Reinhabiting Place: The Work of Bioregional Discipleship

Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are.
Ortega Y Gasset

From Matthew W. Humphrey of the Little Campbell River Watershed (right), working to integrate the life of faith with the practices of caring for creation. Since earning an MATS from Regent College in Vancouver, Humphrey has worked with A Rocha Canada, a Christian environmental stewardship organization (, as both an educator and practitioner. Alongside overseeing various experiments in sustainable agriculture, Humphrey teaches in churches, colleges, and community settings. In his free time, he enjoys reading, listening to bluegrass, tending his flocks, and spending time outside with his wife, Roxy, and two children, Abigail and Elijah. This is an excerpt from a longer piece that appeared in The Other Journal, which we encourage readers to read in its entirety.
I currently live in the Little Campbell River Watershed. This river is just thirty kilometers long. It crosses four municipal jurisdictions and the traditional lands of Semiahmoo First Nation, and it is located within the province of British Columbia and the country of Canada, which have their respective laws governing streams and waterways, not to mention the rare species-at-risk that live here, such as the red-legged frog and the Pacific water shrew. Into this river flow two additional streams that originate south of the US border in Whatcom County, Washington. All told, this thirty-kilometer creek that runs through my backyard is implicated in over ten different political jurisdictions, yet the salmon that return to spawn every fall have yet to carry a passport. Nor is the red-listed Oregon forestsnail given a vote in important land use decisions affecting its multiple municipalities.

Moving beyond my own watershed, the keystone species of our bioregion, the salmon, connects me to a broader membership still. The Little Campbell River drains into Boundary Bay, a nationally significant marine ecosystem that serves as a habitat for migratory birds. Boundary Bay connects the borders of Washington and British Columbia and forms part of the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea stretches from south of Seattle northward, past the Gulf and San Juan Islands and then around the Western tip of Vancouver Island to as far north as the end of the Straight of Georgia, which is the body of water passing between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. The Little Campbell River Watershed drains seventy-four square kilometers; the Salish Sea covers over 18,000 square kilometers. Further afield, the same salmon that spawn in the Little Campbell River travel along the Western Coast of our continent, as far north as Alaska and as far south as the Ventura River Watershed in southern California.

A watershed can be thought of as one big bathtub, an area within which all the water drains to a common point. Thus, all the creatures that live in the bathtub are connected in important ways and form a community together. One way to think of such a community is in terms of membership, following Saint Paul and Wendell Berry: I am a member of Christ’s body; I am also a member of the Little Campbell River Watershed.

Getting to know this geography and recognizing my membership in this bioregion has proven indispensable in my deepening efforts at caring for my place. Such a localized membership does not limit or prohibit my care for other places—quite the opposite. By first locating myself within the membership of the Little Campbell River, I find I am practically implicated in a web of relationships that span from the Puget Sound to the Georgia Straight, from southern California to the coast of Alaska, and thus I am called to work toward the health and restoration of those place as well. As Gary Snyder writes, a community working to rehabilitate a salmon stream, as my community is, “might find itself combatting clear-cut timer sales upstream, water-selling grabs downstream, Taiwanese drift-net practices out in the North Pacific, and a host of other national and international threats to the health of salmon.”[9]This is where the church, whose citizenship is not in the first instance tied to any kingdom of this world, can and should organize its efforts to promote the integrity of creation. To do so, we must first explore how the biblical story depicts the concept of place.

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