Category Archives: The Wilds

Ophelia

I missed the orange sky. Missed hurricane winds scooping up and flinging a warm filter across our autumn sun, a whispering of earth from a far desert. I left work early to come home. To work. The world had only some welcome gold to it. I tuned in, but only briefly — this procession of friends and family acknowledging #metoo. The ones who can. I can. I unwillingly sifted my own memories the way I know we are all doing. Must we? Alongside gendered pain I stared at pictures from Somalia, Santa Rosa, Puerto Rico, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen. As helpless facing these other displays of power, exploitation, indifference. If only I had known, I could have gone to stand outside face upturned to receive these visiting desert sands.

My lord, he hath importun’d me with love

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love,
remember.

Essential Writings from Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke…damn. This collection is so due to be updated (hold on a second, it has been! A new collection, The Winona LaDuke Chronicles, came out this year). Published in 2002 this reader already represents decades of struggle and wisdom, imagine what that must look like now? She is still fighting at Standing Rock, still going strong to defend lands and peoples, still writing and speaking. It is humbling to read these words.

From ‘Building with Reservations’, speaking to architects and educators she described this:

If I were to describe the architecture of my community, I would describe it both as an architecture of poverty and an architecture of what is sacred. … But there is this sorrow–I have to say sorrow–that exists when you are stripped of the cultural integrity of your house, of your architecture, and given something that does not resonate. Sure, it provides a shelter, but as you all know, a house is more than a shelter: it is a home, it is something that reflects you. So that is the architecture of poverty in my community.

And then you have the architecture that is sacred. Next to some of these houses, you’ll see a sweat lodge, or you’ll see a miichwaap, which is like a tepee, but it is used for smoking meat. The most beautiful thing to me is when I consider the fact that a lodge that is used for one of our ceremonies is based on the mirror of a star constellation; it reflects where the poles are located. That, in its essence, is sacred architecture. I think that that is the most beautiful thing in our community. (46-47)

I’m pretty obsessed with with ideas of home, of architecture, I love this redefinition of poverty in architecture which we are in fact seeing in gleaming steel and concrete across all of our cities in the form of luxury apartments built for the global market. So different than pieces of shit HUD homes on the reservation, I don’t mean to compare them in any other sense beyond their bankruptcy of creativity or human feeling.

She talks later on about the importance of culture, the way that in universities it is treated as anthropology and folklore rather than literature and something vibrant and lived. She writes

In my life and in the life of my family, many of us in our community find that those teachings are not about the process of going back, but that’s kind of the mythology that surrounds the view of native people… It’s not about that at all. It’s about recovering that which the Creator gave us as instructions, and then walking that path… (173)

It provides an alternative — not to be appropriated but to be learned from — of systems that value balance and ‘a good life’ over profit. Like this:

There should be beauty in “process,” whether it is harvesting with intelligence, whether it is the use of recycled materials, or whether it is observing energy efficiency. (53)

It is particularly explicit in the essay on ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Futures’, a term I know has been problematised, but which lays out a different basis and a better source of expertise for our thinking about how we relate to the world around us:

Traditional Ecological knowledge is the culturally and spiritually based way in which indigenous peoples relate to their ecosystems. This knowledge is founded on spiritual-cultural instructions from “time immemorial” and on generations of observation within an ecosystem of continuous residence. I believe that this knowledge also represents the clearest empirically based system for resource management and ecosystem protection in North America, and I will argue that native societies’ knowledge surpasses the scientific and social knowledge of the dominant society in its ability to provide information and a management style for environmental planning.  (78)

It is based around a very different idea of success, of life’s meaning.

