In these tense and very violent times, turning to a power-hungry treatment of other peoples and nations — which is sometimes how patriotism is portrayed — can only bring harm to the entire planet. The Orion Society has created a deeply spiritual paperback which addresses the need for a place-based patriotism.
Marion Gilliam and Laurie Lane-Zucher, Chairperson and Executive Director of this organization, have written an inspiring introduction to three poignant essays by Richard Nelson, Barry Lopez, and Terry Tempest Williams. They write:
"If we love America, truly love America, then we — each and every one of us — has a responsibility to take care of that which sustains, nurtures, and inspires us. This land is our land, from sea to shining sea, and yet we have not been the wisest caretakers for our home places, our homeland, our communities. We need a patriotism that reweaves the frayed fabric of our national identity. We need a patriotism that heals our landscapes and communicates, respects and upholds our inalienable rights, and sets us on a path of true justice, freedom, and sustainability. And, finally, we need a patriotism that offers to the rest of the world an authentic and visionary example of leadership."
In the first essay, Richard Nelson, a nature writer and cultural anthropologist, writes about his life and conservation work in Tongass National Forest, on the coast of southeastern Alaska. That is the "place that nurtures and sustains me ... the place where my engagement with democracy is rooted; the place where I have found an unbeckoned and unexpected sense pf patriotism."
Nelson probes the mysticism of native American tribes in the region and confirms that their wise stewardship of the land and their "human commitment to stand in defense of the earth" should be recognized as "the bedrock of American patriotism."
He places himself in a long tradition of the fundamental patriotism toward the American land which includes protecting it. Under this rubric, to violate the environment is to act unpatriotic. Or as a Tlingit elder put it: "Take care of the land and the land will take care of you."
In Barry Lopez's essay, "The Naturalist," this prolific and multiple award-winning author admits that he has spent years standing or sitting on the banks of a river he loves, respects, and cherishes. As a spiritual teacher, it helps him attend to the Mystery all around him.
Terry Tempest Williams has the last word with her essay "One Patriot." Here with her usual stylistic flair she pays tribute to Rachel Carson "who not only dared to define democratic principles as ecological ones, but demanded through her grace and fierce intelligence that we hold corporations and our government accountable for the health of our communities, cultured and wild."
Williams reverences this activist and biologist for seeing the world whole and speaking out in the name of plants, animals, and all life. Or, as the author puts it, quoting Carson, "This is the bedrock of democracy — 'the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.' By protecting the health of America's open spaces we preserve America's open heart."
Patriotism and the American Land boldly reframes patriotism and gives it new life as common ground for all citizens.