After several failed attempts at miming ‘curly leafed parsley seeds’ to the friendly man in the flower shop, I returned to grandmother with one packet of flat leaf parsley and one for ‘parsley root’. Neither were what grandmother wanted. I joked that I had been confused by the parsley root seeds the man had given me, thinking he was selling me parsnips. “Whaaat, you don’t know parsley root?”, grandmother was amazed. Apparently parsley root is the key to making good soups and impressing a future husband! “And you must use celery root to keep his kidney’s strong” she added. When I admitted I didn’t know what the root of celery looked like either, she exclaimed gravely “Oh my dear, you went to school too early!”, then laughed at her own joke.
I used to consider myself fairly in touch with the natural world, however living here with grandmother has made me truly appreciate the depths of my ignorance. When we’re out walking, grandmother likes to quiz me on the names of plants and trees. I usually loose the game. The other day she pointed to some heart shaped leaves and asked me what tree it was, when I admitted I didn’t know she thought it amazing I didn’t know what a lime tree looked like since they are apparently where young people go to be social, “serious business is held under the oak tree but lime trees are for being social you know”.
At my request, she has started pointing out different flowers and herbs to me, with suggestions on how they can be used. I have been shown ‘eye-bright’ flowers down by the brook, which can be made into a kind of herb tea then used to cleanse your eyes. Shown flowers and herbs that can be made into teas and how to dry them, hanging them up in bunches and pegging them upside down in the hot attic. I am learning when best to take in the hay, good woods for burning in winter and how to make a successful woodpile! Some days grandmother will rush past and declare in a flurry “today is a flower day, tomorrow is a leaf day” as she collects all her camomile flowers into a basket for drying. The knowledge of nature she has accumulated through years of co-existing closely with it, is now so instinctive to her she often assumes its presence in everyone.
For my grandparents, raised in rural communities in Germany, nature and a knowledge of it was an essential part of daily survival. Understanding how best to cultivate the land you owned, knowing what could be foraged from surrounding hedgerows and meadows and a grasp of how best to prepare, cook and preserve food, was essential to ensure your family was well fed and healthy throughout the year. Although my grandparents perhaps know more than most from jobs in botanical gardens, studies in horticulture and the running of large Camphill community households and farm gardens, their knowledge still highlights a generational disparity. I am becoming increasingly aware how independent from nature many people’s lifestyles have been able to become. For most of us, crop failures do not mean we will have nothing to eat over the winter. Changes in the weather and the seasons often affect little more than what we wear and how we spend our leisure time. The type of work we do and the pace at which we are expected to do it, generally remains unchanged. A personal closeness to nature has seemingly shifted from necessity to luxury: associated with the middle classes, wholesome camping holidays, woodland walks and local farmer’s markets. For many it is easier to consume than to cultivate.
Happiness is notoriously difficult to quantify, its specific ingredients illusive, however in the couple of months since I’ve moved here, despite a severe lack of language skills, money and friends my own age, I’ve begun to notice an increasing sense of calm, balance and joy in myself that I often found so difficult to obtain living in the city. I’m sure there are many contributing factors to this change, good weather, freedom, a slower pace and less hours spent in tiring minimum wage work is obviously a great luxury, yet I feel one significant catalyst, often overlooked, has been a newfound freedom to align my daily activities more readily with the rhythms of the natural world.
Although at this stage I’m still spending a significant amount of my time doing un-farm related tasks (like writing this!), just by being here I have found myself starting to re-connect more with the nature that surrounds and feeds me. Changes in seasons, weather and crop harvest all yield different daily tasks and opportunities, be they as simple as picking herbs and berries from around the farm, buying huge baskets of seasonal strawberries from the market for little more than £1, digging up weeds when the soil is soft, helping harvest the hay when the weather’s dry, moving logs to dry for winter or simply having the freedom to sit in the shade of a tree in the garden to enjoy the heat of the day whilst I write. Nature is so grounded in the present moment. It is independent from worlds of thought and ego, has no worries of past or future, yet it continues to change, grow and create beauty. Through re-forming these connections with natural cycles I have found it easier to break away from my anxieties and stresses that often occupy my overthinking mind, and move towards a more full enjoyment of the different moments I am inhabiting.
And if this has all got a bit ‘rainbow rhythms’ for you, don’t worry, the next post has jokes about football and woolly knickers in it!