As Earth Day approaches many of us focus on doing. Lists of ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle are abundant, and it’s a necessary piece of our responsibilities as we mark Earth Day each year. We created this resource a couple of years ago to help with just that. This year, however, we would like to go a bit deeper, and reflect on our relationship with the planet that sustains us, specifically from the perspective of mothers and motherhood.
As mothers, there is nothing more precious to us than the bond we share with our children. It’s a connection that runs deep, built on a foundation of unconditional love, nurturing, and protection. As we celebrate Earth Day, we are reminded that our roles as mothers extend beyond our human children, to the earth itself, the mother of all life. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need to connect with the natural world in order to protect it, and this has been reflected in some remarkable books on the subject. Two books that stand out in this regard are Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Both books explore the ways in which we can deepen our connection with the earth and the living beings that inhabit it.
Two of the central themes of Braiding Sweetgrass are the importance of reciprocity and motherhood. Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, believes we need to develop a sense of gratitude and reverence for the natural world, and to recognize that we are part of a larger community of beings. As a woman, she connects the traditional indigenous caregiving and teaching roles of motherhood to the ability and need to also care for and mother our entire world. As she tirelessly works to clean a pond for her daughters to swim in, she sees her responsibility to protect and care for all the other plants and animals who use the space, many of whom are also mothers. She writes, “we need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.” In other words, we are not separate from the earth, but rather, we are deeply connected to it, and we need to treat it with the respect and care that it deserves.
To illustrate this point, Kimmerer shares stories from her own life and from Native American traditions such as the Thanksgiving Address (take a few minutes to read it in its entirety and to also listen to an exploration of a few aspects by the Haudenosaunee), highlighting the ways in which plants and animals have played a vital role in sustaining human life for thousands of years. The address beautifully thanks mother earth, the waters, fish, plants, animals, trees, winds, the Thunders, the sun, and Grandmother moon, the stars, the Wisdom Keepers, the creator, and more, with each thanks ending with ‘and now our minds are one’. Kimmerer also describes the importance of the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash), which were traditionally grown together by Native Americans, and which provided a balanced diet and enriched the soil. She speaks about the Honorable Harvest, an Indigenous set of principles that set ethical guidelines for taking earth’s bounty to ensure continued riches for generations to come. Through these stories, Kimmerer shows us that the earth is not just a collection of resources to be exploited, but rather, a living, breathing community of beings that we are privileged to be a part of. She challenges us to think about our relationship with the natural world, and to consider how we can give back in meaningful ways.
Similarly, in Finding the Mother Tree, Suzanne Simard explores the interconnectedness of the forest ecosystem, and the role that trees play in sustaining life on earth. Simard, a forest ecologist, has spent years studying the complex relationships between trees and other plants, and she argues that we need to rethink our understanding of forests as mere collections of individual trees. Instead, Simard suggests that we need to think of forests as “superorganisms,” in which trees and other plants communicate and support one another through a vast network of underground fungi. She describes the role of “mother trees,” which are older, larger trees that play a key role in the forest ecosystem by sharing nutrients with other trees and supporting seedlings. “When Mother Trees—the majestic hubs at the center of forest communication, protection, and sentience—die, they pass their wisdom to their kin, generation after generation, sharing the knowledge of what helps and what harms, who is friend or foe, and how to adapt and survive in an ever-changing landscape. It’s what all parents do.” Through her research, Simard shows us that trees are not solitary beings, but rather, they are deeply connected to one another and to the larger ecosystem. She argues that we need to recognize this interconnectedness and work to protect it, in order to ensure the health and well-being of the planet as a whole.
As mothers, we have a unique and profound connection with the earth. It is our responsibility to foster that connection in ourselves and our children, and to instill in them a deep sense of reverence, gratitude, and responsibility towards the earth. By nurturing this connection, we can raise a generation of environmentally conscious individuals who will carry forward the legacy of protecting and preserving our precious mother earth for future generations.