Listen: Eli Clare on Cure, Disability, Queerness and Natural Worlds
Author Eli Clare explores the social and historical roots of the idea of cure - the deeply held belief that body-minds considered broken need to be fixed - in his lecture Cure, Disability, Queerness, and Natural Worlds. Drawing on his forthcoming book Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure, Clare argues that neither an anti-cure politics nor a pro-cure worldview can account for the messy, complex relationships we have with our body-minds.
White, disabled, and genderqueer, Clare is the author of the collection of essays Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation and a collection of poetry The Marrow's Telling: Words in Motion and has been published in many periodicals and anthologies. He speaks, teaches, and facilitates all over the United States and Canada at conferences, community events, and colleges about disability, queer and trans identities, and social justice. Among other pursuits, he has walked across the United States for peace, coordinated a rape prevention program, and helped organize the first ever Queerness and Disability Conference.
Speaker 1: Good evening folks, and welcome. Thank you all for coming, I'm overjoyed at this turnout. Not only do we have Swatties in the audience, but members from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, U Penn, and the greater communities of Swarthmore and Philadelphia. This turnout means a lot to me because Eli Clare his work really hits close to home. I'm so very excited to share this experience with you all.
I read Eli's book, Exile and Pride after I came out to myself and a few other people. His work was transformative. Eli and his work greatly influenced how I identified and saw myself in relation to others, but also illuminated how the world saw me as a queer disabled man. It simultaneously validated my existence, gave words to a largely invisible struggle, and turned my identity into a political one. Eli and his work was the inspiration behind my special major in Disability Studies, which I [inaudible 00:00:57] with engineering. My career goals and my passions were shaped by the work of Eli, and for that I thank you. I'm now honored to welcome you to Swathmore College to speak on cure, disability, queerness and natural worlds. To everyone here, please join me in a warm welcome to our speaker, Eli Clare.
Eli Clare: I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for deciding to forego this really beautiful Friday afternoon. Knowing that we never know whether this will be the last warm for the next five months. But so thank you for being here. Thank you for everyone who made this possible. The labor that goes into bringing someone to campus is big. Before we get started I want to do two things. First is I want to acknowledge the occupied, indigenous land that we're all on right now. The second thing I want to do is some access check in. So the first piece of access. For those of you who can hear, how is the volume? If that changes let me know. Holler, wave your hand, get my attention somehow, but don't throw rotten tomatoes, they kind of make a lot of mess. This talk comes with a bit of a PowerPoint presentation. I'll be doing some description of the slides to create more access. But for those of you who are going to use the screen, how's the light? Do you need more light, less light, or is the light where it is okay for now? Again, let me know if that changes. As the natural light changes, what we need in terms of light here might change.
I want to remind us that although this is a not very comfortable college auditorium, let's mash this space up as much as possible to make it work. If you need to stand up and lean on the wall, stand up and lean on the wall. If you need to lie down there's a lot of flat space up here. If you need to knit, knit. If you need to rock or flap or stim, do that. If you need to leave and not come back, do that. What speaker ever said leave, don't come back? If that's what you need, if you need to leave and then come back, feel free to do that. In other words, let's mash this space up to make it work as much as possible for each of us. If anyone needs an assistive listening device they're in the back. I don't know where in the back.
Speaker 3: On a table in the back.
Eli Clare: Okay, assistive listening devices in the back. Let me describe this slide and then we'll move on to the last piece of access stuff. So this slide is the title slide. It says notes on cure, disability and natural world, a talk by Eli Clare and has my email address on it, email@example.com. The colored picture of a tall grass prairie. There's an orange and black butterfly sitting on a red and orange flower. The last piece of access is that there are some copies of the reading I'm going to give. There are not enough copies for everyone, but if you need copies to follow along, there's some twelve point typed copies. I'm wondering if I could hand these to someone to pass around. Then I have a couple copies in large type so if folks need large type we've got some large type copies. The last thing is both the twelve point and the eighteen point font copies are online. The twelve point font copy can be found at tinyurl.com/hpkebr9 and the eighteen point font copy can be found at tinyurl.com/gn3empk. So feel free to download those pdf. What I'm asking is for you not to share it or post it back online. I'll keep these copies online for about a week.
