Paper # 4 – August 9th, 2017
Track 2, Final Project, Reflection Paper: “Watershed Discipleship”
by Andrew Hayward Smith
The Mayan story of Creation begins, “It is said that in the beginning there was emptiness. The divine beings, the great thinkers, imagined the world into existence simply by saying its name. The world was populated by a rich flora and fauna, called into being by words.” The Jewish story of Creation begins, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep… Then God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.’” Later in Genesis 2 we read, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature that was its name.” In Braiding Sweetgrass we read about the First Man, “Nanabozho was given a new responsibility: to learn the names of all the beings. He watched them carefully to see how they lived and spoke with them to learn what gifts they carried in order to discern their true names.” In three creation stories from different parts of the world we learn that our Creator breathed life into a formless world with words– “In the beginning was the Word”– and then gave humankind the responsibility of naming everything in the world.
In Braiding Sweetgrass we learn that humankind’s place in the world is deeply connected to the land that we occupy and the birds, animals, trees, plants, fish and water that we share this local ecology with. We learn of a reciprocal relationship with living beings and that to restore our ecology we must restore relationship. When we first meet someone new, we introduce ourselves with our names, “Hello, my name is Andrew.” I would argue that our Creator gave us “naming with words” as our first responsibility since it is where relationship and getting to know true identity begins.
I find myself living in a new place. It’s all new names to me– new trees, new plants, animals, birds, lakes and places. I do not know their names. In the past six weeks I’ve learned some of them in our research. Like Nanabozho, we’ve watched carefully. As I build a relationship with the land immediately around me, perhaps my first step should be to give my relations new names that mean something to me. At Sundance I was privileged to observe two beautiful naming ceremonies. As the elder said, “they will carry these names with them for the rest of their lives.” Like much of the reciprocity we read of in Braiding Sweetgrass, I think the childrens’ true nature drew the names to them, and in return the names will draw them to a particular way of being. In 2012, I was dating a lady named Delissa. We talked over the months about names and the power of ‘the Word’ and words. We concluded that words contain energy and power– the spirit of God the Hebrews called “ruach.” We researched our names and discussed our findings. Although ‘Andrew’ means ‘manly’ our daily devotions led us to believe that a more accurate meaning is closer to “warrior”– an advocate, one who’ll protect. Will I protect the place I am now living in? It begins with learning, naming, relationship, and then love…
My new place can be divided into three parts– the nation and its landscapes, the state of Minnesota, and our local area. It takes time and effort to build a relationship, so my stronger bond is to the national landscape that I’ve spent more time in. I am coming to appreciate the beauty Minnesota offers. During this past six weeks I’ve begun to feel an affinity with the local area, particularly the Rice Creek Watershed– it is pretty, wild, and changes with the seasons. I don’t like the manincured parts, but I like the wild places.
Gary Snyder, celebrated poet of the modern ecology movement writes, “…the land we all live on is simply taken for granted—and proper relation to it is not taken as part of “citizenship.” But… people are beginning to wake up… When enough people get that picture, our political life will begin to change, and it will be the beginning of the next phase of American life.” If I define the land as the source of my citizenship, then I should begin with my new place of living. There are three biomes in Minnesota– Coniferous Forest, Deciduous Forest, and Prairie Grassland. I live in the Deciduous Forest Biome, within the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Bioregion, in the Minnesota and NE Iowa Morainal section, in the St. Paul Baldwin Plains and Moraines subsection, within the Mississippi River Basin, within in the Rice Creek Upper Mississippi Watershed. Our biome bioregion is noted for 24” – 35” average annual precipitation, 39° – 45°F average annual temperature, and an average growing season length of 100 – 130 days.
The primary geological event in this area was during the last glaciation period known as the Wisconsin Glaciation (75,000 – 12,000 years ago). Ice sheets sculpted the land leaving behind glacial ridges, sand plains, hills and lakes. Large amounts of glacial meltwater rushed into rivers cutting deep valleys into the land, creating the current course of the Lower Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota Rivers. The Twin Cities are located on the St. Croix Moraine, a glacial end moraine with relatively high topography that extends northeast to southwest along the eastern margins of the watershed. Under the sand, clay, silt and organic peat that are visible at the surface in much of the Rice Creek Watershed are sediments that make up bedrock from the early Paleozoic age (525 – 400 million years old). The Bedrock includes Decorah Shale, Platteville, Glenwood, St. Peter and Jordan Sandstones, plus others. On top of the bedrock the geology is one of gabbro, basalt, red sandstone, slate, greenstone, and granite.
The vast deciduous forest that once covered the eastern half of North America extended in a diagonal line across Minnesota, the same direction as the geology– from the southeast to the northwest. Most of these forests were cleared and converted to farmland during the mid-1800s. European settlers often spared patches for wood lots or to tap maple trees for their sweet sap. Our bioregion is a region of transition between biomes and a deciduous forest characterized by trees that lose their leaves at the end of each growing season. Some native trees of the area are: Black Ash, Northern Red Oak, American Basswood, Sugar Maple, and White Spruce. Some of these live with me in our garden. Native edible plants include Prickly Gooseberry (edible fruit), Black Cap Raspberry, Blueberry, Elderberry, and Red Mulberry. Bird life includes Bald Eagle, Canada Goose, Mourning Dove, Tundra Swan (migratory), and Wild Turkey. Some species became extinct in Minnesota, the best-known being the passenger pigeon. Lesser-known extinct Minnesota species are the eastern elk, blackfin cisco (a Great Lakes fish), and the crescent stripetail stonefly (an aquatic insect of cold water streams).
The largest wilderness area in our bioregion is the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest– 1,016,204 acres. If humankind vanished, in 100 years our bioregion would change through a process of succession. First, grasses and non-woody plants would reclaim land, soon followed by bushes such as raspberry, then full-sun loving trees such as boxelder, ash and cherry. As these trees mature, shading the ground below their canopies, shade-loving trees will begin to appear such as maple and basswood. The older sun-loving trees will begin to die out and the shade-loving trees will take over. Eventually, maple and basswood trees would dominate the environment.
The Homestead Act of 1862 provided free land to European settlers. The settlers plowed the prairie soil and planted crops on small family farms. Wheat farms covered thousands of acres and wheat was shipped to flour mills in Minneapolis. Eventually, with an oversupply wheat was no longer profitable. Families began growing corn, oats, alfalfa, and fruit trees, or chose dairy farming. Today, there are many kinds of farms in Minnesota: corn, soybeans, sugarbeets, cattle, sheep, poultry, goat farms, and organic farms, to Native American wild rice sites. Until European settlement, Minnesota was inhabited by the Dakota. Their villages dotted the Mississippi, Minnesota, St. Croix, and Cannon River banks. Dakota men were hunters and warriors; Dakota women were farmers. They grew corn, beans, and squash, a crop trio called the Three Sisters. Today, they grow traditional crops like hominy (a type of white corn), wild rice, wild berries, maple syrup, buffalo meat products, and use birchbark to make baskets and crafts.
Rice Creek Watershed’s source is at Clear Lake in Washington County. It flows southwest through Anoka and Ramsey Counties through a variety of habitats. It joins the Mississippi River at Manomin County Park in Fridley. Its source elevation is 890 feet and descends to 806 feet. The water runs downhill to the Mississippi River. In Anoka Country, Rice Creek passes through the Lino Lakes Chain of Lakes. After Baldwin Lake, the creek meanders through scenic meadows, under bridges and through Long Lake in New Brighton. In Fridley, the lower course of creek is roughly paralleled by the Rice Creek West Regional Trail. The water flows across many political boundaries. Early surveys recorded the name of Rice Creek as “Ottonwey River” or Atoonowe-ziibi in the Ojibwe language meaning “River for making canoes.” However, other sources have suggested the name Manoominikaan-ziibi, which means “river full of wild rice” which grew plentiful in the lakes of the watershed. They are Rice Creek’s original names.
Columbia Heights’ water is purchased from the City of Minneapolis and comes from the Mississippi River. It travels through the Columbia Heights filtration plant with a capacity to produce about 78 million gallons of potable water per day through ultra-filtration (UF) technology. It is the largest such installation for potable water in North America and one of the largest in the world.
Robert Thayer’s theoretical education system based around bioregions energizes my spirit– education beginning with the local bioregion, beginning with relationship with your own life-place. When integrated with global studies that investigate how each bioregion can trade and interact with other bioregions, I find this system provides a vision for an exciting future. But I struggle with connecting with my new life-place, because it is so new and foreign to me. It should begin with the Words That Come Before All Else– gratitude for and recognition of what is around me. I am connected to land in more than one place, but I can be connected to more than one place. In Braiding Sweetgrass the author found herself in the same situation. She made an effort to learn the new place she inhabited and she fell in love with her new location. I may go on a motorcycle ride during the summer, to naturalize myself with my new surroundings, and come to appreciate this local bioregion in a more personal way.
Like Nanabozho and Adam I think a good starting point to connect on a more personal level is to give my closest relatives new names– a kind of rebirthed identity to build relationship, to start writing our own story, our history, our future together, and this way the circle of time will have a better chance of continuing to flow. The alternative, like the Mayan Creation story, when the gods saw that humans had no love or compassion for the earth they sent a great flood and catastrophes to wipe humans out. If time is a circle, given humankind’s current behaviour, surely we’ll be wiped out again.
All of the plants and trees I’ve familiarized myself with live with me at the Finkhaus. They reside in the garden outside my windows. They greet me in the mornings. Sometimes I remember to greet them. Heal-All is a purple flower prevalent throughout our lawn. It’s not native to Minnesota. It probably originated in Europe. Heal-All grows in large patches and grows to around 2″ tall. Bees pollinate the plants. Heal-All’s larger family is Mint. The leaves and stems can be eaten raw. It’s a folk medicine in many cultures and heals many ills– a throat remedy, treats irritated skin, and used as a disinfecting agent for wounds. Heal-All was once proclaimed to be holy, sent by God to cure all ailments, and to drive away the devil. Its root was used to make a tea to drink in ceremonies before going hunting by one Native American tribe, to sharpen their powers of observation. Its scientific name is Prunella vulgaris– its name is the most vulgar part of this plant, so I shall rename it, Path To Healing.
White Clover is a white and pink fragrant flower found in abundance in the back garden. It is not native to Minnesota. It is native to Europe and Central Asia. The leaves can be used in tea for colds, coughs, and fevers. The flowers attract bees and butterflies. The flower heads can be used in tea to treat rheumatism and gout, used as blood cleanser, to clean wounds sores, boils and heal eye ailments. The Celts of Wales used it to ward away evil spirits. Its scientific name is Trifolium repens, meaning three-leafed creeping plant but I shall name it, Welsh Protector.
The Ox-Eye Daisy is a white and yellow flower. It arches towards the sun rising in the east. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Nanabozho heads first to the east– the direction of knowledge. It is an eager plant, perhaps eager to know. Its family is the Sunflowers. The plant was imported from Europe and has made a home here, offering pyrethrum to repel insects and to be used in organic pesticides. The plant can be used in salads and to make a tea. It’s been a folk medicine for centuries as an antispasmodic, a tonic, for whooping cough, asthma, internal wounds and ulcers, and has a calming effect. It attracts bees, butterflies, hoverflies and others. Its scientific name is Leucanthemum vulgare but I shall name it, Greeter of Light and Knowledge.
