By Sherry Marr
You have entered the country of shadow. And a vast and brooding presence that had been hiding, moments earlier, behind the gauze of light is now slowly walking toward you through the clarified air. It is the breathing body of the mountain itself.
—David Abram, Becoming Animal
I am fascinated by the indigenous understanding that everything in the natural world is connected, that each has its role to play and is deserving of respect, that each has the right to exist. This is in direct counterpoint to settler consciousness, which is to view everything as a “resource,” to be extracted for financial gain. This view may temporarily bring financial wealth. But we are now living through the eventual result: that resources will be used up, and the earth, having lost much of her sustenance, will fall ill and begin to die. Settler consciousness forgets one basic fact: that we, too, are part of the natural world, and what we do to one, we do to all, and to ourselves.
We have a million species heading towards extinction. Only four percent of prairie tallgrass, essential for storing carbon, is left. Fish, sea life, birds, bees, coral, the Amazon, are all under threat. Humans have impacted everything on earth.
Right now, humans and wild and domestic animals are fleeing in terror all along the western seaboard of the United States in an Armageddon of flames and terrifying red-orange skies, in the worst wildfire season ever recorded. Governments continue to lament that “we can’t afford a Green New Deal.” When will they understand that the cost of trying to recover from these ever-more-apocalyptic events far exceeds what it would cost to try to prevent them? Sadly, this should have begun 40 years ago. It is astonishing to me that we wait until just before the end of the world to understand the climate crisis is real.
What I have noted in my small world is that if I praise the wild flowers growing on the hill in front of my house, the following year they double in profusion and brilliance…and there are the deer who know they need never, ever fear me.
….I think I am telling you that the animals of this planet are in peril, and that they are fully aware of this….I am also telling you that we are connected to them at least as intimately as we are connected to trees.”
—Alice Walker, Living By the Word
In my last little trailer home, I experienced what Alice is describing, in the thriving of wild bluebells and daffodils around my big maple, which doubled year after year under my delight and whispered praise.
I believe everything has consciousness: trees, animals, plants, mountains. I was thrilled when New Zealand recognized the Maori’s river of sacred power, the Whanganui, granting it personhood, as an “indivisible, living whole, with all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of an individual.” Progress. New Zealand is emerging as a country of advanced consciousness in so many ways in these times.
The Maori fought to maintain their spiritual connection to awa tupua – their river of sacred power. To them, it has always been a living entity. They mourned as it was dynamited, polluted, its gravel extracted. One of their proverbs is “I am the river, the river is me.” They believe their ancestors live on in the natural world. This is akin to the Tla-o-qui-aht people of my area, who have protocols and teachings around respecting all life surrounding them in the forest; even the lowly slug’s territory is respected. When they meet a wolf or bear, they respectfully retreat from its territory. They respect everything in their vicinity as their relations, as deserving of life as every other.
…There are people who think that only people have emotions, like pride, fear, and joy, but those who know will tell you all things are alive….each in its own way……And though different from us in shape and life span, different in Time and Knowing, yet are trees alive. And rocks. And water. And we all know emotion.
—Ann Cameron, The Daughters of Copper Woman
I know that animals feel everything we feel; this is why it hurts me when they are treated horribly. In their innocence they cannot possibly understand why humans are so cruel.
If it is true that we reap what we sow, as a country we have only to recognize the poison inside us as the poison we forced others to drink. But the land is innocent. It is still Turtle Island. It is beginning to throw up the poison it has been forced to drink, and we must help it by letting go of our own; for until it is healthy and well, we cannot be. Our thoughts must be on how to restore to the Earth its dignity as a living being…. We must begin to develop the consciousness that everything has equal rights because existence itself is equal… Everything to the Indian was a relative. Everything was a human being.
—Alice Walker, Living By the Word
I love “the land is innocent. It is still Turtle Island.” The land needs us now, to heal and repair what we can, where we are, and to speak up for her loudly enough to make legislators not only hear, but act.
For our challenge, let’s contemplate the beyond-human world. You can consider the entire natural world and our connection to it in its entirety. Or you might want to choose one aspect, an animal, a plant, a mountain, a tree, whose presence as an individual you strongly feel.
Whatever you write about, I will read with great appreciation.