Photograph by Chelsea Bock

The Forest Clearing

On what forests whisper when we listen

“WHAT DOES THE LAND WANT?” We gather in ceremony to hold this central question, trusting the forest will answer in its own time. Around the circle we introduce ourselves to our host, this magnificent nine hundred acres of unceded Kashia and Southern Pomo territory, situated above the Russian River in Sonoma County, California.

Once a church camp, the area is now lovingly stewarded by Shelterwood, a collective of queer, Black, and Indigenous organizers committed to restoring the forest and healing this ecosystem. I and three others who fundraise on behalf of Shelterwood are here this crisp May morning, which happens to be my fifty-first birthday, to connect more deeply with land and water.

We each bring something of significance for the ceremony. A song, a totem, a blessing.

I have brought my mother and infant daughter. As a drum beats, tears flow. Memory is stirred. Grief, pain, and hope enter our sacred space and are held tenderly. Across the circle, my nine-month-old, cradled in the lap of a land protector, quietly fiddles with a string of beads.

The forest wants babies, I think.

The answers are coming.

Beyond the circle, someone whispers, Come over here.

I feel pulled to a clearing. Now I’m distracted. I have an urgency to explore. When we break to go off wandering, I bolt in the direction that calls me. Rolling up a slope, my wheels struggle to grip the forest floor, and I panic, fearing I’ll get stuck.

Keep going.

So I go. I reach a meadow hugged by Douglas fir, coastal live oak, and fragrant bay laurel also known as pepperwood, which is the preferred name used by many of the Indigenous communities of the area. I move across the meadow, edge to edge, making tracks. My heart could burst, I am so giddy.

The forest wants us too.

We have been told a terrible, violent lie that disability is incompatible with nature, that accessibility is antithetical to preservation.

I summon my disabled kin, place them in the meadow with me, begin to dream: A modest, fully accessible home sits at the back of the meadow, near older pepperwood. Smaller accessible cabins dot the front. A contemplative garden is off to the side. A playground and picnic area in the center. Accessible trails connect to the future retreat center, an accessible sauna and hot tub, a builders’ workshop, art studio, and more cabins. Footbridges sturdy enough to hold power wheelchairs crisscross streams.

We have been told a terrible, violent lie that disability is incompatible with nature, that accessibility is antithetical to preservation. This view has severed many disabled people’s relationship to wilderness, rendered us marginalized in matters concerning the environment, and keeps us sidelined in liberatory movements for land rematriation and restoration.

But I hear a whisper.

It says a great forest such as this can welcome us home, help us heal, and yes, even flourish with our particular gifts of resilience, adaptation, and ingenuity.

“Do you see it?” I say breathlessly to a comrade who has joined me in the meadow.

“Yes, Yomi, I see it!” she says, crying.

Yomi Sachiko Wrong is a Northern California–based disability justice dreamer, movement organizer, and writer. She builds spiritual and political home at Shelterwood Collective.