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During the two-week intensive at the beginning of the fall semester for my graduate classes, we had lecture that asked us, “What is Your Rice?” Based on a section of his book, “What Kind of Ancestor Do you Want to Be,” by the Dean of the Clark School of Environment and Sustainability at Western, Dr. John Hausdoeffer, told us the story of a family whose place is this world is connected to the harvesting of wild rice in Minnesota, as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. Inspired, Dr. John wrote about his own version of rice, snowpack in the mountains, and his family connection to that. In our lecture, we were asked to reflect on our own rice, our own familial connection to something bigger than ourselves, something we hold dear. While I struggled with this prompt, I eventually wrote the following piece, reflecting on my own rice and my place in this world.
I grew up in the land of cornfields, where bright blue skies host towering white clouds that contrast against the green of the land. I grew up among the marshes, along the shore of the Mississippi River, where pelicans reminded us of a time long ago and eagles gave our bone-chilling winters an awe-filled wonder. I grew up laying in grass, munching on vegetables freshly picked from the garden, and running barefoot under the trees. I grew up watching fireflies in the field on summer nights, dancing in rainstorms, and building new worlds in my sandbox. I grew up catching butterflies, awwing over not-so-hidden baby bunny nests and holding toads in my hand. I grew up noticing great blue herons gently soar above, jumping in mud puddles, and making snow angels in freshly fallen snow.
Twenty years later, I roll in mud. I dance in rain. I lay in the grass and look at the sky. I skip stones in the creek and never pass a playground without swinging. I roll down hills and ski down slopes. I wade in cold streams and laugh with the birds singing around me. I go outside at night to see the moon and the stars, and maybe even howl.
My rice is observing and playing in nature. My rice is not just living in nature – and certainly not just using it. But seeing it, loving it, playing with it. Talking to animals, croaking with frogs, hooting with owls. My rice is getting muddy and wet and being part of nature and not separate from it. My rice is being playful, joyful, and present with nature. My rice is being childlike in wonder, exploring with compulsive curiosity, and always being filled with joy and awe.
I came from farmers, from ancestors who worked and mined the land, but lived in it as well. I came from families who spent their lives outdoors, being one with nature. I came from families who roamed through woods and ran up mountains. I came from people who lived on the land and appreciated it, who were part of it.
I want to show that love, that joy, that playfulness. I want to be with children and embrace their nature wonder, their natural love for a bug or a flower, or something they see and want to explore. I want to let them be playful, let them get muddy, or grass-stained, or knee-skinned. I want them to laugh, to smile, to observe, to explore, to ask questions, to think, and to wonder. And then I want them to remember. I want them to continue to be playful, to have a life-long friendship with nature. To jump in puddles when it suites them or roll down a hill. I want them to dance in the rain and watch the stars move across the sky. I want them to never forget what it is to play in this beautiful and breathtaking earth.