I live in rural Scotland, in a village of sixty-five houses, with no cell service or shops. There is a kirk, a pub; there are more sheep than people. For the first time in my life, I have a garden. A garden with more square footage than my five-hundred-year-old house. There are roses and thistles, poppies and peonies, geraniums and blueberries and apple trees and weeds. Weeds which would grow waist-high, if we let them. Goosegrass, bindweed, ground elder. Chickweed, clover, ragwort, common dandelion. I didn’t used to know these names.
I didn’t used to live in Scotland, though I’m told my forebears did. I once shelled out the fifty bucks to spit into a tray and prove this. Like many white Americans, I glom on to any whiff of heritage I’m offered, desperate for roots. Desperate to belong to anything beyond the colonialist capitalist machine. This is impossible for someone of my Scottish, Irish, etc., etc., genes. I am what I am, and where I come from. The much-diluted mutt of Europe, born in the USA. A great part of my heritage is harm.
And still, I feel a pull. I tell the story, sometimes, of my proposal in Glencoe, or my first time landing on the coast in Donegal. That feeling of inhabiting a dream of coming home. My bones agreeing with a place I’d always thought I had invented, something about the curve of a stone wall, a cliff, a low, gray melancholy, hillocks ablaze with gorse. Or something in the water, in the turfsmoke on the air. It feels elemental.
So when I moved to rural Scotland and bought my red-stone house with blue trim and no central heating or hot-water taps upstairs, it felt like a return. I’ve been a nomad all my life; now that I have kids, I want to give them what I lacked. I want to plant them here and watch them grow. And know this place, the way a farmer knows. To check their height against the brambles in the hedgerows, to clock their years against the rise and furl of forest ferns, to feel the swoop of summer swallows in their skin.
In 2007, the Oxford Junior Dictionary, in a routine cull, cut a bunch of nature words to make space for those “more relevant” to modern childhood, like chatroom. Some of these words are vital to this place my children will call home, including bramble, magpie, willow, acorn, newt. Including gorse, and hazelnut, and fern. Including beech, the tree that forms our border hedge. And wren, the most common of the garden birds. And pasture, the quality of land that skirts our sandstone, tile-roofed village. I buy a book about these words, and listen to a song, which hits my ears like prayer. “Enter the wild with care, my love,” it goes, “And speak the things you see. Let new names take and root and thrive and grow.” I sometimes go walking in the woods, along the burn that wends behind our house, and sing this to myself, noting the plants that I pass (nettle, raspberry, oak, birch, pine). Every time I listen to this song, I cry.
It’s possible there’s very little wildness left beyond my garden gate. And, every year, fewer species. The hedgerows are scythed by council mowers. The farms are monocropped and fed acidic slurry, artificial fertilizer, toxic pesticide. Invasive weeds choke native plants; the old forests are flattened. Still, it’s very beautiful. The landscape like a screensaver. The North Sea full of shipping vessels. The mild breeze in the hogweed on the well-trod path. There’s still so much plenty on the village green. My neighbors bicker over frog spawn, make black-currant jam.
I want so much to belong here. And not just to this patch of earth, but the whole thing. I’m not the only one who feels this grief, this heartbreak on the eve of our obliteration. The wanting to connect to something we have long since forfeited. I’m not the only one who still has wonder left, and longs to feel a part of something bigger than myself that isn’t God exactly, or even really gods, but something, once more, elemental. To wind my watch to the mìosan of the Gaelic year, the cycle of the land I live upon. I think that I might be an animist. I think it’s very possible that plants have souls.
I read Robin Kimmerer’s bestselling Braiding Sweetgrass, a blend of botany and Potawatomi wisdom, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “a hymn of love to the world,” and I am sure they do. I start singing to my trees—not every day, but on the first morning of May. I feel ridiculous, but do it anyway. I buy an almanac, and pick wild garlic from the woods, make nettle soup, turn elderberries into pancake syrup. I listen to a podcast about brùnaidh, household gnomes, and leave a ramekin of buttered porridge out for mine at midwinter. I read about the farmers and the parish that have been here, in this wee valley in the flat vastness of pastureland, for eight hundred years. I buy local veg and meat. I buy an app to learn the flowers in my garden as they firework their way to bloom. I pay more attention to the moon; that, too, feels relevant. It’s balance that I’m after—to claim a place, but in the name of my own insignificance. One tiny speck of carbon, stardust—mostly water, maybe with some modicum of soul.
