Look back far enough into where you come from, past the upheavals and displacements of history and the endless alerts of our anxious screens, and you will find people who look, sound, cry, smile, and laugh a lot like you and who lived in deep relation and skill with healthy, diverse ecosystems. Somewhere back in time, the people you are descended from danced every day to the ochred, starlit, fur-lined and feathered music of the wild.
There are no exceptions. Even if you can’t tell a daisy from a dandelion, your senses, your language, your muscles, skeleton, skin, hair, and blood all evolved in long intimate conversation with meadows, mountains, steppes, swamps, and savannas. Living more simply can seem like a wild leap – and it is – but it’s a far shorter journey than the one we took as a people to try our best to acclimate ourselves to a life of desks, commutes, zoom calls, grocery stores, and smartphone notifications.
If living the way modern humans do is like engineering a massive steel-beamed office tower that has to resist shredding winds, liquifying earthquakes, and the eternal constant of gravity, simplifying ourselves is the art of letting ourselves sway in those winds, dance to the shifting of continents, and falling into the kind arms of gravity like an embrace.
Becoming simpler is coming home. It is an invitation that is never rescinded. Stepping through that old door is a tremendous shedding. The only thing harder than answering that invitation is spending a life resisting it.
Why are our senses so keen? Why do gardens make us feel at home? Why is it that even 4k televisions are marketed to us with images of vast natural places, emerald folds and indigo slopes, crystalline lakes and the prismatic plumage of wild birds? Why do we still speak a language littered with the beautiful reliquary of tangible, real, land-derived place-remembering words, the broken pottery of a life of cyclical lunar solar and seasonal mystery?
When we eat an industrial tomato – you know the kind: grown from functionally coerced labor on land sprayed and beaten monthly into submission only to be injected and re-injected with the plant equivalent of red bull, resulting in those perfectly red, perfectly round, perfectly shippable, perfectly tasteless nutritionally devoid abstractions – our ancestral memory of ecstatic flavor is gaslit, our holdout tastebuds are called conspiracy theorists for the weird stories they collect of the succulent lobed dripping free jazz aromatic pulp bombs they swear someone’s immigrant grandmother in the neighborhood grew in her secreted fenced 1/16th acre plot.
The danger of tasting something homegrown, on the other hand, is that our longing to keep coming home grows just a little stronger – even if it can also for a time become more subterranean, birthed as it is in a civilization that suggests that sitting at a desk all day is the proper role for adult and child, the major problem facing rural people today is the lack of gigabyte internet, and our lack of ability to pay attention to this clear-cut, live-streamed, and whitewashed civilization is an attention disorder, and not a civilization disorder.
Remembering ourselves; remembering our roots as weed-eaters, medicine-makers, villagers and elders, and home-builders; as the peoples of rye and maize, rice and millet, hazelnut and chestnut and oak; as we remember ourselves, something remembers into us – the strength, the patience, the awareness, the tenderness and resilience of the land-tenders we all, without exception, came from. Every flavor, every scent, of the teeming soil and the milk of hickory, the nectar of persimmon, the bitter of dandelion, the rain of mulberries, are fragments of the map to our own waiting doorstep.