The Ghosts of Nature
Throughout Sierra Club’s history, telling the stories of nature has been key to advancing the progress of preserving the natural world. Here at Sierra Club Connecticut, we've always been in a position of connecting the community at large via storytelling about our connection to nature. Poetry, dance, and performance arts have been used as mediums to express the human experience in relation to the physical world, and Sierra Club Connecticut is excited to honor these forms of expression in relation to nature.
Ann Plato was an African-American and Native American 19th century poet, writer, educator, and was a member of the Talcott Street Church, (now known as the Faith Congregational Church) which is one of the oldest Black American churches in Hartford, CT. Throughout Ann Plato's poetry and essays, she often described her relationship with nature and the environment.
In the essay 'Lessons From Nature' Ms. Plato speaks to an older man, whom she admires greatly, about learning from nature. The elder wise man teaches Ann about the trees, birds, and the beauty of the natural world. Ann is immediately inspired by his stories and is excited to learn more. However, the elder askes a compelling question to Ann, '...have you learned the lessons from nature?' in which Ann replies that she has not. The wise elder tells Ann that she must take a journey to find the lessons of nature and return to him when she is done. Ann begins her journey by observing her community and speaking with the folk that she encounters. As she roams, she notices how people interact with each other and with her.
Some of the lessons she learns are some of the most pivotal moments in this essay, which are the following:
“I saw a widow standing near an open grave; her children stood beside her, and were mourning. The widow looked as if naught, save death, would give her relief; yet, I dreampt not of her sorrow. I spake unto her, but she was silent.”
“On my way I saw a youth, sitting by the road side, I asked him why he wept? He replied, ‘Because all that was dear to me have fallen in battle.’ Said I, tell me of battle! He answered, ‘thou can’st not bear the thought.’”
“Then answered this aged sire, ‘of nature thou ast indeed seen much. Treasure it in thy memory, henceforth, never to be eradicated. We are all God’s family, and he provides for all…[Some] have white complexions, some are red, like our wandering natives, others have sable or olive complexions.’ ‘But God hath made of one blood all who dwell upon the face of the earth.’”
“Let us think of our fellow creatures, as under the care of that Merciful Parent, from whom all blessings proceed, and let our good deeds to those who are less fortunate than ourselves, have root in love.”
Ann discovers the darkness of humanity in relation to nature through grief, sorrow, and the afterlife. She invites readers to see that both the spiritual world and the physical are interconnected. Ms. Plato shares her experience of communicating with those who’ve passed on to the spirit world through her dreams. In this essay, Ann compels the reader to honor nature, humanity, and the ghosts of the past as we do for the love of a higher power.
Ann Plato has been an important figure to me in the work that I do with Sierra Club Connecticut. I am excited to continue the tradition of honoring nature through storytelling by sharing Ann Plato's story about her lessons from nature and beyond. It is important to remember the history of Black and Native Americans and their relationship to cultivating and conserving the earth. Are there any African-American and Native American poets and writers that have inspired you to preserve nature? If so, tell us more!
Reference: Ann Plato's Essay, "Lessons from nature"
Alycia Jenkins is an organizer for Sierra Club Connecticut.