100 Days – Rewilding Land and Self

100 Days – Rewilding Land and Self

Tuesday marked 100 days of rewilding. For the past six weeks or so, writing duties nagged at the back of my mind – I should be writing a blog post and working on dissertation research – but the draw of the outdoors proved irresistible. As the world started to awaken and burst forth at Beltane with the exuberance of late spring, a primal urge to dig in dirt, plant seeds, and generally spend most waking hours outside overtook all my best scholarly intentions. I wonder if my rewilding psyche, withdrawing from an unhealthy addiction to electronic stimulus and other continuous distractions, now yearns to align more naturally with seasonal cycles. The Birds and Squirrels reported that late spring and early summer demand time for doing. Spending each day within the flesh of my body’s physicality, as I worked with more-than-human co-researchers to rewild the Land, felt like an imperative, not to be ignored. So, I went with it. As the wheel of the year turns again, and we enter the long, warm days past the Summer Solstice, the heat of midday once again drives me indoors. The computer and the research now seem approachable. The weeds, unlike the planting of seeds, can wait. Urgency fades, and I find myself moving again towards writing. Where to begin?

Changes occur within and without. A view of branches and sky, once filled with only the anticipation of budding trees, now dazzles with leafy green ebullience. Left to their own devices, the Land wildly designs, with a broad palette of both desirable and undesirable species (from a human perspective). In addition to the Goldenrod Solidago spp., Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis, Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Joe Pye Eupatorium fistulosum, and other native Plants; non-natives, such as Tree of Heaven (ToH) Ailanthus altissima (or Hell, as I have come to think of it) and Asian Bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus, threaten to entirely subsume some areas.

Bittersweet strangles and kills the hosts it twines itself around, and ToH is allelopathic, killing competing plants via chemical weapons produced in leaves and roots. If I recognize the agency of Bittersweet and ToH, and their right to exist, then how can I justify killing them? I have decided to subscribe to both the North American Indigenous imperative to honor all beings (Benton-Banai, 1988) and to Aldo Leopold’s axiology that determines an action to be ethical when it supports, protects, and enhances the natural world (including humans) (Leopold, 1949). At a recent basket weaving workshop at the Firefly Gathering, taught by Nancy Basket (a Cherokee elder), she expressed the view that all Plants (and all beings) have a purpose. She urged us to rethink our definitions and preconceptions of “invasive” species and view them instead as abundant producers, just begging to be put to work. Our lives depend on deaths of others, be they Plants or Animals, every day, but those deaths can be purposeful and honored (Kimmerer, 2013). Bittersweet seems to lend themself nicely to weaving of all kinds. I am still trying to discover how ToH can be useful.

The Critter population also booms. The former lawn, now a promising Meadow, reaches waist-high and shelters families of Rabbits, Turkeys, and Groundhogs. Indigo Bunting, Brown Thrasher and Flicker, all newcomers to the Land, also join the fray. The Tomatoes and Three Sisters (that haven’t been decimated by Groundhogs) set fruit, bean, and cob, promising an abundant harvest soon, and the permaculture guilds I developed along borders (with significant help from friend and worker extraordinaire Kimberly) establish themselves and settle into their new, permanent, perennial homes.   

I am changing too. After two years of living encumbered by long covid, my body now remembers its strength, agility, and overall sense of well-being. I have lost 13 pounds (without trying to do so), and my doctor says she wishes all her patients had my blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Psychologically, however, the baseline resists change. Despite feeling less anxious, I find my usual neuroses and triggers persist. To ripen into my full wildness, I must also recover and embrace the aspects of my psyche living in the shadows of the dominant worldview and dissociated via childhood traumas and cultural programming. Bill Plotkin (2013) says that in order to heal the planet, humans must first heal themselves. Therefore, in the interest of being fully available for the work that calls me in the world, I decided to take the plunge into the hidden psychological wilderness of my unconscious mind, and with the arrival of the Super Flower Blood Moon, I brewed myself a strong decoction of Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris, an Herb known to stimulate powerful and lucid dreams, and fell asleep under the eclipsed Moon. 

My partner of 34 years, Simon, and I are looking for a house to live in. I want to build a secluded place in the Woods, but he informs me that he has already agreed to buy a house in a neighborhood with a group of friends. The neighborhood, Leeward, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, is a trendy location for an elite few. I cringe at the thought but nevertheless agree to give it a go.