I think those are the access pieces. What's going to happen now is I'm going to read for about forty minutes probably. Then if people would like I'm going to suggest that we get into small groups of three or four and have some small group conversations for ten or fifteen minutes. I'll provide some prompts. Then we're going to come back together and have some large group community conversation. So that's the [inaudible 00:08:08] for the next hour and ten or hour and fifteen minutes.
So notes on cure, disability and natural world. This is broken into eight parts. Number one, prayers, crystals, vitamins. There are two things you need to know about the piece I'm going to read. Through a lot of the piece I use the phrase body mind. I use that phrase to resist the duality in white, western culture that says body is over here and mind is over here. I believe that bodies and minds are so entwined they're actually one entity rather than two. But I use the phrase body mind to remind us that we do live in a world that separates the two. Second thing about this piece is in the first type here, I use some ableist and racist hate speech. I say some of those words explicitly, but there are no gratuitous details of violence in the piece. So prayers, crystals, vitamins.
Strangers offer me Christian prayers or crystals and vitamins, always with the same intent. To touch me, fix me, command my cerebral palsy, if only I grow compliant. They cry over me, wrap their arms around my shoulders, kiss my cheeks. After five decades of these kinds of interactions I still don't know how to rebuff their pity. How to tell them the simple truth that I'm not broken. Even if there was a cure for brain solid that died at birth, I'd refuse. I have no idea who I'd be without my tremoring and tense muscles, slurring tongue. They assume me unnatural, want to make me normal, take for granted the need and desire for a cure. Strangers ask me, what's your defect? To them my body mind just doesn't work right, defect being a variation of broken, supposedly neutral. But think of the things called defective. The MP3 player that won't turn on. The car that never ran reliably. They end up in the bottom drawer, dumpster, scrap yard. Defects are disposable and abnormal body minds or objects to ravage you. Strangers pat me on the head. They whisper platitudes in my ear. Cliches about courage and inspiration. They include about how remarkable I am. They declare me special.
Not long ago, a white woman wearing dream catching earrings and a fringed leather tunic with a medicine mural painted on it's back, grabbed me in a bear hug. She told me that I, like all people who tremor, were the natural shaman. And no, I'm not making this up. You know this kind of thing is hard to just make up. She told me that I, like all people who tremor, was a natural shaman. Yes, a shaman. And that looks back at racism and ableism tumbling into each other yet again. The entitlement that leads white people to co-op indigenous spirituality, tangling with the ableist scourge that says let's bestow disabled people with spiritual quality. She whispered in my ear that if I were trained I could become a great healer. Directing me never to forget my specialness. Oh how special disabled people are. We have special education, special needs, special spiritual abilities. That words drips condescension. It's no better than being defective.
Here's where I use a word that's particularly a part of the ableist hate speech. Strangers, neighbors and bullies had long called me retard. It doesn't happen so often, still there's a guy down the road, who, when drunk, taunts me as I walk by with my dog. But when I was a child, retard was a daily occurrence. Once on a camping trip with my family I joined a whole crowd of kids going tag you're it around the picnic table. A clumsy, slow nine year old, I quickly became "it". I chased and chased, but caught no one. The game turned. Kids came close, ducked away, yelling "retard". Frustrated I yelled back for a while. Retard became monkey. My playmates turned on me. Their words became a torment. You're a monkey. Monkey. Monkey. I gulped, I choked, I saw frustration, shame, humiliation swallow me. My body mind crumpling. It lasted two minutes or two hours, I don't know. When my father appeared, the circle scattered. Even the word monkey connected me to the non human, natural world. I became supremely unnatural. All these kids, adults, strangers, drawing a legacy of naming disabled people not quite human.
And here I want to acknowledge that the word monkey has long been used to do the same shame and humiliation and dehumanization of people of color, and particularly black people. They approach me with prayers and vitamins, taunts and endless questions, convinced that I'm special, an inspiration, a tragedy in need of cure. Disposable, broken, the momentum of centuries behind them.
