Meeting the Neighbors

Black_bearsThis weekend I met our new neighbors. I recently purchased 10 acres of mature forest land on the slopes of a small mountain in northeastern Vermont. The property is fairly remote, being off grid and on a road that is not plowed in winter. There are only a few buildings along the three miles of the road that is drivable during the summer and fall and most of those are seasonal camps. Only two households reside here year-round.

My son Matt, his partner Angie, and my grandson Jacob were there with me, unloading the supplies to build a tent platform when neighbor Ron and his wife stopped their truck to say hello and inquire about our goings on. We learned that people here aren’t just friendly and curious; they’re also concerned about the well-being of one another and the area, so Ron was checking us out. We told Ron who we were and chatted for a few minutes, when he told us about some other neighbors. Three or four black bears have been seen in this area regularly over the past year. While I had presumed that this area had bears, I was delighted by this confirmation. We had already found an abundance of moose droppings on the property, so we knew that they are a regular presence. Now the prospect of an occasional bear sighting increased the sense that being on this land presented a wonderful opportunity.

I was very grateful that Matt, Angie, and Jacob were there to help build the platform, as we lugged the concrete blocks and timbers up the hill to our campsite. As we were hammering away on Sunday morning another neighbor wandered up through the woods, his morning coffee in hand, drawn by the unusual sound of our construction efforts. Fran has 20 acres immediately adjacent to us and explained that he has been living there for 15 years. He talked about his efforts to minimize his impact on the land. He has avoided cutting trees or bringing construction machinery into the area. He gets his water from a spring that emerges into a small brook that flows down to the road. That water is currently so pure that he drinks it untreated and he wants it to stay that way.

Fran took us on a little tour, past the old school bus that he has resided in for many years, to the site of a cabin that he is constructing using weathered lumber that he finds in the back of a local mill. He can buy boards for 60 cents each, running them through a planner to restore their appearance. He describes his simple solitary existence as very “Zen”.

I was very moved by Fran’s interest in protecting the land and living simply to the greatest extent possible. It caused me to reflect again on our plans for the land and the potential impact that will have. That is what the Deep Ecology perspective calls us to do. In a sense, Deep Ecology is much like the Buddha’s concept of Right Mindfulness in the Eightfold Noble Path. Right Mindfulness is not just being present and awake, although that is an essential component. It implies that we must also use that awareness to consider and take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. What we do on the land will inevitably impact our neighbors from the Ursus clan along with all the other species in this biotic community, along with my human neighbors as well. We need to consider that carefully before moving forward.

If we pay attention in this way before we act, then we have a greater chance of performing Right Action, another of the qualities the Eightfold Path. In a simple sense Right Action is living in a way that arises from awareness that is open, compassionate and unselfish. In an environmental context, we should always be helpful (or minimally, the least harmful) to our fellow beings and the Great Earth. Clearly, unless we just leave the property completely untouched, there will be some impact. Even building the tent platform has begun the change process. The question is how can we mitigate any negative aspects of our presence, retaining the undisturbed character of the land to the greatest extent possible. Deep Ecology does not hold us to an absolute standard. It recognizes that human uses also have a place in nature, but only when the consequences for the rest of the community have been considered and all reasonable options to minimize negative impacts have been explored.

From a Buddhist perspective, it is not only the immediate environs of this mountain that will be impacted, but the entirety of the One Body, the whole cosmos throughout all space and time is changed by our actions, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Of course we can make ourselves crazy trying to calculate the infinite effects that we will be responsible for, but we need to at least make a reasonable effort to consider all of the factors and implications that are readily we can, recognizing that there are no actions and effects that do not matter at all.

My hope is that this property will evolve into a small center for residential spiritual practice, whose residents will live a simple elemental life, not completely unlike our Chinese ancestors who moved into the mountains to pursue the practice of their way. For the immediate future though, I intend to head back there in a couple of weeks to contemplate the sound of the hermit thrush and allow the sense of this mountain landscape to seep into and fuse with my inner landscape. Perhaps Deep Ecology would agree that the first step before beginning any process of transforming a natural environment should be to develop a deep intimate connection and a strong sense of its presence, which will lead to a fuller appreciation of the place? After all, we want to be good neighbors.

3 thoughts on “Meeting the Neighbors

  1. How wonderful your neighbor is really on a similar wavelength. As for your other neighbors, what an honor to have such distinguished four bears.

  2. This concept of Deep Ecology is much reminiscent of Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis: It is very easy to think that our actions and their effect on the biotic community are inconsequential (and often we are instructed to think so). Yet every fire kindled and every can tossed send ripples through the entire biosphere, which is much like one self regulating organism. While the ripples may be largest, and our effects on the biosphere strongest within our immediate vicinity, these actions reverberate via biotic and abiotic interactions occurring on every inch of this earth. Upon thinking of this my immediate feeling is usually one of responsibility, yet this thought also fills me with a sense of oneness, inclusion, and peace that I sometimes experiance in meditation when I sit.

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