I have noticed a disturbing tendency in myself lately. I am “moving through” things. You know what I mean, right? You’re reading a book to your kid and flipping over two pages at a time hoping they won’t notice, because it’s a repetitive f-ing book anyway and you’ve got things to do. You’re eating yogurt while standing up and simultaneously reading because it takes too long to stirfry burdock and wild greens. You’re internally rolling your eyes when your child takes up an interest in quilting, because oh my god, are you kidding? Do you have any idea WHAT A TIME-CONSUMING PROJECT THAT IS?
But, at the same time, you have no idea what you’re cutting all of these corners for. At the end of the day you’re just napping, or reading, or checking facebook. What was the point of all the hurrying? And wait just a second, isn’t it freaking AWESOME that my eight-year-old wants to QUILT? What happened to me? Because I say “you”, but I mean “me”. Me, the one who used to live in a hut made of twigs I’d built myself heated by a lard-can-stove I’d made myself, writing my college papers on a manual typewriter because I didn’t have electricity, eating groundnuts I’d painstakingly dug and sipping tea made with water tapped from trees because I didn’t trust the cleanliness of the stream. Now I don’t have time to read the even pages of Green Eggs and Ham?
And I can’t blame it on my children. Sure, life is about 879% harder now that they’re around, and the sheer busywork of feeding/cleaning/clothing them is staggering, but they themselves are expert at moving slow. They can see the pattern on the shell of a snail and recognize it as the same individual they saw a month ago. My three-year-old sat in the greenhouse last week watching the seed trays we’d just planted because he didn’t believe me when I said seeds take time to sprout. We planted them at 10 am. He was still sitting there, watching, when I called him in for dinner.
Most of the stuff I say I’m doing for them is really for me, anyway. They don’t care if their clothes are mended and washed, or if their jackets are zipped, or if there are perfectly balanced seasonal snacks in their lunches. They’d be just as happy digging in the mud with sticks instead of participating in the enriching, mentally stimulating playdate activity I organized (I only did it so their friend’s mom would be impressed when she asked about the playdate later, anyway.) They don’t want to go to the museum to catch that important exhibit that will open their minds to other cultures. I do these things for myself. And they are important. But it is not my children’s fault when I feel stressed out trying to fit everything in.
And everything around us is speeding up. It’s zero hour. If we don’t solve global warming RIGHT NOW we’re going to fry! If you don’t impress a potential customer in THREE SECONDS on your website you’ve lost them forever! Sign this petition IMMEDIATELY or your favorite nettle patch is going to get paved over forever! There’s a plague of urgency, and it’s addictive because there’s truth in it. We get in a habit of urgency. We rush through breakfast because species are going extinct. We scan quickly rather than reading deeply because the world economy is collapsing. But we don’t stop to wonder if our behavior makes sense. No time to stop! Haven’t you heard about FRACKING??
But when I stop, and breathe, and look at the seedling trays with my son, I know that I am not going to stop fracking by rushing through dinner. We don’t need to speed up. We need to slow down.
We need expansive time, hours and hours of teaching an eight-year-old to piece fabric together. We need deep time, time spent watching seeds crack and sprout. We need slow time, time spent walking in this world, observing the changes, noticing the strengths, mourning the losses.
In permaculture design that’s the most important step, observation. Sitting there. Preferably for a year or longer. Watching where the light falls, how the wind changes, where the animals walk, when the water collects. Only then do you act, because now your decisions are informed, and you won’t be wasting your time putting plants that love well-drained soil in a part of the property that floods every June, or a hot tub in the most mosquito-infested corner of your land.
At Tom Brown’s tracking school they called it “Dirt Time”; time actually spent outside looking at the dirt. What we might think of as “wasted” time…just sitting there, in the woods, staring at a square inch of muddy ground until the pattern of an animal’s paw finally reveals itself. Or not. And those of us who went out and did this, who sat in the woods in the cold and in the rain and in the heat, we noticed something. We noticed that after about fifteen minutes the world around us had changed. We noticed that we had never really been in the woods before. We had been moving through the woods, which is a very different thing.
When you are IN the woods, you have been still long enough that life isn’t afraid of you. Creatures small and large emerge from hiding and for the first time you hear the birds’ REAL calls–not the panicked sounds they make at the approach of a human, but the relaxed baseline songs of daily life. Some of us have never heard them before.
And here is my life, the life that I am not in, but rather moving through. What songs am I missing?