We spent the day together
as this was the Contemplation in Nature
retreat—the first here
at Turtle Rock Farm retreat center.
A day to relax into the warm air,
peer into the wide panorama,
pay attention to detail:
waves on the pond,
a chattering gathering of Red-winged Black Birds,
a Chinaberry berry seed…
It was a day to “see with new eyes,”
as if for the first time…
A day to try to imagine
our kinship with all;
to try to grasp
that we are only part
of this one complex, living organism
that is Earth…

DSCN7010Retreatant Watching a Chattering Gathering of Red-winged Blackbirds

I sat
motionless (as motionless as I could
while petting the insistent Maizey)
under my favorite Chinaberry tree
and looked across a familiar meadow
to the familiar Osage Orange trees along Doe Creek,
watched the familiar glide of a Red-Tailed Hawk,
and thrilled
when a Mockingbird
landed in the tree above me,
a silhouette against the sun.
especially familiar.
It stayed awhile and when it flew away
and I began to notice the grass and soil
around me,
and little black balls
with holes in them
and the crinkled faded-gold Chinaberry seeds…
and then realized the black seeds
came from inside the Chinaberry seeds…
and that some thing liked
whatever was inside
the black seeds…


Later in the day,
we three talked
about what we saw
and admitted to each other
that experiencing our kinship,
taking non-dualism
from thinking to a felt-knowing—
grasping deeply that we are only part
of one living organism—
will take some time,
considerable effort,
plenty more practice,

That evening—the first time this year
it was warm enough I could spend Saturday evening
on the porch—I read an article
in “Yes!” magazine
(Spring 2015 “Together with Earth” edition)
by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Singing whales, talking trees, dancing bees, birds who make art, fish who navigate, plants who learn and remember. We are surrounded by intelligences other than our own, by feathered people and people with leaves. But we’ve forgotten. There are many  forces arrayed to help us forget—even the language we speak.

As a beginning student of her native Anishinaabe language, Kimmerer has discovered there is no word in her language for “it,” as in anything other than human. “It’s impossible to speak of Sugar Maple as ‘it,'” she writes. “We use the same words to address all living beings as we do our family. Because they are our family.

“In indigenous ways of knowing, other species are recognized not only as persons, but also as teachers who inspire how we might live.”

When Kimmerer asked an elder for the proper Anishinaabe word for beings of the living earth, she learned it is Bemaadiziiaaki. Too long a word to take the place of “it” in the English language, she suggests we use the last two letters: “ki.” And that we also speak of other Earth beings as “kin.”

Changing our language can be transformative, she writes:

We can keep ‘it’ to speak of bulldozers and paperclips, but every time we say ‘ki,’ let our words reaffirm our respect and kinship with the more-than-human world. Let us speak of beings of Earth as the ‘kin’ they are.

Here are the words I wrote above, about Mockingbird:

especially familiar.
It stayed awhile and when it flew away
and I began to notice the grass and soil
around me…

Here’s what the passage reads like, using the word “ki” instead of “it:”

especially familiar.
Ki stayed awhile and when ki flew away
and I began to notice the grass and soil
around me…

From past experience,
I’ve come to allow the possibility
that Mockingbird
is one of my teachers.
came to the top of the Chinaberry tree,
even though I was obviously present.
Ki sat there long in the sun
even though there was another Chinaberry tree
right next to ki,
farther from me.
In the past, Mockingbird
has taught me to use my own voice;
that is always a pertinent reminder.
This day
perhaps Mockingbird,
up against the sky,
then departed,
was what drew me down
to the ground. I wonder…Does ki
eat the stuff
inside the black seed
inside the Chinaberry seed?
Maybe ki brought no message;
maybe, ki was having a snack.
Maybe, Sister Mockingbird…
maybe I know you
and myself
a tiny bit better.