Parents for the Planet: It’s revitalising to see the wood and the trees

Parents for the Planet: It’s revitalising to see the wood and the trees
Marion Edler-Burke

For Galway-based nature lover and grandmother, Marion Edler-Burke, forest-walking is balm for the soul.

My love of the planet began when I was growing up in Germany. We lived near an industrialised area. I wanted to live in a less tamed, naturally wild environment.

We moved house when I was nine. Being a shy kid, I’d climb a walnut tree and watch other kids play. That tree was my hideout, my refuge, my friend. I’d speak to it as I sat amongst its branches.

I moved to Ireland more than thirty years ago. My husband and I live in Gort, County Galway, on Crann Og Eco Farm. We have roughly 14 acres. Almost half is in bogland.

After the War, my parents were refugees from East Germany. Prehaps because my father’s people were farmers and foresters, it was natural for me to be kind with the land.

When we first moved here, we let some of the fields grow wild. We created vegetable gardens and orchards and planted loads of trees. We introduced beneficial plants to enhance the ecosystem and attract more insects and wildlife. We tried to keep the balance by giving back plenty and not taking too much.

We got into ecotourism for a while. To spread the good life and educate, we ran a forest school and forest therapy walks. Nature has much more to give than the digital world, in terms of health, well-being and outdoor fun. We’re currently focusing on maintenance, tree-planting and beekeeping. As for whether we’ll run workshops or courses again, we’ll see how things flow.

Climate change is happening for sure. We haven’t been flooded but some farms below us have at times.

We love wildlife. We even have bats living in the cladding of our house. Our pond has long attracted frogs, dragonflies and more, which have decreased in number over the past two years. To help bees and butterflies, we plant flowers and let things get pretty wild.

I try to take a glass half-full approach to the planet’s challenges and do small things to make positive change. When we all work together, small changes add up to big changes.

We need to dream up a better world collectively and start creating it. We need to leave gloom and doom behind and live in harmony with nature. We need to think more about the lovely life we can share together on this planet. There’s enough for everybody’s needs. But not for everybody’s greed.

Building community is important, as is uniting and sharing resources and moving from consuming to creating. If we scale back a little we can all live happily. We don’t need all the plastic. Plastic toys and stuff don’t make kids happy.

At home, we reuse, recycle, don’t waste, don’t pollute. While we never used weed-killer we’re still witnessing the decline in bees and insects on our farm. I think that’s because many use weed-killer, pesticides and herbicides. We need legislation to stop this.

We water-harvest for cleaning, washing, showering and more. We have a well but we also gather roof water.

My husband and I have a grown-up daughter and son. Naturally, they’re concerned about the planet and try to find good ways to deal with the situation.

I’m for simple living and treading lightly on the earth. There’s a Native American proverb: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. It’s so apt. We should listen to indigenous people. When making decisions, Native American tribes consider the well-being of the next seven generations.

I’ve always felt a natural connectedness with nature.

I didn’t grow up with it. But it’s in me. Any kind of culture that lives in harmony with the earth has always appealed to me.

I forage all the time. Dandelion, red clover, sorrel, berries from the hedges and medicine from herbs. I make tea for coughs, sore throat, bad stomach and sleep. It all comes from the land, from what’s growing on the doorstop.

We’ve two grandchildren aged 6 and 8. Both are very clued in about nature and have taken part in our forest school.

As children grow, so too does their awareness of what could happen as a result of climate change. Children all over the world are afraid of the threat. We’re all afraid. But while acknowledging the fear, we’ve to stop it overcoming and paralysing us from taking action. We need to gently and playfully build resiliance in our children. We need to toughen them up a bit.

Kids must get closer to nature, learn to use hand tools and learn skills such as knot-tying, gardening and foraging. Older kids could learn shelter-building, fire-making and herbal lore. Kids love bush craft. It makes them stronger and more confident.

The guided therapy walks we’ve run have their origin in Japanese forest bathing. Sensory perception helps you slow down, de-stress and connect with nature. That brings a realisation that we’re all part of and not separate from nature. We enjoy its beauty. But as it’s part of the web of life, we depend on it.

I’ve always used trees for therapy. I started with the walnut tree and now I regularly go into the woodland edging the farm to recuperate.

If I’ve a problem, I sit under a tree, and gain insight and inspiration as a result.

- In conversation with Rita de Brún

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