CULTIVATING INTENTION: ALI MEDERS-KNIGHT, MECHOOPDA MAIDU
Ali Meders-Knight is a Mechoopda Tribal member whose traditional and present homelands are based in interior Northern California. A mother of five, and a traditional basketweaver in Chico, California, she is also a tribal liaison working to form partnerships for federal forest stewardship contracting and tribal forestry programs authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.
As Ali expresses in all aspects of her cultivating practice, especially as founder of the Chico Traditional Ecological Knowledge Program:
"Wassa Honi Mep! (Keep your heart's intentions good!)”
Ali has been a Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) practitioner for over 20 years, creating, collaborating on and leading decolonized environmental education and land restoration projects with Chico State University and the City of Chico. In 2009 she envisioned and helped to manifest a unique 17-acre interactive food forest and interpretive park in North Chico known as Verbena Fields.
This restoration of a small slice of degraded watershed and its native plants works to heal land while educating the larger human community about the rich ecological heritage of the Mechoopda people.
On this first day of July, as we here in the US head into a holiday weekend celebrating the privilege of citizenship, I am pleased to have this annual exploration about gardener citizens with Ali. She (and I along with her) is a firm believer in, and outstanding model in her place for the power of traditional ecological knowledge held in land and people as a pathway to healthfully reintegrating human communities and economies with land and traditional land stewards.
Photos courtesy of Chico TEK and Ali Meders-Knight.
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JOIN US again next week, when we continue our annual early July exploration of gardener citizens in conversation with Dr. Bonnie Clark, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Denver sharing with us about her many years of researching the gardening practices of Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II at Camp Amache on the high-plains of Southern Colorado. Listen in then!
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Thinking out loud this week:
I am thinking this week about the idea of embodied knowledge – what it means, and how we tap into it, steward and amplify it as we move forward in these times and from these times – especially as gardeners. Embodied knowledge = those things we know in our bodies because we have learned them through our bodies – we know the sound of the robins and wrens all chatty in the morning is a sign of spring nests, we know the feel of soil that holds just the right amount of moisture or organic material because we have worked with that soil and our plants in that soil long enough for our finger tips and eyes, even our noses to know that it is just right, or a little too damp or a little too dry. We know too when our plants our happy or they are in need of something by the mere sheen of their leaves, or the timing of their fruit or flowers.
In this conversation with Ali, she knows from her long life working in native watersheds of her place that willow is happier growing with mugwort – that willow grown and cared for, harvested and prepared in this particular way makes for the best basket material - this is embodied knowledge known through time and space, from years of her own experience embedded in generations of her families’ associations caring for and working in and with these same environments. It is how we know our mother languages – our spoken language and our body languages.
The idea of stewarding and amplifying embodied knowledge is reflected not only in this conversation with Ali, but also in my decision to judiciously partner with individuals, organizations and institutions whose embodied and codified knowledge aligns with my mission at Cultivating Place in serving our gardening community – groups like the American Horticultural Society whose 100 years of gardening and horticultural knowledge is an asset I would like to see amplified and grown along even better as we all move forward – because together we grow the world better the finely attuned we are to the knowledge embodied in all of us.
In the last two Cultivating Place conversations – first with Jessica Walliser and next with Kelly Norris, I asked you all to share with me some of your embodied knowledge – of summer sounds, and ecological homebase for you and I got some wonderful memories and shared imprints your places have made on you over your lifetimes: from Rebecca of fireflies in the humid heat of a western Massachusetts summer evening, the fireflies often accompanied by the high whine of mosquitos feeding and meadow grasses waving lit by the fireflies above; I heard from another Jennifer of the sound and scent of the electricity of late afternoon thunder and lightening at altitude on a Colorado mountainside, and from Emily of that distinctive scent of a dry landscape – Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada – after a brief summer shower – the petricore of sagebrush and creosote. I heard stories from Betty Ann of the lush sound of peepers in the tidal marshes of South Carolina’s Low Country, and the resurrection ferns woken with rain on old live oak branches. Denise talked about smell of sunscreen and sand in her summer lunches on the beach…sand accumulated in her summer shoes and in the bottom of her summer bags….Charles shared the impression of happy, warm, unguarded summer people singing and skating and sunning in Central Park....
Our bodies know so much more than we can fathom all at once. They know all that we have seen and smelled, touched and held in our lifetimes – for better or worse, but definitely including all the gardens, all the plants, all the forests, rivers, coastlines, mountain ranges, and meadows.
And all of this embodied knowledge holds guidance too, I think. Good guidance and touchstones for our garden lives going forward.
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