how to love privatized land
there's a place near where I live that I call "no man's land", a wild swath of earth and creek that's been abandoned for over a decade. It's 80 acres of buckeye, bay, alder, willow, a quiet creek where salmon once ran, and a rambling path full of nettle, horsetail, and hemlock. I've weeded out the poison hemlock, napped by the creek, and gathered nettles here for almost a decade. the plants have pulled me into this place.
But recently, the land was sold and it has suddenly become a place I am no longer welcome. It feels wrong to walk the overgrown path that now 'belongs' to someone else, even though there's no sign of them yet. From the road I can see the creek needs clearing and the hemlock weeding, but I'm somehow not supposed to care anymore.
How quickly we can go from knowing our place among things to being uprooted and without purpose.
Not far from this lot is an old Miwok village site. There's also a massive home peaking out of the forest 'next door'. It's an interesting intersection of how things were ordered in the past and what we've come to see as normal in the present. Privatized land, with fences and borders, weakens our ability to read the land; to follow the creek's curves or find the biggest patch of nettle. It's like trying to be a lover to someone with too many clothes on...
But seriously, what do we lose when we are no longer welcome to stand where our ancestors' ancestors stood? What wisdom gets lost without access to land?
My father was born at the height of a war. When he was just 4, the land was seized by another country, and he was shipped out to never return. He was banned from his homeland for the duration of his life. Up until his last days, he longed to return to that patch of earth that somehow still felt like home, even with all the decades and miles in between. No wonder people who've been displaced from their native land long for it generation after generation, as the indigenous people of this country do. Even the gangs cling to street corners in defiant ownership, as Ta Nahesi Coates reminds us.
Although sometimes it feels near impossible to change the reality of privatized living, it's vital to feed hope with ideas about what it might look like if we lived in a way where land was not something to own but something to share. (One of my favorite writers about active hope is Rebecca Solnit.) And in fact, there's a community across the road from "no man's land" with a smattering of small off grid homes tucked gently into the valleys, where folks live lightly and fences are erected to keep sheep in, not people out. Seeing this I take note of how to inhabit hope...how might we fold ourselves into the land and meet in the cool mossy crevices and shady creeks of our lives? What might we speak of then, there?
may our hearts give rise to answers.
~frieda kipar bay, rh