Two, the restoration of health. As an ideology seeped into every corner of white western thought and culture, cure rides on the back of normal and natural. Insidious and pervasive, it impacts most of it. In response, we need neither a whole hearted acceptance nor an outright rejection here, but rather a broad based grasping. The American Heritage Dictionary defines cure as "the restoration of health". Those three words seem simple enough, but actually help the mire. Today, inside white western medicine, health ranges from individual and communal body mind comfort to profound social control. Between these two poles, a multitude of practices exists. Health promotes both the well being sustained by good food, and the products sold by multi-million dollar diet industry. Health endorses both effective pain management for folks living with chronic pain, and the policed refusal to prescribe narcotic based pain relief to people perceived as drug seeking. Health both saves lives and aggressively markets synthetic growth hormones who's only body mind "problem", problem in big air quotes, is being short.
Amidst these contradictions, I could try to determine who's health and who's not. Acting as if there might be a single objective standard. I could struggle to clarify the relationship between health and disability. I could work, as many active medicine healers do, to redefine health, moving towards theories and practices that contribute to the well being of an entire community. Using the American Heritage Dictionary definition as a springboard, actually what I want is to move away from this mire altogether and follow the word restoration. To restore a house that's fallen down, or a tall grass prairie ecosystem that's been devastated is to return it to it's earlier and often better condition. In this return we try to undo the damage, wishing the damage had never happened. Talk to anyone who does restoration, or carpenters who rebuilt 150 year old neglected houses, or conservation biologists who turn the agri-business cornfield back to a tall grass prairie. Though a safely complex undertaking, a fluid, responsive process, restoration requires digging into the past, stretching toward the future, and working hard in the present.
And the end results rarely if ever match the original state. Restoring a tall grass prairie means rebuilding the dynamic system that has been destroyed by the near extinction of bison, the presence of cattle and generations of agri-business, farming, and fire suppression. The goal isn't to recreate a static landscape somehow frozen in time, but rather to foster dynamic interdependencies ranging from clods of dirt to towering thunderheads, tiny microbes to herds of bison. This work depends on knowledge about and experience with an 8,000 year old ecosystem, of which only remnants remain. Isolated pockets of wetland, milkweed, burrows, and switch grass growing in cemeteries and on remote bluffs, somehow, miraculously, surviving. The intention is to mirror this historical ecosystem as closely as possible, even though some element is bound to be missing or different, the return close but not complete. The process of restoration is simpler with a static object, an antique chair or old house. Still, the carpenters aren't using [inaudible 00:22:06] timbers of assorted and quirky sizes, mixing the plaster with horsehair, throwing in at least a few walls with chicken wire, using newspaper rags or nothing at all for insulation. Then the return will be incomplete. It will possibly be sturdier and definitely more energy efficient, but still different from the original house.
I circle back to the ideology here. Framing the kind of restoration reveals the most obvious and essential tendencies. First, cure requires damage. Locating the heart entirely within human body mind, operating as if each person were her own ecosystem. Second, it grounds itself in the original state of being. Relying upon the belief that what existed before is superior to what exists currently. And finally, it seeks to return what is damaged to that former state of being. But for some of us, even if we accept disability as damage to individual body mind, these [tendons 00:23:40] quickly become entangled because an original, non-disabled state of being doesn't exist. How would I, with [inaudible 00:23:54] complex go about restoring my body mind? The vision of me without turning hands and slurred speech, with more balance and coordination doesn't original from my visceral history. Rather, it arises from an imagination of what I should be like, from some definition of normal and natural.
