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To Know Them By Name

The early 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz writes:

Listen to the music.
I am the concert that flows from the mouth of every creature,

singing with the myriad chords.

The story from The Daily Good to which this verse was attached was titled Singing to Tomatoes, and it caught my fancy. I am enthralled with the science which at last offers substance to the capacity of cognitive communication and vibration – human and non-human – taking place all the time, among all that make up the earth community.

I am thinking now about the trees and the granite boulders on the land I walk with our dogs. There are three trails on this land, trails that stretch through the woods from our home to Tannery Pond. I vary the walks – three or four each and every day, the first one attempted in the first light of the morning when my joints are not yet oiled. Sometimes the dogs and I negotiate which trail we’ll take. Other times, the dogs get their way, because they are ahead of me, and so I follow. From time to time I insist on my own way. Three trails: the Outer Loop, the Ridge, and the Highway. The Highway goes straight from house to pond. My daily goals have to do with time and distance: at least two hours and at least three miles. I combine the trails; any two of them make a mile. If we stay at the pond for ten minutes or so, each walk takes forty minutes.

The trails are not the only ones with names. I name trees: white pine, birch, maple, oak, poplar, and beech mostly. From time to time, names just come to me and I know the power of them: Beauty and the Birch. Other times I wait until I can hear the communication – tree to me. Not infrequently, I name them out of my own projection, and find that they have a different idea. If a tree is reluctant to introduce itself, I simply greet noname – no-na-me, three syllables. Is it too fanciful to think that trees like introducing themselves?

Rocks have names, too.

I can shut my eyes and name the trees and rocks of the Outer Loop:

The Sentinel
Turning Point
Slippery Rock
Spike Lee (one of several young pines by the same name – quite the family)

 The Twin Peaks (granite boulders)
Upper Slingshot
Grandfather Fallenbe

Grandfather Fallenbe is a tree which has fallen. At his foot stands a white pine who, for a long time, did not share her name. After weeks of greeting her daily, I heard the name: Elephant Tears. Two knots are reminiscent of sad elephant eyes, and from them the bark flows down, rivulet to rivulet.

Then:

Great Uncle Bones
Lil Brother Lean on Me
Auntie
Papa Bentwood
Grandfather Bolt and Little Sister

And then I greet the pine known (formally) as Lower Slingshot. People who know her well call her Granny Sling. I call her Grandmother Dear Tree. Across from her is Standing Rock –  it’s why we’re known as the Granite State – twelve or fourteen feet high. Then comes:

Bob Wire (barbed wire over the years has grown into this tree). Bob is a trans. He used to be Barb Wire, but he transitioned.)
Mama Bentwood and quite a few young Bents
Buckhorn
(an antler rub)
Beauty and the Birch
Whale Maiden (granite)
Old Paint (Poplar with moss)
Softly Dying
RT
(RT was my recliner. I could lay back on her and gaze through the branches of several trees into the clouds. RT split in two one day, and I could no longer recline. Because her bottom half has been rotting, I named her R2 and then R-squared, but she prefers RT.
Then Papas Bill and Bob, fraternal twins, one a pine, the other a birch, twins named after friends from elementary school.Uncle Willie and Uncle Charlie – these are my great grand uncles, both fallen.
Uncle Willie and Uncle Charlie were my grandmother’s uncles, and they were brothers. One fought for the Union, the other for the Confederacy. Both died. Not in the same battle, so I’ve been told.

As I come up over the rise, the beeches sing. I love the beeches in winter. They keep their light brown leaves, and when there is wind, they rattle. I have a friend whose name is Beecher, and so I have named these Beecher Woods. They seem to like it – they rattle a lot.

Tre (pronounced tray) is a stump of a birch which Jim had to cut, because he was ready to fall.

At last the dogs and I arrive at Tannery Pond. I have two friends (so far) at the Pond. One is an altar of stone, in honor of Jim’s brother John. On the stone live two hippopotamus(es?) because John loved hippos. He died in 2016, and asked that the family scatter some of his ashes in Tannery Pond. The stone altar with hippos is his gravestone, Hippocampus.

Great Grandfather lives on the bank of Tannery Pond. He is old.

Before the dogs and I go on any walk, I fill a pocket with kibble. As we walk, I offer kibble to the trees, seeking (and finding) crevices in the bark or woodpecker holes to leave them, a great game for the dogs who love to sniff them out.

Walking through this community of tree and rock gives me a profound sense of belonging. It’s hard to be lost when you know the names of the denizens of the woods. I like to think they know my name. I wonder.

