More than just getting acclimated to the climate, I realized today that the traditional lifestyle and religious belief of the Tohono O’odham is very uncomfortable in practice for someone brought up in modern society. According to Mr. Angelo Joaquin of the Tohono O’odham tribe, “We don’t survive [the desert]; we live with it,” saying that living in the desert is not something they just cope with but is integral to their very way of life. As popular it is nowadays to go “reconvene with nature” by going on hikes and sitting outside, this activities really do not compare to actually delving into an ecosystem.
Today, at the Desert Museum outside of Tucson, we had to opportunity to explore the desert and its natural inhabitants in a somewhat controlled setting. I really enjoyed strolling along the Desert Pathway and through the Cacti Garden. Who doesn’t love looking at pretty, and sometimes funny looking, plants? However, the second that a coyote started trotting over to me I immediately felt terrified and quickly walked away, despite knowing that they were kept within a netted cage. While I like to think as someone who enjoys nature, the reality is that when confronted with nature in its wildness and as it really is, I immediately have the instinct to flee. The nature I like is the carefully constructed nature of the Colonnade on W&L’s campus or a white water rafting trip down the Nantahala in North Carolina. These dalliances with nature, however, do not reflect nature as it really is or as the Tohono O’odham approach it.
Mr. Joaquin mentioned that coming home to Arizona evokes a “sense of place” and that he enjoys “being in a land that is the same color as me.” However, identifying and truly loving a land means celebrating all that it offers you, which relates to the Tohono O’odham notion of kinship between all plants, animals, places, and people. Objectively, I do not practice this type of belief at all. I even was wary of the lizards that kept running across the pathways. While I may be jumpier than some people, the majority of most city dwellers interactions with nature comes from killing bugs and visiting zoos. Ruthlessly killing stink bugs in my freshman dorm by sucking them up with a hand vacuum does not exemplify the all-encompassing kinship of the Tohono O’odham, nor does looking at animals through a thick pane of glass. As I continue to get more familiar with the flora and fauna of southern Arizona, I hopefully will become more comfortable and relaxed while exploring the landscape. If I am successful at accepting and enjoying nature in its true, wild form here, I would then be able to more fully enjoy the Virginia environment and become more acquainted with its other native inhabitants.