-the state or quality of producing something, especially crops.“the long-term productivity of land”
-The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.
-The fertility or capacity of a given habitat or area.
I have this image in my head of us as a society, as this gaping maw of hunger that chants its war-cry into the night as it devours its way forwards. ‘More. More. More.’ it says as it chews its way through forest and ocean and pristine wilderness. ‘More!’ it chants as it gnaws through black rhino and ice cap. ‘MORE!’ it cries as it gnashes at spirit and joy and free will, leaving a wake of emptiness in its shadow. We beat our resources into submission, be it the planet, our employees, our own bodies, demanding more: productivity, energy, youth, attention. And rarely, if ever, do we stop to ask if what we are and what we have is actually enough.
During classes about crofts and the Highland clearances (a good Scottish education for you) when I was young, we learned about crop rotation. It was all perfectly logical: nutrients are being sucked up from the land into the plants and if you don’t rotate the crops and leave one field fallow each cycle then the land has nothing to give and eventually the crops fail. At some point, this changed. People discovered that you could keep pouring chemical nutrients onto the soil and spray chemicals to kill the insects that have taken advantage of the plants’ weakness. On the surface the crop still looks the same: big and plump and ripe for the picking. But underneath the surface, the crop is a sad replica of what it could have been. Continue reading
(On facing down the abyss)
About six months before he died, my stepdad’s best friend sat me down and said ‘Your life is nothing but a series of choices: the most important thing you can do is to make good decisions. And don’t think that not making a decision is an option— that’s still a decision, and its a bad one.’
I thought about it a bit, and then he died, and then I thought about it a lot. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by all the choices that it seems easier not to choose. To click again. To refresh the page. To look at how Kim Kardashian did her hair this week*, because it saves us from having to act.
(on slow living, finding our own pace, and rebellion as the way forward)
It started a few thousand years ago when the first foreman realised that he could eke a little more work out of his workers if he could somehow convince them that he had more authority than they over the inner workings of their bodies. A plan was hatched— a god bigger and stronger than the body knowledge of when to be done for the day, more worldly and knowledgeable than the seasons that ebb and flow with hours of productivity and then days of rest. The plan took the shape of a sundial on a wrist; a timepiece owned by the boss letting everyone else know when they could come and go. This god was bright like the sun, for it’s the hours of the sun that it governed. In that bright light there was no time for sleep, no afternoon naps, no explorations of the dark spaces, no time to crawl under a rock and look at beetles or pluck worms from the soil and watch them wriggle around in your hands. No time either to wade in the stream under the shade of the redwoods trying to move as slowly as a banana slug as the dappled light hits your eyelids. The bright sun god, all knowing, shone light into every crevice and with that bright light uttered those first words that changed everything: ‘you’re late’.
The knowledge of the body was ousted in favour of this all-knowing god, for what is more important or more constant than time? What is more objective than a second hand ticking like a metronome dividing life up into easily digestible chunks. A life you can eat on the go, cut into easily digestible squares, so neat you don’t even need utensils anymore. Would you like a soda with that? Continue reading
(on connection, immersion, being an artist regardless of medium, and salt)
“Who is the person that you call an artist? A man who is momentarily creative? To me he is not an artist. The man who merely at rare moments has this creative impulse and expresses that creativeness through perfection of technique, surely you would not call him an artist. To me, the true artist is one who lives completely, harmoniously, who does not divide his art from living, whose very life is that expression, whether it be a picture, music, or his behaviour; who has not divorced his expression on a canvas or in music or in stone from his daily conduct, daily living. That demands the highest intelligence, highest harmony. To me the true artist is the man who has that harmony. He may express it on canvas, or he may talk, or he may paint; or he may not express it at all, he may feel it. But all this demands that exquisite poise, that intensity of awareness, and therefore his expression is not divorced from the daily continuity of living.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti
Herbalism, to me is just another form of art. A design starts with a few general ideas and solidifies into something solid and perfect and a formula starts as the same thing. Each design, each piece of art, each product, each formula is a message, and each message starts out as a series of separate things that in combination become something different entirely. When it all fits into place, I feel a *click* and for a brief second all is right in the world, until the cycle starts again.
