I am reading Braiding Sweet Grass by Robin Wall Kimmerer about how the native North Americans lived in harmony with plants and animals in their environment. She begins with a creation story told by indigenous people. Skywoman fell ‘like a maple seed, pirouetting on an autumn breeze’. As she looked down into a watery darkness, many eyes were watching her from below. Those eyes belonged to the animals and birds already living on earth- geese, loons, otters, swans, beavers and all sorts of fish. Geese wings aided her flight to earth and she settled on the dome shell of a turtle. Skywoman brought with her, twins, and seeds from the Tree of Life so that the earth, which was created with the help of animals, wild grasses, trees and plants began to grow. That first human mother listened to the animals and the plants and learned how to create a habitable earth.

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Sweetgrass- image taken from Wikipedia

This wasn’t the creation story I was brought up with. I understood that humans were in charge. After God created the natural world out of darkness, He made Man who had power over the other animals, plants and trees. In the second creation story, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden because of their disobedience- perhaps a prophecy of what we are doing to the natural world.

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The Garden of Earthly Delights- Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450-1516)

The climate crisis is drawing our attention to the disconnection between the way we live and the loss of so many species of trees, plants and animals. Since the industrial revolution, we have made improvements to our short time on earth. Who doesn’t celebrate medical advances, the opportunity for some to travel all over the world, the miracle of computers, space travel and the rest? Yet,  Robin Wall Kimmerer shows that native North Americans could show us a trick or two.

I have largely lived in towns. Green spaces exist but they lack the grandeur of the countryside. Trees are stunted. Species of birds, plants and trees are lost almost without our noticing. For many in towns, living conditions are harsh. High rise flats, crowded housing estates, heavy traffic all take a toll on the quality of mental and physical health.

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Holly on Upper Holly Walk, Leamington Spa

Kimmerer explains that in North America, over fishing caused the loss of salmon. In 1976 the U.S. Forest Service and partner organisations conducted a series of scientific experiments to restore the Salmon River estuary  to its former route. Plants, insects and birds which were thought to be extinct, returned. They re-created, bit by bit, the environment which would encourage the return of the salmon. And when they do, a Thanksgiving ceremony will be held, just like that celebrated by native peoples.

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Salmon Jumping- from Wikipedia, photographer not known

‘The dance of renewal, the dance that made the world, was always danced here at the edge of things, on the brink, on the foggy coast.’ Ursula K Le Guin

 

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