 The house borders the Ocean, and when I step outside, I discover the Sea lapping at the house’s foundation. I say to Simon, “We can’t live here! If it looks like this on a calm day, what is going to happen with global Sea rise or a Tropical Cyclone?” Fortunately, he agrees with me, and we inform our friend that we cannot go through with the deal. Our friend (who is not this way in real life) furiously starts lambasting me, accusing me of spreading deliberately alarming climate change “conspiracy” theories and telling Simon how stupid he is to listen to me and miss out on such an excellent investment opportunity. Persuading our friend of the risk inherent in building homes on the Ocean’s doorstep is futile. His financial projections outweigh any climate reality.

 Simon and I find another place to stay temporarily in a communal home shared with several other people. While I am unloading my few belongings into a closet, Cindy Crawford (supermodel) appears wearing nothing but a diaper. She says, “I thought I heard someone down here, so I just threw on the first thing I could find.”

 I went to sleep with the mysteries of the hidden world on my mind and upon awaking, initially interpreted my dream as a revelation about how Western culture relegates environmental truths and ecological imperatives to the shadows, focusing instead on profit margins and investment opportunities while the world burns, forests are razed, and a rising ocean threatens to subsume us. Cindy Crawford, a symbolic pinnacle of the culture’s fascination with superficial appearances, wears a diaper, suggestively covering her root and sacral chakras, representing early childhood and adolescent development and rootedness and belonging, respectively. The world’s major religions and myriad Indigenous cultures teach that practicing reciprocity, kindness, and generosity represents the pinnacle of human spiritual development. In contrast, Western culture rewards taking and hoarding of “resources,” selfishness, and “looking out for number one,” immature impulses arising from feelings of insecurity (root chakra) and fractured notions of belonging (sacral chakra).  

I thought my dream reflected the shadows of the dominant culture; however, being aware that dreams more often than not reveal truths from within oneself (Plotkin, 2013; Zadra & Stickgold, 2021), I committed to keeping my mind open to other possibilities. A few weeks later, on the Summer Solstice, I was outside offering water to some Plant co-researchers and ran into my human neighbor who was also watering. “What are you growing?” I asked. “Nandina” (Nandina domestica – an invasive ornamental floral species that is toxic to Birds) she replied. “While I have you here,” she added, “I was wondering if I could cut down that Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) in your yard. It’s spreading all over my property.” After explaining Virginia Creeper’s native status and usefulness to Wildlife, including Birds, Opossums, and Racoons, I said “sure” and then proceeding to tell her how to do it, thereby violating every tenet of my rewilding project. Later, an irate Bumblebee Bombus spp. accosted me and stung me three times. I didn’t even know Bumblebees could sting, given their typical docile nature.

 As I went inside to nurse my stings and sit with my own confusing behavior, I had a revelation. Although my neighbor, with her Virginia Creeper-free lawn and non-native, Bird-killing flora, could be accused of subscribing to ecologically unsound cultural landscaping norms, I crumbled at the first human challenge to the rewilding project. Although I think of myself as an independent outsider, Virginia Creeper and Bumblebee showed me that deep within my psychic shadows, my unconscious insecurity and need for tribal acceptance can overrule even my most strongly held values. I wrote my neighbor a note and told her I had changed my mind. My more-than-human co-researchers showed me the path of humility. Despite my self-aggrandizing feelings (courtesy of a privileged elite education) of ecological superiority, I need to start from the root – the most basic, infantile, and utterly human parts of myself – and work my way towards wildness from there. I am an experienced and knowledgeable environmental scientist and compassionate rewilder, but I am Cindy Crawford in a diaper too.






Benton-Banai, E. (1988). The Mishomis Book: The voice of the Ojibway: University of Minnesota Press.

Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Milkweed Editions.

Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There: Oxford University Press.

Plotkin, B. (2013). Wild Mind: A field guide to the human psyche: New World Library.

Zadra, A., & Stickgold, R. (2021). When Brains Dream: Exploring the science and mystery of sleep: Norton.


Reflections on Week Three – Lessons from “Native Science” and Black Locust

Reflections on Week Three – Lessons from “Native Science” and Black Locust

In the specter of global ecological cataclysm, Bill Plotkin (2013) implores  humans to remember our true, ecological natures. Although Western philosophical thought attempts to firmly establish humans as exceptional among and separate from the wild world, “we, too, are expressions of nature’s qualities, patterns, and motifs…” (p. 2). Like all Earthlings, the human species arose from within the cauldron of evolutionary alchemy, and we are connected and related, through billions of years of co-creation, to every other being on Earth. We did not spring forth from a void fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s head. Instead, “The ways we think, feel, perceive, imagine, and act have arisen in attunement to the rhythms of the day and the turning of the seasons and in intimate relationship with myriad other life-forms and forces” (p. 7).

