March 19, 2006

Modern Day Salon

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.

13 comments:

anu said...

I loved reading about your yearly visit to the Benedictine monastery. It was so soothing and calming to merely read it.

Thank you for sharing :)

Yankee T said...

You are just way.too.wonderful for words. When I grow up (I'm 10 years your senior) I want to be like you.

suzanh said...

That's wonderful.

Teri said...

Your posts frequently fill me with longing. This one is no exception. I'd love to have something like that in my life. And what Yankee Transplant said (only I'm younger than you..)

BeachMama said...

You inspire. I could only hope to gather people together to discuss such an important issue. My gatherings are nothing like yours, but I can hope and dream and try.

kabbage said...

You might find the work of the Northwest Earth Institute interesting. They have a number of study group classes that you might find provocative.

They're at http://www.nwei.org

sorry if this posts twice. I can't tell if it went through.

LutheranChik said...

What a wonderful way to spend a day.

I was just reading something the other day that, contrary to the common wisdom that our lives and our pastimes are becoming more "virtual," that people are beginning to again seek out more intimate, face-to-face gatherings like this.

Friday Mom said...

This sounds wonderful. How was the gathering organized? (i.e., how were people chosen/invited, etc.?)

jo(e) said...

FridayMom: GreatLakesGuy, the person who organized this salon, is a colleague of mine who has worked for years as director of a research consortium which does research on the great lakes and works to educate the public about the ecology of the great lakes. He has connections with the peace movement and the environmental movement in this area. I think last weekend's salon came about because an author who has been promoting the earth charter was in town, and GreatLakesGuy thought it would be great for us to all meet him and have this conversation. I think the GreatLakesGuy just sort of invited the people he thought would have something to contribute, and stopped when he got 20 to agree to come because that is about how many the room would hold.

jo(e) said...

Lutheranchik: Yes, many activists are consciously trying to build community in ways like this.

Kabbage: Thanks for the link. Yes, that is exactly the kind of stuff I find fascinating.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Can you tell some of what was said? Some of the "ways for living responsibly on this earth"?

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: If you click on the link for the Earth Charter, you can see some of what we were talking about. The Earth Charter is a body of fundamental principles for living in ways that are sustainable and peaceful. The vision is to get this body of principles adopted worldwide. The United States is the country that most consistently violates the principles of the Earth Charter ....

Mona Buonanotte said...

Sometimes blogging feels like a salon, albeit in a strange one-dimensional way....