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Crowded trees wither, die, saplings thrive and surprise

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Good Gravy! Permaculture with Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Much has been said and written about the lobster pot and reservation or rural communities.

There’s this idea that we are like a pot of lobsters, pulling back down the ones that dare try to climb out or escape.

As true as it might feel amidst the frustrations of reservation life, I think this is a pretty sad analogy and shackles us to a way of thinking that is deeply unhealthy.

The story of the lobster pot is powerful, because not only is it a metaphor that feels true, in retelling this story, we reinforce its reality.

Words have power.

Instead of going into the details of how the metaphor is true and isn’t, I want to leave the lobster pot story alone, and instead hold up a different metaphor.

Let me tell you a different story. Reservations are like a neglected yard full of trees planted too close together. The trees fight for the light, crowding some out and causing them to die, becoming mishapen in the process. The sapling do well in the protected area, but not for long. We must learn to prune for the sake of our relatives, our youth and ourselves.

Whether this story is a better story, I leave up to you. This story doesn’t negate the lobster pot story or strive to disprove it or even be a substitute.

The non-human relatives around us mirror our humanity back to us–the good and the bad.  I think the story of our crowded trees and prolific sapling planting every spring here in Cheyenne River shows us our duplicity of mind that pervades how we treat ourselves and our youth.

What does this have to do with lobsters, pots, crowded trees and saplings?

In our yard this year, we’ve had two trees die from being crowded out, many oddly shaped trees that did the crowding and just recently, despite forgetting to plant some saplings, we noticed they’ve leafed out and are still viable if we move quickly.

Perennial plants, especially trees or shrubs at the various canopy levels, are a crucial component to permaculture design.

It is important to realize how big trees will get, how close together to plant them, where to place them, for what uses and to be sure they have enough room to grow strong and straight.

Once they’re planted, one must begin to practice pruning.

I had never realized before I moved back West River how important tree care is.

After living for so long in Brookings, SD, the sight of people, whether city workers or citizens, pruning the young and old trees in the community is a familiar site.

I learned by observation that some trees wouldn’t look much like trees at all, except for their pruning as they grow, preventing them from developing a halo of branches around a trunk.

We need to be more aware of how we place or encourage the people in our community in the work they do. We shouldn’t all be struggling for the sunlight against one another, but have our space to grow. We shouldn’t shelter our young people from opportunities to challenge them into stronger saplings so that they are shocked once they are on their own, and neither should we just plant them and leave them alone to grow as they might, full of life and energy until they’re stunted by the rest of their community.

I can’t say how we should do this exactly, but I do think we need to think about a new story that recognizes the harms we do to each, the strengths we provide one another, and challenges us to dig in our roots, prune away what would sap our energy, and strive to not suck away the energy for our youth even as we stand together to keep them protected.

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