I grew up in Anoka County, Minnesota, where the beginnings of suburban sprawl continued to impinge on what was once a large, oak savanna grassland. As a kid, I had no idea that, at one time, fire-resistant oak trees and hundreds of different grass, forb, and prairie animal communities lived and thrived right in my backyard. No doubt there were remnants of this around me. But I was a kid. I was more aware of the sand burs in our neighborhood playground than I was of some ancient ecosystem that used to be there.
Since then, I have moved away from that area to live on the Great Plains in western North Dakota. I have come to know not only about the diverse prairie community where I grew up, but also about many different ecotypes of prairie within the world.
It’s more than a hobby of mine. Learning to appreciate the grand variance of the prairie has made me realize, that, as caretakers of the places where we live, we are given the gift of protecting the diversity of life where we are. We have this gift (and duty), because diversity is what life is all about.
Nature has taught me to see life and spirit through new lenses.
I’ll give you an example:
I am a Lutheran minister living on the Great Plains in the State of North Dakota. I identify myself within a particular brand of Christianity in a place that is big, wide and open. But I do not insist that everyone understand life and faith just the way I do. To do so would be the equivalent of breaking the sod on a prairie defined by its grassy variance.
Variance makes the prairie beautiful and healthy. Variance makes spirituality beautiful and healthy. It’s this variance that I now find beautiful. It makes me feel like a kid again; it refreshes my spirit.
The Nature Conservancy has a vision and a goal: to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. I have come to believe passionately that this goal is my goal, too. I feel this way, because it is at the center of what I believe openness of spirit to be about.
We can take a hint from Mother Nature no matter where we are. Whether it is in the sand hills in Anoka County, Minnesota or on the edge of the shortgrass prairie on the Great Plains, we lose something of our humanity when we lose land that is wild. Diversity of faith and diversity of life make us more whole as people. Because, without it, we look at the world in only one way, instead of seeing the wonder of many new and different things.
Reverend Dan Mauer, Williston, North DakotaMarch 02, 2011