Ecological Reveries: A Medley of Belonging to Land
Jennifer J. Wilhoit
My (Ancestors’) Land
It runs in my veins, and I cannot deny it.
Three days after returning from the ancestral lands of my people, I suddenly realize why I have chosen this small island, this Pacific Northwest place in which to live. I might actually say that it chose me.
For decades I have called this wet, verdant landscape “home.” For good reasons I have left for a few years at a time, but always my heart was called back here; always I longed for the moisture, the green, the trees, the sea-surround. It is the land here that feeds my soul.
The people of my people – my deep family history – roots itself in another teal nature-scape: the island of Ireland.
I have longed to visit Ireland since my early twenties. I managed to tick off my seventh continent years ago but couldn’t make the easy flight to Ireland.
Perhaps I wasn’t ready to receive her as I am able to now.
Family business – a commitment to a loved one that involved going to Ireland – got me there. The comfort, familiarity, resonance with, and inexplicable connection to the isle of my grandmas and grandpas sewed me together, in place, on that land.
Green, green, green.
Teal, lime, seafoam shamrock seaweed.
Mint, moss, sage and jade.
At the water’s edge.
On the rolling hills.
Across farms, behind cottages, tucked into roofs.
Green that separates green: cultivated fields delineated by living fences.
This Pacific Northwest landscape – twin to the Emerald Isle – runs in my veins as does the land of Eire. It is sibling to my ancestors’ land. It is my land. In my depths I come from the seeds planted in that other soil. I am one with this nature and with that one. How could I not be; for it is my lifeblood.
I cannot deny the heritage of my natural history.
Nature Now Leads Backward
A few days ago I began to see slugs in great quantities after months of none:
I recall the banana slug who slipped into the empty banana peel I laid outside the tent door while the torrential rain pummeled everything around us
Bringing up the trashcans from the road this morning grasshoppers kept popping out of the field beneath my feet, causing me to smile and stoop closer to look:
I remember reading about a scary plague of locusts as a young girl
I heard one lonely frog croaking his heart out, hidden in some moist spot:
I am suddenly transported to my nighttime trek through an Indonesian river helping local scientists locate frogs by flashlight
Over the weekend a fat baby robin crashed into the window, heaved his lovely spotted breast, then flew off before the neighbor’s cat could pounce:
I call to mind every article, essay, chapter, and story I’ve written about bird strikes and the unencouraging research about their prognosis post-impact – even if they do fly off
In the forest, the glare of muted sunlight through haze turned small leaves to smeared blotches of color:
I momentarily lose track of my sweet friend ahead of me on the trail as I become overwhelmed with the giddy autumn-is-coming bliss I feel every day of every year for weeks and weeks between August and November
We had ourselves a proper feast, over and over again, as we ate-picked and then froze several gallons of blackberries this week:
I recall the two-week-long power outage on Vashon years ago that turned my frozen, handpicked berries to black mush at the bottom of my freezer
In nooks and crannies all over my office, this season’s fragrant lavender I harvested is drying flat so I can make it into sachets:
My memory journey is shorter, going back just two summers to the glad process of learning how to make my first lavender wand
I plucked one red, one yellow, another yellow, three red…cherry tomatoes in rapid succession off my neighbor’s plant last night:
An old man neighbor comes to mind – the one who brought over more cherry tomatoes in big brown sacks than we could stand to eat as little kids
Yesterday the rain wet the dirt road to mud, pounded down the roof, and led me scent-by-drip into something lovely:
I am transported back to a childhood night when I pressed my nose against the screen of my open bedroom window and sniffed eagerly to catch the scent of rain on Earth
Simply taking in the everyday moments that nature offers can be the thread trailing backward through our lives. Presence now in nature can help us recall a lifetime of connection to -interconnection with – the natural world in all its manifestations. I love that!
growing a tail
i’m growing a tail
nails begin to curve to thicken to narrow to elongate
my skin grows patches of fur
and my teeth sharpen themselves on the bones of prey
i linger on the edge pack ahead of me and i howl my wildest voice toward orion
i am immersed in a process
the wild within is moving in spirals slowly outward the beast is transforming
i am trying to follow along
i am surrendering to becoming
do i dare go where i’m being led
i sniffed around here and there jaunted down a path found where it ended and i had to turn around tried another one poking my nose into leaves and scents
i wanted wild instead i got constrained
i wanted wild instead i got boring
i went to bed asking my dreams for guidance i woke up with two words on my mind i followed their lead
the wild beast who grows within eager to show herself but also timid is standing by watching day by day she’s not creating but she’s providing the encouragement supplying the courage to step one small paw after another to the surface
oh how brilliantly i tried to dodge and sidestep the process to control it so that nothing ugly nothing untamed could rise up and what i got was a return to something deeper a part of myself i barely know a self who needs training but who most of all needs to be given a chance to voice herself in wobbly lines and mis-proportions.