Three, walk in the sun. My friend Jay and I walked in the summer rain, through a thirty acre pocket of tall grass prairie, that was not so long ago, one big agri-business cornfield. We followed the path mowed on the periphery. He carried a big, flowered umbrella. Water droplets hang on the grasses, spider webs grunt. The bee balm hasn't blossomed yet. He pulled aside numerous patches of birch, goldenrod, and thistle. The first two belong here, but need to be thinned down. The thistle on the other hand, should be entirely uprooted. The chamomile wildly growing in waves, the big drooped down almost opened clusters of sunflowers brighten the rainy day. We pause to admire the cornflowers and asters. The songbirds and butterflies have taken shelter. At the moment, all is quiet. Soon my jeans are sopping wet from the knees down. This little piece of prairie is utterly different from a cornfield.
A whole group of people, including Jay, worked for over a decade to restore this land. With financial and natural help from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, they knowingly burned the cornfield. The broadcast the scene, sack upon sack of the ripe mix that might replicate the tall grass prairie that was once here. They rooted out the sorrel and prickly ash. They saved money for more seed, working to undo the two centuries of environmental destruction reaped by proud, pasteurized acres upon acres of soybeans and corn. The Department of Natural Resources partners with this work precisely because the damage is so great. Without the massive web of prairie roots to anchor the earth, the land now known as Wisconsin is literally raining away. Rain captures the topsoil, washing it from field to creek, to river to ocean. Prairie restoration reverses the process, both stabilizing and creating soil. Jay and his friends worked hard, remembering all of the while, that neither Jay nor the dairy farmer down the road owned this land. It'd been stolen a century and a half ago from the Eastern Dakota people. The history of grass, dirt, bison massacre, genocide, live here, floating in the air, tunneling into the earth.
During my visits to see Jay I have taken this walk a dozen times over the last fifteen years, at noon with the sun blazing, at dusk with fireflies lacing the grass, at dawn, the finches and warblers greeting the day. My feet still feel the old cornfield furrows. As we return to the farmhouse, I think about natural and the unnatural, trying to grasp their meanings. Is an agri-business cornfield unnatural? A restored prairie natural? How about the abundance of thistle, absence of bison, those old corn furrows. What was once normal here? What can we consider normal now? Or are these the wrong questions? Maybe the earth just hoards layer upon layer of history. Or, wishing you less pain, you and I know each other through a loose national network of queer disability activists made possible by the internet.
Online one evening, I received a message from you, containing the cyber equivalent of the long, anguished moan of physical pain. You explain that you're having a bad pain day and that it helps to acknowledge the need to howl. Before I log off, I type a good night to you, wish you a little less pain with the morning. Later, you thank me for not wishing you a pain free day. You say, the question isn't whether I'm in pain, but rather how much. As I get to know you in person you tell me, I read medical journals hoping for a breakthrough in pain treatment that might make a difference. You work to locate a doctor who might believe your reports of pain. Or to create the appropriate script, the exact words and story that will open the door, lead doctors to treat you as a patient rather than a drug seeking criminal. Work to obtain the necessary scripts, the actual prescriptions. Work to find the right balance of your incontinence. You work and work and work some more.
Mainly a disability activists has decried that there's nothing wrong with her disabled body minds, even if we differ from what's considered normal. I have used this line myself more than once. To which you respond, it's true. We need to resist the assumption that our bodies are wrong and broken, but at the same time, the chronic, fatiguing [inaudible 00:31:35] pain I live with is not a healthy variation. Not a natural body made different. I grasp at the meanings natural and the unnatural again. The moments and locations where disability and chronic pain occur, can we consider them natural? And that our fragile, resilient human body mind interact with the world. Is it natural when a spine snaps after being flung from a car or a horse? When a brain processes information in fragmented ways after being exposed to lead, mercury, pesticides? Can a body mind be deemed both natural and abnormal? I ask because I don't understand. And when are those moments and locations of disability and chronic pain unnatural? As unnatural as war, toxic landfills, child abuse and poverty?
