It has been over a year since we moved to Astam village. This means that having lived a full cycle of how the seasons come and go, we are beginning to absorb the life pattern that unfolds itself, and appreciate how people live correspondingly to that rhythm. It is ancient wisdom, an intelligent way of living, and a quiet order that has been practised for generations – a symbiotic way to survive and thrive within your surroundings.
Snowfall on the Himalaya has been scarce over this winter leaving the towering granite bare and sombre. We are uncertain if we miss the aggressive northern winds that usually shower the village with sleet and hailstorms at this time of year. Instead, temperatures have increased rapidly in February, hence the appearance of spring is exceptionally early. The warm weather has brought about the early hatching of termites marking a fluttering, silver phenomenon in the sun-setting horizon. This brief occurrence is spectacular but not for long before they break their wings, fall off to the ground to mate and flourish through the piles of collected firewood. The incredible survivors, the wild spring flowers of lilac, blue and pink puncture through the harshest of ground conditions. The embrace of February rainfall is received with relief and gratitude for its absence during winter was ruthless and dry. The appearance of the thorny bushes of Himalayan golden berries brings excitement to the children whilst they wait patiently for the familiar sweet juicy treat. The wild spinach and mint, and the sprouting of other cyclical nature of life-giving sustenance and beauty from the earth, once again, bring forth a note of fresh life.
Living with a local, self-sustainable family in the village helps us to understand their work cycle in a year. We look forward to the kind of vegetables that we would be eating for the next few weeks, the shades of green that would paint over the brown of their terraces, and the hard work that awaits the farmers after a slower winter pace of life. Living with the seasons brings a natural rhythmic perspective to how we can live, plan and organise in a yearly cycle as a whole. It means to go with the flow with the least resistance. We eat what can be grown seasonally and disregard choices. We learn that we have to build and construct around monsoon and not during for that would equate to inefficiency and wastage. The children play football only when the terraces are dry from the monsoon rain, and when the planting and harvesting of paddy is complete.
As we trace the dots that connect from one season to another, we begin to comprehend that the living planet we live in has a language of its own, and that we must learn to speak it. It is a lost language today for many, constantly buried in our technologically driven world. The facts that we read and extract from books and watching the seasons change on a digital screen do not bring deep-rooted knowledge but merely information. Life flows more beautifully when not linear but cyclical. Or of an irregular order which brings forth seemingly regular chaos. The undertones of chaos repeat and reshape itself so that it looks similar but never is. The pattern of nature teaches us its qualities of adaptation and assimilation in order for the flow of life to continue even with hindrances and obstruction in its way. Just like how water would flow in any given circumstance. Living with the seasons brings a reminder that we are merely just another species amongst many others, whom we must live symbiotically with. If we can speak the language of nature, we may begin to absorb and feel ourselves, as truly a part of this living breathing planet. When a shift occurs in how we experience it, and when we overcome the human-made barriers that we have created for ourselves, and by dissolving the egocentrism of having the need to dominate the planet – the seed of compassion and love for Earth’s life-giving energy within us would sprout naturally.
The meaning of symbiosis is not to be mistaken as merely a matter of appreciation, of ethical righteousness, sustainability, or intellectual or scientific curiosity. It is a magical web of multiple intelligences that exist in us, and through us, and within us, and is larger than us. The interconnectedness transcends words and we become it only if we allow it. And by that, perhaps we may be of a lesser aggressive species toward ourselves and toward others.
There is a visual memory, deeply etched in my consciousness and an interpretation of how I see my mother magically connect with the plant kingdom in her own quiet, beautiful and spell-bounding ways:
In her tranquillity of being, she sings a motherly lullaby to soothe the thorn-armoured canes of the bougainvillaea that line along the garden walls. She lovingly trims and prunes the tips of the branches to encourage the expansion of life and growth. She intertwines the branches for a rebirth of something anew. Her thoughts camouflaged and drowned in her labour of love for the contours of the landscaped, the bougainvillaea at once a beauty and a thorny beast. In return, she is gifted with an abundance of flowering and a kaleidoscope of deep purple, pale pink, scarlet red, sunrise orange and cotton white. The gust of wind teases the mature petals and scatters them like a carpet of rainbow flakes onto the ground, bringing a smile to her lips. She sings and whispers softly to them, deftly wrapping the new shoots around a supporting trellis and around itself to give an aesthetic form; to give way for the sunbeam to drench and allow the leaves to drink up its fill, to spin it into sugar and to create the sweetness of life. As night falls, she tells them a story. With the twinkling of stars, she tenderly puts them to sleep, embracing her day’s work, but knowing that there is always more to come for the cascading blooms never ceases to grow with her tender loving care.
There is a piece of writing by Pablo Neruda about the Chilean Forest that he describes with his whole being. He writes deeply, submerged in the intensity of life with all his senses tuned in, immediately capturing the reader into his enchanting vertical world:
“Under the volcanoes, beside the snow-capped mountains, among the huge lakes, the fragrant, the silent, the tangled Chilean forest… My feet sink down into the dead leaves, a fragile twig crackles, the giant rauli trees rise in all their bristling height, a bird from the cold jungle passes over, flaps its wings, and stops in the sunless branches. And then, from its hideaway, it sings like an oboe… The wild scent of the laurel, the dark scent of the boldo herb, enter my nostrils and flood my whole being… The cypress of the Guaitecas blocks my way… This is a vertical world: a nation of birds, a plenitude of leaves… I stumble over a rock, dig up the uncovered hollow, an enormous spider covered with red hair stares up at me, motionless, as huge as a crab… A golden carabus beetle blows its mephitic breath at me, as its brilliant rainbow disappears like lightning… Going on, I pass through a forest of ferns much taller than I am: from their cold green eyes sixty tears splash down on my face and, behind me, their fans go on quivering for a long time… A decaying tree trunk: what a treasure!… Black and blue mushrooms have given it ears, red parasite plants have covered it with rubies, other lazy plants have let it borrow their beards, and a snake springs out of the rotted body like a sudden breath, as if the spirit of the dead trunk were slipping away from it… Farther along, each tree stands away from its fellows… They soar up over the carpet of the secretive forest, and the foliage of each has its own style, linear, bristling, ramulose, lanceolate, as if cut by shears moving in infinite ways… A gorge; below, the crystal water slides over granite and jasper… A butterfly goes past, bright as a lemon, dancing between the water and the sunlight… Close by, innumerable calceolarias nod their little yellow heads in greeting… High up, red copihues (Lapageria rosea) dangle like drops from the magic forest’s arteries… A fox cuts through the silence like a flash, sending a shiver through the leaves, but silence is the law of the plant kingdom… The barely audible cry of some bewildered animal far off… The piercing interruption of a hidden bird… The vegetable world keeps up its low rustle until a storm chums up all the music of the earth.
Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet.
I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world.”