Plants, Animals and, Spirituality

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An author I am recently enjoying by the name of Robin Wall Kimmerer is a PhD plant ecologist and a woman who identifies deeply with her Native American roots. These two concepts of hard science and indigenous philosophies are an extremely riveting pair of views regarding the natural world and the roles we play within it. Most if not all of her concepts outlined in the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” are ways of viewing nature that I never once thought about or even heard about before reading this book.

I have no religion. I do not identify with any sort of religious faith or ideal although I do consider myself spiritual and respectful of those things which only spirituality can explain.

One of these things is human nature relationships.

The native American people respected all things as they believed that the trees and mountains and plants and animals all have a soul or a purpose to play upon this great earth. Each component of the community’s harvest was taken in reverence of the land and direct respect of the spirits of stone and cell. Although this way of spirituality is interpreted as animism, these philosophies were simply an ingrained way of life that transcends the beliefs that the human soul is different from those of other facets of life. Most religions stake a claim on the land and the humans soul, that humanity was placed and given or own those things in which they need. Many native american cultures believe that humankind is the same as all other forms of being on earth and that things they have are gifts and are to be treated as such.

As a person with a deep attachment to the natural world, I wonder if this way of viewing the world has to be a religion in and of itself or if this respect isn’t something that should be inherent in all aspects of life. Growing up with my view, I feel as if respecting mother earth becomes a hippy or far left agenda saved for the tree huggers and environmentalists.

I don’t understand why this respect for the land has become a cult concept and not kept as part of my culture. I see why, but accepting that humanity could become so selfish and self-absorbed to accept the affects we have on our home seems lazy to me. It’s as if humanity decided that life beside their own is of a lesser value.

If people saw the trees as deserving of life as their neighbor, if people interpreted the food we have as gifts from the land we live on, perhaps we would have a healthier world.

Especially after reading this book, I’m realizing that the way we remove ourselves from direct interaction with nature as a living being deserving of our respect is something we missed from our culture. This idea doesn’t have to be a religious faith or a religious ideal, this way of life is simply respecting the living home we all rely on.

Every single aspect of the world has grown in some way and can die in some way.

Humankind must better pay attention and relearn that philosophy if we hope to save the place we call home.

 

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Wildness in a Wilderness Grown Soul

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In the wild, there are a few types of animals that cannot survive without a pack, without members of their same kind around them adding companionship and community to an otherwise lonely existence. In fact, it’s been written that one of the tenants of a self-titled life with meaning is having a sense of community. It’s the feeling that you belong and you fit into the world’s movements regardless of your station in life.

A soul forever seeking the wilderness coupled with a body trapped in the confines of suburbia allows a strange juxtaposition of emotions to occur. When in the mountains, you feel the most at peace, the most relaxed after a day of unease, you know that the mountains are your home. And then when in the city, the concrete trails of modern life before you cause your soul to freeze in the headlights, you know where it is that you don’t belong.

However, in order to merge the two worlds and feel at ease within the confines of the stable body and the whirling soul we must decide between the two worlds and that splits us.

How do you answer that question? How do you cease this inner battle between wanting to go and wanting to stay and wanting to be wild and wanting to be civilized?

The black sheep among a herd of white is the one who can garner the most attention. The one who sticks out as the world’s thumb is the one demanding at least a cursory glance and yet in the face of so much strength how do we garner more?

See, it all boils down to your sense of community.

Community will give you strength when you are weak and community makes you stand tall among others who can guide the curves of your spine. Community will answer the questions you didn’t know there were answers to and it is community that we need to thrive.

Find your wild ones. Find the ones who burn with a passion that other people do not and will not even try to understand. Find the ones who will laugh and smile and cry in the face of mundane acts that everyone else cannot even fathom.

In the words of Jack Kerouac, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes “Awww!” Those are the people that you never will be able to understand. Try as you might to question their motives or their inherent insanity there will never be a way to hammer them down like square blocks into square holes because they are there to be flattened into the wood or to force you to build a new hole.

That is my wildness. You may not understand, you may try, but most of the time my own mind dies trying. The only way out is to accept it. Embrace the tug, the voice, the urge to do something we ourselves don’t understand.

Like a pack of wolves hunting their prey in a frenzied flurry we must be prepared to grapple with the elements we have been given or die trying.

