Caring and the “Fore-caring” of Precaution: Watching over the Commons

By Madronna Holden

One day when I visited a Chehalis grandmother that I sat and spoke with many times, she called my attention to the prairie in front of her house. She loved that prairie which brought her the smell of wild strawberries in June and remembered images of her ancestors with their slender digging sticks prying camas up carefully, so carefully, so as not to “disturb the prairie”. Over generations, the careful work of her people and that of other indigenous women resulted in the camas flowers everywhere on the prairies pioneers nicknamed “camas lakes” for their stunning visual effect.

But that day the prairie this elder loved was full of shoveled mounds of dirt.  It seems that some people on a quest for wild foods had been seeking camas and had tunneled away, turning over and uprooting soil everywhere.  It was something I myself did not at first notice, but it was immediately apparent to this woman who in her eighties watched over the prairie just as she watched over the Chehalis children playing outside the tribal hall during recess from the Headstart Program.  She had an all too extensive recollection of the assaults on Chehalis identity and language during the boarding school era, but observing these children who “knew who they are”; she could finally say of her people, “I guess we made it”.

She had strong eyes with which to do all that watching:  ones that could warm you even in the coldest days. Others (non-Indians) advised me to wear a coat when I came to see her in her unheated cedar house.  But sitting there before her bright watching eyes, often flashing with glee at a joke, I was never cold.

She had plenty of vision with which to observe that those folks armed with shovels had “really messed up the prairie”.  This violated her ethic of non-disturbance the same way the sloppy leavings of a modern hunting camp violated the same ethic in Henry Cultee’s eyes.  You should take and use all of what you shot-and should there be something you couldn’t use of the animal that had given its life for your survival, you should respectfully bury it. Honoring the life you had taken and leaving the land just as you found it.

In this sense the “precautionary principle”, which mandates that we take special care not to disturb other lives now or in the future, is nothing new.

Caring for the land and for the people is anciently intertwined in traditional indigenous views in which animals were hunted so that meat could be shared. In some areas of California, the hunter never ate any of his own meat.  He could justify taking the life of another natural creature only by giving it away to feed others. In the same way, girls who harvest their first roots berries on the Mid-Columbia River never consume these themselves-but instead give them away.  In wisdom gleaned from observing the reciprocity of natural systems, they realize that the one who gives away her first harvest will see nature return the favor to her in future years.

What we share of nature and society expresses the content of what environmental philosophers term the “commons”.  The commons includes things like air, water, transportation and storm water systems upon which modern developers depend-and for the Chehalis grandmother, the prairie in front of her house. That commons differs radically from “private property”. What was truly “private”shouldn’t matter to anyone else.  Thus the grandmother above thought it as peculiar as it was insulting that social service folks had knocked on Indian doors with the purported purpose of teaching Indian women how to arrange their housekeeping.  Once the word got out, the Indian women they targeted didn’t let them in the door.

Digging up the prairie by any means convenient and intruding on the home life  of Chehalis people to proffer their re-arrangement both violate the ethic of non-disturbance shared by many native cultures and the modern precautionary principle–originally called “fore-caring”, in that it was caring for the future.

It was the same kind of violation that saddened the Chehalis grandmother when she had, years before, gone to visit someone at the state mental institution at Steilacoom.  She was indignant that the inmates could be “paraded around like that-human beings!”  She did not recall that there were many who were “lost to us that way” before contact, but when there were, her people would work to “bring them home again”.

To bring them, that is, back to a place of honor and belonging, to include and embrace them rather than to isolate and regiment them.

There is exemplary tenderness in this stance:  in the stance that honors all life exactly as it is– and understands disease as lack of belonging.  Instead of remaking the world for its own purposes, this stance attempts to enlarge itself to embrace those who have been left out, thus bringing them home again.

Imagine a science that worked with this kind of tenderness toward our world. It is a possible vision. Indigenous Community Conservation Areas now account for a substantial portion of the world’s lands (up to an estimated twelve per cent), and they include global areas with the largest cultural and biological diversity (“biocultural diversity”). Such areas are managed in terms of the ancient partnership between native peoples and their land.

Imagine if global development and technology turned to such tender caretaking:  what if we defined “progress” as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are?

What if we exhibited such tenderness and watchfulness over our social and ecological worlds?

What if we instituted the precautionary principle in all aspects of our lives, combining the stance of non-disturbance with intimacy (so that we have the knowledge to understand whether or not we are disturbing others) and the watchful protection that many indigenous worldviews have modeled?

If we honored our own potential in this way, then perhaps we might begin to expect our actions in this vast mysterious world to yield unexpected positive consequences rather than the unintended negative ones we all too often face  today.  Like those in the community of Gaviotas in Colombia, who have worked  so carefully to be in harmony with their environment that thousands of acres of recovered rainforest have serendipitously risen up in their wake.

Imagine what daily life might be like if we expressed such tenderness towad our environment that we woke up each morning expecting wonderful surprises– and secure in the sense  that those who followed us would inherit an even more vital world than the one that sustains us.

This is a vision that all of us might work to make a reality.

As a point of information, I have not used this wise Chehalis elder’s name since, in keeping with her traditional values of humility she asked me to “use my words but don’t mention my name”– even as she asked me to pass on what she and others told me– to “make a book of it.”

497 Responses

  1. What a wonderful article. This once again shows how important the wisdom and actions of indigenous people should be to the rest of us. It also makes a point that seems to be a common theme in environmentalism: respect others, as well as the environment, as they are all part of nature.

    I was especially touched by the segment concerning the grandmother’s visit to the state mental institution. It really drives home the fact that in Western society, conformity is much more desired than individualism. I got the feeling that the grandmother was questioning not just the practice of dehumanizing people, but questioning who has the right to determine another’s fate or even sanity. I love the idea that she would remove these people from institutionalization and bring them “back to a place of honor and belonging, to include and embrace them”. The same should be done in regards to the environment. Western thought must similarly transform in a manner that sees people and land not as something that needs conquering, but that needs nurturing. We must also practice the precautionary principle and work towards making it a permanent part of our value system.

    Thanks for the insightful and touching piece, Dr. Holden.

    • Hello Michael, I appreciate your own compassionate and thoughtful response here. I like the way you illustrate how our relationship to one another reflects the quality of our relationship to the natural world. From what I know of this grandmother, she was indeed questioning whether some had the “right to determine another’s fate or sanity”. I feel quite honored to have been able to spend time with this remarkable woman–and to be able to pass on her stories.
      Thanks for being an audience to my retelling!

  2. This Chehalis grandmother is very wise. I have often heard of only taking what you can use but I didn’t know that Indians buried the parts of the animals they couldn’t use; I figured it was just left behind for scavengers. The Chehalis lifestyle of “leaving the land as you found it” has so much common sense behind it that we could only wish more people lived that way. It would be truly amazing if development and technology made more positive impacts on our environment then negative ones. On the news tonight they talked about President Obama signing plans to make cars that will get better gas mileage and reduce emissions plus plans to create more wind power. How wonderful that in just a few days he is trying to reduce the impact the United States makes on the global “commons”. If these plans are implemented and start to make a difference then the changes can make the world a better place for future generations. The air will be cleaner, more natural resources will remain and hopefully there will be fewer wars between different factions who fight for the right to sell fossil fuels. Maybe he could make even more progress if he appointed some Native American Indians to his cabinet in positions that deal with land use and environmental issues because so much of what would make the world a better place is just plain old common sense.

  3. I am sure that it greatly saddened the Chehalis grandmother to see the prairie that she and her people had tenderly taken care of for so many years, practically destroyed by people who were out to find wild foods with no regard to anything else. We profess to be a generation that cares about our environment and that we are “getting back to nature”, but are we really. Do we only care about our environment and those around us only when it is convenient for us to do so? As in the example stated above about the people in the mental institution, the Chehalis grandmother said that her people would not have treated someone in that manner, her people would have embraced the mentally ill to “bring them home again”. Many indigenous societies believe that when someone has a mental illness that their mental illness is caused by a spirit and with emotional and physical support the mentally illness can be remedied. Why do we not embrace our mentally ill in the same manner? Is it because it is easier for us to tuck them away somewhere where they will be out of our way so that we do not have to deal with them or be embarrassed by them? Have we become a society that is so busy and so centered on our own lives, that we no longer have the time or the energy to care about anything except ourselves and what is in it for us? I agree with Michael Bell we all need to practice the precautionary principle and make it an integral part of our lives. For how can we begin to care about our land if we don’t care about our people and our future generations?

    • Hi Pam, thanks for both a compassionate and thoughtful comment. I think you have an essential point in the idea that the ways in which we care for one another are intimately linked to the ways in which we care for the land.

  4. Wow. A powerful article, Professor Holden. It is unfortunate that “we” (non-native) Americans take so much for granted, including the very land that gives us life. It saddens me to hear of people that not only dig into the earth and take so mindlessly, but to disrupt the land of a people whom have been preserving it for countless generations prior and will, hopefully, be able to do so for many many more.

    Thank you for sharing her wise words and your thoughts.


  5. Thank you for bringing forth such vivid snapshots of the Chehalis Grandmother’s memories. I fear that many of the stories and much wisdom had been lost with “advanced technology”. We have such a fast paced society now that many people don’t seem to “have the time” to sit with their grandparents and listen to stories of the past. If we don’t know the stories how can we hope to duplicate the successes or avoid the mistakes. With the destruction of extended families I believe the link between generations had become increasingly fragile. It is encouraging that this Grandmother believes her people “made it” despite outside cultural interferance. The “ethic of non-disturbance” and the giving to and recieving from the land reverberates through successful environmental techniques. Society should be able to benefit from the wisdom and knowledge “gleaned from observing the reciprocity of natural systems”. It should not matter who brings that knowledge forward. We see the cyclical nature of the environment, perhaps there is hope of returning to the proven tactics of the past.

    • Hi Colleen, thank you for a thoughtful personal response here. I agree with you about the importance of the link between generations. Much of this information is not written anywhere– and if we fail to learn from the past, it is tantamount to throwing out human culture, that is, much of what makes us human.

  6. I cannot imagine the grandmother’s frustration with the people who “harvested” the wild food from the prairie. This is no different from what we did to the buffalo or to Canadian cod. This planet produces an abundance of food that we can reap, however it will not last for long if we ignore the limits and responsibilities that come with harvesting these plants and animals. I also think that the idea of indigenous community conservation areas hold a great deal of promise. Many indigenous groups have found a balance between their needs and the environment allowing both to prosper over long periods. This is something that we simply have not learned yet in “modernized” societies. Allowing these people to care for the land around them is probably the best that we can do, and from a moral standpoint probably the least that we can do.

    • Interesting point about ethics that is minimal, Heath- the external standard that command us what not to do (as in modern laws) as opposed to a proactive stance that asks what for our vision of the future along with our personal care? I am thinking that we perhaps should aim for the largest sense of ethics (also combined with pragmatic results) of those who said their stories to their children would teach them both how to take care of themselves and get along with others in this world.

  7. I keep thinking about my own history, my sense of place, and most significantly, about my mother as I read these kinds of articles. The land I grew up on had been homesteaded by my grandmother—it had been in our family for over one hundred years when I finally left at 29-years-old. My parents had a deep respect for the Idaho land, growing potatoes, wheat, and experimental cold-climate fruit trees. My dad kept bees, and you could often find him out in the orchard grafting and fussing when he wasn’t teaching. We had waterfront property, and over the years, houses grew up around us, (the million dollar ranges) driving up taxes and polluting the river on a scale I could write a book about. I watched the water change with each passing year until there were no more fish (alive, that is) and the clear, clean water that I swam in as a child became disgusting. Everyone needs place. But why do so many have to be greedy and blind? Perhaps with a bit of common sense and respect, the river would still be beautiful and my eighty-something mother wouldn’t have had to leave her family home due to taxation. She, too, is a little insane by the world’s standards, a bit reclusive and intimately connected to the land. I still sit in the garden with her sometimes when I go to visit and watch her carefully sifting soil by hand, saving the tinniest flower seeds. Her joy working in the flowers and the garden has kept her alive and vital all these years, and I can’t imagine what would happen to her in a place like the Chahalis grandmother visited. We all need to touch it—and be touched by it. Our physical connection to the soil and life we take for granted is the one very thing that keeps us sane. I think we can all relate to what the grandmother said about bringing people home. I’d like to go home.

    • Thank you for such a deeply feeling personal comment, Carol. I agree with your statement about the land keeping us sane. It is certainly that way for me: the land cares for us as we care for it: truly a fundamental sense of reciprocity. How fortunate you are to have such a background–and obviously, your home, in both the sense of the traditions you carry and the place where your family lived out the last few generations of your history was calling to you as you wrote this.

  8. A few years ago I would have said that for humans to care for all things as much as they do themselves would be impossible.

    As of late, it feels as though people are beginning to appreciate the fact that everythng is connected.

    It gives me hope.

  9. This article expresses humanities need to have a place in the natural reciprocity of the world. The Chehalis grandmother beautifully illustrates the sense of purpose and importance that one can find by implementing the precautionary principle, in both the physical health of the world as well as the health of our societies. Once again we have been shown that our own interpretation regarding our individual purpose in the world can sculpt not only our own reality but the actual reality of the world.

    • Very thoughtful perspective Kristian. It is striking to me that many indigenous peoples saw what makes us distinctly human as developed in concert with nature– as indicated in the title of a book by Debra Rose on the Australian Aborigine, “dingo makes us human”.

  10. I enjoy the nurturing peice of the native traditions, it is fundamental to my nature as well as many’s, if we’d be open to it more often. Adopting this approach to life as a whole is a powerful tool in reshaping our world. I began years ago when my son was a baby, being conscious when making my food; I realize that thoughts, and intentions, like valuable roots, are living things. I have always felt better nourished when I have such intention when preparing my nourishment and that of my family, and as time goes by, through the positive impact this conscious habit has formed, this consciousness has drifted into other areas in my life. I think it is always so important to focus on small things to nourish, and watch it multiply. I always find it touching, the tender care given to seemingly insignificant things– it helps remind us of all the beautiful details we take for granted.

    • Lovely example of nourishment of your family as extended out in other ways, Kelly. I do think it is time we took back the power to nourish (since power and nurturance is so separated in this culture).

  11. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I know this was not the whole point of your article but I had to comment on it. Sitting, listening and spending time with one of our elders can be such a rich and rewarding experience. This reminds me so much of a recent visit that my father-in law made here. He flew in from Maine, he’s in his 80s and sharp as a tack. We spent many hours talking and discussing the years that he spent in Africa, building buildings in Kenya in the 1950s. I cherish these conversations with him, as do his children. You can see him light up when he speaks of these things and it embarasses him to go on about the people he met while a the university there. But for us its amazing to see him excited about something and to get to see his world as he talks.
    The precautionary principle in my mind is an extension of the idea of respect. Show respect for those around you, whether they are there right now or in 3 generations. Try and think your actions through before just jumping into things. Forethought is becoming a completely lost art in the NOW generation. We need to show respect for the animals and the earth by using what is needed.
    If someone enjoys hunting animals, if they kill a deer and have the meat processed and eat it all, I have no problem at all with that. I’m not a big fan of hunting but I can understand how they could enjoy the tracking and being outdoors, providing for their family etc. The person that goes out and just kills animals for trophies……there is simply no need for that. Those animals are not our playthings, they too deserve our respect. They live very hard lives and are under constant pressure to just stay alive.
    I have a friend back home in Iowa, Big Tom. He’s a big hunting and fishing guy. He lives in a house on 160 acres of Loess hills and he loves to go hunt turkeys and deer. He alwasy disposes of the animals respectfully and uses all the meat for his family. Last year when we were on our annual Walelye fishing trip in South Dakota he confessed to me that he had been having problems hunting lately. Surprised by this, I told him that was okay. He said that he really enjoyed watching the deer play and the turkeys jostling more than he enjoyed shooting them. Big Tom had also had two children of his own in the past three years. I just told him to take his daughter out with him next time and leave the gun at home. He thought this kind of made him weak because he didn’t want to shoo the cute little deer. I said “Tom, its okay. They are fun to watch.” I told him how lucky I thought he was that he could do this with his daughter. I go out on our back deck in Texas and I’ll talk to the birds out there like they understand me. My kids think I’m about half crazy but I know that my dogs understand me, and I think the animals can hear the good will in your voice. Anyone that is around dogs or loves dogs will tell you that dogs are pretty good judges of a persons character. I think most animals are.
    Anyway I think this all ties in to showing respect for those animals and the earth and all around you. If you do this you are treating others the right way and you will be greatly rewarded with kindness and respect back.

    • Hi Joe, thanks for sharing your personal stance here. I do think that we are missing a great deal whenever we fail to hear the stories in oral tradition– no matter what our culture. It was a real gift for me to have so many to learn from–beginning with my own grandparents.
      Nice point about caring for future and past generations– and the non-human life that shares our earth with us.

  12. The notion of our planet, the giver of all life, being treated with nurturing tenderness and respect is worthy of all people’s immediate attention. There is a new movement afoot that is trying to get industry to include the cost of “natural capital” in the products that are produced. Perhaps this will be the first step in getting the Western view of earth as commodity to shift. It is very tricky to put monetary value on our life support system but until there is some reflection of what this planet truly means to each and every one of us, it will continued to be destroyed. People in this country have lost the vision that the Chehalis grandmother has (or perhaps it never existed). Without the vision of the importance of caring for all thing, planetary degradation will continue.

    • Hi Dazzia, thanks for your comment. Appropriate pricing (as in pricing for the cost of health care in pesticide use or resource scarcity and actual transportation costs in manufacturing) is an idea to stir consciousness. I would maintain, however, that some things are still priceless and should be assessed so… but perhaps until then, it would be a wake up call to know the cost of natural systems services an old forest provides before it is cut down (and assess those costs to its users).

  13. Life seems to be so complicated these days. Like others I read about the days gone by and the humanity that was exhibited on a daily basis. I enjoyed the example of the sharing the foods in which the hunter or gather gave away their first kill or basket of fruit. If only today we could act this way towards our fellow man. Todays world you would pay yourself first. That is common advice from financial professionals. It is a poor attitude to have and it is not productive towards the good of man kind. It will take time and hard work to change peoples attitude towards giving. For some reason they have forgotten how good it feels to give. In high school I volunteered to put holiday baskets together for the needy in my community. There was no better gift than seeing people’s faces when they came to pick them up. They were full of food and age appropriate toys for the children. I felt so good for what I had done and have been volunteering ever since.
    The concept of fore-caring was explained as the pre-precautionary principles. Taking care of the land and its people was very important to the Chehalis people. It was interesting to read about the mental health problem that had arisen since the white man came to the area. In the Tacoma News Tribune there was an article this weekend that showed a new memorial to those who passed away at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom. In the past these peoples names were unknown as to not embarrass the families. So they died alone, without proper acknowledgment of their passing. This is the opposite of the Chehalis traditions that they would bring their people home again where they could feel welcomed. They had compassion and showed love.
    The more I read about other world views the less I believe in mine. It is interesting when you really think about it. The bubbles that we grow up in that are suppose to be protecting us from the big bad world is actually limiting us to what we can really understand and believe.

    • Thank you for your compassionate and thoughtful response, Ann. I think your last sentence sums up what your examples indicate. A sad statement about those who were suffering at this state hospital, who had to die alone. And a great example about the personal rewards of sharing!

  14. I really enjoyed this post. The especially loved the mental picture I got of the grandmother purposefully watching over the world around her in a protective manner. The children, the land, make up a part of her world that she cares for and nurtures. I imagine the wisdom in her eyes and thoughtful consideration of the future adhering to her beliefs as well as the belief that the children and culture will be passed on. I imagine if the majority instituted the “precautionary principle” in all aspects of our lives, combining the stance of non-disturbance with intimacy (that you mention), and the watchful protection that many indigenous worldviews have modeled… What a greater world we would live in.

    • Hello Kaaren. Thanks for your comment–and sharing these visions in the images you present here. I was fortunate indeed to be able to spend time with this elder and to understand something of the wonderful warmth of the watchful vision she had for all the world around her.

  15. Madronna,

    I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that there are many things that are too priceless to assess the value of in a monetary way. It just seems that people are so focused on the monetary aspect of life in this country that maybe this is the angle that will need to be used to get people to wake up to the true cost of their actions? However, it will take a tremendous amount of personal responsibility and sacrifice on our parts in order for a shift of consciousness (of the magnitude necessary) to take place. I’m not so sure we humans have that much time…

    • Thanks for the follow up, Dazzia. I do agree with you that in an economy which prices everything, we must not sell environmentally destructive goods cheaply– allowing their real costs to be hidden and passed onto to natural systems– to the other life with which we share this planet. I like the “real pricing” aspect of “natural capitalism”. I think you are right that we need to enact our vision one step at a time, we need all those steps on the part of everyone.
      And I would also say that we also need to hold to our largest vision. The more imperative change is, the more imperative I think it is to have such large visions. As social ecologist Murray Bookchin famously said, if we do not imagine the impossible, we may well have to live with the unthinkable.
      I never fail to be impressed by the work of those who hold to seemingly impossible visions and enact amazing things, as in this essay here:
      Thanks for expressing your care for our shared earth.

  16. This article was very insightful for me. I thought the reference to the hunter giving away his kill to help others first and the reference of the young girls giving away their berries first was just beautiful. I thought it depicted well surrounding the kind of people of respect that all of us are capable of being.

    The quote, “If we honored our own potential in this way, then perhaps we might begin to expect our actions in this vast mysterious world to yield unexpected positive consequences rather than the unintended negative ones we all too often face today”, hit the nail on the head.

    This kind of respect and honor must begin at home and then it can spread. It is much like dropping a pebble in a stream and observing the ripples as they grow larger and larger and larger. The Gaviotas community in South America is a fine example of taking action vs. just thinking, worrying, and talking about positive results.

    I have a habit of stopping and picking up trash from the roadways in my neighborhood when I walk in the mornings. It is only a small piece, but, I hope that it will bring small results among my neighbors which will continue to ripple across my neighborhood and into other neighborhoods and eventually across this city of one million people.



    • Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. Gaviotas is an amazinga actualization of a very large vision. As you indicate, even if we don’t get to that level in actualizing our own visions for how things might change, we can take small steps that model our personal values and care for our shared earth. We receive so much from that earth, I like the idea that we might work to leave some part of it better than we found it.

  17. From my point of view, the worldview of the Chehalis has a big advantage. They do not have to occupy themselves with ethical and moral discussion on the value of animals and nature, because everyone and everything is given the same value. Therefore, animals whose meat is only consumed partially have to be buried. Such a ritual demonstrates their deep respect and appreciation for all beings and demonstrates the huge value which they give all beings without lowering their sights. This stands in strong contrast to our worldview, where death animals that are not eaten are thrown away like garbage.

    • Hi Nick, thanks for your comment. Thoughtful point about partnership already being an ethical system.
      Thanks for giving me a change to correct a misimpression. ALL meat hunted by traditional hunters would always be utilized, along with skin, bones, etc. Whatever not used that was leftover from that (if anything) would be buried. Throughout the traditional Northwest, to waste anything at all was strictly against cultural rules.
      That said, you have a point about respect for the animal taken: waste as well as any way of treating the animal with lack of respect was understood to cause serious problems for the future. Many indigenous peoples refused to give or sell early fur traders the salmon they asked for– instead they cooked them themselves and then gave them with the traders, lest the traders disrespect the bodies of the salmon in their preparation and use of them. This was especially true of the first salmon of a run which was treated ceremonially. There are a number of complaints in fur trader journals about indigenous “superstitions” in this regard–but in fact, among these peoples, it was a time honored way of caring for the other species that provided their livelihood.

  18. I cannot imagine how hurting that must have felt for people to come to your home, (what the prairie must have been to the Chehalis grandmother) and disturb it like that. Especially since they have take so much care of it for centuries. It must be like some stranger coming into your house and taking and mistreating your family.

    I am so amazed at how the indigenous societies have taken care of Mother Earth. Western non native societies could learn so much from them, but it seems like that it is such a difficult idea to get across, very sad how modern society can be so close minded and damaging.
    What great place the world could be if we could all treat Mother Earth with the precautionary principle.


    Troy Jonas

    • I agree one hundred per cent with your thoughts about the precautionary principle, Troy. Your comment shows sensitivity toward the homes of others– I would like to see us express this sensitivity toward the homes of peoples of all cultures and for that matter, toward the homes of other species as well.

  19. This article gives wonderful insight into the minds of indigenous people. It shows how those of us who are not indigenous can often have a hurtful mindset when it comes to the land. Native peoples have a strong connection to the earth and don’t simply see it as a place to build a house or somewhere to find food. They feel for it and respect it.

    A mindset like that of the indigenous people, if adopted by the rest of us, could really do wonders in helping to save our earth. We use up so many resources so fast, often without paying attention to the consequences. If we watched over our land as we watched over our children, like the Chehalis grandmother did, we would definitely see a shift to a more caring attitude towards the environment.

    The indigenous peoples’ attitude of seeing the earth as one with our own families is necessary to save our earth.

    • Thanks for your comment, Allie. Nice point about developing a sense of earth-family. In your analogy of watching over the earth as we would watch over a child, I think this might help us remember that when we watch over the earth in this way we ARE also watching over our children– for they are the ones who will inherit the earth we do or do not care for.

  20. It appears that we each need to take baby steps which will lead to kid steps which will lead to adult steps which will lead to ……….. ??? And, success for all!

    Thanks for your input again as I learn with the class,


  21. The first thing that came to my mind when reading this article, was the feeling of love with which the article was being written. It felt welcoming to read, not hard. Then, I noticed that this elderly woman is still connecting with life in her old age–watching children and watching the prarie, talking with people and sharing her life. Not isolating herself somewhere. It dawns on me that one key to making the world’s people come more into line with natural living that “doesn’t disturb other lives” is by what could be termed “association.”
    It is by the association of others that we learn and get new ideas and get used to a new way of thinking. So those who realize these things need to live it and share it as much as possible so that those who are still caught in the destructive machine of consumerism can get a better idea, get used to it, get intimate with it, find a place of belonging and ultimately caring. These articles and websites are ways people can start to associate themselves with the solution. Thank you.

    • Thanks for you empathetic as well as thoughtful comment, Leslie. You are certainly welcome. It would give me substantial satisfaction if this site served that purpose for any of you.
      I do think it is essential to feel that we are not alone in our hopes for a better world. It is also important, I think, to see solutions in ourselves (a potential you indicate in your own sensitive response here).

    • I felt the same way, Lesley. You mention about the Grandmother watching the prairie and the children and it reminded me of how most women are the protectors. Of course, men are as well, but when I became a mother I felt this overwhelming innate –not only protection feeling, but also a watchful, peaceful eye type of feeling. I think we need to have that same kind of feeling for all we’re connected with. It just feels like its a different kind of protection for women than it is for men…not better or worse, just different in some way. Then again, I’ve never been a man so how would I know 🙂

      • I like your images here, Tina. I had the great gift to have both a grandmother and a grandfather who also had this kind of caring and watchful eye– so I would add grandparents in here. Your comment brings up a point about the important connection between nurturance and power in long-lived societies. That is, in such societies, those with the most social power and status are the nurturers (whether men or women). It seems this link is broken in societies based on dominance, where power is amassed for its own sake and certainly not focused on the nurturing of others.
        I write just a bit more about this here:

  22. I really like the concept or word useage “the commons”. It brings to mind right away that this is a shared environment or shared space. So we need to keep the common area in good condition and be mindful of others and their right to share and use the common area just like you and everyone present and future.

    Jim Jarrad

    • Thanks for the response on this definition of the commons- -I think this is what is missing in some definitions of the commons as that which everyone has a right to use up, throw waste away in and otherwise make a profit by…it is this attitude that creates the well-known “tragedy of the commons”.

