amidst the green

actual encompassing learning

My impulse, upon having my curiosity piqued by some new thing or topic, is to read all I can about it until I feel like I've read enough or I cannot get hold of any more material to read. If I really get into something, I start looking for things to watch, I look things up online, and, in some cases, I even consider a career change or, at the very least, getting a master's degree in whatever subject matter I got entangled in. Graduate school is a serious matter, of course, and I've only seriously considered it for three things that have caught -- ensnared may be the more apt word -- my attention: the Philippines/the motherland, social innovation, and now, the environment. Of the three, I started getting my master's in the first subject but had to stop it for yet another life-changing move, the second subject only remained a plan, and the third subject -- well, that one’s still up in the air. But I've got time before I have to set gears in motion to make it happen, and so I ponder and I write, because, as Joan Didion said, "I don't know what I think until I write it down."

So what do I think... of this curiosity-turned-impulse-turned-mild obsession around the natural world, specifically around plant life? I think it's a healthy preoccupation to have, for one. Studies abound on the benefits of forest bathing, being around greenery, and eating greens, obviously. I've also never really had pets until I had my worms in my bin, and pets are healthy for you, right? I joke about it every now and then, amused by my being called the "bulate (worm) girl," but in all earnestness, there is something about having my hands touch the soil, the worms, and everything organically decomposing in that bin that gives me a sense of calm and peace. For a few brief moments, all is right in the world and I am connected to the earth and my hands are happy. I felt the same congruence with the earth when I was unrooting some old, grown grass from the lot my in-laws bought, where our family will build a home in the near future. I intended to clear the land myself, but was advised against it (plus my Japanese sickle never arrived), and so I contented myself with pulling out whatever I could. I suppose I would be deluding myself quite a bit if I say that I could have pulled out that grass all day long --- it is truly hard work, and hard work when optional can easily be romanticized. Nonetheless, the time I spent pulling out all the grass that I could was -- all things considered and my privileged notions checked -- time I actually felt very present and would enjoy doing again and again. "Enjoy" may not be the right word, perhaps embrace is the better option; welcoming both the highs and challenges of it.

Beyond being a healthy preoccupation however, it's also been very refreshing to learn about something not by reading or interviewing people or through any other second-hand methodology, but by actually doing and learning from experience. I've read and watched all I can about vermicomposting, but actually doing it impresses the same knowledge differently in my brain. All vermicomposting books or articles or how-to's will tell you to aerate your bin, to make sure your bin has enough oxygen flow. That sounds simple enough to understand and that’s what I thought. But to really, truly, actually understand it, I had to see a dead worm in my bin, feel through the bedding, have the compulsion to add coco coir, and then finally realize that the bin was lacking air flow. I could have read a thousand more books on worms, but not one page would have taught me what I learned from that dead worm. And then there are the kiwi seeds. The kids and I enjoyed snacking on golden kiwis while in Japan, and so I started wondering whether I could grow them myself. After watching a few videos and reading a few articles, I harvested some kiwi seeds, fermented them, dried them, and, after a month or so, scattered a few haphazardly in the lot. Now, I've known about plants sprouting from seeds all my life, but it was a completely new and exhilarating experience to actually scatter the seeds and then in the next few days, actually see tiny sprouts on the ground. ACTUAL sprouts from ACTUAL seeds from my ACTUAL scattering and seed-saving. Mind blown, achievement unlocked, forever hooked.

I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised that one learns better by doing. It is the same with painting, drawing, writing, and even managing projects and programs -- you can't truly learn until you do it. You can read all the art books and nonprofit management books in the world, but they will not teach you anything until you apply what you've read, encounter roadblocks and unexpected turns, and then troubleshoot things by yourself. I think what makes my learning experience from the worms and the grass and the trees stand out is that all of it is new. New and deeply fascinating to me. Inherently interesting and exciting and... encompassing. To grow the food my family will be eating, to help nurture wildlife, to be immersed in the earth's cyclic processes, to grow things, to not waste things, to spend time with the kids outside. Encompassing, it is.

So what about that master's degree? I've not crossed it out entirely; I mean, if I'm reading tons of material now anyway, why not get a degree to go with it, too. I've got a few months to decide. And while I'm waiting on myself to make a decision, my hands will be in the dirt, feeling the earth, feeding my worms, and, hopefully, growing more green.


putting down roots

Everyday now, in the middle of reading or playing or cooking or even sleeping, I think about my kiwi seeds sprouting, my worms thriving or dying, the mini-grassland currently inhabited by chestnut munias (and which, sadly but necessarily, we must clear), the earth. It took me over 30 years to pay attention, but now that I am paying attention, all the green things are infiltrating every cell of my being. And it gives me peace. Purpose. A mission. Sounds grandiose, I know, but if you really think about it, the earth is worthy of such words.

There is much to learn -- from how to not kill my worms to how to eventually scoop up the kiwi seedlings and transfer them into coco-pots (so I can put them in a better location) and everything else in between. I am taking notes and trying my best to remember details. I am reading books on farming, forest gardening, seeds. I am wishing I studied botany in college, but with the futility of wishing comes my searching online for permaculture and sustainable gardening courses I can take.

I'd like to spread this idea and practice of cultivating the land -- for us and for other creatures and for the land itself to stay alive. I'm doing so through this comic-blog, which will inevitably turn into a bookzine, and then, when I know enough and am confident enough, probably start workshops and lectures about forest gardening and sustainability and loving the land. Loving the land. The motherland, yes, of course, but also all land on earth.

It all sounds so basic, and once in the history of humankind, we (our ancestors) all probably knew this stuff. But I struggle to find exact words and phrases to describe what it is I am learning or even thinking, as I knew nothing about any of this a year or so ago, and I am only writing what I am directly experiencing on the ground, literally. And I think that is a good thing, at least for me. For someone who regularly goes through complex mazes of thoughts and ideas, focusing on what's right in front of me, what my hands can hold and feel, and then thinking and writing about it is a refreshing change of pace.

We've come home to the Philippines ready to put down roots. I didn't think I'd do it quite so literally, but here we are, and I'm happy to be here.