This past week marked five months of rewilding. Almost half the year has slipped into the deep time of history at timescales raging from the flap of a Hummingbird’s wings to the lethargic flow of a sludgy River. Generally, these past five months seem fleeting, not long enough to do everything I think I should be doing and achieving. Linear time within the confines of one year now seems too short to allow for a thorough transformation of self and Land.
14th August, 2022: I dream that I am wandering around the tip of Patagonia. Gazing northward, I can see the entirety of South and North America, as if from a Bird’s eye view. A road runs the entire length of the continental Landmasses, from the southernmost tip, where Land meets the Drake Passage, to the North Slope of Alaska merging into the Arctic Ocean. I know I must travel this route in its entirety on my bicycle, and I worry about the condition of the road and if it will be passable.
Having migrated from East (direction of Spring and new beginnings), I now find myself fully entrenched in the South – domain of Summer, heat, wildness, physicality, and action – summoned, as if by an invisible force, to the physical embodiment of being and doing with the Land. Bill Plotkin (2013) refers to the Summer-aligned South facet of the soul as “the Wild Indigenous One,” the part of our being that longs for the integration of our carnal bodies within their natural home. But the programming of generations of western lifetimes, culminating in my own, resists falling away. The entangled, capitalist, “civilized” axiology that equates cognitive productivity to a person’s self-worth hijacks the gray matter of my subconscious where simultaneously the wild one is trying to claw her way through the slippery shadows back to the surface. Freya Mathews (2021) notes:
…attitudes to the body inform the whole structure of values which shape present-day society; they are reflected in the distribution of social value and reward over occupations: the highest rewards in both material and prestige terms, accrue to the ‘white collar’ occupations and the professions, the lowest to the ‘blue collar’ and ‘manual’ occupations…We ignore the impulse of our body towards fulfilment and well-being, substituting cognitive ends (ego goals) for bodily ones (pp. 32-33).
As Summer hearkens to my Wild Indigenous One, she revolts against the tyranny of desk, computer, and chair. Dirt calls my hands, and I revel in digging, tending and planting, as my sweat and energy seem to merge with the wellspring of enthusiastic bursting forth. The Land’s genius crafts Meadow where former Lawn once subdued diverse abundance, and new members join the community – Queen Anne’s Lace Daucus carota, Goldenrod Solidago spp., Asters Aster spp., Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis, Wild Rose Rosa carolina, and Grasses galore. Forest regenerates at the Meadow’s edge, and young volunteers of Black Walnut Juglans nigra, various Oak and Maple species (Quercus spp., Maple Acer spp.), Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia, and Wild Cherry Prunus seritonia move into the spaces created by selectively removing non-native species. Stinging and other Pollinators fill the air everywhere, introducing a confounding combination of dazzling beauty and itchy suffering.
At the edges between Meadow and Forest, I work (sometimes with human helper and friend Kimberly) to co-create permaculture guilds with Fruit Trees, nitrogen fixers, nutrient accumulators, and Pollinator-friendly species (Canty, 2017). These constructed relationships flourish, inspiring me with what can be created via human and more-than-human collaboration, but I also struggle with age-old issues of human domination over Nature. Despite the ecological principles underpinning permaculture, I wonder where one draws the line between being a steward and helper and being a controlling colonizer?
I confess to several actions that challenge the principles of co-operative inquiry. While watching and learning from the more-than-human world informs permaculture, the craft then imposes entirely human-conceived designs upon Land (Bradley et al., 2017; Hemenway, 2000). The guilds I have designed encourage non-native Cherry, Apple, and Peach to naturalize and behave in wild ways, fostering relationships with Black Locust (a native nitrogen fixer), Mountain Mint (a native natural deterrent to Deer and Groundhogs) and myriad native, Pollinator-friendly Wildflowers. In imposing these guilds in the borderland spaces between the recovering Forest and Meadow, I stretch deep ecology’s axiological underpinning of biocentric equality (Devall & Sessions, 1985; Naess, 1973), effectively placing the introduced Plants’ interests above the interests of the Grasses they replace. And, If I am honest with myself, I observe a certain self-satisfaction from yanking Tree of Heaven Ailanthus altissima and Asian Bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus out of the ground and killing them. I recognize that in western tradition, I have labelled them as “Other,” thereby condemning them to a category that justifies treating them as “less-than” the other community members (Arnds, 2020; Ghosh, 2021).
Having operated for decades as a western traditional scientist, I find myself defaulting to objectivist epistemologies, or ways of knowing, to inform my actions. Tree of Heaven saplings are allelopathic, emitting chemicals from their roots and leaves that inhibit the growth of other Plants. In the absence of mowing, they were poised to become the dominant species in rewilding spaces. I can only assume that Tree of Heaven does not agree with my top-down, executive decision to control them, but I do cling to the hope that others in the community will approve. In the absence of being able to know what everyone wants, I justify my actions with Aldo Leopold’s (1949) Land ethic: That which serves the interests of the wild whole, supersedes that which undermines those same interests. Western science colors my decisions, as I strive to implement a hybrid rewilding methodology, blending knowledge from co-researchers’ wild perspectives to serve the interests of the vast majority, if not all.
