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Witness to a Year: Diverse Book Challenge-May

“This isn’t the kind of spring I remember. I don’t like spring anymore.” Dad searches the weather report on television. “Flowers are gonna’ burst eventually. Won’t pollinate in the rain.” The only year we visited my mother’s grave was Mother’s Day 1990, the year she died. If the weather had been affected by climate change that year, my family very well may never have been on bikes. The flower I remembered from the yard was the yellow dandelion.

The Last Dandelion

Rain pattered softly on the window panes, dividing the outside into droplets of color. It was April, and the air was vacant. The voices of birds and whispering of leaves had returned but for Elise, the silence was deafening. She gazed out the window and traced the water’s path with her fingertips. The glass was cold, but it did not even compare to the ache that grew within her. One year, one year today. It was impossible. One year, and it still wasn’t real. Turning away from the window, she straightened the blanket that hung around her shoulders. The chill in the house was inescapable. In stocking feet, she padded to the front door and gazed out at the porch. Stepping onto it, the cool air penetrated deep into her lungs and ate through the blanket. She breathed deep and slowly closed her eyes. The exhale was slow and deliberate, and through the haze of her slightly opened eyes, a splash of color caught.

Throwing the screen door open, she ran towards it. The rain poured down upon her, running through her eyes and drowning loose strands of hair. The blanket hung loose now and with each step, it became more and more caked in the rich, dark mud, Dad never stopped talking about. Elise dropped to her knees in front of the flower. It stood tall, withstanding each pelt of the onslaught that fell down upon it. Even her own grayness could not dim its color. The yellow called her. She reached out her fingers to touch it and then pulled away. She felt no separation between her tears and the rain, the chill and her own. It was April. She cried. It was one year. She cried. It was the first dandelion.

She didn’t know on another afternoon, the dandelion she had picked would be her last. Mom didn’t know either, but she wove it into her dark curls and took Elise’s hand as they walked back towards the house. The dandelion sat on the counter for days until it wilted and someone, probably Dad, tossed it outside. Elise didn’t know if dandelions grow in graveyards because they didn’t visit. Dad said she wasn’t there. But, she hoped there was a dandelion there, just the same. They went so nicely in her hair.

After my mother died, my father took up cooking. I thought he was a good cook, skilled even. An unreliable narrator, I realize now he dealt in salt and sugar and frozen and packaged. We stopped eating at the table and moved to the living room. Our mouths closed to our own words and our ears opened to television buzz. Still, my brother and I succeeded in our task of growing up. So in this regard, I forgot both my mother and her efforts at scooping naturally separating peanut butter and stirring tofu meatballs in spaghetti. Sad. So in this manner, I never knew my mother and her efforts to advocate for sustainable food systems. Angry.

“One of the primary results—and one of the primary needs—of industrialism is the separation of people and places and products from their histories. To the extent that we participate in the industrial economy, we do not know the histories of our families or of our habitats or of our meals. This is an economy, and in fact a culture, of the one-night stand. ‘I had a good time,’ says the industrial lover, ‘but don’t ask me my last name.’ Just so, the industrial eater says to the svelte industrial hog, ‘We’ll be together at breakfast. I don’t want to see you before then, and I won’t care to remember you afterwards.’” (7). Kimbrell continues, “If things do not last, are not made to last, they can have no histories, and we who use these things can have no memories.” (8)

Eli Wiesel too believed, “The distinction between an education that can save us and one that can exist comfortably alongside moral compromise, corruption, and evil rests on memory.” (21)

I lost my mother’s voice in my head. Many tip their chins and lower their eyes when I talk about my mother, but we have greater reason to be sad and more urgent reasons to be angry. Another mother is dying. Mother Earth. We are separated from her histories. Spring. May. It is the time of the year we celebrate mothers. This spring some fume and too many laugh about the 3-6 inches of snow that blew sideways to end April, in some ways so similar to Wisconsin’s practiced attitude towards alcohol.

