Bioregional Lists: What has helped you connect to Place?
Can you generate a list of 10 things that have proven important bioregionally speaking in your own life, along with a brief explanation/story about why it’s on the list for you? This was the question posted to the Bioreg listserv, an active group which explores many aspects of bioregionalism. Alice Kidd was the first to reply, and I think you will find it well worth your while to read.
As for my list, here it is. . .
1. Watching clouds.
It’s that trick of perception, when you start to see air-sheds as well as water sheds. Thanks to a couple of mentors, Van Andruss and Fred Brown. Additional features – the sense of being cradled in the earth – flat on your back in complete contact.
2. Exploring the watershed on foot in company, both the journey uphill and the view from the headwaters. Once again, thanks to mentors. First the visceral information, changes in the water and its route, the climb (if any), sightings of animal and bird neighbours, changes in vegetation, the trees. Then, if you are lucky and live in mountains and steep hills, the watershed laid out before you, so you can also see it whole.3. Repeat 1. and 2. with neighbouring and distant bioregions (especially with family and friends). The combination of heart connections with natural history observation brings a powerful clarity.
4. Place Based personal accounts: from Stephanie Mills, Peter Berg, Wendell Berry, Gary Nabhan, Gary Snyder, etc. to William Powers (Twelve by Twelve), Novella Carpenter (Farm City), Brian Brett (Trauma Farm), Stanley Crawford (Mayordomo, etc.), Robin Jenkins (The Road to Alto), Ray Raphael . . . I can never get enough.
My mentor Fred introduced me to “goatness” by pointing out that at first it was Cloud (a beautiful black Alpine doe) who represented “goatness” to me. Then I learned to live with Emily (a Saanen doe with a more difficult temperament). Then we added Becky, Soapalilly, various billies, and so on. You have to experience a lot of individual goats to get “goatness” – a loose overlap of many traits. Definitions are a sign of learning achieved, not the way to learning. I read about other peoples’ attachment to place for their similarities and differences with my own experience – and ’cause they’re fun.
5. Five years on a community trust table for local land use planning.
This surprised me. It was personally and politically challenging to face our “oponents” in the war over the forest, at a trust table. We came together as neighbours not enemies, with the goal of listening and observing until we could take on our fellow table members’ issues as our own. Both the issues list and many of the participants were changed in the process, yet I doubt many people felt “compromised”.
We spent untold hours poring over maps, listening to scientific and economic reports, travelling up all the major watersheds in the district. It was a huge privilege to be able to observe so much of the surrounding territory – and – our range of “views” enhanced the learning. I came away confirmed in the usefulness of “bioregionalism” as an organizing principle, and impressed by the bioregional vision of my former enemies. I also learned to live in the presence of differences of opinion without having to have them resolved immediately, a skill that has been extraordinarily important in the years since.
6. “Indian territory”.
Our bioregion is defined by the territory of the St’at’imc Nation, on both sides of the Fraser at Lillooet and north as well as along the Duffy and Lillooet lake corridors down into Harrison Lake. It took over 20 years before our community received any feedback from slow building relationships . . . but now we share many perspectives on land and actual activities. Landed Indigenous are the quintessential bioregionalists. Talk about living in place . . .
The past 3 years I’ve been privileged to teach algebra in a tribal college prep program. I’ve been teaching and tutoring one-on-one for many years, but with a succession of classes it has become apparent which of the concepts challenge them culturally and which are a legacy of bad schooling.
So now I teach graphing after grounding it in a brief introduction to mapping and GPS systems. We talk about actual locations (berry picking spots, for instance) and how different systems allow people to get back to the source – stories, road directions, map grids.
I teach polynomials as taxonomy, based on their course in biology.
At the same time, I’ve learned so much from my students – I’ve had to – to understand their experience of “abstraction”, of “general principles”. How do they hold memories? How do they generalize? How do they learn? It’s like the difference between being born into a belief system and learning it as an adult. They hold these views as a birthright, I’m the convert.
7. Going back to my birth bioregion.
I now live 3000 miles away from my birthplace, in a totally different landscape (although the dates of first and last frost are surprisingly the same). After 10 years away I returned for about 8 months. In the meantime I had added the bioregional perspective to my toolkit; travelling through my birth territory with those lenses was extraordinary, bringing back memories and understandings buried in my childhood. Ten years after that I attended a regional congress at a site well-known in my childhood (for fun times). The overlay of the old memories, the new experience, plus the bioregional concepts learned in a different landscape kicked in quite a learning curve. Lots of fun, too!
8. Sister perspectives (brothers too, I guess): permaculture, systems theory, social organization, “all my relations”
Bioregionalism is one of the lenses I wear most often, but I wear others. There are a huge number of people today writing about “ways of seeing” that can inform the bioregional vision, and are necessary to it. And bioregionalism informs other fields.
9. All species events.
There is nothing quite like experiencing mammalness, or kinship with birds, or plants. I’m still reaching for my insect kin – just so you know it can be a stretch and a lifetime task of expanding your own “family”. CBC III near Squamish was thrilling with groups of human birds flying across the meadows. Texas brought a Council of All Beings – another high point.
We’ve recently moved to a wider sky, and a bird place. I’m used to singletons, pairs and families, to ducks and corvids. Now we’re watching flocks of all sizes, the locals and the migrants. This is crow territory; the ravens and eagles stay high – and beautiful to watch.
10. I read voraciously.
Once you have the platform, the perspective, everything adds to it. You get a taste for it, and a capacity to learn quickly.
11. Singing, dancing, making music, poetry, acting, clowning, and eating together
Bioregional culture is way more interesting that global culture – to me. It’s different everywhere you go. There’s always some new surprise. And the connection between the form of the land and the form of the culture always draws my curiosity and interest. I finally learned to appreciate spirituality singing with my community in my home place.