I spent this past weekend getting my hands dirty—in the garden, of course! After three days of sweaty work, herb beds have been established on either side of the front steps. Contrary to popular belief, fall is an excellent time for planting, especially perennials and cold-weather crops like spinach, swiss chard, kale, and peas. Personally, I prefer the cooler weather (and discounted prices!) of autumn planting, and I’ve yet to be disappointed by the practice.
What struck me after all was said and done, was just how good I felt that the end of each day. Every time I turned over another fork-full of earth, I was intimately aware of the drama in which the land beneath and the creatures dwelling there are engaged. Every plant’s roots tangle with those of its neighbors, fighting for supremacy over nutrients, while their leaves race upwards for sunlight. The earthworms (of which there are plenty, thank the gods) weave their ways through those same roots, depositing fresh soil from the rotting compost above. Simultaneously, the shade cast by the taller lilies and goldenrod provided a sheltered haven for the slow creep of low-growing lamium.
Working by hand, I was acutely conscious that no matter how good my intentions were, I would be disturbing this balance. My act of “harvesting” the weeds affected the lives of countless insects, arthropods, monocots, and dicots. The simple act of preparing the soil for a different selection of plants forces the adaptation or relocation of many, many beings.
Yet, even as I acted as destroyer, it was impossible for me to separate my awareness from the webs that connect me to the soil, plants, and creatures that I disturbed. It’s one of the reasons I really don’t like gas-powered gardening equipment—the noise and stench removes the gardener from her actions. Yes, a rototiller will do the job in a fraction of the time, but it is much more costly in terms of disturbing the delicate balance among the layers of soil that have been built up by years of decaying vegetal corpses and the hard toil of honest earthworms. Loosening a plant and shaking off the soil from its roots is likewise a disturbance, but one of significantly less magnitude.
Still, even though I was unabashedly changing the land around my porch to suit my needs, I felt amazingly calm and open. I felt connected, like I had a better understanding of my place in the larger web of life. I could sink my hands into the warm soil and mulch and feel the heat of life and death under my fingertips. In fact, I’ve felt better than I have in months.
I got off my posterior and reconnected.
As of 2004, the U.S. had the highest rate of mental illness of fourteen countries surveyed, with experts believing that the occurrences are even higher due to unreported incidents. Why is it that we, living in a country considered to be one of the most advanced in the world, suffer from such severe rates of depression and anxiety? Our population is largely overweight, over stressed, and numbed out. Why?
I would like to propose a very simple reason: we’ve cut ourselves off at the roots.
People are no longer connected to their sources of nourishment, of power. First, in the nutritional sense–very few can go the the field where their produce is grown. Fewer still have the opportunity to grow their food themselves, and engage in the struggle inherent in the process. Secondly, we’re cut off physically from the land and each other. Our bodies are pumped full of numbing drugs and chemicals; we live in air-tight boxes, in fear of our neighbors; we are cajoled into passive consumerism, always wanting the next gadget, the next fix, spinning down into depression and madness when we can’t obtain it.
And spiritually, oh spiritually…we’ve achieved dominion over our environment, but at what cost? No longer stewards of the world, we’re exploiters, seeing only profit margins in what was once a sacred and enchanted environs.
We’ve crushed the song from the land, and wonder why we’re stuck chewing off our own limbs to escape the trap we’ve constructed.
But freedom is only a handful of soil away. Nurture your own food. Share your bounty with your neighbors. Build relationships with those around you—don’t fall into the false dichotomy of isolation vs. social whirlwind (they are equally numbing). Sing to the Earth as you till Her and listen for Her answer. Don’t expect it immediately, but be ready for Her gift when it comes.
Too long, didn’t read: Want to feel great? Piss off Monsanto: grow a potato…and share it. You’ll be a happier human for the experience.