I was 22, living in Kansas City, completely fed-up with the world of dating in general and guys in specific, and not sure how I was going to make a living with or in spite of my writing habit. I was also in a car with my friend Ira, heading west to the Kansas Area Watershed Council’s first gathering. We had a lot to talk about, so much that we missed the exit out of the city four times until we finally got ourselves rightly on I-70. By that time, we decided to stop in Lawrence, a place I had never been, to see some of his friends. The stop in Lawrence turned into dancing at a Tofu Teddy concert at what later became Liberty Hall, and then, because it was late, staying at a friend of a friend’s house. Walking up the stairs to that East Lawrence bungalow, I felt a voice over my right shoulder say, “This is your home for the rest of your life.”
The next day, I arrived at KAW Council and met people who would become some
of my best friends for life, the core of my tribe and community, and among them, even the one I would marry. Within a year, I moved to Lawrence, and the story unfolded from here.
This weekend is the 30th anniversary event for KAW Council, a bioregional organization. Why I went in the first place was that I had discovered bioregionalism a year before, and realized it was everything I had always sensed and known since before I had language. At the same time, bioregionalism is hard to define because it’s more lived experience than tagline. Ken says it’s more a meditation than a definition, but in a nutshell, it has to do with learning to live in balance with place, and from where you live, and a deepening lifelong relationship with the earth, learning how to live sustainability, ethically, soulfully. When looking at any social, economic or political issue, bioregionalism offers a deep ecological perspective (community becomes eco-community, for example; political issues are viewed through the lens of how they affect specific ecosystems or bioregions; economics focuses on community-based and ecologically-responsible enterprises). While we talk of specific bioregions, and within them, specific watersheds — such as the Kansas area watershed here that starts in western Colorado and ends as the Kaw river drains into the Missouri at Kansas City — we also talk of reinhabiting where we live. In many ways, bioregionalism is all about — literally, metaphorically, ecologically, creatively — being where we are.
All my life, I’ve been in love with the sky, the trees, the birds, the living earth. Even as a girl growing up in Brooklyn, I would draw pictures of trees for hours and over years before I became a woman who wrote poems about trees for hours and over years. I always sensed that God lived in the wind, perhaps even was the wind, which is a way of saying that to me, whatever is holy is essentially the life force itself. This is what Dylan Thomas calls “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” So for me, bioregionalism is a way to name an ecstatic relationship with the life force, which is what, on my better days at least, guides my life.
Finding others of the same stripes was equally ecstatic, and in no time at all, I was
learning about and falling in love with both the prairie and the people. The first gathering led to many more, in fact, seasonal forays all over Kansas as well as many a meeting and even more potlucks. We read books, talked about wild edibles, tried out recipes, wrote poetry (and even had a traveling poetry bioregional roadshow for a while), sang incessantly, and got involved with each other in sometimes confusing, short-lived or long-tracking ways. When I say we shared birth and death, I’m not talking metaphorically: KAW friends were at some of the births of my children, and in recent years, we’ve lost some of our tribe.
Our tight-knit community and how we took bioregionalism to heart and to home led us to help organize the first continental bioregional gathering, held in
Missouri back in ’84, and to organize the prairie bioregional congress in ’02 as well as to be part of a growing network of bioregionalists throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada as well as La Caravana, a group of traveling, performing (music, dance, daring feats!) bioregionalists who traveled throughout South and Central America. The congresses we’ve had in British Columbia, Maine, Mexico and other points remain landmark events in most of our lives. I remember Danny saying to me that the prairie congress was “the best week of my life,” and I feel the same way.
Because our gatherings are all about creating a ceremonial community together — one in which we present workshops, network, share resources, and develop the friendships that sustain us in our activism and art — it’s no wonder that there’s a kind of family feeling among us. I’m happily linked to a network of people from
Cuernavaca to Toronto where I feel like I could enter into most people’s homes, open their fridges and have a snack, read their magazines and take a nap on their couches.
The bioregional movement has not only been a source of creativity for me but procreation too (those congresses are potent forces!), and all of my children were brought up in this movement. Natalie attended her first KAW Council gathering when she was two days old and her first continental bioregional congress (in Texas) when she was two weeks old. It wasn’t so much the workshops offered on subjects such as ecofeminism or organic gardening at the congresses that shaped us all as much as it was the sense of community, and the collective wonder, respect and purpose we found together. What I’ve learned about facilitation and group process, creating and sustaining local arts and culture, and the art of living with growing awareness of the seasons and cycles around me remains key for how I teach, write, facilitate and organize.
It all started at a camp between Lawrence and Topeka, one we’re returning to tomorrow evening, where Ken and I first held hands. It’s a touchstone place for me, one that reminds me of what I want to most cultivate in myself to play well with others, do work that matters, and pay attention to the gift of being alive.
To learn more about bioregionalism, read definitions and the Welcome Home statement, written by committee and drafted by Stephanie Mills, our keynote speaker for this weekend’s event.