  23. This is perhaps the most moving article I have so far read in this forum. One particular part that hit home for me was removing certain people from society who were at the state mental institution. Instead of removing them, these particular people embraced them and brought them back to themselves. This is a good example of enlarging ourselves and embracing others. I’m going to remember that one, make a sign and post it in the kitchen like a bumper sticker to remind me of the importance of tenderness. Indeed, what would our world be like if we learned to embrace others and enlarge ourselves and our hearts? Furthermore, what would it be like to attend a high school like that or a fifth grade math class? It’s too bad that certain people in society who are unlike the norm are shunned. This reminds of a chicken yard. This brings me back to our discussion on compassion and meets with tenderness.

    Beautifully said.

    • Thank you, Tina. I like your personal vision with respect to embracing others and enlarging ourselves– refrigerator magnet or bumper sticker? How fortunate I was to have shared this grandmother’s teaching and the warmth of her caring eyes.
      It seems to me that each of us has our place in life–and that place is essential, no matter how much like the “norm” we are.
      Tenderness, indeed! Every child deserves to be treated with this kind of tenderness.

  24. What a great writing! It was obvious that you have a lot of care and respect for this woman. It’s really similar to the care and respect that she shows for her lands, and the care and respect you hope for our future on earth.

    “I guess we made it” was a sad statement to read. It was like she was saying, yeah we’re here, even though it will never be the same. This defeat creates a little pang of guilt because I know that the house in which I sit used to belong to someone like her, and there’s no sharing here. As much as I would like to give my little peice of rented land back if someone decided it was time to make Corvallis an indigenous community conservation area, I regret to say I would feel as displaced as I’ll bet she does.

    (When you said the part about going to a mental institution, you said “her people would work to “bring them home again”.” did you mean that they had people in her tribe that had gone mentally insane and the tribe would work to make them better? If so, I’m really curious, did they ever get back to normal??)

    • Hello Josh, thanks for your compassionate comment. I think there was more triumph in the “I guess we made it”- you had to be there (!). There was surety and satisfaction there. I was very fortunate indeed to be able to spend time in the company of this wonderful grandmother.
      On the point about the institution, people would not be labeled and isolated in this way–and bringing them home meant curing the soul-distress they felt. So of those who suffered such mental distress in pre-contact days, there were many were certainly healed. If this topic interests you, you might be interested in a book called a Gathering of Wisdoms, which is a model of a “culturally appropriate” mental health delivery system developed in conjunction with the Snohomish tribe on Puget Sound. It does not focus on pre-contact methods of healing so much as ways that modern mental health professionals can respect cultural norms in working with the tirbe.
      You might also be interested to know that a number of US soldiers (non-Indians) with ptsd were cured by participating in Sioux and Navajo ceremonies at the invitation of these peoples.

      • That is interesting! I have a brother-in-law who recently returned from Iraq with a pretty nast case of PTSD. If he was more open minded to alternative medicine, I would ask how he could be invited to a ceremony like that.

        • I’m sorry about your brother-in-law, Josh. I’m sure his family is suffering too. hang in there: your support for your sister is very important! I think these men were invited to these ceremonies because the native people in question already knew them personally.

  25. I think of my great grandmother who is no longer here when reading this article. She lived on an 80 acre farm with surrounding corn and wheat fields. There is so much we can learn from our elders. The love and respect I had through here in this article because compassion has no bounds when we see others as we see our own loved ones or as ourselves. This goes into caring for others such as mental patients, prisoners, or patients of any form. Understanding how we treat people now will affect their future as well as ours, may allow us to be more compassionate towards all people. Incorporating the concept of reciprocity and the precautionary principle in our lives would change our point of view for the better of everyone and everything.

    • Thanks for your response about the power of compassion, Tina. What a gift for you to have had such a great grandmother! I will the idea that treating others well effects our future and theirs both.

  26. Spatial time is arbitrary. Who defines the extent and importance of one’s longevity? Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and lifetimes all begin and end according to human definition. Perhaps it is possible to ascend the current definitions and consider the longevity of ones life as defined by genetics. As long as I have passed on my seed, I survive in my contributing genetic code. It is completely outside the box, but so is thinking that anything ends when one’s body ceases animation.

    By using our imagination we can easily surpass the ideologys of others and move into a wider breadth of what we define as extensions of ourselves and life as we know it. The preservation and forethought of what is to come can be considered as precaution for the sake of our own success. Conservation is the bride of longevity, and unless we save for the future, the risk of extinction makes all our other struggles obsolete.

    • In the arena of the environment, as you indicate, Jenna, ethics and pragmatics intersect: that is, sound ethics make important contributions to our quality of life–and often even to our survival. Genetic longevity is an interesting concept: just to bring up another worldview, I wonder how you respond to those cultures for whom social parenting is much more important than genetic parenting– so it is less relevant, for instance, who fathers a child than who teaches it.

      • Social parenting is inherently a form of communal lineage. The phenomeon of embracing childrearing as a community roots in the awareness of our cooperative existance. Definition of genetic boundaries is not the intent of my comment; I apologize for being vague. The irony I meant to highlight is that although we all have genetic similarities and differences, it is the value we place on genetic, cultural, racial, or ethnic similarities or differences that determines the perceptive definition of our unity or singularity respectively.

  27. It is disheartening to see that something so special to someone could be destroyed by a lack of respect. She had been watching over that prairie for so long and it was so rude and disrespectful for them to come in and destroy what she worked to delicately preserve. That is a problem that is taking over our world. Nobody seems to have respect for the environment and it’s beautiful bounties. It’s all about selfish desires and what can lead to monetary gain. Nature is so extraordinary, I just wish all people could see it through this woman’s eyes.

    • If all of us could see through this woman’s eyes, as you indicate, Kelli, it would certainly change our world. Interesting point about lack of respect: I had not thought about carelessness is interwoven is lack of respect.

  28. Without the help of others we won’t realize how fast the earth is changing because we see it happen everyday at a slow pace. This story just makes me realize how important it is to keep our eyes open to the world and listen to what it’s telling us. We need people like Chehalis grandmother to call to our attention the changes in the prairie, to help us realize the world is changing in front of us without our knowledge.

    • Thanks for a thoughtful response, Krissie. Do you see any way that ecofeminism might help us gain such perspective? Is there any way that we can echo this grandmother’s caretaking in our own lives?

  29. I could not agree more, if we could live our life in all aspects of it with the precautionary principle our world could have a major change in it, and for the good. This is the way i believe we must live starting now if we want to have a healthier life in the future, if not for us then for our children and so on. To have such a thing happen almost seems it could only happen in a dream, unfortunelty in the future it may be the only time the earth does get better is in our dreams. With the rate that we have treated the earth, such as deforestation, driving cars when not needed, using more space than needed, not building green, and even recycling, it may be to late. Though my positive self would like to say that it is not, and we have plenty of time to change our world around. Its just a matter of people like myself to let this problem be known join groups such as gaurdians of the future. Or even subscribe to the magazine from one of our readings last week, showing us what we can do to help a little at a time. Instead of buying vegies in the market try growing a garden in your back yard you might not ever use or rarely even take care of. Things such as this seem to be so small but if we all did it, then it would be a life changing affect.
    I like your comment about being in the company or seeing the older womens eyes made you not cold, i find this a lot of times wheneve i might be with someone i respect or like to be with, i tend to forget what the weather is like and get to caught up with the company care.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Christian. I appreciate your proactive response to the idea of the precautionary principle. I am glad you too have experienced this warmth from others. A gift indeed!
      The community of care multiplies its effects in many ways.

  30. The elders were considered elders not necessarily because of their age, but because of the wisdom they had. I hope for the future of all of us that wisdom trinkles down more than it did in the past to the young people who are the future.

    Your comment regarding yielding unexpected positive consequences instead of the unintended negative ones I feel has come around already – whether we realize it or not because of what we have done in the past is affecting us all thru diseases like cancer. When a 10 year old child suffers from breast cancer – we have really disrespected the precautionary principle.

    In the past, as with the dumping of garage in the Columbia River during the 1930’s, we did not think of the future, we were worried about the here and now. What worries me now are the more aggressive countries who are more worried about the here and now.

    I hope everyone watched Earth 2100 a few days ago, I did.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Pam. Certainly personal care such as your own is the beginning of the change we so desperately need for the sake of future generations.

  31. I see a lot in common with this writing and the “On knowing what you want” essay in the issue of people being told what they want by others. Much like the media telling innocent young girls what to do and how to look, the white man has ruined the lives of indigenous peoples such as this Chehalis grandmother by disregarding their wishes and telling them what to want. It baffles me that people can come to a perfectly beautiful and self-sustained environment and, instead of trying to learn how the native people made it that way, they uproot their plants and tell the women “how to arrange their housekeeping”. What they don’t consider is that the indigenous people have lived in perfect harmony with their environment for thousands of years and outsiders have much more to learn from them than vice versa. Indigenous values of reciprocity, community, and acceptance of all creatures are so important, and if these visitors had had more respect for these people and the land around them then the world would be a much better place.

    • You have made some pointed connections here, Lauren. I find it ironic and telling that cultures most taken with telling others what to do seem most dissatisfied with their own ways of life. If something really works or satisfies us, we wouldn’t have to be coerced or manipulated into accepting it. Thoughtful comment.

  32. Until my courses at OSU, I had no understanding or knowledge of what indigenous peoples contributed to their environment or why they did so. The passion and dedication of indigenous peoples such as the Chehalis to dedicate their livelihoods to their lands is astounding. I like the question, “what if we exhibited such tenderness and watchfulness over our social and ecological worlds?” I could imagine that if we did have these sensitive qualities, connecting with nature as the Chehalis did would not be so difficult as it currently seems. Perhaps if we truly experienced nature, we would develop a desire to practice such concepts as the precautionary principle or “fore-caring”. I agree with the idea of shifting our societal values and priorities from “global development and technology” to fore-caring and companionship with other natural beings. Without this shift, I do not see this society as reversing or even halting the environmental disaster that continues to grow because of ignorance and negligence. The Chehalis should serve as an example to us in the for-caring of our environment.

  33. One of the main reasons for the fall of communism was that the working class didn’t feel like they were given an equal share of the government that they were working for, and that people got greedy and took advantage of what was supposedly an “equal” society. Our relationship with the natural world (both today and in the past) is remarkably similar to this communism: if people work for the good of all, then there would be plenty of natural resources to share. If, however, individuals get greedy then the same problems arise with communism and the system collapses.

    What makes this interesting to me is that indigenous people actually managed to live in a selfless manner. Not only did they manage to make it work, they did so for thousands of years before the colonists even came to America. Their cultural upbringing and values must be radically different than ours if we were barely able to maintain communism for only a generation or so in most places…

    I wonder what event (or events) in our history caused such a dramatic change in our worldview.

    • Thoughtful question, Daniel. Since we of the industrial worldview have so radically a different worldview than generations of humans before us, your question is very important. If we knew what causes the emergence of this kind of worldview, we would know something about how to reverse a self-destructive course. I can only tell you there is much work to be done on why cultures turn to stratification. Though I understand the grave pressures of external circumstance on particular societies, it does not seem to me, as some sociobiologists have it, that we have no choice in the matter. This is why I like Jared Diamond’s book on the choices humans have exercised (not always wisely or with full information or ethically) throughout history.

  34. Again the power of listening to our elders rings true. What a great article, this made me smile in some ways and bummed out in others. I really agree as thinking fore-ward. Everything we do now does effect the future. It was even more enlightening to see the view of helping the people who have been set aside and embracing them. This is all-encompassing love. I often ask my grandma to write a book about any tidbits of info that she has learned in life that could benefit my future. I hope I get a book like that someday, I know I would look at it and be reminded that nothing is as hard as it seems and that anything is possible. A child that is growing up on the brown tilled land would not know the past if they were not educated, I wish we had cameras hundreds of years ago!

    • Your grandma appears to be a treasure, Lorena. And all the more so because you recognize. Even if you can’t get her to write that book, you can listen to her stories while she is still around. I really do think grandmas (and grandpas) are about this “all-encompassing love”– I was so lucky to be close to my own growing up.

  35. I believe that idea of the commons is a wonderful and natural way of viewing the world. Caring for the common land in order to care for other people is an interesting concept that I think would benefit most people to think about more. In our modern industrialized society I think that people are inherently distanced from the concept of the commons. In most American suburbs common places are increasingly relegated to shopping malls where the actors involved are engaged in the activity of accumulating more stuff, not sharing resources. As more and more people become isolated from their communities the concept of giving becomes more and more a thing to be avoided, as all that people live for are their “things”. When we engage with one another on a personal level, sharing stories and lessons and laughs our possessions seem less important.

    • I like your response to the commons, Samantha. If the shopping malls are all we have in this respect, we are in trouble!
      The commons are not only those aspects of the natural world that sustain us (as if that were not enough!), but as you indicate, something that might bring us together to create community. It is my hope that the environmental crises we currently face might bring us all together in this way. Thanks for your comment!

  36. One part that stood out for me, and is very relevant across the globe, is your question of if science utilized these principles. There was a quote in Suzuki and Knudtson about how we can no longer except the distinction of scientific and moral questions being separate. So far science has been able to enable to many efforts while remaining blissfully free of the realm of morality. Scientists should take more personal responsibility. Any scientist should be a part time philosopher and obliged to write on the philosophical impacts of their work.

    • Thoughtful approach, Michael. Even if they aren’t philosophers, they ought to have holistic enough approaches to understand those repercussions and we ought to have system that funds research and allows it utilization according to social and environmental good rather than the current free for all.

  37. One thing that I have always wondered about is why people tend to feel this need to take over everything that they can get their hands on? Why do we build huge cities and crush out the nature that surrounds us? It’s clear that many people (including myself on some fronts) have no respect for nature. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that nature has been around much longer than humans have–millions or billions of years longer. We should want to be a part of nature and blend in with our surroundings, rather than constantly try to dominate them. Even something as seemingly innocent as digging holes in a prairie can cause an enormous amount of hurt, both to the land and to the people who tend it.

  38. Let me tell you…taking this class, among other classes such environmental sociology and multiculture perspectives here at Oregon State and reading these essays has given me perspective and a whole new way to approach life and natural resource issues. I don’t think I’ve been far from the elder’s way of thinking (holistic), but the new knowledge, information from elders, including the natural world, has lifted the weight of thinking that I need to have two cars…that owning land is a sign of importance and success. We all need to be a part of the land and take care of it…it is not ours to own, it doesn’t need to be owned…look what owning land, living next to rivers and changing it’s course, ocean front property has done…societal and environmental degradation…people go insane trying to keep up with what is seen by western culture as “successful”, and in the process of going insane we are in the process of destroying the only thing that could possibly sustain us. Life can be simple (moderation)…we just choose to make it difficult…all for money.

    • Thanks for your personally passionate response here, Patrick–and sharing your effective learning, which is also linked to personal values. I do think you have never been far from this holistic thinking, as you put it, and thus your open-mindedness and ability to learn– which also entails change.
      You have had a good many interesting things to add in your comments on this site.
      There is another idea of owning land than private property we ravage for profit. Organizations like the Nature Conservancy buy up sensitive property in order to preserve it. They have been doing some very interesting work in terms of connecting with local peoples in the many areas around the globe where they own land.

  39. I liked this article because it shows an example of a people that have adopted a way of life that benefits both them and the environment. The Chehalis have developed a healthy respect and intimate caring for the land. I think that if more people adopted this way of thinking we would make more environmentally friendly choices. I believe that if people around the world developed an environmental ethic that the environment and people would be better off for it. I think this ethic should not only create guidelines to encourage respect and care for the non-human aspects of life but also encourage a human-nature intimacy. I think that once a relationship is created between the human and the non-human better choices will be made and everything/one will prosper. I think the Chehalis are a perfect example of this.

    • Thanks for our thoughts here, Karen. I do think you are right that a human-nature intimacy is the first step to making “friendly” environmental choices. I was veyr fortuante to be able to work with such elders: of course, the standards of these cultures are not upheld by everyone in the current day after one hundred fifty years of intense assmilation pressure by the US government– and several generatons of boarding schools in which children were forcibly removed from their parents to accomplish this.

  40. The Chehalis grandmother mentioned truly treasured the beauty that was just outside her home and with that it really brings to mind how so many of us fail to think about the beauty of nature and how it is constantly surrounding us in such a significant way. The treatment of the camas and how the Chehalis women were so careful when handling them so that they would not “disturb the prairie” represents much of the relationship between them and earth. This type of relationship was just an understanding amongst the Chehalis that without careful treatment and respect towards the earth they would fail to receive the same abundance in the years to come. There is also a mention of how settlers and other people of the Western world would simply dig the earth up and damage what was there—and what I think the problem is that people from the Western world despite all of the modern strides that have been take, forget about the fact that they still need to be careful with the earth if they can expect to keep on getting the resources they rely on.
    Another point that I found significant was about the Gaviotas in Colombia and how they maintain a “harmonious” relationship with their environment. This again goes back to the idea of needing to maintain a level of balance within the environment. A common trend that I have learned from various indigenous tribes is that they take what they need and do it in such a way that nothing is damaged or altered. Unfortunately the Western World has gained a reputation for taking and taking yet rarely giving back. Finding that happy medium is definitely something we need to be focusing on if we want to continue to see our forests and other aspects of the environment flourish and provide.

    • Hi Erin, thanks for your comment. Caring for our shared world leads us directly to using the precautionary principle. I like your emphasis on beauty in the first part of this comment: with its beauty and order nature tells how we should behave as surely as the flower tells the bee to come to it.
      Beauty is also, as you indicate here, linked with vulnerability: the wondrous order of nature also asks us not to disturb it. And obviously we disturb that order when we do not balance our taking from the world with our giving to it.

  41. I really liked the word “fore-caring.” It reminded me of “forethought,” which means consideration for the future. I actually think we should have kept the word “fore-caring” instead of “precautionary principle.” To me, it brings the idea home a bit more, gives people a clue as to what it is about, and in one word, lets them know that they need to start caring now for future generations.
    Something else I could relate with in this article was when the grandmother mentioned about “bringing them (the ones who’d lost their way, mentally) home again.” That she meant it in the way that in order to cure them we need to welcome them and accept them, not isolate them. I cannot agree more. How can separating people from others help them to relate? That oddity of mental institutions always puzzled me.

    • I like the word “fore-caring” as well, Jennifer. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t use both terms. Though it is also true that wherever the precautionary principle is enacted in law it is called that. Maybe some didn’t like the idea of “caring” as being part of a law!
      One thing mental institutions do do is keep folks wounded by our culture out of sight (and out of mind)– we don’t want such problems in our back yard anymore than we want other unpleasant things there. Which also, as our NIMBY discussion states, keeps us from being motivated to do something serious about this.
      Thanks for your comment!

  42. Reading about how this elder is able to notice the trace differences on the prairie must be disheartening, but also displays just how comprehensive the native line of thinking is. Every day brings something new and expressive, as opposed to a more western perspective where we walk right past the natural world’s daily exhibition, to complete the many tasks and obligations of the day. From my personal experience, I know that if I take the time to really open my eyes to what there is to behold, my soul reawakens to how complete I feel, when I feel one with the earth. Although infantile compared to the lifestyles of the First Peoples, I find that gardening helps me actualize the precautionary principle, by allowing the vegetation and flowers to mature in my yard instead of being stifled by trying to tame it. It is also calming to know that I am helping something live.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica. A lovely point about helping other lives in your garden. I agree that there is much to see in the smallest bit of earth, and that watching carefully awakens us to a fuller presence in our lives: “reawakening our souls”, as you put it.

  43. It is interesting that the “tragedy of the commons” seems to occur only with Western thinking people. If we thought less about the individual and more about the community, we wouldn’t destroy the “commons” as we try to get more before our neighbors do.

    The precautionary principal seems like the best way to create a healthy environment for all, but many people value money or power over everything else. I don’t think that we humans will universally accept this way of thinking and acting until there is a price to pay for poisoning the earth or harming other people. I think that we will continue to have the “tragedy of the commons” in some form unless there are consequences. Sounds pretty negative, but when I look back in history of all the evil that humans have caused to each other, it is hard to see the human race in a positive light.

    • Hi Christina, thanks for your comment. The tragedy of the commons occurs just among Western industrialized people AND those who divide common space into private property–and then compete to use its resources before the next fellow does. Garrett Hardin’s famous observation about tragedy is actually an observation of a new phenomenon: prior to the enclosures of common areas by the aristocracy, the very commons he looked at as so ravaged was protected and cared for as common area by English peasants for a thousand years. There reason for protecting it (and limiting their sheep grazing there) was that they were reliant on it for subsistence. But what happened with the enclosures was that that reliance was no longer based on the commons, but getting one’s own before the next guy.
      I think it is a chicken and egg problem in terms of privatizing the commons/selfish motives: we have sadly created the condition for such greed to run rampant.
      I am heartened by the ways in which the European Union has instituted the precautionary principle–and the fact that the new EPA director, Lisa Jackson, has recently asked Congress to give her sanction to do the same in US in overhauling outdated chemical laws. Certainly, she will have an uphill battle against the chemical industry-and I I think we should all watch for ways as citizens to support her.
      The Civil Rights Law didn’t provide money incentives–but it helped changed the way we think– and our ethical standards for treating one another.

  44. We may be one step closer to the comment; “Imagine if global development and technology turned to such tender caretaking: what if we defined “progress” as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are?” Though not completed, one of the now presidents goals was to “invest in a clean energy economy and create American jobs” setting a goal (progress) to change the way we do things ( Houston has also jumped on the green concept investing nearly a million to turn the roof top of the convention center into a solar power plant ( There is a shift in our culture, which I believe was being asked for but took the down turn of the economy and the record big oil profits to usher in the shift.
    I do like the concept of the commons. San Antonio College was offering a “service learning” associates program just after I graduated which added about ten hours of community services for one to two classes a semester. Volunteerism teaches something that is lost on investing capital when talking about the commons. I did find an interesting parallel concept (though not in a strictly environmental sense) “they realize that the one who gives away her first harvest will see nature return the favor to her in future years” is similar to the Christian concept of tithing. Tithing is supposed to be 10% off the top and this money is used in the name of God to do his works, such as helping with those less fortunate.

    • Thanks for sharing these perspectives, Patrick-and the links. They are heartening steps in the right direction. The Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City has a building that has won awards for its environmental engineering, including a green roof. In Eugene, BRING recycling hopes to create a green roof on one of its buildings as a demonstration project.
      I think the green energy initiative is important–as is Obama’s global leadership in the arena of climate change. As for the precautionary principle, it is good news indeed that the new EPA director, Lisa Jackson has called for an overhaul of chemical regulation based on it–and falling in line with the European Union’s current policy. As citizens, we need to support this very important proposal and see that it goes through!
      I agree with you about the commons: perhaps our current environmental (and economic, as you indicate in this case) crises will give us the sense that we are indeed all on this single planet we share.

  45. The thought that this woman was one with nature and so humbled by it should stop all of us in our tracks. She knew the land intametely like we know our children. Can you imagine walking out of your house and “know” the trees in your yard. It is with this relationship that keeps us in line. Urban dwellers have separated themselves from this kinship. We need to get back to our roots. I always thought the most wonderful place in the world was a deserted island with my family and living off the land. No hustle and bustle to deal with just enjoying life to its fullest. The tribes of past had that wonderful life.

    • Hi Renae, thanks for your comment. Your island sounds like a wonderful place–think how we might feel about the land if all of our children were able to have a similar experience!
      You have a great point about intimacy with the natural world. This is certainly connected to care for it. And I also think that it is possible to feel such connections in an urban environment–and in fact, given our burgeoning population, we need to learn to do this. The phenomenon of urban gardening is one thing that may help us do this.

  46. I was insulted for the Indian women when the social service people came in to show them how to set up their houses. This goes against everything I have ever been taught, know, and believe. If anything, the Indian women could have taught the social services a thing or two!

    I love the idea of commons. Unfortunately, the difference between this belief can be very straining. My mother, sister, and I have many items falling under this category. The men my sister and I married just don’t understand this concept. It’s challenging, but on my end I know there is hope! (Not so sure with my sister’s husband- he’s very closed minded and opinionated. Bright side- I don’t have to live with him!)

    • Indeed, Christy, I think you are absolutely right on about the insult to native women here. It is a difficult proposition to bring ideas such as the commons to bear among those raised with very different worldviews. The good news is you seem to have made a good choice for yourself in your partner.

  47. Well this Chehalis elder does indeed sound exceptionally wise, not merely when it comes to the way of the natural world, but to life in general. If only others could see it as the wisdom it truly is! But, people of this modern day would pay no mind to her tenderness and compassion. Most people of today would probably call her intimacy and embracing gesture a breed of naivety.

    I, however, would think that by following the “precautionary principle”, one would be anything but naive because then we are not living in our own personal little bubble; we would be taking special care not to disturb other lives by turning to watchfulness and at the same time intimacy… embracing other lives, their minds and differences and to learn to connect with them.

    Observation and the gesture to embrace a creature of another mind and soul (be it an animal, plant, or even a human like those considered psychologically deranged in mental institutions) I perceive as nothing less than beautiful and rare wisdom, not naivety in the least.

    When referring to the proposition, “Imagine if global development and technology turned to such tender caretaking: what if we defined “progress” as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are?” All we CAN really do is IMAGINE. I do not believe global development or technology could ever turn to such “tender caretaking.” Modern man’s meaning of “development” comes no where near that of “caretaking”. And neither does “technology” or “progress”. We have predetermined the definition of “progress” as a society and it has nothing to do with embracing others (especially natural systems). When one speaks of “progress”, it’s usually of industrialization or economic development.

    And…”What if we exhibited such tenderness and watchfulness over our social and ecological worlds?” Yes, “What if” is truly the question… but let’s not get our hopes up. I have accepted the fact that I no longer possess any faith in my own human race.

    • I agree with you that the courage to embrace others rather than exclude them is a profoundly wise stance. In fact, I think the contrary stance of exclusion is another one of those “instincts of self-destruction” that we should guard against. It has certainly caused all manner of environmental and social harm.
      I understand your cynical approach to the possibility of turning our actions to tender caretaking for one another and the earth we share– but you are not alone in imagining this, much less in making it happen. You will read many other examples of those who not only imagine this but enact this on this website-though they seldom make the evening news!
      You are not alone, Cherisse.

  48. After reading this story, I thought about tourism and the effects it has on societies. Although that is not what this story is about, the digging up of the land reminded me of tourists going into a place they don’t know and going against all customs or rituals that may exist there. People that are unfamiliar with certain areas often times do not know the right way to treat it. But, I think that if we treated the earth as equal, we would not have this problem because everyone would share the same values about the earth.
    A quote that I thought was amazing was “if we defined “progress” as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are?”, I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a place where “progress” didn’t mean moving forward and getting better and better technology, but that it meant embracing ourselves and the way things are.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelly. I appreciate your rsonse about progress: we obviously have a good deal to learn about ourselves– and that would be a challenge worth taking up. Perhaps that would even tell us something about how we might use our power more appropriately as citizens of this shared earth.

  49. This is a wonderful article! It was just yesterday that I was driving and thinking about how humanity has lost its sense of true community– we all drive our private cars, live in our private houses, and live our private lives. No sense of commonality or a true “commons”, like the prairie in the article. We don’t really embrace one another for who we are in the now, we are all pushing each other to become the same person, missing what is unique in each individual. We don’t really appreciate our humanity or the natural world around us.

    While driving yesterday and thinking about this, I tried to picture a world where we didn’t have our own little cars and our own little houses, but shared and respected one another as human beings… was really difficult to picture until now lol. This article as given me hope that we CAN get to a point where we are all living for the same thing–the prosperity of the world as we know it and future generations to come.

    • Wonderful, Randa. There is obviously something deep in us that longs for such a sense of community — and a sense of security that comes from caring for the earth we share– which you evidently tapped. That is both heartening and hopeful to me!