Because of the radical interconnectivity of all beings within the cosmos, the myriad Anthropocene crises, created within the delusion of human exceptionalism, cannot be resolved until the realities of universal interdependence are remembered and embraced, not only practically in the real world, but also within research processes. Western environmental scientific culture requires “objective” analysis, detached from the subjects one is studying, and elevating one form of knowing, rational thought, above all others.  The idea of “objectivity” also suffers from a core fallacy. As Gregory Cajete (2004) observes, “Any attempt to explain the story of the cosmos is also metaphysical, as the method of research always stems from a cultural orientation, a paradigm of thinking that has a history in some particular tradition. Therefore, there can be no such thing as a fully objective story of the universe” (p. 46).

Despite my personal opinions and values, as an environmental scientist specializing in environmental impact assessment, I have necessarily assumed the role of “objective” researcher for my work. I was quickly disillusioned as a budding young scientist, when I was chastised by mentors and peers for any displays of emotional attachment to my research subjects, which were seen as a feminine sentimentality that was definitely “unprofessional.” Proving I could be as detached and emotionless as any man, I embraced the cool rationality of mathematical equations and statistical analyses, developing models to assess “ecosystem services” and “biodiversity values” that not only reduced living beings to utilitarian values but also almost removed the researcher from analyses entirely, thereby ensuring “objectivity.” Ironically, rather than reducing environmental impact, the worldview that values more-than-humans based on their benefits to humans actually fosters the destruction of ecological integrity, by supporting the delusion that humans can weigh costs and benefits and terraform the living world accordingly to suit their individual purposes without any consequences.

Despite my attempts at dissociation, engaging with more-than-human research subjects, who more than likely would end up destroyed or “managed” beyond recognition, perpetually traumatized me. My doctor recommended antidepressants for chronic depression, and I came to realize that most of my colleagues suffered from the same affliction. Ironically, while the scientific orthodoxy is largely dismissive of emotional standpoints, which are seen as “irrational,” the economic and political structures that underpin environmental destruction are simultaneously held as “rational” (Kent & Brondo, 2020). Aldo Leopold observed that “one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds” (Leopold, 1953, as quoted in Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018, p. 276). Indeed, the lack of safe space within the orthodox community to express emotional distress has been traced to chronic and acute emotional responses in affected persons, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, increased risk of suicide, disempowerment, hopelessness, increased drug and alcohol abuse, and psychosis (Clayton, 2018; Cunsolo et al., 2020; Marshall et al., 2019; Walker, Leviston, Price, & Devine-Wright, 2015).

Shaming, Ignoring, or medicating away these symptoms does not address the core problem. Cajete (2004), who explains the philosophical basis of Native Science, says, “We cannot help but participate with the world. Whether we acknowledge and are creatively open to the perceptions that will result, or remain oblivious to its influence and creative possibilities toward deeper understanding, is our decision” (p. 50). In sharp contrast to Western science, Native science embraces all forms of knowing and perception, including the metaphoric mind:


Connected to the creative center of nature, the metaphoric mind has none of the limiting conditioning of the cultural order. Its processing is natural and instinctive; it perceives itself as part of the natural order, a part of the earth mind, inclusive and expansive in its processing of experience and knowledge. It invented the rational mind, and the rational mind in turn invented language, the written word, abstraction, and eventually the disposition to control nature rather than to be of nature. But this propensity of the rational mind also leads to the development of anthropocentric philosophy and of a science that would legitimize the oppression of nature, its elder brother… (Cajete, 2004, p. 51)


With this in mind, during week three of the year of rewilding, I committed to spending more time outside with co-researchers, trying to quiet what my rational mind thinks it knows in an effort to foster the integral metaphoric mind that knows how to observe, listen, and participate differently (Heddon, 2017; Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018; Plumwood, 2002).

In my meanderings through the wooded areas of the Land, I meet with an old Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia tree. Although the scientific literature suggests that Black Locust is a medium-sized (40-60 feet tall and 12 to 30 inches in diameter) and relatively short-lived (approximately 90 years) species, this Individual lies beyond these limits and is in excess of 100 sprawling feet in height and a meter in diameter. I cannot fathom their age, and growth factor charts for popular forestry species offer no clues.