I can feel the fabric of my being change among the trees. The confidence in my stance change to mirror the pines once blanketing the landscape.

Somewhere in the cosmos of the universe I was mixed with the soul of an elder oak tree or thousand-year-old bristlecone pine or a snake hunting its prey or a sapling beginning its life on the forest floor living in fear from the denizens of that dark world. Somewhere along the lines I was a Native American shaman or a mighty Buffalo felled at the white man’s hand or the soul of a mighty undammed river roaring across the landscape and scouring out the royal gorge.

Somewhere in this world, this body I live in now, there is a way for me to meet again at the confluence of my once wild life and the life I lead today.

Norman McLean told me that, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

Only these words are not theirs.

And I am haunted by far more than the waters.

 

He, She, It: Animacy and a Chainsaw

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Animacy is the word that describes the reason for why we call a tree “it” and a dog or cat or person he or she or them. It is based upon the subjects perceived level of sentient character but only from a human perspective. Thus, animacy has quite a lot of semantic principles involved with it as well.

From birth, I would wager that most of us learned to refer to trees or most animals as “it” for the lack of two pieces of information. One, we cannot tell the sex of a tree from one to the other so applying he or she to it would seem a mistake. Two, we do not all know the true names of the trees so the “White Oak beside the stream” becomes “that tree beside the stream” or “look at it.” As we grow older and continue using these general names for other forms of life around us, it creates a culture of human vs everything else in which everything else is not sentient and thus do not deserve the respect of he, she, or them.

In many indigenous cultures, the trees and rocks and mountains and flowers all received the latter titles and it’s said that by assigning pronouns to perceived inanimate things, it gave these cultures a much more profound respect for the land around them.

It feels to me like a form of detaching oneself from a situation. If I cut down a tree, it’s not going to care right? But, if she is an old tree with many nests in the tops of her branches, it becomes harder to dig into her flesh with a chainsaw. While you could argue that it doesn’t make any sense to apply pronouns to an organism with the characteristics of a tree, it’s difficult to say that not doing so won’t create a culture who easily disrespects the land they have.

Enter modern America. I have not once heard a fish or a tree or a plant or animal referred to as he or she unless that animal has been domesticated. Somehow, the he/she pronoun is only applicable to other people and our possessions.

It has everything to do with human perception. We decide what is respected as long as it makes sense to our lives and us regardless of the actual subject. To cite an example, sailors commonly referred to their vessels as “she” although they contain less animacy than a living tree. Why? Because the boat was the sailor’s property whom he respected and worked with enough to assign it pronoun identifiers. If someone were to see a dog, they may ask about the sex, “is it a he or a she?” but to ask the same of a snake or a lizard would be a strange extra step beyond using the all-encompassing “it.”

Only those people who truly understand and respect the land around them see the life in everything they do. Giving life to all forms of material in the world help us to see the world not in only people and resources but living and non-living beings that all deserve the respect of a level playing field of animacy.

The stages of animacy are, in order, humans, animals, plants, natural forces, concrete objects, and abstract objects while humans have varying distinctions within that “human” level. It’s not crazy to think that we can assign all things within the human sphere of being. It’s only a matter of how much we wish to respect not only the life but the land around us as well.

Mother Nature is not going to wait for the respect she deserves. It’s up to humankind to decide we are not above all life and land but a part of it as the standing trees are a part of the forest.

Mother Nature’s Answers

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Since writing my last post I have myself become convinced that living a life with nature in mind makes modern living hard. It takes time to cook and eat slowly and see life laze slowly by. It’s hard to own animals of one’s own and tend to a flourishing garden and use less electricity and water and paper. It’s daunting to learn what food to buy and what to write off as chemical creations from brand name companies. It’s scary to realize after all these years that the disc of pink mush I’d eat in my bologna sandwiches is not actually bologna at all but a ”meat” impostor with the name taken from a land far from the one I live in.

I am convinced that I was born in the wrong time in the lifespan of humanity where just now we are realizing that we have to go BACK to old ways instead of moving to the ones towards the once bright and prosperous future.

When people leave corporate jobs for simplicity.

When permaculture becomes a necessity for a healthy land and soil and produce.

When terroir is something I didn’t think was a concept in food production.

When we must walk or ride a bike in place of drive.

When we must eat less meat.

