Originally printed in the January - February 2001 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Clewell, Andre. "A Touch of Divinity." Quest 89.1 (JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2001): 26-27.
By Andre Clewell
Right next to the labyrinth at Olcott is a conspicuous patch of native tall-grass prairie--the kind that covered northern Illinois two centuries ago.It is not original prairie; it was created by Jeff Gresko, the Operations Manager at Olcott. He removed the lawn, tilled the soil, and planted aprairie-seed mix purchased from a company that specializes in native plants.Only an expert botanist could tell you that this prairie has not been there all along.
The restored prairie is simply beautiful. It is filled with brightly colored sunflowers, blazing-stars, bergamots, rattlesnake-masters, and various wildflowers that nestle among the blue stems and other prairie grasses.
What does restoring prairiesâ€”or any other ecosystemâ€”have to do with Theosophy? Well, restoring prairies gives you the same mystical experience as walking the labyrinth. Like meditation, it brings you in contact with Spirit. Gardening does that to some extent and gives you the satisfaction of seeing your flowers and vegetables grow. But restoring ecosystems takes you deeper than gardening. After a few months or perhaps the next year, you begin to see the infant ecosystem come alive. The native plants start to self-organize. They do so by setting seeds and spreading to form a recognizable plant community. Pollinating bees and butterflies appear. Song birds are attracted to your own little corner of nature. You have initiated a food chain, and you see the web of life developing before your eyes.
The mystical experience occurs when you suddenly realize that you are no longer an outsider watching nature. You are Nature. You are participating in your own ecosystem. God is no longer somewhere far away. You yourself are divine, and so is your fledgling ecosystem. Even if you had never heard of Theosophy, you have come a long way toward becoming a Theosophist on making this direct connection with Nature.
The ecological restoration movement in the United States is recent. Nearly all restoration dates to the 1970s or later. Some of the most significant restoration work has been accomplished near Chicago. Thousands of citizens have devoted their weekends and vacations to restoring native prairies at two do zen or so public parks that surround the city, with guidance from public agencies and organizations like the Nature Conservancy. Similar work is being conducted throughout our nation.
Where did the idea for restoration come from? The earliest call for ecological restoration that I have discovered was attributable to none other than H. P. Blavatsky. In 1879, Madame Blavatsky wrote an article entitled "The Ruin of India" in the Theosophist magazine. Here are some excerpts:
While every patriot Hindu bewails the decadence of his country, few realize the real cause. It is neither in foreign rule, excessive taxation, nor crude and exhaustive husbandry, so much as in the destruction of its forests. The stripping of the hills and drainage-slopes of their vegetation is a positive crime against the nation, and will decimate the population more effectively than could the sword of any foreign conqueror.
Our trip northward last April, through 2,000 miles of scorched fields,through whose quivering air the dazzled eye was only refreshed here and there with the sight of a green tree, was a most painful experience. It required no poet's fancy, but only the trained forecast of the statistician, to see in this treeless sun-parched waste the presage of doom, unless the necessary steps were at once taken to aid lavish Nature to re-clothe the mountain tops with vegetation.
We need only glance at the pages of history to see that the ruin and ultimate extinction of national power follow the extirpation of forests assurely as night follows day.
In today's parlance, those "necessary steps to aid lavish Nature" clearly mean ecological restoration. Blavatsky understood that our economy depends on Nature, that is, on healthy ecosystems. Otherwise "ruin" will follow the"extirpation of forests as surely as night follows day."
It has been my privilege to work with ecologists from India to develop the profession of ecological restoration in that nation. My favorite project there is one being conducted by high-school students at Pune, where Colonel Olcott, Blavatskyâ€™s cofounder of the Theosophical Society, once lectured. These students are restoring wetlands to benefit wildlife. More important, the water in these wetlands contains sewage effluent which is being purified by the restored wetlands before it reaches public water supplies. Now, that is helping to prevent the ruin of India.Next time you visit Olcott, be sure to enjoy our own restored prairie. Or, better yet, ask Jeff Gresko to let you help him with ther estoration work, so you can experience that touch of divinity.
Andre Clewell is a professional restoration ecologist and a fellow of the Tallahassee, Florida, Theosophical Study Group.