Remembering to Remember

Snow douglasia (Douglasia nivalis)

Annual rituals are a wonderful thing. Whether we consciously plan them or not, we all have them. For some it is an annual family trip or a reunion like my family has every July in upstate New York. For others it is a writing or meditation retreat, a sporting event or a car race like it is for my father. Whatever form it takes, we all have them and they give shape to our lives and shape the way we think and behave. How many look forward to that summer trip to the cabin by the lake? We count the days and make sure we have enough vacation time to be able to take it off. We say no to other opportunities in order to make this one thing happen, and we anticipate it. There is something comforting about returning to the same place or activity year after year. It allows us to see how we have changed, if nothing else.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous scientist that teaches at the School for Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, wrote in her delightful book “Braiding Sweetgrass” that “ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention.” Ceremony, ritual, and pilgrimage all have this flavor to them. This is a powerful reminder that the rituals and ceremonies that we engage with have a power to shape our we see and engage with the world.

Having moved to a new place a couple of years ago, I began focusing attention on annual rituals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages. It is the latter that I want to share today. For me a pilgrimage comes into being at the intersection of intention and travel, and may or may not involve ceremony. If it is repeated then it is very much a ritual also. Here in the Methow Valley there are several annual or seasonal ceremonies that we have plugged into and some that we have created ourselves – Summer and Winter Solstices, Autumn and Vernal Equinoxes, Ancestors’ Feast, Coyote Camp, and Native American First Foods ceremonies, to name just a few.

Upper Eagle Lake.

For decades now a friend has been trekking into the mountains to visit a diminutive alpine plant, called the alpine forget-me-not. There is only one place in Washington where it is found and we are lucky to have that place in our backyard, albeit high atop a rocky mountain massif. Last year, I joined this annual botanical pilgrimage and had such a good time that I wanted to do it again this year.

And so we did. He used to visit the plant around July 4th but this year we went in on June 17. Something is changing and the plants are well aware of it. Three of us, two botanists/farmers and myself, spent one night out in the mountains and countless hours exalting at the beauty of the world around us, especially the plants. It was delightful for me to be around such knowledgeable and joyful plant folks.

Alpine forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris)

These alpine plants are hardy folks. They live in a rocky, thin world, where snow lingers long, winds blow fierce, and the growing season is all-too short. In a sense, the pilgrimage is about paying attention to the changes in the world around us, but it is also about honoring the tenacity of life in the high mountains, and to check our own fortitude against theirs.

Annual rituals, ceremonies and pilgrimages are also about “remembering to remember” as Robin Wall Kimmerer said. The forget-me-not pilgrimage then is a perfect way to do this. There is something different about remembering rather than “not forgetting” and I am not quite sure what it is. Perhaps it is that remembering feels more active. And remembering to remember brings attention, intention, and ceremony into being in a way that simply not forgetting does not.

We remember to observe the changes in the world around us and by doing so to notice the changes in ourselves. And we remember that there is a whole world “out there” beyond our own little world and that it is beautiful, vibrant and resilient beyond our imagination. We remember this tiny alpine plant and the beauty it shares with the world and are grateful to be here.

Star Peak.

by David LaFever

4 thoughts on “Remembering to Remember

  1. Ben

    Those forget me not flowers are beautiful! Dave, as you look at the amazing beauty, complexity, simplicity, and designs in this world, do you think there might be an intelligent designer and creator behind it all who wants us to be in awe not only of what is created but also of the Creator?

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    1. Hi Ben – thanks for reading and commenting! When I look at it all I don’t think there is “an intelligent designer” because that sounds too much like there is either (a) an engineer or architect sitting in an office somewhere or (b) a singular god, which has all-too-often been depicted as a blue-eyed, white man, siting in an office that some call heaven, calling the shots. Sounds too static and one-dimensional to me. Also, I don’t think we have to look far to see examples of the harm that comes when a white male is calling the shots from a powerful position (current and past presidents). I do see beauty and am awed by creation or rather creating (an active form of a verb). The creative act is a beautiful thing. There is much in this universe that is beyond my or anyone else’s understanding in the usual way we think of that, and language, quite honestly, cannot express the unexpressable. If your definition of God is the unexpressable then I might be able to get on-board that. But not an intelligent designer, no matter how fabulous we may conceive of them.

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