Back to Nature (Published on - Jan. 26, 2006)
Conversation with an Elder
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
The sun softens as it sets, bathing everything in a golden warmth.
On a mild afternoon in April a few years back, I sat in the company of a much-cared-for Lakota Elder listening as he spoke of journeys, lessons learned, actions forgiven, loves lost and won, children, traditions, expectations and disappointments.

As the afternoon fell away so did the sounds of traffic seeming to disappear into the far distance. The birds seemed to come close in song, the clouds passed over in cloud design and the sun softened as it set bathing us in golden warmth. His dark, ancient eyes told more than his spoken words, as his gnarled fingers punctuated the air drawing pictures on breezes.

He explained that he believed nothing in this universe mattered more than family. But his understanding of family was not meant to be interpreted as those immediate members of mother, father, son and daughter. As he spoke, he expressed that we are members of a much larger family, much larger than the human race, much larger than all the two leggeds and four leggeds, the winged and the finned. We are members of the tribe of all living things.

He did not stop there.

What may seem ancient, old and dead to us including the stones, the soil, the waters, the clouds – are all living. What we can’t see, but know in our hearts; the ancients that surround us, our angels, one may say; the essence of life connects us all as if with an umbilical cord attaching us to Mother Earth; the stars; the planets and beyond. With each breath we breathe we are connected to the mist, the dew, the rains, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, the clouds, the atmosphere, life’s blood.

He spoke further about our family’s endless search for answers, how we look for ways to fulfill the emptiness or loneliness, that ache for knowledge, that need to understand the power of the life force around us, the good, the bad and make sense of it all.

This Lakota man said he’d traveled many roads and had seen many things on his pilgrimage searching for answers.

One day he came to an Elder and asked for advice. He explained his path and search.

“Even though I’ve searched all over the world for answers I’m stricken in despair for not finding them.”

The Elder told him, “You’ve had your answers with you all the time. They’re as close as your own fingertips. Reach inside yourself, deep inside, and know, only you can make the difference.”

Only you can make the difference. While you may feel like only one sword or one shield against the wrongs you see, only you can make the difference. Look around you. If today there are fewer than 7,000 wild tigers in the world, you can make a difference by helping to save just one. Because of poaching, African Elephant populations dropped by 50 percent, from 1.3 million to 600,000, between 1979 and 1989. Help save one elephant.

When your actions marry those of thousands and thousands more, your voice will be heard as the voice of a family – the family of life – a family so large that it can revolutionize our world to accept global and corporate ecological responsibility. As a member of the family of life, only you can make that difference, back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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