Let’s all go out and create beauty today.
The next day.
And the next…
This is something we can do.
How about we do something great for the world that is far more expansive than political parties or elections?
A few months ago, I discovered the organization Every Mother Counts (EMC) an organization founded by Christy Burlington Burns to raise awareness and funds for global maternal health.
I’ve been a runner for 30+ years. For the past 25 years, running a marathon has been one of my life goals. My running has always been private—a sacred time to be alone, dream, plan, laugh, cry, sweat, push myself, connect with the elemental; the land, my spirit, possibilities and potential for the future. The 3 R’s of constant inspiration and partnership in life: ‘Reading, Running, and ‘Riting.’
My only partners as I run are first the four-footed kind, first my beloved O’Keeffe and now the indomitable, Clyde. I don’t run with headphones, music, or people. That is my time to be and listen. With the discovery of Every Mother Counts, this sacred, private time had the potential to make a difference in the lives of women and children around the world. This organization inspired me to bring the very private to the public.
With the discovery of EMC, my running takes on new purpose. I think of the women featured in documentary film by Turlington, “No Woman, No Cry.”
I ran half marathon 18 years ago. Luke was 3-months old, Wyatt was 2-years old, and we loaded up and drove from California (52 feet above sea level) to Steamboat Springs, Colorado (6,732 ft. above sea level) the day before the race.
I had never heard of acclimating for altitude. One really has to question running a half marathon at high altitude 3 months postpartum. Yet at the time, it seemed like the perfect thing to do. I ran the next morning.
When I completed the race altitude sickness set in and my main memory of this time is of intense pain and being curled up in the fetal position on asphalt on the side of the highway, breastfeeding a 3-month old Luke, my head on the paint lines of the highway, the wheels of vehicles speeding by. I thought, “This must be the lowest moment of my life.” Yet, I had finished.
Through the years the goal of running a marathon stayed with me. With the discovery of EMC, running now had the potential to create positive effects in a world desperate for it. I trained for the Duke City Half Marathon in Albuquerque, New Mexico to raise awareness for Every Mother Counts.
Of course, I had my Frida Kahlo earrings on and her spirit ran with me.
Cottonwoods lined the trail and hot air balloons hung above.
I crossed the finish line in 2:23, my main goal completed—to finish. Turlington describes best the inspiration and work of EMC:
25 years after setting the goal, I now train to run the Tucson Marathon on December 10, 2016, in support of Every Mother Counts and global maternal health. When I listen to the news the national discourse in the US that defies belief and the faces of migrants forced from their home around the world desperate for safety and peace, the need of the world overwhelms. But perhaps if we each do one thing that calls to us, what may seem small may make a world of difference. Please join me in the journey:
Now, I just need to run those 26.2 miles for us.
Imagine–Buffalo stream over hills and through gullies like water, whoops of the riders float through the air as they gather the herd.
Every year, Custer State Park in South Dakota hosts a buffalo roundup to ensure the health of the herd. For the past several years, Dad and Mom have ridden in the roundup. Each gather has presented its own set of adventures, including Dad’s pickup spontaneously bursting into flames as he hauled the horses to Custer. This year, the pickup made it without flames, Mom decided not to ride, so she could enjoy the whole, and Dad was asked to carry the South Dakota state flag.
Thank you to Sherry Bunting for these gorgeous photos!
A video of the roundup. (Turn up the volume.)
And into the corral.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece titled When Your Dad’s a Cowboy about my dad and what life is like when your dad is a cowboy. This came about after one of Dad’s horse wrecks that landed him in the hospital. I wrote then:
“When your dad’s a cowboy, you think he’s invincible.
Seeing Dad in such pain led me to the previously undiscovered wonders of straight tequila and cigarettes. At one point after a long day of painful tests for him, he was getting an MRI and for the umpteenth time that day I thought I was going to pass out. I lay down on the cool tile floor right there in the office, cheek to the tile, bum in the air.
“The doctor saw me and said, “Um, ma’am? Would you mind waiting somewhere else, please?” No problem. I crawled out of the office and into the arms of José Cuervo and the Marlboro Man. When your dad’s a cowboy, I recommend them for fainting spells in the hospital.”
