My inspiration

When I first read Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, I felt I had been handed down a roadmap of tools, stories, and lessons that had been absent in my upbringing. Through both science and story, studies and myths, Robin Wall Kimmerer offered me tools to support a more expansive, personal, and reciprocal relationship to the earth. Her words articulated things I’ve felt my whole life but never heard spoken. They shed light on how scientific knowledge and indigenous wisdom, when held hand in hand, complement one another and can lead us humans to an expansive knowledge fuller and truer than we’ve ever known.

“Despair is paralysis. It robs us of agency. It blinds us to our own power and the power of the earth. Environmental despair is a poison every bit as destructive as the methylated mercury in the bottom of Onondaga Lake. But how can we submit to despair when the land is saying “Help”? Restoration offers concrete means by which humans can once again enter into positive, creative relationship with the more-than-human world, meeting responsibilities that are simultaneously material and spiritual.

Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting.  As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

-Robin Wall Kimmerer

I began bringing Braiding Sweetgrass wherever I went, underlining passages and copying them down, sharing them with my loved ones, turning to the book as if it were a dear friend I knew would comfort me when I felt lost. I pondered as to how I could promote these ideas through my own craft – videography – to lift Kimmerer’s words from literature into immersive film. 

I played with this idea for about two years. While I was traveling cross country in this time period, I filmed alpine mountain ranges and remote forest landscapes, recorded the sounds of loons at night and grassland birdsong in the early dawn. I knew at some point the media would be useful. Most of the footage and audio in the video I recorded out in U.S. national parks during my cross-country journeys. When the voice-over directly referenced scenes for which I had no footage, I used royalty-free stock footage from Pexels.com.

Making the connection with The Resilient Activist

It struck me how closely The Resilient Activist’s mission mirrored the ideas and lessons explored in the book. Back at home, I brainstormed on how I could promote the nonprofit within this short film to offer viewers a concrete resource for resiliency, activism, and community support after digesting Kimmerer’s ideas.

I recruited my dear friend, community organizer, and radio host T’keyah Thomas to speak the excerpts I sewed together for the video. Additionally, my friend Amanda Lathrop was more than happy to be filmed while interacting with native Missouri prairieland and forest; her footage offered a through-line viewers could follow while contemplating humans’ place in nature.

Evoking an immersive experience

More than an exploration of ideas, I envisioned “I must return the gift”  offering a visceral, sensual, and alive experience of Kimmerer’s lessons. Her words called for it. They evoked immersive experience in nature, life beyond the pages, wisdom beyond letters and words. Thus I incorporated a heavy soundscape, music, and intentional pauses throughout the video, so hopefully, viewers could sink into it as an experience.

My goal of this short film is to ground viewers into the emotional and spiritual nature of environmental work and their own relationship to nature. In this way, they can engage with the intelligence of their senses, the wisdom of the earth, and the emotion that arises when we sit with that.

Through the experience of this video, hopefully, many will consider that it is valid, powerful, and perhaps even our birthright to offer joy to the environmental movement — and the earth at large.

The magic of nature

With this video housed within The Resilient Activist’s website, it can be a resource that not only supports its mission intellectually but immersively and intuitively. In this way, it can serve to remind us of the magic that forms from spending uninterrupted time in nature, the spiritual dimension of environmental work, and how joy is an essential part of our work here.

Phoebe Mussman

Phoebe Mussman is a photographer, videographer, and aspiring environmental activist based in St. Louis. She sees her life’s work as amplifying the vision of a hopeful, intersectional, and irrepressible eco-revolution. For inquiries, contact her at phoebemussman@icloud.com.

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