Cuddling the Landscape

altars ecological self land alchemy Jun 14, 2023

Since our very beginnings, human cultures around the world have been recording their curiosities, telling their stories, and expressing their everyday experiences of beauty through ritualized earth art. “From Stonehenge in England to the Giant Serpent Mound in Ohio to the Nazca Lines in Peru to the Chauvet Caves in France and the totem poles of the Pacific Northwest Native Amercians, the Earth has always served as a collaborator to express the myth, prayer, and memory of the people.” (Day Schildkret) 


There are many contemporary humans who are still passing down these traditions, in Asia, South America, and beyond, where a daily practice of creating small altars or mandalas is a part of everyday life. Even casual sand or snow castles, jack-o-lanterns, peace poles, or mountain cairns are forms of earth art in the West. Creating earth altars is a tangible, uncomplicated practice that connects us to the pace of the earth and moves us into a space of attention and connectivity. 


My backyard land altar continues to grow with every passing season, and it's amazing to watch everything around it flourish. To the right of the altar, the rhododendrons are quaking with the vibrations of delirious, drunken bumblebees. To the left, the peony bushes are falling over with heavily-petaled devotion. And in all of the empty spaces in between, the wine cap mushrooms are so plentiful I can’t give them away fast enough!


Whether it's a delicate, indoor apartment altar or an elaborate outside totem, land altars provide a place to:

  • leave offerings, 
  • complete simple rituals, 
  • express your love and creativity, 
  • tend the elements and witness the seasonal changes, 
  • communicate on-goingly with the spirits of the land, 
  • give thanks for how your life is directly informed by forces more vast, mysterious, and ancient than you can possibly know.


Land altar installations (and online land altar consultations) are just one of the services I offer up as a Land Alchemist. Whether you are building a permanent installation or a seasonal mandala meant to blow away with the wind, the possibilities for creating land altars are endless and yet another way to create a tender closeness with the place where you live.

Eco-intimacies abound in the latest episode of Woman Who Rubs the Mountain podcast where my guest, Nature communication consultant Dr. Saskia Von Diest, shares her story of shifting from her PhD in plant pathology to postdoctoral research investigations of intuitive farming. With the guidance of the living world around her, she created a term to describe a deeper way of knowing - Ecofluency. Perhaps it is the most critical skill we can develop as humans, the ability to sit in dialogue and ask the Earth directly: what is needed at this moment on the planet? Because it's only when we ask and truly listen that we really begin to understand what nature needs. Saskia is an amazing teacher and I think you are really going to enjoy her stories of growing up in the dramatic landscape of South Africa, nestling up with warm rocks and “cuddling the landscape.”


Much gratitude for listening! 

With joy & kinship,


Excerpt from the June 2022 newsletter. If you would like to receive my monthly love letters, click here.