JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from the road, Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, MÉXICO

April 3, 2018

Sunday, March 25, Villahermosa, Tabasco, Bus station
"SKYWOMAN"
On the morning I left the rancho to begin my current visa-reneweing trip, I began reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass, given to me by my friend Paul of Mérida/Florida. Hot sun, brown, dried-up weeds and trash along the highway, the morning-fresh air bruised with the odor of diesel fumes, waiting for the Oriente bus to Valladolid. After ten pages I felt apprehensive about reading more, because the author already had so elegantly expressed what I see as the main problem of our time, which is a planet-lethal wrong headedness of a lot of people who want more and more, without caring much about the source of their well being, the Earth. I feared that more words might only distract from what already had been so perfectly said.

Skywoman was falling toward an Earth completely covered with ocean. Sea-faring animals caught her, set her on a turtle's back, and a muskrat brought up mud from the ocean's floor to cover the turtle's shell. In gratitude and joy Skywoman danced, the mud expanded to form a continent, Turtle Island, and Skywoman sowed the first forests and fields with seeds she'd brought from above, and gave birth to the first native citizen, for she'd arrived pregnant. Earth's living beings saved Skywoman, and she reciprocated as generously and lovingly as she could.

"That happened on one side of the world. On the other side was another woman with a garden and a tree," writes Kimmerer. This other woman got herself banished from the Garden of Eden, the gates clanged shut behind her, and she had to wander homless, but with instructions to subdue the wilderness into which she'd been cast.

"Same species, same earth, different stories," Kimmerer writes, and then she makes the point that Creation stories are a source of identities and orientation to those born to hear them. The Skywoman story was one shared by the original peoples throughout the Great Lakes region -- ancestors of Robin Kimmerer. The latter story we know about already.

Tuesday, March 27, Brownsville, Texas, USA, Bus station
Braiding Sweetgrass
Having reached page 47 of 390, I paused a couple of days while watching outside the bus window, to reflect on one of Kimmerer's themes, that of the "gift economy," as opposed to the market or wage or commodity or money economy that defines our society.

The feature that gives life to a gift economy is the phenomenon that when a gift is given, it creates a set of relationships. The receiver is filled with gratitude and naturally feels an urge to somehow reciprocate. At the same time, the perceived nature of the thing given changes. One associates the generous gesture of a caring friend with the gift. In contrast, if the gift had been bought, it would lack that emotional connection, and there'd be no sense of needing to give something back. Moreover, a subtle feature of the gift economy is that when we are offered more than we need, we automatically refuse to take the access. Studies by Lewis Hyde, Kimmerer says, show that in gift economies objects of value remain plentiful exactly because they are gifts. In market economies, the availability of things that are of value, if offered for free, soon become exhausted. Nature is based on the gift economy.

In societies in which people's lives are directly tied to the land, it's easy to know the world as a gift, and thus to feel gratitude for the resources taken, to want to give something back to the Earth, and to not take more than one needs.

:

All these insights are to be seen in the context of the storeis we tell ourselves about why we are humans living on Earth. The Skywoman story primes us for living in a gift economy. The Garden of Eden story primes us for the market economy -- having to buy our way back into grace, by believing certain things, and behaving in certain ways. And, this Garden of Eden story "...is just a story we have told ourselves and we are free to tell another, to reclaim the old one," Kimmerer says.

Friday, March 30, Del Rio, Texas, USA
"The Consulate"
After so many years of living in Mexico on six-month tourist visas, I decided this year to try for a long-term visa. For this, one must visit the Mexican consulate "in your city." I chose a consulate on the Mexico/Texas border, in Del Rio, western Texas, because I wanted to camp in Amistad National Recreation Area, where often I've camped before, and which is within walking distance of Del Rio. At 10:45 AM on March 29th, I arrived at the consulate for my confirmed appointment for an interview, confirmation #EP290318110067804516, at 11 AM, and the consulate was closed until the following week.

I'd joined up with Phred in nearby Uvalde, where I lived not long ago for 2.5 years, and Phred was a bit annoyed. I surprised myself by feeling somehow tickled by the whole thing. It took awhile, though, before I could collect my lthoughts enough to explain my light-heartedness to Phred.

At the chained-up consulate doors yesterday, suddenly I saw that as long as there's good old Mexican inconsistency and ineptitude -- or is it just knowing what their priorities are and taking an impish pleasure in poking a finger in the eye of "the man"? -- the powers that drive us all toward being cogs in the world's money-making machines will never reach their goals completely. The Mexican way is a homey, laid-back wrench in the planetary fascist money-and-power machine, and I am absolutely delighted that Mexicans know how to take a day or two off, even as their computers spew out confirmations for appointments that will never take place.

Viva México!

Camping in Amistad
Days of desert camping at Amistad National Recreation Area about 8 miles northwest of Del Rio, hikes like those taken when I was here thirty years ago, in 1988, a time described in detail in my book Spring Comes to the Desert Southwest, online at http://www.backyardnature.net/desert/. Back then I'd been orienting myself for writing the book. Now I'm still orienting, but at a higher level.

After two or three days I lose the notion that I'm telling the story of Jim Conrad on the road. In the desert, you see it: There's only one story here, and that's the story of the Universal Creative Impulse, the One Thing, being Herself. I am something the One Thing for an instant proposes to Herself, something in a context imagined so that She may better know and experience Herself.

*****

This insight leads to others, structered around thoughts wafted to me in Braiding Sweetgrass. Kimmerer, recognizing her indigenous roots as a member of the Potawatomi Nation, muses on what it means to be a member of nation. She aspires to be a citizen of Maple Nation, since the Sugar Maple is the dominant tree of her bioregion in upstate New York. As for myself, I hearby declare that I am an indigenous citizen of the nation of Mother Earth, owing allegiance to that nation and none other.

To be a citizen of the US, one has a list of "rights." I accept none of them, for I have seen how the definition of those rights changes with the political wind. Indigenous citizens of Mother Earth have only responsibilities. Responsiblity to feel gratitude for the gifts naturally given us. Responsibility to revere and protect the giver, Nature.

*****

On page 190, Kimmerer proposes that we humans can reprocate for the gifts of Nature in these six ways:

  1. Through gratitude
  2. Through ceremony
  3. Through land stewardship
  4. Through science
  5. Through art
  6. Through everday actsof practical reverence

All the six above points sound right to me, though I stumbled on "ceremony." In my mind ceremony as an expression of gratitude is the US Thanksgivings I've experienced -- overindulgence and focus on TV football. But, I know Kimmerer is thinking of another kind of ceremony, and I agree that something in us humans seems to need it, and that there's no better reason to practice it than to recognize one's gratitude. Therefore, somewhat clumsily, maybe, I make a stab at ceremonious behavior here:

When I piss into the clumpgrass I say "I offer you this nitrogen and water willingly, and I hope that it sings in harmony with your sacred programming and the joyful spark of the Oneness you and I share between us."

*****

Tuesday, April 2, Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, MÉXICO
"The Consulate, part 2"
On Tuesday I hike the eight miles from Amistad Reservoir to Del Rio, and visit the consulate to see if anything can be salvaged from my trip here. I'm told that the long-term visa I wanted doesn't exist, and that my only options are either the regular tourist visa, or a visa leading to permanent residency, for which one must have several thousand dollars coming into a bank account each month, or else $100,000 in a bank account for the last six months. I hike to the border, walk across the Rio Grande into Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, get a six-month tourist visa, buy an overnight bus ticket for Saltillo to the south, find a ciber, and upload this Newsletter.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.