The following response is a contribution from a student at Youth Initiative High School in Viroqua, Wisconsin.
I sit on my front porch sometime in late June. It’s a bleak, grey day. The wind is cold and there has been no break in the swath of clouds since I awoke hours earlier. I am attempting to paint, but I continually find myself distracted. There is a charge in the air. Something almost tangible and certainly noticeably. A sort of waiting, as if everything were holding its breath. I watch as the wind turns the leaves over. My father always told me that when they turn a certain way, you can be sure there will be rain soon. I’ve never been able to quite differentiate that certain turn that brings rain. Still, I believe that it’s true, for every time he would show me the twisting leaves, there would be the same waiting charge in the air as I feel now, the feeling I have come to know as the moment before rain. Sure enough, I am roused from these thoughts by the spatter of drops on the tin roof above me, and soon the sound becomes a continual hum, and I am sprayed by a soft mist through the screen of the porch. I sit on a different porch now, a deck really. It is Easter day, the year before I sat with the rain. The sun is shining warm and golden through the ancient branches of the trees that protect our house. I stand and continue to set the table for our Easter dinner. The glasses are soft pink and the sunlight blazes through them, casting a beam from each on the table. There are new kittens weaving around the deck, frolicking through the shadows and playing with the dead leaves left over from the fall. The grill is running and the smoke hits the sunlight with a sort of beauty and the smell is full and warm. I feel a small tug in my mind. I sit and close my eyes, and listen. I hear the wind, the meat cooking, the kittens playing, the music drifting through the air from the house, the occasional chicken raising its voice, the other birds in the trees, and the rise and fall of my own breath. Now you find me, eyes closed, laying on a blanket a few days before that Easter. Next to me is a goddess of a woman and nearby is the river. The sound of the rushing water and the wind through the trees mingles with the soft call of birds and the sweet breath of the woman at my side. I can feel her warmth and the warmth of the sun, and the cool of the new spring air. We have been laying here for hours, drifting in and out of sleep, our senses full of the Earth and each other. We are full of the connection we’ve opened between ourselves and everything that lives and glowing with contentment and sleepy clarity. That river, that place, and that woman, healed and continue to heal my soul in a way I cannot put in words. The summer before that time by the river I am out in my front yard in town just before dawn. I am planting flowers around our mailbox. It’s chilly and dewy and my bare feet are cold, but as I kneel in the grass beside the fresh-turned dirt, the cold doesn’t bother me. I feel deeply rooted, as if it is myself I am planting tenderly in the ground. It has become a ritual of dawn gardening because we have a small vegetable garden that I tend to, and after I’ve finished planting the flowers I move on to care for the vegetables. The stillness in the brightening air and the sounds of people waking to get to work bring me peace just as the cold dirt in my hands and on my knees and feet seems to soothe me. I look for what the plants need by trying to notice what they are showing me. Sometimes I feel I get it right, but sometimes our languages are too different for me to tell and either way I think they are grateful for my attempts. Now I am here, two years after planting those flowers, sitting on my back porch. My skin is warmed by sunlight filtering through the branches of a pine. There are chickadees playing and one of them just a few minutes ago flew up and landed for a second on the compost pot in front of me. I can hear geese making their long journey. They like to stop here because of the stream by my house. The conclusions I have come to about what the Earth asks of us, have occurred to me in moments like this one right now and those I’ve described. The moments when I feel most connected to the dear Earth, when I can feel love between us and I know she cares for me and I for her. When I pause to listen, pause to tell her or show her how much I care, that is when it is clear what she asks for. She asks to be cared for, treated with kindness, respected, listened to, valued, spoken to, and most of all loved. We are a part of the Earth, and for the most part she only asks is that we act like it.