In a sense we have forgotten what is means to be human. The words human and humus share a common etymological root that means earth. While some pose possible post-human futures in which we merge with robots, upload the contents of our brains to computers, and colonize Mars as a way of escaping our responsibilities here on planet Earth, plants have been guiding me and many others through processes of what I call re-humanization. Re-humanization is a remembrance that we are of this Earth. Re-humanization is all about presence to our living world.
Whether we realize it or not who we are and the ways we act in the world are influenced by the many connections and relationships we share with the world around us. This includes all parts of the various ecosystems we inhabit: social, political, economic, epistemological, and even the technological ecosystems within which so many of us spend so much of our time these days interacting with the digital entities that populate them.
When we operate from a true place of integrity, which fundamentally requires an awareness of our myriad connections within the web of life, we act not only in our own self interest but for the good of the greater whole, and as we recognize the agency and subjective experience of the nonhuman persons with whom we are inextricably bound on all levels of our beings (theirs and ours) a subtle but growing sense of our collective agency arises in the face of the unfathomable. The question is: Will our human attempts to ignore these visceral experiences outlast the increasingly insistent impulse to wake up and reorient?
How do we make the necessary personal, cultural, and political changes that will guide and inform the transition from a human-centered way of being to an earth-centered orientation that respects the rights of all forms of life to freely exist and to thrive? If, as is becoming increasingly clear, the health and viability of our species, individually and collectively, is inextricably intertwined with that of every member and component of the Earth community, is it possible for humans to maintain our present orientation to the world?
We have gathered together here today to welcome a new being to this Earth. To share in this joyous celebration of life we call the ancestors of our family—all of those people who have worked so hard to stay alive and who amidst all the pain and suffering of this world found a way to bring forth, with care and tenderness, the children that were our great, great, and great grandparents and their progenitors.
Woody lower branches with shredding bark stand erect. Sticky, yellow-green new-growth stems produce lance-shaped, 2- to 6-inch-long, usually hairless leaves. These toothed or smooth-edged leaves are dark green, sticky, and glossy above with hairs between the veins that form a net-like pattern on their lighter-colored undersides. Flowering stalks, lined with 1/3- to 2/3-inch-long tubular flowers that vary in color from white to pink to purple, unfurl like a scorpion’s tail from late spring to early summer.
Imagine you are out in the field sitting in a stand of wild plants. You have positively identified the plant and are sure that it is not endangered or toxic. To determine whether it is sustainable and ethical to harvest this plant, clear your mind and ground yourself. Tune in to your surroundings. Open your heart and use all of your senses. Very carefully observe the area around you with an unattached mind and ask yourself these questions.
Once while on a search for cascara sagrada, I found a tree with many inward growing branches that was perfect for harvesting. I asked permission and the tree said “no.” I was baffled, but as I continued up the trail just a bit, I found a tree with a large broken branch that was still full of life and ripe for harvest.
The history of the expansion of human communities across the globe is filled with stories of plants that we can no longer harvest from the wild in good conscience. As the final frontier of American migration, the western part of North America has fewer chapters to contribute to this sad tale, but we still need to be acutely aware of plants that grow very slowly, plants whose habitat is diminished by human development, or plants whose popularity is leading to more being harvested than the land can support.