Citizen of Earth

Francis Bellamy was a Christian socialist minister ousted from his own pulpit for espousing Jesus as a socialist, and preaching against the evils of capitalism. Maybe this is new news for some of us, but Bellamy’s original version of The Pledge of Allegiance was intended for citizens of any country.

I pledge allegiance to my flag

and the Republic for which it stands,

one nation, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.

No God entity was in the frame.

I’ve been trying to re-imagine what it might mean to be a citizen, a citizen of something or of somewhere. I do know this. I know that I am a citizen of the land I walk with our three rescue dogs. I know it especially today, in the eye of a blizzard; the woods are darkening in the late afternoon, and I know our path; I know to avoid the ice patches underneath the magnificent snow; I know every tree and boulder, many of them by name. I know I am a citizen of the pond – whichever trail we take – which marks the outgoing destination. And on a day like today, all four of us know the ultimate destination – HOME – where the fires in the wood stoves are as welcoming as the mac’n’cheese in the oven. A night for comfort food. I know myself as a citizen of the land, a citizen of the home fires, a citizen of my family, a citizen of my friends.

What does it mean to be a citizen? What does it mean now, in February 2017, with a man in the White House (at least from time to time in residence) who has little sense of his own heartbeat and far less sense of the pulsing heartbeat of the land, a man who revels in malfeasance and surrounds himself with very white and very male advisors of malfeasance? What are they whispering in his ear? That’s a rhetorical question, I guess, because we know what’s being whispered. Climate change? Nonsense. GMO’s? A non-issue. Immigrants? Why keep them. Refugees? Not on our watch. Non-Christians? Ours is a Christian country. Women? It’s time they return to their place (except the one who can’t seem to find her pencils). Health care? Voting rights? Black Lives Matter? Latinos/as? Asians? People who are poor? We know what’s being whispered. I should probably use the word tweet – we know what’s being tweeted.

To identify as a citizen of the land is a far different commitment than to identify as a citizen of this country, (the U.S.) which is barreling down a path of unmitigated ruin, taking down everything it can with it. I am writing of the earth, the forests, the waters, all creatures, including the humans – many on the brink of extinction – habitat, and the very air that all life forms breathe.

My sister posts on FaceBook: I am hearing about oil spills from the left and from the right, so I thought I’d post this. “This” was a photograph of her winter flowers. My sister is a citizen of beauty and art, and things that grow.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer identifies herself as a citizen of the Maple Nation of the Northeast. She names the currency in the Maple Nation as carbon. “It is traded, exchanged, bartered among community members from atmosphere to tree to beetle to woodpecker to fungus to log to firewood to atmosphere and back to tree.”

What do we do now?

Like many of us, I imagine, I am overwhelmed to the point of paralysis by the petitions of resistance. I wonder if we don’t have to choose our particular citizenship and trust that others are choosing what we didn’t. Many of us are trying to re-negotiate our citizenship. Canada, we say. Or Ireland. Or Australia. Or Costa Rica. Or even California.

The question I hold, and it’s not easy to find the words, what citizenship do I claim, here in this place where I sleep, and walk, talk to trees and boulders honoring them by name even as I leave special gifts, where I eat, shovel snow, make soup for a friend with bronchitis, and haul wood from the outside racks to the living room? How do I become a citizen of the land, the waters, the denizens of the woods and oceans, and the forests? What is my currency? How do I keep it circulating?

Eco-Justice and Social Justice, Entangled

I have said many times in my writings and teaching that it is not possible to address the issue of human social justice without embedding it in the broader concept of eco-justice. Not is it possible to address the issue of human diversity without embedding it in the concept of biodiversity. The reason I say this is that humans do not exist in isolation from or separate from the non-human. Yet, as I review my posts over the past few years, I begin to see my own disturbing pattern – that I am writing about ecological dis-ease without really addressing human dis-ease. nature-845849_960_720

To understand this world as sacred is to understand its as humans sacred as well. It is not always easy because the humans are the ones causing the damage, both human to human and human to non-human.

As I continue the research for my new book, which may or may not ever “go public” I am struck, again and again, that our basic fields of academia such as economics, anthropology, politics, are, for the most part, human centered. Anthropology may claim a homo erectus or an ape within its purview, but anthropological studies tend not to be concerned with human to non-human relationships. As Eduardo Kohn writes, “sociocultural anthropology as it is practiced today takes those attributes that are distinctive to humans and uses them to fashion the tools to understand humans.” It’s been pretty much a closed system. Kohn, Frederique Apffel-Marglin and others are reaching for an anthropology beyond the human, but it is certainly not mainstream.

