Relationships to Land
Living in a way that makes “sense for everybody” (and everything).
This year, I spent my first Christmas and Winter Solstice in a place where the season during these holidays is summer. My friend Cassia lives two hours north of São Paolo, along with her three dogs – Mombasa, Loba, and Cabrita, and recently two horses, Loira and Samantha. We first met over twenty years ago when we both lived in Brooklyn, New York. Her daughter Olivia, who lives in São Paolo, and her son Leo, who lives in a casita (a small house) on her land, were also present for the holiday celebrations.
Cassia lived in cities her entire life – Rio de Janeiro, New York City, São Paulo – and her transition to the country happened only six years ago. She had taken a course on regenerative agriculture, and spent time living there, near where she now lives. She then purchased a 23-acre plot of lush land, much of it wild and hilly. She spent a year coming to know the land before she chose a site on which to build her home. Leo, who nearly completed his architectural training and also spent time on the same regenerative agriculture farm, did most of the construction.
In addition to her beautiful two-story, energy-efficient home, there are fenced-in rocky and hilly pastures, a large garden, a lap pool, and two casitas (Leo's studio-sized casita and one used as an Airbnb).
Cassia’s understanding of permaculture principles permeates her lifestyle, which includes how she built her home and continually develops the land. Her and Leo took time to study the land, choosing the home site that made the most sense ecologically, considering things such as energy usage and waste management. She composts and uses next to no plastic. She continuously experiments in her garden to see what plants grow best together, and she plants food both in the garden and wild spaces.
She describes permaculture as a broad umbrella of living in a way that “makes sense for everybody.” By everybody, she is referring to all beings – including plants, soil, water, animals, insects, and rocks. Cassia is curious about the medicinal value of plants just as she is about good water management and building her home in a way that is in right relationship to the land. To her, everything alive is interrelated, nothing is self-sufficient.
One of the many pleasures of this trip was participating in gathering plants, which not only tasted delicious but also were medicinal. We made tea from the leaves of the amora tree, which relaxed us in the evening and seemed to deepen our sleep. We also brewed tea from rosemary and basil leaves we gathered just outside the front door. When tea is made from fresh leaves, at their peak, the medicinal quality is most potent.
Another name for amora is the mulberry tree, found throughout the United States and in countries across the world. Recent western scientific studies have shown that the leaves may protect against illnesses like hypertension, obesity, and cardiovascular problems. (Chinese studies have shown these benefits for centuries, yet their findings have been generally ignored or questioned by western science due to differences in scientific methodology and bias.)
Rosemary has, among other things, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may protect from major chronic diseases that are common in cultures of overworked and overly stressed people. Basil, a fragrant herb which grows easily both indoors and out, has many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These herbs can contribute to the prevention of cancer and heart disease, as well as help regulate blood sugar.
Cassia's son Leo uses basil and rosemary to brew beer, initially out of necessity when there was a shortage of hops. I found the taste to be more complex and delicious than the heavily hopped craft brews so popular in the United States.
Cassia still keeps her stash of Yogi tea (especially Breathe Deep), which she brings back every time she travels to the United States. But she is now content to be less attached to store-bought tea as she gradually uses more of the bounty that her land provides.
For a long time, I've had an interest in plant medicine, integrating it into my life mostly by purchasing remedies from people who cultivated and foraged the ingredients themselves. In recent years, I've paid greater attention to sourcing herbs locally and from those who use practices that respect the Earth. Something shifted in me on this trip, as I realized that I could have a more personal relationship to plants with a little more effort. (It's never too late to start!)
Before I got back to the States, I had already ordered the book, Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants. In the summer, I will gather milky oats when they are at their prime, offered as a gift to anyone interested by a friend who owns Wapato Island Farm. She only requests that everyone bring a gift to the land: “a prayer, a pinch of tobacco, a stone, or something special.”
There's something about gathering food for yourself that gives you a sense of volition to take responsibility and honor the Earth’s generosity. It doesn't have to be a full-time job or a vocation for you to participate. Caring enough to gather food, or even the act of beginning a relationship with one or two local plants, evokes a feeling of belonging to nature. When I take time to develop a personal relationship with the plants that are all around me, I'll learn more about nature's lessons of abundance, interdependence, and sharing.