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ashkosiw means meadow

November 19, 2009

Since we’ve moved to the place we live now, there’s one specific spot I’m drawn to, that I return to time and time again. I go for walks to, through, and around it, I hang out with critters that live there, I observe quotidian and seasonal rhythms there. It’s a good place to celebrate, to mourn, to be inspired, to renew my connection to the earth, to just be. So, in a metaphorical sense anyway, it’s my home.

I’ve also taken lots of photographs of it, or from vantage points inside of it.

Last night, I uploaded a bunch of the best/favorite photos of this place to Flickr.

I’d already been considering how to group photos of my local environment (mostly neighborhood) without geo-tagging them, or being otherwise specific about exactly where I’m located. Putting them in a set would be handy, but what to call it? “Home” seemed both too obvious and too nebulous, since I’ve called many distinct places home.

I realized an ideal solution would be a word I could use for both this special place as itself, and as a synecdoche of the larger environment it’s part of. I grabbed my Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe, and found the root word for meadow, which seems to be ashkosiw. So that’s what I used, and that’s what it means.

Meadows are native to northern Illinois where I grew up, although if you see one there now, it’s likely been highly disturbed by humans for a very long time (i.e., it’s not the equivalent of an “old growth” forest). They’re also native to Indiana, which is where I learned about them in some detail, during a class I took as an undergrad on Plant Communities of Indiana. And I believe they are also historically native to Minnesota (which is why I picked up the Ojibwe/Anishinaubae dictionary, and not something else).

It’s possible that meadows are also native to central Kentucky, where Spouse is from, but he doesn’t like them. I think to him they are a metaphor for how he thinks of northern Illinois — “flat, boring, and ugly” is the phrase he uses most often. Well, central Kentucky is hilly, so there’s definitely a difference in terrain. But like any habitat at any scale, once you start looking, you see wonders in every direction. (Maybe it’s the ecologist in me.) And the “edge-ness”, the evidence of disturbance seen throughout my meadow, or a patch of garden or a tangle of weeds, or a path through a forest … that’s where I feel the most at home. A (potential) crossroads where you might encounter kin with feathers, scales, fur, flowers, or leaves. Or the numinous. Or just renew one’s sense of being a child of earth, water, fire, air, and spirit. I always do.

Many of my favorite memories contain the same elements: trees, plants, critters, flowing water, me just being part of all of it. And in an environment where forests have mostly given way to farms and housing, home in more than one sense is a meadow.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Amaryllis permalink
    November 21, 2009 10:38

    When I was a kid, my grandparents had a small house, the remnant of a family property, right off a major highway in a heavily-populated area of New Jersey. But the house was bordered by a plant nursery on one side and a strip of woods backing into a public park on the other, and it felt, to the suburban child that I was, like being “out in the country.” There were gardens and grape arbors and rocky paths and a little pond, and most of all there were those woods. In retrospect, I realize how small a “forest” it actually was, but at the time, it felt like Fangorn or Narnia or Sherwood.

    It’s all long gone now, of course, but home is still a little house by the woods.

    Which, I now realize, may be why I never objected as our current suburban house gradually lost its suburban lawn in favor of ground cover and shrubbery and more tall trees than any suburban yard can properly expect.

  2. November 21, 2009 23:48

    It does not take a large or pristine area to teach us to love nature, does it? And I love all your tall trees!

    When I was quite small, my grandfather would take me on walks “in the woods”, pointing out squirrels and chipmunks and doing bird calls. When I got a little older, I realized the “woods” were nothing more than trees in a city park and a nearby school. But those walks introduced me to the natural world, and I learned how to hold so still that critters forgot I was there. I credit the seeds being planted for my lifelong interest in ecology because of those walks.

    I have no photographs of my parents’ house, but I do have photographs of the formerly-wild wooded areas near their house and in a park along the DuPage River where I spent much time from age 10 to my mid-20s. I remember individual trees, some long dead, with great fondness. Those places were truly home in a way my parents’ house never was.

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