I have been reading ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer which I do recommend. It blends scientific knowledge with indigenous wisdom particularly regarding plants. She quotes the Anishinaabe story of creation of the first man, Nanabozho. ‘As he continued exploring the land, Nanabozho was given a new responsibility: to learn the names of all the beings. He watched them carefully to see how they lived and spoke with them to learn what gifts they carried in order to discern their true names. Right away he began to feel more at home and was not lonely anymore when he could call the others by name and they called out to him when he passed, ‘Bozho!’ – still our greeting to one another today.’
This could be the basis of the parallel biblical story in Genesis 2.19: ‘Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.’ However the way it is written gives the impression that Adam (and therefore us) had some kind of authority and superiority over creation. Naming here looks like a way of control instead of knowledge, respect and relationship, not helped by Genesis 1.28 where they were told to subdue and rule the natural world. However the instruction in Genesis 2.15 was to work or serve the land and to take care of it. Let us follow this way, serving and taking care of the land, and the way of Nanabozho, watching and learning from the more-than human beings so that ‘each step is a greeting to Mother Earth’.
In accord with its name
The summer is sizzling the lawn. The short grass has bled its green into the dry earth and has taken on its colour, brown with yellow highlights in its hair from the steady sun. The longer blades are still green so the lawn is mottled with tufts of grass and suckers of trees, and with the green of wildflowers that have now come into their own. Clover predominates, trefoil leaves like lace and white flower heads with russet at the roots. In one corner I have a patch of bright yellow flowers waving in the breeze with deep purple below among the clover. The purple I know, it is self-heal, such a powerful name for so unprepossessing a plant. Perhaps previously we would all have know its uses, all have welcomed it as an easy remedy for infections or inflammations and picked it for our wounds and sores. That knowledge is no longer part of the common fund but is kept in herbalists’ purses. For us it is just a wildflower, but one I treat with respect because of its heritage.
And above, the yellow. How many dandelion-type yellow flowers there are, all glorious in their wild brightness. There are hawkbits and hawksbeards and hawkweeds, not to mention catsears, sow-thistles, nippleworts and various lettuces. I think mine is the lesser hawkbit. I have had them here for years and have never bothered finding their name before. Names make things more intimate, we have been introduced, we have a relationship. I have also found out the name of the wildflower that colonises all my beds, one I always addressed as ‘number 4’ as it was my fourth worst weed. It is herb bennet, and now I find I have to treat it more kindly in accord with its name.