I decide to sit with them for a while. I introduce myself and present Tea and Tobacco as offerings. I lament that I do not know their true Indigenous name, as I have become aware that English, a colonizing language that carries on the winds of destruction, may be traumatizing to more-than-humans (Berry, 2019). Instead, I chant the Indigenous name for this region, hoping to convey my sincere desire for reparation.

As I sit with the old sentinel and look around, I see only human destructiveness. They are surrounded everywhere by “alien invasive species” – Wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius, Multiflora Rose Rosa multiflora, Asian Bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus, Privet Ligustrum spp., and Autumn Olive Elaeagnus umbellata. I am overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of ridding this place of colonizers. The familiar telltale clouds creep into my mind, manifesting as a sense of hopelessness. The pain becomes overwhelming. How can I possibly fix this?

I notice an inviting little spot in the cool leaves, mosses, and detritus near the Tree’s trunk, and I curl up there to indulge in a little crying. As I am lying there, staring off into the tangled branches of the mostly non-native underbrush, feeling sorry for myself, I cannot escape the ebullient songs of a nearby Mockingbird. Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and others chime in. How can they be so joyful in this broken world with so many odds so clearly stacked against them? Who am I to sit here coddling my misery while the world sings? And then it hits me. A lifetime of conditioning does not fall away easily. How is my compulsion to “fix” this Land any different from any other Western notions of controlling “Nature”? And isn’t such an anthropocentric idea actually insulting to a sentient world perfectly capable and in the process of healing itself? The discovery of my residual, arrogant, human exceptionalism stuns me. Almost simultaneously a Blue Jay, a Tufted Titmouse, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker all alight in the branches of the Tree above my head and stare down at me, cocking their heads from side to side with curiosity, and I know in that moment that the best I can offer is to at least do no more harm.

As I sit with Black Locust’s revelations this week, I realize that my self-flagellation regarding my propensity for human arrogance still carries the taint of false separation. I and all humans are, after all, part of this erotic fray, as Cajete observes, whether we realize it or not. Rather than seeking to control, I can participate. I can sing songs for and with the beloved beings with whom I am sharing space. With my opposable thumbs, I can plant seeds and hope for the future. I can add to the collective appreciation for beauty, and as an ecologist, I can also use my brain to offer appropriate support to all the Land’s residents. Earth needs humans to remember how to be humans and to share our unique gifts with the world.




Berry, G. (2019). Speaking English with Country: Can the animate world hear us? Can we hear it? Pan: Philosophy, Activism, Nature, 14, 24-29.

Cajete, G. (2004). Philosophy of native science. American Indian thought, 45-57.

Clayton, S. (2018). Mental health risk and resilience among climate scientists. Nature Climate Change, 8(4), 260-261.

Cunsolo, A., & Ellis, N. R. (2018). Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Climate Change, 8(4), 275.

Cunsolo, A., Harper, S. L., Minor, K., Hayes, K., Williams, K. G., & Howard, C. (2020). Ecological grief and anxiety: the start of a healthy response to climate change? The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(7), e261-e263.

Heddon, D. (2017). Con-versing: listening, speaking, turning. In M. Bastian, O. Jones, N. Moore, & E. Roe (Eds.), participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds (pp. 192-208): Routledge.

Kent, S., & Brondo, K. V. (2020). “Years Ago the Crabs Was so Plenty”: Anthropology’s Role in Ecological Grieving and Conservation Work. Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 42(1), 16-24. doi:10.1111/cuag.12235

Marshall, N., Adger, W. N., Benham, C., Brown, K., Curnock, M. I., Gurney, G. G., . . . Thiault, L. (2019). Reef Grief: investigating the relationship between place meanings and place change on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Sustainability Science, 14(3), 579-587.

Noorani, T., & Brigstocke, J. (2018). More-than-human participatory research: University of Bristol/AHRC Connected Communities Programme.

Plotkin, B. (2013). Wild Mind: A field guide to the human psyche: New World Library.

Plumwood, V. (2002). Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason: Routledge.

Walker, I., Leviston, Z., Price, J., & Devine-Wright, P. (2015). Responses to a worsening environment: relative deprivation mediates between place attachments and behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45(7), 833-846.



Throughout this website, I will use capital letters for the names of more-than-humans to signal their personhood.