Converging Consciousness: A Plant & Human Co-creation

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Tara Perron Tanaǧidaŋ To Wiŋ. Photo by Nicole Navralti. Other photos by Maggie Dalton and Catherine Dalton.

I often forget, in our human-centered world, that creative inspiration can come from a multitude of human and nonhuman sources. I only need to be open to listening.

During the height of the pandemic, all performances of my choir compositions were canceled and new commissions came to a halt, so I dug into editing scores and redesigning my website. But it wasn’t enough; I needed something creative.

I knew I wanted to combine two passions of mine: my love and deep respect for the Earth, and the power of the human voice. I was also craving in-person interaction. I put these intentions out to the Universe.

Slowly, I began to receive hints. My friend, soprano Regina (Gigi) Stroncek, posted a video of herself improvising a song. I knew I loved her voice, but I didn’t know she could improvise. I realized then that I wanted to create a project that would feature improvised soprano vocals. Soon after, I met Dakota Anishinaabe author and poet Tara Perron Tanaǧidaŋ To Wiŋ at an outdoor filming event for my choir, One Voice Mixed Chorus. We began talking about medicinal plants, and she shared that she had learned about them from her grandmother. I asked her if I could learn from her, and she said yes. The final piece of the puzzle was seeing my friend Dana Boyle’s gorgeous botanical paintings on social media.

After Tara, Gigi, Dana, and I gathered together for the first, time the name for the project came to me: Converging Consciousness. I was beginning to understand the depth of the collaboration.

Over the course of a year and a half, the four of us visited five species of plants growing throughout Belwin Conservancy near Afton. At times bundled up in winter hats and coats, at others with summer shorts and sunglasses, we spent hours sitting beside the plants and listening to them, taking photos, and offering gifts — a song, a strand of hair, and in Tara’s case, tobacco.

Early on, Tara asked us to use the term “plant relatives.” For me and the other collaborators, it changed how we interacted with them.

On our first guided walk, Tara also mentioned that it is important to visit the plant relatives in all seasons, not just when they are in flower, similar to visiting your grandmother even when she is sick.

Tara shared with us the lessons the plant relatives offer. Themes such as taking time to rest, motherhood, and letting go emerged. As Gigi and I learned more about each plant’s medicinal properties and defenses, that information also found its way into the vocal compositions Gigi and I improvised amongst the plants. Every song was different, just as every conversation with a friend is unique.

We invited a film crew to document our process.

“There is something so special about coming back the next year to see the same plant with a different stem — to see it stand upright and beautiful in its community as an old friend, a sister,” Dana remarks in the film. “To be able to feel a part of that community, because we are. To take the time for a visit — I think it means a lot to the plant, to Mother Nature. It’s very meaningful.”

Dana Boyle

Tara spoke about her relationship with milkweed in the film. “She’s a great teacher. Right now, she’s hard at work preparing her young ones to go off into the world. I relate to that. As a mother, we have to learn as we go,” she said. “She’s working right now with her youth [seeds], and then she will gently pop and they’ll be carried. That’s a great reminder that the wind and the earth will help. The burden is not just on the mother. She’s taught me that.”

We shared our final project — combining poetry, botanical paintings, film, and improvised singing — during a 90-minute production at the Southern Theater in October 2023. We are in the process of imagining the next steps for this project, including a future screening of the film in May.

For updates, follow @catherinegdalton on Instagram and @CatherineDaltonsMusic on Facebook. catherinedalton.net