We teach the next generations
through our lived example
how to care for the earth
and all our relations
We’re ever creating the world
our children and grandchildren will inherit
across all of earth’s imaginary boundaries
and within diverse fictive nations
The question to consider
is what we want that world to be
Do we teach children to care,
cooperate, and conserve?
Or do we teach them to compete,
conquer, and consume?
The answers matter profoundly
but we need to remember
awareness can’t be imposed
It can only be encouraged
through living examples
that offer another kind of education
opening up new possibilities
that demonstrate the value
of compassionate contemplation
A lesson from an “Inchworm”
Sometimes it feels futile and foolish to work on creating healthy gardens on a city lot that has long been neglected. Factories just to the east churn out foul-smelling toxic fumes. My neighbor on one side has spent more than a decade burying garbage along the fence-line. Lately, the garbage has merely been left exposed, joined by plastic toys his children abandon when their interest wanes.
I have tried to engage in reasoned conversations and offered to help create a healthy landscaped transition. My words have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps suggestions from an Ojibwe grandmother (you know, a triple whammy – age, gender, and ancestry) even exacerbated his unwillingness to consider alternatives. The experience has taught me how profoundly cultures and life experiences affect our ability to discern how our everyday choices affect what our children learn and the health of the environments they will inherit.
I’ve been told it’s a matter of perspective. Some prefer landfills that will someday look like manicured lawns despite the toxic or dangerous things that are hidden from sight, while others prefer healthy gardens.
May 31, 2014
May 23, 2018
I still wonder, though, how someone who claims to love children doesn’t seem to realize his actions are destroying a child’s garden.
July 3, 2015 – My granddaughter standing next to the garden she helped create.
May 23, 2018 – Damage control in process as the wooden divide grows ever higher to protect my granddaughter’s garden from the growing pile of refuse (including piles of dog feces).
Reflections during My Hiatus from Blogging – May 19, 2018
Unpredictable spring with two constants that keep me busy gardens and a manuscript in process
Landscaping gardens regardless of weather one day sweating, the next day shivering and yet on another, grateful for heavy workboots that keep me grounded despite fierce gusty winds hauling logs, branches, and new soil planting the first of the seeds, new bushes, and flowers watering in these days of drought
It’s hard physical work that gives me time to listen deeply for bird song and wind chimes to listen intently for deeper truths to revise the beginning of the story I began more than two years ago
I ponder how one can touch hearts and raise awareness about the need to consider the importance of what can be learned about human possibilities from different cultural perspectives that understand and honor our inextricable interdependence with nature and each other I wonder how one can inspire collective efforts to heal the legacy of a brutal homogenizing history of colonial oppression with written words alone
Listening deeply for inklings of answers kneeling on the earth hands in the soil thoughts and feelings not easily translated into words
I think about my grandmother imagining what it was like to grow up in an era when the last of the great pine forests fell victim to illusions of “progress” when her people were herded onto the least desirable land “reserved” just for them When Indigenous children were captured and lost to abusive institutions under the colonial guise of civilizing the children of savages
Reflections and My Grandmother Part I – May 11, 2018
When beginning the story of my research about Ojibwe child welfare, I made a decision to be as honest as possible about my experiences and findings. Yet, I changed the name of the researcher who is telling the story. Initially I thought it was purely to protect the identities of the people who shared their memories and lives with me. Choosing among all the possible fictive names for the researcher, though, felt at odds with the goal of presenting a truthful account that honored people’s authentic voices.
Ultimately, I chose to refer to the younger version of myself recorded in my fieldnotes by my maternal grandmother’s name, Agnes Sero. I didn’t realize then how much alike we were and how profoundly the differing circumstances of our births affected our lives.
When it came time to edit and revise the very long manuscript that resulted, though, I once again wondered about this choice. Why did I really give my grandmother’s name to the character of my younger self? For the most part, she was a stranger to me. My mother only shared parts of her mother’s story. Agnes was 17 years old when my mother was born, still a child herself. At two weeks old, Agnes gave her first child to her older sister, Anna, to raise.
Agnes’ life wasn’t easy. Her father worked as a lumber jack in the northwoods. Growing up in lumber camps would have been challenging for a beautiful young girl like Agnes, especially without the protection of a community and traditions to guide her path…
Reflections about my Grandmother Part II – May 18, 2018
There is a haunting out-of-focus photo of my grandmother as a teenager nestled in a birch tree. The tree stands alone amid a neighborhood of hard-packed scraggly grass-covered earth and newly constructed wooden frame houses. The tall pines that once provided a sheltering home for the Ojibwe people were, by then, only memories that would one day be passed down in stories through the generations.
I sometimes wonder what my grandmother’s childhood was like as a daughter of a lumberjack who was forced by economic and political circumstances to cut down the last of the great pine and hemlock forests in Ojibwe ceded territory. The timber my great grandfather harvested helped build cities to house the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals streaming from Europe every year.
My grandmother was harvested, too, by the settlers who now claimed the land as their own to spend some of her childhood years in a euphemistically named institution, an “Indian boarding school.” There, under the guise of civilizing the children of savages, she was stripped of the relationships, stories and language that gave meaning to life for Ojibwe people just as the earth was stripped of abundant forests that once provided their food, shelter, and a sense of kinship with nature.
To me, as a child, my grandmother’s life seemed as barren as the clear cut that was left behind. She was only 17 when my mother was born. My mother was given to my grandmother’s older sister to raise on the reservation pictured in the photo. By the time I spent my twelfth summer on the reservation with my grandmother, she was a lonely, angry, alcoholic.
I look back on her life with deep sadness and compassion. I am awed that she found the strength to survive despite so many difficulties and losses. And I am grateful to the child she gave away, my mother, for raising me to be proud of the Ojibwe heritage that brought both of them so much suffering and internalized shame. Once again, I vow to try my best to honor their legacy in my humble account of Ojibwe child welfare in hopes that future generations will not suffer the cruelty and discrimination that they both had to survive.
