Posted by: floridanature | November 11, 2008

Soldiering on, with Sacred Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about mythology lately, about how the earth seemed to fare so much better when we created sacred stories about the landscape, and the secrets it held. Those secrets told of beauty, of hidden truths and dangers. Of forces who ruled storms and rain, commanding orchids to bloom and springs to flow.

Butterfly orchid at river's edge

Butterfly orchid at river

Those sacred stories explained a natural phenomenon or cultural practice, animated gods and heroes so that they held sway over our lives and informed our ethics. For those of us who live in developed countries, science has done away with so much of that. What it didn’t obliterate, technology—and, later, the glib sheen of political economics— tried to finish off.

We’re supposed to solider on, not lamenting the loss of nature because that’s kid stuff. The big grown-up world demands that we put away sentimentality in favor of expediency. It gives us deeply insecure politicians skilled in double-speak who care less about sustainability and more about ego and power.

I think about this today as I am preparing to talk a bit about the St. Johns River tomorrow morning at Leu Gardens in downtown Orlando (Nov. 12, from 9 am to noon). There’s a “Forum” having to do with “Reconnecting with the St. Johns River” and I’m to be there to gab a bit in public, an odd thing for a writer to do, really. I had to come up with a title for my gab, so I called it: “The St. Johns Over Time: Magic, Myth and Mayhem.” It will have to do with spirituality, with nature, with—well, magic, myth, and mayhem. Some of the later will be naturally inspired, and some will be traced to the hands of my fellow humans.

I sometimes wonder at the full worth of such events, wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off at home with a book by Bartram or Archie Carr or Aldo Leopold. Or maybe outside in the woods or on the water, or under it, for that’s where I’ve always figured atonement will find its way into our hearts.

Funny, but our non-profit film company, Equinox, is working on a short film on Dr. Archie Carr right now, trying to help folks remember and perhaps help to restore a little cracker cabin the Carrs once owned in the scrub in the Ocala National Forest outside Umatilla. Archie was a great scientist and, by all counts, an giving teacher who not only inspired— but who was also respected and adored by his students. He was also a superb writer who’s had a great influence on my life.


I think of tomorrow’s little public event, and I think of what Dr. David Ehrenfeld wrote after Archie died back in 1987. “Archie was one of the last great minstrels of wilderness, singing a song of joy mixed with an abiding melancholy—a song that both saddened his listeners even as it gave them the heart to fight…”

As a member of a reasonably advanced techno-society, I have to admit that the sacred stories of mythology are evasive for me, only coming late at night in dreams. Or when I’m alone, deep in the forest and the light through the foliage canopy turns evanescent. Still, I know the sudden and profound joy that comes when the wisdom of a phrase or a poem or of a natural moment absorbs me. And so tomorrow, I will try to help us remember what Dr. Ehrenfeld once wrote about Archie Carr, will try to help us understand that it’s perfectly okay to lament loss—while also celebrating the goodness that remains.

Yea, I know. Americans aren’t big on the duality thing. For most, it’s either black. Or it’s white. (That’s why professional wrestling, angry talk show hosts, and the fringes of the major political parties do so well these days.) Nonetheless, we do what we can, and remain thankful that some care enough to listen, to celebrate, and when necessary, to lament.



  1. Hi I’ve been following this blog for a while since I finished reading Losing It All To Sprawl. The beginning of your post (sacred stories about nature) reminded me of a lecture I attended last year for my Nature, Religion and Ethics class when I was at the University of Florida. The lecture was given by Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd. I was pretty skeptical when I heard about it because I don’t come from a religious family and I really only went to the lecture for the extra credit. However the ideas they presented were very interesting and fit in with that whole idea of our culture needs reasons to hold the environment sacred again. I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of what they say but again I think it might be something you’d be interested in, even if only to know there are other people who think so also.

  2. oh and here is their website if you want to check it out.

  3. Thanks, Amy. Glad my post juggled some memories for you about nature and spirituality. I use that later term rather than “religion” because I feel it’s at the core of such beliefs. Indeed, religion as it’s often practiced may stretch so far into socialization that it abandons its true intent.

  4. Would be interested to learn more about your short film on Dr. Archie Carr. Will this air on PBS at a later date?

    Does Wekiva:Legacy or Loss still air on PBS?

  5. Our short film on Dr. Carr and the little cracker cabin in the scrub outside of Umatilla in the Ocala Nat. Forest is intended as a vehicle to raise consciousness —and funding—for the restoration of the 75 year old structure. As a short film, it may play at festivals, etc., but will mainly be used to show to folks who might want to become involved with supporting the effort. Ideally, once the project is completed, the film can also be used as on-site outreach to help visitors understand the value of that backwoods sanctuary. (It will likely be available in a low res version on our film website.)

  6. Stories are the building blocks of who we are, personally and as a community. The older I get the more I see that.

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