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Voices for the earth (11/08/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
Inspiration can flutter through your thoughts as weightless as a baby’s breath or bring you to your knees in a flood of gripping light.

As I search my library’s wall of shelves for a certain book, I realize I have created a monster! The past year’s reading depletes the entire top row; my categorizing has been inept. My recent diversion had turned from poetry, and nature and spiritual topics to current fiction Bestsellers. I felt the urge to read for pure pleasure, craving some high adventure, mystery, and old-fashioned hanky panky.

The informative chronicles and novels by environmentalists and philosophers I’ve pondered over for years are marred with my underlines. Papers scribbled with my notes have been tucked inside. These books that have become my treasures give me the desire to share what I’ve discovered through the writings of others. Thomas Berry was a Catholic priest and a cultural historian who wrote and spoke eloquently about humanity’s relationship with the earth and the cosmos. Berry died in June of 2008, at the age of 94, following a long life advocating respect for and preservation of the natural world. Berry told of an observation during his youth that was to become the magic moment that seemed to explain his life at a profound level.

This experience returned to Berry in memory again and again. As his family moved to the edge of a Southern town, the 12-year-old looked down the hill from their new home and caught sight of a meadow covered with lilies rising above thick grass. Thomas Berry saw life at a more profound level. There, too, the singing of the crickets, the woodlands and clouds in the distance, led him to develop sensitivity and an understanding of what is real and worthwhile in life.

Berry wrote in his essay “The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, “We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disney World. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon.” Those few words speak volumes. Thankfully, others are carrying on with the efforts and convictions Thomas Berry held most dear and crucial.

Bits and pieces from four of the best are merely sips from abundant wells.

Pulitzer Prize winning author and environmentalist, Annie Dillard: “In Santa Monica, California, early every morning a worker in a bulldozer stirs the previous day’s trash into the beach. I saw it. He turns the trash layer under as a farmer lashes fields with last year’s leaves. He finishes the top by spreading a layer of sand, so the beach, rising on paper and Styrofoam, looks clean.” - from “For The Time Being”

Nature author and founding director of the Spring Creek Project for ideas, nature, and the written word, Kathleen Dean Moore: “This is what we must resist: finally coming to accept that a stripped-down, dammed up, paved over, poisoned, bulldozed, radioactive, impoverished landscape is the norm – the way it‘s supposed to be, the way it’s always been, the way it must always be. This is the result we should fear the most.” -from “The Pine Island Paradox”

A friend of the Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, Kent Nerburn: “We are children on this land, a shadow on the still life of time.” “But we are coming to a time of listening. Our sweat and breath are now upon this land. Voices rise up, and we begin to hear the echoes in the stones.” - from “A Haunting Reverence”

Biologist and science writer, Janine Benyus: “Biomimicry is the practice of borrowing nature’s design principles to create more-sustainable products and processes.” Example: “The humpback whale’s flipper is being mimicked in wind-turbine design.” “The dream of green chemistry is to replace the industrial cookbook with nature’s cookbook.” - from “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired By Nature”

The greater the amplitude of voices, the more sumptuous the harmony!

Janet Burns is an admirer of nature’s miracles. She can be reached at



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