Sandy Geffner, naturalist, University at Buffalo professor and Earth Spirit Educational Services co-founder, was a guest speaker at the WGRZ outdoor forum entitled, Nature and the Human Spirit at the University at Buffalo on December 15. His story was personal and spiritual, based on the premise that, “All have a spirit and that spirit can be felt by one another.”
Sandy was born in Valley Stream, Long Island and baseball was his boyhood passion. It was during his college years at Cortland State that his naturalist self emerged. “As interpretive naturalists, we look around and our pockets are filled with stories, we’re lucky to have lots of stories.” As he humorously tells it, when he discovered his love for the outdoors, he would take that with him on car outings with his friends. “Wherever my gaze went, so did the car.” He was introverted, and couldn’t speak to others until he found himself outside; only then was he able to speak as an educator.
Earth Spirit was founded in 1980 when Sandy was inspired to share in a different way. This involved realizing a good heart through awareness and understanding, connecting others to a world that he loved so much and perceiving nature as a family; a concept he refers to as holistic ecology or ecotheology. He spent time with Kahunas, Druids, Wiccans, spiritual archeologists in the New Age era and discovered ‘attunement’ and magic in nature. During a deep meditation in the woods, a doe with her fawn approached. They stared at him, played and simply enjoyed each other with him for a half hour. That experience led him to conduct further nature interaction experiments.
Sandy’s gentle voice evoked thought-provoking statements, “What is it we don’t know about how nature works? What should I reply? There are no coincidences; there is meaning behind all actions. There are so many nices and thank you’s in my life…magic. We connect through a sense of reverence on our pathways to the natural world. Yes, the world is sorrowful, yet we must participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”
Also speaking was Paul Fuhrmann of Ecology and Environment. Using reports and visuals, he demonstrated local progress at the Buffalo River and Times Beach Nature Preserve. The possibilities for improving are there if our attention is focused, yet much needs to be done. He explained the concept of nature in the Anthropocene (the age of humans), a term used to describe how human activities alter the earth, based on a study of the planet since the 1950’s. Using examples of nature’s mysteries including egret rookeries within close proximity to Navy boats in Michigan to the petroglyphs in Parowan Gap, Utah, he emphasized the timeless and necessary relationship between man and nature.
Mike Bastine, elder and healer, also shared his perspective on the human nature connection. He used the word Orenda to describe that which cannot be explained, as in the sparkling effect produced on the water or the amazing behavior of hawks. From a human perspective, these mighty birds are majestic. However, even when confronted by their enemies, they will not use their talons or beak to attack. They will only use them in actions used to feed their family.
Mike gave out a plea to reconnect with nature; it’s sacredness beyond reverence. “Humans detach themselves from nature; animals and plants do not. It’s fine to watch a video of a person petting a dog, but you must pet the dog yourself to know the real experience. Pursuing insights (looking at creation) gives us answers to many of our questions. Nature (life essences) came before and since. Earth is the life generator. Humans cannot exist without nature, but nature can continue without humans.”
Mike mentioned others who are advocates for strengthening our connection. One is naturalist and reader of animals, John Volpe. His cause, In Sacred Waters, promotes turtle rescue and rehabilitation, and the importance of holding organizations responsible for their environmental obligations. “Doing the right thing is important,” stressed Mike.
All of the speakers reflect Mike’s sentiment that nature’s message is out there, we have merely lost the ability to decipher, understand and interpret this. As applause thundered through the crowded room, evidence abounded that there are many who hear her call and are willing to raise their voices in the spirit of reestablishing that communication. The earth spirit.
Closing Photo by Jamie Wilson