As a girl, I liked to walk a well-worn path through the forest behind my childhood home, eventually arriving at the banks of a narrow stream. On the other side of the stream, shading it with its thick and leafy branches, stood a stout old oak tree. The tree’s gnarled roots straddled the stream, with just enough rising above the water to act like a bridge. Water slipped and gurgled playfully over the root in a little waterfall before continuing a winding path through the forest, moving gently over stones glittering with mica and quartzite.
One day, curious, I kneeled at the base of the waterfall and noticed a narrow, muddy passageway extending behind it: a second, underground stream. Its waters mingled and joined with the waters of the stream that joined it from above.
Like the two streams, many paths intersected at my childhood home. Across the street, on the south side, our house faced the entrance to a trail that led to the top of a mountain. Our house also stood along an east-west road that for centuries had served as a migratory path for animals and as a trail for the peoples who had once lived and hunted in this river valley, including the Nonotuck.
My childhood home — the house and woods — are a metaphor for my life.
I am a human bridge and a trickster traveler between worlds. I know what it is like to belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I help others discover that worlds were never separate in the first place (we just believe them to be so). I love to bring back together that which has been separated, and I have gained courage and resilience by defying efforts to divide, dominate and exploit.
Living at the Crossroads
I’m now in my mid-50s, and I’ve moved more than 27 times and lived in five U.S. cities (and a college town), in four different regions, and in France and Mexico. I’ve slept in luxury beds, on reed mats, old mattresses, and in tents. I’ve lived in garages and attic rooms, trailer parks and quiet apartments, Latino barrios and predominantly Jewish suburbs.
I’ve learned how to be resilient. I’ve experienced homelessness and times when I couldn’t pay the rent … or my mortgage. I’ve had to move because of a major earthquake. I’ve learned how to barter and how to live on food from a community garden, especially when enduring tough times. I’ve dealt with long-term illness and moves across the U.S. on my own. I’ve navigated very scary situations.
But most importantly, I have met people from diverse walks of life, and they’re the ones who have taught me about resilience. Women who’ve raised kids on their own, despite precarious financial situations. Friends who’ve grown up in shacks and without shoes. People who’ve witnessed unimagineable acts of violence and have had to flee across borders to escape. Friends who have survived threats and acts of racial terror as well as daily acts meant to “put them in their place.” Their lessons on resilience stay with me.
Strangers have also imparted wisdom with me, from the man on the bus to the woman in the park to the stranger standing in the middle of a field in a very rural area, when no one else was around.
As I child, I was greatly inspired by hearing the speech of an elder in the Wolf Clan of the Great Lakota/ Dakota/ Nakota Nation, who spoke at my school. We spoke at length after his speech, and I will never forget when he looked me in the eye and said, “I want you to have my speaking notes. I think you understand.” He told me to learn from the way of the sacred circle. I never forgot his words.
The sacred circle includes more-than-humans: animals and plants and trees, the waters, the fire, the air, the Earth, and the spirit world, including ancestors. In 8th grade (1980?), I gained knowledge about this interconnectedness by applying to and getting accepted into a three-week, all-day environmental education program. My fellow students and I learned where the water we drank came from. We learned the history of the mountain valley we lived in. We learned how to think about interdependent relationships, ecosystems, bioregions. Our teachers also awakened us to the dangers of plastic waste and pollution.
To this day, I feel kinship with trees, stones, frogs. They too are my teachers. I have always felt a Calling to cultivate reverence for the Living Earth. We have much to learn from recognizing our interconnectedness. It will help us move like the river through our tough times or moments when we’re not sure what to do next.
Even my name evokes a spirit of connection. My first name Corinna comes from Kore, the Greek goddess who travels to the Underworld every year so she can bring Spring back to earth. My last name, Moebius, coincides with the Moebius strip, a famous mathematical figure (“invented” by my great great uncle). It looks like it has two sides but really has just one; you may recognize it as the symbol of recycling.
My father, a musician, professor and scholar of myth, folktales and children’s picture books, introduced me at a young age to the world of myths, symbols, codes and archetypes. He taught me to value oral and not just print storytelling traditions, and to learn myths and stories from all over the world (including those of immigrants and diasporas) instead of settling with “single stories.”
At age 10, my father took our family camping across Western Europe during his sabbatical. I listened and learned from locals in every place we visited, eager to understand all I could about my fellow humans and their cultural experiences and histories. When our youth orchestra toured Eastern Europe some years later, I earned the nickname “Tour Cultural Ambassador” thanks to my in-depth conversations with strangers.
Ecology and Empathy: Learning from My Mother and Other Teachers
My mother, an organic gardener and musician, nurtured my love of the natural world through her deep empathic connection with plants. Complementing her teaching and examples was the knowledge I gained from the dedicated Earth advocates who taught ecology at my high school.
My mother is also empathetic towards humans, regardless of differences in race, social class, etc. Through her example, I learned how to strike up conversations with strangers, how to speak out with courage as an ally, and how to engage in activism for a more just and regenerative world.
Back home, a high school class in “African American Literature” sparked my desire to learn about the histories and experiences of people of color. In the years that followed, I was a voracious reader of autobiographies, fiction, non-fiction and poetry by Black, Latino, and Native American authors in particular. By my early twenties, my circle of friends had become very racially diverse; my social network became even more richly diverse in the years that followed.
Lessons from Ancestors
I also recognize how my values are shaped by my grandparents. I was closest with my Grandmama, my mother’s mother, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University (and the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in that department). A lifelong Southerner, she conducted a study and wrote a book (published in the early 1960s!) about the impacts of desegregation on the racial attitudes of residents in a recently integrated senior center in Nashville.
My mother’s father was an attorney know for defending poor and unjustly treated clients. My father’s father was the president of the Moebius Printing Company in Milwaukee (logo above right); he strongly believed in interacting with, learning from and valuing the work of every single employee.
I’ll never forget when my father’s mother, at age 100, looked me straight in the eye and said that “racism is not permitted in our family.”
She told me that her mother–then a widow–turned her farm into a secret safe haven for Black Americans fleeing to Canada. She provided food and shelter to families before they whisked away on the next leg of their journey. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 criminalized all U.S. citizens who refused to help return any escaping enslaved people to their enslavers in the South.
Her farm was part of Wisconsin’s Underground Railroad.
I like to think that I am continuing their legacy with my own work.