A Bioregional Seminar — The First Letter


The following five letters were contributed to a Bioregional Seminar that was conducted by way of correspondence. Fifteen to twenty people from across the country, most of whom had attended the second North American Bioregional Congress in Michigan in the summer of 1986, participated. The focus of the Seminar was an essay by Thomas Berry, a prominent spokesperson for the bioregional movement.

In the first letter we each introduced ourselves and responded to Tom’s essay. In the succeeding letters we were free to develop our own ideas and/or to respond to Tom or to any of the other participants. I imagine that all of us felt enriched by the exchange of letters. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn both from one another and from the process of trying to articulate our own beliefs and feelings.

The First Letter
(November 1988)

Greetings from the northern borders of Katuah, where the headwaters of the Roanoke River, which runs east to the Atlantic Ocean, meet those of the much older New River, which flows north to the Ohio and then south to the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve been here about 15 years—“we” being a small, intentional community, currently comprised of 6 adults and 2 children, not to mention a number of households “down the road”, plus innumerable more scattered through the county, plus all the deer, turkey, bobcats, copperheads, chipmunks, oaks and maples that were here long before we arrived.

I met Jim Berry in the summer of 1986. He gave me a ride to Lake Michigan, where we attended NABC II. (Thanks again, Jim, both for the ride and for the notice about this seminar.) As a further introduction, and also in response to Tom’s lucid essay, I’d like to share several recurring questions or concerns or growing edges pertaining to the theme of bioregions.

First–What story or metaphor offers the most creative insights into why humanity appears to be so suicidally obsessed with the desecration of Gaia? Many stories, old and new, have been proposed. Choose one we must, consciously or otherwise. Our choice will have a profound effect upon how gracefully we respond to the seemingly insurmountable problems and opportunities that confront us as a species.

Second–To what extent am I willing to wrestle with the direct connections between my personal lifestyle and the exploitation of the Earth? Where does my food come from, when I trace the various items of my diet back to their source? Where does my bodily and household “waste” go? What is the true environmental cost of the electricity I use, the car I drive? Does my participation in the current economy (the specific ways in which I earn and spend my money) feel comfortable to me, even under close scrutiny?

Third–Is it possible to divorce the health of my body from the health of the Earth, or to work toward the well-being of one while ignoring the needs of the other? Learning to listen to the bioregions of my body, and to respond to their needs, is a constant challenge. Rising to this challenge deepens my ability to listen and respond to my wife, my daughter, my friends, my garden, and, ultimately, to all the other creatures and species with whom I share these ridges and valleys.

And finally–How willing am I to use my immediate environment (my body, my community, and my daily life) as a crucible or proving ground, within which radically new patterns of belief and behavior may emerge? This close-to-home, down-to-earth work, these humble and humbling attempts to stretch into a greater measure of empathy and integrity, seem to me to be the inescapable prelude to any truly meaningful involvement in the wider arena of my bioregion.

So these are a few of the underlying questions that have been awakened by my exposure to the ideas of Tom and Jim Berry, by my participation in NABC II, and by my experiences in this ever-so-slowly evolving Katuah lifestyle. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to explore at least some of them together during this seminar.