Poppop’s Lesson, by Lindsey Kattermann

It seems nature has heard my pleading prayers lately, as this is the second saturday of merciful warmth in the midst of a blustery January. Walking across the parking lot to my reservoir place of solace, rays of sun tickle my face gently, like the loving caress of a friend welcoming you back into their home after a long journey away. As I encroach ever closer to the translucent blue of the water ahead, I pass photographers eager to set up their stands and capture the beauty that encompasses us, with the peaks of the mountains surrounding acting as the borders. The sun edges bashfully around the treetops, playing one last game of hide and seek before retiring for the night, and I am grateful for the company as I advance further into the woods. Above me the pines shake lazily in the breeze that has reluctantly slowed its advances for the day, allowing itself some rest to pick back up in normal tempo tomorrow. It is a lackadaisical day here in the forest, or so it seems. No animals stir, none of the normal hurried scutter of little feet behind me, no conversational chittering of the squirrels as they quarrel amongst the branches. The only sound is the hushed shifting of the needles under my footfall, as they are compressed deeper into the bed of moss that has become the platform for this worn path. Taking a moment to appreciate the harmony of the scape, I am invigorated by the connectedness of everything around me, each element acknowledging the peace in the others and reciprocating the state. Reciprocity is a newfounded concept for me in respect to the natural world around us, although when the lessons surrounding this ideology are revealed, it is a wonder that we did not all grow up with this notion.

From as far back as I can recall I was reared on the stories of my grandfather, ever so eager to weave for us some of the history that brought us to be as we are. Sitting in the great room of their house in Pennsylvania, we crowded closer and closer to the hearth of the fireplace as he unfolded the intricacies of the fabric of our family line. Behind him, watching as he talks animatedly with the hands so worn by years of work and life, my great-great-great-grandfather peers down sternly from inside the framed oil painting. He has a sense of nobility to him, with a headdress resting just above his furrowed brow and lean muscles popping in his arms crossed around his torso. He was of the Blackfoot tribe, a legacy my grandfather wears proudly amongst his other northern European heritage. Although the traditions of the indigenous peoples we call ancestors have been lost on us, their ideologies don’t fall on deaf ears in my family. Nature is sacred, a restoring and healing power that both manifests and fuels each and every one of us. Mother Earth supplies for us everything from the sun that illuminates our world each morning to the water that runs clean and quick around us in the rivers outside that upstate lake estate. There is no question to those who have learned from my grandfather that this earth is one to cherish and respect as she does us. Each night Poppop would walk in solitude in silent reverence for his home around him, regardless of where he was he returned the same attention and love the Earth gave him in a practice of solidarity and reciprocity.

From this man and from the people before him I have learned to love this world in the best ways I can, unselfishly and actively. As Robin Wall Kimmerer explains in the teachings of her people, this planet was not meant to be owned or dominated as we of the western culture so often assume. Kimmerer highlights the necessity of reciprocity and humbled kindness, traits lacking desperately in today’s consumer culture. We have dislodged ourselves from a place of compassion and respect within the biospheres and taken to an ideology that we are the top of the food chain, a problematic notion which allows us to justify the slaughter of other beings on massive scales, and the desecration of our sacred home planet. Who are we to decide when other beings come to a demise? Where in history do we believe this power was bestowed upon us? Because as far as I can see it certainly was not. Reciprocity and respect are inextricably joined, and despite how far we have strayed from them, it is not impossible for us to reclaim them. In places like my reservoir, it is so evident the interplay of every element in nature, and I content myself with the connectedness I feel as I press on forcefully in a reverent stride akin to Poppop’s.

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