Dr. Shauneen Pete is a professor in Leadership Studies at the University of Victoria. She is from Little Pine First Nation in Treaty 6 territory (Saskatchewan, Canada). I am supporting settler students to gain a deeper understanding of the impacts of ongoing settler colonialism. My goal is to expand their understanding of Indigenization and decolonization in higher education with a view toward reconciliation. For me, that work must focus on how we view our relationship with land and non-human others.
I went out to my dad's porch where I like to sit and stare at stray cats while making noises to summon them because it felt like the perfect place to engage in this provocation. As I recited what I saw My mind went on a train of thought connecting the words I was saying. I’d note something like the sewer drain and think: drain to rain, rain to water, water to plants, etc. I formed mental venn diagrams of how the different objects around me related to each other and felt more interconnected with the scene as I asserted that I, too, was the gray cat with yellow eyes. When I asked who called me here today, I felt as though the answer was something communicated in a different kind of language. The way patterns emerge in nature can be a way of communicating a message, just like how math is considered the universal language. I thought of what I saw and doodled the imagery that came to mind, connecting everything to each other just as I’d observed everything was related in nature. The result was a bizarre and cluttered tapestry which reflects my mind mapped out onto the world.
Shauneen’s provocation builds awareness of our surroundings and what we can learn from them. Her provocation centers around land as our teacher. When listening to her audio recording it reminded me of guided meditation. The difference was she was guiding me into an awareness of the land around me.
The space I chose for her provocation was my outdoor patio. This space is special to me because it is where I create and where I relax. It is my little slice of nature when I do not have time for a hike or adventure. When listening to her audio recording, I attuned myself to this space. I felt myself become part of this space. I saw my beautiful-raised garden with flowers and new growth stretching toward the sky. I saw the wind chime my mother gifted to me. I saw the table where I sit and have my coffee in the morning. I saw the sculpture I created. I became all these things in which I surrounded myself with.
I believe the point of this exercise was to re-center myself in the present and realign with nature. I could feel my focus shift from the many homework assignments and tasks that needed to be done today to just being. All my hurried thoughts dissipated, and I just existed. I existed within and as part of my special space. The world gets quiet, and you feel a pull from the very earth you are sitting on. In that moment you are a part of that space and nothing else. This is the same feeling I get when I hike a mountain, kayak a river or scuba dive in the ocean. I exist only with and as nature. I am no longer bound by the rules and demands of society. I am this organic being that is part of nature. I am no longer separate from it.
I Am Here
These past few months, I hardly had the chance to go to my favorite places, out of the city. Away from being stuck in my apartment. Always on the go, without a chance to slow down. I did a quick visit to Bullhead City, Arizona, where a few family members live. Right next to the majestic Colorado River. It was nice to really look and appreciate it for the beauty that it is. I’ve got so used to visiting and just driving by, I wasn’t really seeing and listening to nature. My mind is always racing to my daily life schedule. I was called to the river to find peace and connect with the land. To say I was all the things that I saw, I noticed the change in me. I felt peaceful, and relaxed. My current everyday life worries gone. I felt as if I belonged. Not just someone who passes by, not just a visitor. I am part of the beauty of life around me. I AM HERE, IN THE NOW.
I see grandma’s spider web
I see fallen baby leaves
I see three cousin’s the trees
I see father sky in blue
I see my protector rocks
I see my twin shadow
The shift has me thinking I am of all that surrounds me, I am not different but apart, connected to this beautiful existence.
Connecting to land
Soft gentle/tender touches of the wind, the sun warming my right leg, the shadow cooling my left leg, who’s calling me?
The wind with its freeness, begins to sing a melody not only for my ears to hear but my mind body soul and what surrounds me. As long as there is wind life is present.
The shift brings my brother pencil to dance freely with scribbles but not carelessly. A message that takes meaning only for me. The wind has taught me to take flight in the mist of chaos, I take a deep breath…
Close my eyes
Thank you, Axhe’hee’
I followed Shunee’s voice and found myself on the riverbed down the road from my house. A sacred place, that has seen me in many different forms but all raw and authentically myself.
