When words become seeds

(image: seed ball made during a Natural Farming course)

Each seed ball is a universe.
Nature is doing the design itself.

Soil is my entry into the cosmos.
I’ve been madly in love with it all my life.

Observation is the heart of the whole thing.

We have to create this natural farm inside of us.

Through language people knew he had been in rustic places.
He took his embarrassment along with him.

It sounded too incredible.

Take human decision making completely out of the picture.

Grow for fun.

Natural farming is like dancing.

We have to turn this ship around. (= the modern world).

Gradually you will become a natural farm.

In nature there is no good or bad.

Sunlight is stored in the soil.

Ploughing destroys civilisations and the planet.

We can’t understand soil but we can become it.

People can never understand nature.

We have no touchstone of truth.

In our language the frame of reverence of “me” is overall present, we use ‘I’ excessively. We say “I hear church bells" where in Japanese it is only “churchbells”, only the phenomenon is mentioned.

If we generalise we have a focus on reality. (Remo)

Natural farming is about becoming one with everything.

Fukuoka hoped that we would return to the present. His was a methodless method.

The breath is the line that connects to life. (Remo)

How can you obtain action through non-action? (Remo)

Time is a kind of cage.
To be strict is a violence towards life.

Machines are useless for beings that are not in a hurry.

Nobody tells the tree how to grow.

One person can’t change the world but one person can change himself.

Fukuoka was trying to find his way to his known truth.

We can only embrace the old when we call it new. (M)

There is no question without an answer.

Nature has laws and principles.

Life is an illusion I like to be part of.

You don’t have a clear predisposed idea, you start, you experiment, you play and then you let what you are creating speak to you. (M)

(The above are all words I wrote down in my notebook during a course about Natural Farming by Larry Korn, all quotes are words spoken by Larry during the course -unless stated otherwise- but some might be quotes coming straight from Masanobu Fukuoka. Below are some quotes from Masanobu Fukuoka's books)

He saw time as an uninterrupted moment of the present with past and future embedded in it.

Actually, I think people would be better off without words alltogether.

I danced in the beauty of nature as I travelled.

Perhaps the people who most easily perceive that nature is sacred are a few religious people, artists of great sensitivity and children. With their compassion they often perceive, at the very least, that nature is something beyond human intervention and that it should be reverred.

When people try to grow crops using human knowledge, they will never be anything more than farmers. If they can look at things with an empty mind as a child does, then, through the crops and their own labor, they will be able to gaze into the entire universe.

(Quotes above from: Sowing seeds in the desert)

The best planning is no planning.

Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.

Nature does not change, although the way of viewing nature invariably changes from age to age.

The irony is that science has served only to show how small human knowledge is.

There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song.

Just to live here and now - this is the true basis of human life.

People nowadays eat with their minds, not with their bodies.

Within one thing lie all things, but if all things are brought together not one thing can arise ... A person can analyze and investigate a butterfly as far as he likes, but he cannot make a butterfly.

If I push myself to write something, the only thing to write is that writing is useless. It is very perplexing.

All someone has to do to know nature is to realize that he does not really know anything, that he is unable to know anything .... If he does not try to think about knowing, if he does not care about understanding, the time will come when he will understand.

The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems arise.

There is no east or west. The sun comes up in the east, sets in the west, but this is merely an astronomical observation. Knowing that you do not understand either east or west is closer to the truth. The fact is, no one knows where the sun comes from.

Originally, human beings had no purpose. Now, dreaming up some purpose or other, they struggle away trying to find the meaning of life. It is a one-man wrestling match. There is no purpose one has to think about, or go out in search of. You would do well to ask the children whether or not a life without purpose is meaningless.

The fact that people who think a drop of water is simple or that a rock is fixed and inert are happy, ignorant fools, and the scientists who know that the drop of water is a great universe and the rock is an active world of elementary particles streaming about like rockets, are clever fools. Looked at simply, this world is real and at hand. Seen as complex, the world becomes frighteningly abstract and distant. The scientists who rejoiced when rocks were brought back from the moon have less grasp of the moon than the children who sing out, "How old are you, Mr. Moon?"