I follow an oddball cast of oracles on social media, for answers or for inspiration: shepherds, shepherds’ wives, folklorists, astroherbalists, astrologers, tarot readers, pagans, storytellers, wild-swimmers, folk magicians. I follow who they follow. I learn an awful lot about harvesting hydrosols, about fell farming, my Chiron in Gemini, self-care, Norse gods, and mycelia.
It gets a little icky, though, when there’s something to sell. One day, the folklorist puts down her dulcimers and turns to “coaching,” charging somewhere near 1,000 USD for a six-week course she calls “Abundance Paganism.” Which is to say: the place where animist-belief traditions and “abundance mindset” meet, her unique “container” for “rewilding spirit,” her “signature offering.” She quits her day job, halts her podcast, and starts boasting, in one newsletter, how she’ll clear $25K that month. Her feed and stories get a rebrand, photoshoots of her in luscious textiles, joyful in a field. She posts about a weekend self-pleasure retreat, hosted by @myorgasmiclife, who calls herself “The Brené Brown of Pussy,” an “orgasmic” business coach among whose other “offerings” I find a course titled “Ecosexual,” which promises both to turn one on and turn Earth from mother into lover. Plants do have souls and, as it turns out, you can fuck them.
This feels somehow perverse. Orthogonal. The “Ecosex Manifesto,” penned by former porn star Annie Sprinkle and her partner, is a blend of environmental-activism platitudes (“We treat the Earth with kindness, respect and affection”) and bawdy puns (“We celebrate our E-spots. We are very dirty.” “We are… pollen-amorous.”). I read about these ecosexuals, these women who host chakra-color-coded plural marriages to coal, the sky, the moon—a form of protest rooted in the idea that we might treat Earth better if we took “her” as our lover. It’s camp, I grant, but earnest. Sprinkle and her partner, Elizabeth Stephens, are performance artists, committed to sexing up the mood, using their “multipronged approach” (art, theory, practice, and activism) to get more people down to save the planet.
They’re not alone. “Ecosex,” as a concept, has been around awhile, covering everything from sustainable lube and dildos to “Fuck for Forest” (nonprofit Norwegian-origin rainforest-saving porn). In 2000, a woman who calls herself “La Tigresa” did a striptease “to save the trees.” In 2014, a Peruvian environmentalist, Richard Torres, married one. And now, for 150 USD, @myorgasmiclife can teach you to get your own sap flowing. Her videos, a reading of Sprinkle’s manifesto, and a teaser trailer for the course, showcase her bare thighs and mud rivulets, amateur drone footage of winter woods, breasts heaving against tree trunks, fingers penetrating flowers. I’m instantly put off, and yet, also, aroused—though not quite in the way I think I’m meant to be. I take the course, for research, out of my own perverted curiosity. I want to give this woman, and this movement, the benefit of the doubt, but there is a lot of doubt.
For one thing, as a mother, I find their outlook just a little blithe. Rather than interrogate why we treat the category of mother so deplorably, we should simply sexualize that role for our own gain? Don’t we find ourselves in planetary crisis in the first place because we have for so long plundered what we thought was ours to own, without consequence or question? We’ve ravaged all the resources on this our little space rock, and yet that’s somehow not enough. We also want an orgasm? This gratification, however well-intended, feels like a final insult. And how, I wonder, watching image after image of these weddings, can all this pleather be environmental? Do the ecosexuals recycle all their tinfoil hats and pasties after they have married “Moon”?
Then again, the world is burning. So much destruction has been wrought by that old Cartesian stranglehold, the great mind-over-matter culture vs. nature split. The binaries have broken us. We’ve put human (white, male, Christian) over nearly every other category: nature, woman, Indigenous, Black, queer. We’ve overvalued the rational and the empirical. Undervalued animals and plants. As Kimmerer might put it, we have too long separated the observer from the observed when, in fact, the two require relationship. And who’s to say that couldn’t be a pleasurable relationship? The ecosexuals charge forth, make documentaries (Water Makes Us Wet), publish books (Assuming the Ecosexual Position), and march in Pride parades (“HERE COME THE ECOSEXUALS!”). They are “madly, passionately, and fiercely in love,” “giving environmentalism a kind of punk-rock edge.” Why not?
