Earth/Nature

You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.
  • Wendell Berry
As I shared last month, I discovered throughout the past year that I have twelve American Lotuses that are available to me each day as my foundation. They form a framework for approaching every day (for details on how and why they are American Lotuses check out my 7 December 2020 post). They are all different sizes. Some are scraggly. Some are well-formed. Some days I am diligent about tapping in to them and some days it is more free-form. They all have one thing in common – they are always available to integrate me and this land and universe I am part of. My intention is to share one lotus each month. So, here we go with the first I one.
Lotus #1: Earth/Nature
Growing up I was well aware of my German ancestry. My mother was very proud that her grandparents immigrated to Maryland in the late 1800’s. She knew her grandfather and shared with us the snippets of the family’s life before the USA, when we were willing to listen. No firm tie to a place prior to their arrival however. Generalizations – Germany, Austria-Hungary.
My father didn’t share anything. Not because of his abiding commitment to an overwhelming silence, but because he simply did not know. This not knowing ran deep. There was some inkling that his ancestor – why he identified with only one person I don’t know – came to the land that would become the state of Georgia as an indentured servant in the 1700s. That was it. (I still don’t know if that was accurate.) I rarely saw my grandmother and my aunt, I have no cousins on my dad’s side of the family tree, my grandfather died in 1945, and my dad’s aunt and cousins were scattered across the country from Arizona to Georgia to New Jersey.
I felt a strong lack of rootedness, in anything. I didn’t feel a tie to a place or a people. There was nothing that rooted me to where I was and there was nothing that drove me towards another place. I was very aware of this as a child. The more I learned about other cultures the more I felt disconnected from a place, a tradition, a people. I would get mad when I thought about it. There had to be more than just being a white person. I knew I had to be made up of people from distant lands with unique cultures that had been forgotten overtime by my nearest relatives. I desperately hoped I would find traditions to hold on to. I had to go out and actively and consciously seek it.
This rootlessness combined with a 7th Grade family tree project and my father’s illness compelled me to know and understand more. It took years for me to realize that I was attempting to reconnect with ancestral memories that had long been forgotten from time and neglect. All those years I was getting mad it was because those ancestors were whispering to me, wanting to be re-discovered, to be remembered. In an earlier post [17 February 2019] I discussed the ancestors I have uncovered and the importance of honoring their memory.
What I didn’t expect was to find clues about place and roots on a tiny off-shore island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. That’s the thing about place, it awakens something deep within when you least expect it.
I remember the first time I saw Smith Island, crossing Tangier Sound on a workboat-turned-ferry, 10 miles from the mainland, giant sheets of ice floating around us. The Chesapeake Bay had frozen that winter and travel was just resuming. It was beautiful. Our first stop, and my only stop – the town of Tylerton. When we docked at Tylerton, I just knew. Elevation 3 feet above sea level. 1 mile around. An island. 94 people – descendants of the original English and Welsh settlers from 1659-1686, A town that was it’s own island. Isolated. I didn’t know what I knew exactly but I knew. Something was rising up inside of me.
Smith Island, 1991
This is where I learned about edges. This is where I learned to see the spaces in between. Being in Tylerton felt as though all was as it should be. Exploring the edges of the marshes. The transition between low marsh and high marsh. The sea grass meadows and the deeper channels. The guts and the thoroughfares. The power of a storm – the quickness of it’s emergence and the swiftness of the recovery. The wind that pushes all of the water out and the one that pushes all of the water in. The transition periods between the seasons. Edges. Shifting not stationary. Ebb and flow. Yes, being “away” was important but living “within” this community was so much more important. On this island, with these people, I was comfortable. And, because of that, I was able to test myself on the edges. Driving boats. Exploring “guts” (waterways through marshes). Sitting still in the salt marsh. Learning their traditions. Finding the wildness in my self. One with the Bay and the Sound.
Smith Island, 1991
This is where I discovered my compulsion to lay down and look up. Outside that is. Sometimes during daytime. Sometimes during nighttime. Sometimes when warm. Sometimes when cold. Sometimes in snow. Sometimes in rain. Sometimes in high marsh. Sometimes on beaches. Sometimes in salt flats. Sometimes in water. Always making full-body contact with the Earth.

I answered the deep call from the wetland with a passion to know and experience all I could about it. This place reawakened a deep connection to the Earth that had been a part of me as a child. Running free, and barefoot, in all weather. Taking rain showers. Exploring forests and streams. Digging with my hands in my garden of Forget-me-nots, Jack-in-the-pulpits, and herbs. Rising with the sunlight and staying up to run under the moon light. These experiences had forged a deep recognition in me of my relationship with the Earth. I found that connection once again on this island.

So, why did I leave this island? Because it was time. And, as I came to say later, “I had to leave because if I didn’t I wouldn’t.” There were new things to learn and it was time to explore them. And so, I moved back to the 1940’s urban-ring-suburb I grew up in. I am as far removed as I can be from checking the tides before leaving the house, standing on the salt meadow with brackish wind on my face, or using the stars to guide me. I can turn on my car from within my house so that it is warm when I get in during the winter and cool when I get in during the summer. It is possible for me to go 2 meters from our house to my car and another 22 meters from my car into our school at the beginning of the day and the reverse at the end of the day, and have that 52 meters be the only time I go outside all day long.
I have since discovered that not only do I have those deep German roots but I have deep Celtic roots in Ireland and Scotland. I am finally uncovering my deep ancestral traditions and memories. These roots of mine are entwined within deep-Earth-centered traditions, as are all people’s who journey through ancestral time discover. That is what my ancestors have gifted to me and that is what this wild island reminded me. These deep-Earth-centered traditions root me. They also keep me from disconnecting from the Earth. They empower me and challenge me to find ways to maintain my wildness, to accept responsibility for how our family lives our lives, to commit to life and authenticity while I live my life in service to our high school students in this suburban community.
Each day I root into this sacred Earth to find ways to nourish my flow, vitality, contentment, resilience, creativity, and to honor and steward the Earth and all she is.
This means:
  • I start my day with a 4am morning walk with our dog, Winston.
  • I rise before the sun and greet her each day with a moment of silence followed by a verse/mantra/prayer.
  • I wear an ammonite around my neck to remind me that in geologic time we are all connected and all come from stardust (read Neil Tyson deGrasse for more thoughts on how we are stardust).
  • I walk barefoot outside at least once a day in the grass or the garden.
  • I integrate herbal knowledge into my daily wellness routines.
  • I take a cue from my own AP Environmental Science lesson plans and have a place I return to outside each day to sit and see what the universe needs me to hear.
  • I park far away from any building I am entering so that I can walk even longer outside.
As a family we:
  • Practice ceremonies/traditions connected to the seasons.
  • Maintain a nature centerpiece on our table that changes seasonally
  • We read stories/folklore that corresponds to the seasons.
  • We grow our own vegetables and herbs.
  • We make time on the weekend to adventure and explore outside together.
Above all, as often as possible, I try to lay down and look up when I am outside. The feeling of being one with the Earth and being small compared to everything else still roots me.

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