Thursday, July 17, 2008

Deep Green Education in a Digital Age

--Feature: "Sustainable Soul w/Rebecca Hecking"--

School’s out! In my corner of the world, the school year was over at the end of May. Children (including my three) are enjoying a glorious summer of mental and physical freedom. As a child, I loved school. Yes, it’s true. I was one of those bookish nerdy little kids with thick glasses (literally!). I have long since switched to contact lenses, but my love of learning remains, at least some of the time.

We are constantly required to learn new things. The trouble is, most of this new learning is not meant to really sink in permanently. For example, say I purchase a new piece of electronic gadgetry. I spend a lot of time learning all the bells and whistles. Six months later, said gadget breaks (hit by a meteor, chewed by a cat, who knows?). I replace it. But now, I must forget all that I had previously learned and re-learn the new bells and whistles. The learning is impermanent, and constantly in flux.

Not only that, but the amount of detail we have to remember (or at least manage and organize!) in our culture is astounding. Usernames. Passwords. Codes. Account numbers. Schedule details for ourselves and our significant others. The interminable minutiae of postmodern life. Armies of office workers in Dilbert-esque cubicles spend their days processing our digital diarrhea. Such is the stuff that fills our brains.

No wonder we feel like we’re drowning in data.

Meanwhile, we remain disconnected from the physical systems that literally support us and make life possible. We operate on the false premise that what happens “out there” in our surroundings has no bearing on us. Our local bioregion that sustains us remains an enigma.

A good measure of our disconnection to our bioregion is to compare how much of our knowledge is associated with our digital existence versus how much is associated with our physical existence. This is useful even (and perhaps especially) for urban folk, who face the greatest disconnect. Quiz time…

  • Where does your water come from? Where does it go after it goes down your drain?
  • Do you know any migratory birds that come through your area or live there seasonally? How many?
  • Can you identify any native plants in your area? Can you identify the weeds that grow through the cracks in the sidewalk?
  • What constellations can you see at night? Can you find the Milky Way? Can you see stars at all, or is the light pollution too great?
  • What people lived on the land five hundred years ago? Are any of their descendants still around today? What was/is their art? What stories did/do they tell?
  • What did the land look like 20,000 years ago? 20 million years ago? Was it an inland sea? Is there anything left of that legacy?
  • What foods are native to your area? Are they still available today?
  • What is the current moon phase?

Well, how did you do? If you came up short, perhaps search out some answers. Learning like this is not the ephemeral fluff of our here-today-gone-tomorrow techno-lives. It connects us to the earth and to each other. It is real. It has permanence. It is solid. Approaching the process with a contemplative mindset is tremendously healing. It enables us to see with new eyes. It helps restore us to our place within the ecosystem. It brings us home again.

Rebecca Hecking lives and writes from her home in northwest Pennsylvania. In the last Ice Age, her home was near the southernmost edge of the glaciers that covered much of North America. Every year, great blue herons fly overhead as they migrate. She drinks water from the Shenango River. Find her at rebeccahecking(at)

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