The Classroom

The bulk of my experiments in unmaking and remaking my self over the past several years have taken place at the Mississippi River Gorge/ Hahawakpa, 4 blocks from my house.


2 parts:
disengage from attention economy
engage in/from specific place: rootedness, bioregionalism

rooted in a place + in time (as in past, present, future…not always linear)
time/historical and space/ecological (who and what live/d here)

bioregionalism = an awareness of inhabitants AND how they/we are all connected (entangled?), identify as citizens of a bioregion as much as or more than the State

my notes, june 2021


moss stories / Robin Wall Kimmerer

From as far back as I can remember, I had this notion of plants as companions and teachers, neighbors and friends. Then, when I went to college, a shift occurred for me. As an aspiring botany major, I was pressured to adopt the scientific worldview; to conceive of these living beings as mere objects; to ask not, “Who are you?” but, “How does it work?” This was a real challenge for me. But I was madly in love with plants, so I worked hard to accommodate myself to this new approach.

Later in my career, after I’d gotten my PhD and started teaching, I was invited to sit among indigenous knowledge holders who understood plants as beings with their own songs and sensibilities. In their presence, and in the presence of the plants themselves, I woke from the sleep I’d fallen into. I was reminded of what I’d always known in my core: that my primary relationship with plants was one of apprenticeship. I’m learning from plants, as opposed to only learning about them.

My personal view, as a Native American scientist, is that, while I honor this traditional perspective and acknowledge that science sometimes overreaches, I also understand that knowledge of underlying mechanisms can provide us with the tools for positive intervention in ecological systems. Knowing how something works can also be a source of wonder. At the same time, I appreciate the traditional perspective, which cautions against hubris and arrogance and the sense that we are “controlling” nature, as if it were a machine.

We can find creative ways of pursuing inquiry that are courteous and delicate and don’t demand information but instead search for it. I like to think of my own research as an interview process, a conversation.

Let’s say we want to know how a particular species of moss responds to drought. Some people would take samples into the lab and drought-stress them, but that’s pretty crude, in my opinion. If I want to know how water is important to moss, I’m going to go to wet places and be with the moss, and I’m going to go to dry places and be with the moss, and I’m going to discover whatever I can. I will say to the moss, “I’m not going to snatch you from your home and grind you up to learn your secrets. Instead I will sit at your feet and wait for you to tell me what I need to know.” And I’ll do so joyfully, appreciating the experience regardless of what data might come from it. A way of learning that’s not destructive, that minimizes interference — that’s my goal.

Patience and commitment are the key to learning from a being or a place. Unfortunately the institutions of science don’t commonly make room for the slow, steady approach.

Two Ways of Knowing/ Robin Wall Kimmerer

What if we look at the mosses not only as healers of land, but as teachers of how we might live?

I don’t know about you, but in this moment on the cusp of climate catastrophe, I long for a wise elder, a teacher to guide us. In our mythic origin story, we say that Skywoman went back to the sky and now looks over us all with the visage of Grandmother Moon. We say that she left behind teachers for us, the plants. If plants are our teachers, then the aasaakamek are our very oldest teachers. At the time of the sixth extinction, might we stop wringing our hands long enough to sit quietly at the feet of the ones who have avoided every era of extinction since the dawn of life on land?

Ancient Green/ Robin Wall Kimmerer

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?
(Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?/ Mary Oliver)

Oh, good scholar, 
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these–
the untrimmable light,

the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
(Mindful/ Mary Oliver)

on the need for classrooms beyond the academy

I went out of the schoolhouse fast
and through the gardens and to the woods, 
and spent all summer forgetting what I’d been taught–

two times two, and diligence, and so forth, 
how to be modest and useful, and how to succeed and so forth, 
machines and oil and plastic and money and so forth.

The entire effort of serious educators ought to be to explore and invent other ways of educating than these schools, to suit the varieties of talent and to meet the needs of a peaceful future society where there will be emphasis on public goods rather than private gadgets, where there will be increasingly more employment in human services rather than mass-production, a community-centered leisure, an authentic rather than a mass-culture, and a citizenry with initiative rather than one increasingly bureaucratized and brainwashed.

Why Go to School?/ Paul Goodman