BOS 01 13 2022 doublesize
In his book Sand Talk, Tyson Yunkaporta says that there is no word for culture in his language. The phrase that approximates the concept roughly translates as "being like your place." He talks about the way place shapes us, saying "Being in profound relationship to place changes everything about you--your voice, your smell, your walk, your morality." (page 227) For Yunkaporta, it is this kind of grounded relationship which can change humanity and help us heal the world.

As I think about my adult life, grounded in place has been important to me. When I worked with women who were temporarily homeless, I chose to live in the kind of neighbourhood they would. Living in a well-off community or a district being upscaled would have been easier, nicer, but it would have separated my life and my work. I used to joke that I spoke fluent "joual" so don't ask me to preach in French. My language--accent and vocabulary--fit the place I lived and worked.

What didn't fit as well for me was the lack of connection to earth and growing things. I realized that I wanted to get out of the city. Moving to my parents' fifty acres just outside of Markdale, I planted a garden, but I did not want to interfere with the farmer who worked the land. I started to dig in the fenced paddock in front of the barn. The farmer stopped by and told me I would not have any luck there. His uncle had filled that area with gravel so that a tractor could get in and clean the barn. He offered me a corner of the field he had already worked up.

In that space, my garden was a triangle not a square. Made for a different layout, but it meant that there was less unused space between garden and field. Someone asked me why I didn't grow potatoes. Not enough space. Besides, I thought, potatoes are potatoes. When I moved to the farm and had a 40' by 40' garden, I had room and learned how wrong I was. The starchy store-bought things are nothing like a new potato just dug from the garden.

The farm taught me a lot, shaped me thoroughly. I learned to attend to how much moisture had fallen--when the land had dried out enough to work, when the hay had dried enough to bale. Thistles required attention. Sheep would eat them but not until they had dried and turned brown, long after they had gone to seed. Pastures would be clipped to control them, but around the barn required human intervention or they would become a wall. I learned that a new seeding of hay would be rife with them, but they would be dealt with as long as we took both first and second cut before they went to seed.

I watched animal tracks in the snow like the coyote who patrolled the perimeter of the barn every day. Fine in winter when the barn was tightly shut, but a warning to bring the sheep in every night in summer. Deer wandered across fields and showed where windfall apples abounded under the snow. I had taken my share for jelly much earlier.

I watch animal tracks here by the shore as well, coyote, fox and deer, just to know who is in the neighbourhood. There are wild apples in the fields above the escarpment, along the road. I watch them grow in July and find places along the road where they are abundant. Apple jelly is still a yearly chore.

Watching the water is a new experience. With high water levels our first two years, there was a totally new worry as shoreline eroded. Drawing water from the lake means that gardens can be watered. I am learning what grows in the shade, how to grow things in raised beds and containers, ways to use the maple and ash leaves that abound.

The hardwood forest on the farm was at the back of the property. I would walk there, but only once or twice a season. Forest is a daily part of life here, and I am learning about mushrooms, the above ground manifestation of the mycorrhizal network that connects the trees.

I've forgotten most of the French I knew, though it would likely rise to consciousness if I needed it. I don't have room to grow potatoes at this point, but I know it is worth buying them from gardeners in August. I'm not sure I am as shaped by place as Yunkaporta thinks I should be, but I understand his point. My daily concerns are grounded in the land.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation


CopyRight ©2015, ©2016, ©2017 of Hub Content
is held by content creators