Father Thomas Berry once said, “Put the Bible on the shelf, and study nature.” In a sense, strange advice coming from a man of the cloth, as it were. Or perhaps not so strange when we think about what doing that actually means.
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.
Rachel Carson wrote that sentence 54 years ago. It was true when she wrote it, it was true a thousand years before her time and remains true today. The troublesome part of Carson’s statement is that the assurance that spring will come after winter isn’t as strong in some parts of the world as it once was. Our climate continues to shift due to the actions of humans, yet we humans have a hard time changing our ways on the scale that will make a difference. In Nature’s Calling: The Grace of Place, author Gail Collins-Ranadive moves us through a dance with place – she takes us to Nevada to Vermont to Colorado to Arizona to South Carolina to Maine, and in each place, finds her balance and true center in Nature. She reminds us that there is great power and healing in simply letting nature be our guiding light. By sharing her experience, she invites us to “reclaim our space in these sacred spaces.” (Bill Huggins)
Gail divides her time between her home in Las Vegas and her partner’s home in Denver. During winters in Nevada, they hike Red Rock Canyon once a week, walk the neighborhood parks daily, write, read, converse, and create and carry out workshops on dealing with climate change. Walking out in the desert keeps her sane in the midst of the frustrating task [climate activism] that she feels called to undertake at this phase of life.
During summers in CO, Gail hikes in the high country to commune with the columbine: long her spiritual flower, it is fading and thinning because of global warming, and she has made a personal commitment to do everything she can to aid in its survival.
I connected with Gail in late winter as spring started showing signs of arriving earlier than usual.
HB: What made you decide to write this book at this point in your life?
GCR: Nature’s Calling was written over a fifteen year time period and grew organically while I was living the interim ministries themselves as a way to stay grounded and guided by Nature.
HB: What about your life’s journey has impacted your views on sustainability the most?
GCR: Being exposed to a variety of landscapes made me aware of the limitations of each and how we humans are breaching these with such impunity…at our own peril. Right now I live where water is diminishing while people pretend they are not living in a desert. A long time student of human nature as a nurse, a mother, a minister, etc., I am astonished at how unconscious we choose to remain and am challenged to wake people up!
HB: What was the hardest part of this book to write? The easiest?
GCR: While I struggled to find the voice, the main theme, the focus, and imagine the audience, it was just a jumble of journal notes shape-shifting on my desk for several years after I completed my ministry career. When I finally decided to see what it wanted to become and let go, the material came together.
HB: What simple living/sustainability practices do you incorporate into your life most regularly?
GCR: My partner and I live simply and mindfully. We drive an electric car powered by rooftop solar on both our homes. We recycle, rarely fly, never take a cruise, buy only what we need vs. want, and relish such experiences as watching the sunrise daily, appreciating the miracle of drinkable water (we DON’T do bottled water!), enjoying meals together (that he cooks), and being able to use our life energy for the common good (we are both healthy 70-somethings).
HB: What is challenging about living a life that puts sustainability as priority? What is most rewarding about it?
GCR: Raised as a New England Puritan, I have great difficulty in accepting that others do not practice sustainability…I admit that I get angry and judgmental when I witness fellow humans living mindlessly, disrespectfully, and wastefully.
When I put solar panels on my roof to take personal responsibility for my contribution to climate change, I found myself caught up in the political football that the fossil fuel industry has put in play through local, state, and national infrastructures that block the move to renewable energy. For instance, the local utility company took five months to hook up my net meter. Then the Nevada Public Utilities Commission voted to penalize solar owners by slapping extra fees onto our electric bill, an act that essentially killed the solar industry here in sun-drenched NV. And because I am an activist in the climate movement, I am acutely aware of how the fossil fuel industry is trying to deep-six the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. All of this is unconscionable to me, in light of the scientific reality and growing personal experience of global warming. Trying to live sustainably often feels like being a prophet crying out in the wilderness, where no one is listening because the corporate sponsored media ignores the problem and irresponsible politicians assure voters they can continue the capitalism that is destroying the planet and the consumerism that has become the world’s religion.
Yet, doing the right thing has its own rewards. Sharing this lifestyle and mindset with even a small number of people is a blessing and a relief….we have helped form such groups in both living places.
HB: What else do you have to share with readers who might be interested in following their own version of Nature’s Calling?
GCR: Developing a spiritual connection with Nature eventually demands action that soon becomes activism on behalf of Earth. I don’t think I realized that when I first stepped onto the path outlined in the book. But this truth claim is now shaping my life as a retired elder. Everything I do is towards leaving the planet as beautiful and sustainable as it was when I first arrived.
Learn more about and connect with Gail on her website: