The Intimacy of Nature
“The natural context of land, in a sense, encloses us, so that we are close to each other. Next to one another, physical land becomes as familiar to us as a relative. Skin to sand and stone. Skin to water, whether river, spring, rain, ocean. And grass and flowers to skin. Tumbleweeds, cactus, yucca to skin. Different looking, of course, from each other, but close in partnerships, relationships, and collaboration within desert and plateau land. Relationships are acts of nature, like ideas in motion in the plant world, and in the human community.”
–Simon Ortiz (Acoma), 2018
Throughout his essay, “Indigenous Sustainability,” Simon Ortiz (2018) utilizes beautiful language to describe the nature of relationship in the natural world. He manages to illicit feelings of yearning and belonging, and wonderfully illustrates the intimacy of relatedness between not just all beings on the planet, but between those beings and the land itself, which he explains is the “container or context of all” that exists, with nothing being excluded.
The lie of Western civilization is that all beings are separated – from one another, from other life forms (into neat, describable hierarchical categories), and most importantly, from God, who rules from above but can never be fully known. One of the elements of biology and chemistry which I am fascinated by is the way in which all life fundamentally operates in ways that are not only connected, but intimately so. Proteins and enzymes know each other by touch, finding one another through embrace. Molecules form exciting bonds of electrons, sharing the very fundamental aspect that qualify them as existing, not just in proximity, but as a matter of complete (albeit temporary) interconnection. Everything that exists is built upon these principles of touch, of connection, of sharing. While Western science likes to envision the universe as a sterile ordered thing to be understood within narrow parameters, Ortiz reminds us that life is much more complex and messy. “Western hard science, we’re told, has nothing to do with ordinary human whim or wile or superstition or passion that causes us to weep or love endlessly or even fruitlessly.” He explains how language is fundamental to expressing the relationship Indigenous people have with the land, such as how “intense awareness of corn growing is expressed by the Hopi, for example, by songs sowers sing; the belief is that young cornstalks respond to the songs by growing.”
I planted my first garden at age 12, spurred by the example of my grandmother and my curiosity about plants. The plants have taught me how to care for them, and I am merely a humble student, as a whole lifetime would be insufficient for learning all there is to know about even a few plants. I have, however, always sung to the plants in my home and garden, especially when planting seedlings who are busily growing into their form. It’s not that any person has told me to do so – in fact, I have felt self-conscious of this lest I be judged. Perhaps the plants themselves have told me; “grass and flowers to skin.”
Mickki Garrity (Bodewadmi) is an enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a Cobell Scholar, a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, and is pursuing a BS in Native environmental science at Northwest Indian College.
Ortiz, S. (2018). Indigenous Sustainability: Language, Community, Wholeness, and Solidarity. In M. Nelson & D. Shilling (Eds.), Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability (pp. 85-94 ). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/ 9781108552998