Spring Meditation – Contracts with Nature

“Our relationships with wild animals were once contractual — principled agreements, established and maintained in a spirit of reciprocity and mythic in their pervasiveness. Among hunting peoples in general in the northern hemisphere, these agreements derived from a sense of mutual obligation and courtesy.”
 — Barry Lopez, “Renegotiating the Contracts”

Hmmm. Never thought of it that way. A contract. Not written, and not even spoken aloud, and yet there was obligation there.

For the most part, until the last century of so, humans respected animals. They realized that animals provided food,  furs, hides, and other supplies that they needed. Native peoples, and white hunters of the 1800s, valued the animals taken to meet these needs. They did not kill needlessly, or in excess. And they were humbled to have taken a life to provide for their own.

Other types of animals  – bear, cougar, wolf, – were predators. These hunters knew that If the animal’s natural inclination to regard humans as food was ignored, it was likely the hunter would become the hunted, and wind up part of someone else’s food chain.

And so, people understood these other species. They regarded one another with respect, and never, ever took another animal for granted.

What happened?

Simply, when we no longer had to hunt for food or other supplies out in the natural world, we lost our connection to the sources of these materials. We disconnected from nature. We broke the unspoken contract. And in doing so, we stopped feeling that we, as humans, were part of nature, part of the ebb and flow of life. 

Many of today’s young people in the United States have no idea where food actually comes from. They’ve never been to a farm, or seen cows and chickens in an unpackaged state. They are unaware that there were plants and animals – and human work – involved in getting food, or the cotton, silk, or wool for a new shirt .

The only way to get community back is to educate everyone about these contractual agreements that we used to have, and need to find again.

Take another minute to reread today’s quote from Barry Lopez, then ask yourself:
Do I feel any obligation toward the natural world?
Do I treat nature with courtesy?

I hope your answer to both questions is Yes.

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