A guest post by Duncan Berry

Duncan Berry has spent most of his life as a designer turned business man at the intersection of values based businesses like the global organic cotton movement. He is currently a partner in Ecosystem Services LLC whose business incubator is the coastal temperate forests of North America where he labors happily to strike a lasting balance between human communities and the natural systems of which they are an inextricable part.

I have had 2 questions on my mind ever since I spent 30 days in seclusion with the systems thinker and deep ecologist Joanna Macy 4 years ago.

What does it mean to be indigenous?

Can one become so in a single lifetime by living in deep relationship with a place?

 My wife and I live on the edge of a continent, where 5000 miles of open ocean meets the buckled, young lands of Oregon’s coastline. We are the minority in this majority of wildness and we spend as much time as we can out under the sky working, exploring, feeding ourselves and occasionally slowing down long enough to lose our sense of separation in this wild place.

Walking on the flanks of Cascade Head recently I found a Native American midden mound exposed in the roots of a fallen tree. It was full of the remnants of everyday life before the great interruption. Freshwater clams, barnacles, bird bones and salmon vertebrae. This reminded me of the importance of knowing the source of things that sustain us and how cut off we are as sons and daughters of the industrial revolution. My generation is mobile and enjoys almost limitless choices, but is largely lacking in tap roots and all that comes with them.

 It strikes me, that perhaps in this, is the answer to my questions. If my wife and I were to go cold turkey tomorrow and 100% feed and clothe and shelter ourselves, we, like all the living creatures with whom we share this watershed, would be thrust into a dawn to dusk deeper relationship with place. Inevitably this is what the first peoples did when they settled here after their long migrations. Inspired by necessity to observe, learn and pass down. What is found where, when does it ripen or migrate, how do you keep warm, when will it storm and when will it clear?

I stand shallowly rooted somewhere in the middle between this life and my local grocery store. Raised poor in the country I learned from the generation before me how to sew, hunt, fish and forage, partly out of necessity and partly from the joy of it. But having tasted rice, and avocados and grown accustomed to a warm bed and ready clothing since those early days, I will most likely remain insulated from being truly indigenous. But I am keenly aware of this choice to live the way I do. That I am the current generation living in this special this place and that I love it in my bones more than any other, and am committed to observing and learning and passing down what I know of its workings.

Maybe the defining tap root of indigenous peoples all over the world is not really born out of space or time, but rather it is this act of deeply loving the place you have come down in. Perhaps this begs a different pair of questions:

 What place have you deeply loved…How has it shaped you?

Poems by Duncan Berry:

estuary

 

if one sits

long enough

in one place

as we do

on this hill top

one mile

upstream from

where

the fresh

fluid

of the land

is received

into a roiling winter sea

 

one can see that

this great planetary host

is breathing

in a respiration that

is deep

and predictable

every 12 hours

the great serpentine lungs

of the land below us fill

drawn from the great body

of water

to the west

 

bearing

the tang of salt

and shouldering

its rich broth of nutrients

this liquid

gravitational breath

moves silently

into

the long

flat body

of the land

 

and every living being there

awaits this

dependable inhalation

sitka spruce

and broad meadows of sedges

mist drenched elk herds

and young salmon

alike

 

and then

just as surely

it turns to go

a great exhalation

that takes with it the remnants

of this terrestrial feast

back

past the rivers mouth

out into the curving arc

of open sea

 

the presence of salt

in my

body

is a perfect match

for these waters

below

while air flows

in and out of my lungs

as tides in an estuary

 

one is emptied of separation

if one sits long enough

in one place

as we do.

From 400 feet above the Salmon River Estuary

 

Water defines everything here, the source of life literally falling from the skies. In the last 9 months we have seen 10 feet of rain come and go.  It has filled the river to bursting, brown waters bearing a cargo of soil rich with its signature smell of alder, cedar and basalt. This calls out to a distant traveler to come home.

 

Red

 

it is one of  the mysteries

 

that the green backs of leaves

and the green backs of  salmon

turn red at the same time

 

converging

miles from the sea

in the streams of fall

when the rains have come

 

perhaps it is the leaf

returning

to the darkness from which it was born

descending from green

through yellow

and red

on its journey back

to the black earth

 

perhaps it is so with the salmon

returning to its source

red

where she can see him

in the liquid shadows

under the dark log

 

her belly

resting on smooth black gravel

swollen with eggs

charged and ready

 

red

so she knows

in the moment she spills her seed

that the risk she takes

she will not take

alone.

Written by the pools at Rose Lodge on the Salmon River

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