Cleaning up after yourself feels good

In Winona LaDuke’s recent essay, How to be a better ancestor, she shares a quote from Wes Jackson,“…if you’re working on something that you plan on finishing in your lifetime, you are not thinking big enough.” Appreciating the contributions of my ancestors help me understand and plan for work in a much bigger picture.

Some of my ancestors came over from Poland with knowledge in building ovens to burn coal. These ancestors worked in mines, and built those ovens in the foothills of what

My ancestors helped to build coal ovens like these in Wilkeson, WA.

settlers call Mt. Rainier. Some of my ancestors brought plant knowledge from Italy and grew gardens that fed communities during the great depression. The knowledge they brought from one place began connections with lands nurtured by the Columbia River and her tributaries.

Four generations after those coal ovens were built, my father worked to clean up soils in the Northwest contaminated with chemicals and minerals from extractive industries, perhaps including some of the pollution contributed by previous generations through mining and burning coal.

The work that needs to be done began before I was born and will not end in my lifetime.

Reflecting on the ways that my ancestors came to these lands, I realize that some cleaning up is in order. There were helpful contributions made by ancestors, such as growing and sharing foods. And, there were harmful contributions, such as extracting and creating the means to burn coal. As a descendant I have the opportunity to clean up after my ancestors and tend to these same lands. Cleaning up means respecting the waters and lands by helping to remove harmful chemicals, and tending to soils and waters by planting trees and shrubs. Cleaning up means giving back more than you receive. Cleaning up means helping to teach others so that they can do the same for their communities. In the process, I realize that it just plain feels good to clean up after yourself.

The sense of my life expands to include the lifetimes of my ancestors and generations to come. ‘Cleaning up after yourself’ does not just span one lifetime. I have come to understand that there is no separation between the actions of my ancestors and myself. I am here because of their actions and choices. Likewise, my actions are inseparable from those who will live long after I have returned to Earth, and so, this work becomes much bigger.

How can I be a better ancestor?

For the past few years, I’ve worked to coordinate training for graduate students and environmental professionals working in the Northwest to help communities understand and adapt to climate change. Some of the trainings are held in the foothills of Tahoma, Tacobeh, Pooskaus, Tacoma— there are many names for the mountain that has offered much to generations of my family. Through the trainings we bring people together– to water, trees and mountains–so that they may learn and deepen their own understanding of change. And, as they return to their individual homelands, I feel connected to a rising wave as they help communities adapt to the changes around them. Together we are working on plans that will benefit this and future generations, passing on cleaner air, soil and water. In doing so, I hope to model being a better ancestor, one who cleans up after herself.

Arwen Bird is the Principal of Woven Strategies, LLC.

Peace and Joy in 2017

As I reflect on the transition to a new year, I am aware of the mix of emotion rising and falling inside of me. I feel grateful for the comforts of a roof over my head and loved ones nearby. Like many others, I feel anxious for coming political changes in the United States, and ramifications for many communities. In order to navigate the emoti20150817-img_0114ons stirred at this time and, well, life in general, I find meditation helpful. Centering ourselves and coming into the present provides assistance as we steer through the coming year. The more present we are, the greater our ability to receive and recognize the beauty and wonder that exist in this world!

The four pebble meditation, developed by Thich Nhat Hanh, is a very simple and profound way to center yourself. This meditation can be practiced by children and adults. I find it helpful to connect with the energies that are available in life.

Plum Village brother Thay Phap Huu developed this video to explain the intentions behind each of the four pebbles.

I am sharing this resource to offer the ability to cast a sunbeam in your own life, observe the dust that travels through your consciousness and set intentions for life, strength, clarity, and freedom.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful New Year.


Arwen Bird is the Principal of Woven Strategies, LLC. 

Photo credits: Tanya Pluth

What Trees Teach

Appreciating what trees demonstrate through the ‘wood wide web’ facilitates climate change adaptation

Lay down on a forest floor and you may feel the conversation happening beneath you. Through the ‘wood wide web‘ trees are in gentle dialogue, sharing nutrients, communicating about stress and resource availability through a vast underground exchange. Fungi, microbes and insects are the primary agents in this process, trading sugar for minerals, among life’s other necessities. This dialogue occurs at local scales, between root and fungi, and larger scales, as the conversation expands from tree to tree, and across species throughout a forest.

Within the web, dying trees may purge their nutrients for the benefit of the community. Older trees supply carbon to younger trees to encourage growth. All moving through a vast underground life-supporting network.

What is present to observe in this network of relationship?

  1. Sharing is a natural and essential part of life. Trees offer each other life’s building blocks, through a natural ebb and flow of nutrient. What is shared is also received. As much as is needed to sustain life.tanya-mid-forest-and-moss

Try this: Sit or stand before a tree. Exhale, know that the tree before you is benefiting from the carbon dioxide (CO2) in your breath. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is then used by trees, through photosynthesis, to create oxygen (O2). Now, inhale, you and the tree have exchanged essential elements of life. You are connected and inter-being.

  1. All life is connected. When dying trees purge nutrients or older trees shuttle carbon to new life, these are examples of altruism. They also demonstrate the deep connection between all life. As climate change gradually increases temperatures, certain tree species are struggling to survive, others are migrating. Ponderosa pines, more able to survive in warmer and dryer conditions, may benefit as carbon from dying trees is shared for their survival. The connections between trees is preserving life on a grander scale.
  1. The forest, a community, is stronger because of this web of connection. Through this system of nutrient exchange, a forest community is able to adapt to change. When each of us shares, acts altruistically and based in connection, the community benefits. A stronger community is better able to adapt to change. And, as we know, change is constant.

The implications of these understandings in the face of climate change are transferable to human communities and ways of relating. Just as forests share, through connection and with altruism, human communities will also benefit from these exchanges as we face the stresses of a changing climate. Appreciating the inter-connections that surround and move through us, facilitates our ability to adapt to climate change. What trees teach us can be integrated for the benefit of all life.

Arwen Bird is the Principal of Woven Strategies, LLC. 

Photo credits: Tanya Pluth