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How to become one with the trees
There’s a painting by young artist, Danielle Boodoo-Fortune, which I recently bought for Ziya. It’s Zi’s first painting, meant to provide a utopian image of her childhood and the memories I’m seeking to create at this time.
The painting is set in a dense, colourful and magical garden. Both the sun and the moon seem simultaneously present, and above the lush undergrowth, a forest in the background appears to meld into the sky.
There are two central figures. A little girl with a big afro and wide eyes looking around and, behind her, a woman with long, straight hair gazing directly out of the painting as if warning others that they are being just as warily watched. Unless your intentions bring care and safety, better to stay afar. Birds sit on their hands and both figures have small tree branches growing from their heads, beginning to sprout leaves.
Almost unnoticeable, these branches are the curious detail that draws me in most. It’s hard to tell where the natural environment ends and begins and the human bodies are not entirely separate, but also part of this environment, just as we all are.
Our bodies are deeply interconnected with the ecosystems in which we live, and perhaps if we thought more like trees, we would be more aware of water conservation, biodiversity, returning nutrients to soil, sustaining wildlife survival, adapting to seasonal patterns and living for preservation for seven generations, rather than through our current modes of harm.
Every chance I get to escape I try to spend in some quiet intimacy with our islands’ forests and rivers. And, now five years old, Zi is beginning to walk rivers and reach waterfalls with me. I can’t think of a more important site for establishing identity, relationship, aspirations and belonging.
I’d like Zi to go to university, but some part of me would know she found the right path if she was able to live by ideals of permaculture that treasure reproducing forests, food, friendships and family. She could entirely eschew the materialism that keeps us in an outmoded economic model and exhausts us over the course of a long rat race. We work to survive, but seem to have forgotten what we are living for.
Marking both Corpus Cristi and Indian arrival in 1845 should return us to the soil here in this place in which we are leaving our footprints over time. Zi’s planting her first small garden of lettuce and seasonings, in a recycled cardboard box that can decompose somewhere in our garden, adding carbon to the nitrogen we will layer on the soil from kitchen vegetable cuttings.
For me, coming into adulthood as an Indo-Caribbean woman is about protecting a little dougla daughter from harm, exiting the hierarchies, prejudices and structures that alienate us more than connect us and teaching my girl how to survive and thrive.
I can’t think of another more important lesson that Indian women brought with them on those ships. All this while, we’ve been working out how to make an authentic life for ourselves and if not ourselves for our children, with greater freedom, knowledge, meaning, well-being and peace.
I spent the last few days talking with mainly women from around the region about gender and ecological justice and their inseparability. When debt leaves little fiscal space, what are our options for solidarity economies and other approaches that transform our economic and ecological vulnerabilities, drawing on our environmental, cultural, historical and gendered kinds of resilience?
Given that the environmental crisis is the absolutely most important issue of our children’s generation, these are the real questions for which we should be seeking collective answers. All the big answers start with small steps and there is art to remind Zi of the simple, profound significance of learning through quiet, thoughtful observation how to become one with the trees.
As a mothering worker marking another year of life this weekend, and seeking wisdom for the year ahead, this is where our footprints and memories will be.
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