Dad turns away from the television and narrows his eyes out the window. “The stuff that belongs here. That is native here. What is amazing is its will to survive, to come back. They’re not about to be stopped.”

I reread the kind of truth in an almost thirty year old vignette. I should add. There probably are no dandelions in graveyards. According to Roundup, they are weeds.

A Mother’s Love

My mother read to me each night. Bedtime stories. My fictional works never escape an absent mother figure, alive or dead. Scene upon scene, I construct the hills and valleys Dad recommends in the garden with stage direction and dialogue. I was lucky to know women who acted in mothering roles across my life. Any one of them would sit with me, talk with me about who I think my mother was and what I might miss. They would even encourage emotions I plucked out of my skin. But, would they sit on the same couch, carry in snacks and wrap me in a blanket to watch “home” movies about Mother Earth?

dirt! The Movie A film by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosrow

I can recall her soft sweater that hugged me, but I should talk about the dusty embrace of living earth against my skin.

Seed: The Untold Story Directed, Produced and Edited by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz

The lawyer reminded the judge, “She will never see her daughter walk down the aisle, nor give birth to a child.” But, what about the living embryos none of us will see live?

As if the content wasn't heavy enough, Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture by edited by Andrew Kimbrell is a very large, illustrated collection of essays organized around the current lack of sustainability in agricultural practices and our disconnect from both growing food and the effects of eating our current food choices. It includes more than 250 photographs and more than 40 essays by ecological thinkers including Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, David Ehrenfeld, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Vandana Shiva, and Gary Nabhan. As it exposes the ecological and social impacts of industrial agriculture's fatal harvest, the book also details a new ecological and humane vision for agriculture. It shows how people are engaged in the new politics of food as they work to develop a better alternative to the current system. Designed to aid the movement to reform industrial agriculture, Fatal Harvest informs and influences the activists, farmers, policymakers, and consumers who are seeking a safer and more sustainable food future.

Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership and Starting a Revolution by KaeLyn Rich is a diverse book first and foremost because it is young adult nonfiction, a genre that is not published nor checked out enough. Secondly, this text is an easily accessible, practical and motivational handbook for teen girls, their friends and their support network, ready to fight for change. Moreover, the practical nature guides the reader through the necessary strategies, an aspect as important for success as it is for correcting the long embedded narrative of women who are good because they do good and who succeed because they are good. With in-depth guides to everything from picking a cause, planning a protest, and raising money to running dispute-free meetings, promoting awareness on social media, and being an effective ally.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. If I had the gas money and time, I would drive to New York and invite this incredible woman out to lunch. I could easily replace her academic experience with botany with my own in education, and takeover the plaits in her hands as she braids the pieces of her personal and professional learning together. Similar to other nonfiction texts I included in my Witness to a Year posts that addressed human interaction around racial and cultural differences, Braiding Sweetgrass includes the always forgotten interaction between inanimate and animate beings that also deserve respect and appreciation at the heart of this month’s theme, “A Mother’s Love”. She intertwines these two modes of awareness--the analytic and the emotional, the scientific and the cultural--to ultimately reveal a path toward healing the rift that grows between people and nature.

I am not a mother. I will turn 40 this year and odds are, I will never be a mother, of human children anyway. However, if I am never to be Eve, I can be Skywoman, at heart, in motive, at least. My role, the importance of continued interaction is another soil worth sowing every year. Those feelings may be currently dehydrated in today’s family units, but dried seeds are preserved seeds only waiting. And so, she is worth remembering, still able to be planted, every year. We had already decided to be more careful about our seeds in the years to come.

Diverse book reads blog posts applied to my own life


More in Less

Mother’s Milk


How a development worker becomes a vegan. . .

Would You Rather?

Burger, Ariel. (2018). Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom. Houghton Mifflin

Harcourt: Boston.

Kimbrell, Andrew, ed. (2002). Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture.

Island Press: Washington.

Rich, KaeLyn. (2018). Girls resist! : a guide to activism, leadership, and starting a revolution. Quirk Books: Philadelphia.

Wall Kimmerer, Robin. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific

Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions: Canada.

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