Restraint & Sacrifice
By Molly Murfee
I’ve always liked the ritual of New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve learned to set at least one whole day aside during the winter holiday season to wallow around in my pajamas, sipping tea, barely leaving my comforter cocoon except to maybe eat something or put on more hot water. It’s a time for just me, my journal, my pen, and my thoughts. I recognize all my accomplishments of the past year, as well as what didn’t work so well, strategizing how to shore up those parts of my life.
As I settle in to my personal reflections and adjustments one of these snowy, windy days, thinking of this place we collectively find ourselves, of pandemics and climate catastrophe and divisiveness, I wonder also what we as a culture should consider, and how our individual actions contribute to these dark days we’re collectively living.
I am fascinated by the Greek goddess Artemis. She is most famously known as a huntress. She is also, however, the protectress and defender of all wild animals, the goddess of the forests and the hills, the great mother of nature. It is thought her name is related to the Greek “árctos,” meaning bear. Some point to the ancient worship of Artemis as the cause for large sections of that country to be preserved for many, many years.
At first glance it seems odd a singular deity would be in charge of both the killing as well as the preserving of wild animals. But when you consider the phenomenon on a deeper level, it makes a world of sense. It is the balance of give and take. The inclusion of sacrifice and restraint in the name of proper stewardship.
The ancient Celts had some similar protectresses and balancing rules in place. In order for a king to rise to the throne, he first had to commit to Sovereignty, the patron goddess of the land. If he protected her, she granted him abundance in crops and wild game, water and a cooperating weather. In order to make sure he stayed in line, a storyteller and a mystic flanked his every decision, translating the messages of the goddess and her land, spinning tales to remind the king and his people of the rules.
Power had restraint.
We are not so fond of restraint these days. No matter how you slice it, when we came here, we came here to take. Despite utterly understandable reasons of poverty, disease and political upheaval or oppression, it was a “gittin’” kind of mentality that pushed us across oceans and over land. The European nations sending boatloads of settlers over to the “new country” didn’t come here to love and steward, but to grow empires. The once innocent and simple desire to practice freedom of religion and live without political persecution has given rise to such an adamant individualism it is as if it were a very lifeline to our physical existence, like the air we breathe.
Now, I am all for freedom and independence. To this day I tend to be a “don’t you tell me what to do” rebellious kind of gal. There’s a point, though, when this is all just a bit too much, blown to such a proportion nothing else can fit in the room, not to mention “independence” tends to be a bit of a falsehood. Turns out, we’re all connected, both the goose and the gal. Go figure.
Sometime in my childhood I learned the way to catch a racoon was to put an apple inside a trap with a hole just big enough for the racoon’s paw to fit through. Once the little fella reached inside and grabbed ahold of the apple, he wouldn’t let go, and since the hole was only as big as his paw, he was caught. The racoon’s greed for the apple, and inability to see anything beyond holding onto his prize, caused his very demise.
Seems we have a lot in common with that racoon.
Artemis was a steward. She recognized humans needed to eat, and therefore hunt. But she demanded a balance in doing so.
From our industry to ourselves we must do the same. We gotta let go of the apple for our own self-preservation, as well as for others. It’s going to take a little sacrifice and restraint.
It means we have to hang up our rampant individualism and think outside of ourselves to others around us – both human and beast. It means industry can’t just run rampant without regulation in supplication to the almighty dollar. In my little town it means the rule of real estate shouldn’t be the only law of the land, but that of balance as well, where we consider the living needs of the elk and the heron and the wetland alongside our own. It means we should feed more money to stewardship of this place, than to the insatiable machine of tourism. For ourselves it means we don’t build the biggest house or buy all the new shiny things our pocketbooks will allow, just because we can.
And so, as we head into this New Year, one that holds the glimmering possibility of the all, I ask, what is it you can do without for the greater good of the whole?
Creative non-fiction and place-based author Molly Murfee specializes in nature and environmental writing cut with cultural and societal critique. Her current course – Writing Through the Changes – celebrating the seasons through journaling, meditation, creative writing and nature immersion is open for registration. Molly is also a Nature Writing Concentration faculty with the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Western Colorado University. Sign up for Molly’s Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her ongoing book project; field-based Writing & Connection Workshops; online advertising and syndicate column opportunities; and freelance writing services at www.mollymurfee.com.