I watch from the creases in your gardens
So hollow with bright flowers
Birds of strange paradise.
The wild ones who lived namelessly
Across the hills retreat further and deeper
Into the last night of the woods – entangled
Stunted, haphazard growth
In endless pursuit of the light of his countenance.
The shining one who is so merciful here,
meanwhile, glares upon your empty garden;
Conjuring up seeds you would deny to raise their heads.
Only your chosen ones may grow in your makeshift desert.
You take the longer way round – of subsuming me.
Riding your boxes carrying strange, stale fruit
Left my sweetness rot and drip from the tree beyond your house.
I once stood my ground.
The cracks of your walls filled with clay
From a fickle stream
Smiling and chattering one day
Foaming with wrath on another
I only heard her when she raged
– and you who lived here, sought my refuge from her tempers.
Now strangers dwell and prunes lie
As a indeliberate offering to the beasts.
You live your tethered lives out here.
Do not eat my fruits and labour only for beauty,
A stale flavour of artificial subsistence.
I was away from home for a few weeks and the land started speaking to me with vigour. It was not the first time: the land has always spoken to me and she probably does to all of us. I must have silenced its call during my teenage years, for it was easier that way. In the last couple of years, her voice started bleeding through my thinner skin again. She speaks differently now. Once, it welcomed me as the child that I was, but now it is firm.
Have you ever raised your human voice
so that others may hear me?
The land that spoke went far back in its history with humanity – southwestern France. The painted caves here are among the oldest remnants of human culture in the world. Dolmen stand scattered on the hills – where people like us were once entrusted to her dark womb to be reborn one day. Perhaps the great age of our relations with her endowed her voice with more power in this place. Like anywhere else, the bond to the land has been gravely abused by humans, but some places preserve the feel of what the world was like when we lived with the land – and not just from it.
The land where I normally live is man-made, below sea level. Without human efforts it would be a salty marsh or even an estuary bed – as it was a thousand years ago. It is a lush, green, fertile land, but holds little history. It splashes and gurgles and makes you feel welcome. Its voice is so placid hardly anyone hears her; the noise of dense population drowns her out. It is only through a lot of time spent either gardening or walking that I eventually found my way back to a state where I was able to hear her at all. Trees are planted here and counted; their value weighed as community capital. That is, however, a lot better than no trees at all.
Her voice is different everywhere – but it speaks nonetheless.
Reclaiming a sustaining relationship
Having a truly sustaining relationship with the land is something fewer and fewer people can afford, especially in urban areas. You need land and time to work on it if we want to be talking about sustenance in earnest. In rural areas, many of the older people still have an innate connection to the land – living for a substantial part on what either they themselves or their neighbours’ produce. Even in younger generations it is present: in France I see it reflected, albeit by proxy, by the insistence of supermarkets to promote regional produce. In the Netherlands similar trends are visible: an increased interest in allotments, permaculture and homegrown food. It shows people know very well what they are missing. Some brave pioneers show us how much abundance is possible when one truly listens to the land.
Yet I cannot help thinking these hopeful currents in society are at present not strong enough to counteract the tidal wave of greed that scourges the so-called developed world. There is no money to be made in consuming less. So the rat race continues, even feeding on these natural sentiments. Even though so many of us would rather live a better life in close connection to nature, we are led to believe that this is something that can be bought. While the blackberries and the elderberries rot in the woods near my house, people buy plastic boxes of powerfoods, shipped in from Gods’ know where. The skills to preserve and grow food disappear from the general public when land is scarce, making us even more dependent than we already were.
To know her is to love her
Apart from the practicalities and great environmental cost of ferrying food to and fro around the globe, this way of consuming also estranges us from our birth right. And capitalism feeds on this estrangement, as anyone with their eyes open can see. There is an ineffable quality to growing your own food that cannot be reduced to a mere romantic nostalgia. In eating of our land we honour it – and share in its abundance. We literally form ties and alliances when we connect to the soil we live on. Even a pot of herbs on a balcony hallows the space and time we inhabit. In growing we share the mystery of life and offer the land the chance to show her magic. On a rational level, knowing your land and what it offers could one day become of paramount importance.
We would do well to remember that the land has no real need of us. She is in most cases older than us and will likely live on beyond us. The land is our host in both meanings of the word- she can receive us in a reciprocal relationship, she can be an active and generous advocate for us – and she can turn as a powerful force against us. We can choose to be tethered to the line of production, the way of harvesting without sowing. Or break the chain one wild apple at the time – and create the circumstances to grow and harvest while giving of ourselves at the same time.
Religious by nature, Linda lives in Dutch suburbia with her family and pets. She is a gardener and occasionally blogs at theflailingdutchwoman.wordpress.com.