Forming a Sacred Bond, by Alena Ruckh

You’d think twice before hurting something you love. And you’d think even more about it if the thing you loved loved you in return. We are quick to replace inanimate objects, even if we love them and are upset over losing or breaking said item. But a friend, a family member, a significant other – those are difficult to replace. Impossible even. Once you form a bond with someone, a reciprocal relationship, it establishes a sort of attachment. That is why it is so difficult to lose someone, or to part with something that has sentimental value, such as a childhood home. When you familiarize yourself with something, you get used to its presence. You take it for granted, even. But once it is gone, it quite possibly occupies a portion of your mind forever, especially if the love you felt for it was in some way reciprocated. This is why we cherish the things that show us love. Nature shows us love, but not in the direct verbal “I love you” sort of way- or not even in the way an animal may when it curls up next to you or licks your face. Nature’s love for us is present, though, and if we took a moment to acknowledge it, as Wall Kimmerer states in Braiding Sweetgrass, we would be less apt to willingly harm it. As a student in Wall Kimmerer’s lecture said, “You wouldn’t harm what gives you love.”

I pondered this as I once again made my way to White Clay Creek on this Monday afternoon. Daylight savings time had just ended this past weekend, so I had to frequently remind myself that it was only three thirty, as the sun had already began setting, illuminating the late autumn foliage with a warm honey tinted glow. I had been sick the past few days, so I was not planning to stay out for long, but I was lucky that it had been a bit warmer today than past days, as to not worsen my cold. Something about walking in the woods this time of year was particularly cathartic, as the warmth of the late autumn sun and foliage contrasted by the subtle crispness in the air is particularly nostalgic to me. I was brought right back to the year prior, when I was taking my college classes remotely and my mother and I would go for hikes in the nature reserve near my house to get out for some fresh air. That nature reserve at home is called Pennypack Trust, it is in the Philadelphia area, a mere five minutes from where my home is.  I also recalled a particular hike I took at Pennypack about three years ago, when I was really into nature photography, and I was able to capture some photos of long grasses in the meadows glowing in the golden hour November sunlight. I had been going to that nature reserve practically since I could walk, and therefore had developed an intense bond with it. If anything ever happened to it, I would surely be incredibly devastated, because I indeed felt love for that place, and I felt that in a way, it showed me love as well. The nature reserve provided me with a haven that set me apart from the bustling suburbs of Philly, it was a place where I bonded with friends and family, it was a place where I would go to relax and recharge if I was having a rough day. When in the midst of the pandemic, Nature was still there, and provided the escapism we needed during such stressful times.

My mother gardens as her primary hobby, and she has expressed to me many times that it is therapeutic for her. I go to the nursery and bring home houseplants to place in front of the window my bedroom, because they bring me peace. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Wall Kimmerer asks her daughter, who loves to garden, “Do you feel that your garden loves you back?” and she responds with “My garden takes care of me like my own mama.” I believe that my mother would share this sentiment, and I personally would like to say that I do too, and I can thank my mother for that. When I was a child, I’d often help her with garden chores, or would just play in the dirt while she planted flowers. This line from Braiding Sweetgrass practically sums up my childhood: “once they start they get caught up in the softness of the dirt and the smell of the day and it is hours later when they come back into the house.” All this love from an early age later shifts into a deep rooted appreciation for nature’s love, but sometimes that appreciation can become muddled in the demands of everyday life. What we often fail to realize though, is that failing to acknowledge nature’s love is like failing to acknowledge life. Some of my most intimate experiences and core memories I can recall are closely intertwined with the beauty of being present in the natural world. I love nature, and it is easy to say you love nature. It is easy to snap a scenic photo and post it on your Instagram account. But we must familiarize ourselves with our surroundings in order to become intimate with them, and to realize that we don’t just love the earth, but the earth loves us. As phrased in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” I believe that I have formed a sacred bond with Pennypack Trust, and the beaches of Long Beach Island NJ where my family vacations every year, or the natural beauties that I have seen while traveling in Canada and Iceland that permanently occupy a portion of my mind. I also believe that I am beginning to form a bond with White Clay Creek, even if I have yet to familiarize myself with most of it beyond this one spot. I do know, however, that walking in the warm autumn sun in the woods, in a profound way, makes me feel loved.





