Coming Back To Our Roots

Coming Back To Our Roots

Day by day, the light returns. But for us in the Northwest, the change is barely perceptible. Clouds and drizzle still blanket the landscape on most days. For most of us here, the gardener within has not quite woken up yet. Instead, we might find some days we are in the liminal and cozy space of reflection and dreaming.

For me, I like to dream in metaphor. I like think that some deep part of us - a part that has never forgotten the cycles of the earth - is like a swelling seed on the Winter solstice. By Spring Equinox, we are a leggy seedling, by Summer Solstice a fragrant flower, and by Fall Equinox a fruit offered, or a seed set, waiting once again for the light. In this way, the energy of the seasons root me deeper inside. The seasonal cycles can then underlie the internal life of thoughts and emotions, buttress the external flow of daily activities, and inform our relationship to the garden or to the natural world around me - to which we remain a part.

This time of year, the seeds of the last year's learnings have begun to awaken within us. And we can look forward to growing them out into the fruit of a new year. I can imagine myself as a great Oak seed beginning to swell and shake, the root radical breaking downwards through the shell to touch the soil, remembering and discovering for the first time. In germination, the root radical is usually the first part to emerge, so I like to think this is the "root phase" of the year where we can root into and from the wisdom we've learned in the previous years.

One aspect of this reflection on roots is our connection to place. For many of us, myself included, our ancestral history on the lands we garden is limited. Our forebearers may have come from ecologies that are much different than where we are now. We, in fact, may have moved many times in our lives - having to reacquaint ourselves with each new region or each new plot, over and again. Our breadth and richness of connection is perhaps just a speck of what the indigenous before us embodied for millenia.

And yet, here we are with the new day, a new year, a new opportunity to reach out to the Earth and touch it again; an opportunity to know our place just a little bit more. And in doing so, know ourselves that much more. And that makes a huge difference in quality of our lives.

How do you feel now in relation to your place on the Earth, or your little patch of garden? What might support you in rooting down deeper into your place? How can you acknowledge in an ongoing way the peoples that were rooted in your place before you for millennia upon millennia?

For me, feeling connected to land and nature is at the root of my sense of emotional and mental well-being as a human. And like a root does, it stabilizes my sense of self day by day. So much comes and goes in our lives - feelings, thoughts, activities, projects, even people - but the soil beneath our feet and sky above our heads stays more steady. Our connection to Earth can anchor us, can secure us to a deep steadiness within that can weather the constant changes of our lives.

Perhaps this is also why, for those of us like me, the changes to the Earth and climate that we see happening around us can be so deeply unsettling. That stability deep down at our root feels threatened; we can feel the quaking deep down at our core. It's times like these that I again might search for metaphor in nature.  I might look to the forest and ask, "What would a tree do?" For me, I imagine it would extend its tender root tips down even further, and further, until it can bind itself to the deepest thing within - the bedrock. 

So it could be with us, too. We might become curious to find that most solid place within us, that place within the core of our earthly selves. And when we find it, everything becomes deeply quiet and still.  But it can take some slowing down, some turning in, and some rooting down to touch it. 

But this place is not dead.  It's a living place, from which we can tend the soil underneath our feet, our little patch of garden.  As we do, gardening can become an active prayer for the resilience of life itself - ours and others. It can become a ritual of relation to our place where we remember our connection and wholeness. 

This is why gardening and sustainable agriculture, native plants and habitat restoration, is not just a matter of ecology. It's a matter of heart, of soul, of sanity. This is why tending your garden is not an isolated act, but an ancient and universal one. And remembering this might be the lifeline that can bring us through the harder times to come. 

But that's just me.  What is your garden going to mean to you this year? 


Justin Michelson