Economics, too, is a self-contained and often self-congratulatory system, and a predominantly White system at that. Steven Marglin, a Harvard economist, refers to to the field by its derogatory name, the dismal science and writes extensively about current economics and its undermining of community. The field ignores the relational aspects, he argues, with its twin goals of market efficiency and utility maximization. Marglin himself, however, has been moving toward green, based on Aldo Leopold’s understanding of community: “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to citizen of it.” Still, as Marglin suggests, the ecological model of economics is hardly mainstream.

Regardless of the potential movement within the fields of economics and anthropology and others, there is no trickle down. Studies are funded and accomplished, decisions made, budgets are cut

. . . all of this happens with little consideration of the human to human relationship, and virtually no consideration at all to human to non-human entanglement.

The irony doesn’t escape me that the environmental organizations fall into the same pattern. Save the wolves. Save the manatees. Save the big cats. Save the elephants. Again, there is no consideration given to the human to non-human interrelationships.

It is no wonder that we as a culture cannot seem to extrapolate ourselves from our human-centeredness, and the travesty lies in the way it plays out: some humans to some other humans. The rest don’t count. We are all witness to the daily cost of a White privileged entitled ruling class of the very wealthy, but some of us don’t see, can’t see, or refuse to see.

I am suggesting that this is all of a piece. One piece. We know through the science that this living world exists as an interconnected, interdependent systemic web. I don’t believe that we can transform one part of it without addressing the whole. It all works together, or it doesn’t work at all. wpid508-water

There is no “We” in White

I can’t seem to find my starting point today, the week of Alton Sterling’s killing in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile’s killing in Minnesota, and now the fatal shootings in Dallas. So I’ll begin with what I know. The planet – the biosphere – is a web, interconnected, and interdependent. Everything provides sustenance – and I mean this in the broadest sense – for some Other(s). The health of our planet and the systems of it, depends on it.

The anthropologist Wade Davis adds to this concept of web, “ . . . the social world in which we live . . . is simply one model of reality; there are other options, other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the earth.”

This web, then, is not confined within the biological sciences. In The Wayfinders, Wade speaks of another web, every bit as critical to the health of the planet as the biological. In fact he doesn’t separate the two. He calls it the ethnosphere and defines it as the “sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by human imagination . . .” I would add as well, brought into being by human wrong thinking.

There is a far deeper and more ancient well of wisdom than we in the west are drinking from today; it comes from a time before white ideologies divided the human world into greater than and less than; it was a time of a commonality of human DNA; everyone – everyone – until about 60,000 years ago, came originally from the great continent of Africa. Some stayed. It was a time before races and divisions along racial lines. Distinguishing people by race was born of the Scientific Revolution, and division by race is the core tenet of a dangerous and utterly misguided narrative. Division by race was what allowed western Europe to justify their colonization of India, for example, and Africa. It was also what allowed the early American whites to force out and destroy the peoples native to this land; it was before white America practiced a theology of Manifest Destiny, before white America constructed and built its privilege by the institutionalization of slavery.

I want us to remember this. I want me to remember this. Race is a social construct. Racial division and its ensuing hierarchy of white privilege is a relatively modern phenomenon, with no basis in science. White people are living lives of privilege and benefit based on utter falsehood. Those of us who are desperate to “do something” want to ask for help from the very people who’ve been degraded for centuries, once again putting the burden on those who have carried it far too long.1*M4unWZKxVJEsLK9PN-oxzw.jpg

John Metta, in his article, I, Racist, explains why he no longer talks race with white people. “We don’t see a shooting of an innocent Black child in another state as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is shot. Black people think in terms of we. White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals.” As individuals, white people are able to say, and dare to mean, “I am not racist.” There is no we in white.

Eco-justice and human social justice are not only related; it’s not possible to separate them out. The planet’s eco-systems, if we are paying attention, teach us about community. But our institutions – economic, educational, political, religious – practice the opposite. In The Dismal Science ~ How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community, Steven Marglin challenges the ideology of the indefatigable market, with its twin goals of efficiency and maximum utilization. He lays out step by step how these market driven systems have divorced themselves from community. Is it any wonder that the rupture continues to widen and deepen, reaching explosive proportions.

Today I am sick at heart, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t see that tomorrow will be any different. I do know this, however: every one of us has within us the wisdom and core of truth that does indeed know what to do, does indeed know how to live in right relationship. Every one of us. It is far past time to dig down deep, deeper, deepest. It is far past time for me to go public, in whatever stumbling, awkward, terrified way I can. I, racist.

Sacred Water ~ Sacred Ritual

woman with jugBecause I am convinced that it’s through ritual designed for what people are calling the new narrative that we come to know earth and water, creature, air, and fire as sacred, deserving of our most respectful and devout care, I’d like to share with you a ritual for the coming of spring. A group of us gathered at a local pond, Tannery Pond in Wilmot, NH, and this is what happened.

