Living As if This is the Land that Feeds You

Reflections on home and place as I depart for a year at Stanford

J. Nathan Matias
4 min readSep 2, 2022

Last Saturday, I cycled from Ithaca to Chittenango and back, my last ride before moving to California for a year-long fellowship at CASBS.

Three years into my time at Cornell, I reflected on what it means to be a guest, a newcomer, and eventually a local.

As I climbed, the sun slowly rose over the hills above Lansing.

“Fog shrouds the land. There is just this rock in the half-darkness… reminding me how tenuous my perch is on this tiny island.”

The Anishinaabe botanist and poet Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer asks what it means to become indigenous to place in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. I listened to the chapter “In the Footsteps of Nanabozho,” on my ride.

The fog and mild smoke of Saturday’s ride felt like a microcosm of the last 3 years, which were defined by surviving my sensitivity to the air pollution in this beautiful region.

I rode for hours in the valley haze before climbing high enough to see the sun.

Saturday’s ride, like all my journeys, took me through the homelands of the nations in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

As a descendant of Mam people in Central America, I’m a long way from my family’s homeland. So I have tried to learn about the first peoples of this land.

The midpoint of my au revoir ride, Chittenango NY, was the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, who is known for 2 things:

In Chittenango, I had a sandwich & drink at the Maple Leaf Market, a convenience store run by the Oneida Nation.

By the early 1820s, illegal treaties had reduced Oneida land from millions of acres to 32. Since then, they have re-acquired over 18 thousand acres.

Oneida Reservation Map, showing Nation Lands

“Like my elders before me, I want to envision a way that an immigrant society could become indigenous to place, but I’m stumbling on the words… if people do not feel `indigenous,’ can they nevertheless enter into the deep reciprocity that renews the world?” — Kimmerer

By early afternoon, the temperature had grown from the mid-40s to the mid-90s. I bought a banana from the kind people at Poole’s Drive-in, who filled my water & looked on bemused as I poured salt from the shaker into my bottle.

“Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you,” writes Kimmerer, “as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit.”

I ended my “Au Revoir Ithaca” ride at Myers Park, just as the Meg A Moo’s truck arrived bearing ice cream sandwiches. Perfect timing.

As I prepared to go home after ~143 miles through Central NY, I thought about what it meant to have a home to go to after so many years of housing instability.

“Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.” — Kimmerer

See you soon, Ithaca.



J. Nathan Matias

Citizen social science to improve digital life & hold tech accountable. Assistant Prof, Cornell. Prev: Princeton, MIT. Guatemalan-American