Place Corps Blog #2: Week of Aug 26

Place Corps Blog #2: Week of Aug 26

Being Human: A Journey Towards Balance, Harmony, and Wholeness

In last week’s reading, Jenny Odell offered us a series of attempts to embody the wholeness of life through art. Through their work, the artists Jenny highlights, and she herself, witnessed the reality that life’s wholeness / essence can never truly be replicated through art. Artists can, however, innovate their art towards more wholeness.

It seems that many (if not all) of us at Place Corps (participants and staff) came together at this moment in time to move towards wholeness, in our lives and within ourselves. And in so many ways, we’ve begun our journey witnessing a shared truth: that we each bring a piece of the puzzle that maps human destiny. All of us know many “lower-case-t” truths and none of us know the “upper-case-t” Truth. However, together, through our questions and collaborations, we’re able to get just a little bit closer. 

Our journey is that of our ancestors and all humans before us, the same journey the Anishinaabe say the first person, Nanabozho, found himself on. Along this journey was his / is our search for what it means to be human, to exist within this magical, interconnected realm of life the way the Creator intended.

As humans, we were gifted with good minds, but the ant and the bee and the maple tree and the bear and the beaver and the mushroom don’t need good minds to exist as they were meant to: in harmony and balance with the rest of creation. And unfortunately, we know from history and from the lives we live today that human minds have led to great disharmony and unbalance with Mother Earth and her children. 

Of course, we’ve also shown our capacity to find our place within creation. Nanabozho saw what there was to learn from other beings on Turtle Island with far greater knowledge than his. He befriended them, learning what it means to be in right relationship, and what it means to be human.

Robin Kimmer’s chapter on “Becoming Indigenous” provides us with great lessons for our work on Earth, lessons that find good company at Place Corps. As we’ve all sought to cultivate our calling to know, love, and serve our places, we’ve migrated to this place on unceded Mohican land. Like Nanabozho, we are new-born babies emerging into an unfamiliar world. 

So much of human history has seen people coming to a new place, meeting strange beings with whom they differ, and facing the important question of how to exist in right relationship. Many years ago, Europeans would have encountered Mohican folk in this region we now call Ghent, New York, and they would have faced that same question. As history goes, here and around the world, they answered that question with genocide, land theft, false and broken promises, and a massive ecological shock to the more-than-human inhabitants of these lands. They did not learn from those inhabitants or the other humans who’d been keeping the land for generations. They did not honor those humans’ ancestors or their customs. They did not understand that they, with their European customs and views, were but a small part of a larger whole. “The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat. They don’t seem to know whether they’re staying or not.”

Robin, the native elders she cites, and the story of creation she shares offer a blueprint for what it means to become indigenous to place. While it is important to understand that indigeneity is not something one can simply claim, (there’s been enough theft from white and non-Native folk tbh..) there are actions we can take when coming to new lands that help us to be in right relationship. For me, some of those actions include:

  1. Honoring and building relationships with current and original keepers of the land

  2. Introducing yourself to and learning the names of your new neighbors (human and more-than-human)

  3. Exploring the current functioning of that place and the needs of its inhabitants in order to join in harmony and balance

  4. Honoring and treating that new place as home

As we end our fifth full week at Place Corps, I find myself wondering how I / we must appear to our new neighbors, and to the ancestors of this land’s original keepers. I wonder about the indigenous folk living here on Mohican land and how to build relationships with them. I wonder what it means to be in “right relationship” with current generations of Mohican folk, and whether they live here or on other lands to which they were displaced. I wonder how these lands along Schnackenberg Road and others in the region can be returned to their original keepers. I wonder about the names of all the plant friends who received our curious cohort and who have nourished the soil so that we can gain sustenance from it. I wonder what it means to be a transient person by choice, living on stolen land here and there and within a body descended from stolen peoples. I wonder what it means to be human and what it means to exist in balance and harmony with the whole of creation.

While I don’t currently have the answers to these ponderings, I believe that I / we will move towards those answers with intention, through actions like the four listed above, and in community with others committed to the journey of humanity. As is our destiny, I believe we can begin to learn how to exist in this place and in all our places with both our feet on the shore.

Jordan Williams