On reading nature

In a few of my previous posts I have shared extracts from my new Uncultivated book project. The book is built around negations of what I have chosen to call “the ten commandments of cultivation”. The intention herewith is to challenge taken-for-granted cultural and societal “truths” and assumptions and to promote a rewilding of the cultivated human being.

The ten commandments are the following:

  1. We have to adapt and behave
  2. We are superior to animals
  3. We are separated from nature
  4. We must be ambitious
  5. We have to work hard
  6. What cannot be explained is not true
  7. We do not talk about death
  8. Decay must be defeated
  9. Time is linear
  10. God is dead

In this post I will share a passage from the section: We must be ambitious.

Some things cannot be forced.

***

We must be ambitious

My youngest son is slow at learning how to read and write. It seems hard, uninteresting and irrelevant to him. The usability of it isn’t clear to him yet; and unless a skill appears relevant and usable it will always be wearisome to learn.

However, he is an amazing reader when it comes to reading nature. He will say: when the cicadas’ song turns into loud screams at sunset (listen mum!), it means that rain will start shortly (and yes, it sure does), when gusts of wind shake up the tree crowns like that it means that thunder is on its way, and: look at those patterns in the sand; a snake, a scorpion and some red ants have been here, but it is a few hours ago. He will say: never walk through tall grass like that in flipflops; you might scare a snake, and: when you walk through the jungle, stamp your feet like this (he shows me), because the snakes can sense the vibrations from a long distance and will stay away. And, when the croaking of frogs sounds a bit like it is coming from inside a bathroom or a fridge, it is because the frog is being eaten by a snake; it is on its way down its neck. The other day when he was bicycling home from the nearby river a heavy rainstorm surprised him, and he returned soaking wet accompanied by his dog Saga, he said: I was wondering why there was a really dark grey line at the bottom of the sky! Now I know what that means: get home as soon as possible, especially when you have to cycle through a field of tall coconut palms! (coconuts can fall down during storms and rain showers making it very dangerous to walk beneath them).

In the more magical genre, he will say: there are many waves in the ocean today, because a lot of people died today; every time someone dies the ocean makes a wave. And: the reason people get sick is because we are cutting down so many trees; we are connected with them: what they breathe out, we breathe in, and what we breathe out they breathe in.

He is curious and has a researcher’s approach when it comes to reading nature: will investigate, draw, gather samples, and explore connections. He is hungry for knowledge about nature, human intervention and interconnectivity; has a million questions of which I can only answer a fraction. Why can trees only grow to a certain height? Why do people eat pigs but not dogs – well, why do people eat animals at all; it’s not really different than eating humans? Why can’t people and animals talk? Why don’t different kinds of birds mate like different kinds of dogs do? What are stars made from? Why are leaves green?  

He will lecture me too: did you know that female praying mantis (we have lots of huge ones here) eat the males when they make babies? And: did you know that there are a ton of plants that are eatable to humans that we never use for food?

He has a deep respect for nature. A respect that is fostered by him growing up in truly wild nature; not the cultivated, tamed nature that characterizes my motherland, but nature that can be dangerous, and that you need to know how to navigate in order to not get hurt or lost. Nature that is wild, raw and enchanted.

He might not be a strong reader and writer (yet), but he can make paint out of minerals, use plants for cloth-dyeing, build a small windmill, make healing tea out of herbs (he knows exactly what can be used and how to make the perfect blend), lay out a vegetable garden (he knows which plants should be placed next to each other and why, and he also lectures me on pollination by insects), take care of a great variety of animals: chickens, goats, dogs, cats, turtles, fish, tadpoles (he is feeding tadpoles in different growth stages at the moment; investigating their development thoroughly), cook an excessive selection of tasty dishes (including amazing vegan sushi, only slightly mashed), make recycled paper sheets out of discarded paper scraps, stitch and weave with yarn, fold all sorts of animals of origami paper, make toy cars out of bamboo, navigate with a compass, differentiate between venomous and non-venomous snakes, meditate and do yoga poses, use mantras to clear his mind and show gratitude, cut tropical fruit into perfect symmetrical shapes with a pocketknife, open a coconut by hitting it on a rock etc. etc.

(…)

As a sidenote; after I wrote this my son suddenly started reading. No problem. It seemed as if the capability was always there, dormant, and only once he found use for it, it came out.

Some things cannot be forced.

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