White Campion is a white flower, an annual plant not native to Minnesota but native to most of Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa. The Ojibwe use an infusion as a medicinal plant. The roots contain mildly toxic saponin, which has long been used as soap for washing clothes and hair. Hunting tribes have put large quantities of the plant in streams or lakes to stupefy or kill the fish. Its seeds shake out of its capsule on winter winds. The White Campion is easy to see at night, attracting insects such as moths. It is good food for finches and sparrows. In parts of England, it is called the Grave Flower or Flower of the Dead, as they are seen often growing on grave sites. Its scientific name is Silene latifolia but I shall name it, One Who Shines in The Dark.
Field Thistle flowers in purple and stands tall. It is not native to Minnesota. The thistle reminds me of Scotland, it is their national flower. The plant is edible. Native Americans used a paste of the roots for treating wounds, boils, and piles, and also used an infusion of the root for treating stomachache. Grazing animals will avoid the immediate area around thistles, so Field Thistles naturally allow overgrazed areas to recover. The plant is a favorite of bees, wasps, Tiger Swallowtails, Monarch Butterflies. Its scientific name is Cirsium arvense but I shall name it, Friend Far From Home.
White Spruce stands in front of our house. It is tall, at least another storey above our roof. Its bark is flakey and scaly but inside it’s salmon pink. Its needles have a whitish cast and smell like skunk when crushed. The lower branches typically die and fall off. Our spruce’s branches start above my head. The tree is native to Minnesota and lives 175-200 years. Its scientific name is Picea glauca but I shall name it, Old Man.
Sugar Maple is my favorite tree, although I shouldn’t have favorites. It’s tucked quietly away at the bottom of the garden, in full view of my window. It’s two storys tall, with a big, full domed canopy, which begins close to the ground. I have to stoop to go under its bottom boughs. It is native to Minnesota and lives 150-200 years. In Autumn it’s a brilliant golden yellow. It is stunning. Its hard wood is used for furniture, flooring and cabinets. Its scientific name is Acer saccharum but I shall name it, Glowing Autumn.
Silver Maple sits on the east side by the fence. It’s slightly raggedy in it’s canopy shape. The leaves have more lobes than the Sugar Maple and have silvery undersides, giving it its name. It has a single, strong trunk with black/grey bark that peels in curls with age. It is an older tree. They usually live 100-125 years. They are native to Minnesota. The wood is hard but brittle, so its branches often break off in winds. It can reach 75-100 feet tall. It stands as a guardian at our fence. Its scientific name is Acer saccharinum but I shall name it, The Guardian.
Black Ash stands next to Glowing Autumn. It has a thinner trunk and slightly smaller canopy, so seems to be less prominent than its relative. Its leaves are long and pointy, often having 7-13 leaves off each leaflet stalk. It’s a pretty tree. They can grow to 40-50 feet tall. This tree appears to be fully-grown and its branches sweep upwards, like arms stretched up to the sky. It is native to Minnesota and lives 100-125 years. It is also named Basket Ash or Hoop Ash because the fresh green wood is cut into strips and used to weave baskets, make snowshoe frames and canoe ribs. Its scientific name is Fraxinus nigra but I shall name it, Quiet Resilience.
Red Mulberry is a shiny, green-leaved tree outside my bedroom window. In summer the Mulberry is covered in black and red fruit that is delicious to eat. It’s a small and squat tree, with full canopy and many trunks that branch out at ground level. This Mulberry is native to Minnesota and lives 50-75 years. Native Americans and early settlers used its fruit to make beverages, cakes, preserves, and medicinally to cure dysentery and other ailments. Its scientific name is Morus rubra but I shall name it, Red Fruitgiver.
