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The Archaic Landscape of the Forager-Gardener

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Dear Reader,

Foraging/gathering and gardening. To define these terms is more complex than first appears, as within each there is a philosophy and an embodiment that expresses an entire worldview. There are too many of these worldviews to name, each one wholly unique, so definitions become impossible reductions. Diminishments. There is so much hidden in each word. What can be said on the intersection of these worlds; the fertile edges where they meet, greet, interact, reproduce? As I gently tap the cap of a mushroom body as a wander back to feast, releasing her spores into the forest landscape, am I gardening or am I gathering?

In recent times to garden has become to control; to be of the belief that we the humans rule, not inhabit the land. We forget our belonging, even in a love of that which flowers. We decide what is worthy and what is not, we clear ‘weeds’ with herbicides, kill ‘pests’ and lay monocultural lawns. Or gravel. Or Astroturf, the epitome of an attempt to control the true wildness of life. This is to enact our present worldview upon the landscape we call ‘ours’.

One problem is that our gardens mirror our inner landscapes. The garden is an example of a fruiting body of the human way of seeing things. The more straight its edges and kempt its shrubs, the more desperate the culture to find something within its control. When you employ a gardener you are becoming intimate with them, whether you or they are aware of this or not. Suppression of wildness is a profound confession for an animal such as a human and we cannot (must not) deny our animal-ness. Ask for help to rewild the self, note the desire to kill off your wildness. What is behind this, underneath it hidden in the mucky soil full of the death and decay that is life? When I smile at the docks, dandelions and plantains that rise rooted through the cracks of shameful pavement, am I gardening, or am I gathering?

We play out our wars on the impossibility of full control of life in our gardens. Thus the garden becomes a war zone. No dandelion will survive this onslaught, we hope. Yet as the archetype of stubborn wildness the dandelion will simply not die. More pesticides please, before someone sees this shameful yellow flower of persistent wildness. The dandelion is smarter than us. It has created a children's game, so that as the parent works hard to destroy this wild beast, the young ones are just feet away participating in the reproductive process of the dandelions' desires. The children’s lips touching the moon flower as they blow the fertilised seeds into the wind, a thousand baby dandelions storm the landscape. A rebellion against the parental control of wild expression expressed through a relationship to the joy that humans feel in propagation. Bad child. The dandelions' laughter is clear. Clever dandelion. Wild corruption. Is that child gardening or gathering?

I posit that the archaic meeting of gardening and gathering is likely the longest way humans have been relating to food and wildness. As we foraged in ancient societies, over the span of millennia, we spilled seeds we had collected, we harvested fire wood that would open the sky above a bramble to the sun's fruit generating rays, we shit seeds onto bare ground. This is the natural way. Every living being thrives in its ecological niche; the space it fills when things are in flow. Awen. This is, in part, why I question the balsam bashing, the knotweed poisoning, the bracken smashing. They are inhabiting a niche and will simply return if we have not tended rightly to the wildness of the land. What if we listen to them?

What is our niche? What is mine, what is yours? What if humans are the planet's expression of an edge? We thrive between ecosystems, between wild and cultured, we may be one of the planet's engineers, naturally expressed through our relationship to the wilder lands we (should) inhabit. When the mugwort matures I can scratch the ground around it and allow the seed to fall in place. Next year's medicine. Am I gardening or am I gathering?

We can indeed control, at least temporarily, the wild landscapes around us. Look how much concrete we have laid. But should we? Do we really want to? And how will this be mirrored back to us? To our great grandchildren? Perhaps in the malnourishment, the degradation of our inner landscapes which will not be tamed without dire consequence. We are witness to the consequence. When I rebel against a ridiculous rule of a lost society (do not step on the grass), am I gardening or am I gathering? Am I the child blowing dandelion seeds into the wind?

This is my understanding of what we call wild-culturing. Some call it permaculture. Maybe it is simply being human. Human being. It is the wild way of doing things. The natural way. We can tend our gardens this way, we can manage our landscapes this way, we can converse, relate and move this way. To express what it means to be human is to garden and to gather, to dance with wildness in our relationship to the landscapes both inner and outer. It is to do so in a way that fully expresses wildness, both for the land and for our psyches. They are not separate, but reflections. What does your land reflect back to you? To pluck a bilberry under an oak canopy is to be a human. To lay Astroturf or poison a dandelion is to build ourselves a cage. The key out lays just beyond that river. I advise you to go claim it.

Love Ben

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