  50. I found it interesting how this Chehalis Grandmother speaks of all living things with the same reverence. I think she is wise and clear in her focus of respecting and honoring all others. She feels as strongly about protecting and doing what is good for nature, as she does people, the elderly or mentally ill. This is important for us to remember as well.

  51. This was a great article! It saddens me though that one would not realize the harm they were doing in digging up land that wasn’t theirs. It reminds me though of the trips we would take as a family to the Oregon Coast and all along the drive you would see lush forests with vast amount of trees. Now when I take this drive I see clear cut and empty forests with the remains of tree stumps and petrified looking wood. It saddens me that whomever was cutting down these trees didn’t think of the effect on our environment and the wildlife that lived within those forests. It’s just a reminder of how we as human beings forget these details and only focus on our need to consume. If we had cared more for the “commons” sooner then maybe we wouldn’t have the environmental issues we face today.

    • Thanks, Jazmin. You are absolutely right that a conscious perception of the commons is key to shifting from thoughtlessly ravaging our world to caring for it. And I think we need to work for this shift in whatever way we can SOON.

  52. I had never heard of the term “forecaring,” but I think it an important concept. This past week I was reading an article in the Nation about global warming. According to many studies, those not sponsored by any governments and therefore able to be more controversial in their findings, even the most stringent efforts to curb global warming that are currently being debated by governments around the global are not enough to prevent major climate change in our lifetime. If more people understood this concept of “forecaring” we would not have debates over the percentage that carbon emissions must be cut, or cap and trade systems or the necessity of alternative, sustainable fuels. Our debate would completely shift direction, not to what is the bare minimum we must do to care for our environment, but how can we change our lifestyles to create egalitarian and sustainable habitats for all creatures.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tabitha. Hopefully, we in the US will be hearing of this term a good deal more, since it is a matter of chemical regulation policy (as the precautionary principle) in the European Union.
      I think you have a very good point that honoring this concept would shift direction away from the bare minimum in terms of addressing things like climate change– and we certainly need to do more as a global community.

  53. It is really sad how people forget about the olden days and only think about the future, and what the land can give to them. I think that if we were to think about the old days and only use what we are needing to use instead of consuming everything in sight, we will as human beings survive for a lot longer. I think that people should think about how easy it was back in the earlier days, sure there was more chores and handled jobs, but that could make work for those people who are desperately looking for it. We can’t feed a hungry country without people to help feed it.

    • Hi Patricia, I am not exactly sure how this is a reply to this particular post. I don’t think we can look to the “olden days” with simple nostalgia. Instead, we have to evaluate the structure, values and results of past societies–and see what this might tell us. It is certainly true that native peoples lived in partnership with this landscape for 10,000 years– whereas industrial society has pretty well devastated it in 200.
      We certainly do need more jobs. If you are suggesting that caring for our environment would make some of the jobs we need, I would agree. How would you bring the precautionary principle into this discussion?

  54. Our culture has become obsessed about getting what we want immediately and how things are going to benefit us as individuals. (I know that I’ve made alot of comments that generalize our society in this way, but what I mean is that this is the overriding mentality of our culture.) Because of this, we have used and abused our planet. Although there are many groups and organizations that are trying to cultivate and perpetuate this idea of “fore-caring,” it just isn’t happening fast enough. I worry that by the time the major of our society understands about taking care of things to preserve a better future, it will be too late to reverse the damage we’ve caused. If we just thought more about working together as a culture than focusing on what we can get for ourselves, maybe we can have a chance.

    • Hi Sarah, I empathize with your sense of imperative here. We have such a short time to turn around climate change, for instance. However, check out the latest YES magazine on this topic: your are not alone and it IS possible. The fact that this is so imperative (and you feel the import of this) is all the more reason to act and act quickly.

  55. The concept of bringing the lost home again is one that is completely foreign to our Western society now. Whether it be the mentally ill, the elderly, homeless citizens or wayward youth we seem much to quick to discount these PEOPLE. Unlike the Chehalis grandmother and her tribe’s dedication to accepting everyone as they are, we are quick to judge, quick to condemn and all too quick to ignore those that don’t fit our societal mold of “normal”. Everyone fitting into the same mold makes for a very dull world. Basic respect for others, I believe, would lead to a greater respect for our environment. If we care about the people, we care about how we impact their living space. It’s logical but in our current political and religious climate, it seems near impossible.

  56. Would it not be wonderful to wake up every day knowing that our government, the corporations, and our neighbors decidedly applying the precautionary principle to their lives. All of us putting the planet first which also puts the well being of all species and sustainability before our wants, not needs. Those that helped themselves to the Chehalis grandmother and her tribe’s camas might have thought twice before being so thoughtless. Maybe the precautionary principle can be taught in grade school to our children as part of their daily lessons, as well as diversity awareness and human rights and maybe even truths ignored before like the truth about Christopher Columbus, or that an African American Man by the name of Lewis Latimer invented a filament, without whom Tomas Edison would never be a household name…I think Grandmother from Chehalis would be the perfect teacher.

    • I love the vision in your first sentence, Val. It would be wonderful indeed to wake up to this! Grandmothers have been precautionary teachers in many cultures– as in the Sachem of the Iroquois. Knowing our history intimately is the first step in being able to apply this principle–and being honest with ourselves as in the case you bring up regarding Edison and Latimer.
      Thanks for your comment.

  57. This is an outlook that is quite different from the usual western view that the tragedy of the commons is inevitable. It’s rather interesting and telling that social services would intervene on matters internal to a house hold that didn’t fit western standards, but gave no thought to the care being given to the common resources.

    The formulation of the precautionary principle given here reminds me of the harm principle applied ecology rather than governance of man. Or even more broadly stated the governance of all interconnected things. As you stated with respect to the precautionary principle there’s nothing new under the sun. I’m sure this is all just a rehashing of a far older principle. Let us hope that this incarnation achieves more cultural impact than it’s forbearers. I doubt many people you’re likely to meet on the street are familiar with the harm principle.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Peter. Perhaps you also know that the “tragedy of the commons” that Hardin make famous ironically did not occur for the first thousand years that this grazing land that he refers to was shared by the community. It was only when the “commons” began to be used for individual profit that it “paid” individuals (at least in the short term) to graze as many sheep there as possible.
      The contrasting “household” views and responsibility thereof was certainly interesting to me– I am glad you picked up on that.
      I find it heartening that the precautionary principle has been put into effect by certain US municipalities (San Francisco, for instance– in a move supported by its local business community) as well as by the entire European Union’s REACH program. I’d like to think that we are setting the groundwork for the precautionary principle to become more of a household term in the US–and bring us back to the ancient ethical dictum, “First, do no harm”.

  58. I really enjoyed the questions this raised, especially “What if we defined ‘progress’ as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are?” So much of our actions are based on how we define things, such as progress, and how we value them in return. Is technology progress? Are bigger houses and shinier cars progress? Is progress just about having more of everything material? Or is progress improving relationships? Is it strengthening our connections to each other and to nature? Is progress just about having more love in our thoughts and actions? Very often, we do not even realize we hold a particular definition of something and thus never even think about how our definition affects the way we live. Maybe all that some people need is introduction to an alternative way of thinking; an alternative way of going about the world that they never considered before. The worldview described in this article is beautiful, but if someone has never before been introduced to such a way of life it is highly unlikely they will ever embrace it themselves. As a result, I believe the implications of this are that we must be persistent in our study of alternatives to patriarchy as well as persistent in our discussion, welcoming, and spreading of ideas.

    • Hi Kirsten, thanks for your comment. These are all very important questions to ask about what we think is really “progress” rather than assuming it is “progress” because it is what our society does. Your last point about expanding our views and our critical thinking with alternatives is a goal that increases my own hope for the quality of our shared future.

  59. When I read this article and the descriptions of the prairie being dug up by individuals in order to secure camas roots without, perhaps, enough regard as to what these actions may be having on the prairie as a whole and the use of the concept of the “commons”, I’m reminded of “the tragedy of the commons”. When there are enough instances of multiple individuals acting alone without regard to the greater good and whose primary motivation is self interest then the end result is the destruction of a shared limited resource. It is in a communities (societies?) best interest to maintain a healthy commons such as forests, waterways, prairies, etc…but these areas likely won’t be maintained if enough people act without regard to what may be best for the community as a whole. I think this goes back to a previous discussion of worldviews. A group with an interdependent worldview would seem to me to be much less likely to act purely on self interest. Their actions would be much more likely motivated by what is best for the commons rather than just for themselves.

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment. It is definitely in society’s best interest to maintain such commons– in fact, maintaining such commons may be necessary to our survival. I think it is time to reassess our worldviews.

  60. I thought this was an exceptional post. I strongly agree with the part about hunting/killing other animals. I, too, definitely agree that if an animal is hunted, it should not be purely for sport. I also agree that every part of the animal should be used-none gone to waste. That animal lost its life, the least people could do is make sure it did not die in vain. I even think one should level the playing field–by not using guns, but resorting back to spears or bows-and-arrows.

  61. Once again, this passage reinforces my belief that humans tend to believe they are hierarchical, because, from what I understand, is because they have more complex brains in addition to the ability to communicate about different philosophies, time frames, and general judgements. Because of this, it seems that many humans feel that they rest of the earth should be worth of them, or something like that. When in fact, it is often overseen that if it wasn’t for the earth and its’ products that we are able to do what we do every day.

    This is the first time I have been introduced to ‘fore-caring”. I like the idea of taking all actions into account of how it will affect the future, rather than the spontaneous, carpe diem mentality that is engrained in so many of our minds.

    This brings me to the current, industrialized food system. I watched Food, Inc. last night, and the image of the “perfect”, repetitive template of chickens as they venture through the factory comes to my mind. I also think about the fact that a vast amount of the chickens and cows Americans are eating are so, irregularly large that they cannot walk more than a couple of steps because their heart and other vital organs can’t support it. This would not be happening if we were respecting the lives that are sacrificed in order to prolong ours. I wonder if there would be any food related diseases if there was a respect for the nutrients going into our bodies. The pernicious disconnect is heart wrenching to me.

    • Thoughtful response, Dana. I would only substitute “humans” for “humans in particular cultural contexts” here. Thanks for bringing up the industrialized food system– certainly no care for the commons or empathy for those lives that support our own here.
      I think you have put the “pernicious disconnect” quite aptly here–and I would think this should be heart-wrenching– to those whose hearts and minds are still responsive to the world around them. I hope you can also take heart that you are not alone in these feelings. My hope is that this will lead to change: for one thing, we cannot continue to support such crowded chicken populations on antibiotics if we expect the latter to keep working for us when we need them.
      Thanks for your own care!

  62. I found the stories of the Chehalis grandmother to be very touching. The incident where she visited the institution evoked similar feelings that I have experienced in my past. In our society we often detach and isolate that which we feel we cannot manage. Rather than embracing and accepting things for what they are, we choose to cut them off. I appreciate and respect her idea of ‘bringing them home.”

    Reading about the old woman speaking of her prarie was also very inspiring. The idea of treading lightly is one that I have tried very hard to adopt. By respecting and caring for the land, we do in fact feel the appreciation that it has for us. By not disturbing the natural systems around us, we are able to allow them to thrive and in turn care for us.

  63. Dr. Holden,

    I really have to wonder where we lost the capacity to view things as being an interconnected community. How have we come to the point of not caring about the living things that surround us? This Chehalis grandmother has managed to live surrounded by our culture and society but is still able to retain her respect and admiration for the earth. So many of us struggle to consider other people’s needs, but rarely do we consider the needs of the earth itself. At most we remember not to litter openly – and this, for many, is to avoid being fined for doing so. For those who remember every day that their lives are so closely intertwined with the natural world, it’s so easy for them to see the living spirit within it.
    My husband and I were just last week discussing the issues of mental illness within our society and wondering how the native american communities dealt with the issue. We were wondering if it was as big a problem and/or stigma as it is for us now. It’s ironic that this would be one of the readings for this week. We had come up with a few theories but none of them with the understanding that they would attempt to “bring them back”. Our theories were more along the lines of finding ways for them to contribute or “dealing with them” when they were unable to safely live within the community. It’s sad that that’s where our minds went. As much as I like to believe I can feel for people in a compassionate manner, I’m learning that I really don’t yet have much of a basis for understanding that will allow me to truly live within nature’s community – I have a tremendous amount to learn and understand before I can even begin to reach that point.


    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Maria. I think that our worldview prompts us to see “other” as “danger”. I think that the human “instincts of self-destruction” Nigerian nobel laureate Chinua Achebe noted we should learn to discourage are arrogance, greed-and exclusion. I am open to any additions you or others want to add to this list.
      The fear involved with respect to those who see the world differently is a powerful one in our culture– and one which, I think, constrains our thinking lest deviance from convention (and even authentic thinking for ourselves) be deemed “crazy”.
      As a side note, in terms of rationality, it hardly makes sense that we are willing to pay several times more to incarcerate drug addicts than to treat them.
      There is a vast body of literature on viewing psychiatric illness with compassion. A first step in terms of perspective might be to assess some realistic data about who incites violence in our society. The stereotype of the crazy serial killers is all too often presented in modern crime shows, but a very small percentage of those with mental illness are violent. By contrast, the majority of murders are committed by those who are intimate with us. The majority of women murdered in this country, for instance, are murdered by their domestic partners. Check out for an advocacy group for community support in terms of care for the mentally ill.
      And for the personal experience of one modern psychiatrist who works from an indigenous perspective, check out Mehl-Madrona’s “Narrative Medicine”; another modern psychiatrist who works with the idea of compassion in both bio and psychiatric medicine is Rita Charon, who heads up the “Narrative Medicine” program at Columbia U Med School–and has authored a book with the same title.

  64. How wonderful it must have been to speak with this wonderful woman. You must have learned so much about the past. I’ll never understand why some people can have so little respect for nature. Even if we camp, we don’t leave anything behind, its just rude. Times change and it seems like more and more people are trying to understand how to take better care of our lands. My husband always saying that one day they will have to take out a parking lot or building so trees can be planted. I hope it doesn’t get that bad, but there are groups out there working to get the environment in better shape. I hope to see more jobs that are in favor of the environment, that brings the land back to the way it used to be, or at least in better shape. Anything is possible.

    • I was blessed indeed to be able to spend time with such a wonderful woman, Judilyn.
      There are actually a number of places where cement in cities has been taken out to plant community gardens, as we will read about in our next class forum. I do believe that much is possible– but it is up to the choices we make how much of that gets actualized.

  65. The story of the Chehalis grandmother and her camas field is sad. It’s got to be horrible to see something you’ve grown so close to, and know so well, to be destroyed by people that don’t understand it. These outsiders probably just didn’t realize that digging the roots up in the manner they were would have long term effects on how they would grow in the future. None-the-less, their actions threw off the delicate balance the Chehalis people had established with this area. This kind of feeling could be linked with any place you have grown up with that has changed for the worse by people that don’t understand it.

    I like the comment,” What was truly “private” shouldn’t matter to anyone else. This is describing the “commons” which is a resource by which many people use. For the Chehalis people, the field was one of these. By destroying it, these outsiders were affecting many people’s lives. Another example of this could be the pollution factories pump out. Air is not stationary, and everybody uses this resource, therefore everybody is affected by these factories actions. “fore-caring”, should be practiced by everyone, because everyone is going to part of the future as long as they are alive. We need to understand what these places mean to the people that have lived with them in harmony for a long time before we use them. If we don’t we could snuff out something that means a great deal to whoever has grown close to it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Benj. You point out a pertinent contrast between what the modern industrial worldview perceives as “common” and “private” and how indigenous worldviews perceive these. I appreciate your care for the traditions of others: when those traditions entail care for the land that sustains us, I think such caring is a win-win proposition.

  66. The concept that stood out the most to me in this article was the view that resources like food, water, air, etc belong to everyone. If this idea of these resources as “commons” was widespread then we would make sure that everyone could have access to these things and not exploit or contaminate them. Unlike today where much of our groundwater is being contaminated by chemicals and other things that make it undesirable to drink. By taking a step back and seeing that other people will be affected perhaps we can combat things that harm the “commons”.

    • You have a very important point, Travis: that community care for the commons upon which we depend for our lives is linked to our lack of exploitation of them (and I think also, other humans).

  67. This essay exemplifies the way in which modern society is so disconnected from the natural world. Most non-indigenous societies today do not take seriously the responsibility that we all have to the future. Or, perhaps they see that responsibility as one of financial security instead of a responsibility to leave a legacy that recognizes the value of the natural world. After Obama’s recent State of the Union Address, the official republican response given by Virginia Governor McDonnell included the statement that “We are blessed here in America with vast natural resources, and we must use them all.” Wow! We must use them ALL! What does this say about our disconnect to the natural world. How can we as a people count on lasting for more than a couple more generations if we are planning on using ALL of our “natural resources?” What a limited, self-destructive viewpoint.

    It is precisely this sentiment that decimated the buffalo, the camas prairies, and native people across the world. And, it is baffling that this is the dominant perspective in our world today. How can such a destructive viewpoint be the one that has become that which all countries feel is their right to attain?

    • I second your “wow!” –that is quite a statement, that it is our responsibility to use ALL our natural resources– what, before the next generation gets a chance at them? This says a great deal not only about our disconnect with the natural world, but with one another. Also, undercutting the natural sources that sustain us is a fairly self-destructive approach to financial “security”– and certainly not a long term one.

  68. This article reminds me somewhat of my own life and how I strive to leave no trace behind at the places I visit, and how I try to show reverence for the land. Many of the places I visit on Kauai are so beautiful they can’t be described in human language. Sometimes, when I go to these places I look down and see potato chip bags, beer cans, and cigarettes. Many times I will pick up the garbage and take it back with me. Overall, residents here do an amazing job of keeping everything pristine, but one thing that confuses me the most is some of the disposal practices of our locals. For some reason, there are certain areas of our island where many locals dump huge amounts of appliances and car parts. Many local fishing spots are littered with huge pieces of trash. However, dumping all trash here is free at the local dump. In some instances, the people doing this are native Hawaiians, but almost always they are people born on Kauai. I think because many locals have never been anywhere else, they don’t value the beauty as much as a person coming from the mainland. Nevertheless, it always bothers me when I see evidence of their visits left behind.
    I also found it interesting in this article about the social services workers coming to the houses of the natives and trying to teach them about housekeeping. Currently in our area, we have houses inhabited by native people that are virtually mini junk yards. Many times I will see a large expensive house filled with mainlanders built right next to a tiny shack inhabited by natives with vast amounts of clutter sweeping out into the front yard. The contrast is sharp and you can tell that the 2 neighbors try to avoid talking to each other. In private, the mainland transplants will complain about the hording practices of their neighbors, but do not consider that their neighbor lived here first. Who are we to move here and tell the natives how to live? They have been here for thousands of years. Perhaps they don’t value the same things we do. For example, on Christmas the native house might be filled with over 100 people all sharing their foods, but the mainland house will be closed up and 5 people will be inside consuming a 10 course meal from Costco. I think we have done enough damage to native cultures, without trying to teach them how to live like we do.

    • I can see why this would disturb you, Joshua. I think you are right that there are culturally different priorities. I also think you may be seeing an “in my backyard” approach here. For those who do not have a backyard to keep pristine and a set aside area (dump) where they throw things away, the kinds of garbage generated by our technology is a problem that everyone comes face to face with. In the NIMBY essays here, I asked what it would be like to keep all our garbage in our own yards: you are seeing some examples of this.
      There is also this: we have had enough experience with industrialization that we are used to “real” waste rather than the natural “waste equals food” of nature. In truly natural systems, garbage is not a problem as it is in our systems.
      I also think there is that idea that what is private (our own yards) can be however we want them: what a strange concept to keep our private areas clean and trash common areas– what does this say about our sense of community? I also saw some anger expressed in throwing out the leavings of Westerners (candy bar rappers in this case) while I was in Palestine.
      And then, of course, there are those who are lazy and/or careless… not a one-answer issue.

  69. Amazing article
    “In some areas of California, the hunter never ate any of his own meat,” (Holden ). This quote shows how indigenous people, who live in the heart of the nature, are kind and warmhearted. Those hunters scarify for other people because they love their community and people. I think the closer you live to the Earth and sand, the kinder person you are. Learning from the nature and animals is the most successful key for people to live in peace in this fast and modern life.

  70. This reminded me of something that happened when I was 15. I went to visit my cousin in Idaho and we were out driving around on back roads. My cousin spotted a coyote in the distance, pulled over, and got out of the truck with his rifle. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was going to shoot it. I really didn’t want him to shot the coyote so I got out too and slammed the door as hard as I could. The coyote ran off and my cousin was mad at me and we started to argue. He grew up on a farm and once in a while coyotes kill livestock which directly affects the farmer’s livelihood. I knew what his motivation was but I also understood that coyotes have every right to be left alone. The coyote was there for a reason and, to me, there wasn’t anything sporting or natural about killing it.

    • Thanks for sharing this story, Lance. As it turns out the coyote probably does more good than harm to most farmers- their major foods are mice and rabbits, so by eating them the coyote cuts down crop loss from these sources. But our culture’s response to such predators is not exactly a matter of reason.

  71. This reminds me of how my mother grew up in a rural farming town in Oregon. She was the eldest of seven and they grew up in a frugal house, but one filled with love. Despite living simply with little money, they always took pride to wear clean clothes and shine their shoes. To them being poor didn’t mean appearing slovenly, but taking care of what one had and putting it to the best of use. Still to this day my Grandparents will reuse things until they are falling apart and still grow most of their own produce, which I am sure is a reaction to the Depression era. This ability to sustain oneself and respect the materials we do have is a way of caring for the commons: caring for ourselves, our houses and our “things” (in order to make them last) honors the Earth and our bodies. The way my Grandparents used what they had and cared for it has influenced all of the family to be staunchly conservative in leaving an environmental footprint. I am thankful for this kind of a legacy.

    • Hi Jessica, thanks for sharing your personal legacy with us. Obviously your grandparents had many important skills and values to pass on– it is great that you were able to receive and appreciate these.

  72. This is a beautiful article. I see the reciprocity in the material, but in this article I came away with a need to slow down. For me, the description of the grandmother sitting on her porch watching the prairie, watching the children play reminded me of a serious need to slow things down to a stop and soak it in. When I was young, my grandparents had a farm and each evening my grandfather would sit out on the porch no matter what the weather and stare out over the pastures. After reading this article his evening ritual makes more sense to me now. His watch over the land was protective, nurturing, humble and thankful.

    • Great images here, Bernadette. I think slowing down in this way may be important for all of us–and as far as I am concerned it is part and parcel of the nature of grandparents as witnesses and overseers (like mine and yours were at any rate).

  73. I think this piece is very moving. It breaks my heart that people don’t respect out land the way they respect there own homes. If the diggers thought about how they would feel if someone went through and tore up all of there land I don’t think they would treat the Chehalis prairies the way they did by digging up the beautiful flowers to leave mounds of dirt in its place. Everyone needs to respect themselves and nature. If more people respected nature and let it takes its natural course the world would be so rejuvenated and enriched with beauty.

  74. When I read this article I found many ideas interesting, the idea that impressed me most is “what was truely ‘private’ shouldn’t matter to anyone else”. I feel this is an ethical consideration that should be made much more often than it is . Actions concerning air, land, water, and other commons should be taken to benefit all those affected including future generations. I believe this is becoming more apparent as land and resources are becoming scarce. In the 19th century settlers could destroy land or animal resources and then move on to find more. They did not always see the consequences of their actions. Hopefully we can learn from the mistakes of the past, see the consequences of their actions, and preserve the commons.

    • Hi Brandon, I absolutely agree with you that we have our priorities backwards when we put our effort into protecting some bit of private property rather than the commons that sustains us. Learning from the mistakes of our past is what has made human culture successful so far; we might well, as you indicate, pick up that trend again.

  75. We pride ourselves on the freedoms of the nation. Having the right to practice one’s own religion, to speak freely about ones opinions. But how can people be so invasive as to think they have an obligation to show someone how to “properly” live in their own house?
    The mother, in visiting the mental institute, really spoke to me when she was appalled by the way the people were treated. Caged, unfit for our society, and “stored” to be a tax on society and not integrated into it, in which they actually might have a chance to contribute and share with us. This is done as if to say, nothing good could come of the disturbed mind, they have nothing to share and will be placed in their own wards to save us from having to hear of them. (cruel and overblown, maybe, but it struck me hard)

    • Thanks for your comment, Anthony. It seemed to me that this grandmother’s care for the commons who linked to her compassion for those our society deems “disturbed”– a compassion you share.

  76. I really enjoyed reading this article and I believe its evidence of how different the European culture is from the indigenous people. It also shows how little compassion the Europeans had for other cultures such as the Indigenous peoples and the land that wasn’t there’s. I’ve kind of always wondered what type of relationship Europeans had with their homeland though. Were they always so barbarous, taking everything they could for their own benefit? It’s interesting how we’re still stuck on the same habits from the arrival of Europeans and I think technology has greatly magnified those habits. The article brings up an interesting point of what if global development and technology turned to such tender caretaking? I personally couldn’t even imagine what technology would be like. One thing I know for sure is that we have a much stronger relationship with technology than we do with our own land. Therefore, it too would be hard for us to give up as it was for the indigenous peoples to give up their land.

    • I appreciate your thoughtful perspective, Dylan. I don’t think Euroamericans are “barbaric” by nature, though there is a worldview that predisposes us to such callous actions–and certainly we may label certain actions as barbaric (ironic here that native peoples were called “savage”).
      I think we have a complex society and that there are individuals and ideals very different from the mainstream that have the potential to express this vision. If we are in love with technology–or our gadgets– per se, I do think that we can change our technology for the better, as many are putting energy into doing.

  77. I think often the actions of those who have good intentions go awry from lack of education and cause more devastation. The people where searching for camas may have thought they were being eco-friendly by not buying them at the store. We have much to relearn about eco-friendly in the modern world.

  78. It is indeed insightful to greet society and ecology with respect and gratitude, “in the stance that honors all life exactly as it is– and understands disease as lack of belonging”. I believe such an attitude towards our ecological and social issues can yield much better results than those which try to change the very nature of nature for the benefit of corporate capitalist or political enterprises. This brought to mind our class lecture, which spoke of those in indienous egalitarian societies who held the highest positions of power were the ones entrusted to do so by the community because of their sense of empathy and responsibility – their capacity for nurturance and power – instead of individually seeking power in arrogance, and then using it to dominate and exploit for personal gain. The shamanic healers juxtaposed with the doctors of today are a prime example of this. On a side note, it was interesting to learn that there were European societies which were not patriarchal and barbaric, such as the Bohemian “burgomaster” families and other Goddess cultures of Old Europe. This was refreshing knowledge to me, because the media often paints ancient Europe to be full of Vikings and Mercenaries.

    • Thanks for your comment, Hannah. It certainly does take considerable arrogance to “change the nature of nature”, as you put it. And such arrogance does not seem like a healing stance. I like knowing about this part of our history, as well!

  79. I very much appreciated the stance which was described toward the end of this essay which attempts to embrace and love all people just as they are. “Honor life exactly as it is.” Accepting and including people especially if they are coping with diseases or disabilities is one of the most important things we could ever do for another human being. I would love to meet one of these grandmothers someday, the way they are described, they all seem to be so full of tenderness and wisdom, women that we can all benefit from being around.

    The idea that if we treated all the earth with such tenderness that we could wake up each morning excited about the world and confident that we world we are passing on to future generations will be vital and sustaining is a beautiful picture. I would love to be able to feel that kind of peace about the earth and the world around me. Who knows, hopefully one day, we’ll get back to that point.

