On September 26th, we traveled with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada from Reno to the proposed Mt. Hope mine site in Eureka County—stopping to hear the significance of various places along the way, taking time to listen to their stories and remember what they were prior to being altered by the military or mining. With the deep privilege of hearing these stories from people like Autumn Harry, Chief Johnnie Bobb of the Western Shoshone National Council, and Mary Lou (among others), all of the places between each of our stops began to look different too…leaving me looking through the car window with repeating questions: what does a place mean to the people or person who loves it? And what about generations of loving a place?
The stories we tell ourselves about a place matter. They matter for how we feel about a place and what we’re willing to do for that place, even when it is somewhere we may not have ever been to and we may not have ever loved. The stories we allow ourselves to listen to about a place matter even more. They matter for how we ultimately decide to treat a place and to treat one another. Yet even in our unconsciousness, the earth remembers. She remembers us…and all of the pain. And all of the nourishment too. And maybe she’s just waiting, in her deeply patient and resilient kind of way, for us to listen to one another long enough to begin to remember these things again too.
In the star-peeking sky of our campground at Tonkin Reservoir, we talked about ghosts and aliens. And I thought about how, somewhere indescribably within my soul, I know there is a part of me that is infinite. That can’t be entirely contained or explained by just the little cells inside my body. Although those matter too, and are a part of the story.
A little bit past our stop at Sand Mountain, to the right of the road, there was a small concrete block with graffiti that read: “Middle of Nowhere Nevada, Part 2.” And I thought, for a brief second, about the miracle and coincidence of people—that we exist as we exist. The generations of meaning and love combined into our every cell, accumulating into us being here, right now. To the place where we have the option to listen. To listen to one another and this earth in which we exist. I feel gratitude for the miracle it is to exist, precisely as we do. Then I think of the paint, crusted on that cement block, delineating that particular place as “nowhere.” I thought about how tragically millennia must have had to have evolved in that exact location for the earth to become exactly what it is today—and the preciseness of our collision with it—to derive meaninglessness. I’m struck and saddened by what such deep forgetfulness can do to a place, and I’m even more saddened by what that forgetfulness must do to a soul. We are recycled-carbon, some-cell-time-travelers, miracles of coincidence, love, and also extreme violence, that have brought me to the exact place where I meet you. How painful that that could ever be understood as insignificant.
In this pain, I come back to the value of telling and hearing the stories of each of these stops, and for all of the stops we have yet to have made and the people we have yet to have met to share them. Humans pass a lot of pain down, too, in those combinations that bring us right to this miraculous moment. It seems to me an inescapable pain that cannot stop until we begin truth-telling. As myself and my European ancestors part of the colonialism that economically benefited from ignoring these stories of place in Nevada (and starting this trend of forgetfulness), I know how uncomfortable or difficult it can be to engage with this truth-telling. And for anyone who can relate to that, I want to remind you and remind me that it’s not always our fault that we do not know the story yet. If you watched the videos of some of our stops on the virtual road trip, you can see that there is an entire elaborate system of greed, and a history and perpetuation of violence, that depends precisely on our not remembering. But even if it is not directly our fault that we do not know these stories, we still have a choice offered to us, none-the-less, to make it our responsibility to listen to the truth-telling in one another. About this place that may not be our home. And then it hit me how, paradoxically, it might be possible to feel more peace as a foreigner who knows their part in a violent truth than a traveler who has not comprehended the tragedy (to both themselves and the places in which they walk) that they are lost.
Not too far from the place marked as the “Middle of Nowhere Nevada” are many little rocks, intricately placed among one another, spelling out combinations of love. The names of “Dawn + Jack” being remembered inside stone hearts, just one next to the long strip of central Nevadan road. How frail and how lovely and how false is it to imagine that our articulations of love may only be remembered if spelt out, in neat letters, by earth older than centuries. Earth from which we have come and will return, and earth that has memorized and loved and nourished our bodies long before we even had bodies that told us where we each began and where we stopped.
This weekend, I lastly felt hope—knowing just how many places we can treat with more than violence and greed and destruction and harm. I know we can treat these places as if they matter, as if we matter. I know this, because, how relatively short is it that we’ve been told that we don’t? How relatively short are the years that those of us who have not known the stories of place have not asked about those stories of place, and how much longer do we have to seek these stories? Who are all the people we have yet to meet, whose truths we have yet to listen to and be changed by? And how long have we been told, by the earth making up our bodies, that even in our deafness, we are loved? What healing and what future could possibly be unimaginable with that?