Once upon a time on New Year's Day
Bearing witness

The language of the earth

Magpie by Catherine Hyde

From "Speaking of Nature" by biologist, educator and author Robin Wall Kimmerer, of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation:

Running hare by Catherine Hyde"I have had the privilege of spending my life kneeling before plants. As a plant scientist, sometimes I am collecting data. As an indigenous plant woman, sometimes I am gathering medicine. These two roles offer a sharp contrast in ways of thinking, but I am always in awe, and always in relationship. In both cases the plants provide for me, teach me, and inspire me. When I write as a scientist, I must say, 'An 8 cm root was extracted from the soil,' as if the leafy beings were objects, and, for that matter, as if I were too. Scientific writing prefers passive voice to subject pronouns of any kind. And yet its technical language, which is designed to be highly accurate, obscures the greater truth.

"Writing as an indigenous plant woman I might say, 'My plant relatives have shared healing knowledge with me and given me a root medicine.' Instead of ignoring our mutual relationship, I celebrate it. Yet English grammar demands that I refer to my esteemed healer as it, not as a respected teacher, as all plants are understood to be in Potawatomi. That has always made me uncomfortable. I want a word for beingness. Can we unlearn the language of objectification and throw off colonized thought? Can we make a new world with new words?

Hare in September by Catherine Hyde

Running hare by Catherine Hyde"Inspired by the grammar of animacy in Potawatomi that feels so right and true, I’ve been searching for a new expression that could be slipped into the English language in place of it when we are speaking of living beings. Mumbling to myself through the woods and fields, I’ve tried many different words, hoping that one would sound right to my leafy or feathered companions. There was one that kept rising through my musings. So I sought the counsel of my elder and language guide, Stewart King, and explained my purpose in seeking a word to instill animacy in English grammar, to heal disrespect. He rightly cautioned that 'our language holds no responsibility to heal the society that sought to exterminate it.' With deep respect for his response, I thought also of how the teachings of our traditional wisdom might one day be needed as medicine for a broken world. So I asked him if there was a word in our language that captured the simple but miraculous state of just being. And of course there is. 'Aakibmaadiziiwin,' he said, 'means a being of the earth. '

Hare in October by Catherine Hyde

"I sighed with relief and gratitude for the existence of that word. However, those beautiful syllables would not slide easily into English to take the place of the pronoun it. But I wondered about that first sound, the one that came to me as I walked over the land. With full recognition and celebration of its Potawatomi roots, might we hear a new pronoun at the beginning of the word, from the 'aaki' part that means land? Ki to signify a being of the living earth. Not he or she, but ki. So that when the robin warbles on a summer morning, we can say, 'Ki is singing up the sun.' Ki runs through the branches on squirrel feet, ki howls at the moon, ki’s branches sway in the pine-scented breeze, all alive in our language as in our world.

Hare in November by Catherine Hyde

"We’ll need a plural form of course, to speak of these many beings with whom we share the planet. We don’t need to borrow from Potawatomi since --lo and behold -- we already have the perfect English word for them: kin. Kin are ripening in the fields; kin are nesting under the eaves; kin are flying south for the winter, come back soon. Our words can be an antidote to human exceptionalism, to unthinking exploitation, an antidote to loneliness, an opening to kinship....

September bird: the Owl by Catherine Hyde

"I have no illusions that we can suddenly change language and, with it, our worldview, but in fact English evolves all the time. We drop words we don’t need anymore and invent words that we do. The Oxford Children’s Dictionary notoriously dropped the words acorn and buttercup in favor of bandwidth and chatroom, but restored them after public pressure. I don’t think that we need words that distance us from nature; we need words that heal that relationship, that invite us into an inclusive worldview of personhood for all beings."

You can read Kimmerer's full essay online here, and listen to a short podcast in which she talks about it with Helen Whybrow here.

The Hare and the Moon by Catherine Hyde

The art today is from Catherine Hyde's new book, The Hare and the Moon, a gorgeous country almanac that follows a hare's journey through the landscape, seasons, and phases of the moon. Catherine pairs her paintings with folkloric information on the tree, flower, and bird associated with each month, rendered in poetic prose that echoes the mystic lyricism of her imagery.

This book is a treasure of mythic art.

Chough by Catherine Hyde

Oak by Catherine Hyde

Catherine trained at Central School of Art in London, and now lives and works in Cornwall. She has published four previous books (The Princess’ Blankets, Firebird, Little Evie in the Wild Wood, The Star Tree), as well as fine art prints and calendars, and has been exhibiting her work in galleries in London, Cornwall, and father afield for over thirty years.

“I am constantly attempting to convey the landscape in a state of suspension," she says, "in order to gain glimpses of its interconnectedness, its history and beauty. Within the images I use the archetypical hare, stag, owl and fish as emblems of wildness, fertility and permanence: their movements and journeys through the paintings act as vehicles that bind the elements and the seasons together."

Please visit the artist's website to see more of her exquisite work.

Hare in April by Catherine Hyde

Tilly and Catherine

The passage by Robin Wall Kimmerer is from "Speaking of Nature" (Orion Magazine, June 12,, 2017). The art and text by Catherine Hyde is from The Hare and the Moon: A Calendar of Paintings (Zephyr/Head of Zeus , 2019). All rights reserved by Kimmerer and Hyde.

Comments

These are lovly remined me of my child hood I often in in a day dreme star woolbe in a hollow room in our lockest tree there were two woindows out the one I would look out ther was a wight winged lion stanting on a rainbow only wnet ther a few times it was so real these painting remined me of this memory

was in a

For me, it is vital to heal our relationship with the earth, with nature, with our fellow beings, to recognize our relationship, with our words, with our actions, and with our hearts. I don't believe we can afford to see this as only an indigenous or Native American issue, as "colonization" and dismiss it as such. It affects ALL of us. Unless and until more of us can realize, reclaim, or actively proclaim our true family, we are in deep trouble. Our ancestry is not the issue, or shouldn't be. We're all in this together.

As an author of several natural history books, I know intimately that scientific insistence on the use of "it" especially when we can't know the gender of the creature we are attempting to describe. It's an editorial issue I choose to ignore, and refer to my fellow beings as he, or she, or cousin. Kin, as Kimmerer says. (I can't borrow "ki," not being Potawotami.)

And again, as Kimmerer says, "I don’t think that we need words that distance us from nature; we need words that heal that relationship, that invite us into an inclusive worldview of personhood for all beings." That's a start.

Cathy: The Lakota people have a saying, "Mitakue oyasin" which, roughly translated means, "We are All related." it's about the idea, though, not the words. It really doesn't matterif you're Native or a quantum physicist because the ideas are largely the same. It's funny how often we talk about Oneness and then (within that Oneness) try to claim separation, things we're 'not'. 🙂

I think 'ki' is a perfect word. In China, the understanding of the universal life force or energy that moves through everything is called 'chi'. In Japan it's knoen as 'ki'. 🌞

Hugs,
Mike.

https://www.wolfnowl.com/stories/mikes-stories/the-god-of-mike/

Mike, agreed, absolutely, and I don't know how many times I've said that to people. Words that separate us make me sad. We want to understand one another, we want to BE understood, we want to learn and we want to teach, we need to share the gentle, loving truths and the fierce committment...and try to drop the labels that separate us. Bridges, not fences.

And you're right, I'm well aware of chi, ki, or qi--my husband and I do qi gong, every day!

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