Five, cautionary tale. You and I meet at a disability community event. We end up in a long conversation about shame and love. You tell me that the military dumped trichloride ethylene near your childhood home. That chemical bleaching into the ground water and shaping your body mind as it floated into your home. When you talk to people about this pollution and it's impact, they most often respond with pity. Turning you and your wheelchair into a tragedy. Your story reminds me of that series of advertisements in the Sierra Club's campaign, Beyond Coal. I just switched the slides and on the slide is one of two advertisements I'm going to be talking about. I will do some description of that advertisement right now. In one, the tag line reads, "asthma, birth defects, cancer, enough" superimposed over a worn, smoke-belching power plant. So that's the first ad. This is the second ad, which again I will be describing as I read here. In another we see the big belly of a pregnant woman, grasped in pain, one hand cupping her stomach. Her skin is light brown, her face is invisible. Her belly is captioned "this little bundle of joy is now a reservoir of mercury." The final frame tells us, "mercury prolition from our nation's coal burning power plants is harming pregnant women and their unborn children. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can brain the brain's nervous system, causing developmental problems and learning disabilities."
To persuade viewers that these plants need to be shut down, both use disability to make an argument about the consequences of environmental destruction. There is so much to pull apart here about gender and race. The second ad relies on stereotypes about femininity and the supposed vulnerability of women and children, that justifies a woman of color, reducing her to a body part, which is then further reduced to a reservoir. But, or maybe it's and, but at the center of this argument is disability. This next slide simply has both of the hands on it at the same time. Seemingly the ads ask us to act in the alliance with beings who are most impacted by the burning of coal, people of color and poor people who all trough and work amidst, and live near environmental damage. But digging down in that, the Sierra Club twists away from it's solidarity, focusing instead on particular kinds of bodily differences, particular kind of body mind conditions, asthma, birth defects, cancer, learning disabilities, transforming them into symbols for environmental damage. The strategy works because it taps into ableism. It assumes that viewers will automatically understand disability and chronic illness as tragedy in need of prevention and eradication, and it infers that these tragedies will persuade us to join the struggle. Certainly ending environmental destruction will prevent some body mind conditions, but at one point using ableism to help inflate justice with the eradication of disability.
Depressed, disabled and chrono crazed. Now people pay for this argumentative high. It reduces our experiences of breathing, of living with conditions being birth defect, of having cancer, of learning an enormitude of ways to prove of the injustice. Thus reduction frames disability yet again as damage located internally within individual body mind, while disregarding the damage caused by ableism. It ignores the brilliant imperfection of our lives. It declares us as unnatural as a coal burning power plant. The price of this argument would be one thing if it occurred in isolation, but the Sierra Club's rhetoric is only a single example in a long line of public health campaigns against drunk driving, drug use, lead paint, asbestos, unsafe sex and on and on, to use disability and chronic illness as a cautionary tale. I want to pause here and say loud and clear that I'm not exaggerating about the number of public health campaigns that use disability as a cautionary tale. We could spend the rest of our time together talking about those public health campaigns and how complicated it is.
You know if I was writing this today I might end up writing about Zika for instance. Really complicated because do we need to have a public health campaign about Zika? Undoubtedly yes. Do we need a campaign that is crassly objectifying disabled infants? Not so much. You know there was not so long ago a survey of photos that accompanied articles with Zika. Something like eight out of ten articles pictured an infant with a differently shaped head. Centered in the photo, just a head, without any accompanying adult. One, let enough gawk and stare at these infants, and two, scaring us with the specter of [inaudible 00:41:23] disability. And three, people with a condition called microcephaly, which is one of the conditions that Zika may be linked with, people with that condition who were long exhibited at freak shows. So there's a long history of wanting to gawk at people with this bodily condition. Though really complicated, but really important to pay attention to how ableism is being leveraged. So going back to my text, that's kind of an off text rant.
Amidst this cacophony, you want to know how to express your hatred of military coalition without feeding the assumption that your body mind is tragic, wrong, and unnatural. No easy answers exist. You and I talked intensely. Both the notions and ideas are dense. We arrive at the slogan for you. I hate the military and love my body. Undoubtedly we could have come up with something catchier or more complex. Nonetheless, it lays bare an essential question. How do we witness, name and resist the injustices that reshape and damage all kinds of body minds? Plant and animal, organic and inorganic, non human and human, while not equating disability with injustice?
