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BGCL Magazine | Freedom
BGCL Magazine is a monthly exploration of nature as a way to reconnect to self, community, and the living world. Dive deeper into the themes and stories each month through the podcast, instagram, and live events.
My dearest Wild Ones,
I have been spending a lot of time under my favorite bigleaf maple tree recently. She was one of two giants that graced our front yard and shaded our home. The two trees beautifully mirrored one another, looking like one single massive maple from the right angle. They held down the edge of the yard and served as a haven for birds moving in and out of the forest behind our home.
But she now stands alone after her twin became sick—ailing with a kind of tree fungus that showed up as dark spots on her trunk. She grew very few leaves last summer, and we could tell she was hurting. For weeks I put off calling an arborist, not wanting to know if we would have to lose one or both of these wise sisters.
When the arborist finally came, I held back tears as he broke the news that the larger of the two trees was infected. He pointed to her wound, 15 feet up the trunk. Someone had cut into the tree to remove a limb instead a leaving a stump, preventing the tree from healing properly. I resented them for that. For weeks I was devastated as I struggled to come to terms with this change.
Months later, a team of 8 men came back to take her down unceremoniously—one branch, one slice, one section at a time. But by then I had time to mourn her. To be angry that she was sick and falling on the job of shading my home. To feel sad that she would no longer display the resting birds coming through the yard. To feel love in the way she welcomed us home with a wave every time.
The night before she was disassembled, I got out of bed in my pajamas to wish her off. The sky was crystal clear, freckled with thousands of stars, and not even a breeze was coming off of the water. I walked down to her and put an arm around her waist like an old friend. I apologized for being distant and hoped she would forgive me. Then I stood with her, trying to see the world from her perspective. How many sunsets, stars, and seasons had she witnessed? What did she know about this place that I would never know? Who else had loved her as much as I did?
I can never know her answers, of course, but I admire her never revealing more than necessary.
I took a deep breath of the cool air we shared, and felt a happiness for her next season of life. For her freedom to become. Freedom from my expectations. Freedom from a lifetime of holding down the yard and holding up the birds. Now she would be free to transform and become without judgement. To go back into the earth, break into pieces, and return to the stars.
What she could become is limitless. A level of freedom that we can only begin to imagine.
With love and wonder from your Rewilding Guide,
PS: Get the audio of this letter and more in the BGCL Podcast, coming out on 2/20 on all platforms.
A world-class naturalist is probably not the title most people associate with Harriet Tubman—but even that title does not encompass her range of brilliance. Among other things, she was an herbalist, hunter, farmer, astronomer, and carpenter. She was a student of the lands she roamed and claimed freedom through her knowledge of place—a freedom that her spirit and mind had long known. She was a shape-shifter and freedom-fighter who refused to be contained.
Over the span of 10 years, she made 17 trips, and led 70 enslaved people to freedom in the North. The journey could be over 100 miles, crossing multiple state lines and she never took the same route twice. From the wooded marshes and across many waterways, she used no maps to guide her—just a trust in herself and a faith that the land would guide her home.
Here are 3 things to know about Harriet Tubman’s deep connection to the living world:
As a young girl, Harriet did many jobs that required her to become familiar the outdoors. She set muskrat traps in the rivers, worked on a timber farm with her father, and later at a shipyard with mariners from around the world. As her understanding of the natural world grew, so did her taste for freedom.
She led her missions primarily at night and in the winter, when the darkness stretched on the longest. Between her stays in homes along the Underground Railroad, she found her way outside amongst the elements. She navigated using the North Star, skirted along waterways that flowed South, and felt for moss which covered the north-facing side of tree trunks.
Harriet was later recruited by the Union Army during the Civil War for her deep knowledge of the land. She was a General, a spy, and a nurse. She aided in caring for wounded soldiers with her wisdom of medicinal plants and herbs—a skill she first learned from her mother.
