Eco-Steward Kathi Pogorelov studies public health and sociology, with a concentration in health and environment, at The College of New Jersey. She took a break from her coursework to reflect on her participation in the June 2011 Montana Eco-Stewards Program.
Eco-stewardship means more than caring for the environment; it means caring for “our” environment, possessive, as in an entity which belongs to and is very much an extension of our being. It involves a type of caring which does not view oneself as separate from the surroundings in which one exists, but rather, as a permeable part belonging to a larger whole. One of the inside jokes among the Montana Eco-Stewards, in fact, was the concept of “fractals”– the humor was in repeating the word ‘fractals’ over and over with a certain emphasis that evoked feelings of infinite complexity and sci-fi awe.
A fractal “is a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,” according to Wikipedia. From this structural perspective, all sorts of environments, depending on scale, can be seen as reflections of one another. Whether it be on a biological, psychological, familial, societal, ecological, global or other kind of organizational level, the health of one environment affects and mirrors the health of all other environments. None are exclusive to this phenomenon. Therefore, when our ecosystem is in any way out of balance, as earthlings, so are we. With this holistic understanding comes the responsibility and role of the Eco-Steward, demanding conscious choice, from what we purchase and put into our bodies, to how we live our lives.
It is this awareness of collective ownership upon which we formed a culture of eco-stewardship. As our mission in Montana strengthened thanks to a shared ideology (and love of farm food!), we unexpectedly began to form our very own ‘social ecosphere’. Similar to the community of the Crow Reservation, we too created a ‘tribal family’ during our time spent together. Congregating into circles, storytelling, gathering over hearty meals, car drive conversations and other bonding events were among the many activities that revealed the group’s great synergy. In effect, a ‘safe place’ between Eco-Stewards had been birthed into existence. By fostering a nourishing environment of acceptance, openness, mutual care and support, we had effectively planted the seeds for a tribe of gardeners. Our united knowledge and interactive collaboration had grown into something beyond ourselves, nurturing and empowering us in ways that could not have been accomplished alone. Each one of us, with our natural light, had burned a hole into an otherwise ordinary slab of wood, etching a piece of art that only Crow portrait artist Jon Beartusk could challenge.