Tag Archives: Mother Earth

Ancient Advice for Sustainable Harvests

Greenery

The passenger pigeon named Martha was kept in a Cincinnati zoo.  This September 1 marks 100 years since her lonely death as the last of her kind.  I attended a forum reflecting on Martha and other extinctions at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  One speaker I wanted to hear was Robin Kimmerer, a Potawatomi woman and Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology, SUNY.  I also wanted to get her new book, an Orion award finalist.  She is  an expert on moss, among other things.  The heart of her talk was what she called the Honorable Harvest, principles by which we can interact sustainably with the world.  She called these ancient tenets “rules for those of us who can’t photosynthesize,” because really, when you think about it, all life relies on the sun and we rely on those forms of life that can harness solar energy and pass it on to us as food.  Let us not take them for granted.  And let us not take more than our share or, like the passenger pigeon, they will be no more.

Here are some wild harvest guidelines I gathered from Dr. Kimmerer’s talk.  She also has a chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass on “The Honorable Harvest” in which she says that these things are not usually written down but “reinforced in small acts of daily life” and apply to all “the gifts of Mother Earth–air, water, and the literal body of the earth: the rocks and soil and fossil fuels.”  These “small acts” can be practiced every day in some form or another.

1.  Never take the first one you see.  How do you know it’s not the last one?

2. Introduce yourself.  Approach the fungi or roots or whatever you’re gathering and tell them your intent.  Ask permission to take them.

3. Listen for their answer.   There are ways to communicate and receive an answer.  If you are quiet enough, you can hear (or feel) it.

4. Respect the answer.  If permitted to harvest, take only what is needed.

5. Minimize harm.  Be careful how you harvest and how you move around the area.

6. Use everything you take.  “Do eat food that is honorably harvested, and celebrate every mouthful,” Kimmerer writes.

7. Be grateful.  “The practice of gratitude is a radical act,” Dr. Kimmerer said.  It is humbling and it is part of reciprocity, giving back.

8. Share what you’ve taken.

Similarly, Anishinabeg (Ojibway) elder, Anne Dunn, let me know that wild rice is harvested with gratitude and “cherished as a gift from Great Spirit” and will “flourish and feed many generations of countless people” as long as it is treated with appreciation and respect.  The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) gave an address in 1977 in Geneva, Switzerland, “A Basic Call to Consciousness,” noting, “The Western culture has been horribly exploitative and destructive of the Natural World.  Over 140 species of birds and animals were utterly destroyed since the European arrival in the Americas… The air is foul, the waters poisoned, the trees dying, the animals are disappearing.  We think even the systems of weather are changing.  Our ancient teachings warned us that if Man interfered with the Natural laws, these things would come to be.  When the last of the Natural Way of Life is gone, all hope for human survival will be gone with it.”

Robin Kimmerer said at the May 2 Nature and Ethics forum, “It is not land which is broken but our relationship to land.”  She said we are in the time of the seventh fire, at a fork in the road.  Honoring our plant and animal relatives, “we can light the eighth fire of kinship” and heal some of what we have broken.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Chicago Botanic Garden

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Chicago Botanic Garden

Have a healthy harvest and enjoy!

Ecology and the Road

A good place to walk

A good place to walk

It seems that the more we improve our roads the less hospitable they are to people.

I remember hearing an engineer at a town hall meeting reveal his proposal for an “improved” road by our summer home.  Our neighbor, Mrs. Miller, stood up and said, “Over my dead body!  I will lay down in front of your bulldozers before I let you turn our road into a four-lane highway.”  As a child hearing her words, I pictured her soft body on the earth, gray hair nestled in fallen pine needles, as heavy machinery roared toward her.  I believed her—that she would lay down her life to save the forest—and I have come to understand her passion.  She loved that land like life itself.

Mrs. Miller fell in love with the north woods of Minnesota by tending it for all of her years.  For me, I fell in love with trees.  I am happiest when I am climbing a tree, or at least sitting by one.  Every trail I walked and every fort I made out of meadow grass brought me closer to the land.  I was wooed by the peace and beauty I found there.  It got harder to go play outside as I got older, but now I am trying to make it a priority.  Just as our mothers told us, I am telling myself: go out and play.  And here’s another childhood mantra: stop, look, and listen.  I try not to rush through my nature walks, but, rather, take time to open my senses.

To know the land is, usually, to love it.  I believe that loving nature is the beginning of conserving it.  Caring about it makes me want to care for it.  It seems to me that ecology is an inside job. “Environment” may be defined as something outside myself, but the seed of environmentalism is found within me.  How do I care for myself and how do I care for the planet?  Mother Earth offers me her talents and, in turn, I use what small gifts I have to protect, enhance, and appreciate her. 

Mrs. Miller brought her passion.  My father brought research about road regulations that he’d gathered at a university library to prove that the requirement for the width of the road was not as the engineer had claimed.  My family and our neighbors loved that land and we showed it.  The road was repaved but remained two lanes, and trees and meadows were saved.  And it is still a good road to walk or bicycle along.

By the road in Minnesota

By the road in Minnesota

 

For Earth Mother

 

It’s almost Mother’s Day.  Besides remembering my own mother, I am thinking of Mother Earth.  I owe them both my life.  To the Incans of South America, Pachamama is goddess of the Cosmos.  A toast is made to her, “the good mother,” at all manner of festivities.

For chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis, Mother Earth is considered to be a complex, self-regulating system known as Gaia, from the Greek’s poetic term for our planet.  The Gaia Hypothesis proposed in 1979 provided new reasons to cherish and respect the Earth and her processes and not mess with them!  Good advice.

What advice would Gaia give us human types walking around among her beautiful hills and valleys?  I think it would be pretty much like this prayer from my Wampanoag mentor, Manitonquat (or Medicine Story) who is still going strong at 82 (see http://www.circleway.org).

Rainbow over Bay Lake, MN

 

MANITONQUAT’S PRAYER

Hear, oh Humankind, the prayer of my heart..

For are we not one, have we not one desire,
to heal our Mother Earth and bind her wounds
and still to be free as the spotted Eagle climbing
the laughing breath of our Father Sky,
to hear again from dark forests and flashing rivers
the varied ever-changing Song of Creation?

Oh Humankind, are we not all brothers and sisters,
are we not the grandchildren of the Great Mystery?
Do we not all want to love and be loved,
to work and to play, to sing and dance together?

But we live with fear.
Fear that is hate, fear that is mistrust, envy, greed, vanity,
fear that is ambition, competition, aggression,
fear that is loneliness, anger, bitterness, cruelty….
and yet, fear is only twisted love, love turned back on itself,
love that was denied, love that was rejected…

And love….
Love is life ~ creation, seed and leaf
and blossom and fruit and seed;
love is growth and search and reach and touch and dance.
Love is nurture and succor and feed and pleasure.
Love is pleasuring ourselves, pleasuring each other.
Love is life believing in itself.

And life….
Life is the Sacred Mystery singing to itself,
dancing to its drum, telling stories, improvising, playing.

And we are all that Spirit,
our stories tell but one cosmic story that we are love indeed,
that perfect love in me seeks the love in you
and if our eyes could ever meet without fear
we would recognize each other and rejoice,
for love is life believing in itself.

A toast to all the mothers out there!