Ana has been gifted the opportunity to push her writing chops at her new job and is excited to share the process of writing her first professionally published piece. Ana’s co-workers help her to work through some of her writing challenges around structure and concise language by guiding her to use her strengths in writing to showcase her passion for the Earth and sustainability. A personal triumph, Ana shares a real story that weaves her vision for connecting people to nature and boosts her writing confidence.
Originally recorded on October 11, 2020.
I sat tucked beneath the tree, my head resting on the pillow of her fibrous bark. Absently, my fingers had been twisting and wrapping the aromatic leaves of the sagebrush, each crush igniting fragrant oils into the air. My eyes gazed out across the vast stark white lakebed of the Alvord Desert. The air had begun to cool as the sun migrated closer to the mountains edge preparing for the freezing starlit night. It was here on my very first solo camping trip that I began to contemplate what it mean to ‘belong’ and to question why I felt so inextricably disconnected and foreign sitting upon the Earth.
In times of trouble I am drawn to the plants. Over the past decade I had spent my life dedicating myself to the study, immersion, and teaching of plants and nature connection. I was attempting to bring some passion and interest back to children and adults who had grown up entirely disconnected from the deeper teachings of the natural world. The world however, didn’t seem to be ready for humans to remember this connection. I felt anger and frustration living in this society where collectively and routinely we are separate from our environment. A world that is fast paced, virtual, padded, and insulated from the natural processes and forces. A world where species are going extinct every minute and no one seems to be able to stop it.
I abruptly got up and faltered, my body reminding me I had been sitting in one position for the better part of an hour. I looked around me to the company I kept in that moment, the sagebrush community. Silver grey shrubs littered the landscape punctuated by the brilliant purple of the various lupines blooming in the late April evening. These plants, this community belonged to one another and they needed each other to keep the delicate balance of life in this harsh ecosystem. An emotion bubbled up, envy! How could I possibly be envious of these plants? I stood there as witness, a European transplant high on my existential crisis in a land where the ancient Burns Paiute people lived (and the Burns Paiute Tribe live today) as an integral part of this ecosystem. I didn’t feel integral. I felt alien, removed, invasive, caustic.
I wanted to cry and scream, throw my hands in the air and give up. It was in that moment that a sound had been penetrating my awareness, a screeching and calling. I stopped moving, instincts telling me to pay attention and look. My ears perked and noted the location of the calling birds. I crouched down all my senses alert, my feelings of despair forgotten. Pay attention! To the south the calling came from two black and white birds, long tailed and clearly agitated. The magpies were extremely unhappy about something and I was bound to find out what. I watched as they took turns flying up into a willow shrub then swooped down over sagebrush on the eastern side of the hill. Over and over they repeated the process but each time they flew over the sagebrush they moved further and further up the hill, as if following something. I quietly stalked closer, heart beating but breathing steady, moving at a pace that wouldn’t attract the alarming birds to my presence. Suddenly my peripheral vision caught movement, I focused in and noticed tan, brown, and white, moving quickly along the hill. As the creature came into view it showed itself as a large tailless mammal. A bobcat! She slinked quickly away from the birds, no longer able to hunt now that the magpies told everyone for at least a mile out of her presence.
I stood in awe. Gratitude welled up inside of me as I began to feel less separate, less of an invader. I felt the familiar tension in my abdomen as an epiphany began to take shape and as the tension released into an awakening, I understood how I belonged and how I and others could make a positive difference.
The solution was so obvious it was nearly invisible. I began to feel embarrassed that I was so caught up in my own head that I nearly missed an incredible opportunity – to see a bobcat in the wild. The magpies unbeknownst to them had alerted me to my awakening. They woke me from my reverie and made me sit up and pay attention. To become awakened simply means coming into awareness. These awakenings can be as incredible as seeing a wild animal up close or more subdued such as identifying a plant for the first time. Either way the results are the same; I saw something I never saw before and I am forever changed. For me awareness is a form of love. Author John Muir Laws describes love as: sustained compassionate attention. My love of plants, working with them, studying, harvesting, writing, being, eating, using medicine, are all ways that I connect to an individual plant in a sustained and compassionate way. However, I never would have taken that path if I had not had an initial awakening that led me to an awareness of something outside myself. My awakening to the plant world further led me to continuous awakenings of the natural world. I began to see plants, animals, rocks, bugs, the sky, all in a new way in a way one might look upon a lover or your child.
In my own experience, and hearing the countless experiences of my students over the years, I have found the more I allow myself to be aware of my environment, the more I feel a sense of belonging. And the more I belong, the more investment I have to protect, love, interact with, and be sustained by the natural world.
Perhaps you have noticed this as well, that as we deepen our relationships with plants, whether we garden, wildcraft, identify, make medicine, or enjoy the scent of a flower, we also deepen our connection to place and in turn our own sense of belonging.
It was this awakening that the magpies and bobcat gave me – an invaluable gift. Each moment we are allowed the gift of being awakened and we as humans are given the opportunity to see, connect with, and love our environment. And not just the environment as a whole, but the small intimate connections we make at any given moment. Imagine if we stopped and listened more often to the messages floating on the wind. If we are to have meaningful conservation for our Earth then it must be in relation with the land and all the inhabitants.
I walked back to my campsite next to the creek lined with newly leafing cottonwoods and willows. My heart was alight, the heavy despair from minutes before now gone. As the sun disappeared behind the Steen Mountain range a thud of a hoof caught my attention. There on the same hill that the bobcat slinked away stood three deer. The two males in front kept walking ignoring my presence, the female in behind however stood still and quiet watching me. She didn’t appear or feel afraid of me, instead I felt acknowledged and allowed as we held each other’s gaze with sustained compassionate attention. We belong.