Picnic at Valley Falls State Park
O hidden life that vibrates in each atom,
O hidden light that shines in each creature,
O hidden love that embraces everything in unity,
May all who feel one with you
Know that for this very reason we are one with all the others.
— adapted from Annie Besant
Hymn: For the Beauty of the Earth
Sing unto the earth, and all the rocks and trees
All that lives and breathes, far beneath the sky
For they are God
You are God
I am God
We are God
We are One:
The bed through which the river flows
We are Alpha:
Which was in the beginning
We are Omega:
Which shall be in the end
We are One
The cloud rains on the mountain
The creeks fall to the river
The river flows to the sea
The sun that shines in heaven
Lifts up the drops of water
And the cloud
Rains on the mountain
We are the water
In the river
In the clouds
In the creeks
In the sea
Which is purer?
Which is better?
We are One
We are the bed through which the river flows
We are the water of the river
And we are One
We are and were and shall be
– Lisa deGruyter
On this Earth Day, we might consider the history of the place where we have gathered.
Until the 19th Century this was an “undeveloped” place. The river ran unhindered by human activities. The forest grew with no thought of maintenance or sustainability. Plants grew and animals wandered, living their lives as they had for thousands of years. And people came in small numbers to hunt or fish, and then to pass on.
But the trees around were valuable, and timbering had already begun. In 1837 W. W. Fetterman built a sawmill here, taking advantage of the power of the Tygart Valley River to cut locally harvested logs into lumber. A gristmill was added in 1847. When in 1853 the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was completed from Grafton to Wheeling, the line passed through Valley Falls, and this place suddenly became a boom town.
More mills, a coffin factory, a school, a church, and a ferry appeared. And lumber from the mills was carted to surrounding areas — old buildings in Morgantown or Fairmont or Clarksburg could still contain wood cut in this area, sawed and trimmed in these mills.
The boom lasted some 30 years, ending suddenly and dramatically in 1886 when most of the town burned. Two years later the River flooded, destroying the rest of the town, and it was never rebuilt. The site was abandoned and nature began to reclaim the land.
It’s what happened after the town died that we might think about today.
If you go down by the river you will see all that remains of the town of Valley Falls: a small column of stones, formerly a corner of one of the old mills; a channel cut into the stone to create the millrace that caused the river to drive the mills; and some iron rods that were driven some time into the rock of the river bed. The railroad tracks still pass through Valley Falls because they are still in use, but there is no station and there is no town. Surrounding these remains are the trees and other plants that have resumed their place on the land.
When we lived in Texas we dug a small pond in our back yard, lined it with a plastic layer that kept the water we added from seeping into the soil, and stocked it with “feeder” goldfish. Not long after we first filled it with water the backyard changed. Within a couple of days dragonflies and damselflies appeared, dancing their intricate mating rituals and depositing their eggs. A short time after that toads arrived and began to sing. The toads sang all night for a couple of days, then vanished. But a few days later the goldfish were joined by tadpoles. Birds came to drink or bathe in the pond. And at night racoons came to swim. The natural world didn’t care that the pond was artificial — it was just a pond, and the creatures were pleased to use it. The natural world didn’t care whether we were there or not.
It seems to me that the world, this earth, works as a system without regard to what humans want or need. The parts are not completely independent, their relationships are complex. Nevertheless, growth happens; change happens; the earth recovers, rebuilds itself where we have hurt it. We are part of the earth, but the earth does not belong to us, and it could do very well without us.
If in the course of time, the environment no longer supports human life, the earth will continue, and other life will replace us. Perhaps “Earth Day” should be “Human Day”, a day to acknowledge that we want our world to continue to support and nurture us.
For the sun and the dawn which we did not create
For the moon and the evening which we did not make
For food which we plant but cannot grow
For friends and loved ones we have not earned and cannot buy
For this gathered company which welcomes us as we are, from wherever we have come
For all our free churches that keep us human and encourage us in our quest for beauty, love, and truth
For all things which come to us as gifts of being from sources beyond ourselves
Gifts of love and life and friendship
We lift up our hearts in thanks each day
– Richard M. Fewkes
May we leave this place
Seeking an uncharted and freely chosen way to wholeness,
Knowing we have companions along the way.
Let us go forth into the world through a door of hope for the future, remembering these words by Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
So may it be with us.
Joys and Sorrows