  80. When reading this article, I was touched and inspired by the grandmother’s reaction to the people who were institutionalized. She said that when her people were lost, they worked as hard as they could to “bring them home again” and transition them back into society. As Madronna writes, they would “bring them…back to a place of honor and belonging, to include and embrace them rather than to isolate and regiment them.” I am reminded of years ago when I worked as a Junior Activities Director at a local nursing home. I worked mainly with dementia patients, usually too far gone to really be a threat to themselves or others. And I remember wondering how they all ended up in such a place. The nursing home was, of course, clean and orderly. Nurses and Activity Directors did what they could to make it a fun place to be, and to make it feel like home. But it wasn’t home, and despite the best efforts of the staff, there was a prevailing misery there. I believe that this was because their families were nowhere near. They were not being honored or embraced, but unceremoniously dumped on complete strangers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that sometimes there is no better option. But too many people had placed their elderly parents or relatives in the institution simply for convenience’s sake. As if growing older was, in itself, a mental condition that required institutionalization. I am positive that some of the broken spirit of these Alzheimer’s patients could have been restored with just a bit more respect and love, the tenderness that was shown by the grandmother in this story.
    I was also touched by the idea of taking the “non-disturbance” ethic and applying it to our social life. I have long believed that we should affect the Earth in as small a way as possible, leaving small footprints and tiny marks and giving in the spirit of reciprocity. I never thought, however, about using a “non-disturbance” attitude when it comes to my social relationships. We would be better off if we didn’t disturb others, if we accepted them for who they are without trying to uproot them and change them entirely. If they needed correction, we would gently guide them, so as to build them up and build ourselves up as well.
    Lastly, the portion about imagining a more vital world for the generations that are to follow us is just…Wow! I would like to be secure in knowing that those who inherit our planet will forever be maintained by it and maintain it in turn. After all, I will be a part of this Earth forever. When I die, I will nourish life. I always want to be vital, even after my death. If we used such tenderness described in this article towards our environment, my wish might be granted. And that’s a wonderful thing to think about!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience and compassion with respect to your working in the nursing home, Amanda. I love this statement, “I always want to be vital, even after my death.” A wonderful thing to think about indeed!

  81. We really struggle with the ability to control the actions of others. Everyone in the world seems to think their particular ideas are correct, and rather than pooling all this knowledge and learning from it in a united manner, we isolate it into our own personal right and wrong. Just as the grandmother viewed the prairie as being “really messed up” as wrong, I’m sure that those who came to dig up the roots failed to ever consider their actions to be in any way wrong. In fact I’m sure in their own minds they had some grand plan to better the world. The reality is they didn’t seek any help or guidance in their task, but rather merely relied upon their own knowledge about what was right and wrong, and proceeded forward. It is this idea of reciprocity that we truly fail to grasp as a society. We think that everything we do will in some way benefit us, when in reality all too often we end up hurting ourselves or others in the long run. What will happen the next time they go to harvest the roots? What will happen when there is nothing left of the prairie but bare dirt? We need to take these questions to heart before we act. If everyone started their day with the idea that they would think of possible ways their actions may harm another before making them, we would see a dramatic drop in the negative reciprocity we have come to expect from modern life.

    • Thoughtful, Damien– though I’m not sure that those shoveling up the camas had any plan to “better the world”– though they were perhaps interesting in bettering their dinner table. I agree with you in terms of the questions we should ask ourselves as we assess our choices.
      You have an important point on the dangers of limited perspective. This goes back to what you said in another comment about dualism in which we see only a short limited view (the one circumscribed by our momentary desires?) rather than the long terms and extended effects of our actions.
      And I do agree that the vast majority of us (unless we are sociopathic) cannot tell ourselves that we are doing something wrong and continue to do it.

  82. This article left me with a sad feeling, so much the inexcusable damage to an area that had been so well cared for. It left me with too many questions and not enough answers. What is a Camas lily that it was dug up as a wild food source? What is in the Camas lily that makes it so popular for people to destroy the prairie? How is it different, burying the unusable parts of a hunted animal, versus leaving those parts for local predators? Why did the social services folk seek to impress their values on the Indian housewives? What did the Chehalis grandmother mean when she said she couldn’t understand inmates being paraded around like that? I don’t understand what she meant by there were not many lost to us that way? How is global development or technology going to be turned without profit or fine? Who has the strength to implement and enforce the fines required to make those responsible for global development and technology decide change is more profitable than fines? With so many cultures within the United States, how can we have the knowledge to understand whether or not we are disturbing others? Aren’t there some instances where people want help but don’t know how to ask? How can we find out what our own potential is?

    • I understand you have many questions: perhaps they will become clearer as you read other related materials. In the meantime, is there something in terms of your own response that you would like to comment on and share here?

  83. I never meant for my post to be so offensive. It is not that I chose not to give my views versus the questions I posted. I really didn’t view the article in the proper perspective. I didn’t catch that the social workers were the ones destroying the land while trying to push their personal hygiene values on the housewives. Having had to spend time in a psychiatric hospital and having never been ‘paraded around’ I really didn’t understand what the Chehalis grandmother was talking about. My own experience in the psychiatric hospital was one of care and nurturing so I had no other perspective to draw from. The hospital staff were the ones who made it possible for me to come back home and leave a relatively productive life. My questions weren’t meant to be impertinent, I genuinely didn’t understand. Again I apologize for giving the impression of an uncaring person, I just wanted to know more so I could see too.

    • Your post was not offensive– I apologize if I gave that sense. All t hose questions just made me a bit dizzy :)– and I couldn’t tell where you stood on anything. Thanks for the follow-up. I don’t think you came across as uncaring. I just couldn’t answer all these questions without re-writing the essay and a book or two to boot! Hope you found some online resources to show a camas photo. These are mentioned as “camas lakes” in the “Gourmand’s Paradise” essay as well.

  84. The problem is that the precautionary principle has really not been followed by anyone other than the indigenous peoples. Other groups have degraded our riparian areas, cleared our forests, and channelized and dammed our waterways, all for greed. These all go against the precautionary principle. Native Americans have been the ones to lose in the fight for land and resources. We have put them on reservations, when it is the non indigenous people that needed to be put on the reservations so that we could not hurt the environment further. Caring for the land should have not been the responsibility of just the Native Americans. Now, we are reaping what our forefathers have sewn. We are now put in charge of restoring what they degraded. If previous generations would have just followed the ways of the indigenous people, we would have a much better would to live in. If we are conscious of what we do to the land, the land will be able to provide for the whole of nature.

    • Thanks for sharing your obvious personal passion on this point, Scott. It is certainly time to learn from our past and create justice for those who share our land with us. It is a great tragedy when one generation is left to clean up what the previous generation has created. But I like the words of a young student two quarters ago who put it this way: “We are not the ones who created these problems, but we will be the ones to fix them”. I like his determination and hope.
      The more we see our environment degrade, the more imperative it is to change things now.
      The land that might provide for us, as you point out , is depending on us so that we will be able to depend on it.

  85. The Chehalis grandmother obviously loves the land tremendously. It reminds me of how I love those close to me. When my kids were sick I could tell almost before they did by their behavior and the way they looked. It touched my heart that she loves the land with the such intensity, knowing the ground had been disturbed even when you didn’t see it at first. When one really “sees” something or someone that person or thing is honored. To really “see” or “hear” is to give respect. This grandmother extends respect to everyone and everything by living her values with such integrity. I envy you your experiences with her. I love to read about the sharing that is such a part of the lives of those who live in that culture and so many other indigenous cultures. It is so much deeper than the sharing we try to teach our children. It’s as if the Chehalis live so closely attuned to nature that the very values or principles that guide nature guide the Chehalis. Who better to learn from?

    Tenderness is a beautiful word that so aptly describes the views of the Chehalis. The loving kindness that envelopes so many of the Chehalis views and behavior makes me crave to be a part of it, to naturally flow into such kindness and tenderness to the environment and others. I’m with you in redefining “progress” as enlarging ourselves. For me, this growth is including the pain of seeing my participation in destructive thinking and actions but you have shown a glimpse of the beauty I can grow into!

    • Thank your for sharing both thought and heart here, Sue. I was fortunate to hear stories of those with such tenderness for the land– it would be wonderful to enlarge our humanity as well as the family of life of which we are a part.

  86. Tender care-taking of the earth– it seems like such common sense, but it is not on the forefront of the minds of most Americans. Our culture is so focused on he individual, that we don’t even have the time to think about caring for the earth or giving away what we earn. I liked the example of the hunters that only took life if they meant to give it away. What a concept. Thank you for asking the right questions of us.

  87. “There is exemplary tenderness in this stance: in the stance that honors all life exactly as it is– and understands disease as lack of belonging. Instead of remaking the world for its own purposes, this stance attempts to enlarge itself to embrace those who have been left out, thus bringing them home again.”

    An overcrowded prison system, millions homeless, hungry, without healthcare. There is no doubt that the world needs to be healed, and that a tender stance is desperately needed.

  88. The story of the prairie full of shoveled mounds of dirt created by some people in their quest for food is a great aligory about what some people are doing to our environment today.

    In our own quest for “thing” we often do not care, do not notice and most of the time do not know what affect our actions are having on others.

    We are talking about sustainable communities in another class and one of the questions in this article can relate directly. “What if we defined ‘progress’ as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are? I wish we as a society could embrace all those around us and care about the future as much as our elders cared in the past.

    • Your wish could be a vision, Jeff–if the change you want begins with you, you not only enlarge yourself and help our shared earth, but model your actions for others. Thanks for sharing your care.

  89. What if we exhibited such tenderness and watchfulness over our social and ecological worlds? I could see nothing but benefits to us and our future. It takes individuals like the Chehalis grandmother. Our society leads our eyes in a different direction from the commons and more in the direction of the material world. We don’t really stop and watch the environment or sometimes our kids. The environment needs our eye to guide and care for it. If our kids are never watched, we wouldn’t have a future. If the environment isn’t watched we also wouldn’t have a future. I do want positive consequences when waking up instead of seeing negative ones that we currently have. Our air quality is horrible in some cities. As individuals we can start by watching what we do to the air when we see something wrong spewing out of our tailpipes. I get disturbed when breathing fowl air out of a tailpipe. If our air pollution isn’t disturbing us now, it will definitely disturb our future.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Someday, as Sandra Steingraber said in a recent article in Orien, we will think of placing these toxins in our atmosphere the same way we think of slavery today. Each of us can move us in this direction with our everyday choices, beginning with dropping toxic chemicals usage in our daily lives (there are guides as to how to do this on the weblinks here under “consumer info”.

  90. Just as the Chehalis grandmother has learned to watch over the prairie that yielded food and nourishment to her people, we should learn to watch over nature and our natural resources as a whole. We need to be aware of what we take from nature and give an effort to replace what we have robbed nature of. Our continuous over indulgence of natural resources is causing serious damage to our planet. To continue on this path without making restitution is putting our entire race at risk. I could not agree more with the statement Henry Cultee made. We must start to consider nature as we would a member of our family. We must love it, care for it and only take from it what we need to survive.

    • You are absolutely right that we must balance our tally sheet in taking from the natural world, Mildred. Taking too much is a sin against future generations: so is the release into the environment of the toxic substances we currently use. Thanks for your own compassioned response in treating nature as a part of our family, Mildred.

  91. The Chehalis elder had seen her beautiful prairie destroyed in the sense of how it naturally should have progressed. It is unfortunate that the wisdom of this lady could not have been imparted onto those who chose to tear up the land. Her visions over her lifetime could have been good lessons for those individuals; if only given they gave her the chance to teach the proper way to cultivate the particular species they might have gotten a deeper appreciation of one person’s impacts. This reminds me of the classic commercial, if I remember right, where it opens up to a very polluted stream and pans over to a traditionally dressed American Indian with a tear in his eye. This commercial was playing in the seventies, yes; I am dating myself, when I was a child so we have been talking about our effect on the environment for decades now. When will we learn?

    The Chehalis elder knew the purpose of the meadow and practiced the precautionary principle of no harm to the natural world. I have witnessed a positive reaction to harmful impacts in meadow restoration. In my work I have supported concrete removal, trail delineation, and non-native plant removal to return the ecosystem to its original state. Negative impacts pay a heavy toll on what could have been.

    • Thanks for your comment, Renea–and your personal work to restore the ecosystems that sustain us. It sounds like you are doing invaluable work! If we didn’t get it right in the past, we can learn from that–and start getting it right as of now.

  92. This concept of ‘fore-caring’ is so very important as we think towards the future, and start to prepare ‘the commons’ for our future generations. I think this is a principle not often in the front of people’s minds in their daily life. Not everyone stops to think how the little things, like littering a gum wrapper, may have an larger long term effect on the natural world. We need to take care every day, to make sure our world is still abundant with resources centuries from now, and still able to sustain and grow us as a people. We need to not only live in the now, but live for tomorrow, and make efforts as a society to try and improve and replenish at the same rate and with the same urgency we consume.

    • Thanks for your comment, Megan. We do indeed need to live fully present lives today– even as we act responsibility to ensure our descendents have the same opportunity.

  93. It seems obvious that a stance of “fore-caring” should be part of our everyday lives. It is saddening that it seems to be just the opposite. Not only do we take for granted the land and animals that we so depend on to survive, but we treat each other with the same attitude. All too often it seems that others are simply a commodity to be leveraged for personal gain. This is exactly our view of the land. We would be wise to take heed the advice of those who have gone before us and flourished, before it is too late.

    • I agree that fore-caring has always been essential–and is even more so in the modern day with our ability to experiment with technology outside the realm of natural systems. Thanks for your comment.

  94. This article makes a lot of good points. The disturbing of the ground to collect Camus is just a small example of how things can be perceived differently by people with different worldviews. The grandmother in this story was disturbed by the way people had just torn up the prairie and taken what they wanted from the area, while leaving nothing in return. The points she makes about how before contact with the West, Native American tribes cared for their mentally ill relatives and tried to nurture them to sanity. This is a sharp contrast to how we in the West simply put them in an insane asylum and then forget about them. There is no pressure in the West to feel connected to these people, and they are often viewed as a family secret. When they are committed to these institutions, they have little help of recovering. It seems far more beneficial to do things the way the Native Americans did, and eventually try to nurture them back to health. This article demonstrates a lot of ways in which the views of Native Americans and Westerners differ.

  95. I completely agree with the point that when one hunts and kills a animal, they should never be aloud to leave it as a lot of modern hunters do. I have never been able to understand how someone can go out into the woods, and kill a animal for the “sport”. If one feels the need to do this, they can at least take the meat to a homeless shelter, or to a similar place. There are many people who go hungry every day all over the world, and no one should be able to kill a living animal, and let it rot in the woods. It should be a enforced law that if someone is seen hunting an animal, they must take what they kill. The indigenous people before us showed us what we should do with our hunting strategies. When they would hunt, they would make sure to use every piece of the animal for a purpose. Whether it was the meat to feed their families, the bones to make beautiful jewelery, or their hide to provide excellent shelter and warmth. While they took these animals from our Earth, they are using them and I feel, in a sense, and recycling them through the Earth.

    I found it very inspirational about the hunters who would only hunt to share. They would put a vast amount of work, just in order to provide food for others. This shows a great amount of sharing that the indigenous people valued, a value that we have seemed to lost over the years.

  96. (PHL 443 Student Reply) The idea of the Precautionary Principle reminds me of the thought of reciprocity and “the gift must always move.” When dealing with resources, many native cultures understood only taking what was necessary and doing it so in a way to ensure future generations of people and resources are sustained.

  97. The most interesting part of this story to me is the different perspective the Chehalis grandmother has about mentally ill people. It is interesting how we essentially throw mentally people in prisons, instead of embracing their difference, and working to make them a part of our society.

  98. A very nice article. It highlights the importnant idea of caring for others before we care for ourselves, something that current society is just know beginning to grasp as a nessasary component to a thriving and sustainable way of life.

  99. The virtue of Non-disturbance and the good it can bring is beautifully exemplified by the flowing oceans of Camas flowers in the American West. When you see the wave of blue and purple, it is truly majestic.

    By allowing the earth and humans to coexist, scenes such as this are possible. When we take too much, they are the first to go.

    By seeing that there is more to the picture than ourselves, we can open the natural world for enjoyment and respect from future generations.

    I love the idea of giving away your first harvest, something that would never occur in the capitalist system we currently reside in. By doing this, the natural bounty is spread to those who may not have experienced it, hopefully creating a person who will do what they can to ensure that yet another person would have the same chance that they did.

    • I very much like your links between ethical choices and natural beauty. Rick. Just as flowers have spent millions of years making themselves more attractive to bees, the order and grace of the natural world resonates with something deep inside many of us– so that, as a recent experiment indicated, it causes us to be kinder to other humans.
      Thus the point you make about passing on first fruits so that “another person will have the same chance they did”.

  100. One thing I learned being in the military, there is always someone who has something, that someone else wants. I would love to see a day that a military in any country is not needed, that people can concentrate on working with each other, for a common good. Putting all those resources and dollars, so many dollars that are spent on the worlds militaries, put to a much better use, like maybe feeding those in the world. Creating a world better for us all, learning to live in the world we have, rather then trying to create the world we think should be.

    People who beg for the MREs that soldiers carry around. Begging for clear clean water. But yet, so much energy is placed on havign the better army, the strongest. So much research designed for a military purpose, that could be used for a better purpose, a better humanity. And in many times, that good research is turned and twisted for mililtary use…..

    I remember a movie called The Core, in which the inner core of the earth shuts down, because we decided that using natural disasters was a great weapon. This is the world we are headed to, if we dont change something quickly. And relearn the way we used to work with the land, and not against it.

    • Indeed, Sam. Thanks for your hard-earned perspective; a man with your experience has certainly earned the right to speak out about this issue. I am heartened by those who hope to change this to a society whose core value is “caring” (mentioned in the “beyond damage control” essay here): I think that are actions are contagious. Caring spreads more caring, just as the opposite can spread insecurity.

  101. A really great article and story- I completely agree, we need to take precautionary measures to help prevent loss of biodiversity in our ecosystems and our species. When the Chehalis grandmother saw evidence clearly indicating that the digging for camas was causing harm to the environment, she instinctively knew wise and compassionate measures were needed to reduce that harm- even if some of the cause and effect relationships had not been established technologically or scientifically. She is a true example of being a caretaker, and was well aware that protecting our ecosystems and habitats is a way of protecting ourselves, our descendants, and generations to come

  102. This elder is a perfect example of having humility, reverence, and gratitude; the key worldviews I believe our modern society is severely lacking. Having these attitudes toward nature will ultimately portray themselves in everyday interactions as well, just as this elder does.
    The potlatches of native cultures is something that I love to hear about. The idea that giving your first and best returns more to you than what you give is something I would love to believe in. Having my selfish western worldviews is making it difficult to implement this into my daily life but overtime, and with determination, I hope to gain this respect.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful–and caring– comment, Megan. This is an example of humility, reverence, and gratitude. I think what we westerners with our limited experience and worldview don’t understand is how holding to these values actually enhance our quality of life.

    • Megan, I liked that you pointed out humility as a key worldview and as something you saw in the elder Chahalis grandmother. My partner and I have recently been discussing humility to some degree, wondering how to become better at this virtue. For us, it means entirely reducing ourselves to the point of understanding we are only a parts of nature like everything else and not superior beings with power to dominate or abuse nature. This goes in conjunction with our spiritual beliefs. I also noticed humility mentioned in a choice point reading of lesson 2 this week in our PHL 443 course, and it definitely seems like a way we have to live in order to find value in everything around us.

  103. Reading about the hunters and strangers who upturned the soil in this article, I was reminded of a time as a boy when I went backpacking up to Duffy Lake and to Mowich near Marion Forks on the Pacific Crest Trail. My brother, a friend, and I backpacked to Mowich Lake where other people were camping. My brother and I were taught as Scouts to leave things better than we found them, and when the other campers hiked out, they left some garbage around. Knowing that’s just the way it goes sometimes, we picked it up and put it in our trash bag. We stayed a couple of days to enjoy nature and whenever we saw a dropped can or empty wrapper, we picked it up. But during that time both my brother and I grew irritated with our friend who seemed to destroy everything in his path, smashing wildlife plants, upturning rocks to kill the bugs and worms beneath them, and littering everywhere. We told him to knock it off, but he laughed at us. When we asked him why he needed to act like that, he shrugged, asking “why do you care? No one’s around to notice.” Feeling what the elder must have felt in this story, my brother and I said at the same time, “we notice.”

    • Thanks for sharing this story. Interesting perspective that “no one is around to notice” so that one can trash the wilderness. I wonder if your response to him made or has since made any difference in his attitude.

  104. The concept of the precautionary principle and the idea of non-disturbance present an interesting parallel with the career I have been progressing into through school. My work as a Civil Engineer is almost completely centered around projects or policies that have enormous impacts on our environment and our society. Working through school and receiving my training as an engineering, I would here a great deal about the considerations that must always be at least acknowledged on the impact of one project or another. We are even being taught a very new theory which is also being accepted more in the industry. The theory of the “triple bottom line” looks to drive selections and decisions made in each project which account for impacts economically, socially, and environmentally. On the surface the theory seems great. I think comparing it to what was previously in place (cheapest option goes) is a step forward. However, reading through this concept of non-disturbance I see that, no choice made by this system will every really accomplish a perfect solution that maintains the natural existence of nature. The problem comes from the fact that the theory is still based upon a secondary and underlying theory that progress is the answer. This theory is a slight digression from what I see being said in this essay, but it did make me realize what one of the bigger problems may be in relation to our constant “fiddling” with what we have around us.

    • I don’t think that this is a digression at all, Mathew- but a good discussion of changes/dilemmas that we are grappling with in our current technology’s effect on the natural world (and as a byproducts, effects on things like human health). The precautionary principle is in fact instituted in the REACH program in the EU– as well as in certain locales like San Francisco that have passed the principle into law locally. It seems to me that the “green engineering” movement goes a bit further than the triple bottom line (which, as you note, is better than cheapest–or most short-term money making goes). Check out some of our links to green chemistry and green engineering. This recent essay argues that green chemistry can get us out the Gulf (I know it’s not engineering, but the principles are related).

      • Thank you for the link and for your response. I didn’t realize some of the legislation that was in place already but it is good to hear about the progressive steps being taken.

        • You are welcome, I appreciate your analysis from an engineer’s point of view (and dilemmas in using their tools to work with the natural world rather against it).

  105. It’s like the people who ride sand buggies in the sand dunes, those who do not feel an intimate relationship with the land will have no respect for it, or have it’s best interests at heart. there is a lot to be said about the fondness for the land which understands that it takes care of one and ones family as long as they take care of it. this reciprocity is truly lacking in our society and i hope we can make it work and wake up to our mistakes sooner rather than later.

    • It is obvious that we need a central change (maybe we just need to wake up to the fact that the land cares for us and thus we should care for it), Christopher. I hope with you that we learn this sooner rather than later, and am heartened by all the change I see in this direction. Thanks for your comment.

  106. In some ways the reciprocity ideal expressed by the Chehalis grandmother and in the excerpt, “In some areas of California, the hunter never ate any of his own meat. He could justify taking the life of another natural creature only by giving it away to feed others. In the same way, girls who harvest their first roots berries on the Mid-Columbia River never consume these themselves-but instead give them away. ” reminded me of a augmented version of Kant’s ethics, and particularly the notion of humans as an end in themselves, except expanded significantly to all living beings. Kant would certainly be upset by my lumping these together as he would have found the lack of expressible reason in most living things reason alone to use them as a means, however; the notion that we ought to see in other living things the same value that we tend to see in ourselves would be a depressing way to live now, but a past (or future) which would be wonderful to live in.

    • A depressing way to live now because of the value we (fail to) see in ourselves at present, Thomas. Actually, Kant has been used extensively in business ethics to counter the idea that the majority (or greatest good for great number) should reign as an ethical standard. As Mark Sagoff put it, “two plus two will always be four no matter how many are willing to pay to make it different”. So the market standard (or as you put it in your last comment, the minimalist standard) buts up against reality when it is not leavened by any other ethics than profit taking.

  107. This article is very inspiring. Of all the articles of yours that I have read I think this one has made me wish more and more that we took better care of the earth. Its all we have, honoring it as a sacred place to live is how we should treat it. Instead we treat it like it is just literally dirt below our feet.

    • Thanks, Briana. I found this grandmother very inspiring as well.

    • I agree with you Briana. I find this article too very interesting and this grandmother has inspired me to be more appreciative of the earth and have a sense of belonging to the land. I think that if we take the time to understand and have a relationship with the natural world and let go of whatever interferes or sets us apart from caring for the earth, it would be so much better and beneficial to us all. I think that it would also be easier to honor and treat it like a sacred place if we believe and remember that life actually comes from this earth and the earth was here before humans. It deserves so much more.

  108. I’ve actually seen an example of exhibiting “such tenderness and watchfulness over our social and ecological worlds” while backpacking and on rescues. Many backpackers and climbers follow Leave No Trace principles which means that the passage of people should go unnoticed to the natural world. We do not leave any trash or disturb the ground we cross and take great pains to simply disappear into the surrounding wilderness.

    I can’t help but think about this as I read about the Chehalis grandmother and her beloved prairie. Already we as humans have the capability of doing such things and now we really need to simply apply our eye to it. The Chehalis should be a guiding light to our future conservation and ecologic policies. But I hope we take it slow, and do it right the first time instead of rushing into it.

    • I am glad you have seen such parallels, David. Setting our sights on this–and remaining conscious as we take care of the land– implies, I think, that we do things one step at a time as we do them with care.

  109. This article shows a sharp distinction in the way that the conflicting worldviews treat a commons. The common property in the eyes of the Chehalis elder needs to be taken care of, they try their best to extract the camas without harming the prairie. Whereas if you take a competetive worldview, the prairie is a tool for producing camas. The most efficient means of extraction is to dig it up. This is really shortsighted, and this behavior does not promote the longevity of the prairie, and thus it does not promote the longevity of the access to camas for everyone.

    • Excellent point about contrasting notions of the commons here, Frank. And since the commons is what we depend on for survival, this difference does not bode well for us.

  110. I really appreciate the idea of “honoring our own potential”, by practicing the precautionary principle, and enlarging ourselves while embracing others as they are. Such principles align with living consciously, being aware of ourselves and others, and how we all affect each other (and our environments).

    Honoring our potential in this manner would also yield us some anticipated positive consequences, in addition to outcomes that may be unexpectedly so. I do regularly come across ‘climate change deniers’, who insist that we do not need to change our habits, as they ‘don’t really affect climate change anyway’ (or climate change doesn’t actually exist). But, as I point out to them, if they’re wrong, millions suffer and die; if I’m wrong, we’ve still got cleaner air, water, and earth to live with, as a worst case scenario (somehow pollution is not in dispute, although climate change is–I don’t see how they’re separable, but that’s me). Seems like it’s better to err on the side of caution, whether we’re headed down a path of human-caused catastrophe or not (as we likely are, at any rate).

    At any rate, living more consciously and trying to reach our true potential would do much for reconnecting us to each other and the world around us (as well as ourselves), and probably give us a sense of being more involved or productive as individuals, and as a society.

    • I think this is a powerful argument to use with climate change deniers, Crystal. And the other one is to be aware (as in our sidebar quote report from the Union of Concerned Scientists) something of the extent to which climate change info has been manipulated by oil industry sources– a tragic tact indeed–as if these folks don’t live in the same world and are somehow immune from human-caused environmental disasters. Interesting that pollution is not a contestable issue to these folks–and a good starting place for discussion.
      I’m glad you like this idea of honoring our potential, Crystal– thanks for your thoughtful comment–and your obvious personal care for the world we share.

