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Letter from the Chair
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by Ron Henry | 2011

What an interesting, jam-packed, tiring and wonderful year 2011 has been! Our significant accomplishments in diverse areas give us cause to be proud.

Letter from the Chair

 

By Ron Henry—What an interesting, jam-packed, tiring and wonderful year 2011 has been! Our significant accomplishments in diverse areas give us cause to be proud.

 

The Southern Maryland Group recently realized a significant victory: the Maryland Department of the Environment denied a permit to construct the Waldorf Bypass (Cross County Connector). Kudos are due to the group; the Maryland Chapter’s campaign to “Save the Mattawoman Creek;” the Mattawoman Watershed Society and several other local conservation groups whose work was foundational to the success of the campaign; and especially to Ms. Bonnie Bick, whose many years of effort were recognized in her well-deserved receipt of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2011 Environmentalist of the Year Award.

 

Our Clean Water campaign, awarded grant funds by private foundations, has held several successful forums that will set the stage to continue a meaningful and much needed thrust in Bay restoration. And our Beyond Coal campaign is flourishing; the national Sierra Club has recognized and rewarded us with grant funds.

 

The biennial Jamboree in the Catoctins was a wonderful getaway for all who participated. Michael Brune, National Sierra Club Executive Director, delivered an inspiring keynote speech, and the enthusiasm of the evening carried through the workshops and fun that the weekend provided.

 

Thanks to everyone—our hard-working staff, the dedicated members of the executive committee and conservation committee, the creative members of the Jamboree committee, the fundraising committee, and all the other volunteers and members whose commitment and financial support make our successes possible.

 

As you thumb through this issue of Chesapeake, you’ll notice that we are spotlighting volunteerism and some of the many reasons that Sierrans in Maryland choose to volunteer with the chapter. Recently, our very own Chesapeake newsletter editor broached this topic with me by asking how I came to be so deeply involved in Sierra Club environmental activism and advocacy and asked that I share my story.

 

As far back as I can remember (and that’s been a long time now!) I have always loved being outdoors and being involved in natural surroundings.  I lived my formative years mostly in rural settings as a dairy farm lad. I loved working with animals, field work, gardening, “orcharding,”  and just being outdoors in nature. I learned much from this life experience and it is still a guiding part of me.

 

My maternal grandmother was a half-blood Cherokee, and although she was never taught those traditions —it was a social stigma during my great grandmother’s lifetime—I learned by observation how she honored things in nature, creation and creator, as I helped her in gardening, berry picking,  jelly making, canning, and preserving.

 

I always was curious about the Native American background, but I never took the time to investigate it until after she passed on at the age of 101.  An “empty nest” left me with more available time, and it was then that I felt a “spiritual call” to learn more about that part of my heritage. And so I took a three year apprenticeship with a Native American Grandmother (Elder) from the state of Washington.

 

The many groups she has taught over a period of over twenty years formed the Buffalo Trace Society, of which I have been a part for over 15 years. I am a Native American teacher, healing pipe carrier, fire keeper, sweat lodge leader (water pourer) and Vision Quest leader in this group (Chippewa tradition). I am also a member of the Appalachian Nation Cherokee (a non-federated group of part-blood Cherokees) and am learning those traditions.

 

During my personal Vision Quest, an individual spiritual retreat in a wilderness setting,  I received direction to combine Native American traditions and teachings with environmental activism and advocacy.

 

For years I had volunteered with organizations involving my children. I led Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, coached soccer and softball, and presided at our local PTA.  And I had long been environmentally oriented, with early-on trash recycling, and charitable contributions to many environmental groups.

 

So several things came together for me at about the same time—nearing the latter years of a 42-year career as an engineer/scientist with the Department of the Army,  “empty nest” family time, my Native American involvement and direction, and recognition by both me and my spouse that I needed a focus after retirement because I had always been deeply involved and highly energetic in my endeavors.

 

Well, lo and behold, I noted an advertisement for a meeting of the Greater Baltimore Group(GBG) of the MD Chapter Sierra Club. The chair of the group was trying to rebuild the group,  particularly in Harford County.  I became the Harford County representative to the GBG,  the GBG Chair in 2004 -2008 and the MD Chapter Chair in 2008. 

 

My volunteering with Sierra Club was the result of several factors coming together. But the major impetus was a spiritual calling to combine Native American tradition and teaching with activism and advocacy on behalf of the natural world. We are spiritual beings housed in a physical body, with mental and emotional faculties to experience life. Our purpose in life is to love and care for others. And the “others” include everything—the plants, the animals, the insects and creepy-crawlers, the creatures of the air and water.

 

In Native American teachings, we are all connected and our mission is to “walk softly” on this planet we call Mother Earth so that we can pass it on and ensure its sustainability for the next seven generations. We—humankind—are the environment. We are not separated from it; we are integral to it. We are creators; our thoughts, words, dreams and actions CREATE! But for far too long we have not been walking in balance among the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of our being. With respect to our Earth we have been “takers,” not “leavers” and this must be recognized and corrected. Giving future generations—our children and grandchildren—the legacy they deserve requires a commitment from all of us. Become a “leaver” and volunteer with me!    

 

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