… A separated pelvic bone, shattered wrist, internal bleeding—and, one week later, Dad was released from the hospital. His first day home, the yearling fillies got out of the corral. Dad was out there shuffling long with his rolling walker, trying to bring them back in, with Mom carrying his catheter bag.
Is it any wonder my heroes have always been cowboys?“
And they still are.
Our time in Oaxaca, México came to an end. I will write more about all—our experiences were so multi-faceted, a single piece can’t do them the justice they each deserve. More pieces soon on the inspiration for this journey, the incredible LISTO TESOL class, what we learned about the teacher’s strike that turned deadly, the graffiti everywhere that tells the story of a non-official narrative, photos, the multiple histories told, and other experiences and aspects of life, culture, and language that compose a mosaic of Oaxaca.
For now, a photo journal to honor this incredible place.
A couple steals a kiss along the walls of Santo Domingo.
“Scientists have discovered a new form of direct messaging through voice and in 3D and they call it, ‘Sharing a cup of coffee with somebody!'”
The temples of Monte Albán. “Inhabited over a period of 1,500 years by a succession of peoples – Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs – the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds of Monte Albán were literally carved out of the mountain and are the symbols of a sacred topography. The nearby city of Oaxaca, which is built on a grid pattern, is a good example of Spanish colonial town planning. The solidity and volume of the city’s buildings show that they were adapted to the earthquake-prone region in which these architectural gems were constructed (UNESCO).”
Wynn and Luke heard the Mockingjay whistle (Hunger Games) as they explored the temples and whistled back. Through a series of whistles, throughout the temples, the original whistlers and they found one another…
One interpretation – giving birth.
Beach of San Antonillo. We arrived after 6 hours in a van up over a mountainous pass of two-lane curving highway, particularly noteworthy in deep fog and driving rain. We experienced two completely different climate and temperatures within hours. Yes, drivers really do pass within inches of the oncoming and passing vehicles.
The festival of La Guelaguetza! “Participants from the seven different regions of the state gather in the capital city, also named Oaxaca, to dance, sing and play music. This cultural exchange is a visually stunning exhibit of color and movement. The dancers and musicians wear clothing representative of their district…The roots of the Guelaguetza festival call upon pre-Columbian traditions that have existed for millennium. Indeed, the word “guelaguetza” hails from the Zapotec Indian language and means an offering or gift. Included in the translation is the concept of an exchange, or an act of reciprocity (Mexonline).”
The swirling skirts of Oaxaca.
My brief and amateur video. Turn up the volume!
La Frida—pero, claro.
A brief glimpse of some of what composes Oaxaca. Our time there was as varied in experiences as the place itself. Which as I think about it, feels only right. More soon.
The last two weeks of July, I’m teaching a LISTO TESOL course in Oaxaca, México. We turned this into a family adventure and Noé, Luke, and Wynn are here, as well. One never knows what to expect when traveling internationally.
Yesterday in class, we did a Listening Lesson on what happened on our trip:
1) Friday: Got up at 3:00am to leave Albuquerque at 5:00am.
2) 7-hour layover in Dallas.
3) Luke and I take flight to Mexico City, where we will meet Noé and Wynn 1-hour after arrive.
4) Luke and I wait 3 hours at the customs gate in Mexico City.
5) Noe and Wynn do not arrive. Luke is making “Taken” jokes. I do not find these funny.
6) I receive a text from Wynn that their flight was full, they were bumped, and are now flying to Los Angeles.
7) Wynn and Noe fly to Los Angeles and wave to our house, which they left 24 hours ago, as they fly over.
8) Luke and I guiltily go to our hotel to eat and sleep. Okay, only I felt bad. Luke ate and watched soccer.
9) Get up at 5:00 am to be there for Wynn and Noé when they arrive at 5:30.
10) Wait for 3 hours and Noe and Wynn do not arrive.
11) This is because Noé’s luggage is lost.
12) Noe and Wynn emerge and we head to AeroMar for our flight to Oaxaca.
