Editor’s note: In what is now a Dark Matter tradition, contributors to this issue convened on Zoom to discuss each other’s work. What follows is a highly edited version of our conversation.
November 6, 2022
LW: I noticed that reading these pieces did something to my sense of time. You all made the past so present … and I loved being steeped in these communications with ancestors at this time of year—between the Day of the Dead and Samhain. I felt I was being taught something by them about time not being linear at all. What Maria Renée writes about the Datura in her piece: “Nobody, nothing ever really goes anywhere…”
CT: I was struck by the feeling of comfort that came after I had read all the pieces. The feeling of being part of a community of people who draw strength from nature, who prioritize the connection with nature and the ancestors and certain sacred practices. Especially with all the hysteria around the elections in the US and Ukraine and all the other emergencies. I find that this writing, this way of living and inhabiting time, is part of the medicine for the moment.
I think a lot about not just bearing witness to the horrible things in the past but also bearing witness to possibility and where connection takes us and how connection feeds the imagination. And I feel a responsibility at this perilous time to take that very seriously. This way of being that’s tethered to possibility and to the beyond-human world. I actually believe and even know that it will carry us through.
GG: I second that. I also got from the pieces that even though there is historical time there is something outside of time. I got this very strongly Maria from your piece when you write about the medicinal knowledge that was carried in the hearts of your female ancestors and that continued on even though historical experiences came and went and were traumatic or not. There is something that endures and is expressed by the renewal of the plants: the way the natural world cares for us and we care for it.
SW: Nature is the spirit world and if you’re in touch with both you move back between the two. I’m so glad that some of us are so aware of this splitting of nature away from us– as if we are not nature. There is a wonderful attempt to reclaim that in these essays.
SE: I am so encouraged and inspired by the edge-walking, courageous, reparative work all of you are doing—your responsiveness to the ancestors be they plant, river, tree, bear, beaver, hawk, coyote or a diversity of humans. And to dreams, communications from the land. There’s such a collective sense of expansion and possibility.
MB: All of these pieces are really a beautiful conversation between the living and the dead and nature as a Mother holding both of those. If we just even think about the plants of our ancestors or the trees we can leap right back into the Mother who is the holder of all of our lineages.
CH: Maria, you write: “I embody my ancestors, I carry them within.” You are fortunate to live in a lineage where you feel the support of your ancestors.
MB: I do. Yes. That lineage of plants is a part of what made us. It is our DNA. Our ancestors traveled through and with those plants. The air the rain the stars helped grow those plants. If we exist in this time and space it doesn’t matter how much time has gone by. It’s a question of the cosmos infiltrating and becoming and remembering for us what we have forgotten.
LW: That’s so beautiful. But it’s a stretch for me to think that way. When I think of embodying my ancestors… I mainly think of dysfunction and trauma. And in two of the essays in this issue the writers are tracing that very thread through their own family line.
GG: I’m one of those. There is severe trauma in my lineage. One of the things I love about systemic constellations is that the trauma is not the focus. It comes up for healing but the orientation is towards the continuity of life and the connection. Just as Sara was saying about the disconnect from nature there is also disconnect from the life force within us. I hear Maria talking about being awake to this life force. We are that, all of it. There’s an embrace there. I had to learn to enlarge my sense of self to include all my ancestors.
CH: More than anything I was struck in your piece by the layering of trauma within the land you purchased, whole cultural paradigms overlaid one upon the other. That you could effect change on this land through intention and ceremony is such an affirmation of the power we have within us.
MB: For me Cynthia’s piece too was such a story of redemption. The healing of generational trauma through ritual. The river, the snakes, which all held such archetypal ways of understanding. I found it a really beautiful piece.
CH: One of the things that really inspired me in your piece Cynthia was you stayed with your family… So often when people have backgrounds like that they go away, break off. I was really brought to tears by it. The idea of dreaming the future, which you learned from indigenous neighbours, which led to an at least partial reversal of the damage done to the river ecosystem by your ancestors.
LW: Not to mention the 40,000 cattle transported by boxcar and packed together in feedlots! But it’s exactly what Gillian is writing about: “staying with the trouble” (from Donna Haraway). She’s tempted to walk away but she keeps hearing this message. And she stays.
