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Clare Dubois: When this continent could breathe

I woke up with those words the other morning … I was grief filled. I lay looking up with my beautiful Bev Doolittle print, “Calling the Buffalo,” where a lone Native American stands with a buffalo skull to his lips on an endless plain under an endless sky with the buffalo a reflection in the pool of the stones that surround it. The memory of buffalo.

They say that the salmon were so thick in the bay that became the Bay Area that it seemed you could walk across them to the other side. That if you shot a gun, four-leggeds of multiple species would scatter around you in herds. That the abundance was so extraordinary it took one’s breath away. Before the rivers were dammed. When salmon swam a 1,000 miles inland and the trees carried their DNA. Before the Mississippi became cancer alley. Before a valley of citrus became a valley of silicon.

Before the mighty Colorado stopped flowing to the sea so that we could have green lawns and golf courses in the desert.



Before the moss draped rainforests of the Pacific Northwest became plantations of conifers for loo rolls and cardboard.

How we live is not normal. How we have been taught to live is not serving life and it is shredding our world into pieces.

Before the rain those forests created dwindled, and Washington and Oregon started burning. Before the Appalachian Mountains were decimated for coal and the lowlands became prisons of extreme cruelty for pigs and cows. Before Alaska became prey for minerals and oil, exploitation and deforestation.



Before the entire Rocky Mountain forest started dying from beetles, molds, pathogens and lack of true cold or enough rain due to manmade climate change arising from a “power over” paradigm unthinkable by the First Nations people whose presence nourished this land into its fullness.

Before we arrived en masse to drive them out, drive them into the ongoing horror of disrespect, cultural dismantling, broken promises, separation, poisoning, murder, and dislocation from place.

I had never before really celebrated Halloween — All Hallows; Day of the Dead — but it hit me like a tsunami of unconscious, unprocessed loss that pushed me to my knees in prayer and grief to honor those who had come before.

I live on the lands of the Nisenan tribe. A so-called “terminated tribe” who revered this land, kept it in balance, tended their oaks trees and burnt back the grass every year to favor the large trees and keep back the undergrowth. Now desperately out of balance with our ecology, we just burn.

The words of my friend, an indigenous woman, have not stopped ringing in my soul: “A people who have lived in place for five, ten thousand years and during that time have lived sustainably with the land and even created more abundance.”

And what have we done to the people of this continent who didn’t just let it breathe, but tended it to thrive? It doesn’t even bear thinking about. And yet we must because their time has to come again. It has to, or we will not survive.

How we live is not normal. How we have been taught to live is not serving life and it is shredding our world into pieces.

I need to feel into how it was, to feel how this land must have felt in relationship with cultures that “knew how to say thank you,” in order to feel forward to some version of a future when this continent will breathe again, when life will be more important than money and when we have learnt again to see the sacred in every single thing.

To those that came before and to those that still endure despite it all: Thank you.

Clare Dubois is the founder of Treesisters.org, a global women’s movement that has collectively funded the planting of almost 13 million trees. She lives in Nevada City.


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