The retreat of permafrost is so much more than just climate change. Thaw reveals hidden landscapes out of sight, under our feet, just as it transforms birthplaces, tribal lands, and hunting grounds, shifting plant–people traditions, animal migrations, physical resources and spiritual well-being. Its mobility is its freedom. The art of paying attention to these challenges is closely tied to landscape studies, wherein place, culture, stories, and worldviews mingle with ecology and hydrology. Appreciating landscape in the twenty-first century also includes the politics of resource management that contour decision making and lay bare the violent past that replaced slowly cultivated wisdom and multi-generational instruction with “solutions” that include elevated infrastructure and raised boardwalks, just as they include recommendations for costly analysis that sustains remote itineraries. The principal outcome of recommended “solutions” is always conflict, because it sets up a binary, an immediate calculation that there is a “problem” to be solved. Problem-solution design disregards any lessons learned across time in communities who thrive through adaptation with other species, with retreating permafrost, through education and with the changeable landscape.

According to the Inuit Circumpolar Council, “Indigenous knowledge is a systematic way of thinking applied to phenomena across biological, physical, cultural, and spiritual systems.” It includes insights based on evidence acquired through direct and long-term experiences developed over millennia and is still developing in a living process that includes past, present, and future knowledge.

“But it is also about the effort to remember, and the need to remember, my effort and my need to remember, compelled as I am by my memory. Memory, however, is volatile, slippery; we tie it down, as the classical orators did, by linking it to places, sites.”

          — Ruth Behar, The Vulnerable Observer:                     Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart

With this definition in mind, the question I would like to consider is how design practices might be revived by “acquiring direct and long-term experiences and extensive and multigenerational observations, lessons and skills across biological, physical, cultural and spiritual systems.” This question is not offered as another system of appropriation. I prefer to keep thinking with Richard Wagamese, who acknowledges that: “The truth is that (indigenous) teachings are available to everyone and all you need to do is pay attention to the world around you and be open to knowledge when it arrives.” Landscape studies expand through Western science and traditional knowledge because they both offer methods for reading the land.

Generally speaking, scientists use the intellect and the senses, usually enhanced by technology. By setting spirit to the side, emotions cannot participate. Often science dismisses Indigenous knowledge as folklore, and lacking objective or empirical insight, and thus validity. But Indigenous knowledge, too, is based on observation, on experiment. The difference is that it includes spiritual relationships and emotional explanations. Traditional knowledge brings together the seen and the unseen, whereas Western science leans on the visible, knowable, and recordable signs, evidence that lends itself to being tallied, tabulated, modelled, monitored, or censored. In Yup’ik oral tra- dition, humans are on equal ground with nature, such that “evidence” has less demonstrable effect on the experience of life.

I agree with Ruth Behar that to fill the gap between vulnerable observation and overt appropriation requires an understanding of what aspects of the self are most important to filter when choosing to perceive, describe, or otherwise act in the world. The gap raises ques- tions about whether or not first-hand experience is always gained in the field, or if something is actually lost when the observer humiliates herself by traveling into someone else’s world, seemingly to share an urgency that is keenly impersonal. I’ve always focused my fieldwork by turning away from humans, because I act with a belief that I am studying the landscape, which absolves my methods from the complications of humankind. I do not pretend to identify with ethnographic methods because I study landscape; when this feels overly broad, I usually turn to plant life. Paying attention to plants grants access to the connections between people and tradition, which, in turn, grants me access to the cultural and natural perspectives that shape landscape.

This is where I saw two worlds at once, where I could see that there was another way to describe a multispecies method, to explain why plants are so important to me because they help me see the landscape, and that in turn, plants bring people back to earth. For instance, my planned research trip to Niugtaq was focused on Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum), which was a way to get at the attendant relationships linked to foraging. As it reproduces, the plant spreads and so too will the forager, as life is reflected in the practical nuances of change.

Labrador tea is so called because it is a common infusion rich in Vitamin C. It is shallow rooting, which makes it very adaptable to lands that are often frozen below the active layer. Working back- wards, the plant is migrating with the changes in hydrology tied to warms, while a forager begins to move further and further afield in order to find supply. Humans must remain active to the transitions of plant life. But developing a pedagogic practice that integrates inquiry- based and place-based knowledge does not necessitate being there. Instead, the glaring gaps in knowledge, edified for the coastal elite, are left bare. Distance from land-based practice uncovers our vulnerability, or as Terry Tempest Williams so aptly describes: “Perhaps the most radical thing we can do is to stay at home, so we can learn the names of the plants and animals around us; so that we can begin to know what tradition we are part of.”

In her seminal work on the colonization of plant knowledge, Wendy Makoons Geniusz suggests that plant knowledge can be decolonized, reclaimed, and made useful by returning to multigenerational botanical teachings and taking control of research contained in foreign languages: “Rather than trying to explain ourselves to the rest of the world, we are trying to regain and revitalize teachings that were or are being lost from our families and our traditions.” Working with living materials and organisms, Geniusz provides recipes and instructions within her scholarly texts. What she details are practices: “These instructions are given so that readers will know how to make these things, rather than just knowing that they can be made.” What I learned from not doing fieldwork for this case was that I could brew tea and give thanks to the plants around me from my own kitchen.