Our society, our culture, is always surprised by connection.
The gut plays a major part in our mental health (now called our second brain) and our immune system. Trees are a major driver of cloud formation and rain, so much so that on a sunny day in the Amazon, a single tree might release 1000 liters of water vapor into the atmosphere. Wolves are so important to forest health that their loss from Yellowstone National Park caused a cascade of degeneration, and their reintroduction just two decades ago has led to the re-emergence of streams and repopulation of trees. The presence of mature trees in neighborhoods is linked to better mental health and economic outcomes in people.
As a society, we seem to almost always start with an assumption of disconnection, only to be surprised that this assumption is not only incorrect, but has been blinding us from seeing real solutions before us. Lately, a series of wake-up calls are asking us to challenge our assumptions.
What if we assumed everything is connected?
Fires in the Amazon, the lungs of the Earth. A dramatic rise in asthma rates. Mass migrations of refugees across continents. Untold number of animals and insects losing their homes. Rampant loss of soil microbial diversity. Rates of digestive imbalance skyrocketing. Isolated forests surrounded by concrete and asphalt. A surge in anxiety and depression. Rivers blocked up and dying from dams. People blocked up and dying from heart disease.
So far our reactions to our broad, societal problems have remained siloed. Billions of dollars spent developing solar panels and electric cars to battle the excess carbon in our atmosphere, and the carbon rises. Billions of dollars spent developing pills to battle our multitude of dis-ease, and our disease grows. Billions of dollars spent on walls, guns, and cells to battle migrants, who carry no weapons and ask only a place to call home.
What if our problems arise not from a lack of cleverness, but from a lack of care?
What if not everything is a battle?
If we assumed everything is connected how would we view our problems? Would we see the pain of the migrants, forced to leave their homes out of fear, out of desperation? Would we see their land abused by the plow, despoilt by plastic, no longer able to support the people that once offered her care? People forced to burn the very forests that have supported their families for generations, as global markets deem their land more valuable for the production of animal feed or the construction of malls and parking lots. Would we see the diseases, once hidden within those forests, catching a ride on those very migrants to the countries responsible for the desolation of their land?
What if these issues were all rooted in the same malnourished soil?
What if in a time when we need to maintain physical distance, we remember our connection?
Over the last ten years, I’ve learned much from the land I farm. I once thought my job was to pull from her all that I could, force her to produce the nourishment my family and I needed. Years and numerous of her lessons have tamed my ignorance. I now have difficulty drawing any border between her and I, her and my family. Daily we derive our nourishment from her, and daily we offer her our care, our attention, our compost. Not out of exchange, not a trade, but in a relationship of love and unity. I no longer see us as separate beings.
Land is a powerful teacher. She is quick to slice through what we’ve known and what we’ve been taught, to reveal the truth of what’s happening before us. Our world, like the farms and gardens I tend, is complex in a way that’s often intimidating and scary. My relationship with land has taught me to wade in this complexity and even begin to see some of her simpler patterns. As I sit in my farm writing this, I watch as the wind rustles through the trees, dropping energy stored in old leaves to the soil, where they will feed the microbes and fungi that will nourish the plants that feed me. Each of us strands in a web made tighter, stronger, by more connection.
I fear that as we have come to live on the land, above the land, and against the land, we are losing the wisdom that comes from living in, with and as land.
I don’t have any specific answers to the problems we face as a society. I only know that like the weeds in my fields, they arise from the soil. Soil that indicates her neglect by the plants she sprouts. And I know that, just as in my fields, the “weeds” can never be eradicated, but they can be integrated, managed, enjoyed even, if I work to care and nourish soil.