The Footprints of the Windigo

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A passage caught my attention as I was riding the bus to work this morning, and I thought it might be an interesting way to approach this month's conversation.

Kimmerer talks about stories about the Windigo--a legendary monster with a heart made of ice that's insatiably hungry and is a cannibal that becomes more ravenous the more it eats. Say says, "It shrieks with its craving, its mind a torture of unmet want. Consumed by consumption, it lays waste to humankind." She doesn't bring this up, but I want to point out that while there are a number of stories about the Windigo in popular culture, they don't stay true to the stories the Anishinaabe people tell. (For more on that, check this out.)

Kimmerer says the following in reference to the footprints of the Windigo:

They're everywhere you look. They stomp in the industrial sludge of Onondaga Lake. And over a savagely clear-cut slope in the Oregon Coast Range where the early is slumping into the river. You can see them where coal mines rip off mountaintops in West Virginia and in oil-slick footprints on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. A square mile of industrial soybeans. A diamond mine in Rwanda. A closet stuffed with clothes. Windigo footprints all, they are the tracks of insatiable consumption. So many have been bitten. You can see them walking the malls, eying your farm for a housing development, running for Congress.

We are all complicit. We've allowed the 'market' to define what we value so that the redefined common good seems to depend on profligate lifestyles that enrich the sellers while impoverishing the soul and the earth.

I'd love thought on this passage as well as thoughts on how you think about consumption in your own life.

20 thoughts on “The Footprints of the Windigo”

  1. I feel like this topic also intersects with parenting. Those of you who are parents, what kinds of conversations do you have with your kids about the endless desire for more "stuff"? The jalapeno (who is 9) talks regularly about how he wants to be rich and live in a mansion. Wouldn't it just be easier if I could respond by saying, "Kid, don't take more than you need or the Windigo will come after you!"

    1. We're sort of bumping into that right now. Four and a half years in, Newbish has become a burgeoning materialist. Maybe not to the degree that a lot of kids are, but there's definitely become an addiction to the thrill of acquisition. His current obsession in Hot Wheels cars, and while a 99 cent fix isn't any sort of financial burden, it still runs against everything we're trying to teach him.

      We're trying to slow it down, but to some degree, the genie has been let out of the lamp. We're trying to instill generosity in the meantime, but lately, it's been difficult. We went to a benefit for a neighbor who has an ailing newborn, and there was a silent auction. We're currently self-justifying the purchase we made there as a charitable contribution, but the reality is that we just bought yet another thing for a kid who doesn't need it.

      1. My son is 7 and he rarely asks for anything when we go out, but he's currently obsessed with books and having entire collections of books. Which, great, it's books. But the library would be better half the time at least. He'll get 12 books from the same author, read two of them, then says he wants to donate them all and get a different series.

        He's also obsessed with acquiring paper so he can write books. At least that's cheap.

        1. He's also obsessed with acquiring paper so he can write books. At least that's cheap.

          But bulky over time. Our oldest draws a lot and wants to keep everything. Paper everywhere. I've put some limits on that in giving him a box and all his art, in the infrequent times of cleaning up, must fit in there. However, there's still stuff everywhere in his room.

          1. Whenever my son asks for more paper, we make him go through all his loose paper and find out what he wants to recycle. So far, so good.

        2. Yeah, Newbish has also fallen in love with books, so weekly trips to the library keep things fresh and also prevent us from having to bring a second bookshelf into his room.

    2. While responding to Beau, I was reminded of our second. He hoards stuff, albeit in a "neat" way. We got him a cube organizer and everything has to fit in there. So he has five bins filled with stuff. Everything looks neat at a surface level until you look in those bins and realize they're full. That's been our method so far. Give them a volume to fill and that's it. We haven't yet been pressed on what happens when that volume is full and more things arrive.

      1. and more things arrive.

        I hate birthday party goody bags with a passion. So many terrible, tiny plastic toys!

        Our church is another ongoing source of frustration. I recognize the challenge of making Sunday school enticing for kids, but why do the kids have to come up with so much plastic junk?

        1. I'm inclined to think that the plastic junk has little to do with making Sunday school enticing for kids and more to do with being convenient for adults. Our Sunday School usually had silly paper projects, and my kids tired of it long before they aged out. Only the 3-year-old still goes, and I suspect she'll be bored before she's in Kindergarten.

          100% agree on the birthday bags.

        2. Sunday school teacher here. We have resorted to doing a science experiment in place of a craft. The kids love it, and my wife and I get to exercise the contortionist parts of our brains to make it fit with the lesson!

          So far we've done:
          * Isolated DNA from a banana
          * Math magic tricks where I guess what number they chose after doing a bunch of math operations
          * Magnifying glass out of water and a plastic bottle
          * Order from chaos with a box of colored pencils (see here)
          * How many cotton balls can you fit into a mason jar filled to the brim with water?
          * Probably something else I can't remember...

    3. Wouldn't it just be easier if I could respond by saying, "Kid, don't take more than you need or the Windigo will come after you!"

      Why can't you say that now?

    4. We don’t have cable or satellite television service, or even a OTA broadcast antenna. We have in the past, but the expense and the relentless advertising made us cut cords well in advance of the rise in high-quality programming produced by streaming services. We subscribe to a few of those, so it’s not like we’re averse to the idea of TV.

      The first time the Poissonnière really noticed commercials was last summer. We were watching a Twins game via MLBtv. On our older Apple TV, the commercial breaks just get a splash screen indicating a commercial break is in progress, but MLB updates the app on my iPad often enough that their commercials come through. (They get $125 annually from me and still show me ads?! That’s easily one of my biggest criticisms of their digital product.) I forget what was being advertised, but she was clearly confused and asked why we weren’t watching baseball anymore. I replied that it was a commercial, and asked her if she knew what a commercial is. She shook her head, so I explained:

      “Commercials are mean tricks. They are mean tricks that are supposed to make you feel bad about yourself. They tell you lies about your body, or try to make you feel bad about the toys and things you already have so you buy something new.”

      She clearly was listening, because later in the game she started asking me if I knew what commercials are, and then repeating the “Commercials are mean tricks.” line. Over the last year she has started noticing ads in other settings — magazines, billboards, and especially the awful vinyl wraps that cover the windows on our buses — and describes them all as commercials. I’m glad, because my purpose for telling her what I did wasn’t purely to thwart toy manufacturers’ hooks; instead, I wanted to start preparing her mentally for the bombardment she’s going to get from advertisers telling her what to think about her body or her potential as a person.

      She’s still interested in new toys, which is to be expected, but thankfully she doesn’t beg for them often. She has too many for our preference, but most of the toys she has are due to excesses from older relatives; we feel pretty overwhelmed with the volume at holidays & birthdays, despite gently asking for moderation or useful alternatives. I don’t have any reservations about books and buy her these pretty regularly, but do so without her input. She loves reading, so I know there will be a time when she gets into multi-book series reading, but that’s where the library will come in. The new building for our local branch of the People’s Republic’s library opens this weekend, so we’ll go check that out and get her reconnected with book borrowing.

      1. Our daughter recognizes a lot of logos of the places we go - Menards, Target, Culvers, Cub - and not just the physical building. If it's the Menards ad on TV or Culvers insert in the paper she recognizes it. It bothers my wife a lot that she already knows these associations.

Comments are closed.