By Rebecca Briesmoore
Editor’s Note: This is a cross-posted blog entry from first year Master’s of Environmental Management (MEM) student Rebecca Briesmoore, originally published on her website on August 7, 2021. You can find more of her work at Briesmoore.com
During the two-week intensive at the beginning of my graduate coursework, we attended a lecture that asked us, “What is Your Rice?”. The lecture was based on a section from the book “What Kind of Ancestor Do you Want to Be,” written by the Dean of the Clark Family School of Environment and Sustainability (ENVS) at Western, Dr. John Hausdoerffer.
Dr. Hausdoerffer relayed the story of a family whose place is this world is deeply connected to the harvesting of wild rice in Minnesota, as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. Inspired by this story, Dr. John wrote about his own version of rice—snowpack in the mountains, and his familial connection to snow.
We were then asked to reflect on our own rice, our own familial connection to something bigger than ourselves—something we hold dear. While I struggled with this prompt, I eventually wrote the following piece, reflecting upon this question and my place in this world.
I grew up in the land of cornfields, where bright blue skies host towering white clouds that contrast with the green of the land.
I grew up among the marshes, along the shore of the Mississippi River, where pelicans reminded us of a time long ago, and eagles gave our bone-chilling winters an awe-filled wonder.
I grew up laying in grass, munching on vegetables freshly picked from the garden, and running barefoot under the trees.
I grew up watching fireflies in the field on summer nights, dancing in rainstorms, and building new worlds in my sandbox.
I grew up catching butterflies, awing over not-so-hidden baby bunny nests and holding toads in my hand.
I grew up noticing great blue herons gently soar above, jumping in mud puddles, and making snow angels in freshly fallen snow.
Twenty years later, I still roll in mud. I dance in rain. I lay in the grass and look at the sky. I skip stones in the creek and never pass a playground without swinging. I roll down hills and ski down slopes.
I wade in cold streams and laugh with the birds singing around me. I go outside at night to see the moon and the stars, and maybe even howl.
My ancestors did not have the luxury of time to play in nature, but they lived within it.
They spent their lives outdoors, surviving on the bountiful resources provided to them by the natural world.
They were a part of nature—living through the ebb and flow of the seasons, resting and working within the Earth’s regular rhythms.
I come from these ancestors—farmers and laborers who tilled and mined the land to make their living.
I come from these families—who spent their lives outdoors, forging deep-seated connections with the natural world.
I come from people who roamed the woods and ran up mountains.
I come from ancestors who not only lived on the land, but who were shaped by its essence.
I want to hold onto that passed-down appreciation, that oneness with nature—but my rice is more than living with nature, it is observing it and playing in it—being present, participating in its daily rhythms. Talking to animals, croaking with frogs, hooting with owls.
My rice is being childlike in wonder—exploring with compulsive curiosity, and always being filled with joy and awe.
And I want to show that love, that joy, that playfulness.
I want to be with children and embrace their wonder, their natural love for a bug or a flower, or something they see and then want to further explore.
I want to encourage them to be playful—to let them get muddy, or grass-stained, or knee-skinned.
I want them to laugh, to smile, to observe, to explore, to ask questions, to think, and to wonder.
And then I want them to remember. I want them to have a life-long friendship with nature.
To jump in puddles when it suits them—or roll down a hill. I want them to dance in the rain and watch the stars move across the sky.
And most of all, I want them to never forget what it is to play in this beautiful and breathtaking earth.