God has been leading me deeper into watersheds, particularly the Santa Ana Watershed that I live in. It covers 2,650 square miles and is the largest watershed in southern California. Almost 5 million people live within its boundaries, depending on it as the source of domestic water, wastewater management, flood control and for disposal of urban water run-off. Its headwaters are formed by natural springs that bubble up in South Fork Meadow below the face of Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in southern California. As it comes out of the San Bernardino Mountains, it snakes southwest through three counties, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange, before fanning out into the Pacific Ocean.
With that picture of my home watershed in mind, I recently read an article in “Sojourners” Magazine titled, “A Watershed Moment.” The lead-in quote was, “Watershed discipleship invites Christians to ‘re-inhabit’ that corner of creation in which we reside.” (Ched Myers)
Myers’ glimpse of watershed discipleship begins with the idea of “replacement”. He states, “A quarter century ago, Kentucky Farmer Wendell Berry argued that the question is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planets’ millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.” Myers continues, “But Berry recognized that our culture of displaced and displacing mobility has severed most of us from rootedness in a home place, even as it has colonized the homelands and destroyed the habitat of others. ‘Placelessness’ is the primary form of First World Alienation, Berry contends; we don’t stand against ecocidal policies because we have no place to stand. The pathology of ‘placelessness’ can be healed only by disciplines of ‘re-placement’.”
Permaculturist Brock Dolman observes, “Every living organism within this basin (watershed) is interconnected and dependent on the health of the whole.” Understanding this form of “Local Intentional Community”, as Dolman puts it, is the idea that restores us human beings to a sense of common creatureness instead of the dominant posture we tend to take with fellow human beings, as well as toward animals and plants and eco systems that share our life on earth.
Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum said in 1968, “We won’t save places we don’t love; we can’t love places we don’t know; and we don’t know places we haven’t learned.” If our watersheds are the places God gives us to be followers of Jesus, let’s begin the never ending journey of “learning the place”. Perhaps if we begin to know the people, waters, birds, coyotes, oak trees, bees, and the whole array of the ecological system – “the local, intentional community” – we will begin to love the place. And if we love the place, we may begin working to save, protect, conserve, cultivate and build, knowing we are fellow residents rather than the dominant species.
May the watersheds we live in become the places God has given us, the unique part of creation which we are called to care for. May we use bicycles, cultivate gardens, and re-work our buildings as expressions of our love for God and all that He has made, overcoming the isolation and dis-placement of modern life.