Using herbs is one way to live lighter on Earth, to embed yourself in the planetary fertility circuit. You take the herbs in, your body uses what it needs, dispenses with the rest, and you compost the spent plant matter. What remains of the plant inside you becomes you.
Plants work their magic in ways we simply cannot discern. Some people, like herbalist/ecologist Morgan Brent, call that work the “plants’ plan to save the humans.” Some people scoff or laugh at such ideas, but from an evolutionary standpoint, plants have been here a lot longer than we have. They know more. They are elders. We are babes in swaddling, by comparison.
My study of plants—and I know I’ve only scratched the surface; the work is lifelong—has broadened my mind and heart, engendered a deeper respect for life’s mysteries, and made me more compassionate toward all of life, including us two-leggeds.
The Decay of Either/Or
Compassion is the antithesis of an either/or way of being in the world. When it comes to environmental issues, either/or says things like, “More Trees, Fewer Humans.” This actually represents the sentiments of many who believe that overpopulation is killing Earth. Since Malthus, “overpopulation” has been the elephant in our communal living room. To me, it isn’t all just numbers. It’s the demands we make. It’s whether or not we are part of the fertility cycle of the planet. It’s whether or not Qi—vitality or lifeforce—flows through us on a grand scale, or whether we present blocks to qi, such that, on a collective level, energies stagnate, turn rancid.
“Either/or” says that humans (Homo sapiens) are EITHER above OR below all other species. But that is simply a continuation of the old, artificial, rickety hierarchies at work. Why should humans believe we are either more deserving of positions of dominance or that we need to voluntarily kick ourselves to the curb so that everything else may live? It’s true: Our technologies, our emotional holes and conflicts, which drive our insatiable quest for more, more, more give us a certain kind of power to destroy habitat others depend upon, therefore marginalizing their life force. But we can learn other ways of being. We can learn the craft of reciprocity, to borrow one of Morgan Brent’s words.
Humans are just one of many forms through which life expresses itself. And life can express itself not only through life, but also through death and die-offs, which may provide substrate, or food, for other forms of life to come into being and take hold.
This is not to say we can turn a blind eye to our destructiveness. We must ask: What do we need to do to address what underlies the destructiveness? Can we agree on primary causes? If so, how do we address the causes? If we do not undertake this work, we will be at a species level, perennial teenagers, always ’twixt and ’tween, never fully mature.
Adopt a Tree Ally
Here’s just one answer to cut a path through our destructive habits and it’s for the people whose slogan is “More Trees, Fewer Humans”: Plant more trees. But don’t just plant them…play matchmaker between them and the two-leggeds. Adopt a tree ally. Encourage others to do so.
This can be a tree that, first off, appeals to you—you like its aesthetics. The color of its leaves in the spring are your favorite spring-green, call to you more than any other tree’s. You love the way it looks against the darkening sky of a summer storm. Its leaves, when they begin to fall in autumn, are the most amazing rainbow of reds, yellows, oranges, burnt umbers and light greens. And its trunk, in winter, is like no other, maybe wizened like the face of an ancient wise one. Shoot, you don’t even need to know its common or botanical name to develop that feeling; you just need to be present, in your body, to feel all of that.
Then, listen. Place your forehead against the trunk or sit at the base of the tree, your root on the ground, your spine cradling into it. Listen.
Observe closely: What other forms of life does the tree support? Who are they? How did they come to be here? What are the connections between them? How do they reproduce? What role does the tree play in their lives?
Extend help to the tree when it’s needed. Trees in suburban areas, because they are overmulched or underfertilized (e.g., leaves that fall at their base are not allowed to compost, but are raked away, because people are conditioned to believe that that looks better), are often strapped for nutrients. Use other plants, such as fermented nettles or comfrey, to water them, getting as much of this as possible to their root zones, which lie beneath the circumference of the tree’s drip line.
Listen again. If there’s a particular song that comes to you that the tree inspires, don’t be shy. Share it. Sure, it’s hard to do in urban and suburban areas where there are always people around. Be brave. Do it anyway.
Last: Imagine. Envision yourself planting this tree in your heart and watching it grow, providing shelter for all manner of beings, from fungi and ants to shelter for a squirrel, food for a bird, shade for a human.