We gathered in the living room, pulling the antique chairs into a circle so that we could hear each other clearly, balancing plates of food in our laps, warming our hands on thick china mugs of hot coffee and tea. Twenty of us altogether, gathering to discuss the Earth Charter, to talk about ways to live responsibly on this earth.
The group included people with all kinds of backgrounds: scientists, writers, activists, artists. A religion professor. A philosophy professor. A plant ecologist. A native elder, chief or spokesperson of the beaver clan. A bereavement counselor. A professional lacrosse player. Members of the local peace movement. Feminists. A woman heavily involved in educating the public about paganism. The director of the community choir. A performance artist.
The gathering included older women wearing long skirts and flowing shirts, a woman in hiking boots and a parka, a young woman in a tight skirt and heels, a woman in a professional-looking suit, women in jeans and sneakers. The outfits the men wore covered a range as well, from the full suit to the casual jeans with a t-shirt.
We spoke one at a time, going around the circle counter-clockwise, as is the native tradition in this area. Each person listened carefully to the words, the discussion, the tangents. We introduced ourselves by talking about our own connection to the landscape.
I said that I had lived here for 44 years – that is, my whole life – and that my family had been here for four generations. I laughed even as I said it because in the scheme of things, that is such a small amount of time. The man sitting next to me, a native elder, said that his family can be traced back 900 years, but he is not sure how how long they have really been here. Anthropologists say that the songs he sings to his grandchildren are over a thousand years old. He told again a story we have heard before, the day in 1989 that wampum belts were returned to his people after a couple of hundred years.
We talked for hours, turning on lamps as it grew dark outside, turning up the heat as the winter chill crept into the old house, re-filling our plates with food again and again. We wrote down names of books and email addresses, tucking bits of information into planners and notebooks. As I gave PlantsWoman a hug goodbye, each of us heading home to daughters home on spring break, we talked about how these conversations need to happen more often. How much we learn from gathering like this, sitting in a respectful circle, sharing food, listening to each other’s stories.