I see the calming river
I see the leaves falling from the trees
I see kids in the distance playing with the top swing
I see soft sand and river rocks
I don’t get a lot of opportunities to be quiet. For me, sitting and being still is often a luxury as I always have more work or homework to do. I don’t like this about myself, and I feel the effects of having taken even just 5 minutes to listen through this audio and allow myself a moment to just be connected to the world around me.
I am the leaves falling from the tree
I am the sunshine peaking through the clouds
I am the rushing river - strong but calm
I feel much more calm, collected, and peaceful than I did before. My senses are heightened and in tune to the river, birds, and leaves rustling around me. I didn’t rush this moment but allowed it to come to the fullness of what it was designed for, while I laid with my eyes closed focused and attentive.
Sitting on the roof,
I see a bird
The roofs of other houses
A leaf falling from a tree
The sun peeking from behind the mountains, rising to call for the day to commence
I am the bird
I am the tree
I am the sunrise.
Deep breath in, I become more aware of nature.
The wind breezes against my skin. It doesn’t consume my warmth, but it speaks to me. Danger may be upon me as I sit on what could become a fragile component. I am a vessel but all vessels have their breaking point. From there, the element of restoration is not something that can be considered. My consciousness comes back to their senses and alerts me that tranquility can guide me to safety. Safety from physical harm. I reanalyze my surroundings, seeing the birds again. The calmness washes over me again.
When I close my eyes and try not to focus in on a specific sound, it almost feels like I am mediating. I am one with the nature that surrounds me. Below is a screenshot of one of the samples I recorded when I stepped outside of my house. I ran this sample through the program Sonic Visualizer, which can map out different aspects of recordings and can help give us a better understanding of the nature that surrounds us.
This sample mainly follows the calls of a single bird. It chirps 5 times, 4 times, 6, and then immediately follows with continuous trilling. Another bird can be heard calling from time to time at a higher pitch than the other. The spectral centroid line is following the calls of first bird, which is the loudest in the sample. The spectral kurtosis line shows the different frequencies of the bird calls. The two birds’ calls can be distinguished by the height of the purple lines during the sample. Since the second bird chirps at a higher frequency, we can indicate that it chirps within the sample where the purple lines are at its tallest.
For my serene place, I initially went to a dedicated patch of the game trail that runs through our farm. In summer the prickly pear and wildflowers are in full bloom, and the sage grouse are near the sagebrush here. It is dedicated to my grandfather, a hardworking wildlife biologist, who gave me everything. However, when I looked into the garden right next to the one holding this game trail, I noticed the tumbleweeds piled in the corner of the fence, a stark contrast to the beautiful wildfires. There are an excess of them as we are facing such a horrible drought right not. But it makes one wonder, how did this land become so dry and barren, when it was once full of lively, beautiful flowers. I am the tumbleweeds, as are the other byproducts of colonialization. We have stripped the land of its lusciousness, and now we are left with a barren wasteland. Though, the land is perseverant and strong, and will always find a way to grow new flowers, even if they are lesser in number.
I went outside to my balcony where I grow my plants and looked out at the expansive overgrown forest beyond it. I sat down on my couch and got comfortable as I stared out into the shiny sea of trees. This is what I noticed:
The wind is powerful and strong, peaceful, soothing and calm, and is breath.
The trees are collective, breathing, dancing, conversing, overgrown, and wild.
The clouds slide across the sky slowly, crawling, expansive, staring at the sun.
The balcony plants are confined, connected, growing, happy, lively.
I am the wind, I am powerful and strong but also peaceful and calm. I am soothing, the breath of the world.
I am the trees, I’m the breathing collective. I dance and talk silently, living overgrown and wild and free.
I am the clouds that slide across the sky slowly, I creep and crawl above the ground. I am expansive and of the sky as I stare at the sun.
I am the balcony plants, connected though confined. I grow with the rest of my friends, we are lively and happy and connected to each other and the forest beyond.
