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Our Given Nature

The supplies have been delivered, and friends are asking to be pollinated with a vision of an animal or plant guide, a blessing, or their protective hand to embroider on the square they will add to my shroud. While they work, I am watching for signs from the One using this project to speak, so that I can help be Its voice.


In the first stage of growing my shroud from seed, Melanie and I saw goals of rekindling practices for growing, processing, dyeing and milling cloth-making plants, and reconnecting to the natural cycles of the earth through engagement with the shroud’s birth and death, seed to cloth cycle. We also saw the possibility of increasing awareness of how imperialistic economic paradigms resulted in earth-injurious cloth production practices in our mountain region. This is not something we talked about in the circles of people we gathered however, as we couldn’t find its place.


Today I’m remembering a dream, in which I heard the word “harn” spoken and then spelled, followed by the direction, “Don’t forget it.” While still in the dream, I assumed whoever said it meant “harm,” but I researched it the next day anyway, and found to my surprise that harn is an old Scottish word for coarse linen. “Well, my shroud is coarse linen,” I thought. I texted Melanie immediately, who said from all the synchronicities we were experiencing, that she was not surprised. She had recently been given the word “osnaburg” by a visiting friend conducting research on materials used by enslaved people in our region. Osnaburg also means coarse linen or “Negro cloth,” and was made from the tow fiber to dehumanize slaves with its torturous roughness.

We have wondered since what to make of this. Our processing tools did not allow us to make anything other than coarse linen, and thus I have a shroud so scratchy I’m relieved I won’t have to wear it alive. “Harn. H-A-R-N. Don’t forget it,” the Dream-maker said. And so we’ve held space and pondered.


Three recent events have helped me see in, by way of reminding me about allowing for the true nature of things. First there was the delight of a new word, “daylighting,” which is the exhumation of streams intentionally buried under asphalt and concrete, for the purposes of returning them to the surface to resume their natural expression and ecosystems benefit. It’s an act of hubris that acknowledges our determination to control the natural world has resulted in a future where too much water will increasingly curtail life as we know it. It’s an acknowledgement that even so, water should be allowed to be water.

Then there was returning to Melanie’s fiber arts studio a few weeks ago to pick up thread, and meeting two students weaving their final projects. One had been so inspired by the Field to Shroud project she was weaving her own. Matilda worked the loom and told me she was depicting being eaten by a bear. This elicited a reaction she’ll elicit in most—horror, and then, “what the heck?” After a few heart-skips, I understood. She believes it important to say in a world that has taught us to disassociate from hard things--that a bear should be allowed to be a bear, and she should be allowed to be with her last alive experience, even if it includes suffering. She would rather feed a bear than not join the web of connectedness and mutual reliance everything other than us is part of. She is voting with her shroud to show up as a true human being.


Next my faithful cat companion of seven years disappeared. This cat relished being himself--climbing trees in testosterone displays, diligently working the yard to keep the mouse population in check, defending me from social visits by asserting the exclusivity of our relationship. My grief forced me to re-examine the decision to not bury his nature in the underground tomb of my home. There I found my own habit of exceptionalism in thinking he should have a “safe” death by extension of living with me.


Finally, having nowhere left to hide in these reminders of having to allow for unwelcome things, I turned to the chronic illness that has included me in difficulty. Though I’d like to bury it under concrete and asphalt for threatening to flood and eat me, I know I must give this too some space in the sun.


Now I am, circuitously albeit, back where I started, with how this shroud making project could increase awareness of the imperialistic economic paradigms. I expect you already know that almost everything has gone the way of profit and harm. We no longer wear the flax we have grown and made with our hands from earth we have tended. We no longer open our bodies to the hungry mouths in the soil with only a slim slip of a linen shroud in between. We have instead become irrevocably stingy, reserving the fine linen for the wealthy, and the harn, the osnaburg, for those without power or means.


But I have rough cloth for you, and I am offering it up to spread on the communion table of remembering. Rough, so we don’t forget our solidarity with all that suffer. Rough, so we remember to mourn.


Altogether now, in your own way. Let us pick up our embroidery needles and thread, and stitch our shared journey from birth to death to birth again, reclaiming a skill we’ve mostly entombed. Add your blessing to a square and sew it on. Let us daylight our old practices of living closely connected to the Earth’s natural cycles. Stitch by stitch, row by row, may we remember what it means to show up as true human beings.

Thanks to Matilda Mercy for sharing her story and photo of her woman-eating bear shroud.

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