Delissa and I decided that my name means “warrior.” What am I to fight for? The answer is confirmed again now. I became a naturalized citizen of this nation in 2010– for love of the land, not for it’s government. In 2010 I was determined to fight for and protect this land. I considered becoming a National Park Ranger. I am happy that instead of sitting inside a Park Ranger vehicle, observing, I have had the opportunity to actively dance for the renewal of the world at the Sundance ceremony. In reading ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ and in being at the Sundance, I hear this call again and been given the opportunity to be that warrior for the land. A good warrior does not go out and start a fight, does not taunt, belittle and incite. A good warrior upholds the values of compassion, love, gratitude, wisdom, protection and peace. A good warrior only fights as a last resort, when the land has no other saviour.
I’m energized by the thought that the time of the Anishinaabe Seventh Fire prophecy appears to be upon us, the time when humans have to make a choice between turning from our current ways or to keep on the current path of ecological destruction that will bring death to humanity. I know which path I choose. Therefore, I feel immensely privileged to attend the Sundance ceremony and to have taken one step on along the correct path– to participate in a ceremony to bring protection and renewal of the Earth for one more year. I want to walk the path to the eighth and final fire to the time of peace and brotherhood, forging a great nation that was foretold long ago.
I must begin with the Words That Come Before All Else, sustain the Honorable Harvest and build relationship with the land so that my heart is always in the right place before going into battle, if necessary. I hope I can walk alongside the people of the Seventh Fire as they retrace their steps and collect the scattered wisdom that fell to the ground. I hope I can listen, learn and help ensure that we are heading towards the Eighth Fire.
What follows are scattered pieces of wisdom that I picked up during these past six weeks. At Sundance, I saw a community build a ceremony, and then a ceremony build a community. That first day of ceremony I felt like an outside observer, but a deep connection developed over four days and after the Exit Round on Sunday, when everyone shook hands and hugged, some hugs were long and heartfelt, full of love and some with tears. Sundance was ceremony with the whole body and mind. I saw what ceremony could be– reciprocal– giving and receiving at one time, a full mind and body experience that built relationship, community and family. Upon arrival I was told Bonnie had a voice at the ceremony. This deeply touched me. I almost cried. My steed, my companion across this land had a voice there! Following Sundance, Bonnie means more to me now than she did before. Somehow a blessing and honor has been bestowed upon her.
On the second day I danced with gratitude having just read the chapter on the Words That Come Before All Else in Braiding Sweetgrass. “Gratitude plants the seed for abundance.” I felt the spirit of abundance. On the third day I was privileged to keep the Sacred Fire. What a responsibilty! I was told the fire was alive and wouldn’t hurt me if I approached correctly, with respect. I placed wood and stones right into the fire without burning. The fire felt like it was living and talking to me, telling me “yes” or “no.” A relationship existed. Following the Healing and Water Rounds, and having read in Braiding Sweetgrass of the earth loving us, I rode home from South Dakota knowing that I was deeply cared for by the people, the spirits, the plants, the trees, the birds and animals. I felt safe, happy, glowing. In return, I love them back. Over six weeks this love has increased. Any thing that I use I will use with more care and respect, knowing that a sacrifice has been made to give it existence. I shall try to harvest more honorably. I shall try to greet the trees, plants, birds and animals, and thank them for all that they give.
I’ve learned more about reciprocity. I am challenged to give more than I do. I am also challenged to only give when it feels right to do so. I’ve learnt through stories that when giving, circumstances in the circle of time unfold to give you something back, enriching the story even further. The return gift often has substantial meaning. Gifts grow as they travel the circle of time. At the conclusion of Braiding Sweetgrass the author hopes for a great giveaway ceremony where we each give gifts back to the earth in our own manner and ability. “Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. In return for the privilege of breath.” One gift I can give to the earth is my photography– capturing beautiful landscapes and moments, and sharing these mind-full images with others. Perhaps these images will positively influence a person’s actions one day. I have begun the process of dancing for the renewal of the world. In small, shuffling dancing steps I am beginning to give more back to the land than I have before, to fight for Mother Earth, to protect and serve, and to be a good warrior on the path leading towards the Eighth Fire.