  111. Chehalis grandmother’s mention of the treatment of inmates at the state hospital struck a chord with me. I thought it was interesting that she expressed how the inmates’ problems were foreign to their society prior to contact with westernized cultures. It’s frustrating when you observe modernize cultures attitude in its association toward the treatment of property and people as both being illustrated with little regard to their well-being. And I believe they both relate to the better treatment of our social and ecological worlds equally. I thought about this connection between the holistic vision after reading your description of “bringing them back to a place of honor and belonging” which was pertaining to the treatment of inmates at the state mental institution. It would surely be a much better world if the “precautionary principle” was at the forethought of all individuals and a great emphasis was placed on bio cultural diversity.

    • It would be a better world indeed if the precautionary principle were at the forefront of all of us, as you note, Ryan. Attending to this principle has many links to other aspects of a worldview which leads us to values such as diversity, inclusion–and meeting the challenge of learning from those both different from us and distant from us geographically. Thanks for you thoughtful response: I was also very touched by this grandmother’s insistence that what we must do for the mentally troubled is to work (as a community) to “bring them home again.”

  112. The concept of leaving the land as you found it as demonstrated by the Chehalis grandmother and Henry Cultee seems so far off in our modern world that at times I lose heart. How very sad that the people who dug up the camas and were certainly emulating the Chehalis peoples and other peoples of the northwest that harvested camas, missed the key component the elders speak of, non-disturbance and as the essay states, fore-caring.
    So how do we educate and help people to be aware of the micro concept of non-disturbance? Through a science, as is stated in the article, “that worked with tenderness”? Over the years, I have read articles around the research of quarks and quantum physics and how these atomic and beyond matter respond with intelligence to the observer. This definitely startled scientists and opened a door to the concept of complete consciousness of all matter and the space between. Maybe it will be through “science” that we will come back to the roots of the indigenous knowledge and awareness that is so very advanced and cosmic.

    • Thank you for your touching response here, Maureen. I was very fortunate to have worked with such elders; a real gift to experience such values. Yes, many have strayed from values such as these; but I like to think not of the difference between these values and where we are today, but of the way they model our human potential. And perhaps, indeed, we might recover that potential through a science that understands values of the consciousness of the world it touches.

  113. Strong, bright, watchful, eyes, and vision. I think that these words from the article, express how we take for granted the ability to see this world and everything that is in it. The Chehalis grandmother saw the wonder and beauty of the prairie around her and she was watchful of the changes that occurred around he and took care to be protective of the land and her children. I think of the farm that my Great Grandparents lived for over a hundred years and realize that a hundred years later, it looks as if noone ever lived there. It has become someone else’s property to continue the ongoing process of growing corn. People don’t own the land, we just occupy it for a short time and it continually moves on from hand to hand. But I think the vision or the foresight is to see that if we don’t take care of land that we temporarily occupy and care for it as we care for our children so as to continue life as we know as the precautionary principle states, then there will not be a land for the generations to come.

    • Your great-grandparents’ legacy is a wonderful one, Tina.
      Caring for the land that we temporarily occupy (and will pass on the following generations) is a vital responsibility.

  114. I really like the idea of leaving the land as you found it and the messages within this story. I believe that respecting nature, people and other human beings means showing respect for ourselves. We live in a world of mass consciousness where there is a universal notion of truth. Unfortunately, this universal truth does not reflect the various cultures and experiences of the people who are supposed to buy into ths universal reality.

    We, as a culture, need to broaden our notion of reality to include many different view points and respect nature and the creatures who live there.

    • Watching the current political campaign ads, Elizabeth, I’m not sure we have a universal notion of truth. I do think you are right that we tend to believe our cultural views are right and ignore or denigrate the views of others. And we do think that we own a franchise on “reality”– ironic given how subjective worldview choices really are.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  115. I found the belief expressed in this essay, that you should use all of what you have killed and if you can’t use it all then you should bury it, to be such an act of respect to nature. This really ties in the idea of kinship between all beings of nature. As odd as it sounds, it is treating the animal that you kill for food as family. I also really liked the notion of the girls on the Mid-Columbia River who after harvesting their first roots berries give them away knowing that “nature will return the favor to her in future years.” I feel like these beliefs could be integrated in our daily lives. By simply not wasting the food in our refrigerators and composting the food we can’t use we can practice this belief in a different way.

    • I’m not sure that using all of an animal sounds odd as a method of respect — if you take a life, the least you can do is respect it. A thoughtful point we will bring up again as we face the human dilemma of living from the lives of others in an upcoming lesson.
      Great point about taking care not to waste the food in our own refrigerators–and composting what we cannot use.
      Thanks for the obvious care in this comment, Emily.

  116. This article really touched me. It got me thinking if the world truely started practices would it be a better place? I believe it would be. I believe the earth woud thrive and show us the love we are giving to others. I got upset at the fact that somebody cpul actually taer through such beauty with such careless actions. Why did these people think they have the right to destroy what was everyone’s in the world?

    • Powerful question to answer– why some feel that they have the right to destroy the commons which supports the lives of all of us, Kimberly. I think what we can do is model the values that touched you (and certainly touched me as I had the great privilege of working with this grandmother. Thanks for your comment.

    • Kimberly I think you post a great question. And it will be one we’re ashamed to answer. Truth hurts.

  117. In this essay you discuss the way of caring and fore-caring for the natural world and the use of the precautionary principle so as “not to disturb other lives now or in the future.” I agree with your proposition that this the good and proper way of things in the natural world. However, I see a challenge to propagating this philosophy. The challenge comes in the form of business, or the corporation.
    I have some experience and training in the world of business management. I can relate that one of the primary principles of managing a business is that “the business has no heart, no feelings, no emotions, and is largely indifferent to anything except to maximize profit. This is a standard philosophy and business ethic that is being taught in much of the western business world. This being so, and considering that much (if not most) of the damage being done to nature is at the hands of business and corporate giants, I fear that the case for caring and tenderness and consideration being applied to their activities as related to the natural world will be very difficult at best.
    The structure of our economic system allows for the birth and growth of such unseeing, unfeeling and uncaring creatures and our legal system legitimizes their existence and activities. Further, the law currently protects those who steer the activities of these great machines of commerce and industry by granting them pardon from any responsibility for the actions of the machine. Thus allowing the “person” who makes the decision to become detached from the consequences of their own decisions.
    One way I can suggest for correcting this situation would be to hold the “people” who make the decisions responsible for what their corporations do. Perhaps then would the corporations grow a heart so that it could feel and care? Perhaps then would the corporations grow eyes to see the world (all of the world) that they are impacting? Perhaps once the people who run the corporations are held responsible, then they might become fonder of the idea of operating by the precautionary principle, since then their actions would affect their own lives.
    I realize that I must sound like someone who is totally against corporate America but I assure you that I am not. What I am against is a system that absolves people from responsibility for their actions and decisions. I have found that when a person has no responsibility for their actions, they act without regard for anyone or anything except themselves. When a person has absolute responsibility for their actions, they tend to be a bit more cautious about what they do.

  118. Our culture is so focused on us and what is perceived to be true in our bubble. I wonder if something is true in our little bubble then does it make it true for people within this bubble? There are some universal truths such as 1+1=2, or even that’s debatable. It seems like a balance of keeping an open mind to find the truth, and to believe in what we believe in. If the balance is not well kept, then we either end up questioning everything with nothing to believe in or we could believe in all the wrong things.

    • I agree with you that balance is an essential value here, Steven. Isn’t that what mutuality is all about? Holding to our ground at the same time that we listen to and reach out to others?

  119. This essay is full of compassion. From the way the grandmother watched over the prairie to the way her people honored and respected the others who were “lost.” If we continue to do as we please with no concern or regard for others or the environment around us then how long will we last? We have the environmental and global problems we have now because of lack of leadership and compassion. We need to be the generation who makes a change so that others may follow. Digging up the prairie wasn’t in itself what troubled the grandmother, rather, it was the ignorant and selfish act of taking from others with no respect or gratitude.

    • I think you raise a great question and I think that timetable is shrinking faster as we continue with our current ways of managing our natural resources. There are not enough people that have the respect and reverence for the natural world in order for this to be changed right now.

    • I am heartened by your resolve to be the generation that makes the difference here, Kat– and as you indicate, respect and gratitude are beneficial attitudes to begin this task with.

  120. I thought it was important to understand the wisdom from the indigenous people and how the precautionary principle can be used in every aspect of our lives. Humans need to treat the land they use with the utmost respect and not take more than they need. I like how the essay talks about reciprocity where as long as humans treat the land in a positve way they will be given sustainability in return.

    • Thanks for your respect for the lives and values of indigenous peoples, Andrew.

    • Your comment reminds of what my friend told me a couple days a go, he said that sustainability is not about the minimization of waste, it is about producing no waste and efficiency in our everyday lives. This idea really changed my view on sustainability. Why produce any waste under the name of sustainability? We are standing far a way from the idea of sustainable society based on the point of view my friend mentioned.

      • Indeed, Yun Ji– it seems that if we are speaking of really sustainable systems, we must model them on natural systems in which no life creates waste that is not food for some other life.

  121. This is such a great article telling us about the way how the indigenous people perceive the world differently than many of us. I have known that the land, the animal, the language, the people and the culture according to Indian’s tradition, are their sacred things. If you have chance to read any of N.Scott Momaday’s writings and poems, you will be surprised by the way how Indian people respect their land, animal and their people. Therefore, the section when the author mentioned about how the parts of animal which were not used were buried after the men went hunted and how they did not eat their own food but to share with others is really understandable. Why did they do that? Because they respect the nature and animal is part of their life. They are not like us, who use everything and throw the unnecessary parts away into the trashcan. “Honoring the life you had taken, and leave the land just as you found it.” If every one of us truly practices this way of living, I think there will be more solutions for lives in this earth. Don’t tell me that global warming is just naturally since each of our acts has direct affects to the air, the soil and the living condition that we are all in right now.
    There is another part of the article which gets my attention. It’s about the woman’s feeling toward the people in hospital at Steilacoom. The woman was questioning why we separate them (send to hospital) and not bring them home to care or embrace them. These people need special care, not the separation like that. This idea is not new but caring in her mind obviously different with caring in our minds, isn’t it? Some of us think of taking care to these people are burden or we need doctors and nurses to give them medication at the right time, which we don’t have much knowledge about while in the woman’s mind, she thinks of the way with no need of doctors or any modern technology, just simply love and care between human beings is necessary.

    • Hi Vu, thanks for sharing your compassionate insights here. My favorite piece by Scott Momaday is The Way to Rainy Mountain– a number of essays on the land/Kiowa people in three parts: one, mythic, two, oral tradition, three, personal experience– all interwoven in wonderful lyrical language.
      I agree that caring for the earth in this way would help lead us out of our environmental crises, which include threats you mention such as global climate change.
      It is my belief that the way we treat the natural world and the way we treat one another is interwoven–and thus this generous and wise grandmother upheld both the care for the natural world and the compassion for those “lost to us”– who might be healed by being brought home.

  122. The Grandmother’s statement about bringing back the mentally ill to be part of society, sharing dignity and honor made me think of the duty we have to our veterans returning with traumatic head injuries. The system is not dealing with these young men effectively and is dumping them into our already dismal mental health system. Repaying the sacrifice they gave for us with isolation is certainly not reciprocity.

  123. I was touched by the idea of considering people as a common resource! I think I failed to get that point across, I apologize! I have heard the phrase “It takes a village..” and this context seems to reiterate that idea. The members of our society are all important to our collective being. Each contributes in their own way to the intricate web.

    Another idea in this article that reached me was the non-disturbance of another person’s sensibilities. The idea of someone coming into a home and telling the homemaker how to clean was pretty offensive. What could be more private than your own home.. and the idea that someone would intrude into your private property to suggest how one could manage it better would seem to accomplish nothing positive. A culture stressing private property rights that also wants to manage them for you doesn’t seem likely to succeed with either.

    • Hi Sheryl, thanks for adding this insight here– and for reminding us that the commons does not exist without community. I very much like your idea that each of us have something unique and irreplaceable to contribute. I think we too often have the sense that people (or at least certain ones) are expendable. This is a dangerous point of view, as in Hitler’s concept of “useless eaters”– the disabled and mentally ill persons who were the first ones sent to the gas chambers.
      Thoughtful response about privacy. I think this also goes to the point that (as in those on welfare) we have the right to “manage” certain people. The problem with this is that this type of dominating behavior becomes a habit so that whatever we do to minorities like this, the people in power (corporations) are likely eventually to do to us all. I am thinking of the group of corporate execs who got together in the 1920s to decide that ads would be effective if they disconnect consumers from community, create anxiety over this and substitute corporations in the mind of the public as “the father of us all” (this is a quote from the meeting minutes!) So we have ads telling us how we should smell, be well or sick, age, relate to one another and yes– clean house– and we don’t seem to think of that as a violation of our privacy, much less our integrity.

    • I agree, but there are problems with that in this world. When I think of the commons it can be shared by all. Property rights cut up the commons when it comes to land.. In the Philippines the big timber companies have a problem with the poor of that county coming onto their lands to live because they have no place to go. In the United States we have the Mexican Drug Cartels coming in and setting up grow gardens on or federal, state and private lands causing some environmental concerns about their operations with pollution, and water quality not to mention the public safety aspect. Where do we draw the lines with the commons and property rights? I hope I am not to far off base with this.

      • There are obviously many things to consider here, Bob. An environmental commons is not the same thing as a free for all; indeed, it is a place (or aspect of the natural world such as air and water) protected and maintained to thrive.
        The social commons consists of things that make society itself thrive: such as education, transportation–and our relationships to one another, which drug cartels don’t seem to foster. However, if US corporations push subsistence Mexican farmers from their land and the come into the US because they have no way to feed their families, that is another issue.

  124. It is disturbing to examine the failings of our western culture in comparison with native cultures. I agree wholeheartedly with the elder who felt outraged at the dehumanization of mental patients. I feel the same outrage at how we treat our elderly in American society. Instead of respecting the wisdom they have to offer, we treat them as a burden placed upon the young. It is a sure sign that our culture fails us when it is inevitable that we all will reach a time in our lives when we are no longer considered a valuable part of society.

    • Your parents are very fortunate to have you as their daughter, Nicole. Elsewhere in this forum, we talked about Hitler’s “useless eaters”– those no longer able to contribute to society, who were thus killed. It disturbs me to hear such talk of “useless eaters” today among those who feel we owe nothing to those who share our communities. Thanks for your compassionate comment.
      And as an Asian folktale indicates, we are showing our children how to treat us in the way we treat our own parents.

    • There is an old saying in Korean Culture- “Treat your son as if he is your father” I think this saying conveys the idea of circular time as well as the value of family. I see lot of individualistic families in Korea and United States today. A lot of times the elders are treated as a burden as Nicole mentioned. I am afraid that as the society becomes more individual, technology and money oriented, the value of family and relationship between human beings get diminished.

      • Great illustration of the cyclical idea of time–and the mutual reciprocal respect that can flow between generations in such a worldview, Yun Ji.
        I think this is a profound saying indeed.

      • Agreed, Yung Ji. The saying is a perfect example of a reciprocal relationship. I also agree that it appears some of our values of family are dwindling. We learn from our elders, get our heritage from them, and were raised by them, why would we want to consider them a burden? We should be grateful for them and treat them with respect.

    • Although I agree that the de-humanization and isolation of people deemed less than whole and equal is horrible and hard to hear about, I also feel some sense of solace for the consistency. If we as western humans have the desire to diminish and destroy all of earth’s others, and the land that we exist on, I can’t help but feel some satisfaction that we keep these types of ideals consistent. That being shown through our abhorrent treatment of fellow human beings. How can we treat certain humans the way we do? The same way we treat plants, animals, and the ecosystems the way we do. Just as I don’t feel the separation from myself and nature, I also don’t feel that a human life is more important than another species. This being said, I honestly feel that if animals and plants are at the mercy of our moods and creativity, than so too should our fellow humans suffer the same way that they do, completing the cycle of our own stupid actions.

      • And perhaps if a “consistent” thinking system is challenged (by the results of the actions flowing from it, perhaps?) it is brittle enough to break apart to allow a new and more vital system to emerge? Certainly a system that produces suffering at every point is brittle in this way.
        I do like your point that we are imposing suffering on others, reciprocity indicates that we will impose the suffering on ourselves as well.

  125. My extended family, my grandparents, my parents’ siblings(seven each, total 14), their spouses, their children and whoever wants to join used to go on a picnic every spring. Of course, food is the most important part of the day and there were lots and lots of food every time we went on a picnic. The first thing we did before we ate, was making a plate full of offering to the nature. My grandfather always said that we are sharing with the birds and deers. It was considered to be rude for us to eat before my grandfather, but it was rude of him to eat before making the offering. I think the tradition he held is along the same line as the story in the essay, sharing the gathered and hunted food with the community members. We do not go on picnics as much as we used to anymore, partly because all my cousins are not kids anymore, but I hope my grandfather’s worldview of sharing and considering the nature before anything stays alive for a long time.

    • I hope so too, YunJi. Making this ethic of sharing a priority would change both our relationship with other humans and with the natural world for the better.
      Thanks for your own sharing of your lovely family tradition.

    • WOW, the fact that your family values nature and its beings as equal and important members of our community completely surprised me. I have not witnessed these sort of values expressed by a modern family. It is definitely inspirational to hear such a truly naturalist worldview to be so vibrant and important to a family.

  126. After I read this article I kept asking myself a question that professor Holden asked. “What if we instituted the precautionary principle in all aspects of our lives, combining the stance of non-disturbance with intimacy (so that we have the knowledge to understand whether or not we are disturbing others) and the watchful protection that many indigenous worldviews have modeled?” I wondered why this isn’t already a worldview valued by our society. It seems to be actually the opposite view that most Americans stand behind. When I think of words that America was founded on I think of independence, conquer, self-sufficient, and achieve. These selfish values that have been ingrained into the children of our society for years completely contradict the selfless values needed to prioritize the precautionary principle as a worthwhile worldview. If our children were raised with words such as charitable, compassionate, reciprocity and neighborly, the world would be in a different physical state. The characteristics we now instill in our youth must change before we can expect our society or environment as a whole to change for the better.

    • Very well said, Emily. Thanks for sharing these insights. And I think one thing we too often forget is that goals like achievement are self-defeating if they only persist in the short term– or in the lonely stance of the conqueror who must remove himself from the rest of life in his attempts to control it.

  127. One of the messages in this article is that we should only take what we need from nature, no more. This ethical view promotes sustainability, balance, and longevity for the entire ecosystem. Being an avid sport fisherman, I find myself having a worldview similar to that of the Indian grandmother overlooking her prairie, when I see other anglers on the water lacking respect for nature. So many times as I come back to the dock at the end of a long day fishing, I see anglers keeping fish in numbers that exceed any normal consumption. Even worse I see them hang the fish for pictures and then discard them off the end of the pier after they take the trophy picture shot for their scrap books. The carcasses can be seen floating away with the tide for the crabs to feast on. Multiply this by a million and I am sure that is what is happening globally. It’s such a disgrace, while it’s not my prairie it is my ocean.

    • This is a sad scene indeed, David. And I think evidence of a corruption of spirit that sees other lives only as a temporary ego boost as we march on conquering the world– and forgetting that it sustains us, and therefore we are all in this together.
      I hope we learn that your own perspective of care and balance is that one that has sustained us in the past– and will sustain us in the future if we get to it fast enough.

  128. This essay is completely inline with what I believe to be the foremost value needed to get in touch with nature and improve our lifestyles of using and abusing nature. That principle is reciprocity. How funny it is that this is probable the most important value, and yet it is the one that western humans steer away from the most. Similar to the racist concept of “the vanishing Indian”, failure to give back is the un willingness to provide tribute, and failing to provide tribute is a denial that we have received a gift. This type of denial is extremely harmful to decision making. This is because without the value of giving some for all you take, or even completely abstaining from personal enjoyment out of respect for the creature giving the gift, are things that are widely embraced by indigenous peoples whom also happen to be acting in a very sustainable way. It is safe to say that the Indigenous populations could certainly out last the western world thinkers, as their models embrace the ideals of reciprocity and humility when interacting with their environments, and this idea alone, is a positive one when you think of how it pertains to survival.

    • I think you have an important emphasis indeed in the value of reciprocity, Shana. Of course, if our society as a whole held to this, it would inhibit our ability to take without giving back– and to accumulate goods beyond any rational need for them while others starve.

  129. We really do need to start working more towards “fore-caring”. Even though multinational companies and others that are causing the destruction of the earth may feel that they are losing profits by not worrying about fore-caring, in the long run, they probably are losing money. Since most companies are now hiring people to do research on better sustainability and take a “green” stance, they are spending a lot of money on that. Whereas, if they could just follow ideas of indigenous people who listen to the earth and know what is best for harmony with it, then they probably could save a lot of money. Not only would this save money it the long run, it would probably save time on working on a “clean up” of any destruction that they caused.

    • We do indeed need to turn to more “fore-caring”, Michelle– even if it cuts into the profits of corporations, the commons must be protected if any of us (including them) are to survive.
      There are some businesses turning to smarter ways: check out CSR wire (from our links page).

  130. The understanding that people who are ‘lost” need love and gentle guidance in finding their place in the group again is beautiful. The treatment of mentally ill people as having a physical “chemical” problem that should be treated with drugs and, if that doesn’t work, isolating the person in an institution is archaic. Imagine what the positive return would be if we treated those who are shunned such as the mentally ill, convicts, those with drug addictions and other “undesirables” as human beings who have lost their way and place in this world. The positive consequences of restoring such a balance in humans would affect all aspects of the universe.

    • Thank you for your compassionate–and pragmatic– response with respect to the treatment of those who are mentally distressed in our society. It turns out there is absolutely no solid data supporting the idea of a “chemical imbalance” in the brain– in spite of pharmaceuticals hype and even the belief of many doctors because of it. Robert Whitaker’s investigative report on this issue has some very powerful points: see, for instance, Whitaker also points out that the most effective treatment of the mentally distressed historically was a time when they were thought in need of care and community– during which large percentages got well again.
      It is not only the ethical thing but the practical thing to do to “bring these home again”– for we have lost much in losing their talents and energies.

    • Good afternoon Valerie,

      Great response. I also thought the part about helping the ‘lost’ find their way was really nice. I often wonder why society looks at people with mental issues as ‘needing help’. They are probably perfectly content with the way they are–it is society who thinks they need and/or want help. You are right; all they really need is a place to belong.

      • Seems like that is what all of us need, Gabe. Native people particularly noted that pioneers were missing a place to belong– and some attributed irresponsibility to a lack of connection or as modern psychologists are currently saying of certain career criminals– “attachment”.

  131. After reading articles such as these it saddens me to think of how much we truly take our world for granted and how we refuse to reach our full potential, in the way people as these do. Also, I liked how in this article the idea of reciprocity is again mentioned. I think that is a vital component of having a truly prosperous environment. If we’re going to take away from the world, we should give back to it as well.

    • Thoughtful points about the necessity of balance and responsibility– as opposed to taking our world for granted, as you note– a distinct danger when we assume we are “above” it and it is given to us to do as we wish.

  132. After reading this essay, it is easy to make the connection between the efforts of Gaviotans and indigenous peoples in the Americas to maintain balance. I think the successes shared by both in conservation and compassion for their lands stems from an intricate understanding of how they affect their environment.

    Westerners understand (after countless expensive studies and reports) that modern industrial practices are doing much more harm than good to our world. Unfortunately, our western worldviews won’t allow placing value on the earth higher than the money that can be made from it.

    As with most of your essays that discuss your conversations with indigenous peoples, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall, hearing it firsthand from someone who really understands reciprocity.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful response, Gabe. I was very fortunate indeed to be in line to hear such wisdom–and the care that stems from it– firsthand. I can do no less than pass it on.
      I hope that we learn quickly enough that (as Grandma Aggie said at the river blessing ceremony just this past Sunday) that when we run out of water and soil, our dollars won’t do us much good.

  133. Wow, this is an eye opening essay. It is sad how so many people take our earth forgranted. I hate that people seem to only care about what the earth can give them, rather than thinking, ‘what can we give to the earth?’
    It is very interesting to me that the “tragedy of the commons” seems to only occur in Western people. If only we thought more about the community and the environment and less about ourselves we wouldn’t destroy the ‘commons’ as we try to get more resources before our neighbors do. It should not be a competition, rather, a cooperation.
    And I completely agree that we need to do everything we can to prevent the loss of biodiversity.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Courtney. I find it hopeful that the “tragedy of the commons” only occurs in certain cultural contexts: that means we have can change it if we act differently.
      I am certainly with you on the issue of biodiversity.

  134. I especially enjoy the line about what is truly private shouldn’t matter to anyone else. This was a wonderful glimpse into social aspects of our culture concerning our stance on “commons.” I think unexpected positive results may be a bit to far out of reach for us today, but we should have the ability to create for ourselves intended positive results, and also lower expected negative results with the tools available to us in almost every interaction we have with the natural world. Now only if we could get some people with power and money involved…

    • It is very intresting on how there is a social aspect to this whole thing. As a society we need to rethink our outlook on what we have caused but how greed plays a big part (which is why rich people want to stay rich).

    • Thoughtful point, John. Lisa Jackson, EPA director, was lobbying for the precautionary principle– although the current Republican house is gutting the EPA instead. I can’t imagine who those tea party candidates really represent, since the majority of US citizens are concerned about the environment and over 70 per cent support a Constitutional Amendment that would throw out the Supreme Court decision that declared corporations should have the same rights as human persons.

  135. Overall I really enjoyed this article and I loved learning about the Chehalis people. I did have an issue with the line “There is exemplary tenderness in this stance: in the stance that honors all life exactly as it is– and understands disease as lack of belonging.”

    I feel like this line is saying that people who send people to mental wards are not being tender or honoring life as it is. I believe it is important when learning, and appreciating other cultures it is important not to depreciate our own culture too much. Now, I say this with the knowledge that the history of mental wards is not a good one, riddled with unethical experiments and many other things but they are useful, a fact made clear by the problems of deinstitutionalization that happened awhile ago in the U.S and is one of the main causes for people to be homeless today (well maybe not recently with our economy the way it is…) My friend was in a mental ward for awhile and he was there because his parents cared about him and wanted him to live well. Warranted he left the ward but to it is still unfair to say that him being sent there was because his community didn’t want to keep him close or weren’t being tender.

    Overall though I liked it and I’m guessing that it wasn’t meant that way!

    • I think that a dualistic framework (like that that persists in our culture) indicates that if we honor something (as in the tenderness of this elder’s stance) we are damning something else. But this is not necessarily so; however, the implication that caring for others in one instance demeans caring for them in another is perhaps a telling statement about our social conclusions.
      As you indicate, homelessness is often linked with mental distress in this society–and that underscores this elder’s statement about failed belonging in our society . Have you read the book by Robert Whitaker, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, who presents a portrait of the historical changes of the mentally distressed in our culture: he argues that the most successful treatment of mental illness was during a period when these suffering in this way were most incorporated into (and cared for) by the society at large.
      This indicates a social problem: not a demeaning of the choices of individual families who do not have the institutions of the above successful period in our society available to them–and have some very hard and distressing choices to make.
      You or your friends might also be interested in checking into the work of Mindfreedom International.
      Thanks for sharing your compassion.

  136. It is very interesting to see how simple ways of life are the best for our earth. This simple coexistence is the best way for all to live and grow. Once we make our way of life complicated things do not run as smoothly. This coexistence is dependent on how we treat the resources nature gives us. It is very important that we do not take these resources for granted nor use them unwisely. However, we have crossed this line with greed. Our world needs to reevaluate how we take and use these resources of nature before we (who pride ourselves with our amount of knowledge) are stupid enough to dig our own graves.

    • Thoughtful juxtaposition between simplicity and greed, Michelle. It does indeed seem that our quest for a quick dollar has led to complicated technology and wasteful consumer goods.
      Time, as you indicate, to re-evaluate how to truly use our intelligence.

