This 4th of July weekend I took a moment to refresh my understanding of the Declaration that we celebrate each year. The story of Independence that I remember from my grade school lessons is a breakup story. American colonists decided to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” They issued a list of grievances that “impel[led] them to separation” and led to a declaration of being “absolved from all allegiance” to Great Britain. The focus in that version of the story is on oneness the rights of the individual, or what separates one nation from another.
But that is not the whole story. With their last few lines of ink the authors proclaimed, “And for the support of this Declaration…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” [Emphasis mine.] The last words on Independence are not singular; they’re collective.
This re-discovery inspired me to think about the fellowship of freedom this Independence Day. Paradoxically, community was easier to focus on once I got away from the (human) crowd. I went about 25 miles upstream from the throngs of stonewashed jeans and flag tees on the Esplanade to Noanet Woodlands.
Interconnection in this forest is abundant and encompassing. Towering oaks shade carpets of ferns. Woodpeckers tip their red caps and make the best of whatever’s crawling in the crusty bark. He kicks up some sawdust and debris that furnish the home of the butterfly that winks in orangey groundcover below the tree. The bugs have plenty of leaves to choose from, and the chickadees peck at the bugs. I’m a Saturday tourist but at midmorning this is a bustling department busy with chittering, crackling, pecking din of takeoffs, landings, meetings on the lilypad and lunches in the shrubs.
This community felt like a world unto itself, but not distant or discrete others I know well. From Noanet peak I spotted the Top of the Hub poking out of a blanket of haze. Near the bottom, on softer ground, my nose recognized a bright, muddy brew, spiced with peppery whiff of grasses, shrubs and ferns that I know from the river banks closer to my home, a dozen miles upstream. The Noanet Brook is a thread that runs North through here, eventually trickles into the Charles, and later joins the perpetual tea party in Boston Harbor.
While they could make the commute, some species thrive here that wouldn’t be seen in the city. Woodland celebrities with rockstar names Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly, creeper mussel and spotted turtle (I think I spotted one! She plopped off her log for a swim before I got a close look). In this acreage they find the cedar trees; slow, sandy stream beds; or shrubby swamps that they can’t find everywhere else. These species thrive partly because of the intervention of some human neighbors. Noanet is a land trust; it’s managed in a way aims to keep the existing and/or native species alive. The crux of the Trust is that protection is not taken for granted, is enforced through mutual commitment.
That’s the crux of the Declaration, too. My woodland walk was a good reminder for me that protecting freedom is an active duty. Over the last few weeks, I’ve cheered at a few instances of power working to uphold Americans’ freedom, and I’ve dismayed at witnessing too many violations. Taking notice–yelping or muttering to myself—is a start, but it’s not enough. The community in the woods doesn’t live on clicking thumbs up or down; it lives on trills and crackling and trickling water—creatures that stand and stream and breathe together. From that I’ll take my cue to do more than declare, because we need each other to be free.