Never mind that Harriet couldn’t read books, she could read a landscape in ways most of us cannot even imagine. She was guided by a wisdom, a spirit, and a deep knowing that allowed her to move in bold, brave ways. The limitless freedom she inspired could not be captured in numbers, and her larger-than-life legacy continues to give us permission to dream of new ways that we become free.
What place makes you feel most free?
I feel most free when wandering around my homestead or my parents' farm. It's not a careless freedom in that I feel very responsible for the loving stewardship of these places. However, like much of the south Georgia landscape, the red clay, commanding oak trees, and the rolling hills of cattle farms instill me with a sense of spaciousness and possibility.
How does it feel when you are in that place?
Being on my homestead or on my parents' farm feels like home. It feels like the cells of my body have a remembrance of what these lands were like decades ago when my ancestors, both forcibly and in freedom, tended to these places. It feels like the comfort of family and connection. It also feels like the dedication of a hard day's work or the joy of summer play. It feels like being in a storied place, and like I get to be part of a story that began before me and will live long after me.
What is a lesson this place has taught you about freedom?
Both of these places have taught me that true freedom comes with responsibility and hard work. Our relationships to places must be mutual and reciprocal. They've also taught me that in many ways, liberation and freedom begin with the land as we are able to divest from systems of harm and extraction while cultivating a more beautiful way forward with others.
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by Udie Chima
This month, I struggled to find the words to capture what freedom means or how the artists in this playlist approached the topic. The harder I tried to grasp the meaning of freedom with words, the more slippery the concept became. Some feelings can't be intellectualized, so music takes over for words and logic.
Each of these songs expresses the artist’s tragic longing for a state, a status, a sensation that escapes their grasp. If freedom could be touched, perhaps we come closest when we give it chase, then surrender the outcome. To quote Mereba in the closing track: I'm giving all of it without regret, cause what's the worst it could be. Not trying to get by—I'm trying to get free.
It was a clear, cold day and the winter sun, low in the sky, streamed through my window to wrap me in warmth. She was holding me, attempting to soothe my overwhelm and ease my anxiety. Most days, I can resolve these feelings by stepping into the forest with my ducks. The towering trees and soft earth under my feet restore a sense of calm and help me to release whatever I am feeling. But on this day, even the woods could not absorb the chaos from my mind and my nervous system.
Instead, I resorted to the fetal position on my couch to cry it out. I cried until my eyes were so heavy that all I could do was nap. My body slowed down until I drifted off into a light sleep, and I hoped I would return in a more peaceful state. Unfortunately, this anxiety was not going quietly. She jolted me awake, urging me to do and to fix. But there was really nothing to do or fix that would resolve the heaviness on my heart.
I mentally scanned through the various notes on what was bothering me: Friendship endings I was mourning and new friendships I was carefully navigating. Family dysfunction I where I was disentangling. House projects that were forever undone. And a mounting pile of motherhood guilt.
Even as these things weighed on me, I also recognized that this pool of discomfort I was wading in was actually progress for me. It was progress for me not to entertain every old friendship out of a sense of commitment to what once was. It was progress for me not to dive into every family discussion, attempting to save and shield. It was progress for me to give myself some grace on parenting.
This messy, miserable, painful progress is becoming a familiar companion as I journey towards a bigger dream. To be freed from the need to perform, especially for friends and family. To be freed from the expectation that I should remain the same. To be freed from the belief that it is my job help other people feel okay. To be freed from the idea that being liked is more important than loving myself.
Fortunately, these days where I feel utterly, completely crappy—they never last. They are soon followed by days where I think I am a pretty neat person. Days when I realize that I didn’t abandon myself when things got tough. Days when I remember to listen to others’ instead of trying to fix them. And days vwhen I don’t need outside approval. It is by no means a completion of my journey, but a step towards where I want to be—moving the the direction of freedom.
Thoughtfully designed events for people with open hearts, curious minds, and wild spirits. Join us in-person and online to deepen your connection to self, community, and the living world.
Curious about body movement and sound as a rewilding practice? Join Gabby and I on IG live on Feb 10 at 12P PST. Bring your questions and come hang out with us!