Summer Rewilding Retreat: Scraping the Ground for the Grief Seeds

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The sun was high and hot these summer months. The ground was cracked open revealing crevasses of dry dirt. The traditional rains and cooling cloud cover transmuted into a thick covering of smoke as wild fires smoldered all over the West. And yet, even in these despairing conditions, tendrils of green hope grew into the form and shape of beans, tomatoes and peas; flowers became berries, apples, and plums; herbs returned to offer their healing. I was astonished at the hard and accomplished work these plants exhibited. In spite of the hot and harsh conditions, they were bound and determined to flourish.

This captures the collective energy of this season’s Rewilding Wheel quadrant, which brings together the ancient wisdom residing within the coordinates of the Summer season, the Southern cardinal direction, the element of Earth, and sinks these coordinating energies deep into the bioregion of the farm, the garden, the field. Here, the prayers and practices, and rites and rituals that reconnect us to the sacred rhythms of the earth-bound seasons and celestial phases take on a particular form. Within this soulful practice, one recalibrates the consecrated connection between season and site; natural rhythms and neighborhood residence; the beatific and the bioregion. One begins to explore how this landscape and season speak into their own psychospiritual formation, and how diving deep into the associated mythopoetic realm reveals transformational truths about ones soul.

How will you know the difficulties of being human, if you are always flying off to blue perfection? Where will you plant your grief seeds? [We] need ground to scrape and hoe, not the sky of unspecified desire.
— Rumi

My attempt with this practice is to bring into focused awareness practices that bind me to my bioregion, that sutures the sacred into the soil, and that reconnects me to the spirit of my place. A critical question has emerged through this effort, one that I have been bringing to each landscape. This question formed after a powerful moment that I shared with a Deg Hit’an Dine elder in my neighborhood woods. It was a moment that called into question all that I had been taught about the posture of stewardship, and earth-tending; the difference between managing the land and minding its spirit. In a moment I realized that my custodial care of this particular urban forest was another iteration of colonization. As much as land is intersectional, my Rewilding Year has demanded I do the work to confront the intersectionality of bodies and how they are colonized by the dominant power—earth bodies, animal bodies, human bodies. The question that has led this sacred round is this: how may I be about the work of decolonizing my bioregion, and more specifically, my homescape so that I may have access to the “Spirit of my Place?”

It’s the difference between managing the land and minding its spirit. It’s coming to terms that custodial care is another iteration of colonization.

In response to the Rewilding Wheel coordinates, and in need of wisdom to guide my question, my husband Joel and I headed south for my personal Summer Rewilding Retreat to Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley to spend time with Reverend Randy and Edith Woodley at their community-restoration and teaching farm, aptly named Eloheh Farm (“eloheh” is a Cherokee word meaning harmony, balance, well-being and abundance). Utilizing and teaching principles found within permaculture, biomimicry and Traditional Indigenous Knowledge (TIK), Eloheh Farm is a model for a flourishing and abundant future as it displays the wholeness that occurs when cooperation with and permission from the more-than-human world are in alignment. Randy Woodley, PhD, is a Keetoowah Cherokee (legal descendent) teacher, poet, activist, former pastor, missiologist and historian. He and Edith’s work in the ongoing discussions concerning new church movements, racial and ethnic diversity, peace, social justice, interreligious dialogue and mission made me eager to bring my question and have him help me with my thinking and Joel was excited about the opportunity to interview him for his Emerging Future podcast (you can listen to this deep and vulnerable conversation here). We came with the expectation of being transformed by this place and its people.


The hospitality of this land and its people knew no bounds. We stayed on site in a rustic bunk house with windows that opened up to the star-soaked wind that whistled through the dying branches of neighboring Filbert farms. These money-driven monoculture plantations stood in direct contrast to the thriving bounty at Eloheh Farm. Randy, who understands his role with this land as a “co-sustainer” (note: not a steward, an important difference that comes into play in response to my question), led us on a tour around this 3.26 acre water-wise and regenerative landscape that not only feeds his family year round and provides produce for local markets, heritage and indigenous seeds for the Woodley’s Eloheh Seed company, but also provides a niche micro-habitat for a host of more-than-human species who now make their home in this incredible web of life. Within this web were a myriad of stone fruit trees; a well-visited pollinator garden; herbs and medicine plants including heritage and ceremonial use tobacco and tulasi; tomatoes, cucumber, and 800 year old squash strains. The list goes on! A walk through Eloheh Farm was like walking through the fabled Garden of Eden with the Wise Gardener who knew not only the names of every living being, but their essence and critical role within an ecosystem.