13) Despite the printed documents of confirmation of our flight to Oaxaca, AeroMar tell us that these reservations do not exist.
14) We have no way from Mexico City to Oaxaca. I teach the next day at 9:00 am.
15) We decide to rent a car and drive the 6 hours.
16) Despite telling the bank that we would be in Mexico, my debit card does not go through at the car rental, because of “suspected fraud.”
17) We are stuck in Mexico City.
18) We remember that Noé spoke to a different person for his card at the bank. This person actually did their job and we can use his card.
19) Man at rental place reviews car and shows us the spare. The four of us laugh, because of course at this point, we will get a flat.
20) I drive, since Noe has not slept in more than 24 hours at this point.
21) We make it out of Mexico City, because some kind couple sees us looking for signs and pulls over to tell us how how to drive to Oaxaca. Since the rental place had no map and we have no clue. Again – Luke making more “Taken” jokes, that this is a ruse. Again, I do not find these funny.
22) We drive through AMAZING, raw landscape.
23) Until we come to the bridge that is closed down due to the striking teachers.
24) We double-back and go around – and drive past burned out buses and cars and signs with photos of the teachers killed. We drive past groups of men with bandanas tied over their faces who check every car that goes by. Teachers have not been paid in months. We use as learning opportunity to discuss strikes and oppression. And we just hope the masked men with the rifles and pick axes let us through…
25) Drive another 3 hours. Kids say Oaxaca does not exist. Kids now punchy with exhaustion and start wrestling in the back seat. I sing, “To Dream the Impossible Dream” of arrival. Kids do not see humor in this.
26) Sunday 7:00 pm. Arrive to Oaxaca. Have no street address for our apartment. Our cab driver starts calling friends to ask where this might be.
17) Sunday 8:00 pm = 65 hours after leaving ABQ, we arrive to our hotel.
18) Noe and I ask where we can buy food for starving kids – and wine for us. 🙂
19) Let the adventure begin!
Class is off to a marvelous start! Some images of Oaxaca.
Chapulínes con chile y limón. Grasshoppers with chile and lime. Noé says to take the legs off first, since they get stuck in your teeth.
20) I still have to figure out how we’re getting back to Mexico City for our return flights…
(Originally published in Langscape: Voices of the Earth, Part I, Summer 2016)
Of all the arts and sciences made by man, none equals a language, for only a language in its living entirety can describe a unique and irreplaceable world. I saw this once, in the forest in southern Mexico, when a butterfly settled beside me. The color of it was a blue unlike any I had ever seen… There are nine different words in Maya for the color blue in the comprehensive Porrúa Spanish-Maya Dictionary, but just three Spanish translations, leaving six butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving beyond doubt that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth. –Earl Shorris
“When you talk about plants, I think languages.”
“When you talk languages, my mind goes to the land.”
We sat propped up against pillows in our hotel beds, laptops open, preparing for our conference workshop “Soul of the Land: Place as Character and Inspiration.” As we each scribbled presenter’s notes, our conversation returned again and again to plants and languages.
That hotel-room conversation evolved into an ongoing dialogue about what we call “mother tongues,” the critical importance of biological, linguistic, and cultural diversity to the health of whole landscapes and human survival. The more we exchanged stories and learnings—drawing on our respective backgrounds (Susan’s in plant biology, Dawn’s in multilingualism)—the more we focused on the diversity of plants and the diversity of languages as intertwined symbols of biological and cultural richness. Just as native plants “speak” of the diverse genetic adaptations and sustainability of the ecosystems they create—each individual species representing a set of relationships and adjustments that help the whole system survive disruption—so do native languages carry the unique stories and knowledge about the places and people where they evolved. Both are, in essence, the mother tongues of place: the plants of the biological realm, the languages of the cultural realm.
Dawn: What I find amazing is all of this research about the correlation between diversity and vibrancy of plants, animals, and languages. As the diversity of the land, plants, and animals deteriorates, so too does the diversity of languages and their cultures. We are exterminating languages faster than at any other time in human history. For example, many of the Indigenous languages of the Americas are now endangered. This is true of Indigenous languages around the world. If we keep going at the same rate we’re losing languages now, 90 percent of the world’s languages will be extinct within the next 100 years. Tens of thousands of years of wisdom, lost.
