The Language of Nature

garden, homestead, summer, compost, compost pile, self sufficient, small holding

The tide of Summer has deepened and on our homestead we have finally begun to pull more crops than weeds. As the excitement of Midsummer fades into the long, hot days of July, I find myself thinking about nature and what it really means to me and my family.

Enthroned on my wicker chair, only my pipe for a scepter, I can see the layout of my estate from the back porch where I sometimes daydream. This afternoon I took a break from chopping wood and settling into this chair, a blackberry punch in hand, I had a few considerations that would not leave me quickly.

For most of the people in my life, nature seems to be a nuisance or something outside of themselves. It seems that for modern folk, nature no longer dwells inside of them and they do not perceive their own life as being part of nature. Once separated, the worldview of the modern person is forever changed. One immediate difference between country folk and the urban dweller is vocabulary. This struck me earlier in the week when I was discussing different types of fowl with an acquaintance. To this fellow, a chicken was a chicken and the word pullet was quite alien to him.

The secret language of the traditional family is a path that has been made clear to me. Modern life has separated our people not only from nature but from the very vocabulary that describes nature in the most intimate terms.

In days of yore, a farmer owned not simply chickens and horses but “dung-hill fowl, game chickens” and perhaps a “sorrel mare with a white patch on the off shoulder.” Our modern pigs were onetime called boars, barrows, sows and gilts. Walking through a woods would yield wondrous descriptions of the landscape that are not appreciated in our modern day. How often does one wander among the “wind-swept white oaks, the dead cherries or the shag bark hickories?”

To my well educated companion, there are simply known as “trees.”

It is a difficult task to step outside of modern society and slow your life down according to nature’s clock. The secret language of the traditional family is locked inside of old texts and family history, not easy at times to uncover. Yet how much more satisfying is life when you walk along a “rocky cedar ledge” or a “sandy pine ridge” and a “damp cedar bottom.” When dogs are not simply dogs but are “hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, shoughs, water rugs and demi-wolves.”

Returning to a traditional way of life has taken on many more aspects than I ever imagined. I once believed that living a simpler life meant learning forgotten farming techniques and developing the old skills that once made folks self sufficient. I now see that this is not enough. The old traditions of our forebears were rich and full of life. To describe that richness requires new words and new ways of thinking.


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