  137. I was really impressed by how the Chehalis grandmother defended those in the mental institution. To a lot of people, people in mental institutions, or other people not deemed “normal” are shunned or thought of as scary or weird. As stated by other students, the Chehalis grandmother has the compassion that many people lack. She knew that the people in the institution were human beings like the rest of us and shouldn’t be treated inhumanely!

    • That is exactly the thought that I had. It is so comforting to know that not everyone is damning the things that they do not understand, but accepting them and trying to make things better.

    • The stance of inclusion here, Samantha, is one that goes hand in hand with the idea that all species in the natural world are interdependence. Hierarchical societies, by contrast, put people into upper and lower categories.
      Thanks for your comment!

  138. One of the parts of the article that struck me the most was the paragraph that dealt with the insane asylum. Personally I have never thought of mental illness in that way, and hearing that we should bring them back with warmth instead of isolation is a very caring notion. I really do hope that people will start to feel more for others, and understand that we are all connected.

    • Thank you for the compassionate response.

    • I found that to be interesting as well. I think what makes insane asylums most ominous to people is the feeling of being alone. Where if we would substitute that isolation feeling with warmth it could make a difference.

      • Indeed, Desiree. Robert Whitaker traces the history of the mentally ill in the US–and finds a successful recovery linked to a movement to place them in comfortable communities in the nineteenth century.

  139. I was struck by your statement, ” what if we defined “progress” as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are?.” I was watching a video of Bill Gates and he was speaking of one of his pet projects, which is to reduce population size. He wants to reduce population size because PEOPLE are creating too much CO2. First of all it bothers me to know end that so many believe that humans could possibly overpopulate the earth. To me that means they don’t understand life as cyclical. He wants to reduce population by using vaccines and birth control (which might make you want to rethink those to choices). Where is the embracing in these evasive methods. Where is the love for enlarging ourselves. Finally, and what bothered me the most was that part of his “formula” was the services people use, like televisions (or computers and software) were good, and we certainly don’t want to cut back on stuff. Whoa! I am not saying I don’t see the value of technology, but I do think we mindlessly consume way too much. It reminded me that like people in your story, searching the prairies for food and turning up the flowers, we should be careful in our pursuits.

    • Thoughtful response, Erica. I should clarify that by “enlarging ourselves” I did not mean unlimited population growth– but enlarging our hearts and minds. I do think that some who speak of population growth as a serious issue neglect the different effects that individuals from different cultures have on natural resources: they also neglect to speak of things like the UN studies that indicate giving women economic power leads them to automatically reduce their family size.
      As for technology (specifically, the computer technology Gates himself is so involved in), it should also be judged according to its natural resources use, production of waste, treatment of workers who make it, energy usage, etc. If we simply reduced the whole world’s population to our level of population growth but had them using the same percentage of resources that we use with our own technology, natural systems could not handle it.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment: I think we are too often eager to look for easy fixes without going into the details of the situations involved.

    • I am also intrigued by ‘progress’ being defined as embracing others and enlarging ourselves. Like in our lecture discussion, ‘progress’ should be creating happy, healthy, and quality of life in our society rather than ‘progress’ being amount of income and material goods.

  140. I have often heard the saying ‘dont take more than you need’ and I think it is great how the indains would bury the parts of the animals they dont need. I think leaving the land the way we found it is a good way to protect the commons. At the stage we are in now, however, we would need to do much more than just that to protect the commons because we have already done so much to destroy it. pollution, waste, landfills, etc. are destroying our commons.

  141. I always wondered what the Indigenous people did with the parts they did not use of the animal they killed. It makes sense to bury it and honor it. I think it is very interesting how the Indigenous people see the world. How they respect the animals they kill because without them the Indigenous people would have no life. Also, how they feel that when they kill an animal, the one who killed it does not eat it but shares its meat with others. It is very fascinating to know they believe in good karma.

    • Although they would not call it karma– interesting indeed how many human traditions share similar ethics. Thanks for your comment, Desiree.

    • What is so interesting to me about the practice of burying unused parts of a kill is that as a modern society we are just now beginning to recognize the importance of putting those nutrients back into our soil ONLY because of science. Generations of humans have been using this practice successfully, and it seems as though it was only with the “green revolution” and the science behind it that people became interested in using compost and other natural fertilizers to replenish the soil that we have taken from.

      Though this is a bit of a stretch from the immediate context of food sources being given back to the earth, I think the up-and-coming practice of natural burial is very interesting and pertinent to the same idea. Just as native peoples have buried their ancestors within the grounds of their people – and thus nourished the earth with their bodies, modern practices are beginning to recognize the potential benefits of doing so as well. I know that I would much rather become a part of some new life like a tree after I pass on than simply rotting in a chemically treated box. For more information, I found this site that gives a great overview of what constitutes a natural burial as well as lists the sites worldwide that offer these services:

      • Good observation in terms of placing nutrients back in the soil–and I don’t think the arena of natural burial is a stretch at all. From my perspective, it is an abuse of the gift of our bodies to leave a toxic waste dump in lieu of something that might nurture other lives as they have nurtured us.

    • I agree, Desiree, that it very interesting how indigenous people see the world. A part of the reciprocity process is giving back what you can and this is shown by burying the parts of animals that were not used. And, of course, nature was given back nutrients through this process in order to give back once more through plants and other animals.

      • It is true that nature always finds a way to balance the give and take of life–and come up with the generous sustenance for our own existence. Seems like a model we might attend to as we make our own choices.

  142. If only the world would honor and accept things as they are. What a great vision is put forth in this paper. Unfortunately, most of the world has been corrupted by the ideal that humans can take whatever they want and don’t worry about the future. After all the world was put here for man to conquer. What a sad way to view things. This need to always have more, this greed that most industrialized nations have been brought up with needs to change.

    I was brought up very poor but a lot of times I feel it was a better way to live. I was raised with a “you take only what you need and you leave things as close to how they were before you got there” viewpoint. I personally have expanded that to include “if possible leave things better off then when you got there”. We did not have anything really but that fact did not dawn on me until much later. We had food (my grandparents had a hunting lodge and would send us venison, elk, and bear), we had shelter, we had a field to play in and a creek to explore. I guess I was lucky to not be in a “slum” or “ghetto” so my experience with being poor was different from others but I really enjoyed living like a “native”. More people should be brought up this way, maybe then we would not have so many people whose whole lives are based on greed.

    • And you express another important value along with humility and a definition of “enough”– and that is gratefulness, Tamara. Seems that we would live happier lives if we looked to being grateful for what we have rather than greedily amassing what we do not have.

  143. The segment on how mentally diseased are treated really stood out for me. We tend to reject or shy away from anything that isn’t ‘normal’. A little compassion and perspective can go a long way.

    • And our sense of “normal” is, further, used to enforce particular cultural choices as if those were the only ones we had. Seems those who are most secure in the ways their cultures meet human needs are also more secure in accepting diverse human behavior.

    • My husband works with people who have different abilities and one striking conversation I had with one of the people in his program. She was said to have the mental ability of an 8 year old, but the life history of someone who was 60, her age. She told me that she never knew her parents and that she had grown up in a mental hospital. It wasn’t until she was 50 that she had ever lived in a house, gotten a job, or had friends to eat dinner with every night. And while she needs some help functioning, she is very self-sufficient. It seems that until recently she was the victim of peoples’ poor expectations towards her.

      • Indeed, Lindzy. This is a tragic loss both for the years of her life–and the things she might well have contributed to our society if given half a chance. It isn’t all about brains measured by IQ tests! Thanks for sharing this compassionate example.

  144. What elicited most concern while reading this article was the idea of the “commons” and our current interaction with such spaces. I wonder how the Chehalis woman would respond to the current struggle amongst world powers for the property rights to the world’s water sources. I have come to resent the idea of private property because of its inconsistency with the reality of what the environment actually is. Our world is not a commodity; it is the source of our lives. Who are we to decide who has a right to water and who does not? And on top of that who are we to assume that there is any rights associated with such a resource anyways? It seems as though our modern world is placing a price on everything, and I am curious to see if in the future there will be a special tax for simply breathing air that is considered American or Brazilian or German. At the rate the world is progressing, I would not be surprised if this was the next move by our governing bodies.In our world of accumulation and ownership, we have lost touch with what it means to share, and it is heartbreaking to think that even those people (like native groups to the Pacific Northwest) who understand the importance of sharing a world commons are being subjected to the arbitrary nonsense the modern industrialized world is forcing upon them because of the similarly arbitrary power associated with money and ignorance to the importance of all belief systems.

    • You have a very important point for consideration in your statement that the sources of our lives should be something other than a commodity. I agree that we should be selling things like water resources necessary not only to our survival, but to that of so many other natural creatures. As you also point out, we cannot divide up and sell the air, though the trading of “pollution rights” seems to be believe that there we can buy clean air in order to pollute it. I wonder if you think trading in carbon credits has the same problem– I think it does.
      I see no other alternative to ensure our survival than to revitalize the idea of the commons.

    • Sharing is one of the first proper social interaction lesson I remember learning in kindergarten. Why was I asked to share my crayolas when I was 5 but encouraged to claim my own space of land and resources when I am an adult? I agree that privatization has gone beyond its purpose (which I am not sure what it was intended for) and now stems into our health, economic, and educational systems and continues to burgeon as our laws get more and more specific in creating boundaries. As adults we have the responsibility to pass along the importance of community living and sharing to our children but it seems that we have lost our sense of community along the way.

      • I am especially concerned at the twist that some in this country are currently putting on any and all care for others, Priti– in which they label care as “socialism” and thus dismiss it. But we cannot have a community without, as you point out, sharing– and it is a strained society that teaches its children to share in kindergarten, but licenses its adults to take food out of one another’s mouths.

  145. It would be amazing if we could institute a precautionary principal amongst our daily lives and in the lives around us. If everyone was more tender and thoughtful like that grandmother, the world might be a very drastic place. And, the future of the world would certainly be a lot brighter. Imagine if you could trust others to take the care that you do. That would be amazing.

    • Since so many humans lived with this kind of “tenderness” (I like your use of that adjective) for so many thousands of years, we have a chance of restoring ourselves to our best possibilities–and our world at the same time.

  146. It is amazing how the Chehalis elder’s words are so powerful and yet, there were only a few words of her’s that can be found in this article. The discussion on the state mental institution really grabbed my attention in this reading. I have a relative that is in one and I believe that not enough nurturing goes into his “treatment”. He belongs back with his family but he has been conditioned to believe that he is a burden to us. There truly is no better medicine or treatment than that of family and those who love you. Society needs some serious nurturing if you ask me.

    • I agree, Sage. I don’t think that nurturance has a high enough priority in our society today. I am sorry that your relative is suffering under the feeling that he is a burden to his family.

    • Sage, thank you for sharing about your relative in the state mental institution. I do believe the systems fails here because of their classification of “mentally ill” as not being contributing members of society. There is a place for all beings in this world and no better one in which that person receives love and positivity from those around. I feel that the need to separate individuals in society is based off of fear and not understanding the needs of others, similarly mirrored in our need of separating our our national parks with gates and our own homes with fences. Integration is feared, but I believe that the way to nurture ourselves is to learn from and take care of each other in the creation of communities that are equal and supportive.

      • Thank you for both a compassionate and wise perspective here, Priti. We are a “gated” society in so many ways–and thus do not see what all parts of community might teach one another. As you put it, “there is a place for all beings in this world”. I am touching by the peoples of the Plains who found in their Contraries religious leaders who taught those in “normal” society about the strengths (and weaknesses) of their traditions–and the worldwide traditions of “wounded healers” in which those who had faced great mental and spiritual challenges assumed roles of leading and guiding others.

  147. I think the precautionary principle relates a lot to the NIMBY attitude in that we should try to do no harm that will affect others now or in the future. Just as the NIMBY attitude tries to ignore what goes on outside their personal space and thinks what they or others do will not affect each other, the precautionary principle actively looks at the situation and requires one to consider how their actions affect others. Adopting this principle would lead to a greater harmony in societies and with the environment.

    • I agree. I think that the two attitudes are polar opposite. I would not go as far as to call the debate good v evil, but there is definitely an easier argument to be made for one than the other. Considering the affects of your actions BEFORE they are taken is something that many people should start to implement………myself included.

    • Great connection, Brandt. Yet some other powerful reasons to go for the precautionary principle.

  148. I found this essay very inspiring. I have read many different articles about the “precautionary principle” but none have ever suggested applying it to ALL aspects of life. I took this essay as a challenge. Not one that could be won or lost, but more as one that could be strived towards. I do not think that it is impossible to do, but it will take effort. Making conscious decisions and not just going on auto-pilot when doing things will be a big change. I have a LOT on my plate, and maybe taking on this new challenge will force me to slow down.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Amanda. I hope this will allow you to slow down! I like the idea of taking the wisdom of elders of all cultures as a challenge. That is what vision is for.

    • I don’t think there is much benefit in dividing the world into good and evil, Amanda– so I’m glad you chose not to go that far! But I’m with you that making conscious decisions as opposed to being on “auto-pilot” is a good thing.

  149. I think that it may be possible that we are past a point where we can hold a global view that has a tenderness towards society and nature. There are too many that would exploit those who may be seen as “weaker” because they are kinder towards the world. It would take a massive social change for us to be able to support ourselves in this way. There is always hope though, and it may seem that we are on the verge of this social change that is necessary for a healthy future.

    • It does take courage– and create some grief- to face the tasks ahead of us in terms of changing our value system–and enacting that change– so that caring for the earth that sustains us, not to mention the lives that share it with us. But as you note, there is always hope– as indicating by the inspirational acts of those willing to “plant a rose in wartime”.

  150. During my first week living in a village with the Bhil tribe in West India, I learned that thought it may look different to me, every lifestyle choice of the villagers had reason and was based on values protecting their earth. From the way that they waited a few days to harvest goods so that the bees and wildlife around also were fed, to their choices of not creating wells in numerous areas as to not tax the ground water, each decision was based on a choice to look beyond their superficial needs and think about their legacy and the health of their future children. As Westerns, we lose perspective when looking at a rustic lifestyle out of context like the social workers trying to “fix” the Native American housekeeping lifestyles. The Chehalis could have easily harvested the flowers, could have also lived beyond their need, and could have introduced wasteful forms of living; this greed is still a part of all human nature. However, with such strong belief systems in protecting their land, they made the conscious choice not to. It must be very difficult to see others who are not indigenous to the land take and take from it with out the awareness to the spirit of nature to recognize their greedy impacts. The lesson is to observe, immerse into a natural lifestyle and learn what makes sense to the world around you before creating a judgement and a quick, easy “solution”.

    • Thank you for insight into this tribe that we would not otherwise visit, Priti. I really appreciate the pragmatic details of their choices and your conclusion that the members of industrial society need to become wiser (and calmer?) as we view the workings of the world around us and honor it (and the others that share it) before leaping into action to grab whatever we want (just what we try to discourage our two-year-olds from doing).

  151. Consideration is what is lacking. Putting ourselves in someone elses shoes and veiwing our own actions from a different angle. I do not think that we are beyond “tenderness” as a society. (referring to Ben’s comment above). If we were beyond tenderness, unexpected acts of kindness would go unnoticed. I agree that it is much more uncommon to find considerate people, but it is still appreciated when a door is held open, or a gift is given, or a hug is offered. Society can heal, it just needs a leading example by good people, every day.

    • You present a hopeful vision here, Michael. I agree that we are not lacking “tenderness”– though the industrial worldview does not exactly encourage it. I see acts of kindness daily– something to truly be grateful for–and a step on the way, as you point out, to healing our society through the “example of good people, every day”. Thanks for sharing this perspective with us.

  152. I agree very much with the “precautionary principle”. It makes a lot of sense to try not to disturb things. People in modern society need to live like the indigent and experience life without technology. They would see that when you are out in the wilderness, accomplishing your basic needs (food, water, shelter) take up most of your time. A simple couple day camping trip to the wilderness with your family isn’t going to teach you the same lessons as if you were living off the land.

    This quote from the article would help modern society, to much of everything is wasted everyday “You should take and use all of what you shot-and should there be something you couldn’t use of the animal that had given its life for your survival, you should respectfully bury it. Honoring the life you had taken and leaving the land just as you found” There is no honer for the environment like this anymore. In America we are the only country in the world where the hunter trying to make a kill is hunting on a full stomach. Most people in other countries are hunting animals for that nights meal we do it as a sport and waste what we don’t have a use for. Hopefully one day this wasteful attitude will change.

    • Chris, there are no human societies without technology: using the precautionary principle does not imply getting rid of technology (an impossibility in any event) but using it with care.
      And as indicated in “Indigenous Peoples” here, taking care of basic needs only took up 2-3 hours per week three days a week among at least one indigenous people: that, many indigenous peoples worked far fewer hours per week than we do in industrial society.
      Can you see how changing our values with respect to the way we create and apply our technology might be important–and in line with the values expressed in this essay?

  153. This is such a different approach to life, and one that should be more embraced by everyone. We should treat each part of life with tenderness and compassion. We should try and learn how to make the future of this world better then ever. Plants, animals, and humans all working together with respect and humanity in order to create a future that is more perfect then the past. One thing that I have always appreciated about Native Americans and appreciating more and more because of this class, is how they respected all life, including each others. When they killed something they never hung it up on the wall just to show that they had killed it, but rather used every little bit that they could. Many times you hear of ceremonies and chants that respected and revered the animals that sacrificed themselves to fed the people. In a book I read “Salmon Without Rivers” it describes how Native Americans celebrated when the salmon runs would return to their rivers, and held a ceremony for the last fish caught. That last fish was never consumed but rather returned to the river to show their respect and hope for another bountiful catch the next year. And it’s not like they didn’t have the tools to exploit the salmon and to take as much as they wanted, but they knew if they respected the fish it would return to them again.

    It was heartbreaking to read about the Chehalis elder going to the mental institution, but it was also enjoying to read about what they would have done. I wish that we still did this, as you put it enlarging our world to embrace all life. I could only imagine how different life would be, how different our mentalities would be. Not only if we did this with the mentally unstable or challenged but also with our old and our sick, instead of just putting them away some where that is out of sigh, out of mind. If we were to embrace all life then we might also be able to accept death more easily, and not try and keep it going passed the point of natural. If we were to treat every plant and every animal as if it were our brother or sister. What a life that would be.

    • I am glad to see so many of you are reading Salmon without Rivers (mentioned in the essay here about partnership with nature)–an excellent work!
      Thank you for your compassionate thoughts about embracing those who are not part of mainstream society (or at least, as we see it, since old age and death is a part of every life cycle). As related to your point about death, it seems that one thing small scale societies which closely connect the generations teach us is that there is an important link between the elders being able to die well and those coming after them being able to live well.

  154. One of the points that stuck me the most was the section on private property. The idea was that though it may be on private property it still has an impact on the public. I did not think to think of private property in this way. Growing up in a rural community private property always was considered something that should not impact because it is covered by privacy. This article definitely reinforces the idea that what we do the on our part of the nature impacts all of nature. The article said taking from nature had to be justified which goes hand and hand with the private property idea. The indigenous people had to justify taking a life like a deer to feed a family. This also every part of the animal had to be used and the parts that were not were buried. I thought that this was a way of showing that even if we take from nature we have to honor it as well.

    • Nice points, Javier. We need to consider how our sense of private property impinges on the commons that all life depends on for survival. And your example of taking the deer indicates a question about just how far we should feel we “own” natural life–even on land to which we have the deed and title.
      It is sad when the idea of private property becomes an occasion for shirking responsibility– to use all the parts of the deer, for instance. Thanks for your comment.

    • I had also never truly considered the impacts that private landowners and the practices they have in place on their land effect the public. I too have grown up in rural communities where private land was exactly that, private. No one ever gave any true thought to what someone was doing on their own land, because it was theirs. I think that if more private land owners understood the fact that yes they do own private land but what they do on it directly effects everyone in their area and indirectly everyone in the world they might pick up more sustainable and environmentally friendly land practices.

      • Some private landowners– who perhaps truly treasure their lands– are doing this, Justin– in Wyoming, for instance, where cattlemen are making a place for grizzly habitat and presence on “their” land which they see as fundamentally shared. A powerful step in the right direction, I think.
        I think sustainable logging — or even something as basic as foregoing the use of pesticides in small urban plots enact the realization that all land is part of the commons that sustains us.

  155. It would be absolutely amazing if we could express the same tenderness towards the environment as expressed in this article. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone woke up each morning expecting wonderful surprises from the world. The idea that we could be secure in the sense that those who followed after us, generation after generation, could inherit a more vital world than the one we have before us reminds me of the philosophy of “Seven generations on seven continents.” It would be amazing to know the legacy that you are leaving behind would have a positive impact on future generations and not a negative one.

    I feel that it is a general lack of consideration and fore thought that is missing from our world views today. The concept of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) kept coming to mind as I read this article. The fact that no consideration is given to our land use practices and lack of sustainability in our daily lives worries me about the future and what it will be like. Little thought is given to the way that we treat the commons and what will be left of those commons for future generations.

    • I have sometimes contemplated the security felt by those cultures who could rely, in the way you indicate, on the well being of the future. That seems like a fundamental sense of security indeed to me!
      And as you also point out, lack of care for the commons and those who come after us are intertwined-and thus we are undercutting the basic type of security of knowing that even as each person dies, their people (and memory) will continue.

  156. I have seen examples of “The Tragedy of the Commons” in numerous sources now, and this one too makes me shake my head. I am a fairly shy person, and when we experience something new, be it looking for thunder eggs near a creek, harvesting seed pods or any other activity whose common procedure I am unfamiliar with, I tend to ask for a demonstration. I don’t do so in an attempt to use up anyone’s time, or to gain an edge on someone else who might be looking for the same thing that I am, but because I am very timid in regards to making mistakes.

    If we go to dig for stones or gems, I want to know what the accepted practices are, and what I should be careful not to do. It surprises me that someone would go out onto the prairie so close to this woman’s home and dig without asking for some sort of guidance. I understand that she may not think of the land as being “hers”, but it seems logical to me to still ask for knowledge, if not permission, to gather something like that.

    Preconceived notions of what and how to do something may be effective, but they might not always be the locally preferred approach, and with a people so dedicated to the land it seems only polite and respectful to ask for their guidance. I think that she would be more likely to welcome anyone looking to gather if she knows that they will do so in a careful and respectful way.

    • I think your personal example should be a lesson to us all! It’s only right that we ask permission and/or what the correct protocol is from the local people when we are intruding on the space that they have taken care of for so long.

      There was a span of several years when my son and I would go cut our own Christmas tree. We always went to tree farms, and used their handsaws to cut down the trees. We would take our time and find just the right tree, and have to be in agreement that it wanted to come home with us. I was always the one to cut down the tree, and as I did, I said a prayer of thanks to the Earth for providing the tree, and to the tree itself for sacrificing itself for us. I also left 3 shiny pennies at the base of the stump when I was done.

      • Great point about asking permission, Kim–and teaching our children this as you did your son. Obviously, a Christmas tree garnered with such respect must have much meaning in your home as well.

    • Your sense of courtesy is a pointed one here, Adrienne. And perhaps we might “inquire” (by observation?) of the way things are done on the part of the more than human life on a plot of land as well before we decide what to take from it? Thanks for this analogy here.

  157. One thing that really struck me about this article was the story about the mental hospital, and how the Grandmother said, “She did not recall that there were many who were ‘lost to us that way’ before contact, but when there were, her people would work to “bring them home again”. It shows how what we modern-day people think of as “progress” isn’t necessarily for the better. When people were ill (physically, mentally, or emotionally), their people took care of them. They left them in their natural context (environment, if you will), and made sure that the whole person was taken care of. When “progressive” colonization took place, they were taken out of their natural environment and shoved into these institutions, where they were not treated as a whole person, and their condition often worsened. It is the same with any natural thing: leave it in its environment, and Mother Earth will take care of it (in any way that is best for the organism), but start taking it out of its natural context, and it will surely wither and die.

    Another thing that struck me was the method with which the Grandmother’s people cultivated the camas. They knew to use sticks (part of the natural environment), and were careful to take only what they needed. Once “progressive” shovels were brought in (i.e., things not of the natural world), nothing was left but mounds of dirt.

    Finally, I loved how the Grandmother gave permission to use her words, but not her name. In this way, the power (knowledge) is paid forward for future generations (i.e., nurturing others), but she wasn’t egotistical by saying, “Use my name. I want people to know that *I* was the one who passed along these words.” Real power comes from humbly nurturing others, not taking credit and making sure everyone knows who did the deed. I think that is a big downfall of modern science: everyone is so worried about getting credit for discovering things, rather than just letting the discovery help other people.

    • I like the three observations you made from this essay. There are good points here that I had not considered until you brought them up. Like if you leave an organism in its natural environment mother earth will take care of it, and the earth provides all the tools we need. I believe this is completely true. In modern society we are so far removed from the natural environment with technology that it’s almost impossible to understand how true and necessary nature is to human survival. Most of all I also enjoyed reading your response to the humble grandmother who didn’t want her name revealed. I agree with your opinion of her. Her actions are good and if more people were like her the world would be a better place.

  158. It is so essential to show tenderness to the environment because it would not only benefit us today, but it would also benefit the children of the future. If people today care for their children’s children, then we must start changing the ways we treat the environment. We must make the effort to let go of our selfish and destructive ways, and start treating the natural resources of this earth, such as the “commons”, with care. The human population might possibly become extinct if we don’t change, which I think is a scary thought.

  159. The partnership between Indigenous people and land promotes sustainability and respect for nature. For example the females of the Chehalis tribe planted camas so “careful not to disturb the prairie”, to the point that beautiful camas flowers were called camas lakes. It is a shame that anyone could destroy something so beautiful. But destruction has been the case since the arrival of the pioneers and the displacement of native tribes. A part of me feels terrible for the native elders who are alive today who witnessed the destruction of such beauty. Like the destruction that the Chehalis grandmother witnessed to the prairie. Most people of a modern western society don’t have this kind of respect and appreciation for the land like the natives of our past. It is this reason that our ecosystems and planet is so polluted. Now scientists are trying to come up with ways to undo all the damage that has been done. In order to fix the planet and the ecosystem people who are truly concerned with the environment are turning to the ways of the Native Americans. The Native Americans have had harmony with the world all along. It’s tragic that humans have altered natural harmony with nature. We must seek out the ways of the Native Americans, and hope that it’s not too late to fix the mistakes of our past.

  160. If the world of technology and industry utilized the precautionary principle, then you are right, we would see positive feedback from the Earth and from each other. Not having to deal with the negative effects of air, water, and land pollution, global warming, biodiversity loss, and other terrible things would be amazing, and many of us would be out of a job! Isn’t that the long-term goal? Not to have to worry about environmental problems because our success as humans is measured from the reciprocity of nature?

    • I don’t think that the point of this essay/article is not for us to have to worry about nature and the problems. In fact we should worry. If we are interconnected with nature than our mindset would be focused on nature quite a lot. The idea seems a little unrealistic. However, I think the essay/article was trying to point out the fact that we must respect nature and take responsiblity for the harm we have caused to our enviornmet.

      Additonally, this means making a change in our behaviors. Instead of polluting the air, water, and land we should be caring for it. Furthemore, if there is a negative effect pertaining to how we have treated our environment than we must recognize our faults and come up with a resolution that is beneficial for our environment & not one that is soley based on the economy or politics & etc.

      • What does the idea that we are separate from the natural world (even though it provides the source of our lives, for instance), have to do with the notion that it is “hard” to focus on that world as we make our choices? How might that change if we saw our place within natural cycles?

