Grandmother Oak Speaks of the 7th Generation

Ranger and I have had an interesting few days, ever since my grandchildren last visited. Ranger is wary of any small person, especially one that happens to be clinging to me. I am part of Ranger’s herd, and his job is to protect me. So we move very carefully, and never take a risk that an injury will occur. Ranger sometimes has to be put up into the bedroom so the kids can roam the house.

This got us thinking. I know my grandchildren, now ages 2 and 6, and hope I will see them grow up and become fledglings of their own. But that’s all the longevity I can hope for. My generations are longer than most of my classmates, and I’m good with that. I’m relatively old to be a young grandmother. At this rate of reproduction, my grandchildren will have children later in this century. Now consider their grandchildren….. which they may be alive to see, and now we’re into the 6th or 7th generation. I try to imagine their lives, these future people who bear my genes. Three of my grandparents were dead before I was able to walk, and the fourth is a faint memory from my childhood.

Ranger: “Where are you going with this train of thought? Notice that I’m getting used to having your grandkids around, and I even settle down after a while, so don’t give up hope. After all, they aren’t going to be small people for long.”

Me: “I know. What I’m really puzzling through is my responsibility for not just them but also for their grandchildren. We need to talk to Grandmother Oak about this, as I believe she has come insight.”

It’s amazing that in that hallowed grove of oaks we heard her clearly. As we sit beneath her and look at the wild flowers spread out in the clearing, she speaks.

Grandmother Oak: “Let me remind you that I was here seven generations ago, even at your speed of reproduction. Unless a catastrophe strikes I will be here seven generations from now. I will be the tie that binds your generations together, if I am able. It’s really up to you to make sure I get that chance. Will your grandchildren’s grandchildren have me to embrace? Will they have a field of wild flowers to wander through? Or will they be quarantined in a concrete and asphalt jungle? Will there be a barred owl swooping through my branches, or will there be a golf course carved into this park? Will those children hope to see a Florida panther streak through this underbrush, or will panthers only be viewed on Youtube as a now extinct species? Will there be black bears in these parts, or will those children just hear stories of the hunters bagging the last ones back in the 21st Century?”

Me: “I know what I want. I want my grandchildren to experience looking up through the Spanish Moss toward the sky.

I want this sight for my grandkids: looking at the sky through Grandmother Oak's festoons of Spanish Moss.
I want this sight for my grandkids: looking at the sky through Grandmother Oak’s festoons of Spanish Moss.

But there is more:

I want them to see these giant air plants holding their cups of water for the bugs and birds.
I want them to see these giant air plants holding their cups of water for the bugs and birds.

What responsibility do I have to that generation of children? These are such sobering thoughts. I will never know them, but owe them so much… after all, without me they would not exist. And I know that it (at least historically) has taken about that long to change attitudes. Let’s say I value education for women…. that value took a long time to get to me, but it gradually came through and was solidified.

But we no long have those long periods of time, either to change our attitudes or our physical surroundings. Witness how quickly the change in attitude about gay marriage came about…. less than one generation! But it is also less than one generation until the glaciers will be gone and thousands of species gone as well.

I want them to experience this sanctuary.
I want them to experience this sanctuary.

Darryl tells me I stomp when I walk. I smile. I know when that started. I changed the way I walked so that I would have a better center of gravity holding my grandchildren. Not a bad metaphor for my thinking. I will do everything I can to center my gravity so the world is full of Grandmother Oaks.

Ranger Turns Historian

A Young Purple Gallinule practicing his flying technique.
A young Purple Gallinule practicing his flying technique.

At the Celery Fields nature area I took this picture of a fledgling Purple Gallinule as the urge to fly became irresistible. The bird’s gangly feet are perfect for clutching the narrow stems of the Alligator Flag plants. Then I came home to a dog ready to talk with me about the elation I felt at seeing the natural beauty revealed in this bird. It came on the heels of several ‘down’ days when I needed therapy sessions with Ranger.

Ranger: “So how did it happen that your mood got turned by this bird? Yesterday you were moping around reading “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for A Planet in Peril….” and today, presto, you take a camera out and you’re all better.”

Me: “That’s the way it works for me. The whole thing got started when I read about what Sara Palin (it’s okay, you don’t really need to know who she is, frankly…. a mere dot in human history) said about resources. She would like to be appointed U.S. Energy Secretary if Donald Trump gets elected President (another mere dot, by the way). She said, ‘….. energy is my baby: oil and gas and minerals, those things God has dumped on the Earth for mankind’s use…..’ was her statement. That got my attention. It seems the perfect example of the wasting disease that has been part of our nation’s history. It has a name: Exceptionalism. I don’t mean ‘exploitation’ although that certainly applies. I’m using a historical term.”

Ranger: “I know all about that, actually. Think of it as a pyramid. Way down on the bottom of the pyramid you’ve got Earth and every inanimate thing that it contains. Further up the pyramid you find animate things…. me, for example. Because I’m a mammal it gives me bragging rights over ‘lesser’ beings like snails, right? I’m exceptional compared to snails and birds, according to this theory. But above me are mammals who have used their brains to utilize the world to their own advantage. This whole thing gets scary when you see that in America we have a perfect storm of exceptionalist thinking. Men, and in particular white men, had a whole continent of stuff that God dumped here for their use.  All women, people with other skin color, animals of all kinds, minerals, rocks, oil, phosphate…. you name it.  White men could use all these things because they could get by with it. First Nation’s people were just shoved out of the way. Ms. Palin proves that women can act just like men when given power and control. She missed the history lesson about how American women were supposed to raise patriotic sons and improve the moral tone of our culture. She believes she is ‘exceptional’ as well. ”

Me: “I’m well steeped in exceptionalism, let me tell you! Those ideas are very familiar.  I was raised in a household where all those messages of exceptionalism were drummed in on a daily basis. We were exceptional compared to those pathetic Catholics. We were exceptional because we had a ‘White Man’s Burden’ to share the special message of Jesus with those unwashed heathen in other countries. My brothers? Hell, they had an even bigger mountain to climb… they were exceptional because they inherited the mantle of all American men! Their job was to take advantage of every God-given economic opportunity. They were to become self-made men in the image of Carnegie or Rockefeller. Earth was theirs for the taking if they worked hard. Since I was a woman I could wait in the wings until some white man took me off to support his efforts at all this.”

Ranger: “What’s that got to do with a Purple Gallinule?”

Me: “That bird shows me exceptionalism in the most elegant way. It loves being part of Earth, learning to gather food from the Alligator Flag plants, stretching wings, flying. It does not look around to see how much money it can make or how much it can subdue Earth.”

Ranger: “Maybe your job today is to figure out how to retain the joy you feel when you’re outside while you are listening to the news and reading about climate change.”