I forgot to make a climate strike poster with my daughter, Miya, last night.
I awoke this morning with the words of Robin Wall Kimmerer, from her book Braiding Sweetgrass pressed into my skin like pillow folds.
To be native to a place we must learn to speak its language. I come here to listen, to nestle in the curve of the roots in a soft hollow of pine needles, to lean my bones against the column of white pine, to turn off the voice in my head until I can hear the voices outside it: the shhh of wind in needles, water trickling over rock, nuthatch tapping, chipmunks digging, beechnut falling, mosquito in my ear, and something more—something that is not me, for which we have no language, the wordless being of others in which we are never alone. After the drumbeat of my mother’s heart, this was my first language.
I awoke from the dreamstate of her prose to recognize that in my exhaustion upon arriving home last night, I had forgotten all about the “family” Climate Strike happening today in Zürich, Switzerland; the “very important thing” we have to do together to make our tiny voices heard, en masse, with other tiny voices.
So I set out to hurriedly make one at the breakfast table. I quickly tried to share in three-year-old speak the meaning of what I was doing… and Miya naturally came over to sit on my lap and help; to name each letter as I wrote in big blocks “Our Only Home” around a rough caricature of planet Earth. To color into the blocks and trace the letters from the inside.
I decided to send her with the poster, half-finished, to her preschool. “Color it with all your friends today! Share your markers!”. I both secretly patted myself on the back for the “good idea” and shamed myself for not being a better, more put-together activist mother. Insert emoji “eye roll”.
In the end we had to hurry to get Miya out the door. In my hope to make the forgotten sign, I made Matthias late for work. In our rushing, we also upset Miya. She could feel our anxiety as a palpable thing. It disconnected us all as we hurried and she ended up crying and upset as she went out the door, a very uncommon thing for a generally happy kid. I felt terrible. Disconnected. Isolated. Nothing about the actual meaning of the climate strike had permeated into our actions this morning. It was all just an empty “act”.
As the door closed on Miya and my husband, Matthias, I exhaled. Kimmerer’s book remained at the edges of my awareness.
“Philosophers call this state of isolation and disconnection “species loneliness”—a deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation, from the loss of relationship. As our human dominance of the world has grown, we have become more isolated, more lonely when we can no longer call out to our neighbors. It’s no wonder that naming was the first job the Creator gave Nanabozho.”
I happened upon Kimmerer’s book in a random online search for my next Kindle read. It is, by far, my most favorite book I have read in years, every other paragraph bringing me to tears or to pause and sigh deeply, reflecting on the weight of her words.
She speaks of something many of us have long forgotten, or even worse… never had a chance to know or experience. She powerfully relates the deep connection we all have to the natural word, and goes on to relay the inherent error in thinking the “natural world” is even a separate thing from each of us. It is a connection and a language that has been all but erased by a bigger, louder, stronger one built on dominance and separation. Not just English as a language, or Western Europeans ravaging the “New World” and its inhabitants in every way imaginable, but the greater worldview that we are here to divide and conquer, to reduce and simplify. We have lost the eloquence of complexity, of interconnection, of belonging.
I have been dreaming of the forest. I have been lying awake at night imagining my home and my family nestled in among the trees. Quiet space all around us, which is actually not so quiet but contains “the wordless being of others in which we are never alone”. Room for a garden in a small field. A trail leading into a deeper wood. I have been agonizing over the balance between the diversity and energy of “city life” and the diversity and energy of the natural world. Do I have to choose? Does one have to come at the expense of the other?
In a little over three months we move to the United States, the New World. We move near one of the biggest and most diverse cities on the planet, New York City. It is the home of many humans who I dearly love, some with their own children around Miya’s age. It is a place where I have struggled and triumphed before, where I have been lost and also found the depths of my spirit. I am thrilled by this. The art, the dance, the food, the progressive movements, the vivacious humans. It all calls to my heart. I have daydreamed, at times, that in New York City, we can be a part of one of the biggest climate strikes on the Earth. This energy and possibility, this return to the power of the city calls to me.
And then there is something else that calls. It is the wonderment in a green open space. It is my daughter learning the names of plants and animals, the feel of dirt under her feet and the brush of branches against her skin.
It is the draw of giving her precious access to the most beautiful language there is, that of the living breathing Earth.
We will go to the climate strike together today in Zürich. We will hold the sign, in whatever form it arrives from the hands of the kids at Preschool. We will join our voices and energy with other humans. We will be walking on stones which were laid upon a dominated land centuries ago. It will feel like a good thing to do.
I want to be a part of this energy with my little girl and with my family. I want to do the acts that feel like they might wake people up a little more. But what feels more vital is to somehow cross the bridge from this disconnected world in which we find ourselves into the language of Earth. To connect to the voices of the past, those voices that have been all but destroyed, and to bring them forth. The indigenous peoples of the world know this language and hold these voices steady to this day, despite all the world has done to silence them and to make them forget. And I do believe it is up to all of us to begin to put those voices back in the front and center.
I do not yet know if the best place for me to share this possibility with my daughter is in the vibrant diversity of the city or the vibrant diversity of the forest. I would like to believe I can somehow offer her both. I dream of it every day.
As we head to the climate strike today, Kimmerer’s words will hover around me like a gifted aura.
“Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”
The language of the Earth is speaking if we are here to listen. In order to listen, we must make time to be in her presence. The voices of those we have long tried to silence are rising. We must uplift them and bring them to the forefront. They have so much to teach us.
I do believe we should all strike, this movement has energy and energy carries weight. But more importantly, we should all listen more deeply, more intently, and with more gratitude. We should go into the woods and allow her to whisper to us. We should pause in our screaming in strikes and online tirades to give a voice to voices we have long ago attempted to trample.
Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.