restoring respectful relationship with her being, becoming intimately acquainted with her sentient presence, this human, too, has been transformed. To be returned to the joy of life shared with the cedar, saplings, hemlock and honey bees, and my many wild relations, to know this earth as my own body, to come into kinship and reciprocity with nature, is to find true meaning in life, a sense of place, purpose, peace and wholeness.
So I learned: when given the chance, nature can heal, and in time we humans, too, can heal.
Chante Ishta has lived since 2002 on land she restored in North Rose, NY, creating a site devoted to ecosystem preservation, stewardship and education. You can discover more at earthedensanctuary.org.