People embrace the concept of environmental stewardship for many different reasons: economic interest; commitment to sustainability of natural resources; appreciation of nature; health and wellbeing or concern for future generations. Religious, spiritual and ethical inspirations can also play their part. These complex relationships are the focus of a special ranger-led program at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park in Woodstock, Vermont, Sundays September 14 and October 26, 2pm-3:30pm.
The “Spiritual Roots of Conservation” ranger-led tour will explore and discuss the religious heritages, beliefs and spiritual practices of the people who lived on the lands that are now the National Park.
Beginning with the earliest inhabitants, the Abenaki people, the program will examine how humans in every culture understand nature to have extraordinary properties, inspiring humans to appreciate and protect the things and places that hold meaning for them.
George Perkins Marsh and Frederick Billings were also influenced by the complex and evolving nature of human interactions with the environment. Their religious and philosophical explorations were informed by the philosophical climate of their times: Darwinism; the writings of Transcendentalists and the work of the Hudson River School artists.
At a time of great development in the course of the nation’s history, these families looked to land stewardship as being essential for social well-being and economic progress, and fundamental to the values expressed in the Biblical commandments. Following these principles, the Billings family felt a deep obligation to improve the wellbeing of communities and support new national models of conservation.
Frederick Billings’ granddaughter, Mary French Rockefeller, and her husband Laurance continued this intergenerational commitment and donated Vermont’s only national park for all to enjoy. Mary maintained her connection to nature through the Christian beliefs of her parents and grandparents while Laurance made his connection between humans and nature through the lens of Eastern philosophy, particularly Zen Buddhism.
Inspiration to make a positive and enduring difference in the world, in a local community, and in one’s own life can come from many sources and many different spiritual and religious beliefs. The Spiritual Roots of Conservation program encourages participants to reflect on how their own beliefs may inspire action in their own communities to protect and preserve places and things that hold meaning for them.
This one and a half hour program is led by former ranger Jean Elizabeth Shockley, who holds master’s degrees in Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and in Religion and Ethics from Yale University. For more information, please call 802 457-3368 x 22
or email MABI_visitorservices@nps.gov.