Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a botanist who explains her knowledge of an indigenous worldview about plants with that of the western worldview. In that process, Kimmerer embeds whole Earth teaching along with botanical science. Here in this beautiful essay, ” Corn tastes better on the honor system” published in Emergence Magazine, is one of the author’s best teaching contrasting indigenous ways of knowing with western perspectives about the Earth. At this time in American history, it feels like a return to sanity. Listen.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She lives in Syracuse, New York, where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.
The following Letter was submitted to the Virginia Pilot on June 14. I recently moved to Virginia Beach and subscribe to the Pilot.
It is great to be back in a military town! Growing up in the Air Force, my sisters and I absorbed the pride and pomp of being an officer’s child. Dad flew bombers, the big guys (B48s and B52s). WWII took his crew over the Pacific during low-level bombing of Tokyo and Saipan. They survived—barely.
You might surmise that my dad was a gung-ho patriot, but you would be mistaken. He was a discerning man who thought for himself. War is never an answer but sometimes its all we get when not to go to war would imperil the nation.
If Dad were alive today, he would be alarmed that we are not paying attention to the forces of authoritarianism in our country and the world. This was how Hitler and Stalin got so far. People doubted that such men could rise to power. Some welcomed them thinking they were intelligent, bold men.
It’s a curious thing that people confuse strongmen with strong leadership. If I am not mistaken, these are two different creatures. The first acts as a centrifugal force, sucking minds to its ideology, the latter upholds the law and invokes the principles that we have agreed to live by.
Beware America. Don’t look to strong men but rather to strong leaders who remind us of our common pledge to uphold certain inalienable rights for every person. Each one of us voters signed up for it. We are a nation governed by laws and each of us is responsible for making sure this is a Republic for the people and by the people. Whoever we choose to represent us must abide by the laws that govern us.
Submitted on June 14, 2022 In Response to the January 6 Insurrection Commission
This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.
The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.
WATCH EARLY THIS YEAR TO SET YOUR COMPASS TOWARD TRUE NORTH.
A story from the Coconino National Forest in Arizona
When Dorothy set off to find the Wizard of Oz, she and her companions encountered a lion in the dark wood just as they had feared, but, the cowardly beast only drew their disdain, for what good is a spineless lion?
Therein lies the dichotomy between our visceral fear of carnivores and our psychological need for them to be wild, fierce and free—a varmint or an icon. One gets them killed, the other immortalized, but neither will help them survive.
Neither perception tells us why lions, tigers and bears are important. A wolf takes the weakest of the herd, controlling not only numbers but removing the least adaptive genes from the population’s gene pool. A dynamic balance results between wolves, deer, and vegetation and myriad lives each dependent on the other.
That we do not understand the importance of these relationships was memorably recorded by Aldo Leopold. He wrote about an experience shooting wolves one afternoon, a common practice among Forest Service rangers in 1949. Leopold watched a “fierce green fire” flicker out in a mother wolf’s eyes.
Dawning on his consciousness was the realization of a bigger death̶, a death of wild things and something greater still: the very foundation of a healthy ecosystem. The wild, beautiful landscapes that inspired Leopold were created over centuries among myriad species until a dynamic stage was reached with an elaborate set of checks and balances. The wolf Leopold killed was one of the checks in a living community.
Until that moment Leopold lacked the understanding that he later identified as something only a mountain possesses. Mountains have the long view, he wrote, whereas humans are newcomers. A mountain has no fear of wolves, only deer, because too many deer will devour vegetation and the rains will wash away soil causing all kinds of havoc on the mountain.
The rancher who compares the life of a wolf against the current market price of his cow misses the much greater value of leaving the wolf wild and free. That “home on the range” where cattle roam depends on a natural community to sustain it – a community that evolved over thousands of years.
Leopold was writing about this phenomenon in 1949. Six decades later we are still acquiring that wisdom. We witnessed an ecological rebirth in Yellowstone National Park following the return of the wolf. Riparian willows and cottonwoods returned because elk spent less time eating them and more time hiding lest it become wolf scat. Other species like beavers returned in the rebounding willows and cottonwoods and their activities created habitat for insects and birds, and so on.
Further Reflections: The Elk Problem
One summer I attended a public meeting in Arizona in the Coconino National Forest convened to address the “elk problem.” Present were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Commission, White Mountain Apache biologists and tribal officials, ranchers, tourist industry reps, a hunters’ association, local residents, and curious campers like me.
It soon became apparent that a showdown was imminent.
