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arts and culture | forest defense

From Big Mountain

This poem is by Judith Mcdaniels from the book Sanctuary. I dedicate this poem to all the freedom fighters who are trying to save the old growth from the CEO's who also control the department of Forestry. Thank you for protecting our ancestors. "the memory of trees"
From Big Mountain

If you believed the land is holy
the earth has heartbeat and breath
if you knew where your umbilical cord
had been buried at your birth
tethering you in it's circumference
and which pinyon tree had given a branch
for your cradle board
where lightning has struck
where the rock speaks to you
where blue larkspur has been sprinkled
to sanctify
where a coyote crossed your path
where the spruce was asked to protect you
the first day you went into strange lands
away from this circumference of natural protection
where cornmeal was baked
in the belly of the earth
when you became a woman
if you believed yourself known by hills
by the canyons
by the streams and rivers
as you are known by your mother or sister or son
touched and shaped
each by each



what would allow you to understand
this nation of immigrants rushing
from our birthplaces to uknown
destinies in cities so far removed
from the earth that trees and streams
are invisible? how could I tell you
what was given to me as a child-
a dream shaped by struggle
a dream called progress
the belief that life will be better
for my children...not the same
certainly not the same
as my parents and grandparents.

If you believed the land is holy
you would understand the long journeys
begun when the land said no
when the water source failed
when the earth was sterile from too much providing
as the Anasazi people went out from Chaco Canyon
and the Hohokam
known only as "those who have gone"
left their terraced garden plots
so my immigrant grandparents left in times of famine
when the potato harvest failed
when there was drought or too much rain
when there was no land to farm or graze


and you would understand
when they fled in fear
fled pogroms
and debtor's prison
and the flame
the noose
as you fled and are still fleeing.


But if you believed the land is holy
you- reading or hearing this poem-
if you knew yourself a keeper of the earth
called upon by your grandparents
to protect the earth from invasion
to allow no one to tear her skin
destroy her heart that beats under La Plata
her lungs breathing through the ridges of Mount Taylor
and if you believed the people too are inscribed in the land
tears and sweat mingling with the waters
every prayer breathed a part of the living air
a spirit returned to the people with the harvest of corn


how could you image the casual
relocation of human communities
to make room for a highway
a dam or a railroad or know
how the words right of way
came to mean the right of a truck?


But I - who was shaped by this dream
and a sharp necessity no less real
than the hidden contours of the land
that shapes our children-
I must now ask myself
if I believe the land is holy


what distance must I travel
what must I venture
what must I risk
how much time is left to answer?