“Minobimaatisiiwin,” or the “good life,” is the basic objective of the Anishinaabeg and Cree people who have historically, and to this day, occupied a great portion of the north-central region of the North American continent. An alternative interpretation of the word is “continuous rebirth.” This is how we traditionally understand the world and how indigenous societies have come to live within natural law. Two tenets are essential to this paradigm: cyclical thinking and reciprocal relations and responsibilities to the Earth and creation. Cyclical thinking, common to most indigenous or land-based cultures and value systems, is an understanding that the world (time, and all parts of the natural order-including the moon, the tides, women, lives, seasons, or age) flows in cycles. Within this understanding is a clear sense of birth and rebirth and a knowledge that what one does today will affect one in the future, on the return. A second concept, reciprocal relations, defines responsibilities and ways of relating between humans and the ecosystem. (79)

I don’t know how different, in fact, Minobimaatisiiwin actually is from what most people outside of these traditions would term a fulfilling life, but we have still bowed before money and power as measures of success and as enough justification for any number of terrible things. She describes a very different understanding of development, light years removed from that which now prevails but without question one way, perhaps the only way, to step back from the precipice of ecological disaster:

By its very nature, “development”–or, concomitantly, an “economic system” based on these ascribed Indigenous values-must be decentralized, self-reliant, and very closely based on the carrying capacity of that ecosystem. (80)

And this is, indeed, a very good question:

I believe there is a more substantial question meriting discussion: Can North American society craft the social fabric to secure a traditional management practice, based on consensual understanding and a collective process? (82)

I am taking these out of order here, thinking about how this all connects to our relationship to the earth, that perhaps many of our problems emerge because we have been so divorced from place:

Implicit in the concept of Minobimaatisiiwin is a continuous inhabitation of place, an intimate understanding of the relationship between humans and the ecosystem, and the need to maintain that balance. These values and basic tenets of culture made it possible for the Cree, Ojibway, and many other indigenous peoples to maintain economic, political, religious, and other institutions for generations in a manner that would today be characterized as sustainable.4 (80)

She returns later to this topic:

Native environmental groups have a commitment and tenacity that springs from place. “This is where my grandmother’s and children’s umbilical cords are buried … That is where the great giant lay down to sleep … That is the last place our people stopped in our migration here to this village.” Our relationships to land and water is continuously reaffirmed through prayer, deed, and our way of life. Our identity as human beings is founded on creation stories tying us to the earth, and to a way of being, minobimaatisiiwin, “the good life.” (57-58)

It is not just positionality and the structural oppression faced by indigenous communities, but this connection to place that drives experience, meaning and struggle.

All this to say that Native communities are not in a position to compromise, because who we are is our land, our trees, and our lakes. This is central to our local and collective work. (62)

There is a lot about land in here, and what has destroyed traditional connections to it:

The governance of this land by traditional ecological knowledge has been adversely affected by genocide, colonialism, and subsequent circumstances that need to be considered in the current dialogue on North American resource management, the role of the environmental movement, and indigenous peoples. (82)

She describes the two worldviews at play:

The conflict between two paradigms-industrial thinking and indigenous thinking-becomes central to the North American and, indeed to the worldwide, environmental and economic crisis. … For many indigenous peoples, the reality is as sociologist Ivan Illich has suggested: development practices are in fact a war on subsistence. (86-87)

Capitalism, industrialism…can the two be separated? But it is definitely a war and this seems to be exactly the idea that we might belong to the earth that is being decimated. The clearances and enclosures in Europe were to the same end.

Akiing is the word for land in our language, and in the indigenous concept of land ownership or the Anishinaabeg concept of land ownership, it is much more a concept that we belong to that land than the land belongs to us. … land tenure itself and concepts of land ownership are of course a concept of culture–they are a concept of your teachings, a construct of how you are raised and how you live in your community. (138)

Important to always remember that these things are not natural or self-evident but constructed. And the creation of the US is definitely one of predator…I am pondering how this might help us think about the political economy of land.

Indigenous people traditionally have been the people who have lived on the land, but the predator/prey relationship that exists between America and the land is one that has caused the constant erosion and taking of the indigenous land base in the Americas. And it has caused the constant erosion and the taking of other people’s land outside of that context as well. (143)

Again mobility, predation, frontiers, all those things that capital needs, as opposed to connection, balance, care…

One of the challenges that we have in America is that America is built on conquest, not on survival. It is a society, by and large, based on the concept that there is always a West, always a frontier. There will always be someplace to go. We don’t necessarily have to give thanks for where we are because we’re moving.

