Movement by the Great River ~ Eila Kundrie Carrico
This is a guest blog post by Eila, a TreeSister, who is passionate about the relationship between women and water. Her book, 'The Other Side of the River: Stories of Women, Water and the World', is a deep searching into the ways we become dammed and how we recover fluidity. It is a journey through memory and time, personal and shared landscapes to discover the source, the flow and the deltas of women and water.
I’m feeling lost, and I'm not sure why, but I need to be alone with the rocks. I soak under the stars at the hot springs in Ojo Caliente and saturate myself in the wide open sky. I walk through the canyons and hum to remind myself of my internal sounds; my organs wake up and brighten. My vibrations prove my existence in this dusty, ancient landscape.
The nomadic tribes used the stars to navigate, for them, the sky was more stable and reliable than the drastic seasons of the ever-changing earth. I trust the stars like a nomad tonight. My ears are full of silence, and the stars pulse back and forth with my heart beat in a private symphony. It’s quiet enough to hear them shine across all those light years, and time slows down long enough for me to appreciate their tune.
I am poured out into the landscape. When the sun erases the other stars, I walk the trails over the hill, following old cracks where water would have or could have flowed. I sift through the sand and find tiny pieces of pottery. This is the land of the Tewa people, who built large pueblos on this site and held as sacred the warm waters bubbling up from the Earth’s center. The shards of memory that remain on the solemn, basket-shaped hills are not buried so deep as in other places on this continent.
I lift a handful of sand and watch it sift gently through my fingers, letting the wind take it at a slight angle. I feel the mourning of words that have not been said scatter over hundreds of years. Apologies are withheld and poems remain unwritten. My sleep is full of dreams. I feel the sun rising before I have time to shake off the night, and the dreams continue trying to pull me further into a web built by the spider at my throat. My lips are sticky, like honey, and I cannot find the words.
The sparkle in the red stones shimmer and reflect like sunlight on the ocean, a mirror for the sun that separates one light into thousands. I can’t quite remember something, and I am sure it is important. I dream of a canoe and a leopard in the sky, refusing to come down to the earth. The spots of the leopard create new constellations, and I promise to remember this time, but I wake up and forget again.
Both sides of my family have been here on this continent for hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years. How does it still not feel like home to me? I know myself to be a complicated mixture of tyrants and victims; my ancestors were Irish Catholic and Sicilian Gypsy; French and Shawnee; German and Jewish; and English and African. Before I started to dig into the stories that were offered to me (and sent in a saliva swab for testing) I hadn’t known anything other than being white and European. All the other stories, all the colors, all the textures were discarded like broken shards of clay.
I started putting together the odd shaped puzzle pieces of stories when I heard my grandparents calling me from the other side of the river during the fever years. Once I started listening, they had a lot to say. One grandma comes and braids my hair in my sleep. The structure of the braid teaches how separate strands come together to form a strong and beautiful shape. They make one whole, and at the same time they maintain their own identity as three unique groups. Each is enriched by the relationship to the others.
But dream fragments are not enough; I return to the land. I descend down the canyon walls at a slow, steady pace. The Rio Grande is low this February, and I feel the strain of stooping down to meet her. I follow a deer trail to the water and part the curtain of cattails. No one else is awake this early, so it’s just me and the ducks. I cup my hands into the cold, gently flowing water and wash my face. The blood in my cheeks circulates and brings me the pink color of youth. I watch the currents move; the edges catch and spiral and smooth, but the stream’s center rushes decidedly in one direction.
I feel this center flow as my inspiration for yoga practice this morning. I begin with a few sun salutations, welcoming the internal sunrise as well as the external one. This movement and warming of my lungs brings air wider into my chest, and the blood from the faucet at my heart turns on full force. Fullness returns to my fingers, my low belly, and my toes; it’s like an internal bath warm and liquid like the gulf of Mexico. I make low, gentle sounds aum, hum, laa to help the blocked places loosen.