GG: I exist because my ancestors existed. I draw my life from them. I also inherited their trauma with this life: it’s both a responsibility and a gift. By staying with the trouble, I’ve been able to come to something I never thought I could.
MB: When I read your piece, I kept thinking you had no choice. The land chose you. You took the cold path and signed not really knowing why or remembering. The land chose you.
SW: The land always choses us.
GG: Yeah but sometimes we don’t listen. At some level I knew I could trust that force, but it was very confusing.
SW: Isn’t it confusing because we don’t have a lot of support for this kind of thinking/ feeling/being?
LW: Exactly what Maria is writing about. Not just being ridiculed or ignored but being persecuted for practicing othered ways of knowing and being.
CT: I found Maria’s piece really interesting in the way you talk about indigenous culture and colonization and then your use of Spanish as the colonizer’s language.
MB: Yes. Ironically, I was forbidden to speak the colonizer’s language and I sit with that all the time. I come from three different indigenous peoples, not all even from the land of my birth. There’re so many layers to that.
But for me the language is the language of plants and for that lineage you don’t need the spoken word. No language is needed. That’s why the beauty of flowers and song which is all through MesoAmerica. If you look at Maya glyphs you’ll see when they speak, little flowers emit from their mouths. They call words “the breath of the flower.” It’s a cosmic breath.
GG: This cosmic breath doesn’t speak in words! All of our essays bring up a language of glyphs, appearances, and synchronicities that are more than mere symbolism. Beaver for example is the essence of Sara deceased father, Coyote of Cynthia’s family’s trickster relationship with the land once of the Mohave, and Hawk of the Hopi ancestors of my place. Maria, I feel you manage to perform with your writing this nonverbal cosmic language that is beyond but also within time.
KF: I had such a visceral reaction to the language and the descriptions in your piece, Maria. Those flowers: the physical beauty, the scent of them. Everything was lush and alive and there was such reverence.
But I wanted to say something about the land choosing us. I couldn’t help but think about Carole’s piece on the buffalo and how we’ve continually moved them, relocated them. I appreciated that the buffalo was included among the ancestors in this issue.
SW: The buffalo story really moved me and brings up an excruciating point. Because we’re a non-context culture, we want to bring the buffalo back, but they don’t have rigid boundaries and we do. We no sooner introduce a new wild population than we destroy it because it gets in the way.
CH: I’m ambivalent about the buffalo rewilding project. I can see how over time they could be introduced on Native land. They could replace beef as a form of ranched food. But I can’t see them ever having that freedom. Though I do try and imagine what if? Imagine that this impetus could grow.
LW: I had just finished rereading your essay Carole when I read the Barry Lopez piece for the first time. The prie-dieu in the forest leads Sharon Simone to Lopez’ story “Teal’s Creak,” where she recalls first having seen that word. The whole essay is about how an unprecedented level of imagination is needed at this time. And in the very passage where the prie-dieu appears are these words: “I imagined animals filling up the world.”
Having just come off a reading of Carole’s essay I of course saw the buffalo filling the plains.
GG: I love the emphasis on the imagination. It’s enlarging our thinking, enlarging our capacity to feel, enlarging possibility. It’s really ultimately about freedom.
SE: Our piece took so long to put together because we felt we were just following threads in the dark. What we were trying to do was show the process required to find and heed this medicine from the ancestors. It seems what’s required is to understand that all the ancestors are present all the time and somehow if we imagine or enlarge our sense of reality in that way it will guide us, will heal what needs to be healed. I think our own personal ancestors whatever harms they have done might actually want to make amends for that.
In his essay “The Stone Horse” Lopez talks about the comfort he feels looking at this ancient intaglio of a horse because it explodes the idea that this destructive historical present is it. The ancestors are there wanting to say something—that’s an entire cosmology right there. Now I’ve gone from linearity to a sense that everything is present.
GG: I think it’s important to say that historical trauma or even trauma period is not the boogeyman our mainstream culture makes it out to be. It offers us the keys to a restoration of right relationship with the heart of life, and the ancestors. This healing is always possible and it’s truly freeing. All our essays are ultimately about this freedom, perhaps with the exception of Carole’s buffalo, and maybe because the historical trauma of their near genocide, in tandem with the near genocide of the Peoples of the Plains, has not yet been embraced and mended in the way our essays describe. I feel it is very right that your essay ends on a question mark, Carole.
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