The word “community” suggests coming together into a unified existence. We tend to understand this in terms of relationships between people within a society, but a truly comprehensive understanding of our existence would also include all the non-human elements with which we interact just by living: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil in which we grow our food, and the countless living creatures and cycles of energy that weave together in the world’s continuous dance of life, death, decay, and renewal.
Cultivating a healthy community, then, means forming relationships not only with our fellow humans but with the land around us. As Aldo Leopold writes in the 1948 foreword to his book A Sand County Almanac:
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
I believe this starts with simply paying attention to the land and all that’s happening within it.
In the words of Wilma Mankiller, who served as principal chief for the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995:
Not just indigenous people but all human beings evolved from people who understood their reciprocal relationship to their extended families and to all other living things. [...But many] have lived in an artificial world completely separate from the natural world for so long, they have little understanding of their place in the world and do not seem to understand that everything in the natural world is integral to the continuation of life on Earth. How many people living in high-rises and rushing about in cities even notice that the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west? How can they dream if their bare feet never touch the earth and they never behold the miracle of the stars? (Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women p 146)