Radical joy


Wounded people, wounded places and healing. Photo: Fabian Bromann/flickr.

They are as close as the trash strewn vacant lot near where we live, as distant as melting polar ice caps – those places that humanity, both knowingly and unknowingly, has damaged.

They can be painful to see and think about, easy to turn away from. Yet each of these places has something to share with us. How can we open our hearts to those places wounded and broken by human activity? And how do we do this in a way that offers healing, renewal, genuine hope and a path forward?


These were the questions swirling in my heart when I first discovered Radical Joy for Hard Times. It is a worldwide community of people committed to finding and making beauty in wounded places, founded by Trebbe Johnson, a writer and wilderness guide.

That was 3 years ago, at a time in which I grieved the unprecedented catastrophe of the BP Gulf Oil Spill and the drying of springs near my home in San Antonio, Texas.

Radical Joy was a fledgling organization offering its first annual Earth Exchange – a day when people go, alone or in groups, to a place that human activity has damaged, and create simple acts of beauty there.

Even that first year, people on all seven continents offered Earth Exchanges. That year, my Earth Exchange gathering sent small boats, crafted from leaves, twigs and moss, down the San Antonio River, carrying hopes and prayers to the waters of the Gulf.

Since then, Earth Exchanges have been held in an incredibly wide range of places, including clear-cut forests, polluted rivers, places damaged by war, the habitats of endangered bees and bats and dolphins, the edges of urban sprawl, the sites of gas drilling, mining, nuclear power plants and even a melting glacier.

A unified vision for healing

For Johnson, the creation of Radical Joy For Hard Times was a journey of many years. It included leading people in a week long vigil in a clear cut forest, a personal vision as she guided a vision quest for others, and spending time on a former air force bombing range. There, among the bomb-devastated earth, she found swallows nesting in craters left by the bombs. She says,

We may not be able to heal these places. It’s about honoring them as they are…(saying) I love you no matter what has happened to you. Our vision as an organization is that no place on Earth is orphaned from the cycle of life…that every place on Earth is honored as sacred, valued for its contribution … (When) you make an effort to love those places made ugly or destroyed…people have a different attitude about taking care of the world. It becomes more personal.

One aspect of Radical Joy’s mission is to “reconnect people and the places that nourish them, and empower ourselves to act in bold, creative ways to make a difference in the way we live on Earth”.

This past June, Radical Joy Earth Exchanges were offered in over 100 communities, in 20 US states, and 18 countries worldwide, including Bali, Haiti, Columbia, Japan and Antarctica.

Local view

My Earth Exchange was a “Ceremony Offering Acts of Beauty to the Wounded Waters of our World,” at the Laguna de Santa Rosa, outside Sebastopol, California – my new home.

Once a vast expanse of forests and wetlands, the Laguna was clear-cut and drained to make room for farming, and later used as city sewer and dump.

Now partially restored, its growing trees and dense underbrush welcomed us with the call of birds. From fallen branches, dry grasses, feathers and bark we co-created a work of eco-art, woven into the railings of a footbridge spanning the Laguna. We gathered on the footbridge to speak our words of sorrow and love, with offerings of poetry, music, and song. We left our eco-art, reflected in the still waters beneath the bridge, for others to wonder about and enjoy.

How to

Creating an Earth Exchange is simple, powerful and transformative. Any one can do it. There is no way to do it wrong. All you have to do is show up, alone or with friends. Any place is the right place, if it feels wounded to you. Take some time to look around, listen to the land, notice what you feel. Consider what the land may want you to do. Whatever you do is the right thing, as long as it feels right for you.

Next year’s Radical Joy Earth Exchange is June 22. But you don’t have to wait until then to create your own Earth Exchange. You can do it anytime, anywhere… and people are already doing so. Trebbe Johnson explains that,

People have told me they go around now in a different way… instead of closing their eyes to places that are wounded, they look for them to do Earth Exchanges.

So give it a try, if you like. Let me know what happens if you do. And let Johnson know as well.

All together now

For me, the heart of Radical Joy for Hard Times encompasses a vision that is as close as our back yard and as huge as the fate of our planet.

We live in a time when human activity has already changed the Earth we thought we knew. This year’s record-breaking temperatures and raging forest fires attest to the complexities that lie ahead. What new practices can we co-create, for ourselves and to offer future generations faced with challenges and opportunities we can only dimly imagine today?

I believe each of us has a part to play in the writing of a new story, which can be a hopeful story, of honoring and learning from the wounds, of making beauty through and with the wounds – of learning to live on and with our Earth in a new and different way. It’s a story of finding what strengthens, nourishes, and empowers us, and of passing it on to future generations who will find their own way of living on and with our changed planet.

–Dianne Monroe, Transition Voice

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