  161. Did you make a book of it? I would love to know more about the Chehalis grandmother. Her love of the camas endears me to her and maybe because of this class and this grandmother, I will probably never harvest my “purple lake”. It gets bigger every year. The camas are in a field that the cattle can’t get to, but I must admit the few times they have gotten out, they do love to eat the camas.
    We don’t have a huge ranch, but we do use the pastures for the cattle and harvest hay for the winter, while the cattle fertilize the pastures every year with their never ending supply of “excrement.” I wonder what wisdom the Chehalis Grandmother could lend to us . We are learning how to treat our land with “tenderness” and about how to make and keep it healthy, but we have had to seek it out. Examples like the Chehalis Grandmother’s tenderness help guide us and put us on the right track. How do we spread her message? How do we encourage the world learn by her example?

    • I did, Bev, and it has not yet been published, in fact, I set the manuscript aside (except for odds and ends published elsewhere) since i have been so overwhelmed with other things. But I will likely send it off to publishers again someday when my time frees up.
      Kind of us to ask.
      I hadn’t realized the cows eat camas, but I do know that the flower is edible (though the bulb is what was harvested in the NW). It sounds like the land is teaching you to treat it with tenderness– that is surely the best teacher there is!

  162. What a great article! I find it interesting the elder woman’s ability to “see” the destruction caused but also to see the field as it once was. Versus taking a few moments for your eyes to adjust, understand and then process what it is she saw. It is amazing how what we “see” around and take in as information further plays into our perceptions of the world.

  163. One imporant part of this essay/article is when it talked about the precautionary principle. The idea of taking special care and not disturbing other lives. In addition, treating the progess of global development and techonolgy as tender caretaking of the environment. My concern is that the world has become too overpopulated. How do we build houses?

    We have to cut down trees to build. This ideas almost seems impossible in my mind. However, if the belief is that we must respect nature I can understand that. If the belief also acknowledges that we may not over-consume nature than I agree with that. It’s just hard for me to understand this concept based upon where this world is at currently.

    Does this mean we need to kill off the population (people)? What does the precautionary principle look like & played out in real life? How do we treat the progress of global development and technology as tender caretaking of the environment? It seems a bit hard to do and unrealistic. It sounds great if it can be implemented.

    • Can you see how the all or nothing idea (build or never cut down a tree) flow from an either/or dualistic worldview. Is the only choice we have to be “tender” toward the environment or not meet human needs. Check out the newest “quote of the week” in which Bill McKibben speaks to the situation in Kerala, India, in which care for the environment is directly linked to meeting human needs AND population control.

  164. Reading this article made me reflect on respect, the respect for our older generation (elders), and what I witness more frequently in modern western society is disrespect for older western adults. This woman is wise and knowledgeable and passed some of that along to you, which is how it should be. Yet in my life, I witness the older generation pushed into nursing homes, ignored and even abused. It seems today that when a person reaches their 50’s, having worked and gained knowledge, society deems them as less able and replaces them with a 20-something. I realize this isn’t always the case, but we hear and read these stories with greater frequency. I guess where I am going with this is that respect can be reciprocal in that if we are respected as a person, then perhaps the person will act more respectfully to her or his environment; both the social environment and the natural environment, which may yield dividends for our shared resources .
    I tend to return to education and the need for both public and private curriculum to emphasize sustainability, ecology and man’s relationship with the natural world as a core component in K-12 since the majority of Americans get their education from a brick and mortar institution.

    • Hi Scott, I think you have an excellent example of the importance of reciprocity in the respect between generations. And I very much agree with you about education– indeed, it is important to sometimes get kids out of the “brick and mortar” and into an experience with the natural world, as the school garden projects springing up all over do!

    • Scott,
      So true! I’ve also been recognizing this, much of our reading are from elders and in their communities they are respected. One of our readings mentions that they are like libraries. It’s sad that we don’t appreciate people who are older in our society. We have such an obsession with youth that they often get pushed to the side and seen as not understanding and keeping up with the times. In a culture like ours that changes so fast I think that’s easy to do. In many of these native cultures that have sustained the same way of life for so long their knowledge is seen as more knowledgeable. Thanks for your comment.

      • Not only do we have a “youth” culture, but the sense that the past (as in the narrative of Manifest Destiny) holds us back from progress. In cultures with contrasting worldviews, the past is like a ground to stand on– I think we understand our lack of that ground on some level, since at the same time that we have this youth culture, many are also attracted to some antiques that have nothing else to recommend them but their age.
        This is a far cry from the mutual nuturance between generations that bonds human communities in many ancient human societies.

    • I agree that children do not respect elders today, but they are learning this from their only teachers: media and peer pressure. If we as parents were to enforce respect for all, and take our children to nursing homes for community service projects, then perhaps a budding desire to respect and honor would begin to prevail.

      • It is not that a child cannot be influenced by many elders, some of them related– but that there is so much more to be learned when the reciprocity between generations is put into play.

    • I agree, I do think that we need to all take a step back and cherish the environment like our ancestors have. With our busy lives, it is easy to forget how much mother nature does for us each and every day. The joys we have of snowboarding, going swimming in a lake, or just simply going for a nature walk.

  165. I like the thought of measuring progress by enlarging ourselves and embracing others and nature. In a small way I think that we are headed there. For so long we have taken for granite what nature provides to us and what harm we can inflict upon nature. I think the green movement is a way that we start to have some self respect and feel the responsibility of what we are doing. It’s almost become something that is trendy, to buy organic food, not use chemical cleaning products, have a rainwater catchment system, or at least in Seattle it is. I still think that we have a far way to go to get to a place where we are at a peaceful place with nature and show it the respect that it deserves, but I think that this is a little start.

  166. The part of this essay that spoke to me was regarding leaving the places you go as you find them. This was something my parents drilled into my head from a very young age, while backpacking and enjoying other activities we always made sure that when we were done we always left with what we came in with. This is a practice that has coined the term “Leave No Trace” and I make sure that I practice this concept not only while on family adventures, but also to ensure that this ideal is not lost for the next generation and that the appreciation of our earth is still maintained and cherished

    • And what would it be like to practice this “leave no trace” motto not just in backpacking, but say, in producing waste products on industry.
      This brings up the idea that one must be attentive to a place– one must know its order– in order to know how not to disturb that order. I would love to see our science done with such a practice of non-disturbance.

    • I like your point about not leaving a trace. So much of our day to day is out of sight and out of mind…when we throw something away, rarely do we see it ever again. It would be a trip if all of the things we used, threw away,(smog from our cars, garbage we threw away, water we used) etc. followed us around forever so that at the end of our lives we could really see the trace–the evidence of living–that we will leave behind. In the mean time, I completely agree that we need to try our best to leave nature just as we left it. I always think of the shell rule that says, “if you find a shell on the beach and want to look at it, before you pick it up make a mental note of its position and location and return it to the exact same place you found it.” The “shell rule” is something we can all try to practice in our day to day lives.

      • I like another rule as well– if we receive something from that same beach in the way of joy, for instance, we should do something in return, such as something left behind that could be recycled and recycle it.

  167. I thought in this article it was very important to note that “old eyes,” those of the Chehalis grandmother, had seen what the land had been like before it had been destroyed. Fast forward to the future and anyone who saw the land now, with “new eyes,” might not know the difference, might not see what is missing and might not inquire. This is something that still happens today.

    I remember when my grandparents bought a lot of land up in Tigard. Their home was surrounded by nature upon which they cherished and preserved. As a child, I remember tromping through the woods and running through the fields near their house. Later, in my teens, the properties all around them were sold. The forests were cut down, the fields torn up and neighborhoods, roads and schools were built.

    Now at 23, my grandparents house has long since been sold, and sometimes, on a sunny day I will drive up to where their house still stands to look around. I have old eyes. The eyes that miss the forests and the fields, the sheep roaming the open land. However, the new eyes of the families busily picking up there kids from school and driving up to their large homes don’t know any different. As far as they know, the neighborhoods in which they live have always been there and they would have no way of knowing their house sits on what used to be a forest.

    So, while we can’t always leave places the way we find them, I try to hold onto my memories of what those places looked like in the past (the drive to the Oregon Coast-when there were still trees on highway 26, my grandparents house-before it got engulfed by development, the wetland behind my house-before it got backfilled) and keep in mind, when I enter settings with new eyes, that I should pull out my old eyes, ask an elder and imagine what might have been there before.

    • Lovely images of the vision of the land you keep with your “old eyes”, Rudy. I hope you hold onto those visions. And in some way, in spite of all the development, those visions of the land remain as more real than a memory–and perhaps even a possible future to return to. Take, for instance, the way that the City of Eugene (and some other cities) are “daylighting” streams they once put underground for the sake of development and encouraging “rain gardens” where wetlands have been banished. Not that these absolutely replace what has been lost: but there is pallet here on which nature might redraw itself if we open up this possibility.

    • Rudy, I feel a sense of grief at the loss of what was a tangible part of your childhood. I agree with Dr. Holden and hope that you are able to feel the realness of that place even if only in your memory. These days there is so much development happening where I live in Hillsboro. I live within the urban boundary, but behind our house is a small piece of land where we often hear coyotes calling in the night. When I hear them from inside my house, I run to the door and open it so their voices will be close. Everything shifts for me when I hear their calls, and when I close the door, I feel a sense of loss because I know they will soon be pushed out by all the development. Not too long ago, I pulled into my driveway to see a deer walking across our yard. I stopped my car and got out to get a picture (this has never happened in the four years we’ve lived here), but this didn’t scare her. She just looked at me and continued walking across the lawn. She walked down the sidewalk and out of our little community onto a busy road. I was so worried for her, but a neighbor I called followed her for a bit and saw that she made it to safety. I grieve for what I know will someday be a great loss for these animals. And I grieve for ourselves and the emptiness we will feel when they’re gone and the silence is so loud.

      • Hi Staci, there is certainly much grief in the loss each of us suffering in the loss of our more than human companions. But I also hope that don’t grieve for those coyotes while they are still here: I hope that their loss is not that much of a foregone conclusion. And in fact, coyotes are increasing in urban and suburban areas, since we are ousting them out of wild habitat and they seem able to adapt to ours.

    • I think you make a great point. I think that as humans, we need to remember that we are a very young species and that it might do us some good to look at the world through older eyes. The earth, in all its beauty, was here long before us. It would be wise to look at the earth as an elder who will tell us what it need from us, and in return give us what we need. The elder earth who can share its stories and sustain our species. Would you beat up your grandmother? I hope most people would answer no to this. We can look at the earth as a grandmother and remember to be kind and delicate, she is strong but fragile, old but wise.

      • Very nice image of earth as grandmother, Kelly–and reminder of the fact that we should be “kind and delicate”, since “she is strong but fragile” and in her long history, also “wise”.

  168. You are greatly blessed to have this Chehalis elder as a friend. To learn from her and be able to see from her perspective is quite a gift. If we could live in a world as you described we would not have near the issues that we have. It is just a matter of getting people to understand this and attempt to do this. It may take some adjustments but it is not unable to be done. If we were able to live in such a way our world would flourish and probably be able to sustain us.

  169. In order to give away everything that one worked so hard to kill or gather required trust. Trust in nature and trust in others. Trust means being vulnerable. But western society has been built on self-interest and power, not vulnerability, so we have this mindset that if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will? I think many of us are empty inside because we have a deep, primal need for connection and trust, but we’ve forgotten how to live this way. Sometimes when we want things to change, we have to act as if that change has already occurred and, oftentimes, that act of faith is what brings on the change. In many ways we have forgotten how much abundance there is in the world, but abundance in nature and between humans requires continual reciprocity or the flow of energy will be interrupted. I have hope that we are returning to this way of life; I already see changes happening around me every day.

    • Nice web of values here, Staci– as in trust and sharing. I would also add that sharing does not indicate one is not caring for oneself, but extending one’s sense of self in the circle of life and community.
      And you have an important point in the dynamic of reciprocity here.
      Thanks for sharing your own hopeful vision here– I also hope it will gain ground to replace the growing gap between rich and poor in the current US.

  170. After reading this article I thought of the saying, “respect your elders” and in doing so we should also remember to “respect the land.” Our environment should be considered a valuable gift that has been given to us from our elders. They have entrusted us with the responsibility of caring for the land and our generation as they did back when it was handed down to them. I thought of my grandfather and his roles of old film that he shares with me from time to time that shows Eastern Oregon back before anyone had settled on it. Lucky today, when you drive out there, there is still enough open land that I can enjoy what he enjoyed as a young child and hopefully it will stay that way for generations to come.

    • What a gift you have inherited from your grandfather in relation to this land, Rudy. I think we might also look at it that the land is not only a gift from our elders, it is an “elder” itself– with its history, its knowledge and the fact that it allows for our birth and sustenance.

    • Yes. I agree that we inherited the great land and great nature from our grandparents, so we must keep it for our grandchildren too. I guess this is the most important topic in this course, PHL443. To accomplish this goal we need to apply the concept of fore-caring” for next generations.

  171. It is obvious that we need to apply the concept of “fore-caring” in part of our lives every single day. Not many people think to stop about little things which may have long term negative effect on the natural world. I think the concept of “fore-caring” have not been existed often in people’s mind yet. We should be able to think for our future generations. Not only human but also animal and plant also may be suffered by natural destruction. I think we all need to attend for this concept because if someone ignore to think it would not be effective as we think it is. Again, we need to live for tomorrow and we need to strive and improve our daily lives.

  172. Imagine going to bed one night and waking up the next morning to find yourself surrounded by strange creatures who looked similar to you but had fairer skin, different clothing, and beliefs that were alien to you. This is how indigenous must have felt. One day everything is going just like it had been for generations, and then slowly but overwhelmingly these new creatures arrived and changed so much of the landscape that you don’t know where you are anymore, whether this was reality or whether you were dreaming. Lack of belonging is a powerful disease that leads many to take their own lives. Only the extremely strong-willed would have been able to accept the changes that were rapidly happening all around them. To them the violation by “re-settlers” was so great that obviously they couldn’t accept it and it took the tender work of the Chehalis grandmother and others to “bring them back home”.

    • This might be how indigenous peoples felt on first seeing non-natives enter their territory and yet– at least in the Pacific Northwest, they fed and otherwise supported them in essential ways, as indicated here:
      Lack of belonging is indeed “a terrible disease”, and in working with native traditions, I have pondered the security that these traditions must have experienced in the idea that even if a person died, their memory and tradition would continue– a security that is foreign to more short-lived dominator societies.

      • I love the concept of bringing people that have become lost back home. Everyday we see more and more people on the streets, and they are treated as though they were invisible. The rate at which our society abuses children, animals and the elderly – instead of caring for our most vulnerable – is appalling, and not a sign of a “civilized” society (and certainly not the shining city on a hill!). I hope we will soon find our way to start caring for others and our planet, but fear we have run out of time, Not a very optimistic note to end this class on – it is 86 degrees today in Tampa, Florida.

        • I agree that bringing those who are lost home is a profound concept in many ways, Mary. I also think it applies well to those of us who are alienated from our place of belonging in the natural world — if those of us in contemporary industrial society had this sense of home, I can only imagine the sense of community and responsibility to earth, human community, and future generations we might express.
          Yes, the weather is not encouraging. While Tampa swelters, there are torrential rains and high winds as one storm after another hits here– and even a little snow forecast next week! Meanwhile, many fruit trees are in full bloom– but the insects cannot get to them amidst the cold and rain– we had the same kind of cold wet spring last year.
          A good time for all of us to join the action campaign of the Union of Concerned Scientists (under “action alert” here) and flood Congress with notes about the necessity to do something about the growing climate instability.
          Thanks for your comment.

  173. This article proved as a reminder to me to be careful where I walk and no matter where I am, how I treat the land. I am respectful of the land, but I bet there have been times when I sub consciously harmed it. I bet there were eyes watching me when this happened, shaking their head because of the lack of awareness I held. I will remember to remember that I am aware and to tread lightly.

    Also, I think that the precautionary principle will make its way into science when money makes it way out. I am in the midst of confusion on many scientific ideas because I am having a hard time deciding if they are honest or if they are based on money over morals. It is sad that it so often comes down to one or the other. Like the natives, I just want the truth and respect, those seem like pretty basic requests to me.

    Thanks for the article. It was lovely.

    • I completely agree that money can confuse an issue. It seems that the more lobbyists there are influencing the politics in America, the more confusing things get. Not only are these lobbyists paying members of congress for their vote, the big companies are paying to have their own “research” done on major issues that skew the truth. They might choose a particular set of factors that makes their product look like it can’t do any wrong, whereas the truth runs in a different direction. And since the lobbyists influence the government officials, all we see are the biased results. It seems that we need to question everything these days to make sure we know what’s right.

      • Money can not only confuse an issue– but that is what lobbyists often set out to do, as the fossil fuel industry has funded a massive dis-information campaign on climate instability and its causes.
        Developing a personal critical perspective is an excellent idea.

    • Kelly – it is often that money trumps morality in any situation. Whether it is science or whether it is even on a scale closer to home such as act of killing for money. It is interesting to ponder whether people are capable of treating money without becoming self-absorbed no matter what they do. In our society, money is essential to making a living, yet if we let it get to our heads, it will affect us in ways we cannot always foresee. One alternative would be to go back to trading goods, but even then people will place higher value on certain items that the basic principle would stay the same. Who knows? either way it is hard to decipher when people are being honest especially when it comes to money.

      • some points to consider, Colette. Too many have made money (and monetary profit) into a kind of divinity that stands above and licenses all else. I am heartened that there are so many among us and worldwide who refuse to be bought– now if we could only make that a rule with respect to our Congress and corporate lobbyists and campaign financing, where money stands in for power and replaces the democratic political process.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kelly. Care is a value not readily practiced in industrialized society– though it should be more so.
      I think you are right that the precautionary principle “will make its way into science when money makes its way out.” It is also important to note that particular businesses in the San Francisco Bay area supported the precautionary principle initiative there. These actually thought it was good business to also go about things ethically– definitely not the stance of those with the “profit first” stance as we saw in the “trouble with progress”.

  174. The story about the grandmother’s visit to the mental institution reminded me of something I heard on the radio the other day. It was about how many parents nowadays treat their toddlers and young children with powerful prescription medications to alter their moods and make them “better children.” I guess the same could be said for those in institutions. Our culture seems to be focused on the quick fix. We are all conditioned to think that waiting for something is beneath us. We use shovels to quickly dig up the camas instead of taking more time to do things the right way, just as we do with prescription medications. All of the rush to make our lives easier is making us rush even more. At some point the cycle needs to stop.

    • Indeed, Jeremy. We have all too often seen that the “quick fix”, whether in medicine or in technology may do more harm than good.
      Whereas I empathize with parents whose children have genuine emotional disability, it seems there is something fundamentally wrong with drugging them in order to control them– that is, make them into “better children”.

  175. This article strikes so many nerves for me. Once again it is apparent that people come in to take what they want and have no idea the time and care that went into developing the land. I feel that this seems to be the general mantra for our Western society. Then after this has been done to a great extent and resources have been depleted is there a pause to stop and think that maybe things should have been done differently. But as this article also points out not only is nature treated with disregard, but also people are too. I do hope that we can get to the point where forethought is used and care is given to nature and other people. I feel that these are such basic things, so simple to do and could make a really big difference.

    • Good perspective, Kim. We do need some serious denial to ignore courses of action that are, as you say, so “simple to do” as giving care and forethought to our treatment both of other humans and the land.
      By neglecting this, I also think we demean ourselves, by behaving as if our actions meant nothing.

  176. This was a very humbling article. I was calmed by the stories of the old women and her take on society and helping people. She was modest as well as wise. The ideas or dreams that this article call for are dreams that hopefully we all will continue to dream as hope is the only way towards reaching these dreams. The image of waking up everyday with new surprises is a dream we should never relinquish. Right now we can only imagine these ideas, but hopefully one day we will no longer be picture ways the world could be. Instead, one day we will see.

    • This grandmother was indeed both modest and wise. I was very fortunate to have known her!
      Now perhaps we can only “imagine or dream” waking up each day expecting good surprises- but the people of Gaviotas were able to experience this (in the surprising regeneration of the local rainforest) through sticking to their ethics.

  177. I have often pondered disease and what brings on disease especially in plants and in wildlife, but I think even I knew that environmental stresses which bring about suffering will eventually bring disease. ‘To bring them back to a place of honor and belonging, to include and embrace them rather than isolate and regiment them,’ is so true. This grandmother was speaking of all life not just sick humans and that all life should be honored. Tender care of humans, plants and wildlife also means tender care of self. Love for all life is love unto self. When there is love for all things, there is a wholeness and oneness that is healthy and disease-free.
    Right now I have a young sick tree, but while it was in bloom I let the bees enjoy its nectar. After the blooms died I then began to tend to the tree. Even though the tree was sick, it knew it had enough energy to feed its other family the bees, and there were so many this year! It is now my duty to listen to this trees needs and organically bring it back to health. I see this beautiful tree as one of my limbs. Or should I say I’m an extension of its limbs!

    • Nice perspective on healing all life by bringing them home (or giving them a place to be home, as in habitat protection?), Debora.

    • Debora, what an absolutely fabulous ethic of care around the health of that tree and the community it belongs to! I think that your support of its place in the food chain shows so much respect, and goodness knows that bees need all the support they can get right now! Three cheers for all the tender care you show for the environment – what a rewarding experience to be so in tune with nature.

  178. What a heartwarming description of the grandmother- I appreciate that it makes her all the more “human” and relates emotions that most can understand. I can understand her feelings of frustration; watching as humans and the natural world are treated so disrespectfully. It is quite sad that in our culture retirement homes and care facilities are places that we take our elderly so that we don’t have to nurture these people in their old age. It gives the appearance that these people, in their mature years, no longer hold value and should be, as such, less relevant to our lives. I find it indicative of our worldviews as a whole. In indigenous cultures, and in many non-indigenous cultures, that is not the case. The elderly are lauded for the wisdom they contain, the stories they tell, and loved and appreciated even more in their old age. It is especially telling of our values when there are many studies that have been done that attribute many of the conditions that befall the elderly as a consequence of being made more isolated as they age. It would be a wonderful legacy indeed if we could come to a place where “those who followed us would inherit an even more vital world than the one that sustains us”.

    • It does seem that too often the connection between generations is broken in both directions today–broken from the past in the lack of care/integration of our elderly and in the future in the careless inheritance we are leaving those who will follow us. Interestingly, in many societies, while the middle generation is doing the daily work to support a culture, the children and grandparents closely affiliate with one another– their connection is the brace that holds societies together.

  179. Dr. Holden, I am thrilled to read more of your articles because you speak with such care in them and you portray those that you come in contact with in such a manner that allows me as the reader to feel as if I knew that individual. I was impressed when I read the paragraph that talked about the first harvest of the root berries on the Mid-Colombia River and how they never consumed it but rather gave away their harvest and in return they will see more harvest in the future. How can we expect to receive more from nature if we harvest with greed? We have all seen what happens when people harvest with greed, many of the land’s end up being useless because of the chemicals used to protect the crops end up destroying the rich soil that could have brought many future harvest.

    I have to admit that reading the segment that described the grandmother visiting the mental institution and how she wonders what gives us the right to dehumanize people by having the right to determine the sanity of such person. Her idea to help rehabilitate those who are locked up by simply removing them from the location and taking them back to a place with honor and belonging, and how we must honor life as it is not as we want it to be, but as you explained we must, “understand disease as a lack of belonging”, and I agree, I couldn’t agree more with that statement we must embrace others to be able to embrace the natural world, thank you Dr. Holden for this wonderful article.

    • Thank you for your kind response. I have been very fortunate to have met and learned from such remarkable people. And I also think that what you got out of this article is directly related to the care you brought to your personal reading of it.
      You have an essential question in how can we expect to harvest more from nature if we harvest with greed. As you point out, we have seen the results of this in the past–and they have not been good.
      Perhaps this attempt to do the same things that did not work before and assume we will somehow get different results is crazier than the mental distress of any of those persons displaced from their communities that we might bring home again to a community of belonging. And on that topic, award winning investigative reporter Robert Whitaker has shown that in the history of treatment of mental illness in the US, the most successful was that which simply gave the mentally ill a safe and comfortable place to live. It turns out that those supported by that kind of treatment quickly got over their acute episodes– many fewer of these had thew chronic mental disabilities we see today.

  180. A society built around an ethic of care, nondisturbance and intimacy seems like it could eliminate much of the disease and disharmony that plague our people and environment. This idea of a precautionary principle is a familiar one – it is one I learned very young when enjoying nature with my family. When we would go for walks, my mother would always tell my brother and I to “take only photos and leave only footprints”. We were also often warned of the wildness of animals, and as cuddly as they all looked, it was better to give them their space (since we were in their home, not the other way around)! The community of Gaviotas seems to have embraced that principle, and enacted an ethic of care, in every part of their community (human and natural). I just spent quite a while browsing the website you provided: what an inspiration to us all! Housing, education, and medicine are provided to all members of the community, as is their tradition of sustainable development!
    The Chehalis Grandmother had a really important message in her focus on the commons. We have a shared responsibility for our finite natural resources. With the current environmental crisis, there is clearly a disconnect for many between our consumption and the impact that that consumption has [re: the folks disturbing the prairie in their quest for wild foods]. The pressing issue of climate change is certainly an issue of the commons. In an effort to raise awareness of this issue, and have the government address the climate chaos crisis, there are lawsuits currently being filed against the government who is responsible for the environment as a public trust (see more about that here I think there is a lot of potential for shifting our society’s behavior if we take the advice of that Chehalis Grandmother and we return “home” to the Earth, treating the environment, and each other, with dignity and care.

    • Thoughtful point about the precautionary principle you learned as a child, Anna. How is this different from the legal idea that one must prove a technology safe before it can be released?
      I think there is also a group of children pressing a suit against climate change on the basis that it is an injustice to their generation.
      It would be great if we modeled our choices on the sterling ethics of the folks at Gaviotas.

  181. All too often, people regard nature as merely something to use and possess, rather than something to cherish and respect. Many of us fail to see the beauty and potential in nature and the importance of protecting it for future generations. Many decisions made today regarding our natural resources are made in haste and do not take into account how these decisions will impact the next generation. It is easy for us to say that there will be plenty of clean water and air to sustain us, but what about two or three generations from now? What will their lives be like if we make the wrong decisions today? We as a society need to always be cognizant of future generations when we make decisions regarding our natural resources and be willing to make some hard choices when necessary to ensure that these future generations enjoy the same quality of life that we do now.

    • The notion that nature is simply there for our use according to however we wish to use it is an essential part of our worldview and one that has caused much tragedy in the contemporary age.
      Even today it is not so easy to say there will be “plenty of clean water and fresh air to sustain us”– there are water crises throughout the world as well as unprecedented droughts in the US– not to mention, agricultural practices that are drawing down water tables. And mercury from coal burning is a part of our air– I think our current foolish act is transporting coal across the US to the Pacific Coast where it can be shipped to China to add to both global warming and mercury pollution.
      I would love it if care for future generations could teach us how to care for the land that sustains us– it seems that children have much to teach us about ourselves–and this is one thing we might learn from truly caring for them.

  182. The lack of respect some people have for the earth, nature and all the beauty that surrounds us is a true tragedy. The story of the camas flowers and all of the care, love and blessings that went into growing them was very beautiful. After generations had grown them into a large “lake of flowers”, one group of people came and overturned the land, destroying all that had been done. The greed and lack of knowledge or respect for nature has truly become an issue that will forever affect our future generations to come. Why not learn from the indigenous societies that cared for, preserved and protected this land for so many years….

    • Perhaps we might even learn the lessons from the past in a way that motivates us to heal the results of our past behavior– so that the legacy we “forever” pass on to future generations is one of knowledge and caring?

  183. One of the most striking points to this essay, for me, was the extreme amount of selflessness that is the essence of being for most indigenous tribes. It is rare to find people that are “fore-caring”, that want to preserve things for the sake of their children or their children’s children, and later, and that give to others without taking for themselves.
    I think we live, in the majority, quite contrarily to this mentality. We take what we want for ourselves, often not thinking about any long-term consequences. It would be so enlightening to find the intimate connection with Earth that these tribes have, and to be able to honor all life without needing to morph it into something that we think it should be.