No doubt the world needs saving. We can no longer take and take and take, expecting to survive. “Love” might well be the answer. (Certainly, neoliberal technocratic capitalism hasn’t moved the needle much.) Ecosexuality feels like the climax, gods forgive me, of so many “alities” and “isms,” all vying to be right and true, in service of salvation.
Ecofeminism, a la Françoise d’Eaubonne, spoke of the “special relationship” between women and nature, the harnessing of which, for good, could save us from toxic masculinity and its destruction march. But while it might be true that the “feminizing” of women and nature contributed to the subjugation of each—and to Western culture’s “mutually reinforcing” devaluations of both—women are not nature’s stand-ins or its saviors. Women, being “natural,” can’t save “feminized” nature from the ravages of patriarchy and colonialism. It’s just not that simple. Ecofeminism fails, as so many feminisms do, when it falls short of being intersectional. When it relies on one binary to overthrow another.
One way to dissolve a binary is to queer it. Theorist Timothy Morton writes, “It’s not that ecological thinking would benefit from an injection of queer theory from the outside. It’s that, fully and properly, ecology is queer theory and queer theory is ecology.” The best take, perhaps, is to embrace the idea of our interdependence. The idea that we are all made of the same stuff, yes, but also—critically—different, and only in the embrace of those “multiplying” differences will we finally come to intimacy, and care, into the “polymorphously perverse belonging” that is true collectivity. “Consciously choosing coexistence.” We have to save each other, all of us, even and especially the “other,” who requires our much-denied respect. Gender diversity is biodiversity. New theories, in queer ecology and ecofeminism, stretch to cover animals, as agents of their own—even Earth itself, as teleological. Enough. Not here for us. Alive for its own sake.
But these are posthumanist theories out to break apart a Western fiction: the idea that we are somehow better than the world that feeds us. The idea that other beings aren’t “people” too, with wants and needs, with their own purpose in the world. The idea that we, as humans, are somehow separate from the rest of life. Indigenous worldviews have known better for millennia, right all along. When Kimmerer writes of the “grammar of animacy,” this is part of what she means. There is no dualism. There is no big divide. We are all connected, with or without souls. Hierarchy, any domination in the web of life, hurts everyone. “All flourishing is mutual.” We flourish, all of us together, or we flourish not at all. We start respecting all these “others”—nature, perhaps, first and foremost—or we die.
Interestingly, many of these theories, queer/eco/feminist, do seem peppered with sex. Or, more broadly: “desire,” even “pleasure.” (Another dualism, of course, being the rational versus the erotic.) As Greta Gaard put it, in “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism,” our salvation from straight white patriarchal climate-killing manhood “requires embracing the erotic in all its diversity,” as the only way to fully understand our interdependence, “our shared liberation.”
There does seem to be a vein. Indigenous scholar and activist Melissa Nelson writes of “getting dirty,” the “eco-eroticism” of women in Turtle Island oral literatures. Though she does stress that, in these stories, sex is metaphor. “Sex,” she writes, “is a symbol for intimate, visceral, embodied kinship relations… The ‘sex,’ the ‘intercourse’… is an emotional and ethical transaction, an agreement, a treaty of obligations.” She references the work of Donna Haraway, darling of the ecosexuals, the idea of the “contact zone” of “reciprocal relations,” a way of being in the world. Then she quotes from Braiding Sweetgrass on “the moral covenant” of reciprocity.