That is the challenge..This conceptual framework between one worldview and another worldview, indigenous and industrial, or land-based and predator….the predator world-view. It is, in fact, manifest in how we live here. And every ecological crisis we have today is a direct consequence of that… (180)

From the land to rights as Native women, I loved her speech ‘I fight like a woman’ from the UN Conference on Women in China, 1995.

Positionality:

As one woman, Corrine Kumar from the Asian Women’s Human Rights Association explained simply, “From the periphery of power human rights looks different.” (205)

A challenge to mobile, global power to look those it is destroying in the eye:

Vicki Corpuz is an Igarok woman from the Philippines, head of the Cordinera Women’s Association. … “We found that a lot of our problems were related to trans-national corporations and institutions. And we thought it was time to get more accountability from them. We can do basic empowerment work here – but all the decisions are actually made elsewhere. They should have to look at us in the face when they make those decisions.” (208)

The need for indigenous peoples (as true of other struggles) to operate at a global level…

It was several years ago Mililani Trask, Kia Aina or Head of State of the Native Hawaiian Nation changed her mind about work. “The real reason why all Indigenous people have to be apprised of, or involved in the international arena is because their individual land-based struggles will be impacted by these nation states and international interests.” (209)

More on militarism — I love this quote, hate what the US and others are doing on other people’s lands…

Militarism is a form of colonization which takes away from our lives. That future is without hope for us. But, we will fight for our rights. I believe in nonviolence and civil disobedience. I am ready to go to jail, to take blows or die for our cause, because I believe in the struggle for the freedom of my people. I don’t want your sympathy, I want your support, your strong and collective support against the oppression of your government. What are need is your resistance.” Penote Ben Michel made this plea at a 31 January 1987 conference in Montreal on militarism in Labrador/Nitassinan. (230)

I am furious with Geroge Dubya all over again. I volunteered to do precinct walking for Kerry in Vegas I was so furious with that man. Might have campaigned for her, though, if I’d been a little more woke, though I still might have bowed to the dual party system.

This is from her acceptance speech for the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate, running with Nader.

I am not inclined toward electoral politics. Yet I am impacted by public policy. I am interested in reframing the debate on the issues of this society — the distribution of power and wealth, the abuse of power and the rights of the natural world, the environment and the need to consider an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in which all decisions made today will be considered in light of their impact on the seventh generation from now. That is, I believe, what sustainability is all about. These are vital subjects which are all too often neglected by the rhetoric of “major party” candidates and the media.

I believe that decision making should not be the exclusive right of the privileged. (267)

All of that. We need all of that.

This is only a sampling of some of what I loved most/have been thinking about most recently. There is so much more here, and of course so much more written since this was published.

[LaDuke, Winona (2002) The Winona LaDuke Reader: A Collection of Essential Writings. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.]

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Grindleford to Hathersage: Quarries, Millstones and Little John’s Grave

We took the train to Grindleford with a walking plan in place, but as the train wheels span us forward across the moors our hopes were quietly dashed by the mist setting low and low across the peaks. We sat in Grindleford Station Cafe and had the best bacon and egg sandwich I may possibly have ever had, pondered plans. Set off in the wrong direction for Padmore Gorge. Turned around.

We walked through midday’s leafy dusk, boulders covered with moss and great thick trunks of trees rising from massive gnarling roots, the rush of water, twisting branches of oak dark against the emerald green. Some of the leaves glowed golden, already beginning to turn with the coming fall but the day was warm enough to climb the gorge in T-shirts.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage

The map showed a stone circle, an old settlement, which we decided to leave the gorge to try and find. We failed in this, but found instead a haunting landscape quarried from the earth long enough ago that its edges have been blunted, harsh planes softened by soil and growing things. Spectacular mushrooms that hardly seemed real.

Grindleford to Hathersage

We climbed out to find ourselves on a strange branching isthmus of earth, quarries falling away to each side. A multitude of paths not marked on our map, bracken and white birches. We climbed down and then up again.