Susan: Plants speak the mother tongue of the landscapes I call home. I first understood these rooted beings as the living vocabulary of the North American West in my childhood, long before I claimed science as my second language or had any notion I would spend a career and a life listening to plants, parsing their relationships to each other and to us oxygen-breathing beings. My initial inkling about plants’ role and parlance came on a sunny morning in late June, at the beginning of one of my family’s weeks-long camping, hiking, and naturestudy expeditions through the West. My father was driving, gas-pedal to the floor, reveling in the open road of brand-new Interstate 80 west of Laramie, Wyoming. My mother, as chief navigator, sat in the front passenger seat; my brother was perched between them, scanning the landscape for birds new to his life list. I sat in the dinette in the back, head down, absorbed in a book.
The van engine knocked hard on a steep grade. Dad pressed the clutch pedal and shifted down. I looked up. Elk Mountain, its top still splotched with snow, rose out of the expanse of shrub desert like a massive ship, its prow cresting wave after wave of sagebrush, silver-green and spangled with spring moisture.
Lupine exploded in purple flower spikes between the flat-topped shrubs, and the air pouring in through the open windows bore a fragrance that has always spoken to me: a mix of turpentine and piney resin touched with honey and orange blossoms. Sagebrush, I said to myself, rolling on my tongue the name I had recently learned for the shrub. Years later, with a new degree in Botany, I would identify the plant that is the inland West’s most common shrub by its scientific name, Artemisia tridentata, the plant with the three-toothed (tri-dentate) leaves, named for the Greek goddess Artemis, feminist, hunter, and herbalist. I would detail the plant’s relationship with hundreds of other species of animals and plants that depend on its sheltering over-story to thrive in these harsh landscapes. But that June day, I only knew what the shrub and its fragrance said to me: Home.
My heart swelled with feelings my nine-year-old self could not explain. I went back to my book.
Dawn: Diversity can be fostered, encouraged, and expanded. Homogenization of a landscape—reducing a biological community to a single type of grass, for instance—reflects the ill-health of a landscape, just as the homogenization of language diversity—a single language replacing multiple languages, for example—reflects the weakened health of a culture and people. When my dad walks the land of our family ranch on the Great Plains of North America, his eyes scan the ground to pick up the different grasses. One summer my mom picked as many different types of grass as she found on our ranch and taped them to a sheet of white paper. One piece of paper became two and two became three. The Great Plains and its grasses were new to me then, as I was raised on a ranch in the Sonoran Desert in the North American Southwest. I studied and memorized the grasses of the body of this new world. Now, it was just a matter of learning them.
I held the pieces of paper with the grasses in my hands and walked out onto the prairie. The endless prairie wind whipped the sheets between my fingers. I watched for the bluish tinge that Big Bluestem casts on the prairie. Wild Rye bobbed above many of the grasses, its flowering spikes curving to the ground. Side-oats Grama, its oat-like seeds sprinkling downward from the stem. Prairie Brome, Blue Grama, and Buffalograss grew in small clusters under Bottlebrush that cast its sprays skyward. While the grasses were new to me, the focus on their diversity was not. In our family, we knew: the more types of grasses, the better. To many of us, it has become clear that multiplicity of languages is as vital to the land and her people as the necessity of diversity of plants and animals. Without diversity of language and culture taking center stage, along with plants and animals, the potential conversation remains limited. Biologists look to the diversity of plants and animals as a reflection of the land’s health. A single type of grass reflects a monoculture inherently limited in potential. So it is with languages and cultures. A monolingual, monocultural state weakens all inhabitants.