Kim TallBear, Native Studies professor at the University of Alberta, writes, in a kind of defense of Sprinkle and Stephens’s work, that “queer sexuality and politics—acknowledging and helping love and desire flourish beyond rigidly enforced heterosexuality—not only helps us re-make our human relationships. It provides us tools for living better with the planet.” She works on “decolonializing settler sexuality,” making room for new conceptions of love and kinship, though she stops short of endorsing ecosexuality outright. “I don’t get turned on by clouds, or tree bark, or rocks,” she writes, then adds, in a parenthetical aside, “I once dead-ended into the tight, closed end of a tunnel inside a rock hard mountain while caving in Colorado and had the realization that this great, old being did not need me poking around inside its body.” She also cautions against “the appropriation of Native American knowledges and motifs to the ecosexual ceremonial and artistic repertoire.” (Sprinkle and Stephens’s 2008 “Wedding to the Earth” was officiated by a Chicano artist as “High Aztec Priest” speaking “fake Nahuatl”—in a gesture meant to emphasize his own complicity in the “never-ending cycles of colonialism” and his performance of “indigenous authenticity.” This, in a wedding already downstream from New Age pillage of the “heart” chakra, with its uniform of poison-ivy green.)
I prefer Kim TallBear’s kind of love and kinship to the vinyl and the platform shoes. I prefer it to the work of, say, Pony Express, which both manifests the metaphor of Earth-as-lover, and yet, also, abandons hope. “Can ecosex save the earth?” they ask in adverts for their “Ecosexual Bathhouse” installation, all while insisting that the end is unavoidable. It’s too late, they say, to get out of the Anthropocene (or, as Haraway has deemed it, the “Chthulucene”) alive; but we might go down “in style”—in their BDSM bacchanal—and, by embracing our “erotic” entanglement with our environment, make the apocalypse more pleasurable. The sex here is explicit. Finger condoms into pistils. Pollen facials. A dominatrix in a ring-gag and a snakeskin onesie, undulating. Arms shoved in a bathtub full of soil: the “COMPOSTING GLORY HOLE: So deep and dank, you’ll want to come over and over.”
Perhaps it is a function of my own vanilla sexuality that makes this not for me. I’d be a right prude prig if I failed to note the fun, the binary-fucking post-Fluxus theater of these ecosexual “events,” but I am unconvinced. I prefer to keep things metaphorical. I feel squeamish asking one more thing from “mother” nature; has she not given me enough? Isn’t asking her for intraspecies sex just one more frontier of consumption? It feels like a faulty premise anyway, that we would “love and appreciate” our lovers any better. And can Earth consent? Does it really want our “grassilingus”—or our gratitude?
Here, I’d love to pull that perennial essayistic feat and break down the etymology of gratitude in some illuminating way. But it is staunchly basic: from the Latin for thankful. Pleasing. Kimmerer writes of her garden as a site of gratitude, and reciprocity, “a nursery for nursing connection.” She digs her hands into the earth, not for titillation, but to make things grow—and then to cultivate what she has grown, to care for it. To sit in her responsibility as “mere heterotroph”—as carbon feeder, one who must consume to live—among the poet plants who magic sugar out of light. To learn their ways and find a way to thank them, for this life.
She comes to her earth to listen, in respect, rather than do. To offer love, rather than sex. To “marry ourselves to the earth,” but in the sense of deep, lifelong commitment, not any literal consummation. To know the land one lives on, but not in the Biblical sense of the term. Finding an expression for a debt of thanks. Humans once lived in balanced reciprocity with nature—taking, yes, but also honoring, caretaking, when that relationship afforded not rights, but responsibilities. Even then, the debt was staggering: what we got from nature versus what we gave. But gift-to-gratitude is not transaction. “Gifts exist in a realm of humility and mystery,” she writes, and receiving them creates relationship, sticky and complex. Our work, as receivers, is “to discover what we can give” in return—a question “just as important in a Brooklyn flat as under a birch bark roof.”
This, I realize, is what I’m after. Humility and mystery. To learn the names of all the flowers in my own garden, and learn to care for them (which requires, first and foremost, Googling how not to kill them). To look up at the stars and feel small. To raise my fork and feel thankful. To honor the constant cycles of the land. Spring lambs and snowdrops and the death throes of the thistle as it expels its seed into the August wind. To make a wreath from village holly, or a pie from my own tree. I want to show my gratitude, somehow, even if that’s just learning that I can’t, that my debt is just too big. I want to take responsibility. The ultimate reciprocity, Kimmerer writes, is in “loving and being loved in return.” My garden loves me in flowers, fruits, blue tits on the rosehips. I want to love my garden back. I want to “please.” I don’t think this should be confused with “pleasure.”