Six, body mind union. The desire for a cure, the restoration of the health, is connected to loss and yearning. What we remember about our body minds perhaps seduces us. We wish for more, we make [inaudible 00:43:47]. We desire to return to the days before immobilizing exhaustion or impending death, to the not 30 years ago, when we spun across the dance floor. We dream about the body minds we once had if we're depression descendant, before we gain 20, 50, 100 pounds. Before our hair turned gray. We ache with the evenings curled up in bed with a book before the ability to read vanished in an instant as a bomb and land mine exploded. We long for the time before pain, multi generational trauma grabbed our body minds. We reached toward the past and dream at the future, feeling great envy and shame. We compare body mind to friends and lovers, models and glamor in Men's Health, photoshopped versions of humans holding sway. We find ourself lacking. The gem, dark plan, miracle cure grips us. Natural and normal won't leave us alone. We remain tethered to our body minds of the past, wanting to transport them into the future. Imagine in essence a kind of time travel.
Even without a non disabled past tugging at me, I too find myself yearning. Occasionally I wish I could step into the powerful grace of a gymnast or rock climber. But that wish is distant, fading away almost as soon as I recognize it. Sometimes in the face of the task I can't do, frustration overwhelms me and I long for steady, nimble hands. But in those moments I've learned to turn away from bitterness and simply ask for help. At the same time, the longing I feel most persistently, centers on body mind change. As my wrists, elbows and shoulders have grown stiff and sore, I've had to stop kayaking. It's a small loss in the scheme of things, but I do miss riding along the rippling surface of the lake, the ribbon of my paddle dipping in and out of the water. Cure is such a compelling response to us precisely because it promises us our imagined time travel. But this promise can also devalue our present selves. It can lead us to dismiss the lessons we've learned, knowledge gained, scars acquired. It confined us to the past and glorified the future. It can feel a hope grounded in nothing but the shadows of natural and normal. And when this time travel fails or simply is impossible, we need a thousand ways to process the grief prompted by body mind loss.
Certainly our losses are real, but so is our adaptability. People living with body mind conditions have grown more significant over time. Talk about drawing a line in the sand, beyond which life would be intolerable. But as the body minds change, they find their wantings also shift. Reflecting on having multiple sclerosis, essayist [inaudible 00:48:21] writes, "everybody, well or ill, disabled or not, imagines a boundary of suffering beyond which she or he is certain life will no longer be worth living. I know that I do. I also know that my life, far from being scored in stone, has inched across the sand of my life. At various times I could not possibly do without long walks on the beach, use a cane, a brace or a wheelchair, stop teaching, give up driving, let someone else put on and take off my underwear. One at a time I have taken each of these highly figurative stats. I go on being now, more than ever, the woman I once thought I could never bear to be."
What begins as loss or pure suffering, fixedly becomes ordinary and familiar over time. This transformation is another response to loss. So two more sections here. Seven, yearning for the peeper pond. This is in three parts. Part one. The connection between loss, yearning and restoration aren't only about human body mind. Many of us mourn the vacant lot, wood and swamps we played in as children, now transformed into landfills, strip malls and parking lots. We fear the wide reaching impact of climate change as hurricanes grow more frequent, glaciers melt and deserts expand. We long for the days when bison roamed the great plains and chinook salmon swam upstream in the millions. We desire a return. So environmentalists, partly motivated by this longing, have started to learn the art and science of ecological restoration. They broadcast tall grass prairie seed, they raise and release wolves, bison, whooping cranes. They tear up drainage tunnels and reroute water back into what used to be wetlands. They pick up trash, blow out dams, plant trees, hoping beyond hope that they can restore ecosystems to some semblance of their former selves before the white colonialist, capitalist, industrial damage was done.
