Moving Close to the Ground: A Messy Love Song

(from a talk first given at the Queer/Trans Ecologies Symposium, University of Minnesota, 2023 )

When I face a craggy trail, a lip of rock, or a narrow bridge without handrails—my balance more precarious than usual—I often drop down onto my hands and knees. Neither a protest against ableism nor a performance of disability, moving close to the ground offers me so much possibility and connection. Muscles loosen. Pace slows. Eyes, ears, nose focus. Yet I am still alone.

I want to share these experiences with folks who will understand them both viscerally and politically. I yearn for a disability love song to scooting and crawling.

A trail with large rocks and roots meanders through the trees.Kettle Pond in October: walking over roots and rocks, slick from the morning’s rain, I slow down. I concentrate. I brace myself through a stumble. My sweetie, long familiar with my pace and rhythm, offers me a hand. He knows that on this terrain I need a third point of contact to steady myself. Before taking his hand, I hesitate, feel a moment of conflict. A slew of ableist lies reverberates through me—burden, clumsy, ugly. And then, as palms slide together, his solid stance bolstering mine, I remember: not burden but love, not ugly but the quivering of aspen leaves, not clumsy but slow and intimate. Our creation of access makes the roots and rocks less treacherous but still difficult—terrain that I simply need to cross.

But when I decide to stop walking and instead lower my center of gravity and scoot, these roots are no longer a barrier. Rather, they form tributaries, crevices, miniature caves cushioned in moss, calling out to me. An orange-brown newt catches my motion, holds stock-still.

I have developed many strategies to gain access in the world. Certainly moving close to the ground excels as one of these strategies. But just as importantly, it leads me deeper into intimacy with the more-than-human world. Access and intimacy don’t always work in tandem; the wheelchair ramp into the post office or double time on timed tests isn’t necessarily created through close and abiding relationships. Likewise, access doesn’t guarantee familiarity and affection. But when the two come together—access creating intimacy and in turn intimacy fostering deeper and broader access—I feel tremendous ease and belonging. The pair strengthens my closest relationships, both with humans and with trees and rocks, chipmunks and maple leaves, trillium and lichen.

copyright 2022, Eli Clare