How do we become indigenous to the land?
“After all these generations since Columbus, some of the wisest of Native American elders still puzzle over the people who came to our shores. They look at the toll on the land and say, ‘The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat. They don’t seem to know whether they are staying or not.’ This same observation is heard from some contemporary scholars who see in the social pathologies and relentless material culture the fruit of homelessness, a rootless past. America has been called the home of second chances. For the sake of the people and the land, the urgent work of the Second Man [European settlers] may be to set aside the ways of the colonist and become indigenous to place. But can Americans, as a nation of immigrants, learn to live as if we were staying? With both feet on the shore?
“What happens when we truly become native to a place, when we finally make a home? ” Robin Wall Kimmerer, BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (kindle edition) pp 206-7
This passage, and, indeed, the whole book, BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, has helped me understand what I am being called to do, here on Back forty Farm. I am to become indigenous to this place, to make the attempt as best I am able, and to share my experience of doing so both in my writing and physically with others. This is not a quick process- in fact, quickness is no longer something to be aspired to. This will take the rest of my life, if I live another 20-25 years! This will require hours of observation, patience and faith. It requires the study of permaculture, trying things and then actually noticing what works best on this particular patch of heaven. Observation, endurance, patience… working with the other indigenous animals and plants whose home this is. It doesn’t mean having no impact, or leaving the land solely in its natural state- but it does mean learning from those that already inhabit this place.
One thing that seems much clearer to me than ever before, is the Native Americans perspective that humans are the younger sibling to all other species on earth. The other animals are our older siblings from whom we have much to learn. And the plants- the plants are our elders; we have so very much to learn from them. Just think, plants can take sunlight and turn it into sugars to nourish themselves, and in the process they nourish all the rest of us! Every vegetable we eat has done this! Every animal we eat has eaten plants, or eaten insects that eat plants. There is no human food without plants! Of course the pants also depend upon the earth, the soil, the minerals that come from rocks. They also need the rain, the water that circulates everywhere on this planet in order to survive, just as we do.
A few months back, I had an experience that startled me. I had the distinct sensation that I had been claimed by this land and a deep love welled up in me. It felt like the kind of love that has no bounds, the kind that happens when it is in response to being loved- not for anything I have done, just for who I am. Where did this come from? It is mysterious- but more real than almost anything else I have experienced. Now that I have read BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, and begun to understand what I am being called to do, this experience makes more sense.
The challenge is, now, how to do it. I know that I am not supposed to do this alone.Always when I have asked for guidance from G!d, Holy Mystery, I have been told time and again to never attempt to do things alone. As if I could! And yet, I fail to remember this way too often. Here on the farm, I never feel alone, I am constantly accompanied by what we call nature- the other inhabitants of this place, and even the land itself. But I also have a sense that there there are other humans that I am to do this with. I have faith that they will show up, or that I will be able to recognize them over time.