Bearing Witness to the Earth (2/3)
The Ecoretreat at the Rhenish Brown coal area
Then there is the so called “Sophienhöhe” (Sophie’s height), a 300 meters high huge hill protruding from the flat landscape. I am reluctant to call this artificial hill Sophie’s hill, not only because its very existance has nothing to do with wisdom at all. But also because my daughter’s name is Sophie, something to do with future and beautifully aliveness!
Once here used to be villages, forests, fertile fields. Then brown coal was extracted and a huge pit emerged. Finally the pit was filled with the overburden of the next excavated hole. Especially the Belgians and Dutch delt a lot with the word “Abraum” (overburden, mining waste – The German verb “abräumen” means to clean up, to clear away, to strip off.). We met the alienation expressed by this very word during our whole hike. Everywhere shreddered earth and stones, of no use any longer. There was something absurd about it to walk this ground. It was hot at that, abover 30 degrees, blazing sun, rarely shadow.
I had not even mentioned that I was present with a broken foot, mostly in a wheelchair. So there I was, learning devotion, especially showing up as a visionary & organiser so vulnerable and in need of help, really challenged me and was put to the test especially on the climb to “Sophienhöhe”. With broken foot on broken, shredded ,injured (earth)body. 4 people (!) pulled and pushed me up the monotonous, graded path along small freshly planted trees. Remaining in the wheelchair on this path, I got a tiny taste of what enormous power and energy it takes to manage these gigantic earth movements, as they happened on and under this hill. A huge reshuffling of huge masses of earth – a reshuffling of the earth’s history that has grown in peace over thousands of years. Slowly matured by the growth and decay of organisms and life.
As a friend said: “A brainwash for Mother Earth’s brain”. Once here, it only hurts.
At the same time, we have gathered on the artificial hill at various stations during the ascent. Huddling together in the little shade available.
The trees are simply still too small to provide ample shade, as perhaps the old village lime tree of Alt-Lich-Steinstraß would have done, one of the first villages to be demolished because of open-cast mining “under the Sophienhöhe”. Yes, I know, it sounds confusing, with the consequences of the earth’s re-layering, the under and over – it is!
Here we listened to each other, argued, sweated, did small ceremonies and made music again with guitar, violin, voice and landscape.We said the Thanksgiving Greetings to the Natural World prayer of the indigenous Haudenosaunee tribe and interwove it with some violin playing.
Our Catholic priest gave a short devotion, with reference to the prophet Jeremiah and the great drought….we listened, prayed and we sang “Heaven Rises Above All”.
“To stand in front of the hole has something attractive, almost beautiful.”, a friend told me, “The earth shows her inside. She is naked, 400 meters deep, thousands of years deep. This is rather intimate, isn’t it?”The hole is huge, to big, reaching to the horizon. It is inconceivable to stand in front of it. It needs a lot of inner space to get to grips with the ungraspable. But not to try to apprehend the real and global extent, the connection of life and death involved in it, would be dire and life-threatening denial in my opinion.
I realized how the denial feels at a place called “Terra Nova”, New Earth, created by the energy company RWE. What an ignorance and mockery made of the injury of the earth: to create an observation deck with permanently installed beach chairs and sunshades, plus event location where you can even celebrate your wedding. “Enjoy the view” a sign invites at the entrance. Are they serious, new earth? This is disaffection! How can I stay in relation to it? That’s why we need each other, I sense now. Because it is so big, too big. A wound area on so many layers. It needs the contribution and care of all of us. This wound area is not only at the Rhenish mining area. But here it is absolutely acute and open. The wound is gaping.
In the villages around the Garzweiler hole I experience exactly this devotion and care for one another and the earth. Especially in Lützerath, the next village on the coal companys list to be dredged away. While we visited Lützerath the last farmer of the village spent his last weeks in the heritage-protected house his family has inhabitated for 4 generations. Meanwhile, on 13th January 2023 the farm was knocked down. It is different when you were there, got to know the place. How must it be now for those who used to live there? A friend wrote to me: “Peoples memories hang around homeless between here and there.”
To make connections where they are broken, to enter a relationship where alienation prevails: between humans and landscape. A little bit further, step by step along the edge of this enormous, unfathomable hole of the brown coal opencast mine. Here alienation is reigning, absolute unrelatedness. Instead the lignite excavators, removing and shifting the soil, are mechanistic monsters enough.