Southern Conservation Partners is honored to partner with Earthseed Land Collective in Durham, North Carolina and to have served as their 501(c )(3) fiscal sponsor since 2019. Zulayka Santiago in 2023 authored and published a wonderful collection of her essays, meditations, poems, photos, and perspectives on life and nature that focuses on her experiences and observations gained while in residence on Earthseed’s 48-acres of woodlands, meadows, and gardens in north Durham. Zulayka is one of seven founding members of the collective and co-steward of its property purchased in 2016. Triangle Land Conservancy holds a permanent conservation easement over nearly 30-acres of the land, primarily consisting of the forested portion and its streams.
In our view, Zulayka’s writing is masterful, inspirational, and lovely. We highly recommend her book, Outside I Breathe Freely, for your reading and reflection.* Following are excerpts that may give you a taste of her sumptuous compositions.
<click "Read More," below right >
[from the Introduction:]
"In the spring of 2020, our human-centered world came to a halt. There wasn’t a relationship, process, timeline, calendar, vision or plan that wasn’t dramatically altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Not only were we confronting all of the fear and uncertainty that came with a new iteration of a highly contagious virus, we were also coming face-to-face with our own mortality…. During that precarious time, we humans took on all kinds of creative endeavors to fill up our days, to help process our fears, to move some of these overwhelming emotions through our bodies. My refuge became spending extended time in the forest and writing about the gifts I received while listening with an open heart. Forest bathing became, and continues to be, one of my life-saving core practices. To be still, to sit and listen to the wisdom of the many beings that surround me. Contained here is a collection of reflections, poems, photos, and essays…. I asked myself: how could I ever capture in tiny words the majestic wonders of the natural world? … I believe these stories are worth telling. I am committed to writing some of this down because I believe it has value, for ourselves, our children, and other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) folx who yearn for this type of reconnection.
"The overarching purpose of this book is to encourage us to remember that we are not the only wise, sentient beings on this planet; to help illuminate the vast, complex beauty of the natural world; and to foster reconnection. Perhaps then we can begin to remember our intricate interconnection and our belonging. May these reflections bless your life as they have blessed mine. . . .
". . . Earthseed is not just about us—we are also building relationship with this land for our broader community who also yearn to reconnect with themselves, each other and this great big beautiful natural world. We remember that our community also includes a countless number of species and beings that also claim this land as their sanctuary. Earthseed, the place and the people, served as context, muse, teacher, co-conspirator, instigator and inspiration for most of the writing I share with you here.
"It has taken me years of saying the words ‘being in relationship with this land’ to begin to understand that we humans are not the center of the universe. I am still early in my own learning journey of what it means to humble myself before the marvels and wisdom of the more-than-human world. I am understanding that we humans do not reign supreme over all other species and that the concepts of land ‘ownership’ or even ‘stewardship’ can themselves be problematic. I am troubling these concepts in my own heart in order to see more clearly the animacy of this world and my place within it. These are truths that indigenous communities (here and across the world) have been generously and patiently sharing with us. It seems to me that it is a fine time to listen.
Lately it seems that the practice of land acknowledgment has become more common, and sometimes it is just empty words. As I see it, land acknowledgments are about truth-telling and lifting the veils that have for far too long kept us disconnected from the wisdom and medicine that are at the core of indigenous cultures across the globe, including:
Outside I Breathe Freely (an introductory poem)
Outside I breathe freely.
Within these walls I cling to the remembrance of that expansiveness.
The trees whisper to me, across distance and changing landscapes.
I carry them with me.
In every breath they affirm my existence, and I theirs,
Kindred beings extend far beyond my human family
As mycelial networks intertwine our fates—yours and mine.
We are here to continue expanding our circle of belonging,
to serve as witness, fuel, and compost for our collective dreams
of a more just and loving world.
We are here to remember that we are not alone.
This air, our connecting grace.
What follows these introductory pieces are more than sixty essays, reflections, poems, and dozens of gorgeous photographs.
[from Zulayka’s concluding remarks:]
“I now know that I have a responsibility to stand with and speak up for the many, many living beings—beyond us humans—that make up this forest. I have a responsibility to continue listening deeply and watching intently so that I can continue to be a liaison between these worlds that in fact are one. It feels like a tremendous responsibility and the most precious honor. It should, and likely will, impact the ‘how’ of our work as Earthseed. It is a challenge and duty I wholeheartedly accept.”
*The original version of Outside I Breathe Freely was created as a small-batch print run of 125 copies: all have been shared with the world! The author is considering a second run and your interest may encourage her to make it happen. If you'd be interested in a copy for yourself and/or your loved ones, please fill out this form.
When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.... Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land."
There is in fact no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers.
From the President
SCP President Chuck Roe looked at land conservation along the route of John Muir's "Southern Trek."
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