The truth is, I’m not very good at this. I find my garden terrifying. I pay someone to pry up the pernicious weeds, the ones that spread too fast for me to pluck, whose roots can replicate like gecko tails, tenfold. I find its life force awe-inspiring—in the more ancient sense of fear and dread. I blink and new weeds stipple through the rhubarb patch like sandwich sprouts. Roses have burst forth, and faded. Globe thistles have surged above my height. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’d like to try to cultivate “practical reverence,” my own reciprocal relationship to the land my old house sits upon. And, yes, to find a way to talk to my genius loci—the spirit of this place.
I can feel the dualists among you losing patience. Crazy lady, plants do not have souls. (My own husband is an analytic philosopher; he’s not even sure that people do.) But consider David Abram riffing on Spinoza’s Deus Sive Natura, the idea that all things are “ensouled.” If “God” is just “the creative dynamism and intelligence of Nature itself,” then all of nature contains that dynamism and intelligence. What if the “soul” were actually just an awareness—of a body among bodies, a life among lives in this earthly soup? An other among others. This, perhaps, is how we move toward Morton’s “polymorphously perverse belonging,” to Abram’s “radical and irreducible pluralism,” to Kimmerer’s true reciprocity. To recognize the strange intelligence around us, distinct from ours, in some ways perfectly unknowable, as, well, teleological. Creative. “God” in everything. A more holistic holiness.
Abram’s argument, in his Becoming Animal, is, at heart, that we are a part of something “so damned huge.” That, and: the twin projects of science and religion have failed us, “whether sustained by a desire for spiritual transcendence or by the contrary wish for technological control and mastery.” Both have bequeathed to us “a disincarnate perspective, a view from nowhere,” alienating us from our “creaturely” experience of the world. An incomplete truth. By squatting back down in our animality, recognizing and respecting the “immeasurable” and “inexhaustible” otherness of our biosphere, we might finally reconcile our distinctly human intelligence with the “agency of the wild,” take our place back in the “breathing world.” This is how, he argues, we “complete” the Copernican Revolution. By bringing the human psyche, and its insights, back to Earth. To use our faculties for good.
This requires a suspension of our certainties. It requires denying human exceptionalism. And it might require animism—not necessarily the idea that plants have souls, but that they are possessed of their own purpose, worthy of our care. (After all, my philosopher argues, having a soul doesn’t preclude domination, and isn’t that what we’re all fighting in the first place? Domination, hierarchy, subjugation.) The “soul” part is irrelevant compared to how we orient ourselves, as humans, to the nonhuman. The bramble’s gift is flowering and fruit. Ours, perhaps, less tangible: abstraction, yes, and the capacity to thank. The idea is that we honor the humility and mystery of our own insignificance, as living, breathing, eating, shitting, dying things, in a world of others—not just objects. That we embrace the strange. The trends—on Instagram, and elsewhere—are maybe one response to our alienation from our own nature, our own “addled and anesthetized numbness,” our “species loneliness,” our climate grief. And we, like thirsty plants, are sending runners, searching for the water source. What if Abram and the animists are right? What if there is a “new sense of the sacred now striving to be born”?
Maybe much of this is mere semantics. The categories, once again, don’t matter. (“These things are finer spun than crude hands have any inkling of.”) All roads lead to intersectionality. The ecofeminists and instawitches, the theorists and the hedonists, the ecologists, from Kimmerer to Sprinkle: They’re all saying the same damn thing. And that thing isn’t new—having been embedded in Indigenous wisdom and ways of knowing for millennia. How might we redeem humanity and nature from the “oppressive cultural framework” of subjugation, of the hierarchies of people, species, and beings, in order to reclaim a culture of true reciprocity? It might require more people getting down with the idea that, contrary to what my husband says, we can have a relationship with plants. It boils down to: humility and mystery. It might require more than logic. It might require love.
