–by Luanne Armstrong (Jan 16, 2015)
I live on a farm that was once part forest, part swamp. I live with animals both domesticated and wild, with plants, with flowers, with a garden. My grandparents lived here, my parents, my siblings and I, and then my children too. I walk on the land every day and never get bored. There is always something new to see and learn. In the summer, I sit on my deck, which overlooks a pond, a field, and past that, the lake. Barn swallows nest over my head. Paper wasps build small grey cones among the swallow nests.
Once, I was sitting on my deck with a group of young people. A wasp came by to have a look. One young man looked up and exclaimed, “You have wasp nests up there.” I do. My excuse to friends and family is these are nonaggressive paper wasps, not yellow jackets. But I wouldn’t remove them in any case.
“All you have to do is sit still,” I said. “They will come by to see who you are. After they know you, they won’t bother you.” This poor young man gave me a look that said, very clearly, “crazy lady.” But, to his credit, he didn’t move. There was so much more I wanted to tell him, but, where to start?
I wanted to tell him, “Just say hello.” Some people proclaim, “The Earth is alive,” and while I sympathize with this statement, for me it is easier to say, “A wasp is alive.” Or perhaps, “Grass is alive.”
Grass is not only alive, it is responsive, and in its grass way, aware. Grass, mowed, turns into lawns, but given a chance, it will spring up and go wild in a very short time. It will cover sidewalks, parking lots, and walls. People rarely notice grass and yet they walk on grass all the time. They sit on it, lie on it. How many look down and see that the grass is alive?
Current research indicates that grass knows something. The smell of mown grass, which to the human nose seems so pleasant, is actually the smell of pheromones sent out by the grass. It is threatened, calling to pollinating insects. But we don’t hear it as that because we don’t know.
The grass is alive, I can say. But then I stop. What do I mean? Does the grass have consciousness, emotions, intelligence? I can’t tell. How to translate the grass? The grass looks inert but it is always moving. It grows, changes, exudes pheromones, and sends out root tendrils that find cracks in the strongest concrete. If I lie on the grass, does the grass say hello back from within its grass aliveness?
I may never truly know but it doesn’t matter. The realization of the aliveness of the non-human is the crack in the paradigm, a shift from understanding nature as passive, unfeeling, and mechanical, to seeing the non-human all around us as aware, a huge something in which we, as humans, participate but can never control, that we can study, become aware of, learn about and find many patterns of translation. […]
These new discoveries in science are saying look, plants and animals are different from what science previously assumed, which is different from what religions and culture have previously taught. The standard of “intelligence” or “culture” still remains a comparison with humans as ultimately superior in these areas.
Why not do research in the opposite direction? Making comparisons asks the wrong questions. Why not make the assumption that animals and plants have something; what do we call it? Aliveness? Awareness? Conscious existence? Proceed from there. Why constantly ask animals and plants, who can’t speak our languages and who have no legal standing within our courts, to prove their intelligence, their consciousness, their equality with humans? After all, do animals acknowledge our superiority? Does the grass bow before us? […]
The biggest, most profound and most revolutionary shift we could move to now is to live in a world where saying hello to the grass is a sign of deepest respect and an acknowledgment of our own lack of understanding and knowledge.
It is bewildering to say simply, hello – to acknowledge the limits of translation, to acknowledge our own unknowing. Our bodies also have a kind of language. Sometimes, our bodies translate for us, simply by being alive in the world, seeing, taking it in, and loving the place we have landed for now.
Yes, we are part of the world, and the world is within us as we are within an alive and enormous network of being that looks back at us. To perceive this is at once so profound and also simple. It begins with the most obvious everyday things around you. The most radical thing you can do is to look down, look around, say hello and then begin to learn what that means.
–Luanne Armstrong excerpt from Small Talk: Life on a Farm [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]