Susan: I was born to a small tribe— my parents are both only children, and their brood numbered just two, boy first, and then me, the girl. In the 1950s of my childhood, our country’s culture was envisioned as a huge pot that melted away individual cultures and languages, leaving English as our home tongue. Still, my family spoke a second language: science, our lexicon bursting with the names of plants, animals, rocks, stars. Nature-study was our shared culture. Drawers in the basement cabinets of my childhood home held neatly labeled collections of seashells and rock specimens, plus a black light for identifying minerals. TV dinners in our kitchen freezer were stacked side-by-side with roadkill for study; my mother’s tidy garden borders included
one lively section devoted to wildflowers rescued from development sites. Our family “car” was a tradesman’s van converted for camping, our conversations peppered with the names of wild birds and plants. My suburban schoolmates’ heads were filled with G.I. Joes, Barbie Dolls, and the opening bars of “Goldfinger”. Mine held the courting songs of robins, the habitat of ladies’ tresses orchids, and the geology of glacial valleys. Other families’ vacations took them to Disneyland or the beach; ours took us on hikes and backpacking trips into the wild reaches of state and national parks and wildlife refuges.
I learned how to focus binoculars and read nature field guides before I learned arithmetic and cursive in school. I began to look for patterns in nature and the relationships that create them—plant to soil and rock, plant to plant to plant, creating whole interwoven communities; mushroom to tree root, bird to prairie or mountain forest, frog to lily pad, wolf to elk, grizzly bear to spring flower bulbs—the way other kids learned baseball statistics and players’ names, or movies and movie stars.
As I grew older, my family’s language of nature split on taxonomic lines: my father and brother spoke bird, while plants gave my mother and me a shared vocabulary. Even after a lifetime of studying and writing about plants and their patterns and relationships on the land, I still cannot entirely articulate why it is sagebrush, a shrub so ubiquitous many never notice it at all, that to me speaks for the region I call home. I do know that it is the culture of plants—those seemingly mute beings rooted in place but so much more attuned to their environment than us wandering verbal creatures—that gives me the words to explore my species’ role on this living planet.
Dawn: In Wisdom Sits in Places, Keith Basso writes of how to the White Mountain Apache, the land speaks in languages that span time, their messages pooled and embedded within the earth to become place-worlds. Basso cites Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux) and his observation that most American Indian tribes “embrace ‘spatial conceptions of history,’ in which places and their names—and all that these may symbolize—are accorded central importance… Knowledge of places is therefore closely linked to knowledge of the self, to grasping one’s position in the larger scheme of things, including one’s own community, and to securing a confident sense of who one is as a person.” With the loss of language comes the loss of place-worlds; with the loss of place-worlds comes the loss of the sense of self.
These messages extend into distinct languages through each distinct plant and animal, each unique and integral. Grasses and plants and languages and cultures—the more diversity, the healthier the land, the healthier the people. We often see photos of an unhealthy environment side-by-side with a healthy environment, a fence-line the divider. A healthy environment is reflected in a multiplicity of grasses, plants, and animals, while in the other photo a barren monoculture reflects that land’s lack of health. Birdsong of unique trills, chirps, and caws float on the winds, above the varying textures of the grasses and plants, the flaxen, the bluish-gray, the emerald, among ochre.
Multiple languages, multiple cultural understandings, rhythms, and ways of walking through this world reflect healthy linguistic landscapes and cultural landscapes expressed in languages of every place, spoken with freedom in all spaces.
Susan: I call plants the living vocabulary of landscapes; they are the lives that restore the structure and function of healthy ecosystems. They provide the basic food all life on earth depends on, complex carbohydrates made using the sun’s energy and carbon dioxide plus minerals from the soil; they grow the structure that supports nests and burrows and homes for other species; they synthesize a wide vocabulary of aromatic chemical compounds which they use to communicate with other species. Native plants are the vernacular, the dialect of individual places. Like unique human languages, these local plant-voices connect humanity—breath, story, and soul—to each other and to place.
Dawn and Susan: We know that plants benefit us in many ways—as food, as fiber, as raw materials, and as beauty to nurture our spirits. But our connection with these rooted, photosynthesizing beings goes deeper. They are our “breathing buddies,” as the poet Clifford Burke writes, inhaling and fixing the carbon dioxide that we and our industrial processes exhale as a waste gas, and exhaling the very oxygen we require, the breath we depend on. Language and culture root us individually and collectively to the earth and to Place. With the loss of each language, so go generations of wisdom, belonging, and identity. So goes peace. These mother tongues of plant and language carry the critical stores of knowledge—genetic and cultural— that we need in order to continue to thrive on this singular, living planet.