the tamed wild-becoming
i linger all ruffled and innocent pack nowhere around and i howl my wildest voice toward the waning moon within
my teeth chew through something that almost feels nourishing
my skin tingles with the effort
my paws plod across the surface in an effort to etch out my presence here
my tail swishes and twitches
Caged in Nature
We hiked along a path that took us into the old, dried-up creek bed from our childhood adventures. But now at 50- and 60-something, we sisters made a startling discovery…:
the places where we had freely clambered down and back up – park to creek to riverside to neighborhood,
the locales for make-believe stories and a symbol in recurring dreams,
the rich terrain for rockhounding, hide-and-seek, dares, and treasure-hunting,
the hiding spot from authorities after benign childhood hijinks,
the secret space where dreams and worshipped sweethearts came alive in our imaginations,
the site for youth groups, family outings, bicycle breaks, and friend-romps,
the place that became embedded in the inner landscape “map of childhood,”
the hillside that seemed almost dangerously steep: only true superheroes could traverse it, we kids said,
the rocks that we hoped would disappear from view under a deluge of floodwater (thirsty souls we were)
…: this area is now caged in, cut off, separated, segregated
by a twelve-foot-high, thick, metal fence with no toeholds or hand-grasps. My middle-aged self still held a fantasy of climbing up, over and down the other side. To prove that the creek bed and the park, riverside, neighborhood could be – would be - reunited by a traversable fence.
From the caged-in creekside, I asked the hispanic grandma pushing her little ones in swings on the park side of the fence: ¿donde está la apertura? Her unambiguous response came clearly, no hay ninguno. No opening to the park? I couldn't believe there was no way out of the creek. But I stood there clinging to the fence, staring in disbelief at the park from my childhood that I now could not access from the creek as an adult. I felt like a monkey in the zoo looking out at freedom. (Though the creek wasn't a bad place to be, it lost something if separated from the parks it adjoined.)
I rattled every chain-and-padlocked gate farther down the creek. I fancied slipping through the gap between two widely-spread gates, but the chain binding them was too tightly held. I hoped I could use a cement wall as a hoisting spot up the fence; the busy road that loomed below talked sense into my desperate desire to be freed from the now-jail of a creek bed.
So a one-mile jaunt eventually turned into five miles of dusty, cobbled hiking – down the creek bed and then back up when every avenue of retreat was fenced off.
A child’s dreams dashed by the fact of a fence. Too tall. Too sturdy-thick. Too slippery. The perfect barrier between what was and what is.
The adult me knows why they built that fence. She understands why neighbors want to protect their privacy. She sees scattered along the once-pristine rock bed the needles and rusted shopping carts, the makeshift beds and mounds of litter, the hidden bent figure in the shadow of a tree, the stinky empty bottles, the wrappings from things I won’t mention - indicators of not-child-friendly activities…
But the little girl in me remembers the freedom of climbing and searching, rolling in cool green grass in the park, wandering aimlessly from friends’ homes to the creek bed to the next park north of there, throwing my bike down in my haste toward the next adventure crawling underneath the wide sweep of a tree branch overhanging the waterless creek.
And I mourn what isn’t, even as I rejoice in the beautiful memories of a nature-filled childhood –
a childhood in which everything was part of the story, everything was part of me:
trees, branches, leaves – dried or budding, rocks too large to carry and stones just right for little pockets, the imaginal river that I wished could’ve moistened the creek bed, the grass stains and ants, the scent of eucalyptus, unrelenting sunshine pouring down on our tableau of childhood reverie.
What inspired you to create this work?
My creative/professional work has always been rooted in connection to - and relationship with - the natural world. I was inspired to write this piece as a sort of mini-memoir documenting a few recent transformations in this relationship.
Tell us about the creation process including any obstacles overcome or surprises.
The subsections of this piece were written over the course of a couple years. But as I compiled them into this longer form, I could see (and feel) the indelible thread of continuity and maturity of eco-self relationship that this piece represents.
Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D. is a published author, spiritual ecologist, and the founder of TEALarbor stories. She compassionately supports people’s creative and healing processes by drawing from nature’s wisdom; her clients variously call her their mentor, healer, editor, guide. Jennifer is also a longtime hospice volunteer. Her books, articles, and blogs focus on the human/nature relationship: she has been researching and developing her practice around this “inner/outer landscape” philosophy for over twenty-five years. www.tealarborstories.com.