    • This is an important point to consider, Rebecca. I would like to see us redefine individualism so that we don’t see it as being locked inside an exclusive territory that separates us from the rest of the world– but as a ground from which we might move out to embrace that world. Then “selfishness” might be loving as well, since it meant honoring both our personal authenticity and the world we are intimately related to.

  184. I think fore-caring is making a comeback in the perceptions of society in recent times. Just in the last couple of days, I heard the “Precautionary Principle” on Documentaries and people discussing indigenous intimacy and knowledge on NPR programs. This is great since the media is such a powerful tool that shapes so many minds. Wouldn’t stories and experiences like these be wonderful if embedded in popular prime time television and reality shows. We do not have standard TV in our house, only Netflix and such, but when we did, I do not remember these indigenous teachings anywhere but on Discovery channel for instance. Just an idea to help put fore-caring in the minds of everyone, not just those lucky enough to read your wonderful essay.

    • It would indeed be great if the precautionary principle became more of a part of the US culture– as it is in the EU, where it is an environmental law.
      Unfortunately, even PBS is funded more and more by corporate contributions, and media that is profit-based does not seem to have any interest in messages that are not paid for. I think our media as a whole is due a serious makeover. And I agree that focusing on the value of care– now and in the future– would be a great media emphasis.

  185. I like that this essay emphasizes the importance of bringing honor and tenderness into all of our relationships. The results of this kind of unity are easily seen in many families and friendships. In strong relationships like this, it is natural to have a deep tenderness towards those we feel close to, and to express that feeling by honoring and treating them with love and respect. People who are part of this kind of union not only feel a sense of belonging, but are better equipped to deal with challenges and to make the world a better place.
    If these are the results of honor and tenderness in our close relationships with family and friends, it’s likely that similar results would be seen if those feelings and actions were present in our relationships with people who aren’t as close to us, and in our relationship with nature. All things respond and function best when cared for, whether that’s people, animals, plants, or landscapes.
    I believe that when we honor and tenderly care for others, accepting who or what they are, helping them to improve and allowing them to help us, we will see ‘wonderful surprises’ come of it.

    • I very much like your idea of “bringing honor and tenderness into all our relationships”! I think we can all envision what a change for the better that might make in our world.
      As you also point out, this is a powerful way to create and share a sense of belonging.
      Your idea of bringing “tenderness and honor” into our intimate relationships–and extending this to others is in line with the ethics of those societies who have conceived of themselves as living in kinship with all life.

    • Beautifully stated, Samantha; and I agree with you. If we could extend even a little of that honor and care we feel for our close ones to others, those “wonderful surprises” would be a “normal” part of every day life. I think something else the majority of society is lacking is respect for other life. I hear people say frequently, “They don’t just get my respect, they have to earn it.” Why? Shouldn’t that be the other way around? For me, others get my respect until they prove unworthy of it.

      • Good point on the issue of respect, Cheryl. Further, it seems to me that those other lives that support us have already earned respect for their contributions to our livelihoods. It is tragic that we refuse to acknowledge that we owe respect to those we depend upon for our lives.

    • Hi Samantha,

      Your point about having honor and tenderness in all of our relationships, even with people we barely know is amazing. I think if children were taught these values from an early age the difference in how society treats each other would be astounding. Also, your idea of helping others, which would lead to wonderful surprises is exactly right. The world seems to give to us what we put in it. Thanks for the great post.

  186. Your visits with the Chehalis grandmother sound so wonderful and you must have learned a great deal from her about life and nature. What a beautiful gift!

    The tender caretaking you describe is something by which my boyfriend lives. He treats plants and animals with such love and tenderness. Our apartment is full of plants that past neighbors have left behind when they moved away because he just couldn’t bear that the plants would die without someone caring for them. Up until recently I wouldn’t tend to plants because I didn’t know what they needed and was afraid I’d just kill them so I ignored them. I’m slowly learning to take the time to listen to the plants, for them to tell me what they need. I realize they have a purpose, that they help me by cleaning the air I breathe. It’s about time I returned to them what they deserve – for me to give them some tender care.

    • What I experienced from my visits to this grandmother were a gift indeed, Cheryl.
      It is also a gift to be living with someone with such care for living things– and from what you have expressed of yourself here, it seems you have the same sense of care as part of your makeup.
      Thoughtful point that we need knowledge in order to treat others with care: I wouldn’t know, for instance, how to respond with care toward anything or anyone about which I knew nothing.

    • Good for you! I think we take natural life for granted sometimes in our busy schedules and we forget what benefits we have from mother nature. Like the plants you adopted, those I’m sure have brought a positive light into your life because of the lively hood of the plant in your apartment as well as the beauty of the precious plant. I think it’s important to have plants in your apartment because it allows a more natural feel in your living environment.

    • I really don’t have a green thumb, so I often considered myself a “plant killer” which in turn made me never buy plants even though I love to look at them. But it makes me very hopeful that what you’re doing with your plants I can do as well. I feel that you’re very blessed to have someone so loving and caring to help you along the way!

      • There are some plants more forgiving than others in terms of low light/water, etc. inside homes. Only you know yourself and we all have differing skills, but I wouldn’t give up on yourself so soon and so entirely if you truly do want to nurture a plant in your environment. Cheryl’s post indicates the role that knowledge and experience plays in changing our success in this.

    • That is great of your boyfriend and now you to care for these plants! I have also felt this way, I enjoy looking but was afraid I would just destroy them. This class has changed the way I look at nature and the environment. I always only felt a part of nature when I went camping in the woods or hiking. This class has helped me understand how the land and the plants support me and that I too should give back, like you! Also, reading professor Holden’s comment on plants on your desk improving cooperation have convinced me to get a plant for my desk. It will also serve as a nice reminder of the natural world and its importance everyday at my desk.

      • Enjoy your new desk plant, Aakash. And if you are changing/expanding your views, it is because of your own openness. You only get out of anything (as in this class) what you put into it. So thanks for your own energy and motivation.

  187. Thank you for sharing this story of yours! I really appreciate reading true life experiences of how “our” grandmothers have seen a change in the land and how individuals view the land. I wish more people were able to understand that we as a community and as a world need to cherish mother nature as if she will not be here tomorrow. The way people are forgetting about our delicate natural resources and beginning to cause harm to the earth causes stress to my life. We must sustain our natural resources and rebuild a healthy environment to ensure a longer and healthier life.

    The way you describe a grandmother on her land seeing others disturb the peace of her flowers was very descriptive and thoughtful. I felt like that description is how many feel about the land being “lost” to those who forget to cherish and or care for the land.

  188. This piece made me curious as to how we can teach the next generation to be guardians of the future rather than abusers. Is it a matter of changing our education system, or is there something else that we need to do? I’m also curious as to how we can educate the generation just starting to enter the workforce to become guardians. They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or that you can’t learn a new sport after you’re out of your teen years, but I feel like this is something that is feasible to educate individuals about. How do we teach to no longer see nature as something to possess but rather as something we show compassion to?
    But then maybe future generations have a better idea of compassion than we do. Children are always so full of wonder and kindness so maybe it’s a matter of the young teaching the old how to cherish what is right in front of them so that we may fix what we broke.

    • I do think children can guide us in our teaching them–and relearning the sense of wonder and compassion that so many young ones have.
      The excellent questions you pose are ones that it will take each of us, making decisions in our lives, to answer.
      And I don’t believe what “they say” about the lack of learning possible after the teen years. I have seen too many changes in people of all ages. “They” also used to say one never replaced brain cells after a certain age–and that has been proved wrong.

  189. The “precautionary principle” is the idea I found most important from this essay. It is about taking special care to not disturb others lives now or in the future. This is not how the dominator societies have been acting and it is taking a toll on the environment and other plant and animal species. We must no overshoot our resources and use oil supplies that take millions of years to replenish leaving nothing for our future generations. This idea of looking out for future generation is lost in our societies short term thinking.

    • Important points to consider here, Aakash. Thanks for your comment. Better to prevent harms beforehand than be dealing with impossible tasking of repair afterwards. And if the EU can institute this principle, so can the US!

    • I think we do tend to have a very short-term view of the world and our actions in our society. As you pointed out, it’s important for us not to overuse the resources we have, and to look towards the future in our actions. I think sometimes we kind of blind ourselves, thinking that there’s enough for now: that animal or plant won’t become extinct in our lifetime, or that resource won’t be used up for another few hundred years. But I agree with you, we need to be thinking not just about ourselves, but about future generations and how what we do now will have an effect on them later.
      The other thing you pointed out as part of the precautionary principle was taking care not to disturb the lives of others in the present. Even though that’s more immediate than thinking about future generations, it can still be hard to do.
      I feel like the whole idea behind this is to look at the world as a whole, instead of getting wrapped up in ourselves. Not easy, but there’s definitely things that each of us can do to make the world a better place and to remind ourselves of what’s really important: just like you putting a plant on your desk! It seems like a small thing, but it’s not if it’s changing who you are and how you look at the world.

      • I think both of you have an essential consideration in terms of future generations. One way of looking at the moral issue here is to ask whether we have a right to use up the resources that would give future generations the same quality of life we have. I don’t think there is any way we can consider this just–and it is no excuse when we simply ignore or downplay this issue.
        The ethic of non-disturbance is not an easy one to uphold, as you note– especially in the current day, when we are often removed from awareness of the effects of our actions. Changing our view of the world is no small thing indeed– but it also changes how we act in the world, and imagine if all of us extended our consideration to others now and in the future, what our world might look like.
        But this concern is an ancient one, going back to the Hippocratic Oath with its, “first, do no harm”.

  190. I love the idea of waking up and appreciating what we have and looking forward to what our children will have as a result of our reverence for nature and our environment. If we could learn to live with a sense of self in our environment our pride for the natural habitat would flourish. We too often forget that we are extensions of our surroundings which leads us to take what we don’t use for granted. There is a constant life cycle that we are part of and we actively contribute to it. The only problem is sometimes we forget how we are contributing which can lead to neglect and have a negative impact on those things that we should be holding closer now than ever. Our worldview of dominance and human/nature needs to find a balance if we want to keep what little of our natural habitat we have left. And to allow our natural environment to grow, we must defeat those worldviews and break apart the dualistic relationships that we have helped create in favor of partnerships and reciprocity. We have to be more aware of how we are effecting the climate, the environment, and our natural habitat in order to help others come to the same conclusion. I believe it starts with knowledge and I’m eager to pass on what I’m learning.

    • I love that idea of waking up and appreciating what we have also. We do tend to take for granted what we have, especially when it comes time to our natural world. Now, since more people are knowledgable about environmental issues, I feel, in some ways, we are striving for sustainable practices and we practice them but we still have a long way to go.

      • Appreciation of–and thanksgiving for the natural world is a key component in the worldview of many truly sustainable societies.
        I would agree that we are making some steps in the right direction, but still have a very long way to go.

    • Important point that we are indeed a part of our environment, we are embedded in it (I like the way you tie a solid sense of self to acknowledging our relationship to the natural world).
      Understanding this connection not only gives us an honest and, I think, powerful view of ourselves, but motivates care for the natural environment as well (after all it and we are part of one another).
      I am so glad you are passing on what you are learning, Jamie. You have some key insights– and I am glad you are so clear and articulate on the problems with dualism.
      Defeating the worldview that divides our social and natural lives from one another is something we must change in order to begin healing our communities and changing our own actions to reciprocity and care.

  191. I enjoyed reading this story. As Chehalis grandmother recounts the beautiful prairie over generations, then to have individuals disrespect the lands of the prairie by disturbing the soil for the camas plant. People need to be accountable for their actions. I read an article a few years ago about groups of people going into the California Federal forest to remove organic materials to make holiday wreaths that were sold in stores thought out California. The Federal forest is for everyone to enjoy and not to destroy for your own profits, if everyone did this there would be nothing left. People need to respect nature.

    • Thoughtful response that brings up the issue of fair use. It seems it is not just designated community-held land such as Forest Service lands that should be shared, but all aspects of nature that are part of our “commons”– the air and water we rely on for survival, for instance.

  192. This essay was very interesting to read and really got me to think about what I could do better to give back to the earth and honor it with what I do. I especially enjoyed reading her perspective on institutions for the “insane”. It made me question, when did we decide that we could tell someone they were not welcome in society and that being confined and alone would even remotely help a person. I really liked her take on it and how they were welcome a person and help them instead of disregarding them. Makes me wonder when other peoples life’s became so inconvenient for society. Maybe the same time that people started disregarding the earth and its other creatures?

  193. At the very end of the article, when you ask us to imagine what it would like to express such tenderness to our environment, I can see the environment, hear the environment, and smell it. When read that challenge, I see me waking up right before dawn, stepping outside to see the natural life all around me, I can smell the fresh air, and it makes me feel renewed. When I was reading this article, it had me thinking about government policies regarding wildlife. I know that they when a species gets put on the endangered and protected list, it means that the are strict measures regarding that species but how much good does it do when we go in and take their land? I would like my future children to be able to know what fresh morning air smells like, I would like to see them see that natural life still exist, and I would like them to be able to hear things like a Sea Lion and a bird.

    • Great perspective, Mary. We lose out when we fail to be totally present in and to our world– and our children lose out when our part-presence (and the denial associated with that) allows us to ravage our world.
      I hope we all find ways to leave a vital human legacy for our children to inherit.

  194. The idea of fore-caring should be more important in the minds of everyone today, whether culturally specific or not. This I believe will be the only way that we can preserve our planet for future generations. It needs to be more important to everyone that we can leave a clean and healthy environment for our grandchildren and great grandchildren to grow-up and live in. any progress that we make is meaningless without someone to leave the benefits to. Much like the grandmother notices the prairie changing before her eyes; I have had similar conversations with my own grandmothers about the changes in their hometowns that they have seen over time. They are both worried about how different life is now and seemingly for the general decline of the environment over time. Even my parents have noticed a change in the world. If the environment continues to deteriorate, and the natural world with it, there will be nothing left for our children. If we have nothing to pass on how can we say we progressed?

    • Your last question is an especially powerful point to ponder, Rachel. In many world cultures, children are taught that it is their responsibility to leave a better (kinder, more abundant) world to those who follow them. I can only imagine how this ethical priority might change our current choices.
      What a gift it is that you have your grandmothers to share their experiences with you.
      Given our rising population and our technological ability, we must certainly assess beforehand the consequences of our actions– since we find what is convenient in the term be self-destructive in the long term.
      Thank you for your response.

  195. It seems that there is much we could learn about the world and ourselves, if we were more concerned with caring for the things, people, and places around us. The essay briefly discussed how appalled the grandmother was when she went to visit someone in a mental institution. It really makes me appalled to think of all the grandmothers and grandfathers that are shut up in old folks homes. How much wisdom is being lost because we are so concerned with our own lives, we don’t take the time to care for the people who cared for us. My mother in law lives with me, and by no means is it easy, however it is the right thing to do. She has worked hard her entire life, harder than many people, and it is our responsibility, and honor, to be able to give back to her.

    • Aryn,
      I agree. My heart breaks when I hear of grandmothers and grandfathers being put away where no one can see them. They hold keys to the past, we could learn from them! Taking care of a parent can be difficult but it is part of giving back. My mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. It is now my turn to make sure that she is taken care of. While we don’t see eye to eye… I will make sure that she is taken care of.

      • I am sorry for the challenge facing you and your mother, Melissa. My sincere wishes for her well-being– and congratulations om the love you feel that is surely a gift to you all.

    • I very much like your point that we have much to learn both about the world and about ourselves, Aryn. Thanks for sharing the touching personal example of your mother-in-law’s sharing your home. Though I am sure that takes some energy, I am also sure that you are able to gain much from this for your whole family.

  196. Tenderness. This struck me the most. Tenderness is something I don’t see on a day to day basis. Everything seems cold and harsh, especially when I see humans interacting with nature. We live in a beautiful place and yet not many take the time to actually look around and appreciate their surroundings. We take it for granted.
    I also found the hunters/gatherers interesting. In todays world we keep everything to ourselves. There is no reciprocity… with anyone or anything.

    • I like your highlighting the value of tenderness here, Melissa. This word is also relating to “tending”– or nurturing. Something we need more of all around.

    • I kind of find it ironic how important ‘sharing’ is when we are kids, and yet it is not a tradition that our society embraces as a whole. You only have to share your toys when you are a kid. Once you grow up you not only don’t have to share with others, but are rewarded when you don’t. There is much that we could learn from people in egalitarian societies. It should be less about accumulating mass amounts of things and more about spending quality time with the people you love.

      • I agree with you. It is sad to think that when we were kids sharing was one of the most important lessons but as adults you shouldn’t share. Because what you have as an individual helps demonstrate your hierarchy in society. Showing off what you have to people that are less fortunate and continuing to be greedy. As adults we should really revisit the lesson of sharing.

      • It would be great if we held adults to the same standards we hold most kids to– I can’t imagine that many parents would reward their kids for grabbing something from another, causing them pain in order to get something for themselves.
        You raise the question, are we more mature than our own children– or the behavior we expect from them?

    • I agree that too many of us take our surroundings for granted. That’s why I really liked Madronna’s line: “Imagine what daily life might be like if we expressed such tenderness towad our environment that we woke up each morning expecting wonderful surprises.” I think it’s important that we are in love with nature, not only for our own health, but for the health of the world as a whole. When we constantly spew love and gratitude, it will be reflected back at us–something we could all use a little more of.

  197. The Chehalis grandmother does a great job of describing the sense of purpose and importance that one can find by implementing the precautionary principle, in both the world itself and the societies within it. Our purpose in the world can not only sculpt our own reality but the actual reality of the world. We need to sculpt our realities with caution as not to erase all the benefits nature provides. We also should learn to share again, as today’s society is filled with greed.

  198. The line “. . . they realize that the one who gives away her first harvest will see nature return the favor to her in future years,” really got me thinking. I love that concept: The idea that those that give shall receive. I tend to be a generous person, so I am hopeful that this concept holds true. It’s something that I believe in, mainly for the fact that it means you’re a good person. I know that I am surrounded by people less fortunate than me; be it in riches, in necessities, or in love, I have much to share.

    • Hopefully, this is something you will pass on as well in your family. We all have so much to share, If only people realized and believed that! If everyone just spent 5 minutes a day being kind to someone or putting someone else first, I think the whole world would be changed in almost an instant!

      • 5 minutes a day being kind to others (strangers?) — perhaps we might do better with our communities. That is the “pay it forward” idea. And we never know our own power in this regard. I have had people come up to me ten years after I did something I totally forget and thank me for it!

    • It is wonderful that you realize you have much to share, Kristina– reciprocity is an ethical basis of many world cultures–and as you indicate, allows us to reach more of our individual potential.

    • I look at this as an I scratch your back you scratch mine type of relationship. If we are kind to the earth, she will be kind to us in return, it is a symbiotic relationship and we should nurture it not destroy it as we have been doing.

      • What you describe is a reciprocal relationship rather as much as a symbiotic one– that is, individual lives acting interdependently for the good of both.

  199. The statement “. . . they realize that the one who gives away her first harvest will see nature return the favor to her in future years,” makes me think of our daughters and others of their generation. The me-first generation of instant gratification and “mememenownownow” that we see whenever we are out in stores or around town. Rarely do you see a young person hold a door for someone, or help an elderly person or a mom who needs help with a kid’s hat or lost baby sock. This is one of the things that attracted me to my wife, when we first met. She ALWAYS holds a door, picks up something dropped, or helps anyone she sees that needs an extra hand. We teach this to our kids, and hopefully they teach it to their friends as well. It is a lost art, caring for others and being the watchful eye.

    • I think it is a “me-first” culture, not something we can attribute to the current generation. My sense is that we can begin to make a change by what we model in our own behavior. We cannot expect our kids to behave differently if they see corporate CEOs choosing to risk the health of their consumers for the sake of profit.
      Fore-caring for the future generations starts with ourselves.

  200. When I read the first part of this paper it really hit close to home for me. The way that you describe the grandmother as noticing right away that her precious prairie had been disturbed it reminded me very much so of my own grandmother. This woman could just look out at the horizon overlooking her prairie and suddenly know something was wrong, the same thing goes for my grandma when she walks out into her garden; if even one tulip is out of place she knows about it. When you work so hard and care so much for something and you take the time to tend it gently and are sure not to disturb it only to have someone come along and ruin all of your hard work it is absolutely gut wrenching. It is disgusting how much respect we have let ourselves lose for the earth, it is such a precious gift but we just let it go to waste when we should be cherishing it. It hurts to see what we as a people have done to the soil that gave us life and nourishment. I hope that someday soon we realize that we must change our ways or else. If not than the world may just take its revenge with an ice age or something devastating to our population. Karma.

    • It is great that you had a grandmother with such knowledge stemming from her intimacy with the land, Kelsey.
      Obviously she communicated something of her gift to you in your sense of the preciousness of the land that gives us life. Seems like the spirit of your grandmother is looking over your shoulder wherever you are these days.

  201. I honestly feel so much for this grandmother because the land that she loves and cherishes so much is ruined because of greed and disrespect. I remember when I first left for college I had this wonderful park near my house where kids played and adults relaxed. It was beautiful with trees and benches. However, when I came home the following summer there were condos being built in that very spot. It made me sad to see that such a beautiful space that the whole town loved was being development to cram more people into the tiny town we live in. This they called “development” but it was not development at all. Yes this may bring more money to our town in the future, but what good is that if the beauty of our area is torn down with codos that are taller then the trees. This kind of “development” has been going on for years and is an example of the lack of respect people have for our land and the those who are living there.

    • The destruction this habitat that benefited so many– including human children– is a misapplication of the term “development”, surely. I am sorry for your loss, but your memory — perhaps the spirit of that land itself– have obviously motivated your care and values so that you see things differently than do those out simply to make a buck.

  202. Las Gaviotas is truly worth the mention. Paulo Lugari must be a man with much charisma to have inspired so many intelligent people to apply their brilliance to an isolated path of abandoned government property in the “wet desert” of the Colombian High Plains.

    Motivated by trying to find alternatives to the development of Colombia’s rainforest, Lugari’s original project was to demonstrate that a self-sustaining community could be established in “inhospitable” areas, negating the need to develop the rainforest. It has taken much creative funding and reinvention since the 1970s but has been an exquisite success. I would love to visit it someday.

    However, I wonder if the sustainability is isometric as the project has been magnified and extended to other areas of the Colombian high plains.

    The developing carbon sequestration industry is often described as “reforestation”–but evidence suggests it has been 30,000 years since the area was forest–that would be more “afforestation” putting forests where there wasn’t any, which is much bigger ecological question. I wonder about how connecting the gallery forests will impact species that have been potentially separated by the desert gaps for millenia. I wonder at how the changing climate (of significant increased rainfall) will impact other areas on the plains–like the wet savannah areas critical to many species of migrating birds. I wonder also of the extremely dry season that has required Las Gaviotas to divert many resources to fighting fires. More recently they had been considering using mini-dirigibles to monitor for flare ups. It has become a constant battle.

    I also wonder at the wisdom of a developing country signing away land rights through carbon sequestration contracts to Industrialized nations.

    I really liked the project when it was establishing communities that were sustainable. It is a much different project now under the influence of Gunther Pauli ( described by wikipedia as “serial entrepreneur, author and initiator of The Blue Economy” ). I remember reading that Lugari had never intended to create an “eco-doll house”, or a NGO “toy”; and he is quoted many place as having said “When we import solutions from northern countries, not only don’t we solve our problems, but we import theirs.”

    • Hi Kate,
      The word “isometric” is new to me in this context– can you explain your use of it a bit more?
      I think It is important to make a distinction between carbon trading and carbon sequestration. The latter is a natural process of plants — unless of course, you count such grand human carbon sequestration plans as putting carbon in barrels in caves underground so that we can continue polluting to our heart’s content.Carbon trading, by contrast, allows for carbon emissions with the idea that they are being taken care of elsewhere. I am for neither of these as a solution to the carbon pollution crisis, as I believe that our best course of action is to reduce carbon emissions at their source.
      The main issue here is, I think, carbon trading– and whether industries that support forestation thereby make up for their carbon production.
      I am certainly for protecting and nourishing the forests that are the lungs of the earth, but planting trees must be done in addition to rather than as substitute for reducing carbon emissions.
      I see no problem with catalyzing rainforests that grow organically by means the spread of seeds by wild animals provided temporary shelter in pine trees that are sterile in this environment. I cannot see how this violates the precautionary principle in the same fashion as does, for instance, the production and release of particular chemicals into our environment– as per this just released report that indicates that pesticides may be more dangerous than our current testing indicates:
      This is a clear violation of the precautionary principle in that we haven’t the testing to accurately predict the damage these toxins do–the precautionary principle indicates we should not produce them until we do.
      But Gaviotas’ new forests neither produce nor rely on any toxins. Indeed, the very reason that this forestation process works is that Gaviotas refused the more common practice of the use of fungicides to keep newly planted pines growing in this environment–so that animals and other plants could find a friendly home in their pine forests before they faded away. As for this being a change to the environment– for thousands of years, in fact, as in the case of the Kayapo– also in the Amazon– in Brazil in this case– humans have interacted with their environment and thereby changed it. In the Kayapo case, they planted seeds that created mobile “gardens” along the paths where they traveled. This process– as with the careful replanting of camas bulblets as they were harvested in the Pacific Northwest is different from “disturbing” the environment in the same way that a family member who abuses another is different from one who provides the occasion for flourishing of that other.
      Your most concerning criticism, as I see it, is that the expanding forestation project ties Gaviotas into the international community and globalization– and may therefore undermine local sustainability. However, if we take out of the equation the use of these new forests as an excuse for carbon emissions on the part of certain industries, it seems that they provide exactly what Lugari wanted when he stated his goal of environmental problem solving produced “by the third world for the third world”. In the same way the Greenbelt Movement has been responsible for the planting of millions of trees in Africa.
      This does not mean, of course, that in terms of the precautionary principle, any local community should not watch carefully so that global development forces do not undercut local self-determination and the strict environmental standards that led to the spontaneous generation of rainforests by Gaviotas in the first place.

  203. I appreciate how the hunters and gardening girls respected the gifts of food they were provided with enough to give it to others. This reinforces the idea of nurturing and sharing that indigenous groups incorporate into their societies. What a beautiful world it would be if our work was done to benefit those in our community instead of just for our own private gains. We tend to look at our own needs before those of our neighbors. The way our Western world has charities as ways to give back certain times a year (since certain privileged individuals have already gained so much material possession) to those in need (who do not have the capitalistic versions of “needed goods”) contrasts sharply to the instinctual needs of indigenous groups to provide for those (on a daily basis) in their communities.

    In regards to economic value of things from the environment I question the following: How do we price the air that we breathe—a sustainer of life on this planet? How do we place a value on the water that runs through the veins of the Earth and of which makes up most of our own human bodies? If we incorporated the precautionary principle into our economic understanding of our Earth’s most precious gifts, how much would their worth differ with how modern economics values these natural treasures today?

    • Thanks for your comment, Lara. In general, the modern notion of reciprocity for the gifts of life is rather grudging– we believe we are giving out of personal largess rather than mimicking a natural process that keeps the world vital. Although disasters evidently touch the hearts of US citizens, who tend to be most generous in giving then– also interesting is the fact that those who are the most well to do give the least.
      How indeed do we price the air we breathe– industrial society has not set any value on it in the past, since it was “free” to pollute. Just recently (as industrialization has gone), we have decided to limit pollution of what you rightly call “earth’s precious gifts” — land, air and water that supports us. My sense is that we need to be much more stringent in this regard.
      The EU has now incorporated the precautionary principle in its environmental policies; let us hope the US is wise enough to follow suit.

  204. […] Caring and Fore-caring: watching over the commons […]

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