Our mornings together would begin seated in a circle with bottomless coffee cups. Within this unhurried space, stories were told—stories of violent racism, stories of grace, stories of healing, and stories of grief. Here we were invited to cross over from the White Western worldview into the indigenous mind, a conversion that Randy takes up very seriously, and which informs his work as a Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture and Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at George Fox University. He was very clear about this intentional effort. This isn’t appropriation, shared Randy. “This is what the world needs. Don’t take our stories or our prayers (without permission) but do take up our world view! It’s what the world and our future needs!” This circle became my fertile ground, the earth in which I planted this elder’s wisdom, hoping the storied seeds would take root, stabilizing and nourishing my rewilding journey. With a freshly poured cup of coffee in hand, Randy asked me why I had come. What prompted me to this place? I shared with him my stewardship story of Cheasty Greenspace and the moment when I began to feel that there was more to these woods than just matter and the resource-minded posture of stewarding. And while I knew that the forest was numinous, a place of inspirited presence, I needed to know if and how I had access to this depth. He listened. He waited. And he responded:

“Did you ever ask permission?”

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
— Aldo Leopold

Permission. I took Randy’s return question with me as I worked on transplanting dozens of peppers in the greenhouse. Permission. With each pepper lifted out of a now-too-small container and placed with organic compost into a much bigger planter the question took root. Permission. Did I ever ask permission from the land to steward it? Permission. The roots began to work through the too-dry soil of dominance. Had I ever asked permission from the spirit of a place to access it? Permission. Root tips worked against the hard lodged foundation of Whiteness and cracked foundation of colonization. Had I ever asked permission from the Duwamish tribe to restore this land? Permission. This question was both about the place and its original people. And the inherent answer required a profound shift in posture of power to one of vulnerability: stewardship doesn’t require permission as it assumes an entitled practice of resource dominance; co-sustaining or solidarity is the posture granted after asking permission from the entity by whom you want to stand beside.

To be vulnerable is to fashion yourself after the posture of the Holy—we are most like God when we are susceptible to the forming influence of the essence of others. And we see this throughout ecosystems and flourishing communities! We thrive when we are in inter-relationship and interdependence with others, sharing our very nature that is inherently mutually enhancing. This is the active work of encounter others and allowing others to encounter you. This is moving from being the beholder, to being beholden. Can we move into this vulnerable space? Can we assume the vulnerable posture of asking permission of a place and its original people to be there and be there deeply and well? For in that vulnerability lies the key to our belonging.

This is the marrow of this year’s journey. I cannot belong to a place because I believe I have the right to, the entitled access to all its resources, the power to move in and through it. I may get to belong to a place after I have asked permission and been granted access to the wisdom that lives in its blood and bones.

My reinhabitation, my rewilding into the whole of life requires the reintroduction of permission, and from that place, abundant renewal and regeneration will take place within my soul and the soil of my belonging. This is the work of rewilding, of land liberation, which works within the inner nature as well. It is a sacred act; an apology, a reconciliation. And it begins with the posture of permission followed by a perpetual posture of gratitude, the combination between the two being that which will heal our grief from our separation from the land.