My body holds a landscape of memory; I always carry all my relations with me. I protect my right side (the moon) and show my left (the sun). I habitually turn away from the vulnerability of my feminine self, I value reason over feeling, but yoga teaches balance. The frustration I carry for my father melts into understanding, but the dam holding up the anger at my mother is more stubborn. It sticks in my low belly as an oiled rock, and around my throat as if I’m being choked by a spider each of her eight legs strong and scratching as she narrows my voice. I try to bring sounds up again, but they are indignant.
I habitually avoid the intense emotions only a mother could spark. Of course she failed when society’s expectations are so high. We set our mothers up to high standards of impossible perfection with collectives stories of super moms that "do it all." This keeps them scattered and worn out, always not good enough. Never mind that mothers channel starlight through their wombs, weave spirit into matter, offer their body as home and then food for their littles ones, that is not enough.
Mother was always meant to fall, like Eve, it is a comfortable destiny. My mother is a happy martyr, a character in the story she offers herself to. No matter how much gratitude I give her or love I share, she denies it and continues to reinforce her beliefs; she works harder and longer hours until she passes out or needs surgery. Nothing she does is ever good enough for the tormenting voices she has internalized. At this point she has had her gall bladder, uterus and her thyroid removed. She is feeding herself to a hungry ghost of a dream that will never be satiated. If I am not careful, I easily fall prey to the same trap a feeling of being lost even within my own body that continues to chant "not good enough".
The burden society places on mothers is crushing, but yoga helps me to find where I am within the massive messiness of family karma and convoluted collective consciousness.
Hatha yoga is the practice of unifying opposites within ourselves and in effect within the world around us. We, as humans, occupy the space between heaven and Earth, constantly rooting into matter and rising from it into formlessness. Hatha Yoga is a form of bringing the invisible internal world to life in a material way. Ha means sun and tha means moon, and so the word yoga can be translated as union.
In Tadasana, or mountain pose (a basic anatomical way to stand that doesn’t look like much is happening externally), I stand still and take in the medicine of balance symbolically uniting heaven and earth, the inner divine masculine and feminine. Even if our spirits are born of the stars, our bodies come from the Earth, and I need to learn to be rooted in this material form. I place my hands on the warm ground and feel the firm earth. I arch and lengthen my spine in rhythm with my breath. If the exhale is set up properly, the inhale comes naturally. The exhale is the active part of the breathing cycle; I round my spine and draw my belly button in to press out all the stale air. It’s like emptying a cup of mud before you fill it with clear drinking water. You’ve got to pour it out and clean it before you try to fill it up again. I inhale; I lengthen like an accordion and the air floods in.
After a few rounds of the rhythmic movement I become still and feel the pulsing continue internally even as my outer body has stopped. This is a sweet reminder of how fluid my body is. I am like a bucket of water being carried from one place to the next. When you set the bucket down, the water remembers the movement and continues to slosh gently side to side until it comes back to rest at the center. My waters follow the same natural laws. A green mallard duck keeps an eye on me as he flaps his wings and shakes his tail. I finish my movement practice and sit still on the ground. As I slow into my center, I feel like a clear, shallow pond. I can see straight to the bottom, and the pebbles resting there are smooth and soft from the currents of water that have passed. My fingers make their way back to my long hair and begin to braid the loose strands as a I remember my grandmother and hum to myself. As my fingers teach me the lessons of the braid, I watch the water of the Rio Grande with a catlike gaze as she slips steadily away from me without words.
Eila Kundrie Carrico is an enchanting new female voice in the American canon of nature writing. Her writing is a celebration of wild nature and cultures that has the power to awaken a felt sense of our collective human story as deeply embedded in the natural world.
Eila delights in the mystery and magic of landscapes and memory. She lives in Berkeley with her partner and their baby boy where she teaches yoga and weaves stories.
Eila’s book, The Other Side of the River, was published by Womancraft Publishing.
Photo credits: Yvonne Pfeifer at World of Collages and Julia Caeser
Join the TreeSisters community
We are a social impact initiative exploring the role that women can play in rebalancing humanity's relationship with nature and trees. We inspire feminine leadership, behaviour change and crowd-fund tropical reforestation. To give monthly and become a treesister, please visit: treesisters.org/home/join