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Lions Roar : March 2016
“Papá?” whines Clea, a little anxious now. Her tear- ing eyes smear the moon. My wife, Melissa, and I have always affirmed her when she notices natural phenomenon—bubbling water, wildflowers, a sur wind, the moon—and she has come to reserve her peak enthusiasms for the animistic. So now the baby mammal beside me—barely verbal, wildly present—wants to connect with her overanalytical dad by seeing the moon together, perhaps even in the same way. I leave her eyes reluctantly, fol- lowing the folds of her shirtsleeve to her fingertip. My gaze leaps off a ladybug-sized fingernail into the lens of subtropical sky, lit by la luna. “Moon,” Clea says, switching to English, her tone softening. She’s calmed by our mutual attention to what is of most importance. “Moon,” I whisper, but the utterance feels counterfeit. “TEACH A CHILD the name of a bird,” writes Jesuit author Anthony DeMello, “and she’ll never see that bird again.” DeMello means that language, by labeling phenomena, exacts two injuries. First, it obscures uniqueness: the mystery of this bird, this night’s moon. And second—in an apparent contradic- tion—it also fractures the unified field of mystics and physicists. Clea’s mom and I both have graduate degrees in international relations; we’ve been shaped by social science, by language and reason. We’re not monks, nor are we rainforest dwellers silently stalking prey. But over the course of our professional lives, we’ve both come to question the hegemony of the mind in modern life. We’ve been influenced by our era’s ecological crisis, by inspi- rational thinkers like philosopher David Abram and economist Juliette Schor, and by earth-based African, South American, and North American indigenous cultures in which we’ve lived. As a result, we’ve traded well-trod career paths for five-and- a half permaculture acres here in Samaipata (Quechua for “rest in the highlands”; pop. 4,000). We’ve come here in part because of a combined sixteen-year history in Bolivia, writing and doing environmental and human rights work. My ten- year-old daughter, Amaya, lives in a nearby city with her Bolivian mom and spends vacations with us. Melissa and I are godparents to four Bolivian children; Clea’s godmother is Quechua. We grow food here and have built a carbon-light house using indigenous and modern bio-con- struction techniques. We’re also contributing toward conserving the rich “vernacular” culture (i.e., textured and hybrid, largely free of elements of corporate mono- culture like chain stores) of our adopted community. One instrument for this, here in Samaipata, is the Transition Movement, a “glocal”—global- and-local—network of more resil- ient towns responding to climate change through fostering organic farming, alternative energy, slow life, and local economy. However, such idealism is tem- pered by certain facts. To wit: We live close to nature but earn the best part of our living through words we write on laptops and use in cross-continental Skype meetings, Melissa as a UN con- sultant, myself as a professor and writer. Even as we aspire to “re-nature,” decolonizing some of our detached Cartesian train- ing, our analytical selves still rule. OUT OF SUCH CONTRADICTIONS we’ve fumbled into a sort of biocentric parenting kit. “Biocentrism” means rejoining the web of nature, as opposed to “anthropocentrism,” which places Homo sapiens at center of the show. We’ve come to see the world more biocentrically in part because many Bolivians do. Pachamama (Mother Earth) is the heart of Bolivian cosmo- vision; for example, before taking a sip of a drink, people first pour a few drops on the ground to honor Pachamama. Also, the country is among only two in the world (the other is neigh- boring Ecuador) that has a national Law of Mother Earth that grants nature rights previously reserved for humans. Perhaps more than parenting, it’s childing. Clea Luz—her name suggests the earth’s clay and the sky’s light—is far less con- ditioned than we are. A small, barely verbal child is nature. So we wonder: How to create a family culture with abundant spaces Above: Home is the adobe “round house,” as Clea Luz calls it. Below: Clea spends hours with Boots, her loyal feline companion. PHOTOSBYMELISSACRANEPOWERS LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 50