When I was a small girl I lived in a big world and it was all good. Nothing and no one needed a label or analysis. There were just two things, good and bad. Bad hurt and was a lesson to be learned. Anything that didn’t hurt was good. Life was unlimited. But little people grow and formal education is encouraged. Over the years I learned to break everything into categories and subjects. As a science major I learned to take plants, rocks and animals (including people of course) right down to the cellular and microbiotic level. I did not learn how to look at something as a whole again once it was dissected into its parts. Days increasingly were spent indoors and without even knowing how it happened, everything I encountered received a label. My story is far from unique. It is the story of modern culture. We have disconnected ourselves from nature. It’s us and them. We study, we label, we consume or destroy if something is labeled “unnecessary” or of “no use”.
I am working on uneducating myself. That little girl was clever and her intuition got her far. I would like her back. I want the raw intuition and “knowing” I was born with before public education told me I was wrong and they had a better way. This desire for my uneducation is a direct consequence of starting to study plants. I had an interest in herbs and as I began to spend more time outside with plants a funny thing happened. First came the attempts at plant identification, not an easy task. Often I found that there were insects in the pictures I took of the various plants I was trying to identify. If I could ID the insect it would lead me to the plant. A particular wasp only feeds on these particular plants or that butterfly prefers this particular plant and that would help me narrow my choices. So, now I am attempting identification of not only plants but insects. Then I noticed mushrooms; hello world of fungi. What about birds, critters, lichen? Everything is connected. Ecosystems are not haphazard. Every thing is connected, communicating and living symbiotically. The plants, the pollinators, the scavengers all playing a role in a beautiful spiral of life. Humans are meant to know this and understand our part. But we got lost, disconnected. Nature has not given up on us. Nature wants to mend this broken relationship.
Like all relationships the first step in healing is to listen. Listening to nature takes time. Observing nature takes, you guessed it, time. As a new herbalists I wanted to learn faster. Although I had started with an interest in studying herbs as only as a hobby for retirement, I suddenly found myself caught up in questions like “what will you do with your herbal studies?” and “what kind of business do you want?”. Soon I was as anxious and driven as I am in my “real” job. That isn’t what I wanted.
The plants talked me down.
It takes at least a full year to really even begin to know the plants in your area. You need to see them in all seasons. There is no way you will identify every plant. It’s like walking into a large room full of people and expecting to know everyone’s name and all about them by the end of the night. If you keep meeting the same group, eventually you notice and talk to different people and will get to know them over time. The forest is no different. The trees and plants want you to slow down. They will introduce themselves when ready and if you are fortunate you may learn something about them. Over time you may get to know the birds, creatures, rocks and plant life of your little area. It takes t-i-m-e.
Nature can not be rushed. Her time is not our time. So I am slowing down. I’m listening, observing and letting go of my preconceptions and former education. I’m uneducating in order to learn something vital, meaningful and primal. What will I do with my new education? Respect life, protect life, love life and attempt to be a better human. That’s it and that’s more than enough.