There is a little squirrel that visits me daily. Or at least I am filled with enough hubris to think she is visiting me. Her job is to find and secure nuts for the winter. She forages long into the day around my apartment here beneath the grand dames—the oak trees. But lest I think she is not paying attention to me and my habits daily in her industrious scurrying about, she taught me a lesson recently.
Last evening as twilight crept across the lake, I was journaling in my living room, facing out the great Windows to the lake.
Feeling a little down and lonely, I suddenly noticed the aforementioned squirrel arcing gracefully across the grass, with not only a nut in her cheek pouches, but a huge yellow thing plugging her mouth. I began to laugh as she jumped up on the stone wall dividing my patio from the lake, leaping into one of my lawnchairs. Clearly the bulging thing in her mouth was awkward to run with. She tried to scale the back of the patio furniture to peer at me in the window. To no avail. What was it? A yellow ball? A lemon?
So, after hovering briefly on the chair she settled for the small table. Leaping onto the top, she carefully placed the yellow object there and raced away after flicking her tail. Upon closer examination I realized it was an apple that I had brought with me from Albuquerque. Shortly after arriving from my long trip to Minnesota, I cleared out my car, finding an apple with a bad spot rolling around under my seat. I threw it out under the big spreading Maple tree in front of my apartment, where I often heard her rummaging about amongst the leaves, jumping from branch to branch. I hoped that perhaps it would provide some readily available food. I’m not surprised if she saw me and immediately examined this thing that the human had discarded. Food for the winter? A few nibbles and she clearly realized it was not going to provide the needed protein.
As if to say “I know this is yours, I’ll leave it right here for you”, she brought it back. Was it a fluke that she happened to put it on MY patio rather than one of the other humans assembled here? Creatures are constantly vigilant and curious of their environment. It is part of their indigenous nature, rooted in the piece of earth they occupy. Yet, we do not afford them the same keen observation and curiosity. We rush through our lives, preoccupied with our human endeavors and thoughts. I think of the holocaust of little furry bodies littering the roadsides as I drove north. Roads crisscross their migration paths for food gathering and travel. Our cars move at lightning speeds compared to their inner time clocks. We lose what Wendell Berry calls, “The Peace of Wild Things”.
I am amazed that every day I am met with lessons about the manuscript I am working on. This particular day it was about creaturely intelligence. Even as I am observing the squirrel I am working with my friend Lorenzo in Albuquerque as one of our beehives will need TLC. How do we connect with their instinctual nature so as to work with them rather than against them for survival as winter nears? It is not just a matter of “the best practices of the industry”, but rather balancing that with the spiritual wisdom borne out of a relationship with the bees. The wild ones and the ones we tame have their own innate intelligence that is not what we humans might measure according to our IQ tests. How to align with this?
It is an intelligence that is native to a place. Indigenous. That comes from deeply being rooted in relationship to a particular land base, watershed and piece of earth shared with other creatures. Recently I read that we as humans don’t understand creatures and the natural world according to its own intelligence and wealth of knowledge. We seek to measure them against ours, finding them wanting. We miss the point. It is the same with people who are indigenous. Until we are willing to stop and listen and learn the particular wisdom that comes from being connected to one’s particular land base, we will not stop our march towards colonization and dispossession of earth or land based people.
This week I will be heading to North Dakota to be with those at Standing Rock. I feel blessed to go and be with a people whose heart and soul and very bodies are indigenous. They are so connected to their land and waters that they will rise up with fierce love to protect her. I want to be there with them.
May we all become Indigenous to the place we live and the places we love.
Footnote: today when I returned from church, the apple was gone. I wonder if I rebuffed squirrel’s offer to take back my apple?! The mystery deepens…