Here among the trees it’s difficult to differentiate between strength and power. But this is a good place to observe from: my human experience of both.
In people terms, it’s easier to see: that man has great power but uses up the strength of those around him and wields it abusively; this woman is strong in her personal power to withstand abuse, and does not abuse in return, etc. You can switch the genders if you like, it certainly works both ways.
Humans most often connect power with money, and we have a cultural belief – a rule of thumb even – in the West that the person with the most money/power will become corrupt. I’m not sure that’s true across the board, but certainly it seems to be playing out alarmingly, right now.
I see nothing that resonates with that here in the forest by the shore. The power here is enormous and palpable, but always collaborative: that tree is the oldest and strongest; she is powerful in her support and shelter of the younger trees. Everywhere I look, here, there is integrity.
Wisdom, here, is easy to mistake for beauty: the long arcing reach of a branch, the new growth out of a fallen but still living trunk, the tiny white mushrooms among the giant orange ones. The oldest trees and rocks seem wisest, but not in the way we would measure wisdom in human terms. Here it is the way everything is connected, intertwined, mutually supportive – an active web of old, shared wisdom.
Humans are complex in a different way than this ecosystem is, as a rule. We inevitably distort the natural system that has endured for millennia, perceiving it through the myopic lens of our little speck in time. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes are measured according to their potential and actual effect on human populations, since this is the measurement we can most easily relate to.
There are other ways to measure the effect of crisis, catastrophe, trauma. I’m curious about these, since I am the only one of my species, and by far the least important [useful? connected?] living thing in the fabric of here.
I remember reading Claude Levi-Strauss in my third year Antho course. It was the early ’80s, and although indigenous studies existed then, their blessedly corrective influence had not made it to my University (tho my marvellous Woman Professor of strong opinion did ask us to consider the ethics of Mr. Levi-Strauss’ methods). What I learned in that elective course was about the early white, male dominated colonist mode of observation:
go to the remote place, take notes, find samples (people, artifacts, photographs), bring them home to Europe, write about them, pronounce yourself an expert.
His 2009 obituary is here – an excellent, informative read.
In the light of contemporary understanding and my own experience here this summer, I might describe Mr Levi-Strauss’ approach this way:
Bring your preconceived theories and embedded european belief systems to a remote, unfamiliar place. Using those as a lens, forage for information and samples from the field that fit your theory, not worrying too much about consent or effect, since you’re doing this for the good of Mankind, which isn’t here in this place. Bring notes and samples home to Europe, write and teach from them, accept the acknowledgement of your peers and the public as a leading expert.
Do not ever admit that you are using other people and their cultural belief systems to better understand your own. That your lack of awareness or acknowledgement of this agenda is dishonourable and disrespectful to all concerned. That taking from them, without deep mutual understanding and full consent is an act of abuse and entitlement.
I think of what indigenous means, and find myself comfortable, today, with this loose definition:
Here before me.
Most mornings, the Crows wake up the world along the shore. Spreading news where news is needed, standing watch. I’m learning to distinguish their voices, begin to hear vocabulary, urgency or its lack, which voice has seniority, which voices are learning.
The tone of a crow’s question. Her statements.
A few mornings ago they came here, to tell me something I think. Of course I didn’t understand.
There is no question whatsoever that I arrived with preconceived theories and embedded belief systems, just under two months ago. Without knowing it, I came also with an unhealthy dose of ptsd, stored up from the past fifteen years. We all have this; I just brought mine here where it soon became as obvious as an oil spill.
As the trees and the lake patiently heal my fractures and behavioural maladjustments, I also come into closer alignment with an older, unbroken self. I become more aware, more collaborative, as I learn the way of things around me, the deeper rhythms beyond what I perceive with my quick, trained, authoritative human eye. The integrity of this place sends me back inward again and again, to measure and assess my own.
I’m more conscious of the way I walk through and in, how I am always in relation to what is around me. How every choice I make affects and changes what is here. I take more care to acknowledge this, and choose wisely.
This makes me feel better about taking photographs for painting and writing reference in the winter. For use in this blog which I fully acknowledge is written, mostly, for humans.
5am. Making peace.