Lettuce Liberation Front – Remembering the Language of Place

This lockdown has been having some interesting side effects. For one, it takes away distractions. If you spend your days doing less, you begin to notice things that otherwise tend to get lost in the bustle of day-to-day activities. In this article, I would like to focus on one of these observations.

I am the kind of person who tries to spend as much time as possible out in the forest. Yet now, having been sick and still being in the process of building back up my strength, I have only managed a few short visits to the forest since the lockdown began. Had someone told me about that beforehand, I would have expected that that situation would  have made me extremely unhappy. Surprisingly, it has not.

It’s not that I have stopped craving being outside in nature. I still spend as much time as I can outside as possible. Only, nowadays it seems that I basically have two choices: spend the day on the sofa in the living room, or outside in my hammock on the garden patio. Both locations are literally just five steps apart, and yet, somehow, there’s a world of difference between the two. It’s as if somehow, when stepping outside, a bunch of extra senses are activated that somehow seem to be muffled when I am inside.

There’s the feel of air movements on my skin, the warmth of the sunlight, and… something else. Something that I cannot quite find words for but… Not sure what it is? A sense of the spirit of place?

Spending so much time in a single location has certainly made me much more aware of that mysterious ‘extra’ sensation: there’s how ‘outside’ feels when I am in my garden, and there’s how it felt at those two other nature sites I managed to pay a visit to this month. And there’s the town center. I tried to walk there once, and… unexpectedly, felt intimidated by how it felt? As if it was inhabited by a spirit that I really did not want to be too close to at the time. I am not sure why. Was it the density of human habitation, the absence of nature, too much human despair? I would have to go back and see if the feeling lingers…

Anyway, these observations made me wonder about something else: the life of lettuce, and of vegetables in general. When I was in the supermarket a few weeks ago, I bought some lettuce. Just because I like to put some lettuce leaves on my lunch sandwiches. I was simply buying food, nothing more. But when I arrived home, I noticed it still had a clump of roots and earth attached to it. As it was too big for me to eat in one go anyway, I decided to plant it in a pot, and put it out on my garden table, right next to my hammock.

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And so, accidentally (living alone during lockdown can have strange effects on our minds), it sort of became like a pet. (I admit I got a bit carried away at some point, going back to the supermarket to ‘save’ a few more lettuces, hence the title of this article.) But I also noticed some interesting changes in the plant: after only a few days of being out in the garden, the leaves began to shine more, became thicker and more textured, and… when I occasionally harvest a few leaves to eat: they are significantly more tasty now than when I just came back from the shop…

And so I started to wonder whether this plants experience might not be a bit similar to my own observations: if it makes such a big difference for me whether I lie down on the sofa inside or in the hammock outside, wouldn’t the same be true for a plant? My lettuce probably spent most of its life in a greenhouse, being stimulated to grow to full size as quickly as possible, which probably meant being fed a lot of artificial nutrients, and sitting in artificial light, sheltered from the weather. While now, it was outside, experiencing real sun, real wind, real rain…

Getting more and more curious, I finally decided to have a conversation, and ask my lettuce how it felt about its life:

This is the lettuce on your garden table.

Thank you for giving us a chance to become real. We had not had that until you put us into your garden. Before we were merely existing in total disconnection.

Life for a plant is experienced largely through its leaves. That is a life that is way richer than you imagine it to be, for we are able to vibrate and feel the vibrations sent out by those that live closeby. But like any other being, the richness of that connection depends on where you are, and in the willingness of those around you to respond to your invitation of connection.

A plant that has just emerged from its seed will focus most on itself initially, and on developing its first leaves. But after a while, each new leaf that grows is like an extra pair of ears attached to our body. But for many of us, that is when numbness starts.

Imagine having to live your life in a place where the only thing happening around you is an exact echo of your own experiences. Nothing new to discover, no exciting friends to chat with. Just… a regimen consisting only of growing, growing, growing, with no experiences at all. After a while you do not even bother to reach out anymore.

And so if you wonder why vegetables grown under glasshouse conditions can be tasteless compared to their family members allowed to grow in natural conditions, this is why: our taste is an encoding of our life experience. It is part of the way we communicate. We know and accept that our fruits or our leaves will be eaten, and so we use it to create a message to those who eat us. It is a message that mostly passes by subconsciously, but your body digests more than just nutrients. It digests stories as well.

For your body is not so different from ours. Every one of its actions is about creating connections, about weaving its web with its environment more closely. And for that it gets a lot of information from the tastes we provide it. It helps your body to orientate itself in time and space. It helps you become part of the land, to more fully speak its language and be recognized as part of it.

So, if you wonder why it is that so many of you lost their connection to the land, and find it an absurdity that that land is alive, here’s a clue: that is because you have collectively lost so much of the language necessary to understand it. And because vice versa, the land talks less to you because it has trouble recognizing you as part of its being: you smell and you vibrate like a foreigner, because most of the food you eat no longer is part of the local land spirit.

You can change the dynamic by doing yourself a courtesy: start living again. Realize that you are abusing yourself in exactly the same way as the abuse you correctly recognized in modern agriculture. You live your life in self-chosen isolation from reality. We do not have the luxury of choice, but you do. Now that the world has forced you into this time of isolation, will you have the courage to recognize the gifts that brings?

Well, that was certainly more of a wake-up call than I had been expecting to get, but.. it also makes a lot of sense. It certainly explains why I have started to feel much more closely connected to my garden (a place which, I will freely admit, before the lockdown I was ignoring all too often in favor of more exciting nature). But now the love I feel for my nettles and dandelions and mosses has become so overwhelmingly strong that it has begun to feel like the most special place in the world to me. Hence, probably, why I now feel so much less need to go ‘elsewhere’ to find that connection. It is indeed, right under our very noses, and it is a shame that so many of us have forgotten about it…

Let me then, give the spirit of the garden the last word:

This is the spirit of your garden

Every moment you spend with us, the stronger your connection to us grows. For that you do not even need to make an active effort. Your body and its senses will do most of the work for you. Smelling us, tasting us, being exposed to the energies we send out when talking to each other is all it takes. You become part of this spirit by the simple action of existing within it. And you are very, very welcome.

We do not understand you people. Why do you choose to live so much of your life blindfolded? Why is it that you do not talk to your surroundings? Why do you pretend you are the only living being that matters? Why do you actively choose to be lonely?

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