What I learned from Peter Berg
I first encountered Peter’s work when I was at the California Institute of Integral Studies, developing and teaching courses on ecopsychology and ecological consciousness. I came to understand the significance of bioregionalism as one of several radical movements – like deep ecology and ecofeminism – that were not just addressing particular environmental problems, but challenging the basic philosophical assumptions of the dominant modern worldview. I loved it that the bioregional perspective got you into direct contact with the key features of the natural ecosystem in which you were living.
Based on writings by Peter Berg and his colleagues I created a bioregional questionnaire and passed it out to the graduate students in my classes. One of the first questions on the questionnaire was: can you direct someone to your home without using man-made signs or structures? Admittedly, this was difficult if not impossible to do if you lived in a city. But I remember the revelation, both humiliating and exhilarating, when I realized I had been driving through a small grove of gorgeous redwood trees on my way to work each day, for years, without noticing them, relying only on street signs to navigate my way.
My awareness of my local environment expanded and deepened as I gradually got to know the plant and animal species, the landforms and waterways, of the place where I lived, tracking the watershed and learning about the ways of the indigenous people who lived in this place, adapted sustainably for 10,000 years before the white Europeans (like me) arrived and made their maps with straight lines, building their machine culture that overpopulated and degraded the local environment.
In my book book Green Psychology, I wrote a chapter called “The Place and the Story” comparing the bioregional concept and practices, based on purely scientific (geologic, biologic, ecologic) principles with the ancient and indigenous concept of “spirit of place” (genius loci) that referred to the immaterial being(s) at home in a particular place – whether a house, a forest, a meadow, a river or a mountain. I have also come to appreciate the related concept that Peter Berg and his many friends pioneered and advocated – of reinhabiting a place, so that you are really rooted and planted there, along with all the other creatures both human and non-human, instead of restlessly wandering around, looking for “real estate” (strange concept!) to buy or resources to exploit.
These are some of the lessons I learned from Peter’s remarkable visionary presence, for which I will always be grateful.