Basso, K. (1996). Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.
Moore, K.D. (2010). Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature. Boston, MA: Trumpeter Books.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T., Maffi, L., & Harmon, D. (2003). Sharing a World of Difference: the Earth’s linguistic, cultural and biological diversity. Paris: UNESCO.
Tallamy, D. (2009). Bringing Nature Home. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
White, C. (2015). The Age of Consequences: A Chronicle of Concern and Hope. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press. Wilson,
E.O. (2006). The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
Dawn Wink Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores the beauty and tensions of language, culture, and place. Author of Meadowlark, Teaching Passionately: What’s Love Got To Do With It? (with Joan Wink), and “Raven’s Time: Critical Literacy in the American Southwest,” Wink is Director and Associate Professor of the Department of Education at Santa Fe Community College.
Susan J. Tweit A plant biologist in love with life, Susan J. Tweit is the author of twelve books, as well as essays and articles featured in publications including High Country News, Audubon, the Los Angeles Times, and Popular Mechanics. Her writing “melds the passion of a poet with the precision of a scientist,” and has won numerous awards.
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Thank you to Langscape for including our piece in the issue Voices of the Earth, Part I. Langscape also published Wild Waters: Landscapes of Language. Please find more below about the work of Terralingua and this issue of the magazine.
“We are marking Terralingua’s twentieth anniversary by “going back to our roots” with this issue’s theme: “Voices of the Earth”. In 1996, we chose the name Terralingua to suggest two things at once: the language of the Earth—the voice of Mother Nature; and the languages of the Earth—the many voices of the world’s diverse peoples, which have evolved through intimate interaction with the Earth in each specific place. We wanted to hear from and about the Voices of the Earth, and so we did! This issue brings you fascinating stories and images of biocultural diversity from all over the globe.
So, sometimes life is a ripple and sometimes it’s a tidal wave. The past month has been a tidal wave kind of life, resulting in both my being OBA (Officially Behind in All, including writing to you!) and so awash in gratitude that it drops me to my knees. I swing back and forth between the two and grab firm ground when I can.
Last I wrote, dirt was flying, cement was being poured, and flowers planted in preparation for Luke’s high school graduation. The flurry of activity continued up until the last minute (reminding me Noé and my wedding!), including the great ramada-raising, which now included the arrival of the mounties to help.
Luke graduated in fine style with the most enthusiastic cheering section.
Every minute of planting, building, copious amounts of watering and wine was worth it.
‘Twas the season of celebration. Immediately after Luke’s party, we headed to the ranch to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. We arrived just as the sun was setting on the lane.
If you look closely, you’ll see Wyatt and Wynn fishing amongst the clouds here.
Wynn and I went to spend time with my favorite horse, and inspiration for Mame in Meadowlark, Josie.
I was taken with Wynn’s hair next to Josie’s mane – the colors and textures of both…
…and made a ring from strands of Josie’s mane, now in my jewelry box.
One of my all-time favorite photos of Wynn, now on the ranch. I have no idea why we called her the The Pink Pistol…
What began with this June 4—50 years ago…
…now looks like this. What a life Mom and Dad have created.
Came back to head to Tucson for Orientation, where Luke will be studying International Business at the University of Arizona—because, he is the luckiest guy we know.
Bear Down, Wildcats! #WildcatMom
And then to Chicago to meeting again with two incredible communities that come together once a year at the Annual Instructors Conference (AIC) for the LIUNA Training and Education Fund. Once a year in Chicago, instructors in the Laborers’ International Union of North America and international educators from all over the world come to work together in an incredible week. Through the years, I’ve come to love the people of these communities deeply. People always ask me what we do at this conference. There is so much happening here, better to watch for yourself.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/131241866″>The 2014 Annual Instructor Conference Recap</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user17215533″>LIUNA Training & Education Fund</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Home to teach three classes of Orientation to the Teaching Profession. Clearly, we needed flowers and stones for our first night of class.
After class, watched this sunset unfold from our roof…