“Some tell me that what I say is true but that I only point out a problem and offer no solution. This is because they cannot give themselves to the solution that is made obvious by how I describe the problem. Tell me, if you are not willing to confess our part in these things and be broken hearted about it, what makes you think you are willing to do something more when you are not willing to do this least of things? I ask you to confess and be broken hearted. If you will not do this, there is no point in saying more.” – Chapter 3, page 79, Growing Up in Occupied America.
I’ve just finished the third reading of author and nomadic permaculturalist Finisia Medrano’s book, Growing Up in Occupied America – a book both born of our culture, and leading beyond it, at times laugh out loud funny, at others heart-breaking, inspiring, and unnerving.
Some know Finisia also as “tranny granny”, due to her physically and spiritually straddling the worlds of male and female. I’ve known of Finisia for a long time, though I’ve never met her. She holds a heroic space for me, nomadically tending the original wild-food-abundant land in places where most would see only desert of the Great Basin and beyond. For this reason, romanticizing her comes easy to me – she does feel like a coyote constantly circling camp from a distance. And yet I know romanticizing marks the spoor of the monstrous epidemic of disconnection, romanticizing with one hand while ostracizing in the other. So let’s keep Finisia human.
In her book, she tells a very human story. The first half she dedicates to telling some of her life story, segueing into writings during her time in a Utah jail cell. Her writing reminds me of Tom Brown, Jr.’s (whose father preached in his family’s local church) – clear, urgent and evangelical, and at the same time lost, vulnerable and despairing.
The Christian story may not move me much (consciously anyway), though I know for my parents, grand-parents, and ancestors it played a large role, but secular puritanism still plays a massive (though diminishing) role in my life. Though there are certainly folks my age who identify as Christian and struggle to keep that way flourishing, I’ve woven a story in my mind of a slow cultural transition to a different kind of guiding story through the generations, as grand-parents gave birth to parents and them to me. Our story continues to change into something more rooted, more about belonging here, and less about waiting for home to find us. For Christians, they may look for their home in heaven. For modern non-Christians, they look for much the same; they may look for hope in the Singularity, or Star Trek, or “evolving to the next level of human consciousness”.
Christian or not, our culture loves to look anywhere but here for peace, meaning, belonging.
So Finisia straddles these stories too, having gone from childhood atheism to adult Christianity to the blended story that guides her now. This story-travel embodies much of what Finisia has to offer – a way of getting from one culture to another, of rethinking of our relationship to civilization and the land.
Finisia talks a lot about the Christian story in her book, holding it close, rejecting it in disgust, seeing it freshly. Cain, the farmer and city-builder, murdering Abel the pastoralist hunter-gatherer across the millenia and across continents.
She also offers the simple reality of planting back the land with wild foods, falling in love with green growing relatives like the biscuit roots, camas, wild onions, pinõn. She offers the innately human rhythm of wandering across what she calls the “hoop”, the seasonal migration according to plant harvest times, climate, altitude. She reminds us that our mothering earth hurts terribly in our spiritual and physical absence, missing us, needing us to replant the places that ranching, agriculture, and backcountry recreation have destroyed or degraded.
I don’t “agree” with everything Finisia has to say; I don’t read books to “agree” with people. I don’t work in the “agreeing” business. I listen to stories, and tell my own. And Finisia’s story – ballsy, accusatory, comical, threatening, cajoling, inspiring, heartbreaking, grounded – moved me, inspired me, and left me wanting more.
You can find her book at Lulu.com – I highly recommend it, and all the proceeds go to support Finisia and the work she does. Read it, and tell your friends to read it. Especially the brave, fierce friends looking for more out of life.
I’d also to specially thank Seda Joseph Saine, the editor, for keeping the flame burning and making sure such a wonderful book got published.