In June 2014, FRLT Membership Coordinator Vanessa Vasquez participated in a symposium held at Heart K Ranch, " Maidu Relationships to Land: A gathering of people." She was quite moved by the experience, and she shares her reflections with us here. Vanessa joined the FRLT team in August 2013.

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FRLT Membership and Outreach Coordinator, Vanessa Vasquez
I grew up in a small corner of the Feather River watershed (the West Branch of the North Fork) in Paradise, CA.  One of my most favorite parts of moving to Plumas County and my employment with the Feather River Land Trust is that I am getting to know the larger watershed with its various mountain meadows, tributaries and diverse communities.  While I call the Feather River home, I still have much to learn about the landscape that we at the Land Trust are working hard to conserve.  This June I had the great privilege to grow familiar with a very special place in the Feather River region—the Heart K Ranch

Although I had spent many hours at the Heart K Ranch for work (FRLT owns and manages the Heart K) before June of 2014, my experience on one particular weekend was unique and one I will always remember. 

On June 26, 27, and 28 I was a participant in a gathering and camp-out hosted by Trina Cunningham of the Maidu Summit Consortium and organized in conjunction with the Northeast Information Center of Chico State University.  This gathering was called "Maidu Relationships to Land: A gathering of people."  The Symposium, as we called it, was organized around dialoguing about Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), planning with traditional management practices and how current land managers like the US Forest Service and the Land Trust can incorporate TEK.  The gathering was also about recognizing the knowledge and skills of the Mountain Maidu whose land we now are living on and call ours. Participants included a large contingent from the Plumas National Forest, Plumas Audubon members, Chico State faculty and students, Maidu Summit Consortium leaders, local Genesee and Indian Valley residents, ranchers, members of the Greenville and Susanville Rancheria and FRLT staff. 

Indian Creek on Heart K Ranch in June
The gathering took place under a majestic acorn tree (or Black Oak as us European descendants usually call them) on the Davis Ranch on the south side of the Heart K.  The weather was spectacular, a little on the cool side for June, with big puffy clouds and a slight breeze (check out my pictures on our Flickr account and Facebook page). 

Food was abundant at the gathering, we camped under big Ponderosas and shared wine in the evening.  I took a solitary walk to the river for a chilly dip and watched a doe come down to the bank for a drink.  On the morning of the second day many of us took a bird walk with Plumas Audubon interns and we listened to the calls through a Healthy Forest restoration area.  Heart K natives, Trina and Marvin Cunningham shared family stories of farm life in Genesee Valley.  We sat in a circle, listened and got to know one another.

While many participants shared wisdom, ways we can do better as land stewards, and a deep love for nature that ties us together, the opening words of an elder and lifetime resident of Indian Valley struck me with their universality and hope. The valuable takeaways I got from Wilhelmina Ives are the following:

Be a good person.  Be kind to one another.  In order to be a good person you have to live true to yourself and have self-respect.  Be a leader by leading by example.  We are all in this together but life is fairly simple.  Work hard and have respect for yourself, the land and your community.  While we can never go back to the way things were we can have a good life by finding balance.

Gathering under the Acorn Tree at Heart K
 As I mentioned, we sat in a circle under an “acorn tree”. Naming an oak tree “acorn tree” is the other watershed moment I had at the TEK Symposium.  When Trina welcomed us she shared the Maidu word for the beautiful Black Oak that shaded our gathering space.  The English translation of the word was Acorn Tree.  She pointed out that the word for this type of tree represented how the tree was valued by the Maidu people.  It was valued as a food source--for acorns rather than for timber.  They did not build with oak but cultivated them for the nutritious calories they provided.  I looked at this tree with new eyes.  Having grown up in an oak woodland I have always loved being surrounded by these majestic trees.  I knew that acorns were edible and important to California Natives, but to hear their name, spoken with their full value and appreciation, I got to know my home on a deeper level.

What I learned from the TEK Symposium weekend was how to be a better community member--while our forests and waterways may need immediate attention and restoration they also need sustained care just as our human relationships do.  We are not just caretakers, we are cared for by our non-human communities (plants, forests, waters).  As we cultivate and re-establish our connections to the land (as we strive to do in the conservation field) we also need to remember to honor and respect our elders, the people that came before us and all the people who are right here with us in our current ecosystem.

A Gartner Snake peeks at Vanessa
On Sunday before the group dispersed I sat quietly amongst the homestead apple trees.  A sacred stream flowed past me in complete disregard to the drought.  Red columbine bobbed in the breeze. I surveyed the Davis meadow with my senses.  I heard human voices and the muted bellows of cows below. I noticed the mix of milkweed, yarrow, grass and star thistle that grew around the rocks I was sitting on.  A brave little garter snake popped his head out of a gopher hole and watched me for a long while.  I felt complete gratitude for being in the snake’s presence.  When he realized it was safe to come out, he darted away to the next gopher hole and I walked down the slope to the acorn tree we had gathered around.  
Thursday, February 19, 2015