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

A graveyard of millstones. This uncanny landscape the creation of backbreaking labour, skill expended and so much of it in vain. Moss grows on these rolling stones left to sit here across centuries, no longer needed to grind our wheat. The story is that this is Napoleon’s fault, that damn war and shifting technologies which I partly make up and poorly remember as a good story, initial provenance possibly M. John Harrison via Mark, unverified by wikipedia.

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

Grindleford to Hathersage Walks

Grindleford to Hathersage

Then we crossed the road, and climbed up up onto the moors, the mist retreated to a more picturesque degree and revealed the glories of the Peak District, one of my favourite places on earth.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage

Grindleford to Hathersage Walk

A woman was flying a drone, it’s ominous buzzing and angry red lights filled me with terrors imagined from places where these military toys carry surveillance and death. We left her quickly behind, the wild beauty of this place swallowed up the ominous, fragile metal thing. How soon it would rust away here, as though it had never been.

And then, briefly, the sun came out.

Grindleford to Hathersage Walk

Grindleford to Hathersage

We continued down, down into Hathersage. Sent tired feet in search of Little John’s grave, thought of Robin Hood.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Thought more of dinner. Walked down beside the river and were sent wrong by directions to the pub. Encountered mist rising.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Then we retraced steps, climbed again, tired, the sun setting across the valley.

Grindleford to Hathersage

Happiness. More happiness in the Millstones Pub and the shape of pints and Yorkshire puddings of the very best kind, heaped with riches.

Grindleford to Hathersage

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Għarb to Marsalforn, Gozo

Our last walk on Gozo, it involved no ruins or temples, but we saw more salt pans and we found one stone circle but of nature’s origination. Għarb was definitely one of my favourite villages. We passed the shrine to St Dimitri, who legend has it emerged from his frame in this chapel to rescue a boy stolen away by slavers and returned him to his mother. We passed a tumbled pile of carved stone balustrades. There were wildflowers we had never seen before, more windswept coast — but not quite what we were expecting. I think the beauty of the cliffs all around this island raise expectations a little high. But then we reached the deep gullies carved by ocean, the great window. The sun went setting behind us. Lovely.

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Xlendi Cave

For the first time we heard the sea, it roared through the night with a crashing of waves as the wind picked up. No swimming in the morning, even if we had been up early enough to beat the crowds. This sea that I could not imagine other than placid and still suddenly alive and reaching hungrily far beyond where I had thought it’s boundaries lay. We walked down into town, found the narrow path and the stairs in the rock, had no idea there was a cave to be found. What luck that it should be the day when the sea should pound and sing here.

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Lizards scurried over the rocks. There is one here if you can find it.

Xlendi Cave

We climbed back out. We sat for a while staring out to the knight’s tower, to the salt pans, watching the crashing of waves and mocking the German tourists.

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Then suddenly, pirates.

Xlendi Cave

Limestone Cliffs and Salt Pans, Xlendi Bay

Late afternoon and the air begins to cool, just a little. We explore moonscapes, stare at the shells emerging from the ground beneath us, they seem too brittle for fossils, but how else have they come here? Yet they sit next to circles of rust, marking the presence of metal. Setting sun picks up the yellow of limestone, turns it chromatic against the blue of the sky, picks out the smooth shapes carved out of it by wind and rain and sea leaving sweeping lines of wonder. Smooth boulders. A heart. The Knight’s watchtower seems almost a part of it, anchored there by the door carved into the stone and the tunnel that must be there holding it fast like a dark hand. Below the salt pans, carved by human hands into the rock to capture sea and its salt in the form of crystals. In one direction the open Mediterranean, in the other the cliffs.

They are beautiful even in the early morning light.

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Sunset, Xlendi Bay

We attempted a walk in the morning, beautiful, but the heat sent us stumbling back, though first we got to the oldest of the four surviving Knight’s watchtowers on Gozo, built in 1650 to guard this bay against (other) pirates.

Xlendi Bay

The salt pans:

We retreated, returned in the evening. Found a cat-shaped hole in the hillside, from which its eyes burned.

