People have asked me why I am interested in Native American traditions and lore; in particular, people have asked me why I am “going on the mountain,” or doing a vision quest this week of the solstice. The vision quest is a Native American (and other indigenous cultures) rite of passage that adolescents undertook for thousands of years.
The first reason is that my ancestors were indigenous to Wales, Ireland, and England, and the Celts had similar traditions. I feel connected to my ancestors and my identity through these ways. The second reason is that Native American people and native american lore is full of incredibly unique teachings about where we are, because they have 50,000 years of human experience and wisdom on this continent, in this place.
Identity as a result of sense of place
For an identity, we need to know where we are. We need a sense of place. These teachings shape my identity and inform my sense of place.
When you’re not a native to a place, you need to go through a process of learning the geography, the plants, the animals, the weather patterns in order to gain a sense of place.
Regionalism is not the same as sense of place
I am from the east coast, and when I moved to Seatte (full of transplants from other places) regionalism took over—I noticed the strange and sometimes annoying quirks of the humans who live in this place that is new to me.
Living in a city where energy is already frenetic, it has sometimes been challenging for me to remember to drop in and look beyond the regionalism to connect with my sense of place. I often think I need to leave the city to connect with my sense of place, and when I do, I indeed feel connected to this land of the northwest.
Self sufficiency as a result of sense of place
The potential for people in the west to be self-sufficient died with the elders who lived here before there were super markets, fossil fuels, and miles of road to get what you need. Lots of cities in the west, including Seattle, have sad excuses for public transportation. The west is an urban or small-town population of people operating with fossil fuels and getting canned food from supermarkets.
In contrast, the people of New England, where I’m from, had 150-300 years of self- sufficient and rural living before the industrial age. Those people developed a deep knowledge of the plants, animals, weather patterns, lore, and self-sufficiency.
The last generation that really knew how to live off the land was our great grandparents. Some of those ways were passed down, but many were lost and we need to reinvent the wheel.
My dream is simple: to be self-sufficient and off-grid living on the land. It seems quite out of reach in this day and age, but I’m sure I will be able to find a way, because I believe we must learn to live in harmony with the local place, create a way of life that doesn’t exhaust resources, and that can be passed on to our children and grandchildren.