Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sacred Spaces

"Joshua Tree"
-in the upper desert-

The Joshua Tree National Park is perhaps the most wildly beautiful place I have ever been. It's located in the upper desert not all that far from where we live, and we try to get up there as often as possible to take advantage of the pristine beauty of this natural wonder - the hundreds of miles of seemingly endless boulders and sand, rock mountains and desert plains, exotic looking "Joshua" trees springing up everywhere for as far as the eye can see. The place has an "other worldly" feel to it. When I drive or walk through this exotic region I often feel like I have somehow been transported to another planet.

Yesterday I read an extremely disturbing story about an upcoming move that will severely pollute this pristine Joshua tree region, and many people are "up in arms" about it.

After two years of wheeling and dealing,  a business conglomerate of billionaire" "venture capitalists" have finally managed to obtain a license to build a hydroelectric plant in the open pits of an old iron mine located just at the fringes of the national park. While this venture  will certainly make the billionaire owners even richer than they already are, environmentalists of all stripes warn that this will severely deplete and even poison the water supply and harm the wildlife in the park.

In a region already severely affected by the California drought, water will be pumped up out of a desert underground aquifer in order to construct this new business venture - water that would have otherwise supplied 40,000 homes for an entire year will instead be piped into this project.  It is also believed that the process will result in toxic leakage that will actually foul the aquifer, and on top of all that, pumping all that water into the old mines will change the balance of nature in the park, posing threats to the survival of several species of desert wildlife.

My guess is that, unless you live nearby, this story of the "rape and pillage of a national treasure like Joshua Tree National Park will likely have little impact on most people. It is a local story about a local national park and won't have any effect on "me." 

For many people, the natural world is something "out there" that exists for the benefit of human beings.  Only left-wing "tree-hugging" environmentalists are concerned with issues like oil drilling, the destruction of the rainforest. and the pollution of the oceans and of the air we breathe.  

As I see it, our relationship to the natural world is vital if we are to ensure that there will be a world left behind for those that come after us.  But I think it goes beyond that. Our relationship with the world of nature is a necessary component of any spiritual path.  Paying attention to and caring for the world of the "wild" is a spiritual discipline - just as important as going to a church or temple, saying prayers or meditating on a yoga mat.    

Author and poet, William Kittredge once wisely observed:

We evolved in nature. Isolated human beings from the natural world for too long and we start getting nervous, crazy, unmoored, inhabited by diseases that we cannot name, driven to thoughtless ambitions and easy cruelties.

The world "out there" apart from "me" simply does not exist. All beings, all people who walk the face of the earth, animals and oceans, the air we breathe, desert boulders and Joshua tress - all woven into a common fabric, a web of relationship. We all belong to one another. 

So when the pristine beauty of a natural wonder in a Southern California desert is debased and contaminated because of human greed, we are all affected by it - the interwoven fabric of all life everywhere is stained and ripped apart.

Wendell Barry once said:

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places 
and desecrated places.


  1. I love Joshua Tree and this is another out sin if corporate culture and greed. I hope California environmentalists are on this. Afterall their are fighters out their who have saved our land. I have hope in them. Yet, I do hope they are on this.

    1. I have hope too but they are fighting against a mighty machine.