Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Much of yesterday was spent in my vehicle, traveling near the western and northern edges of the St. Croix River watershed in Minnesota. For the most part, if I hadn't spent some time looking at maps before I left to do some field verification and take some photos for a project I'm working on, I wouldn't have know which watershed I was in. Along Highway 210, there was a sign that informed my Better Half and I that we were entering the Lake Superior Watershed, and there were bridge signs along the highways telling us which river we had just crossed, but that was it. I remember traveling in southwestern Minnesota and being informed that I had just entered such and such Soil and Water Conservation District about each and every time I crossed a county boundary. I think it was Wendell Berry who wrote " If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are." At least that's what Wallace Stegner writes in The Sense of Place.

a tamarack wetland near the St. Croix River watershed's northwest corner
a tamarack wetland near the St. Croix River watershed's northwest corner
Photo by J. Harrington

If we want others to come to know us, don't we have to come to know ourselves? Wes Jackson adds to Berry and Stegner's thoughts when he writes about Becoming Native to This Place. But, to my way of thinking, Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass (one of my all time favorite books), offers even better insights to people and place.
"To become indigenous is to grow the circle of healing to include all of Creation.

"Immigrants cannot by definition be indigenous. Indigenous is a birthright word....But if people do not feel "indigenous," can they nevertheless enter into the deep reciprocity that renews the world?"
Within pages, Kimmerer provides a creative answer to her question. We'll share what she has to say tomorrow. If you truly care about sustainable living, it's worth learning what she has to say. If you can't or don't come back to My Minnesota for some reason, get your hands on a copy of the book and read it, please.

South

By Natasha Trethewey 

Homo sapiens is the only species to suffer psychological exile.
        —E. O. Wilson
I returned to a stand of pines,
                            bone-thin phalanx
flanking the roadside, tangle
                            of understory—a dialectic of dark
and light—and magnolias blossoming
                            like afterthought: each flower
a surrender, white flags draped
                            among the branches. I returned
to land’s end, the swath of coast
                            clear cut and buried in sand:
mangrove, live oak, gulfweed
                            razed and replaced by thin palms—
palmettos—symbols of victory
                            or defiance, over and over
marking this vanquished land. I returned
                            to a field of cotton, hallowed ground—
as slave legend goes—each boll
                            holding the ghosts of generations:
those who measured their days
                            by the heft of sacks and lengths
of rows, whose sweat flecked the cotton plants
                            still sewn into our clothes.
I returned to a country battlefield
                            where colored troops fought and died—
Port Hudson where their bodies swelled
                            and blackened beneath the sun—unburied
until earth’s green sheet pulled over them,
                            unmarked by any headstones.
Where the roads, buildings, and monuments
                            are named to honor the Confederacy,
where that old flag still hangs, I return
                            to Mississippi, state that made a crime
of me—mulatto, half-breed—native
                            in my native land, this place they’ll bury me.


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