When we fear what we eat.

And then when people are ignorant of all these things or downright disregard them, it makes me feel as if the daunting task before me is to save the purity and majesty of daily life before it’s too late. Living simply is also living clean and pure and healthy yet the way I live in the center of the great United States of America makes me feel as far away from those ideals as one could get.

I could spend a lifetime without knowing the intimate necessities that the Earth demands of our actions and those that the earth does for us in return. I never knew that permaculture could create self-sustaining ecosystems that flourish without the need of our pesticides and fertilizers. To me, most of my life was spent living in the reality that without these human chemical constructions then our food supplies would grind to a halt. Little did I know that the soil  itsels was alive with living organisms that could help tend our fields of produce in only we helped them along.

I never knew that the U.S produces more corn than all of humankind could eat and still believes it must create more and more and more under the guise that more is better even if we drown ourselves in the process.

I never knew that there were words like “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight” which is Puhpowee stemming from the dying language of the Potawatomi. In the world in which I Iive, we do not care enough to make a word for this. We take the rising of mushrooms for granted and thus never describe the way shoots push up from the ground and unfurl in common literature unless one reads samples of poetry. In any other case, the flowers just grew.

The general response to these questions and realizations is “don’t worry about it.” If I do not worry about it then who will? Concepts of life presented by mother nature are slowly dying out as more and more people are told not to worry about it.

I have to worry that my kids will never see a living polar bear.

I have to worry that the food I put in my body is inadvertently filled with chemicals and antibiotics and hormones.

I have to worry about growing my food and canning the excess and eating locally and getting into the sunshine and away from the electronica traps that surround me.

I have to worry because I do not want my children to grow up in a world that took the spirit of the land for granted.

The Soil and the Air and the Water and Trees have all been on this land far longer than we have and yet we disrespect the life that already exists by ignoring the way of life they live and implementing our own.

We are guests. Our short life spans make us impermanent on the earth and what guest would thank the hospitality of the homemaker with whom they stay by destroying the furniture, wasting the food, and gluing thick posters on the walls over the pictures already hung there with care?

I live in a period of time where the guests are beginning to overstay their welcome. While difficult, if those of us who care about being beneficial guests took up more of a voice and a drive and a lead by example attitude, then the whole of society will benefit from the message.

Mother Nature already has the answer for everything. We can do a better job of listening.

Nature Smart: My Watching Water

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There are many types of intelligent people in the world who have an affinity for understanding certain things and topics above how others may learn. Scientifically, there are a proposed nine types of intelligence that are naturalist (nature smart), musical (sound smart), logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart), existential (life smart), interpersonal (people smart), bodily-kinesthetic (body smart), linguistic (word smart), intra-personal (self-smart), and spatial (picture smart).

Of these types of intelligence, I am always intrigued by the concept that there is a naturalist type of smart that implies the words “nature smart.” This type of intelligence explains how primitive intelligence helped early man relate to the living world of plants, animals, and environment around them. While modern explanations tend to focus on the fact that people have a learning affinity for types of shoes and brands and food, the true interpretation of it should be seen in lieu of identification of wild aspects of the world.

This type of intelligence can be seen in people who have an easier time identifying plants and animals because their minds are able to see the visual interpretation of something and apply that to gained knowledge such as applying the word Raspberry to a raspberry plant.

In some ways, many ways in fact, we exercise nature intelligence every day. When you go to the grocery store to get tomatoes for salsa or a lemon for lemonade you are recognizing natural aspects of the world that is grown, not made. That to me is true naturalist intelligence. However, much of society is unable to identify truly wild plants and animals as they grow up only knowing the environment around them as far as the grocery store aisles go.

In and of itself, a Naturalist is a person who, aside from the philosophical interpretation, has amassed a considerable amount of knowledge about the natural world. He or she can identify wild plants and animals and provide facts about them beyond what the general layman may know.

Years and years of fishing trips and watching water have given me a unique advantage in simply analyzing the water’s flow as it relates to life. The eddies and pools and riffles of a stream are all areas in which I see fish swim when I wander along the bank. I see fish rise and bugs swirl and oxygen being poured into the water from small white water falls. This sight I’ve gained, this ability to see water, is something I attribute to nature smart. Like a soaring eagle searching for aquatic prey, I learned to see the fish or where a fish will be from being a predator searching for its meal.