The problem stemmed from an exponential increase in the elk population. A rancher testified that elk herds of 600 to 1,000-head could be found every morning on her land, leaving a swath of denuded range in their path . She was passionate and demanded that Game and Fish raise the limits for hunters to help bring the population of elk under control.
A rancher – tanned from a life in the sun and a silver mane pulled back in a thick pony – made her plea. She gestured toward the Apache contingent, and complained that the White Mountain Apache reservation, which bordered the national park, was serving as a nightly refuge for the elk who had discovered safety within its boundaries (1.67 million acres) of forest.
I imagined a tide of elk ebbing into the ranchland to graze by day then flowing back at night into the forested reservation. The rancher wanted the Apache Nation to help kill elk and bring the herds under control.
They would not, a tribal spokesman asserted in reply. The Apache would not do so based on ethical principles and the belief that restoring the natural ecosystem would be the only true answer to controlling the population.
I think I caught a twinkle in one tribal elder’s eye as this statement was made. “We take elk when we need meat for our people,” he said and sat down.
Tourist agencies pleaded their case for the presence of elk. Seen from the roads and campsites, thousands of families enjoyed watching wildlife. Tourism brings $16 million in revenues to Arizona each year, they reminded the crowd.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) deferred to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission which is charged with maintaining populations of wildlife. The FWS rep made a statement about the traditional range of the Mexican gray wolf—a keystone species of the disrupted ecosystem.
Sheer mention of the gray wolf acted like a match on tinder. The packed meeting room erupted in arguments from ranchers and tourism folks alike who didn’t welcome wolves in the woods.
Then a rancher with the look of one who had spent his life in the sun gained the floor. “We are victims of our own schemes – me included. First, we saw the wolf as our enemy and we systematically exterminated it. We saw it killing too many elk, too many cattle. We feared for our own lives. Once it was gone, we saw elk and deer populations explode. Well, maybe it’s time we examine our own nature to see if maybe we can control that!”
As I walked back to my cabin at Deer Springs Inn, I considered that I’d just witnessed a complete reenactment of the opening and closing of the West with all the historical parties represented as on a stage.
The sun was setting behind the dense Ponderosa pine forest. At Deer Springs Inn, families gathered around a campfire. I happily joined my family, spearing marshmallows. Wine flowed. Stars clustered overhead. A breeze fanned the flames setting our faces aglow. An owl hooted. The fire popped and sizzled as we settled down for stories and laughter.
Back at the end of the Yellow Brick Road Dorothy got her wish to go home, the tin man a heart, and the lion, his courage. Maybe the wolf will be restored at a time when our wizardry returns us to the natural order of things.
Fault-lines in leadership and economic security readily observable.
Man in the White House teeths on the Presidency; ingenuity and capacity for loving from American families and citizens observed. Leadership flipped: mayors, governors, and institutional leaders rise to the top.
The youth of America sing in their nests like spring fledging ready to fly into their new lives and destinies.
The elders reflect on time past, time of their parents, of the great war, the depression, and the war of the world. They search for its lessons. They fear death for the virus has found a particular berth in their cabins. They await the outcome.
Sunrise at 6:39 a.m. EST and Moonset at 1:29 a.m. EST. Birds and mammals move free and unburdened. They build their nests and hunt on soft paws among the trees. Bees appear, rotund and smeared with yellow pollen. Dolphins rise.
Humans huddle in their homes waiting, wondering, mourning, and angry. It is their turn. The viral hordes rage with insatiable greed and ambition, good capitalists all.
Doctors, nurses, emergency technicians, receptionists, firemen, and all the frontline warriors are risking their lives with no time to wonder about it.
Nets of commerce are tangled on the waves for all to observe. Barrels line docks; mountains of boxes press upon the earth; an eerie silence encompasses the market places. All those lampshades, trash baskets, ric rac, thumbtacks.
The landfills grow as humanity burns through it’s useable goods.The top layer is PPG: effluvium of the pandemic. The next layer isTP and hand wipes.
The warning whistle blows. The crew awaits the captain’s call. Will it be new coordinates to awakened ports of call?
At midnight the heat radiates from the cement driveway under my feet. I stand in the white moonlight gazing up at twinkling stars. The dark outline of tall trees and roof tops form a stage-drop where city glow breaks the blackness of night.
This is my summer ritual: star-gazing in my pajamas. I wake out of some consciousness that tells my snoozing brain I can open the doors and go out to a cool 90 degrees. I lay in a chaise lounge in the middle of the driveway under a sparkling dome of heaven. The air is gentle, warm, caressing. Like other desert creatures, I have become nocturnal. The moon is my muse.
