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Posts Tagged ‘Potawatomi’

You know that Adam named the animals and T.S. Eliot the cats. Now Maria Popova at Brain Pickings delves into a Native American author’s book on the naming of mosses and other aspects of the natural environment.

“To name a thing is to acknowledge its existence as separate from everything else that has a name,” says Popova, “to confer upon it the dignity of autonomy while at the same time affirming its belonging with the rest of the nameable world; to transform its strangeness into familiarity, which is the root of empathy. …

“And yet names are words, and words have a way of obscuring or warping the true meanings of their objects. ‘Words belong to each other,’ Virginia Woolf observed in the only surviving recording of her voice, and so they are more accountable to other words than to the often unnameable essences of the things they signify.

“That duality of naming is what Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Thoreau of botany, explores with extraordinary elegance in Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (public library) — her beautiful meditation on the art of attentiveness to life at all scales.

“As a scientist who studies the 22,000 known species of moss — so diverse yet so unfamiliar to the general public that most are known solely by their Latin names rather than the colloquial names we have for trees and flowers — Kimmerer sees the power of naming as an intimate mode of knowing. As the progeny of a long lineage of Native American storytellers, she sees the power of naming as a mode of sacramental communion with the world. …

“Drawing on her heritage — her family comes from the Bear Clan of the Potawatomi — Kimmerer adds:

In indigenous ways of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. Words and names are the ways we humans build relationships, not only with each other, but also with plants.

[…]

Intimate connection allows recognition in an all-too-often anonymous world… Intimacy gives us a different way of seeing.

More at Brain Pickings.

At the suggestion of Brain Pickings, I am deep into a biography of Beatrix Potter and her scientific work drawing and learning the names of mushrooms. Like mosses, they are multitudinous but generally lacking common names.

Photo: Robin Wall Kimmerer

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