Elegance, the way the orange seamlessly fades into the blue which eventually cloaks the sky with darkness.
I am the sky.
Soft, the way the sand takes the shape underneath you as you walk. Vast, the way the sand stretches on and reaches deep, there is always more.
I am the sand.
Alone, the way the cactus stands on its own, resilient in harsh conditions, a contrast against its environment. Sharp, the way the cactus can defend itself against predators.
I am the cactus.
I see the trees; I see the dirt. I see the sky and the birds. I see the weeds intermingling with the flowers, like they might as well be the same thing out here. I see the mountain that has watched me grow all of my life, and the snow on top of that mountain. I see the insects, the ants on the ground and the butterflies in the air. I am all of these things, I feel them as part of the unconscious mind and recognize them as legitimate parts of our reality, things that have just as much right to be here as I do.
I also see people, so many people. I see the things these people leave behind too. I see the wrappers of protein bars, and the remains of a plastic water bottle littering the ground. I pick them up and throw them in the trash can not 20 feet from the spot I am occupying. There used to be a huge boulder in my spot, I still see it in my mind’s eye. I sat on that rock for what seems like years, reading, mediating or just existing. It’s gone now, because this spot is now a popular hiking trail that has to accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, of people a day. 10 years ago, it was only me here, now I can’t even hear the sounds of nature around me, only people’s voices and music played on a Bluetooth speaker hanging off some guy’s backpack. Am I also these people, and the trash I scavenged? I feel them far less than I feel the wind and trees and sky. As I leave, I thank this place for being a safe haven for me for so much of my youth by picking up more trash. And then I say goodbye, as I haven’t been here for years, and I may never come back.
Tsz Hu C.
I took a video of me walking around my own yard actually, but for privacy reasons will submit a transcript of what I saw instead. I chose to do this to first collect information instead of just sitting out there and writing it all down afterwards because I always need to keep my anxious dog with me and I needed a way to keep an eye on her and do the assignment outside at the same time. I also figure that this will help as visual inspiration for the final journal or doodle I create later.
…My little brown dog pick something off the floor (thankfully, she didnt eat it)
…Crunchy, yellowing grass getting drier with the summer
…A line of pine trees installed as a sound barrier against the freeway
…A little brown butterfly with yellow wingtips
…Trees from all different kinds in our yard, wonder where in the world they came from
…Delicate little weeds amongst spikier little weeds in the dirt
…Brown vines (cascading the wall)
…A little lizard with its back turned to us, and now it’s gone
…A gnarled old stump
…Old woodworking projects my dad started and gave up on
…Our basil plant
…Our old BBQ grill we’ve never used
…Bright pink bougainvillea plant right next to my white, iron gate—they’re so common here in Los Angeles, but every time someone from out of town comes here, they’re so fascinated by these things.”
I replayed the video to myself and after each time I said “I see ___”, I repeated “I am ___” with intention.
When I did this, I felt more enmeshed with the plants and animals in my yard the more I repeated “I am” statements. It helped to have my eyes closed and not see my own physical body as I did this. As the list went on, I noticed that there are themes of contrast that exist everywhere in the natural world that reflect my own being—spiky and soft plants growing together, different species of trees that have different shapes and colours, the old stump being both a living and dead object at the same time. It made me think that suburbia is a strange place of many contradictions.
After this, I asked the land, “who called me here today?”
In my mind, I heard “you.”
This made me consider the concept that my subconscious, my higher self, led me out in nature today and that I can trust my own internal compass to bring me to water—to bring me to the place where I will best be nourished, even if I’m not entirely sure why at first when I first hear the call from my intuition.
And here is what I chose to make from my reflections.
