In being compelled to push my knowledge of the land further, I’ve found deep joy and creativity in sourcing a large majority of my food from Nature, or my garden. There’s no room for a quick fix “fast” recipe, but I am finding magic in making my meals from the earths source or vegetables I’ve grown. Just going out for walks in the forest, meadows, and wetlands, I’ve found myself discovering endless possibilities for food, medicine, building materials, and so much more. These things take time, but I find great strength in going slowly. In a society that strives for such immediacy, I find uttermost importance in taking my time to connect with the gifts of nature.
There surely comes a responsibility in taking and using plants for things, and we must learn to do so respectfully and honourably. In learning the biology of that plant, and even more importantly, learning of its spirit, brings a whole other layer of depth to the experience. To listen to it. What can you do to help it live on in health and goodness?
The gift doesn’t end there. It’s meant to be shared, carried on, and eventually returned in a changed and yet even stronger form. How do we give back for the things that we have taken? This is a question I find in the deepest foundations of my life.
Gratitude, love, reciprocity, share, learn, wisdom. These are all things that are augmented with what it means to give back. Show respect. Only take what you need, and give back much more.
Here’s some ways to give back;
- Collect and Plant Seeds
Seeds are enamored with possibility. When I look at seeds, I see my children, and my elders. They are the smallest and biggest thing I’ve experienced. When you’re spending time with plants, take note of their life cycle and when they come to seed. If the plant is endangered, or doesn’t reproduce easily like many plants do, try saving their seed and do research on how to germinate them. Many seeds require certain treatments in order to germinate. What species would help to improve the environment that surrounds you? Plant their seeds and find the environment they would be happy to grow in. Watch them grow and tend to them. The capacity of nurturing is boundless, even if you don’t think you have a “green thumb”. There are many plants that are endangered out there that you can help. There are many plants that would allow the people in your life to live better. Consider the pounds upon pounds of fruit a single apple tree produces every single year. Consider the materials hemp can make. It is truly one of the most powerful and enjoyable ways to give back. Everything begins with these little seeds.
- Make Compost
Making compost is truly an art. When I studied Horticulture, we examined the nature of compost and how to balance the perfect ratio of nitrogen rich materials, carbon rich materials, water, and microbes. Try to have more “brown” materials like leaves from the trees in Fall, coffee grinds, and cardboard, than “green” materials such as grass clippings, vegetable and fruit waste. That awful smell compost has sometimes is due to an excess of green materials that are nitrogen rich. Ensuring the carbon is in there in a greater quantity than the nitrogen will create a great compost that actually smells like lovely rich dirt! Make sure you turn the compost regularly and add water to it once a week depending on if there’s been a deep rain or not. Compost is extremely nutrient soil, and when it’s added to the landscape it can have such a variety of positive effects. It feeds the species around it as well as the soil, adds microbes, and improves the structure of the soil to hold more water and nutrients. If you turn it often and follow these concepts, your compost can be ready in 6-8 weeks! Create your own earth to give back from your kitchen and yard scraps.
- Spread Spores
I love collecting mushrooms from the wild. They simply have so much more flavour, excitement, and downright strange qualities than the ones from the grocery store. Some taste like chicken, some like lobsters in the sea, some are spicy, some shoot out puffy dust, and some even taste like candy. It is always colourful and mysterious. If you collect mushrooms, carry them in a basket or a mesh bag that will allow the spores to fall out along your travels. As you skip through the forest, spores will trickle down from your basket wherever your feet land. These spores have the power to start new mushroom life! Some of our most incredible foods and medicines are fungi. Becoming an ally to them is a beautiful part of our purpose. Give back by simply carrying fungi with you.
- Learn History of your Landscape
Through learning the history of your landscape you can begin to understand why the differing ecosystems and plant communities arrange themselves in the way that they do. You can learn how fires, flooding, and weather patterns shaped the ground you walk upon, and whether or not the land has been degraded through industrial uses or deforestation. What species are new to the area and which ones have been there for a long time? What role do they play? Learn about the people who inhabited the landscape before you, and how they lived out their lives with the landscape. In this lens, begin to ponder how you could leave the biggest possible positive footprint on this landscape. See your place in it. How can you give back in the future of this history?
- Care for your Own Garden
Create your own garden that is far beyond the aesthetic. Channel your vision into the depths of ecology. Grow your own food in the garden to share with your family and loved ones. Give up the manicuring, and encourage the harbingers of diversity. Gardens can give back to the land around you. Insects, birds, and wildlife can feed and find the materials to build their houses with in them. Some of the things you will experience in this garden will make you want to share with every one you know, and at the same time you’ll want to keep them to yourself forever. It is incredible the amount of species you can benefit in your garden. This is about creating a space for all of Nature to thrive in, and as a ripple you cultivate your own inner landscape. Notice the light in the area where you want your garden to be, the soil, and the surrounding ecology. This will give you clues on what you can grow well in your area. Plant many diverse species, ones that are great for mineral accumulation, birds, medicine, pollinators, you. Plants are beautiful to be around, and they open up special spaces where you can relax, collect food and medicine, create art, and spend time with people you love.
- Be with the Landscape
In truly being with Nature we can begin to notice and see the shifts that take place with the species around us, how weather impacts them, and the different gifts they offer from season to season. We can listen to them, and interact with them in beautiful ways. We can tell the air how much our lungs and cells and minds appreciate it. We can feel their exuberance in our bodies as we take them in as food and medicine. We can work with their materials at different points in the year, discovering what makes the best baskets, shelters, and pieces of art. We realize that we are Nature. Take 10 minutes a day, and find a place to sit in the landscape. This way of being is like turning yourself into a receiver of the information and processes that are taking place all of the time in the natural world. It is remarkable (and often stunning) what you can learn when you begin to listen. There is no knowing like being. Being with Nature is the best way to give back.
Once you’ve given back, share the ways you give back to Nature with others. Sharing personal experiences brings others closer to what is possible in the human nature connection. Write, sing, and create with your experiences. Once people see the way a connection with Nature can impact your life, that moment will be waiting to catch speed and brim over into their life, too. You will start something. Instead of telling people what you think they should do, show them what is possible.