Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Earth Day wisdom from a Cherokee elder April 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:34 AM
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My niece, Beth, one half of an Earth Day Cleaning Crew in a West Virginia neighborhood.

WHEN THE CLERK at Target handed me a free cloth Earth Day shopping bag last Sunday, I felt like a hypocrite. I had just purchased two rolls of paper towels and a package of paper plates, which she promptly tucked inside the reusable bag.

So, today, I am going to tell you about my 6-year-old niece Beth, who, in my mind, redeemed me from the error of my ways. I’m hoping her actions will assuage my guilt about purchasing those throw-away products, and inspire you.

Sweet little Beth and her mom, Rena, take Earth Day seriously. On April 22, the 40th anniversary of this event that raises environmental awareness, the pair crafted a recyclable art project, took their recyclables to the recycling bin, walked through their West Virginia neighborhood picking up trash and saw the Earth Day movie Oceans, with husband/father Tom.

Beth's recycled Earth Day 2010 art project, including her pledge to care for Mother Earth.

Whew! Rena, who home-schools first-grader Beth, inspires me with her energy and creativity. My niece inspires me with her endless enthusiasm. The mother-daughter team planned follow-ups to their Earth Day activities by putting up a birdhouse, which Beth painted, and mounting a bat house in their pasture.

“Beth is especially excited about the bat house because she loves to sit on the deck on the summer evenings to watch the bats come out to feed,” Rena says. “We are hoping to attract up to 30 little brown bats in this house for their winter hibernation.”

Honestly, I cannot share the duo’s enthusiasm for attracting bats. I wonder if they’ve ever had bats inside their home. I have.

When I emailed my sister-in-law to ask if I could post this story and the photos of Beth, she told me a bit more about her interest in Earth Day: “I think our respect for the earth comes with our family genes, because my granddad was a Cherokee…and grew up near the reservation in Oklahoma. He respected Mother Earth as most Native Americans do.”

She goes on to tell me that her grandfather moved to California during the Dust Bowl and started farming there. Desiring a way to fertilize without harming the earth, he founded Gypsum Fertilizing Company, grinding gypsum rock and other natural elements into a powder to be dusted over crops.

Hearing this story from Rena touched me in a way I can’t explain. I’ve always known of the deep respect Native Americans have for Mother Earth. I’ve always known, too, of their deep cultural respect for elders and the wisdom they possess.

But to personally witness this come full circle—the wisdom of a Cherokee elder passed to the fourth generation—gives me reason to celebrate.

© Text copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of my sister-in-law, Rena

 

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