Field and Farm Rewilding Practices

We can no longer hear the voice of the rivers, the mountains, or the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. The world about us has become an ‘it’ rather than a ‘thou.’
— Thomas Berry

Within the 140 pages of the Waymarkers Rewilding Workbook, you will find many invitations to prayers, practices, rites and rituals that will assist in your tuning into the natural world. This sacred setting is no less than our soul's resonance with the natural rhythms and seasonal movements found within the natural world. I find that as every new quadrant of the Rewilding Wheel begins, I am more than ready to learn and lean into the lessons contained within the corresponding bioregion. This Summer I delighted in all things Earth, Farm, and Growing. It truly felt like the heated and heavy passions that push forth the emergence of life were energies that surrounded me. My own work through Waymarkers was in full swing this summer, requiring presence, tending the generating heat of working metal on metal. Another story for another time would identify how this season was the work of the journey through the underworld, Joseph Campbell’s mythopoetic understanding that to truly become, one must meet and mount the dragons that thwart our heroic return to our True Self. In many ways, I was living deep in the earth in this season, subsisting on the nourishment that, ironically, the descent below demands. This has been the potent time of seeing the Upper World’s plants and trees from their underside—looking upwards into the fascia of their root systems, learning from this perspective and how this working network supports and sustains life.

Following are a few of the personal practices I engaged to deepen the earthen mood in me, and cultivate a daily awareness of how this particular landscape expresses the Holy and becomes a sacred messenger as well. This is the work of recovering the sense of the world as a “thou.” Coming to my homescape with the posture of asking permission transformed this season for me and how I entered into relationship with the element of Earth. The culture of consent is raising even with how we engage the more than human world!

Farmers Markets

Any and every where we went this summer, I would make an intentional effort to visit the local farmers market, sampling the bounty of that particular place and paying attention to how the sacred is revealed through this particularity. More and more cities and townships are supporting local agriculture through sponsoring and hosting these mini markets that offering seasonally fresh (and often organic!) produce. Shopping for our fresh fruits and veggies in a way that support our local farms and husbandry vocations is important to healthy people and a healthy place. This intention also brought into focus current issues related to protecting the rights and lives of our migrant neighbors and workers whose very sustenance depends upon the work offered at these farms. This summer has been a time of activism and advocacy related to immigrant detention centers and resisting those in power who would believe that fences of separation are better than fostering solidarity. While there is much delight in this season of working (and eating!) alongside your land, the disciplined practice is to increase an empathetic response through awareness and action for those lives that are directly connected to the fields and farms in our lives.


Visting Farms

Throughout the summer we visited farms. We went out to the fertile fields that provide the land in which our foods grow and flowers which feed so many others. It was a time to reconnect to our food sources. This was especially important for my children who are being raised in an urban context. We visited the vast fields and farmlands throughout the Willamette Valley; lavender farms in Sequim, WA; Butchart Gardens in Victoria; and the amazing biodynamic Jubilee Farm in Carnation, WA. Spending sacred time in what used to be the Benedictine Nunnery herb garden on the Holy Island of Iona was another powerful way to reconnect to how women have always been inherently connected to the work of growing things for wholistic health and wellness. We talked about the health of the earth, the integrity of soil, the medicine offered by herbs, the concentric circle of harm caused by herbicides and pesticides, bumblebees and why we need them. We participated in growing, working, listening, learning, eating, sipping, and being alongside of the earth this season. When we begin to rewild our lives, we begin the work of recognizing and reestablishing elements and features of whole and interconnected relationships. The work of rewilding this summer brought us back into communion with the eucharist-like qualities of creation. Life offers itself to be consumed by the other as a gift for life to continue to emerge.


Foraging & Harvesting

We learned about what our local land grows for food and how it can be used for medicine, and its fibers to fashion utility and clothing. Long walks along the wild edges of fields revealed the abundance of berries. Our own urban homescape offered up lavender, apples, plums, herbs, eggs, and a finally-berrying elderberry bush from which our daily tincture of elderberry syrup is taken. We learned from the Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) peoples how to harvest cedar bark for weaving of baskets and making of rope. We almost daily engaged with Hildegard of Bingen’s understanding of veriditas—the greening power of God. It is truly within the working of the soil that we see how suffused the ground is with the Sacred; that through this element we see that the possibility of all life emerges from the dirt, the most holy of humus (see Genesis 2:9, 19). God draws near to the earth and then animates it from within—that is veriditas.


May the deep blessings of earth be with us.

May the fathomless soundings of seas surge in our soul.

May boundless stretches of the universe echo in our depths

to open us to wonder

to strengthen us for love

to humble us with gratitude

that we may find ourselves in one another

that we may lose ourselves in gladness

that we may give ourselves to peace.

-John Philip Newell