By Melody Harrell
By some mercy of God, I have found myself compelled by a sense of place. Where am I? What’s around me? What does it feel like? What does it sound like?
As a child growing up in East Africa, I was surrounded by visual vibrancy, extraordinary wildlife and environmental inter-dependency. The relationship with it made me feel grounded. It seemed right and good — and that it would be that way forever.
As I engaged significant spaces in the States during home leaves, I began to weave together a broadening sense of connection to other places; places that created a “knowing” that this grass, these trees, this air meant rootedness. That the tending of a family home and garden brought connection for everyone. That something as simple as a climbing tree made a group of cousins strong in body and in relationship with each other.
But things are changing. The world is changing — in a tangible way that I can see and observe.
There’s not as much snow on Kilimanjaro. The Kakamega rain forest is thinning. Populations of bees are declining globally. Human populations are growing exponentially. The earth’s resources are being taxed in challenging ways. My sense of place on both sides of the sea is being threatened.
As a participant on the recent Kutana Kenya initiative, geared toward creation care and environmental stewardship, a new commitment was stirred in me toward recognizing and honoring place — the place where I live, spaces across the United States and environments across the globe.
I have much yet to learn about the inter-connectedness of systems, both those that are thriving and those that are compromised, and what my part is in both. The Kutana Kenya experience offered a succinct look at the push and pull of human demands and environmental consequence. We traveled from the highlands of Limuru to the grasslands of the Masai Mara, from the rainforest of Kakamega, to the shores of Lake Baringo. I vacillated from feeling deeply grateful for the beauty and diversity witnessed, to feeling overwhelmed as I saw the big-picture dilemmas at play.
It is a real predicament needing creative solutions when Masai cattle herders with growing herds demand more and more grazing space, threatening the health of grasslands, which wildlife have depended on for generations.
So how will I engage all of this? How will I be an environmental advocate in my day-to-day? How will my sense of place grow and continue to inform my way of being in the world, for the sake of the whole, for the sake of my children and my children’s children?
After I throw my coffee grounds in the kitchen compost bucket and turn off the water while I brush my teeth, consume less meat and learn from environmental champions, sit with my husband on the deck under the pine trees to watch and listen to the blue bird, and nuthatch, and the woodpecker — I will be awake. I will breathe in my sense of place. l will enlarge my heart for the care of the earth.
Melody Harrell is a former CBF field personnel serving in Kenya. She now serves as a spiritual director in Decatur, Ga.