Before I become soil

Back in Barcelona after a week long course about natural farming in the Pyrenees I find it hard to move back into city life. The streets are filled with tourists and everywhere you look there are things screaming to be bought. Souvenirs and clothes and many other things we don´t really need.

I escape it by finding the quiet corners and drink coffee while looking at people walking by. I visit the sea early in the morning before the crowds arrive to do their sunbathing and to drink the mojitos that are sold by persistent men walking up and down along the waves. But most of the time I sit on the rooftop terrace of the apartment where I am renting a room. I stare at all the rooftops, the chimneys, the towers, the statue of Columbus pointing at America, la Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy) holding a baby with a snake dangling from his small arms. I look at it the way I looked at the mountain in between our classes last week. The mountain that seemed so enormous and static but was changing every second in the light of the sun or the moon and that was no more than the sand under our feet, the same material all these roofs and bricks around me are made out of.

In one of our classes Larry, our teacher (or I should say one of our teachers since we all were teachers to each other and maybe the mountain was even my main teacher) asked us to imagine we are soil. It was straight after he gave us many facts and schematic drawings and percentages and numbers all related to soil and which was the complete opposite of the storytelling he engaged us in normally. We tried but we couldn´t. Even though we knew we would one day all be part of it: talking about death was on the curiculum, like many other subjects.
Larry´s words went straight back to something Masanobu Fukuoka says again and again. "We can´t understand soil but we can become it."

When I don´t look at the rooftops I look at the plants on the terrace. There are many cultivated plants in different shapes and colours but there are some wild ones as well I was looking for when I was leading a communal walk to look for wild edible greens. Wild spinache and chickweed and purslane and sorel. In a way this terrace is a completely different world from the one I was in last week but in another way it is so similar. It all depends on how you look at it and being aware of that and enjoying it, shows me again how important it is to not focus on differences but to try to find similarities, to see how everything is the same thing, is connected, how it is all part of nature. Not just plants and trees and things made out of sand but also we as human beings. All creatures with arms and legs and skin, brains that have grown so big that we are messing things up quite seriously but maybe we are supposed to since in the natural world everything happens for a reason.

I have been trying to explain to my friends here what I have been doing in the last week and it isn´t easy. When you say "natural farming" people think it is a variation on organic farming or permaculture but natural farming is so much more than that. You don´t have to work in the fields or grow fruit or vegetables to be a natural farmer. "Natural farming isn´t about growing crops but it is about growing farmers" is an often quoted line by Mr. Fukuoka. And by farmer he meant somebody who is growing things, may they be plants, dreams, art, awareness or anything that takes us back to the natural state we used to live in and that is still part of the life of indigenous people but we forgot about once we got caught in the modern world. Natural farming is about slowing down, sharing, simplicity. About only taking what we need and give what we have to give.

Natural farming is also called do-nothing farming. His farming technique (if you can call it a technique) requires no machines, no chemicals and no weeding. He does not plow the soil or use prepared compost and yet the condition of the soil in his orchards and fields improved each year. His method creates no pollution and does not require fossil fuels. His method requires less labour than any other, yet the yields in his orchard and fields compared favorably with the most productive Japanese farms which used all the technical know-how of modern science.

His book The One-Straw revolution became a best-seller, thanks to his student, our teacher Larry Korn and two other people who translated the book which was brought to America to find a publisher by Larry personally. Later on it was translated in many languages.
Somewhere halfway in the book Masanobu Fukuoka writes: “I do not particularly like the word 'work.' Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done.”

My favourite quote is this one: “The best planning is no planning.” In my nomadic life where I don’t have a home, or maybe more accurate: where my home changes from week to week sometimes, there is a lot of planning involved. I try to go with the flow as much as possible though and go where life brings me. Sometimes I am thinking about what would be the best place to live and what would be the best thing to do but Mr. Fukuoka’s technique of spreading clay seed balls containing many different seeds and letting the plants decide by themselves where they grow best also applies to figuring out where you can flourish and be happiest. I wander around and do many things and at some point I will grow roots somewhere and produce things other people can benefit from. For a while I hope. Before I will become soil.

(Many thanks to Larry Korn, Kate & Roman, all the students at the Natural Farming course, the people living and working at Sanilles and Masanobu Fukuoka. Many thanks to the mountain and the fields and plants and animals around it, to the sky above it, to whatever is hidden inside and underneath it. It was an amazing week. Many thanks to my friends who make me feel at home in Barcelona now and to all my friends around the world who make my life such a beautiful journey.)


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