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Doing Whatever You Can
Published on June 28, 2023 by groundhogs


 "Hey… I just have to ask… what are y'all doing down there?" 
 "Fixing the creek." 
 "What do you mean?" 
 "We're moving rocks to stop the northern bank from eroding, and to slow the flow here." 
 "Hmm. Just doing whatever you can?" 
 "Yup." 
 "I like to see people doing that." 


 That's my storyteller memory of a brief conversation we had with an older white lady who was the only one to notice us mucking about (literally and figuratively) in the creek that forms part of their subdevelopments' boundary. 


 Whenever white folk approach us when we're doing land stewardship, it presents for us a rapid series of tense choices, starting by picking from one of the four: flee, fight, freeze, or fawn. 


 Trauma-aware readers might clock what we're saying here: every time a white person comes up to us, it's a trigger. This time, we chose fawn, though its a bit delusional to present that as a choice: by the time she'd seen us, freezing or fleeing wasn't on the table, and we know we can't fight (even discursively) an agent of a settler-colony over land use and win. 


 This interaction led to a conversation among us Groundhogs, where we learned we were all feeling the same thing: something around us is changing, this summer, and people's attitudes toward what we, here, in Durham, should be doing about the compound crises facing us, are solidifying. And this is leading to folk shifting what is they care about - "care" in the sense of an emotional state, but also, "care" in the sense of an action. The old lady walking by the creek? She cared about the creek, so liked that we were caring for the creek: who we were, beyond people caring for the creek, wasn't something she cared about. 


 Other folk care about other things, like money. The folk who own the house we rent, for example. They care about money, so when we complained about two rotting trees in falling distance of the house, they couldn't care, because caring about the rotting trees would cost them money. 


 They care about money, so when an accomplice offered to remove the trees for free, for our safety and security, the folk who own the house said they couldn't, it posed some kind of liability. So the rotting trees continued to stand. 


 An aside: Our city is currently moving into a drought, and we can see reflected in the new growth on trees that the water table has already dropped below where many of our trees can access. This means that the roots holding trees in are weaker and shallower, and trees are more liable to fall over. 


 "That tree's gonna fall with the first tropical storm of summer," I said, looking through the moist rotten hole in the trunk to the arborist the landlord finally sent to come out. 


 "This isn't rot," he informed me. While these conversations were happening, the landlord was also demanding we remove the landscaping we'd added in an attempt to reduce the damages of floods to his property. 


 "This is an investment property and we need to make sure it is treated as such," is roughly what they said in an email, clarifying that we would have to remove all the native trees & shrubs we've planted to replace the bare clay that was here before. 


 The first tropical storm of summer came over the weekend, and the tree fell down on our roof. Everyone here, and all our stuff, is fine. But the removal of the tree was costly for the landlord, and the repair of the roof will be too. 


 "I'm so sorry this happened," the mother-in-law of who owns the property told us when she came to take photos. 


 "We complained about this tree repeatedly and Andrew denied it was a problem. We're not sad, we're angry. If this is an investment property, y'all need to treat it as in investment," we retorted. 


 And then she had the audacity to compliment the garden paths which we had been ordered to remove by her son-in-law. We pointed out the contradictions, she shrugged and blamed whoever else she could, as fast as she could: the neighbor for complaining to the city, the city, the property manager… none of whom have any authority over the land use: it's the property owner who is forcing the removal of the garden, and they're so wrapped up in caring about money they can't even see it's a choice they're making. 


 So, we're doing whatever we can to care for what we care about, while others are doing the same. As the relationship between land and money becomes more undeniable to local settlers, these acts of care are coming into sharper contradiction. These contradictions are huge opportunities for folk to practice the solutions to these problems that are already here, and that's exactly what we're trying to bring our energy toward, with our days. 


 In that spirit, we've renamed the land stewardship we're doing around this house to "Kuda Shuda Gardens" - the local accent for "Could've Should've Gardens." 


 Here, we've been doing what other folk could and should have been doing, for a couple years now. We've been building the soil, cultivating the landraces, building the animal populations. 


 With what folk care about coming into sharper contrast, there's more and more people realizing they'd like to start doing similar. If this is something you care about, reach out. 

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