My son Corbin is 3 now and intimate with his surroundings. He visits the special place where water sifts out from under the moss-covered bedrock, he knows where the nettles grow (and enjoys the soup), he prefers birch for making fires because it smells nice and he once stumbled after moose fleeing across a meadow.
Corbin is the first child raised from birth at our farm since 1911. In the century that has passed since, the land hasn’t seen a human native, and no child here has grown into maturity to develop a deep understanding and emotional connection to the place.
Our question as parents then is how do we recapture the skills of a native? How do we learn again to live with the seasons, the shifting temperaments of the local winds and rains, the unique plants and animals that share our home, the stories of this land? How do we learn to tend the land so we know how to enhance its diversity for everyone’s benefit? How do we reclaim our space as a native species, after so many of our inherited skills have been lost?
Permaculture is a wonderful tool for assessing the framework of the dynamic natural landscape and developing processes of re-integration. Yet it offers fewer tools for connecting deeply to the land as a native who is comfortable living off the wild, and attuned to the rhythms and codes beyond human influence.
Nature awareness is a skill that comes with a comprehensive tool set, much of which has been respectfully gathered from native peoples around the world. This bundle of core routines, practices and skills will gradually and inevitably deepen your relationship to the land.
The process of rediscovery and connection is driven by an ever-expanding curiosity and a childlike passion. It’s the mind-set of the devoted tracker, who learns not only to identify a track or follow a trail, but to become the animal he pursues. For that, the tracker has to develop a deep understanding of the needs, desires, habits and limits of the animal. And he must develop an open, curious and accepting mind that is more comfortable with asking questions than giving answers.
What is that bird telling me? What animal just passed along this creek? Where can I find fresh water in the woods? What plant will stem the blod flow from my injured thumb? When does the moon set?
With time, the practices of nature awareness build a wonderfully solid foundation for explorations, experiments and creations in all parts of the land. Not least, the immersion in the wild revives memories of timeless, unstructured enjoyment—lying by a creek on a hot summers day with a foot in the cold water; watching clouds fly by; or hiding under a pile of beech leaves.
Nature awareness and permaculture are two approaches to regenerative living that complement one another wonderfully. One attunes our whole being to our surroundings; the other teaches us how to tend them as a native.