Such methods are nothing new. Indigenous researchers have always embraced diverse epistemologies (Bastian et al., 2017; Cajete, 2004; Poelina et al., 2020; Wooltorton et al., 2020), “…merging ideas and concepts and in effect creat[ing] new sciences which weld together the bodies of knowledge which should not have been separated in the first place” (Deloria, 1992, p. 36). In other words, when Rene Descartes hypothesized in the 17th Century that humans alone possess the power of reason, elevating that form of meaning-making as the only legitimate path to knowledge, he unleashed a stifling force upon the planet that effectively silenced the myriad voices of the wild world, along with the diverse humans who live among them (Mathews, 2021; Merchant, 1980; Spretnak, 1991). As a white, western settler, constant vigilance must attend to what I have discovered is my unconscious, “rational” impulse to “shaping” the Land. As I let go of that control, a stunning and diverse community moves in to fill the sterile, lonely, and vacuous spaces once occupied by the hubris of my human exceptionalism.
As I write this, a Doe and her two Fawns (Odocoileus virginianus) meander slowly past my office window. The Doe gazes at me, seemingly unafraid, as if calling me, so I follow her outside. The two little ones are skittish in my presence, but when they notice that mom seems undeterred, they settle down to nibble on some Sochan Rudbeckia laciniata and Beans I planted as nitrogen fixers in a Black Walnut guild. Mom and I stare at each other for a few minutes. She twitches her ears, flares her nostrils a few times to catch my scent, and then flicks her tail, turning her attention to browsing Grasses and Wildflowers in the rewilding Meadow.
At one time, I would have shooed them or unleashed Goober to run them off, but after five months of rewilding and sharing the Land, I have not starved. I know the Land can support us all, even if it means I will have fewer Beans. I get joy from knowing the little Fawns will perhaps have a better chance of surviving the Winter as a result of my contributions to this community. A wellspring of love and hope grows within me for this new family of friends, as they too get to know and accept me as part of this Place.
Deer co-researchers used to roam and browse cautiously along the edge of the Forest, but they, along with Turkeys Meleagris gallopavo, Eastern Cottontails Sylvilagus floridanus, Eastern Meadow Voles Microtus pennsylvanicus, and Eastern Gray Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis, now lay claim to this Land everywhere, including right up to the edge of the house. Yesterday, a Mother Turkey and her Chick knocked on the bedroom door in search of Corn that I often leave out as an offering and incentive to Squirrels to keep them from pillaging Bird feeders. The Turkeys cautiously shuffled away a few meters while I tossed a handful on the ground. Mama Turkey clucked and cocked her head from side to side, assessing my intent. Once I was safely (in her opinion) behind the screen door, she led her Chick to the Corn, and I received in return the priceless gift of watching and being with them until they had eaten their fill.
Arnds, P. (2020). Rewilding the world in the postcolonial age: On the nexus between cultural production and species politics. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 56(4), 568-582.
Bastian, M., Jones, O., Moore, N., & Roe, E. (2017). Participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds: Routledge.
Bradley, P., Hill, A., Kirker, L., Van Houten, A., Lamy, J., Kenney, J., & Kuzmitch, L. (2017). Habitat Restoration Through Permaculture and Agroforestry in Southern Belize.
Cajete, G. (2004). Philosophy of native science. American Indian thought, 45-57.
Canty, J. M. (2017). Introduction. In J. M. Canty (Ed.), Ecological and Social Healing: Multicultural women’s voices: Routledge.
Deloria, V. (1992). Relativity, relatedness and reality. Winds of Change, 7(4), 34-40.
Devall, B., & Sessions, G. (1985). Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered: Gibbs Smith.
Ghosh, A. (2021). The Nutmeg’s Curse – Parables for a planet in crisis: University of Chicago Press.
Hemenway, T. (2000). Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.
Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac: With essays on conservation from Round River: Oxford University Press.
Mathews, F. (2021). The Ecological Self (Routledge Classics ed.): Routledge.
Merchant, C. (1980). The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and Revolution: Harper Collins.
Naess, A. (1973). The shallow and the deep, long‐range ecology movement. A summary. Inquiry, 16(1-4), 95-100.
Plotkin, B. (2013). Wild Mind: A field guide to the human psyche: New World Library.
Poelina, A., Wooltorton, S., Harben, S., Collard, L., Horwitz, P., & Palmer, D. (2020). Feeling and Hearing Country. In Press.
Spretnak, C. (1991). States of Grace: The recovery of meaning in the Postmodern age: Harper San Francisco.
Wooltorton, S., Collard, L., Horwitz, P., Poelina, A., & Palmer, D. (2020). Sharing a place-based indigenous methodology and learnings. Environmental Education Research, 26(7), 917-934.
I love reading your blogs Kathleen: they are healing for me as well. I am assuming this is the case for other readers who keep an eye on your website. It is wonderful to read writing where [ab]normal western assumptions no longer color the writer’s standpoint. For instance, I particularly appreciated this statement:
“I wonder where one draws the line between being a steward and helper and being a controlling colonizer.” I often wonder thoughts like these too. I suppose there is no line – perhaps this is the eternal learning that arises as a result of genuine cooperation.
I’ll think some more about this statement of yours:
“I confess to several actions that challenge the principles of co-operative inquiry. While watching and learning from the more-than-human world informs permaculture, the craft then imposes entirely human-conceived designs upon Land”.
Thanks for your inspiring work.
Thank you for your continued support and comments that challenge me to go deeper into my assumptions. Regarding permaculture, of course, humans and all beings change their environment every day simply via interaction. I am curious to discover how Indigenous cultures have historically worked with Land for subsistence and what any resultant changes looked like. I am aware that North American Indigenous peoples, for example, engaged in versions of food forestry and wild tending, caring for plants and animals they viewed as beneficial partners, while selectively controlling others. You would probably not be surprised that there is not an abundance of research on this topic.