(Quotes above from: The One-Straw Revolution)


a soft armour

The world is a hard place but even painful encounters can create beautiful colours and leave no scars.


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.)



What I saw

I arrived on a Sunday in the lashing rain. Late afternoon. I found my way. The next day was a Monday but already during that day the Monday disappeared. Tuesday didn’t exist. The night was the night though. Without any name, without any colour. Without any awareness. I lost myself in sleep.
I counted sunsets from that moment on. There would be seven. There were, although I didn’t see them. The trees were hiding it. The sky was covered with clouds every morning.

I observed my new horizon. The line between grass and tree trunks. I saw the leaves move in the wind, I heard the birds. The ants walking up and down on the border between inside and outside. The path my feet had created in the field. The memory of my first arrival. The green that turned grey at night, the blue that turned black.

I resisted the urge to take my camera. I waited. I tried to see everything but everything kept changing. I tried to name what I didn’t see, what wasn’t there, hoping the awareness of the absence of cars, houses, streets, people, the awareness of the absence of everything that belonged to the city, would make me see it better. It didn’t though. Of course it doesn’t. You can only see things when you forget about what isn’t there. When you remember the proper words you learned to make the world visible, tangible.

I resisted the urge to write them down. I waited. I tried to name everything but the words kept changing. A tree isn’t a tree. We only call it a tree. Tree is a word. I didn’t see anything.

On the third day I took out my camera. An old sx-70. A Polaroid camera. It never captures what I see. I have to use all my senses to know what is the right moment to push the button. I wanted to capture the secret and I had thought of a way to do it but before using the fade-to-black film I had brought, the faulty instant film that never stopped developing and turned slowly black after a short glorious moment when the image showed me what I had seen, heard, felt, before photographing the secret of the location, I wanted some permanent proof of this house that was my home now.

There was still some proper film in the camera. I aimed at my shelter, I pushed the button and when nothing happened and just when I turned the camera around to see what was wrong, the image came out. It showed the ground in front of my feet. It showed the moment I hadn’t been looking.

I aimed at the house again. This time it worked. I pushed and heard the mechanics inside the camera. The image came out but it didn’t show the house. The chemicals that are spread out over the light sensitive material when it goes through the two metal rollers had only covered one corner. It showed two tree trunks on the floor, shaping a cross, as if to say “here it is”.

There was no film left in the camera. I put the fade-to-black film cartridge in and pushed the button. Three minutes later I held a perfect image of the Refugio in my hand. Three days later it only existed in my memory.


He knows

A place in the forest

On the way there a pair of startled wings clattered up - that was all. You go alone. A tall building that consists entirely of cracks, a building that is perpetually tottering but can never collapse. The thousandfold sun floats in through the cracks. In this play of light an inverted law of gravity prevails: the house is anchored in the sky and whatever falls, falls upward. There you can turn around. There you are allowed to grieve. You can dare to face certain old truths otherwise kept packed, in storage. The roles I have, deep down, float up, hang like the dried skulls in the ancestral cabin on some out-of-the-way Melanesian islet. A childlike aura circles the gruesome trophies. So mild it is, in the forest.

Tomas Tranströmer, The Great Enigma. New Collected Poems. From "The Truthbarrier'.


Seven too many

"Toen zijn buurman op Patmos, de BBC-verslaggever Peter France, hem vol verwachting vroeg naar de voorwaarden voor een leven in eenzaamheid, antwoordde hij kort maar krachtig dat je daarvoor een houten vloer nodig had, omdat tegels te koud waren, een goede muggenolie, een werkende verwarming en de voortdurende lectuur van de vijf boeken die je mee zou nemen naar een onbewoond eiland."

"When his neighbour on Patmos, the BBC reporter Peter France, asked him eagerly about his conditions for a life in solitude, he answered simply that you need a wooden floor, since tiles are too cold, a good musquito oil, a functioning heater and the permanent reading of five books you would take to a deserted island."

Freddie Derwahl, Kluizenaars. Avonturen van de eenzaamheid. P. 33-34, "Champagne met Robert Lax".

Ways of seeing the world