Saturday, July 15, 2017



During the extraordinary journey from cave dwellers and hunter-gatherers to city dwellers and chic consumers, humankind has developed incredibly complex intellectual, cultural, physical, and technological artifacts. In the process, we have grown further and further away from our "roots", where we were closer to nature, closer to the source and sustenance of our lives.

In cities and in developed areas around the world many of humankind’s roots are barely visible. In the U.S., for example, only 2% of people who live in rural areas are engaged in farming. Even more astounding is the fact that "rural" is no longer rural: a large percentage of rural dwellers live within 25 miles of a city. At the same time, modern city dwellers are frequenting the nature in increasing numbers than before. Urban place is a locale as well for the enactment of human hierarchy. Distance from the natural world may be connected to power over the lower classes and their labor.

One intriguing concept is how our very thought patterns — our abstractions, human-centrism, and economic calculations — may exclude nature and our roots. Studies have shown how anthropology, sociology and various social sciences exclude humankind's connections with other life forms, natural phenomenon and own past. In most modern economies, nature has "value" only when it has a "price" and potential for profit.

Unfortunately many people find themselves "priced-out" of their own land and their own culture legacy. Access to unexploited and unspoiled nature, our common roots is increasingly the domain of the wealthy. The most dangerous of these tendencies, however, may be that we forget our own history as a part and product of nature and hence our ability to reformulate a more harmonious connection with nature.

For most of humankind's progress through the centuries nature was abundant and humankind scarce. Nature was something that could be "conquered." Some of the world's religions informed us that God intended us to have "dominion" over nature. We can't really "go back" to the primeval time of our "roots" — nor would we want to. We will not and cannot abandon our cities and "return" to a state of nature. But at the same time we must boldly explore the idea of living in some sort of closer harmony with nature and the forces of life that we implicitly think we can ignore.

Yet for the timelessness and presumed innocence of our roots, immense damage has been wrought over time "in the name of" roots: blood, tradition, purity, the soil. We know that people from the city are not "better" than people from the country. We also know that the reverse is not true; for actually many people in the country have also lost their feel for nature. We don't invoke the idea of "roots" to pit one group against another but to relate the two in common bonds.

We are learning the hard way that estrangement from the earth has negative consequences for human functioning and people are making strides towards a closer touch. City dwellers are now demanding ‘pea patches’ and other urban gardening opportunities. People are learning the value of having plants close by when, for example, convalescing from disease, operation or abuse.

In South Central Los Angeles, in an economically disadvantaged part of the city close to the scene of the Rodney King riots of 1992, 14 acres of land that were destined to become home for a giant trash-to-energy incinerator was purchased by the city through eminent domain for $4.8 million. Through a series of events, the city granted temporary use of the land for community gardens that turned into 12 years and the 350 families cultivated the urban farm since that day until the city reclaimed and sold it back to the original owner.

The benefits from reconnecting with nature spread in unexpected ways.

As volunteers clean up a trash-filled urban stream, for example, they absorb a new concept of watershed. They learn that parking lots, driveways, and lawn chemicals affect water quality and stream insect life. People who might have never thought about mayflies or runoff water temperature develop a new relationship to the stream ecosystem and indicators of its health.

Concerns about urban air quality draw attention to the ecological matrix of life. Trees provide "services" by removing air pollutants, retaining storm water, cooling temperatures, and providing habit and food for other species. Restoration work of prairies and forests builds attachment to the natural world in a more grounded local way than a more diffuse embrace of nature in the abstract.

The plants that we eat have literal roots that climb backwards, down through the soil, searching for nutrients. Humankind’s roots also reach back through time and space and are likewise eternal.

Rabindranath Tagore issued clarion call to return to roots in his song

“Come back, come back, come back to the earth

The earth that lies waiting in anticipation.”

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