When it works, restoration can be a powerful force, contributing to their well being as well as providing [inaudible 00:51:46] to loss. But the damage can be irreversible. Some ecosystems irreplaceable. Restoration may take centuries. May be a bandaid, stuck onto a gaping wound. We may not be able to fix what is broken. Part two, through all my house where I live in Vermont. On the edge of the cow pastures there used to be a swampy pond surrounded by cattails. Where in early spring, just before the ice melted, hundreds of peepers would breed. These small, light brown frogs would sing through the night. Sometimes I'd walk to the pond and stand for ten or fifteen minutes, surrounded by their chorus, eardrums and chest reverberating, shoes growing soggy. Two summers ago neighbors built a house down there. I watched the structure go up, but didn't register what it might mean for the peepers. Last spring I headed down to the pond as usual. Trudging through the upper field, then the hedgerow, coming out on the western edge of the cow pastures. But there was no pond, no chorus of peepers falling silent as I approached. I wandered around for a while, feeling disoriented before I realized that my neighbors backyard was exactly where the peeper pond used to be.
It's a tiny loss in the scheme of things, this patch of land occupying Abenaki territory, has endured so much ecological change in the almost four centuries since white people have stolen it. We've clear cut it three times, fenced in with stone walls, hedgerows, barbed wire. Planted grass, put sheep and the cows out to graze, built houses and barns and wetlands. Created manure piles, dug wells for water, leaked gas, made garbage heaps of wire, glass, mattresses, tires, railroad ties. Bulldozed roads. More than enough damage has been done, and yet, many native plants and the animals are somehow doing well, including the peepers. Still, I miss this particular peeper pond, yearning to stand again at it's edge listening.
There's no return to the time before my neighbors house, before the cows and sheep, before white people arrived. Instead I carry these wants with me. I'm slowly learning and am proving to varying witness, a quiet daily recognition so different from the desire to repair. I let these wants sit uncomfortably in my heart, and at the same time I walk in the woods, I recycle. I take to the streets to shut down the natural gas pipeline that the Vermont gas company is building not far from here. I grow kale and beets in our backyard. I joined the solar electric co-op down the road. I remembered that the Abenaki nation has not damaged. Four bands, making home on the land currently known as Vermont. They've relearned all their traditions and they're creating new ones. They've gained recognition from the state government. They've acquired in recent years several pieces of land. One of them an old burial site, and another a sacred spot they've frequented for thousands of years. They join indigenous peoples all over the world in finding not only ways to survive, to cultivate well being, to defend their sovereignty. And still, there's no return to the past.
Part three. I remember my conversation with the conversation who's body mind has been shaped by military coalition. Remember her slogan, I hate the military and love my body. I sit with the question, how do we witness, name and resist the injustices that reshape and damage all kinds of body minds, plan and animal, organic and inorganic, non human and human, while not equating disability with injustice? I feel my grief and rage over environmental losses as small as the disappearance of a single peeper pond and as big as the widespread poisoning of the Flint groundwater. I think about how we might bear witness to body mind loss, while also loving ourselves just as we are right now. I begin to understand restoration, both of the ecosystems and the [inaudible 00:57:59] as one particular relationship between past, present and future.
Section eight, so this is the last section. Walking the prairie again. I return again in early fall to the thirty acres of restored tall grass prairie in Dakota occupied territory. I walk, thinking not of concepts but beings. The grasses swish against me. A few swallowtail butterflies still hover. A white throated sparrow sings. I see coyote scat next to the path. I hear a rustle and imagine a white footed mouse, scurrying under red fox pouncing. Above, vultures circle on the thermal. A red tailed hawk cries not so far away. In this moment the prairie is made up of millions of beings. But just over the rise, another agri-business cornfield turns brown and brittle. Just over the rise the barbed wire fence, a two-laned dirt road, and the absence of bison. Just over the rise is the illogic of natural and unnatural, normal and abnormal. Just over the rise are the bullies with their rocks and says the words monkey, defect and retard.
This little pocket of restored prairie is not a return to the past or a promise to the future, although it may hold glimmers of both. Rather there's simply an ecosystem in transition from cornfield to tall grass, summer to winter. I feel the old corn furrows underfoot, the big [inaudible 01:00:11] down waving above me, my own heart beating, imperfect and brilliant. I walk, a tremoring, slurring human, slightly off balance, one being among millions. Could it all be this complexly woven and yet simple?