Xlendi Bay

And the magnificent cliffs.

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Down to the Sanap cliffs, where we found a family eating their meal on a fold up table beside their car.

Xlendi Bay

and then a race back home against darkness…

Xlendi Bay

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Devil’s Bridge and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train

Trains. I really love steam trains, and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train is a corker. It is second only to the train from Chama to Antonito in my experience, though granted my experience is still very small taking a global view. This narrow-gauge train, opened in 1902,  leaves from Aberystwyth and climbs and climbs through the valley to Devil’s Bridge.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Crawls up the valley. Stops to refill, and allowed us to marvel at the wonderful raised beds full of wondrous flower plantings — it is amazing how this whole project is loved. The volunteers were young, with leather caps and overalls. Life was fine on this Saturday.

Finally we arrived at Devil’s Bridge. Everyone headed there directly so we headed in the opposite direction, following the walk which can be found detailed here.

It’s longer than 6 miles.

We walked to the ruins of Bodcoll’s Woolen Mill, mysterious, overgrown. The river Mynach is beautiful here, impossible to photograph the smooth bowls its waterfalls have carved from the rock.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Climbed up and looked out across the hills. Walked and walked, saw some local hill sheep.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Got a bit lost. Got back on track.

Saw this little church, built in a much older sacred site and incorporating standing stones into the walls. I was tempted to swing by, but there were cows between us and the church.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Also, I had dragged Mark out on this walk in deck shoes. Neither of our shoe decisions was fortuitous.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Still, sheep scattered before us with fear, picturesque against the heather-covered hills.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Feeling powerful we strode up and up, young and strong, not a single ache or pain, not a breath out of place, the wind teasing our hair, the horseflies shying away from our very splendour. We found ruins, marveled at thick walls of stone.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We continued on and on. Crossed more water running sluggishly in the heat filtering down through sun dappled trees.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Then up again.

And then down and down and down a steep, rock stubbled roadway,  sharp points penetrating the thin soles of Mark’s shoes though he made not a single complaint. We came to a stand of Scots pines, which the guide tells us have long been associated with rights of way, planted to mark overnight stops for men and cattle as they moved across the land, and at difficult sections of the route.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We descended further, came to the mine tailings of the Cwm Rheidol.

Devil's Bridge Walk

They continue to pollute the river and surrounding area, the informational sign noted the presence of marcasite, a mineral which in the presence of air and moisture (and this is Wales you know, there’s a lot of moisture) begins to develop a powdery white bloom and a whiff of sulpher as it crumbles away (if it’s in a museum exhibit) or dissolves into a sulpheric acid that can also melt lead and zinc into a rather toxic mess.

Still. I spent many holiday excursions of my youth around mine tailings, this made me happy. I know it shouldn’t.

Down into the valley, it was beautiful.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Yet we knew we would have to climb back up.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Back up to the railway line.

Devil's Bridge Walk

And then those bastards made us walk parallel this fairly level if steady climb in a strenuous up and down pattern that echoed the larger walk in microcosm. Until finally, with only once getting lost at the very brink of town, we arrived back.

Past the station and on to Three Bridges itself. Looking down.

Devil's Bridge Walk

A pound in the slot gets you through the old fashioned and terribly narrow iron-barred entrance. Look at this place, three generations of bridge built one upon the other.

Devil's Bridge Walk

The oldest built between 1075–1200, the second in 1753, and the third in 1901. The three of the span this incredible chasm.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Why devil’s bridge? The legend of the old woman who outwitted the devil himself — tragically at the expense of her loyal dog — can be found here. George Borrow wrote of it, Wordsworth too. I haven’t let Wordsworth ruin it though.

I had remembered this bridge from watching Y Gwyll, which I quite loved and have an immense desire to watch again now that I know these landscapes so much better.

We had no time for a pint. We boarded the train. And then failed to find a table at any of Aberystwyth’s fine dining establishments. We bought some wine at the Spar and had a glorious fish and chips sitting on a bench by the harbour.

Most wonderful.

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