When the country shut down in March to stem the pandemic, I began each day by going outside to sit and do nothing but sense. I listened to the twelve species of birds who live around me, watched the winds moving each tree according to its structure, my eye drawn to the intensity of greens. I listened to the creek roar in the spring and go quiet in summer and fall. Interspersed were the sounds humans make—cars, voices, power tools, a bouncing ball. I sensed them all—plant, animal, mineral, human—as beings held within a watershed. By late spring, I’d just sit, and a peace came over me. When Steve Costa asked me to reflect on the impact of the Geography of Hope conferences, I realized that the teachings that had informed my community work, my art making, were finally seeping into my nerves.
As a white person of privilege—descended from early American colonists who called themselves Separatists and from nomadic Sami people in Northern Scandinavia—it is taking decades of listening to Native people, people of color, people who were not raised with a “subliminal presumption of superiority” to unravel my inbred Separatism. I remember Robin Kimmerer addressing the language of separation that leads to exploitation. She asked us to think of the Earth as “she,” as kin, with whom we are in continuous exchange. After hearing Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemem Wintu, I wanted to follow her home because she was the most natural human being I’d ever met; all parts of her life—tribe, family, work, ritual, and activism flowed together. I remember Winona LaDuke talking about becoming an elder who made her ancestors proud and her descendants grateful—for “straightening stuff out” and healing the intergenerational wounds.
In this time of inwardness, I feel a shift underway, from white-person-think toward field-awareness. Aleut elder Ilarion Merculieff described birds in flocks of thousands flying into and through one another “without clipping a wing” because of their attunement to the field holding them. He learned from his teacher that connecting through the heart opens you to the many languages of wind, tides, seals, birds, and other humans.
And in the heart, there is also grief, for the harm we white people have done to the Earth and to indigenous people. Lyla June Johnston of the Diné tribe spoke of standing in the center of grief and invoking the power of forgiveness that re-connects and unlocks “all the medicines of the Earth.” And that we must begin with forgiving ourselves and extending that forgiveness outward to others.
I am grateful beyond words for Steve Costa of Black Mountain Circle, with his partner Kate Levinson and his team of Kamala Tully, Elizabeth Ptak, and Suzanne d’Coney, along with the stalwart support of the Center for Humans and Nature, for those many years of readings, films, wisdom, and stories. Over time, your endeavors have dispensed those medicines of the Earth upon her people. Know that work has sent out wave patterns to souls and places and endeavors beyond your imagining.