Feeling warm nectarine juice dripping down my chin; watching chickadees snatching seeds before the jays can monopolize the bird feeder; getting caught in the mingling sexy scents of the trio of tomato plants, I remember the bit of text from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that Isobel’s father and I borrowed to use on her birth announcement: “…A single cell quivers at a windy embrace; it swells and splits, it bubbles into a raspberry…Soon something perfect is born. Something wholly new rides the wind.”
I can’t help but think about the raspberry shoots dug up from Fred’s overgrown garden last summer (the garden’s last summer) and then transferred into a newly prepared plot in my side yard. Fred’s gone, and now his garden is gone, too, but this summer we’re enjoying a new generation of Fred’s raspberries—three handfuls, so far.
(There’s a soon-to-be-occupied huge new house sitting on top of Fred’s garden, covering the ground where the raspberry canes, artichokes, asparagus, irises, and ancient fig tree used to dwell. But that’s a story for another time.)
Before I ate the nectarine, I had been intentionally contemplating my ancestors. I was reminding myself of — or, rather, I was trying to remember – the creatures from whom I’ve come, the creatures whose miraculous existences millennia ago preceded my existence and my daughter’s existence. I was day-dreaming about the spiral of development and transformation across time of which we are all a part.
I was imagining how if were I to draw my creaturely family tree it would begin with multiple species of microbes, followed by worms and snails, then fishes, amphibians, dinosaurs, reptiles and (my favorite ancient family members) birds. Long before my Gramma Jewell shows up on the family tree, and long before her grammas and all the generations of grammas (and grandpas, and mammas and papas and all the other human kin) who came before her, there was Gramma dinosaur, Gramma sturgeon, Gramma tree frog, and Gramma goose.
And don’t forget the plants! There are also a ton of plants in my family tree, because on this planet creatures and plants can’t do anything without each other.
I realize again that the strong concepts I’ve been circling around in so much of my recent thinking, writing and praxis – legacy, kinship, and elderhood, to name three – have transpersonal, cross-creaturely, and metaphysical resonances. When we think about the human journey – being alive at/in this time/place/space – let’s not forget the other creatures with whom, because of whom, we travel. When we think about our kin, our elders, our ancestors, and our descendents, let’s remember the resplendent living world of creatures – not just human beings — with whom we are inexorably interconnected. When we think about answering the call to become an elder – now or in the future – let’s expand our conceptualization of this sacred vocation to include a commitment to doing our part to heal the world and all its creatures, not just in the present or on behalf of near-future generations, but on behalf of far-future generations of creatures of all sorts (even sorts which don’t yet exist!) whom may never know we even existed.
Maybe our far-future kin will contemplate our existence so long ago in the very distant past (which is our present, now!), perhaps they will imagine our special place in their family tree, and they will be grateful that we not only existed but developed and transformed in such a particularly perfect way that something wholly new could one day ride the wind.