Backstory

I posted on Facebook, “I think I am asking for help.” Many people responded from different corners of the globe. That was thrilling enough!
Around the world local communities were acknowledging the equinox with celebrations around water. Berta Caseres’ death by assassination was just several days old.
Before we began, I filled a vase with water from the pond and arranged flowers. The ritual we designed was collaborative, multi-generational, designed around the sacredness (and plight) of water, and raised up Berta Caseres and other ecological activist martyrs.
On this chilly full sunshine day, we began with a ceramic sculpture, created by Ann Kieffer, and a poem. The woman is carrying a jug of water on her head and walks through the dry lands with long confident strides. A few moments of silence, as we contemplated both sculpture and poem.
Nancy Woodworth-Hill, participated long distance, with a call-and-response lament she’d written (first draft) for just this occasion. I’ll include a significant portion of this powerful call and response draft, which picks up the ancient form of lament:

Lament            Legend: V = Voice, Voice 1,2,3 etc.          R=Group Response

V1: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: As we turn toward the sun on this day of half-dark and half -light, we, who are composed of stardust and ocean, await the spring melt with waters rushing in stream beds to gathering into rivers and flow down to the salty oceans.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Come waters, come! The time of sleet and ice is waning, soaking hard spring rains yielding to summer’s gentle pitter patter of rain drops.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Flow through tree roots to become cherry blossoms and summer peaches and autumn apples. Flow into fields to nourish delicate herbs, hearty root vegetables and sweet corn. Flow into beaver dens and puddles and ponds.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Water – splashing, bouncing, dripping. Water – bubbling, coursing, dancing. Water – fragrant, tender, sacred.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V1: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who carry you in our veins, have muddied your arteries. We, who sing your praises, have removed your purity. We, who depend on you more than we know, have redirected your flow.

R: O Water, what have we done?

tannery pondV3: We, who are disconnected from our roots, tear you from yours. Ancient aquifers depleted. Desert fountains spilling precious drops into the air. Swamp land drained.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who don’t know where our garbage goes, obstruct your life-giving soul. Birds ringed with plastic. Sea turtles choked with fishing line. Fish and frogs with mutant parts.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V1: O Water, Earth’s life blood!

V4: Among us are those who think they own you. Precious desert water bottled, for sale. Land drained of its lifeblood, for sale. Dams built for power and recreation , for sale.

R: O Water, Earth’s life blood!

V1: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Whose voice is raised to protect you? Who will save you for next year’s apples and peaches? Who will protect our earth’s heritage for our children and grandchildren to the seventh generation?

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Raise voices loudly in lament! Rachel Carson, John Muir, Berta Cáceres, your message is true! Your concern for right use of public land needs to be proclaimed from the roof tops!

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, carried in the waters of her mother’s womb, flowed with love for her people and their land, whose life blood, halted by the assassins’ bullet, enriches us all.

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

We then shared what we know about the late Masaru Emoto’s experiments with water crystals as they responded to a variety of human messages: I love you; I hate you: blessings of healing; and so on. I had prepared images and now distributed them, of water crystal in response to these messages from humans. Reading Emoto’s work changed the way I see water. I now think water sees me.
Each of us took a flower or two from the vase, and we offered blessing into the water that remained.reflections
Jim Sims played (guitar) and sang a piece of music by the late Tom Wisner, “Made of Water.”
Those who had brought poems offered them into the group, each followed by a moment of silence. Another song, this time in the form of a chant which Nancy introduced  Hu ~ A Love Song to the Universe. The clear air loved the music, one syllable, sung again and again, harmonies never the same.
     It was time to return the water with all its blessings to Tannery Pond. Rose who is eight years old picked up the vase and carried it so very carefully and respectfully to the water, returned the water from the vase to its source, and laid her hand on the water. The water caressed her hand gently, and with love. Some of us added our flowers to the current. Sue then offered the take-home gift of forget-me-not seeds to plant in seed pots.
     This was the simplest of ceremonies. Designed collaboratively, it included anyone and excluded no one – and it was a most reverent and sacred hour we spent together. Grateful for the sun, grateful for each other, grateful most of all for the water.
Later that afternoon I walked with our three rescue dogs to the pond around the corner from the beach. I don’t know how to find words for this, but the pond felt different to me. Maybe it was my own relationship to the water, maybe the human–to–water exchange carrying a transformative hope. I don’t know, and I guess I don’t need to know. But as a flower drifted by, I could still see the water as it enfolded Rose’s hand, could still hear the echoes from our love song to the universe.

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