Because I went beyond a food aisle naturalist, nature smart is something I continue to work on and take immense pride in. As I write in fact, my backpack contains a wild plants of Colorado field guide because although I have an affinity to water, wood and stem is something I do not have an adequate amount of knowledge in. Thus, I am my own teacher for my own environmental education.

We can all become “nature smart” because nature is all around us.

So, where will you start?

Poem: From the Earth and the Trees

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I arrived at a place where the water cut the trees from the soil

Its underbelly was a frothing turmoil

And yet it appeared to me

That the water came straight from the tree’s body

From under the tree it flew

As if in its long travels, it knew

The direction in which to flow

And here it is I came to know how from the earth and the trees the water has flowed gently by for many centuries.

And though not the dam of a beaver will make it stop

Or the dam of man can make it halt

I see in this place I’ve stumbled upon that Mother Nature continues on

Without anger or sadness or deep betrayal, Mother Nature bids us all to hail her beautiful continuity.

The water continued to flow as I gazed and the tree’s uncovered roots saw the sun’s rays

But in this moment, I could not halt the water or cover the roots

So I slipped off my boots and

Stepped into the icy cold water of the earth.

Though I remember the sight of the water like glass somehow flowing over the mossy grass

The thing that will always stand out to me is knowing that this moment was meant to be.

Whether it took days or months or up to a year for me to stand up and come to be here

The land was building this marvelous sculpture

And now here I stand, stock still in rapture.

Whether or not I saw it will change nothing of it’s existence

So I’m content to be able to think of it in absence

Of the sound of water and bubbling brook

My feet in the cold

And mother nature revealing herself as an open book that reads

From the earth and trees we are to be and to them we shall return.

 

The Things We Leave Behind

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I want the environment to be my legacy.

When I was younger, I used to tell myself that the greatest accomplishment in life would be that people remembered me, and if I achieved that then I would be immortalized in memory if not in spirit and body. That idea contented me and I grew up continuing to wonder in what area could it be that I could leave my legacy. After all, there are so many different ways to leave one’s legacy that the culmination of all of them would span a great many books and would take more than one lifetime to achieve. The old writing tip that goes “write what you know best” was no great help to me because there are a great many things I love and more that I could grow to deeply enjoy.

The matter fell to finding just what exactly I deeply enjoyed. While 18 years haven’t quite revealed an answer, I entertain the idea that I understand in what broad category I find my passion and that is the outdoors. Whether fishing, hiking, or camping; I feel most at home among the wilderness’s gentle song.

I just finished a book entitled “Listen to the Earth and it Will Teach You: The Life and Times of Earl Douglass” which is the culmination of diary entries from the man and accompanying narrative entries by the man’s son. Earl Douglass was many things in his lifetime and the titles do not fall short of poet, philosopher, writer, teacher, archeologist, and father. The content within this book made me realize that everything I do and every move I make IS my legacy. The diaries he kept over the years are evident that even the words and work we do in private may be a source of criticism and inspiration for later generations that stumble upon it.

Even me, a half-Caucasian, half-Japanese young man living in Colorado found the words of a long-passed Utah native inspiring to the point of wonderment. Somehow, the words, mind, and philosophy of this man found their way into my hands and by that he left a legacy without perhaps intending his journals to become so.

It is the same with all great men and women who left a mark, their mark, on the world. They did not do anything for the fame and fortune inherent in their work but for the thrill of the work itself. It wasn’t a façade of life but the culmination of their life that is their legacy.

Perhaps that is why we become happy with our life’s work, for it is the entirety of our lives we leave behind.

Even words left behind in long forgotten journals have the potential for enormous philosophical changes to occur in the minds of men.

Then, I thought of myself and my life and the words I will leave behind for those who come after and realized that the only way to leave behind something called a legacy is to live life worthy of it at all. It’s not our singular actions as scholars or family members or a book written or a movie created but the entirety of all our aspects that in the end will become that which we leave behind.

If the outdoors is my passion, and the thing I hold most dear to my heart. Seeking it out and living a life in line with it is where in my future lies. Not in waiting to “get older” but in moving myself to action now. Earl Douglass lived his life in a certain way and has imparted upon me the knowledge to live mine.

To the mountains I go to find myself reflected in the countenance of rock, wood, and life.