One of my top three favorite things to do as a kid-besides hiding behind the huge wall of a prickly pear cactus in my backyard or laying on one of two hammocks that were between the three cherry trees to space out-was climbing trees. Hurling my lil’ brown body higher, higher with a tinge of fear and courage coursing through me was truly beyond amazing!
My neighborhood had lots of trees. Magnolia. Oak. Citrus. Apricot. Cherry. My elementary school’s playground-just a few blocks from my house-is now a city park with its abundance of trees, grass and other plant life. My family didn’t have much, yet we were surrounded by momma nature’s bounty and that helped me channel all the bad shit away. At least for a spell.
I didn’t realize how fortunate I was until I moved to Oakland/Huichin and worked at an elementary school in East Oakland/Huichin. Nothing but concrete for kids to play on.
About two weeks ago I returned from visiting my homeland where I spent many days not far from the place where I came into this realm. My placenta was buried by a palm tree not long after I came to be. The belief is that I would grow strong like the roots of the tree. Anhatapu is the name for tree in my indigenous language, Pure’hpecha the original people of my home state Michoacan. Michoacan is pine tree/anhatapu land. Pine trees covered the land of my birth home, yet decades of deforestation have had devastating effects on the ecosystem. Droughts and record high temperatures have caused regular crop failures. All of these factors have culminated in many generations of my family members having health problems along with all other life forms suffering.
Sound familiar? How long was our drought? And how much good rain have we had this season? Our friends north and south of us can remind us of what the lack of rain feeds-fire and lots of it! So how helpful would it be to ship coal through Oakland? Just like what was the real point of cutting down the mature trees growing along East 14th Street in East Oakland/Huichin to pave the way for the BRT-Bus Rapid Transit? Sure the BRT will make us zoom along from the deep to downtown. So what!
True story: East Oakland/Huichin residents have offensively high rates of asthma as well as lower life expectancy. So how is planting new trees to replace all that abundant oxygen their ancestors gave off gonna help a young or elder resident of the deep East?
The wise John Trudell once said, “We are all here to play a role. And all of the animals and all of the life on earth is playing its proper role. Except the human people. Somehow we are betraying, we are betraying our purpose here and that is why we live in the confusion we live in.”
Many moons ago I lived in Arizona and before I decided to live there I asked the Saguaro cacti if I should move there. I heard a yes. I know that the Tohono O’odham people honor those sentient beings so I felt it only proper to ask for permission of the elders of the land before making my move.
I am not advocating going to live in a tree ala Julia Butterfly. Its a privilege few of us can afford. Yet at a certain point as this world, our world, literally burns down from all the extraction that is damaging it, damaging us-we must make the connection. The killing of the trees, the killing of the land in the name of progress is killing us. And most of us know it and most of us accept it. How many of our family members or loved ones have diabetes, have died from cancer, have asthma, high blood pressure?
I will not betray my purpose here. Food is medicine and the more we have moved away from honoring the land, the more we have disconnected ourselves from our purpose. We must remember who we were, why our ancestors fought to keep their ways alive even when it cost them their last breath. It wasn’t for us to zoom around, to build up concrete jungles and die unnaturally.
I alone can’t do it, we all need to remember. And it starts, I believe with the end of the killing of the trees. Imagine a better way, a better purpose and somehow, someway make it happen. Chico Mendes, Bertha Caceres and all of our combined ancestors, including the next seven generations, are counting on us.
A little prayer for the trees
For Chico Mendes by: Ana Castillo
I wonder if in heaven
someone sees how each
day an acre is felled
somewhere in the world.
We will all die a more or
less natural death
but I pray that someone
big with big words, big
above or on earth,
beyond or below, will
raise a big hand and
stop the killing of the