The Language of Summer
Executive Director Glenn Lamb reflects on the power of language, being fearless, and better understanding the world around us.
One July many years ago my partner Sue and I awoke to incessant chatter from the birdhouse above us on the outdoor sleeping porch. Over the ensuing hour, we watched rapt as two chickadees fledged, taking their first awkward flight. By sleeping outside we have been witness to the thrumming wingbeat of mating grouse, a pileated woodpecker plunging its beak deep in to a rotten snag, and many a brilliant sunrise. Some sights seem beyond words.
And this is literally true! Native American languages have words to describe natural phenomena that we simply don’t have in the English language. For the Potawatomi people, puhpowee describes the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.
I recently learned that there are only a few Klickitat Indians who still speak the Klickitat language, and each of them are getting older by the day. I fear that in the coming years we may lose unique perspectives gleaned from thousands and thousands of years of observations and experiences. As we go about our work, we are committed to understanding traditional ecological knowledge and language as well as the data collected through our ecological integrity assessments. As you will read about in this newsletter, in order to be good stewards of land, it is critical that we are careful observers and that we cultivate language that reflects what we see and learn.
Our Northwest summers are so verdant, filled with life in so many forms. As you go about your summer, immerse yourself in the coolness of a deep forest glade, notice those morning clouds that burn off midday, pay attention to the emergence of insects on certain nights in certain places. Consider what we may be missing because we haven’t paid attention, because we haven’t developed the language.
Rather than fear what may be lost, let’s better understand what we have and who we are. Let’s better understand our own human nature and the nature of the Northwest. And let’s act to conserve our places and experiences.