Sunday, August 02, 2009

Listening To The Land

I particularly like this description of developing a relationship with a landbase from Derrick Jensen's new novel because it's so realistic. Sometimes I read about Pagans (nb: Jensen doesn't claim to be a Pagan) who have a relationship with nature and it sounds so effortless. It's not like that for me, at least not most of the time and it certainly wasn't in the beginning. I can be left feeling dejected: I must be doing it "wrong." Maybe I just lack the ability to do this, maybe I'll never be good at it, maybe I should go throw in a load of laundry. Jensen describes the incremental steps by which someone serious about having a relationship with the land can work past some of the obstacles that I think almost all of us face but that few of us discuss in such detail.

I lie face down in a small patch of forest behind our home. A fire swept through maybe a dozen years before we moved in, and the new trees have grown tall in the time since. I smell small plants, and soil and the calming brown smell of duff. I feel plants on my face, and a small stone against my cheek. I shift slightly so it doesn't poke me.

Almost immediately -- literally within two or three seconds -- I have to fight an almost frantic boredom. For all I've written about a relationship with the land, and for all I've tried to live in relationship with the land where I live, I still feel an overwhelming urge to get away to do anything but stay where I am, to do anything but touch the ground. I want to go back to the house, play some poker online, check my e-mail, call a friend. I think about the sound of distant cars on the interstate. I think about the phone bill I need to pay. I think about the celery I need to buy. . . .

I am anywhere but where I am.

It shouldn't be so hard to stay where I am, but it is. What am I afraid of?

I try to bring myself back. I'm not trying to meditate; I've never really liked meditation as such. People ask me if I meditate, if I sit silently with my breath and try to still my mind, and I always tell them I live with trees and butterflies, and I like to sit with them.

That's true enough, so far as it goes, but all of my time touching trees now seems superficial to me, as though I was looking at them and even seeing them as well as I could, but still not seeing them at all.

Lying here, I realize how very scared I am. My frantic boredom is not really boredom, but fear. Of what?

I hear a voice. Not Allison's, but the voice I heard in the forest when I first fell through time. The voice says the same thing it said then: "Don't fight it."

I want to feel Allison's belly against my back, her warmth and wetness against my him She doesn't have to move. I just want to feel that skin to skin contact

The voice says, "Come closer."

I want to feel my face tight against her skin, buried anywhere she can wrap around me, between her neck and shoulders, her arm and chest, her breasts, her thighs. I want to feel my cheek against her belly.


I know what's wrong. I don't know what's right, only what's wrong. I remove my clothes, lie flat on my stomach. I hold my arms and legs tight to keep my weight from fully pressing on the rough surface of the ground and the sharp pine needles.

"Come closer."

I do. I open m arms and open my legs. I press down my hips, no differently, and no less gently, no less intimately, no less invitingly that I would with Allison.

If I am expecting some miracle, it doesn't come. I merely feel myself flat against the ground.

But I do begin to relax, starting with my shoulders, then m arms, then my back, hips, belly. I'm less stiff, more smooth.

I smell the soil, I smell the old needles, I smell the plants. And now mixed with all that are the intimate smells from between my legs, front, back.

And then? Nothing. Not yet.

I see the sun glinting off the torn leaf of some plant whose name I don't know, and hovering near my face I see a tiny gnat whose name I also don't know. I see a fly crawling on a rotting log not far way, and farther off I see a chipmunk take three lightning steps, then stop, tail flicking, then take three more, then stop.

I relax more. My face falls into the ground. I open my legs further.

It's quiet. I hear a blue jay calling as it flies overhead. In the far distance a hawk. In the small slice of sky I can see without moving my head, I see two crows dancing with each other.

I close my eyes. I don't know if I sleep.

When I open then I see a snake. It is maybe five feet from me. It is a garter snake. It doesn't move.

I watch it for a while, then close my eyes again. When I open them the snake is gone.

Finally, I know what I need to say to the land. I say, softly, yet out loud, "Tell me."

It doesn't. I know that it doesn't yet trust me that much. I don't blame it.

I go back every day. Every day I see more, every day I presume more sees me. Every day I lie body pressed flat against the earth and every day I say, "Tell me. Tell me who you are."

I think it's partly that listening at all, even to other humans, isn't a skill that we're taught or that's given much importance in our culture. And, I think it's also, as Jensen asks, a matter of Why should the land trust any of us?

Picture found here.

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