Animism is itself a murky term. A term born of colonialism, denigration, but the umbrella for a much simpler idea: that we (humans) are not the only matter that matters. And this can take some swallowing. But the astroherbalist Sarah Corbett, founder of Rowan & Sage, speaks of “how simple reciprocity can be.” You notice a tree in your garden, flagging in the heat, and give it water. That’s one step to community. Maybe you sow some native seeds, forget the pesticides. Maybe you consider the sweet potato you’re about to eat.
It’s not to be confused with woo-woo New Age #whitepeoplebelike appropriation. It’s not a cultural buffet, where you take what serves you, leave the rest. That’s just another form of plunder, not community. Animism is a question: How can I embody my relationship to my place in the world? The answer will be personal, but simple, and requires zero stealing. We share a common heritage that goes back well beyond duality. Kimmerer writes, “Each of us comes from people who were once indigenous.” Humans have been living this way for far longer than they haven’t. And this heritage, as Abram puts it, is “by far the largest part of our human inheritance.” It is our nature. We need only remember.
The important thing is restoration, reparation. Gratitude is vital, but it’s not enough. The good news is, as Kimmerer tells us, any action on behalf of life will be reciprocated: “We restore the land, and the land restores us.” A seed takes root in toxic sludge, a fungus finds the roots, soil forms. A meadow brings a bee, a flower makes a fruit, a squirrel’s dropping plants a tree. A gardener prunes a rose, that it might bloom again.
So why not sing to trees? And why not marry them (I guess). Who am I to judge, to say how ceremony should be shaped? To say that someone else can’t show their gratitude by huffing pollen or fondling rocks in pleather unitards, provided it isn’t doing any harm? Why not put on the peacock feathers and start tonguing trees? The ecosexuals are blasted on Twitter: @wakiyan7 writes, “@VICE This is what happens when wasicu try to save the planet!” And @coristus asks, “#Ecosexual? Can’t they use a volcano first? It would certainly help natural selection,” yet they persist. A new couple, two self-styled “cyber-nympho artist-brides,” hosts another plural marriage, this time to the brine shrimp. A cinematographer in Taiwan makes “eco-porn” with men and ferns.
As it turns out, much like Indigenous scholars and activist leaders, the animists of Instagram don’t have much to say about the “movement” either. The people doing the real work of “regenerative restoration” don’t seem to have much time for those who “talk erotically to plants.” For one thing, it’s mostly white people. For another, it just feels irrelevant, perhaps a bit de trop. Sarah Corbett suggests the hypersexed and highly staged sex positivity of “ecosex” might be “overcorrecting”—a recoil from a heteronormative chokehold. But when Kimmerer writes, “there is an earthy sexuality to a garden,” I don’t think ecosex is what she has in mind. Especially when bundled with a bunch of stolen Eastern energetic practices and sold, for an exclusive price.
Still, there are recurring themes, common to every corner of this thing that I’ve surveyed—repeated by the theorist, the ecosexual, and the instawitch alike. Relationship. Connection. Healing. A lack of human “specialness.” The word praxis comes up an alarming amount. But also ceremony, prayer. Integrity and reciprocity. Responsibility. And life. Animism is a fraught word, Corbett agrees, but for now it is the best we have. These ideas may be fringe, but they are fundamental. And doing a better job than our elected officials at swerving from the course of our destruction.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you see Earth as mother, lover, or your second cousin twice-removed. You just have to see Earth as something other than a thing. Accept the gift, your own humility, the mystery. Think like a healer; do less harm. Then again, it’s not enough to stop doing bad things (particularly without confronting the systems that are forcing us to maintain this status quo). Kimmerer writes, “We have to think about what land means.” And find a way to “contribute to the well-being of the world.”
To me, this does not entail a limp-ass land acknowledgment before harnessing the elements as sex toys for the “nervous system benefits” of being fucked by Wind and Sun. The pleasure activist @myorgasmiclife can play her Shruti box upon her sheepskin rug and help her patrons to “feel good” and “express” themselves. This version of “embodied relationship,” of carnality, even of a freer, queerer sexuality, feels, well, masturbatory to me. Where is the collective? Earth here is not our shared mother, but some kind of group sex MILF.
