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In my dreams, I’m rescuing land from slaughter.
By slaughter, I mean reckless consumption. Humans taking more than we preserve and not leaving enough behind for other species to thrive.
By slaughter, I mean the greed of breaking the Earth’s body for profit, for selfish gain, for fossil fuel expansion, for theft of natural resources.
By slaughter, I mean all the lives that are lost, displaced, or endangered as “collateral damage” when land is swallowed up in unrestrained development.
Alas, I have no money.
So for the time being, the dream is sown in tears and kisses and hours spent in the company of earthen family, learning their languages and how to be an ally with the resources I already possess.
Up the street from our rented condo, past the new housing development with solar panels, cubed homes, manicured lawns, and juvenile oak trees, where pavement meets dirt, lies a field that seems to stretch like a multicolored carpet to Canada. In fact, it only stretches to Smith Road, a half mile north. The peaks of the Canadian Rockies are a distant, jagged throne in the backdrop.
For the three and a half years we’ve lived here, a “For Sale” sign has pierced this field’s ground, telling me its days of freedom are numbered. Each time I come here, I’m aware of its impermanence, of how my heart will be torn open, along with the land, the day the bulldozers come and tear this field into a cookie-cutter neighborhood like the one across the street.
In my dreams, we’re following in the footsteps of the first people, learning how to love and care for this Earth and all who live here as kin. Learning, as colonizers, how to be givers above takers.
Often when I come outside, straddling these two worlds, I’m aware that I, too, live on stolen land. The condo complex where we live was built on the back of the same field. I live on land that was stolen from the Lummi Nation—its first and sacred caretakers—and stolen from itself. For the land is no one’s possession but its own.
I knew the risks of falling in love with a place that’s doomed to pavement. Humans tend to call this progress; I call it a funeral.
Why don’t we have funerals for land? Better yet, why don’t we recognize the irreplaceability of what we have before the funeral procession is upon us?
Not too long ago, people had a funeral for a glacier. This was unprecedented in modern human history, to watch an entire glacier disappear from the landscape of a country in the course of a lifetime. But we live in an unprecedented time. This doesn’t feel like forward movement. It could, however, feel like we’re waking up from a stupefied slumber, should we recognize these deaths for what they are and mobilize into collective action to save us all.
I’m going home to see my family
I hope they’ll greet me when I come
And there I’ll wait to hear their voices
I’m going home I’m coming home.
I sing this song that I made up as I step through the invisible doorway, from pavement to field, each step drawing me closer to the woods. To family. A forest borders the East, thickly lined with alders, aspen, and aging birch. Inside stand the elders, the Cedars, traditionally known as the trees of life.
I approach them with quiet reverence, my hands reaching out to caress their lichen and moss-covered skin, their strips of bark the color of red rock hanging loose. Their broad-hipped trunks latching roots into the earth, tapering as they rise straight through the canopy. Their many arms curved upward like outstretched bird wings or trumpeting elephants.
I press my forehead against one of these old ones and tell her of her grandchildren, right outside these woods. They’re struggling to survive, I say, thinking of the western red cedars planted last year alongside the field. Their foliage burnt orange instead of green. I think of all the western red cedars I’ve seen the past several years, young and old, bearing this telltale sign of distress.
I’m afraid for the day your kind will no longer be able to survive here, I whisper through tears. Cedars have been here in the Pacific Northwest, alongside the first people, since time immemorial. Who are we without them?
In my dreams, developers will consider whether their plans are worthy of sacrificing the land and all the homes of the ones who live there. That before we take a life, we ask if it is for an honorable cause, and we do not proceed without permission.
I remember the day I returned home to find the entire row of cedars lining the street across from us, gone. In their places were mounds of dirt and all that remained were stumps stacked to the side—free firewood for the taking. I ran across the street to the workers, desperately needing to know why. Had the trees been ill, beyond saving?
One of them wiped his brow and appraised me, finally replying, “Well, it seems the people in this housing development wanted smaller trees, ones that won’t block their view so much.”
When the workers had gone, I returned and lifted a stump and carried it home to sit inside as a reminder of what was taken. Of what we lost.
In my dreams, when I walk among this land, these trees, and the wild creatures, I tell them that I love them in a hundred different ways. I hear them whisper “I love you” back.
The more I love this place, the more I ache in my bones to be an agent of its healing. I recently read these words, from a man who devoted the last years of his life to restoring the land: “To love a place is not enough. We must find ways to heal it.”
I see this in the Amazon, among the Indigenous forest protectors who are losing their lives to guard the land against further corruption and devastation. I see it in Australia, among the Aboriginal people who gather to dance and sing to heal the burnt land. I see it in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation north of me, in British Columbia, holding fast to restore their territory to protect it and themselves from the degradation of pipelines. I see it in the Protectors of the Salish Sea, showing up each day for over three months on the steps of our capitol building, with songs and prayers, to call for climate action from our political leaders.
I see them, and I want to know how to walk this path of healing the land and our relationship with it to the fullest.
Not long ago, on a clear night blanketed in snow, I walked up the street to the field and danced with arms outstretched beneath the moon. I danced awkwardly and earnestly, fumbling for my own songs to convey healing to this land. My boots etched a circle in the snow while the air bit my cheeks and froze teardrops to the corners of my eyes.
“Let it be known,” I spoke to the moon and the field cloaked in darkness and the light shimmering off the snow and the owls in the nearby forest and the earth beneath my boots, “I’m here to be a healer.”
And I think I heard, rising from the field, I love you on the wind.