Armchair Birding – March 2017
Turning homeward: restoring hope and nature in the urban wild, by adrienne ross scanlan
This small book speaks quietly; it is not by accident that the title, subtitle, and author’s name appear in lower-case type on the cover. This memoir, almost a meditation, gains power, though, as Scanlan digs deeper into the questions that arise as she examines herself and her surroundings for a path toward that place many of us seek: Home. And more importantly, how to live in that home once discovered or created in a consciously caring way.
I find myself drawn, again and again, to this subject of making a home. My reading is often guided by two linked preoccupations: “I am not from here,” and “Can I become native to this place?” Scanlan’s story of her work grappling with just these issues acknowledges that longing that we transients suffer and puzzle over. She begins right there and wades into the issue of displacement and home-making through her exploration of what makes this place one she can claim. Parenthetically, even for those who live in the Northwest from birth or long lineage, it still requires attention, knowledge and active involvement to truly inhabit this special environment.
For her the answer is the study and conservation of our iconic Northwest salmon and the waters that nurture them. She gets wet and even a little slimy if necessary handling salmon bodies, counting salmon, creating habitat for salmon, and learning all she can about these complicated beings. In her quest, she embraces a holistic life-cycle approach, from salmon eggs to returning salmon, and teaches us the needs of each phase: what it takes to support salmon, from cold, clean, graveled streams to the salty ocean and back again. If we are to have salmon in our lives, we need to get to work practically anywhere our energy and inclinations take us, from better land-use planning to native plant restoration, from living more wholesomely and lightly ourselves, to political wrangling and community building on every level of human congregation.
Through all her work and study, Scanlon addresses the hard questions, the ones without ready answers: What should we save? Are some parts of Nature more natural than others? Does Nature have its own morality? What is native and what is a “weed?” As a transplant from New York, does she have the right to be here at all? Are human beings an invasive species, the invasive species? Even for those born here, as we humans spread out and pave over the Northwest, as we have children—as does Scanlan during the course of this writing—how should we reconcile our love for these forests and mountains, seas and creatures, with our own presence and possession? How do we take responsibility and make room for all beings as we plunge into the Anthropocene world?
Scanlan is guided by her study and practice of tikkun olam—Hebrew, “repair of the world” for social justice—and her grounding in the Jewish calendar year of celebration and remembrance. This work of repair is more than a commandment; it is a way of life that informs her actions and perspective. She offers this teaching as one way, a kind of signpost, but encourages us to find our own traditions, our own texts and stories, new or ancient, that might serve as a foundation for our life choices. Just so long as we do something to love our world, to turn our sense of belonging into the energy and wisdom needed to care for it and help it survive. As we do the work of repair, the world opens us to its wonders and truths. (from Mar/April 2017 Echo newsletter, by Anne Kilgannon)