Approach the art of creating
as a sacred ceremony
emerging from spirit
as a path
for honoring and celebrating life
knowing deep in our hearts
Loving thoughts will vibrate
in whatever we create
long after we are gone
as the essence of light and new possibilities
like the scent of rain and roses
and the peace of sun-kissed pine
blessing all those who follow
Endings are never easy for me. They signal times of transition. Yet, as I walked to my car Saturday after my last class of the semester, I had a sudden realization. Regardless of my circumstances, I have always found ways to express creativity. The subjects and media changed based on what was close at hand. Sewing, singing, drawing, studying pond-life under my microscope, making pottery, hooking rugs, tying macramé art, knitting, gardening. Learning about life and crafting useful things that were colorful and well-made proved to be a form of peaceful meditation. I could daydream and reflect. My spirit needed to express creativity. It gave me a quiet space to think and time to breathe love into being.
Under different conditions, I worked with people, developing innovative programs and experimenting with different ways of supervising staff, evaluating programs, conducting research, and teaching.
Creating living art, if you will, is like building sand castles that dissolve in the waves of time. Gaining fame and fortune was never the goal. The only legacies my “art” left were the interventions and projects others believed they had created (and in reality, they were essential and made it possible) and the memories for me of what had been possible to create in the past.
During times of transition, I have learned to ask myself a crucial question. Why not create again, and again, in each new now with whatever opportunities and media are available? There are grandchildren to love, gardens to revitalize, and endless issues to ponder and thoughtfully address in creative ways.
The privilege to dream of possibilities is accompanied by the responsibility to work toward their realization. I don’t claim it’s an easy choice. I have no power to change others who don’t seem to be able to see and honor the wonder and beauty of life. Despite the deep sorrow that accompanies witnessing disrespect and destruction and the seeming futility of giving voice to the art of change, I still believe simple caring actions matter. I’m just not sure what form that will take for me in the coming days…
The long-awaited spring is finally here
Kneeling on earth, hands in the dirt
tending resting gardens with love
not knowing what has survived winter
or what will grow once planted
Blissfully unaware in the north wind
that disaster struck just across the river
I’ve grown accustomed to dark smokestack clouds
billowing toxic fumes from factories to the east
I’ve learned not to breathe deeply
when the wind blows from the east
Those to the south were not so lucky yesterday
Black toxic towers rose and blew south
when the oil refinery exploded and caught fire
Though the disaster was just a few miles away
no warning sirens sounded in my neighborhood
I guess the city saves those for periodic tests
People on this side of the river went on with their lives
not knowing the city of Superior shut down schools
or that a “shelter in place” order for my neighborhood
was issued for this morning when the wind
was due to shift and blow from the east
I think of people in Syria, Palestine, and Puerto Rico,
Houston, Florida, and San Bernadino
Lives lost and homes destroyed with little warning
yet we live unaware of disasters waiting to happen
hoping that we won’t be downwind when they do
Addressing the threat is not a simple undertaking
Assigning blame and expecting others to fix this
are not constructive responses to complex predicaments
Perhaps this is a topic for students and all of us to explore
How can we bring communities together to dialogue?
To listen respectfully to diverse perspectives,
negotiate a shared future vision, and find common ground
that inspires wise collective action?
A moment of contemplation
watching a lone seagull soar silently
wings shimmering in the morning sun
the call of a solitary song bird
barely audible as busy traffic whirs by
This morning, Ojibwe wisdom comes to mind
“Be moderate in all things –
“watch, listen and consider
“your deeds will be prudent”
act only when the time is right
After a long cold dark winter
the days are warm and sunny
calling me outside to prepare gardens
neglected last summer and fall
when the weight of the world was too heavy
Balancing action and contemplation
is an ever-challenging choice
when it’s so easy to lose oneself
with distractions to escape constant noise
or engage in purposeless busyness
If we’re lucky our lives will be blessed
by those whose sparkling sprits
light up the room when they enter
reminding us we’re all connected
indispensable parts of the tree of life
The Tree of Life, a treasured gift from a former student
This post was inspired by JC, one of the kindest people I have been honored to work with during my career. She is the most tenaciously committed person I have ever encountered when it comes to learning, discovering, and applying liberatory praxis principles (knowledge-guided action). This is my way of expressing my deep gratitude to her for her kindness and for sharing her compassion and light with all those whom she encounters.
Spring finally arrived on April 19, 2018
here in the northland of the United States
It was the first day since October 23, 2017
when mercury rose above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C)
warmly greeting awakening life
with sunshine and bird song
Elsewhere a world gone mad is focused on war First responders traveled to Mercury, Nevada
to learn how to deal with a nuclear attack
Odd that we don’t require leaders to know
how to negotiate conflict peacefully
for the sake of our shared world and all we hold dear
Given the sorry state of our ignorance about nature’s lessons
and the art of building inclusive peaceful communities
because our focus has been indoctrinating generations
to compete, even kill, based on belief in social Darwinism –
the mythic notion that only the best and most “fit” survive –
it’s doubtful many of us would be here
to greet the aftermath of a needless nuclear winter
I apologize for the rather bleak message. It’s what came though me today. The text I am rereading to prepare for my class tomorrow makes me feel compelled to share crucial information about reality. Geoffrey Bellman (2001) points out that in order to work together toward a better future, we need to have a common understanding of the reality where we’re starting.
I also apologize for being so slow visiting blogs and responding to comments. I am still staring at a tiny laptop screen and have been saving my eyes in order to read student assignments.
Geoffrey M. Bellman (2001). Getting things done when you are not in charge. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.