It’s summertime in Phoenix, Arizona. Temperatures soar over 110 ̊. After June, the buildings and streets absorb the day’s solar energy and then slowly release it through the night. Even though the sun goes down, the built environment radiates like an oven. The hum of air conditioners is a constant auditory feature of modern desert life.
In the old parts of town residents open aqueducts in their yards. Encircled by an earthen berm, the lawns hold the precious ground water releasing it slowly to soak deeply into the sandy soil and keep their urban lawns green. In the 1900’s people moved to the desert for its dry climate and to escape allergy-causing vegetation. However, the mulberry and olive trees they imported with them resulted in Phoenix becoming the asthma capital of the west by 2000. The average low temperature has increased by 10 ̊ in just 40 years—the result of miles and miles of asphalt and concrete which act like a heat sponge.
Native trees have been reduced by introduction of non-natives (exotics) like the Tamarisk tree in areas where the water table once ran close to the ground. For thousands of years these habitats supported the greatest species diversity in the state. Beavers and otters abound in rivers and streams, and fauna like deer and Coati mundi inhabited native forests. Memories of Arizona’s extensive green belts have faded with each new generation. Who will remember what has been lost?
Gazing at the twinkling night sky above me, I imagine the ancient Hohokam people—who laid down the original grid of canals still in use today— how they, too, must have lain outside in the cool of moonlight thousands of years before me. Did they work and cavort at night like the desert’s creatures, and sleep in the cool of their adobe huts, or under a shady ramada of reeds, during the blistering heat of daytime? What happened to their great city and 200,000 inhabitants? Why did they leave this valley and its two rivers, the Salt and the Gila, leaving only their canals behind? Am I part of a Great Reenactment?
I watch the dark outline of a big, brown bat drinking nectar from a tall saguaro’s bloom in my neighbor’s yard. Afar I hear coyotes yipping from a hilltop in a suburban sea. In the wee hours of the warm, dry night, I drift into a deep sleep under a canopy of stars.
Democracy Now has been following the Fire Drill Fridays sparked by Greta Thunberg’s clear voice — a youth crying in the wilderness of world and national houses of legislation which remain deaf to the urgency of acting to protect the planet and life everywhere. Jane Fonda is busy stirring a national day of civil disobedience EVERY Friday on the steps of Capitol Hill. Listen in:
In the past few days we have learned that major investors and businesses are getting in step with climate action. BlackRock investing firm announced they would no longer invest in businesses that are not meeting climate change objectives.
“Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” Mr. Fink wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times. “The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.” ~ New York Times 1-14-20
Microsoft announced a Net Negative carbon footprint plan to reduce its emissions and to eliminate its carbon footprint completely by 2030.
The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The carbon in our atmosphere has created a blanket of gas that traps heat and is changing the world’s climate. Already, the planet’s temperature has risen by 1 degree centigrade. If we don’t curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic. ~ Microsoft Commitment to Sustainability
Biodiversity is a key driver of ecosystem health and resilience. The more variety of genes and groups of genes in a particular habitat (# and kinds of living plants and animals, invertebrates, etc) the greater is its resiliency to impacts such as climate change, and human development and habitation.
A good example can be seen in our coastal ecosystems where an abundance of grasses, landforms, certain trees, sea grasses and coral reefs, promote resiliency to storms, development, etc. Dense human habitation along coastal areas has polluted waters that kill sea grasses, result in erosion of beaches which once provided a barrier to incoming storms and sea level rise.
Wangari Maathai grew up in her homeland in Kenya, living close to the earth and learning traditional Kikuyu values and practices. Her memoir, Unbound, describes her daily activities as a child, her mother’s teachings, and how her people regarded the streams and forests in a land where the balance of nature is delicate, not to be abused without serious consequences for its inhabitants.
In Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World, Maathai’s wisdom is distilled onto each page, every sentence the next drop in the flow. Wangari describes herself as working practically to solve problems she learned about in discussions with communities and among women’s groups. Their need for clean water, and for access to earn a living, were her daily concerns. Eventually, Wangari and the women she served established the Greenbelt Movement that planted over 30 million trees in Kenya.
In Replenishing, Wangari’s concerns about the destruction of the environment in Kenya are examined in light of the world’s sacred traditions. Always a practical perspective, her observations and reflections give readers much to consider often through humor. For example she writes that God in his wisdom created Adam on Friday. If he’d created him on Monday he’d have perished for lack of food!
Wangari Maathai’s clarity of thought is invaluable in this age where massive destruction of oceans, rivers, wildlands, and forests have imperiled life the world over. She and the women of Kenya remind us of the earth-shaking power of people to replenish the earth, if we choose to do so.