“What was given to him, he now gives back to the people.”

I grew up in the interface between science and earth, between empirical fact and ineffable knowing

everything gets used. you can’t watch everything, but if you can and care to, watch closely, and listen to where the pieces want to go

a process informed by presence will balance itself

highlights from Braiding Sweetgrass today, a chapter on weaving baskets from black ash:

  • What was given to him, he now gives back to the people. Some basket classes I’ve taken start with a neat pile of materials, all assembled on a clean table. But John doesn’t hold with teaching basket weaving where the splints come ready made—he teaches basket making, beginning with a living tree.

  • And yet it’s not enough to simply find black ash; it has to be the right one—a tree ready to be a basket.

  • Traditional harvesters recognize the individuality of each tree as a person, a nonhuman forest person. Trees are not taken, but requested. Respectfully, the cutter explains his purpose and the tree is asked permission for harvest. Sometimes the answer is no. It might be a cue in the surroundings—a vireo nest in the branches, or the bark’s adamant resistance to the questioning knife—that suggests a tree is not willing, or it might be the ineffable knowing that turns him away. If consent is granted, a prayer is made and tobacco is left as a reciprocating gift. The tree is felled with great care so as not to damage it or others in the fall. Sometimes a cutter will make a bed of spruce boughs to cushion the landing of the tree. When they finish, John and his son hoist the log to their shoulders and begin the long walk home.

  • “This tree’s a good teacher,” he says. “That’s what we’ve always been taught. The work of being a human is finding balance, and making splints will not let you forget it.”

  • “People think it’s ‘just’ basket weaving, but 80 percent of the work comes long before you weave.

  • Black ash and basket makers are partners in a symbiosis between harvesters and harvested: ash relies on people as the people rely on ash. Their fates are linked.

    Note: A process informed by presence will balance itself

  • They are partnering with forest scientists to resist the insect and to adapt to its aftermath. There are reweavers among us

    Note: Look: balance.

  • It is an honor to be the guardian of another species—an honor within each person’s reach

  • “You’ve started with the four directions in front of you. It’s the heart of your basket. Everything else is built around that.” Our people honor the four sacred directions and the powers resident there. Where the two basket strips meet, at the intersection of those four directions, is right where we stand as humans, trying to find balance among them. “See there,” John says, “everything we do in life is sacred. The four directions are what we build on. That’s why we start like that.”

  • We look to John for the next set of instructions, but there are none. He says, “You’re on your own now. The design of the basket is up to you. No one can tell you what to create.” We have thick and thin splints to work with, and John shakes out a bag full of brightly dyed splints in every color. The tangled pile looks like the singing ribbons on the men’s ribbon shirts in the evening powwows. “Just think of the tree and all its hard work before you start,” he says. “It gave its life for this basket, so you know your responsibility. Make something beautiful in return.”

    For me, writing is an act of reciprocity with the world; it is what I can give back in return for everything that has been given to me.

    Note: For me, it's more like: "what wil happen next?"

  • He gives the boys some scraps, the model, and a few words in Potawatomi, but doesn’t tell them how to make a horse. They’re used to this kind of teaching and don’t ask questions. They look and look some more and then set to work to figure it out. Before long, a herd of horses is galloping over the table and little boys are watching baskets grow.

    Note: The sunrise happened on this line, the sun found my eyes

  • Every one of them is different and yet every one of them began in the same tree. They are all made of the same stuff and yet each is itself.

  • all dressed in their dreamed-of colors,

  • being mindful in the vast network of hyperindustrialized goods really gives me a headache. We weren’t made for that sort of constant awareness. We’ve got work to do.

    Note: then be mindful only with the pieces that touch you


costar says: The spiritual practice of your childhood manifests in your life in unexpected ways. Trace its movement across the story of your life. If your life was told as a myth, how would it go?

All of this helps me hone in on what's mine to write, I think. I grew up in the space between organic and synthetic. I learned to treat it all with honor. I've honored it all across my life, and all of it has honored me, in return. I think Robin would say then that this is what I have to give back: this perspective, and the story of this experience.

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