To be honest, I feel a little gaslighted by the more entrepreneurial instawitches—when they take down their offerings, their pricelists, when they rebrand. “Ecosexual,” as well as the “containers” of the folklorist’s abundance-mindset business-coaching days, including “Butthole Money Magic,” are no longer available online. File not found. As though they never were. The Brené Brown of Pussy did not respond to my request for an interview, so I can’t know why she decided to “retire” “Ecosexual.” But when the folklorist picked up her dulcimers again, she made a new podcast, this time devoted to the project of founding the first ever pagan monastery in Europe. She follows a deep faith in her own inclinations and desires, honoring the messages from her body as messages from the divine. That’s what carried her, spore-like, from sharing sacred folk traditions through to “bliss”-led business work and back to folk traditions. It feels harmless, sacred even, until it feels all about her, and then it feels, again, orthogonal.
Maybe I’ve taken all of this too seriously. Maybe ironic/earnest is just another dualism to destroy. Maybe we’re all equally ridiculous (the white people anyway)—from the folklorist’s vocational arc to Annie Sprinkle getting watered like a flower. Maybe there’s no real difference between Kimmerer’s hope and the ecosexuals’ ironic orgy in the “sharp cinders” of our doom. (Though I much prefer the former to the latter.)But then I think of all my oracles, from the queer ancestral futurists to the astrologers. The folk mystics to the shepherd practicing regenerative farming to his wife, educating schoolkids about butterflies and making wholesome meals from homegrown food. Whether they truck in tarot cards or tinctures, whether making art or making dinner. Most seem to know that flourishing is mutual. That domination fucks us all. That every “other” driven to the margins (whether human, animal, or plant) is a being, alive for its own sake, and worthy of compassion and respect. Worthy of understanding. The common thread feels purer, deeper, even than my snark: a yearning for connection, and the delusion that we might yet save the world.
To do this, we have to do away with dualism, save the Enlightenment from its spiritual dearth. There was never any border between “human” and “nature.” Only false binaries and conquest. As Kimmerer writes, quoting Native scholar Greg Cajete, “we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit.” We’ve been thinking and dreaming with our best tools tied behind our backs, for centuries. It’s time to let the “other” in.
The “other” is a stranger. The big, wide gorgeous world is strange. Let us rejoice and be alive in it. Let’s expand our capacity for “making kin,” to make real that admittedly utopian “queer–feminist–anti-racist–eco-socialist political vision of ‘universal care.’” Or, as Corbett put it, when she was accused of devil worship: “Come join me in my radical cult of really giving a shit about people.” Where “people” means the whole animate world. Until we are all free, we are none of us free.
I think we need a new story. Literally, one that we can tell ourselves in order to live. The origin has been there for millennia. The end is up to us. Maybe animism is that story. Maybe it is animism plus the uniquely human “gift” of writing, storytelling, art. I think it’s meant to be a love story, erotic in its own way, carnal even, but likely falling somewhere short of porn. It is a discourse. We humans have never been the only interlocutors. As ecofeminist philosopher Trish Glazebrook writes, “To put it bluntly, rocks talk and I recommend listening.” Not penetrating, mind. And (probably) not fellating obsidian goddess figures either. Listening. That, too, is part of the grammar.
Environment—and here I can offer a little somersault of etymology, and tell you this word is from the Old French en (in) and viron (a circle, circuit). I’ll start small, in my own circle. In my own inspirited place. Respecting its “subtle intelligence.” I have no Indigenous knowledge, no history here, and no ancestral speech. But I can sing to the damn trees and hope they understand. (Given my black thumb, that might well be my only option.) At the very least, I can make sure to give them water when it’s hot and dry. And do what my kids still cannot: sit still, be quiet, listen, hope that I can also understand.
I can try to be a less-invasive species on this piece of land I “own.” To let my garden tame me, teach me. To reach to find my own names for the seasons—the time of snowdrops on the heels of winter; the time of daffodils; the month of yellow—gorse and full-bloom oilseed rape; the month of pink; of blanching heat—of sunburnt barley, thistle spores, and wheat. And then to mark them, somehow, with gratitude, with generosity, with rituals that may not look like prayer, but will be meant that way, as Kimmerer writes, “in return for the privilege of breath.”