Walnuts, by Benett Tilves

I walked across a browning field and was greeted with a welcoming smile, minus one front tooth. A man with a “you’re on native land” baseball cap was putting together some brush to start a fire. This plot of land was not what I was expecting. Sporadic headstones, tree stumps, broken concrete slabs, and piles of wood surrounded me. There was one other person there when I arrived and she invited me to gather black walnuts that had fallen from the trees. As I perused the land looking for slimy rotten fruit, the man, who I learned was named Simon, apologised for not having extra gloves as the walnuts tend to stain fingers. He told me at least I will have a good story if someone asks why my fingertips were colored greenish brown. That’s when a thought came to mind about the situation. Who do I have to impress with clean hands that won’t be more impressed by the story that stained them? Any professor, coach, or potential employer that might see my hands and think less of me because of how they got that way should not be someone I am around anyway.

More people showed up and soon there was a squad of about 10 black walnut gatherers. While collecting the heavy green spheres from ground I listened to others tell stories of how they process the walnuts, the ways they can be eaten, and the memories they have with their families, not to mention the weeks of stained hands. Even though we were a group of mainly white people, it was hard to ignore the thoughts about how native Lenape probably did the same thing every fall hundreds of years ago. Chief Dennis Coker told us about “old grandfather walnut” and how he has been processing the fruit his entire life. The people here, native or not, are intimate with the land. They know when the walnuts fall, when to gather them, and how to turn them into something usable for humans. I was told instead of looking on the ground for the walnuts to look for the walnut trees and then go beneath them. That moment was when I realized this intimacy with nature. We were not just finding random walnuts on the ground, we were using knowledge of the surroundings to make the process simpler.

 I think that is what Robin Wall Kimmer means when she tells us to be more connected to nature. Seeing a tree as a tree is a lot different than seeing it as a walnut to collect fruit, or an oak to find chicken of the woods, or an invasive ailanthus that lantern flies love. Seeing things in nature as independent subjects is an incredible step towards preservation and conservation because they are no longer just things outside. They are living breathing creatures that deserve the same respect that we owe each other. This reminds me of when Wall Kimmer writes about a time she weaved black ash baskets with the Pigeon family. She writes that John Pigeon said “Slow down- it’s thirty years of a tree’s life you’ve got in your hands there. Don’t you owe it a few minutes to think about what you’ll do with it?”(155). These walnut trees were absolutely massive, decades old in many cases. As I tramped around picking up their fruit, it never occurred to me how some of them have been producing food for people since before my grandparents were even born. They saw the land when it was pristine, as it turned into an illegal dumping ground, as the school building was heinously burned down, and now as we try to restore this plot of land to some of its former glory. Realizing that these trees are creatures like us is something that will help humans realize how much we need to protect the environment. 

I feel as though this is the realization that needs to happen in order for change to begin. The problem is that we don’t even give all human beings respect as equals, so how are we going to get people to respect non-humans? The atrocities committed throughout history against natives, african slaves, and even just poor people in this country have been numerous. But even worse is the assault on the American ecosystems and environment that has been decimated by extractive capitalism. Dunbar-Ortiz wrote about this and talked about it in her interview last week as well. If we can’t even treat other humans decently, how are we going to protect the environment and the other living creatures on this planet? If we exploit and devalue members of our own species, how does that translate to environmental degradation and exploitation?

Large scale public outreach programs are going to be crucial to getting people to understand this idea of being one with nature in order to protect it. Teaching about something in a classroom or watching Blue Planet on TV are so disconnected from actually being out in nature. I am surrounded by nature when I am home and it has felt weird being at school and not having the same outlet to destress and unwind. Having this single day out in the woods of Dover Delaware has shown me a lot about my own reliance on my environment but also how others view theirs. I hope to return to the Fork Branch property some time in the near future to see the progression and transformation of the land. But even if I continue to go back until I am 90, I still could never match what “old grandfather walnut” has seen.