Credit to: Frances E. Vandal
Recently, the Potowatomi botanist and author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, spoke at the Institute for American Indian Arts. One of the gifts from her talk, among the many she gave, was a word from her language, bmaadiziaki, which means “earth being” or “living being.”
What if, she asked, we made a revolution of language to change the way we look at ourselves and the world, and then live differently? What if, rather than referring to all creation that is not human as “it,” we changed our reference? What if we took a derivation of this word, ki, and used it for the singular in relating to all living beings? What if for more than one, based on her language which uses “n” to make plural, we used the word kin?
A few weeks prior to hearing her I’d been watching the orb weavers appear after dark. They hung in the air, seeming to be held by the backdrop of sky beyond the coyote fence, and equidistant on either side of the roof slanting over the patio. Their symmetry was startling. Light from the moon or the lamp on the opposite street caught the intricacy of silk threads extending at times two feet across and even further down along the posts at either end of the patio. At times the sticky touch of a thread carried by the wind to the branch of the bonita ash tree, opposite the patio by several more feet, would brush my head or face.
With bodies the size of a quarter coin, colored golden brown, and eight legs posed slightly bent around them, orb weavers evolved on the earth about 140 million years ago. It was hard to imagine creatures hanging precariously on thin threads in the air as being so resilient.
When the winds and rains came, they held steady as they were rocked back and forth. Occasionally the eaves were blown clear and a few loose strands might remain, until they came back again. Each evening they appeared and then disappeared at sunrise, sometimes taking their nearly transparent, silvery creation with them. Each night the orb weavers created anew. In the early morning dark they remained suspended, present, completely still.
Sometimes my dog, Maddie, would stand on the patio and look up at them, lifting her head left and then right and back again. Yet never did I hear her bark at them, unlike with the other creatures of the backyard – the red squirrels, ravens and doves, butterflies and hummingbirds, the occasional raccoon, the small lizard. A fly on the door screen was more cause for her noisy concern.
However, these two silent neighbors above the patio had been imposing to me. It took longer to become acquainted with them and their night time lifestyle, to become less nervous of them. As soon as I came out in the early morning dark, or sat on the patio in the evening, I looked for them, watched them. I tried to avoid clumsily breaking into their world, as much out of anxiety as courtesy. I’d been unsure of how to place them in my life, how to call them.
In contrast it was easy to relate to the few iridescent hummingbirds which still came searching for nectar from the feeders or agastache blooms. Or the crownhead flowers growing abundantly from the late summer rains and filling my backyard, and nearly every yard in the neighborhood, with their bright golden faces.
The sorrow and loneliness from the cascading loss of species, sometimes remembered only from childhood books but like dearly loved friends, can feel overwhelming, the grief unending. At other times life seems too busy to feel or notice much of anything.
It seemed a sign of disconnection that I was so unsure about the orb weavers. I was unsure what to feel about them, wondering if they were benign or dangerous, or even to be gotten rid of, as they spun and created their designs outside my doorstep.