The land has always beckoned to me. Quietly, consistently, and seductively inviting me to get lost in its magic. Even when I lived in Brooklyn as a kid I sought the out-of-the-way places that drew me into a deeper relationship with nature: an empty and overgrown lot, a city park, or the river walkway along the Verrazano Bridge.
When I was 16, my parents told me we were moving upstate. I wanted to dislike their decision. I even wanted to hate it. After all, my friends were in Brooklyn, and I built a life I knew there. And while the move from a large apartment on Prospect Park West to a small trailer in the middle of nowhere was a culture shock of epic proportions, it took my spark of a connection with the natural world and set it on fire.
As I settled into this new way of being, I started exploring. Our trailer park bumped up against a large forest. I had no idea how large at the time. After some research, I learned I was living on the edge of the Catskill Forest Preserve—700,000 acres of mountains, streams, and hiking trails. The Catskill Mountains are not mountains in the traditional sense. They are the remains of river deposits from the older eroded Acadian Mountains to the east. This land was once part of the Lenapehoking, the original territory of the Munsee-speaking Lenni Lenape indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands. I also discovered that the Shawangunk Mountain Range rested on the other side of the valley, full of world-renowned limestone cliffs and ledges. These realizations revealed another pathway that deepened my intimacy with the land.
Small forays into the woods became multi-day backpacking trips. Short visits to streams turned into long paddle excursions on lakes and rivers. Bicycle rides around the trailer park became mountain bike trips among the dwarf pines of The Gunks. An occasional visit into the preserve wasn’t enough; I wanted more time. For many years, the forest was the adventurous stage for me to challenge myself. I suppose in some way my relationship with those lands was still primarily about me. What was the next summit to climb, the next river to paddle, the next trail to add to my list? Somewhere along the way something changed. I realized that aiming for a trip’s finish line made me miss what happened on the journey. I overlooked subtle elements that could easily get lost in the background: a blade of grass, a small stone, an ant. As nature became a beloved in my life, I wanted to see and appreciate every aspect of it. Little by little, nature was pulling me deeper into its embrace—an embrace that has sustained me through tough times while also bringing me deeper into myself.
The natural world gives us so much, especially when we are open and encourage a relationship with it. Like an old friend or family member, the natural world seeks our attention, desires our love. To fully experience the gifts nature has to offer us, we must see nature in its complete expression, in its beauty and power, and also in its suffering, and lean in to engage with it. Like all relationships, we give and we take.
The land needs each one of us. The Olympic Mountain EarthWisdom Circle (OMEC) encourages all of us to build a sacred and responsible relationship with the Earth. One way we do that is through our land projects. In 2019, OMEC adopted Pillar Point on the Olympic Peninsula. To become an official steward of this land and its coastal waters, we worked closely with Clallam County and CoastSavers.org. Over the past three years, we have organized several clean-up events, along with land and water blessings.
After a 30 year-long love affair with the land that captivated me as a teenager, a land I know deep in my bones, I’m honored to now lead a new land project in the VerNooy Kill Forest, a subsection of the Catskill Preserve. While this land is majestic and captivating, there are areas that need our attention and care. After our application with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is approved, we will begin leading groups into the forest for trail and streamside clean-ups, as well as land and water blessings. I have an inner knowing that this project will only strengthen my connection with the land that stole my heart long ago.
I hope to see you all out in the woods.
From my heart to yours,
Christopher T. Franza RN/Board of Directors, OMEC