(on May surprise boxes, camping trips, wildflowers and friends who have the patience to key out plants)
A week ago, after what was thus far my favourite class ever, I met my friend Shana out in Joshua Tree national park for a spontaneous camping trip. Should you have the opportunity to go camping with a friend who is an veritable botany geek, I highly recommend it because you find out things like EXACT SPECIES of plants you’d never even think to identify down to specie level. You also spend an inordinate amount of time staring at said friend’s back while she’s hunched over the Jepson guide trying to determine whether the tubercles on a cholla are over or under 0.75 inches tall and you might go and wander and take photos of various cacti catching the light while she makes said determinations. Which brings me to one of my favourite truths about life: having people in your life who are dramatically different to you makes your life infinitely richer because you see things you would never have seen before.
(on murky depths and surrender)
We watched him row out from the shore as the sun was setting. He rowed steadily, firmly, like someone who had been doing it for years. He jumped aboard his trimaran, which was moored next to our boat, and we called hello and chatted back and forth across the water. He’d built the boat himself. It was fast, with a max speed of 30 knots, and he has sailed it alone across the Atlantic seven times. When he found the cove we were anchored in, he liked it so much that he set up a mooring and stayed there. He himself looked like the archetypal image of an old sea man: white beard, tanned skin and sinew. He gazed out over the sea as we talked, as if casting stabilising lines into the deep. I thought to myself: This is a man rooted in the sea, which spends all its time moving. This is a man who has made his peace with uncertainty.
(changes, moisture, drought, and olfactory fireworks)
Here in LA, springtime hits like this:
As the pink jasmine starts to blossom, there is a slight pause, I imagine as the entire city takes a collective deep breath and thinks of only good things for a moment or two. Then they explode: a cacophony of white fireworks that blow up your olfactory sensors and make you giddy with the joy of it all. Tender green leaves start sprouting on the sycamores that, two weeks ago, were still twisted gnarled branches suspended against the grey sky. Peach, cherry and apple trees all bloom together; the bees are buzzing in a frenzied orgy. Its a sudden thing, this explosion. They’ll be gone in a week, replaced by the citrus blossoms that, in turn will hang heavy in the air.
(adventures in New Mexico and thoughts on stress)
As I started to write this, the tips of my fingers were numb, and my computer keys were so cold that I dared not rest my hands on them for any length of time. Jam was upstairs sleeping in the loft bed, having decided that his prerequisite for leaving said bed was whether he could see his breath or not, and I was [thankfully] starting to feel the first of the heat reaching my way from the wood stove. I was in a rocking chair next to the window, because given a choice of warmth by the stove or watching the sun come up over the cliffs, I chose the sun, and my fingers could just deal.
(thoughts on fear, on adventure, on doing it regardless and tips on how to float like a jellyfish)
Jam and I raised our anchor in Ibiza and cast off at 2am, in the pitch black of a night when the moon had already set. The outline of Ibiza rock hung heavy on the horizon, outlined as black nothingness set against the backdrop of the milky way. A backdrop without disturbance, blotched with nebulae. Shooting stars shot by overhead every minute and the sea around us was dead, silky calm, save the drone of our engine. A couple of miles out, a mist arose from the warm sea, entirely covering horizon line, hanging low all around us.
After an especially stressful six weeks, during which Jam and I hardly saw each other, we packed up the car and drove north east, into the Sierras, to our favourite little camping spot. As we drove higher, the air got cooler and lighter. Sometimes you don’t notice that you live somewhere smoggy until you take a deep breath elsewhere and it makes your heart race and your eyes tear up for the purity and clean-ness of it all.
Sleeping under the stars (nothing beats falling asleep looking up at trees and stars!), cooking over fire (why does fire make everything taste so much better?), lots of lounging around in hammocks reading, and lots of wandering off into the wilderness, and napping on blankets as the cool mountain breeze blows through the aspens and spray from a nearby waterfall moistens the air. Jam slept for about 15 hours a day (restorative rest!), and I woke up at first light too excited to sleep any longer because there was so much to look at. We made wild teas over the fire; all the currants were in bloom. We washed in the river and found secret, sacred spots that looked more like something from a Miyazaki film than real life. A much-needed disconnect from everything life-related, during which I plagued my husband questions and statements like:
“How do you fall asleep at night if there’s still stuff to do?” and “How can you be up here when you know there’s work to be done?” and “Sometimes I work until 1am because I have to finish my to-do list and then I can barely move from exhaustion the next day.” and then he said, very wisely “You can never get everything done; nobody can. You just have to switch that part of your brain off and start it back up when you get back to work.”
I have brain-segmenting homework to do. In the meantime, here are some pictures…