This place is starting to feel more and more like someplace. Thats a weird thing to say, I don’t want to insult our land – this place has always been someplace. What I really mean is that the energy that makes our homestead vital and unique has grown enough so that its presence is palpable.
If you’re into holistic beekeeping you may have heard a term applied to bees by Rudolf Steiner – “bien”. Its the idea that in caring for your bees you need to realize the hive is an organism unto itself. Thats why you don’t just pop the hive open whenever you feel like it – the hive is a body, its meant to stay in tact. A thriving farm or homestead has that same feeling. Every activity, everything that grows and decays is part of a greater dance that place is doing. It is an aspect of the greater bien.
Some of that is just the basics of permaculture. Let the critters and plants work together to build the soil, let the soil do its job raising healthy plants. Support the ever renewing cycle of nature at every turn.
Another part is about making thoughtful choices in defining spaces. A whole body is not a blob – it has discernable parts – though they may be inseparable from the whole. Where is the edge of the garden? Should it even have an edge? Where is the greatest concentration of water going and why?
Another part is our receptivity to the bien. We are accountable to it, and we are a major part of it. I first understood this at a Masters program I attended at JFK U’s Institute of Holistic studies. A multi-disciplinary arts program, it allowed non-visual artist like me to spend a lot of time with visual artists working on their own “bodies of work”. I understood a body of work to be a presence that expressed itself in their art, evolving through time. It was vital, authentic and unique to the artist.
I used to think when an artist stumbled upon a body of work it was like a vein of gold in a mine – they’d just have to dig and dig and exploit and exploit to get as much as they could out of it. At JFK I learned that when an artist discovered their own body of work it was like a living thing. They were accountable to it, had a relationship to it. The successful artists were the ones that understood the nature of their body of work intimately, and were able to nurture the works life and their life at the same time.
The bien of the land requires the same attention and consideration. When it makes its presence known it is time to really show up and pay attention. As the years roll by I expect to be absorbed more and more into that presence. This is a co-creative process, we are accountable to each other, we nurture each other, I am part of the bien.
The results of a thriving bien can be measured just by picking up a handful of dirt. Michael Pollan gave a Ted talk about seeing the world from the perspective of plants, in it he describes a brief apprenticeship he did on a successful permaculture farm. After detailing the way the farmer worked with the animals and plants of his farm – as a respected community of interdependent, highly valued beings – he sums up the result simply: “at the end of the season there is more soil, more fertility, more biodiversity.”
When we first arrived the soil’s ability to sustain life was greatly diminished. Lack of water, mono-crop and a general lack of caring resulted in a lunar landscape unable to sustain any life without seasons of amendment. Now the land is alive in ways I never expected.
I’ve always related to the spirit of our land through shamanism, journeying to her, asking for guidance. I remember in one of my first journeys to her she told me that dirt was the knowledge of the Earth. That knowledge is the way things grow and are remade.
That knowledge grows more and more each day. I’m finding new richness in parts of our land we haven’t really even cultivated. Like wounded edges of skin, the land draws itself together, sharing its knowledge.
I have to journey less and less to the spirit of the land for instructions. There will always be reasons to journey to ask specific questions, but I much more able to hear her speaking to us now, guiding us through her gestures. The more we live within the bien the more we realize ourselves as always being within the conversation of the land.