When you think of your favourite place, what do you think of? Do you imagine your bed, your home, or a family cottage? Maybe you picture a distant country that is warm and smelling of salty seaside.

I picture Cash Island on Shoal Lake in North Western Ontario. In particular, I imagine myself sitting on a rock, under a cedar tree, by the edge of the lake looking south. It’s sunny outside, there are seagulls wheeling about on the winds, and the water is sparkling like those all those diamonds Bruce Cockburn sang about many years ago.

Cash Island is a place I love. I love it because it has formed me, and because I have a relationship with it through spending many of my summers exploring the lakes and forests around Shoal Lake as a camper and staff at Manitoba Pioneer Camp.

More than 50 years ago the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum suggested that one of the roots of the environmental problems we are facing today is a crisis of affection. To paraphrase him: “We won’t save places we don’t love, we can’t love places we don’t know, and we don’t know places we haven’t learned.”

Of course my thinking on this topic wasn’t nearly so nuanced back when I was a camper and staff at Pioneer Camp. I didn’t set out to intentionally learn the place; it was inherent in the culture of camp. We learned the names of the trees for fun, and we made sure to leave no trace as we camped because we wanted to ensure that we could continue enjoying it for the years to come. But I knew that I loved creation and I knew that I loved God.

Years later, as I was wondering what to do with my life, and what I was being called to do, I encountered A Rocha. A Rocha helped shape my understanding of vocation. As an intern at Brooksdale Environmental Centre you live and work in a community that is centred around the vocation of caring for creation. There are farmers, spiritual directors, educators, scientists, moms and dads, children, chefs, and administrators all doing different jobs, but coming together for the same goal of caring for the place they’re in.

Photo by Antoinette Van Kuik – A Rocha Board Chair

It can often feel daunting or overwhelming to think about the monumental task of caring for the earth, and the rhetoric of climate change tends to engage the problem through a scale outside of one we can recognize and comprehend. But on the scale of a community, and a particular local place, where you can actually see changes happening, caring for the earth becomes an exercise in hope. There’s so much that can be done in and through a community working together.

In Genesis 2:15 we hear that God has created humankind and has told them to “care for and keep” the creation. When I think about vocation in light of this verse, I now understand care for the earth as one of the fundamental human vocations.

Today as I walk through the forest at the Boreal Ecology Centre, I experience the beauty of the Mayflowers and Lady Slippers. I learn the rhythms of the trees and the migration patterns of the birds. I come to love this place too. My actions to care for this place are not motivated by far off facts or numbers, but by the relationship I have to the tamarack trees and the black-capped chickadees.

Written by Zoe Matties – Manitoba Program Manager

P.S. This post is based on a presentation done at st. benedict’s table church on March 4, 2020. If you want to listen to that presentation in podcast form, along with a reflection from artist Karen Cornelius, you can listen here!