#2 - being nature

Because we miss our family.

POV: I’m Hima - a South Asian, medium brown skin, cis-gender, able-bodied, straight woman living as a settler on the Indigenous lands, T’karonto. I was born in Scarborough, raised Jain, middle-class, with English as my first language. My parents immigrated by choice via London and East Africa and are still together. I have two sisters and no extended family living locally. I have ADHD. Much of what I write will be informed by some of these lived experiences.


genuinely wondering

What language will emerge to refer to our second, third, four, and fifth families and partners who only exist virtually, in completely different identities than their physical forms?


dreaming about

Desert nights. A quietness I’ve only ever experienced in Joshua Tree, where I knew I was a guest and perhaps trespasser in a nation of queer creatures and spirits, now awake, and unwilling to be tamed.


on my screen

30 open tabs of realtor.ca, as Ciaran and I continue to chip away at finding alignment on a vision to become stewards, students, and friends of the land on Turtle Island while continuing to deepen our role as settlers in solidarity with Indigenous resurgence. We want to create a space for our families and community to gather, shape canvases to play and co-create with artists, nourish the soil to grow our own food and herbs, and ultimately, make a home.


contemplation

Fatality became less theoretical this year. And in our moment of collective weakness, we turned to nature for life support. We needed nature like a baby needs Sophie la Girafe - to soothe us, entertain us, distract us, hold us, and heal us while the cracks in the concrete became deafening. Evening walks, bike rides, and weekend hikes were now mandatory activities, and migrating from the city to the country to be in nature, was now a core consideration of the privileged and non-essential. Rentals cottages within a 500km radius became more than the cost of rent and people of colour decided they finally needed to learn to camp. Mists of perfume from the neighbor’s freesias became stand-in spa treatments. Parks became superspreader sites, motivating digital rage and shaming amongst the law-abiding and a series of short-lived grass-painted bubbles. When the leaves were ready to leave summer behind, we could not keep our cool - eventually leading to some conservation areas to implement reservation systems. Our collective desperation for nature’s balm to dissolve the anxious self through awe for something bigger than our racing minds was palpable.

‘We say nature as if we are not a part of it,’ environmentalist and thinker Paul Kingsnorth wrote in a piece called, ‘The Myth of Progress’ which I read as part of a course I took on Spiritual Ecology. ‘In many Indigenous cultures around the world,’ he goes on to say, ‘there is no word for nature.’ Instead, Indigenous people see both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family in which they share origin and ancestry. They understand that the only way for human life to sustain itself is if it sees and embraces the life surrounding it as kin.

It is no surprise that our primary language, English, is inherently separatist and human-centric, creating the conditions for extraction and superiority. And yet I am distressed by my compliance. ‘We go to nature to get something for ourselves,’ a classmate shares, ‘do we ever go for the forest’s sake? For the benefit of the tree alone?’ The ‘othering’ of nature and the living world as a reality outside of ourselves has created the ideal conditions to reposition nature as a resource and commodity. Capitalism and the exploitation of land fundamentally can not work without these lines of division and separation.

It turns out the word nature is a more recent addition to classical texts - derived from the Latin word, natura, which refers to one’s essential and innate qualities. Over time, the word evolved, marking a moral shift in demarcating that which is conceived by the human mind, as artificial, and that which persists in the living world (despite human intervention), as natural. Still, according to Frédéric Ducarme and Denise Couvet, who recently published a piece in the famed journal Nature, questioning what ‘nature’ means (meta) - found that the idea of nature remains elusive and abstract. Between philosophy, theology, science, and ecology, the relationship and power dynamic between nature, God, and humans is largely unresolved. God is understood to either be a part of nature in some traditions or has transcended nature and matter into spirit in others. Further, nature is believed to either be here as the raw material for human domination, therefore requiring protection from humans or as the mother of human incarnation in which a creative process is shared. In comparing a plastic Christmas tree to a spruce Christmas tree, a molecular biologist may see them both as ‘natural’, since they both are made of the same atoms of matter.

While there is value in a diversity of perspectives to inspire action - the unfortunate quandary with language is that despite our greatest efforts to use it to convey meaning, the true meaning of words like nature is often ineffable. Language can lead us astray from the truth(s) - and yet is it foundational in shaping our reality in conscious and subconscious ways through stories, lesson plans, and policies. The ecological crisis we are experiencing is not random - it was written, fated, based on the meaning ascribed to the word nature in this historical period.

To date, we largely share a cognitive dissonance in our anxiety about climate change, and our ability to conceptualize how exactly it will impact us and what we should do about it. Economists believe this dissonance is rooted in the theory of ‘hyperbolic discounting’ which describes our tendency to undermine long-term rewards. ‘If our toolkit is fear, shame, and guilt,” says Wallace J. Nicholas, author of the book, Blue Mind, which describes the meditative states we experience, and rise in dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin when we are by large bodies of water, ‘they are not going to join the club.’ He believes, rightly, that eco-spirituality, and the love, awe, and compassion induced by nature, is the embodied path we need to catalyze social transformation. Deconstructing and unlearning language, like nature, and the imprint of separatist meaning maybe what we need to truly return to the sublime. How can we use music, dance, smelling trees, and listening to the catalog bird sounds, as the language and research that shapes green deals and climate change policies?

As far as words go - the meaning of apocolypse is to have a prophetic revelation and unveiling - a definition of the pandemic we can all agree on. Being disconnected, spiritually, and emotionally, from the living world is a pain that has been personally revealing. The pain from treating the living world, to that which we belong, in ways we simply would not know ourselves to treat our kin. The loss of a relationship that is in essence so ancient and sacred that it is boundless; extending beyond satisfying our need for fitness, wellness, and entertainment into one of reciprocity, mutual respect, friendship, and play. The anxiety of not knowing how to reverse or restore decades of willful neglect. To the soul of the living world is to recognize our own in ways that have become so faint, we are detached from its searing pain as it begs for acknowledgment in floods and fires.

As someone who was raised in the Jain tradition, I learned at a very young age that any being with one of the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, sound) had a soul, and was therefore not to be harmed. Essentially, rocks were as sacred as my grandmother. Even then, this perspective felt fringe and was only reflected in fairytales, where the boundaries between humans, plants, and animals are few. In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, now holy text, Braiding Sweetgrass, she shares the creation story of Skywoman falling from skyworld, gently carried to safety by geese, offered the turtle’s back for rest, and gifted mud to make the land through the bravery of the otter, sturgeon, beaver and muskrat. ‘The problem is, they hear our stories and think they are myths,’ a colleague shared in reflection. ‘These treaties are real.’

Lately, I have been inviting the trees on my street into my family; slowly getting to know them, see and hear them, recognize their way in this world and this moment. Their branches, a language unto itself, configuring in excitement, receptivity, and shyness. Their steadfast presence and stillness always a source of certainty in what we believe are uncertain times. With nature, I have never felt less lonely.


liberation now

By reading this zine on ‘Racial Capitalism and Police Abolition,’ which elegantly uses illustrations to make theories of Black Marxist and abolition scholars like Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Davis, and Mariame Kaba accessible.


obsessed with

The Biggest Little Farm documentary on Netflix - highly recommended witnessing the journey of using ancestral methods of regenerative farming, and understand how through listening, this couple learned that all parts of the living world have a role to play in harmony.


This newsletter was inspired by this TikTok by @ashymalikk - which are always best enjoyed when shared.