It was starting to get cold this week so I was worried about going outside and how it may feel to sit and be present for a few moments, bundled up nonetheless I went outside and was immediately greeted by the warm voice of Shauneen Pete. She made me feel like the land I was on was always trying to communicate with me. It took a special kind of listening and a special kind of questioning to become the event that it was. I worked through looking at the colors around me in the sky, the few birds that were singing and the trees scattered with branches and brush on the ground below. I was reminded that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I am grounded in that statement as of now and think that it will become my mantara to work through for the next few weeks. I am a busy individual and feel that I always need to be thinking ahead when in reality, I am never actually thinking actively. I just recall how busy I am and then forget where I am for a bit. This video helped me just to take a small moment to love where I was and appreciate it. These are a few pictures of the sky I had taken this week after listening to this little video, I had to stop and slow down to think about how lucky I am to see these little bits of nature even living in the city.
I just bought a house in a brand new subdivision, and I bought the lot I did because of the waterway behind the house, ensuring my view will never be plagued by neighbors, and instead my backyard slopes gently into a grassy waterway. I went to lay in the grass, in the middle of the yard so my view was not impeded by fence posts, and stared at the sky right at sundown.
I see the burnt orange rays from the sun. I see the violet night sky returning. I see the north star, and the little dipper. I see Orion. I see the rain clouds in the distance. I see the grass, growing freely and unmowed, swaying in the breeze. I see milkweed, with it’s white petals and attractive resting place for butterflies. I see the gardenbox I built, barren until spring. I’ve always felt this connection with nature. I am the sunrays. I am the night sky. I am the north star, and I am the little dipper. I am Orion with his mighty sword. I am the rainclouds, inching closer. I am the grass, growing wild and free. I am the milkweed, growing beautifully in a place not meant for me. I am part of this land, even if it was not mine. My roots grow here just as deep as the tree saplings in the front yard.
Deep breath, I am rooted to this spot. Who called me here today? Well, who called me here almost every night? My favorite spot to sit and watch the Earth turn while my head is in the stars. I return here often just to hear my own thoughts unencumbered by those around me. No phone, no music, none of my usual distractions. I like to cry here sometimes, when I miss my friend, or I’ve had a rough day at work, and I swear, when I cry the stars seem to lean in a little closer and whisper, “I am here, and I do not judge you.” It helps me feel less alone in those moments. Pete asks us to go to a park for this exercise, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near the suburban park a block away, when I have this little piece of zen heaven in my own backyard. I have spent the better part of an hour laying in the grass, looking at the stars, and letting my problems drift away in the night-kissed breeze.
How can I thank the stars? How can I thank the moon shyly playing in the sunset’s last golden hour? Thank you for listening, thank you for reminding me that my problems are not so big. Thank you grass for keeping me warm. Thank you breeze for cooling the summer heat, but staying away during frigid autumn nights. Thank you milkweeds for reminding me that even though I am not originally part of this land, I have a place here. Thank you for the sunset which brings out the olive in my skin and the ocean in my eyes.
I am grateful for this place, for this bit of calm. Thank you.
Shauneen’s provocation forced me to see the true innocence and beauty of the world in which I am present. I went to Malibu beach to feel truly present with her voice. It was a soothing activity which grounded me with the world. I set aside my day to do this project and focus on everything going on around me. I took videos and pictures to reflect on later.
I see the sand, flowing in the wind. I see the water, coming in and out with the waves as they crash into my legs. I see people laughing with one another. I see quiet. I see peace. I see the birds landing on the sand and pecking away to find food. I see the sun in the sky, going down slowly to reveal a beautiful sunset.
I close my eyes to take in the cool winter breeze. I hear the howling of wind in perfect harmony with the mating call of coyotes as they scour for food and plants. The height of the fir trees loom over me as I am enveloped in greenery and my senses flourish. The flower beds beckon for nourishment, as they add color to an otherwise blue-gray sky. I am beckoned to call on these trees for advice of my own convoluted path, as they have withstood the tests of time and second to none in experiences. As I sip my coffee underneath the protection of the fir tree I feel at peace and one with nature, taking in the beauty of the Earth I live on as the clean air erases my body of toxins and stress. I am one with nature, as I strive to leave my footprint in this world just as how the flowering buds yearn to add beauty to our monotonous routine of life.