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  • echotopiandiane

"Braiding Sweetgrass", Echotopia's mission & reciprocity. What's lovexlove got to do with it?

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

The word "Echo" in Echotopia reflects my mission, as does the endlessly looping form of our logo. It took me many months to dream up this name and logo to fit my values and purpose. I have worked in creative advocacy and arts teaching for decades. I am blessed to witness courage, confidence, agency and curiosity in the lives of others: students, teaching interns, fellow advocates and colleagues. Surely the positive impact of such work expands exponentially. Also, I often link visuals with ideas. I believe in thinking outside limiting straight lines and corners, 'outside the box', into curved metaphorical forms. I trust that doing lots of good things at once, efforts that build onto one another like an echo, is what's needed for future generations. For my purposes, an 'echo' is a beneficial or healing sound multiplier, and 'topia' is about a place, after all. Voila!

Three years after I launched Echotopia, a treasured Baltimore teaching artist friend, Valeska, stopped by my market stall one Saturday, looked thoughtfully at my set-up, and then told me about Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & the Teachings of Plants. Valeska then said that my mission-driven business embodied Dr. Kimmerer's philosophy. After hearing that news, I read the book. Poet and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer is now one of my guiding lights. Her glorious book has become my sacred text.

In "Braiding Sweetgrass" Dr. Kimmerer uses the term "reciprocity" which goes beyond our collective human effort at repairing the harm we've done. We are tasked with noticing, then mimicking - in ways that excite and suit us each - the behavior of a garden, a tree, a bee colony, a flowering plant: doing multiple beneficial things at once for our green-blue world. As Dr. Kimmerer tells it, the behavior of a vegetable garden looks a lot like love....for people and other beings. She invites us to engage in reciprocity, in tangible ways, with the natural systems that sustain us, even if we're from settler cultures, as am I.

Dr. Kimmerer's chapter on Aster & Goldenrod has particular resonance. Years ago, I paired these two in my front garden for late-season pollinator food and, yes, beauty. As an occasional visual artist, I loved the color combination against an azure sky. (Years on, a huge volunteer Pink Aster has replaced Purple Aster. Still, at growing season's end, dozens of buzzing, blurring bees, come to stillness, death? on her petals.)

I had taken an introductory workshop on beneficial natives at Blue Water Baltimore and had transformed my small gardens with selected plants who provided food for the greatest numbers of pollinators throughout the growing seasion. Turns out, Aster and Goldenrod also compete for space, and are constantly moving and changing. But that's another story. Turns out, I have only scratched the surface of learning about local native plants in my garden. Still, every year, hungry & tired bees congregate at both plants until frost time, wherever Aster & Goldenrod are on offer.

In 2012 I started making Echotopia's unique Seed Rounds though I didn't have the word 'reciprocity' to describe this circle shaped invention - native seeds embedded in recycled paper. (This project had begun as 16" large recycled paper discs with color pencil drawings of flowers - I called my original invention'Disappearing Drawings" and I even did a video on the topic.) Having learned from research, and having observed my native garden, I was in awe of native wildflowers and their generous abundance. I had decided that a business merely creating LESS trash, being LESS bad, didn't adequately honor our place, nor what I knew to be true about behaviors, based on my life experience. Through Seed Rounds, I integrated a re-sounding expansion of Chesapeake bioregion species protection - local bugs, birds and so on -into my business model. Not coincidentally, pollinator gardens also enhance community beauty and create a sense of wonderment, which makes us all happier.

So, via my Seed Rounds, I enacted my big idea of echoing benefits - a philosophy borrowed from my nature obversations, one that remains exciting to me. Imperfection, death and disappointment, a varied pace and surprises are part of the process. But I lacked a one-word description, and I didn't know of Dr. Kimmerer's work. Today, Reciprocity is a term I use all the time to describe my core mission, my deliberate cycles of good echoes via my business and behaviors. Years on, I continue to grow, then harvest seeds of, native wildflowers and beneficial annuals. I store them through the winter months. I continue to give such seeds to friends at markets for planting pollinator gardens. Braiding Sweetgrass is a must-read book. Thank you, Valeska!

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