Tending a Piece of Land 

Ongoing Conversations 

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, I think that’s why we all come here, why the landscape and the religion hold such an attraction for people from the West. I started with the yeti. I was desperate to find it, to prove that it existed. But then gradually the creature ceased to be a physical mystery and became instead a symbol of the unknown, an image that allowed me to tie together things that were known and things I merely sensed. That’s why I turned to conservation. We all need a place on Earth to hide the wild parts of ourselves. With land preserved, each generation can search again for the yeti and discover the science of life, which is ecology, and participate in the art of science violated, which is magic. In the end what we discover is a greater sense of who we are, and a knowledge that what we are is just what is.” (Davis, 1998) Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire, 1998 

J : Hanne, we have been working the land together for a while in a biodynamic farm in Belgium, named ‘De Zonnekouter’, a place that I consider a part of home or some place that still plays a crucial role, a land that I feel I got to know. And it’s the place where we got to know each other, too. The place that in that sense enabled our being together here now with Lierlou. I was intrigued by what a friend who still farms there said to us; that he feels we make opposite moves; going from ‘wild’ or abandoned to create a space to grow vegetables whilst they are planting trees on land that has been cultivated for many years. However ‘true’ it sounds at first, it feels too black and white of an image to me. What do you see? 

H : The feeling you get when you are destroying or simplifying nature made me super careful. I used a lot of compost when I cleared a space on Lierlou for the vegetable growing so that it wouldn’t dry out and I chose to not plow by tractor but carefully clear it by hand. I wanted to starting to cultivate only what is needed for what we want to do and not more, I chose to leave trees as much as possible. But I wonder ‘is this regenerative agriculture?’ maybe we should have left Lierlou alone and searched for death land to restore instead. 

J : I think it is interesting to listen to this word ‘restoration’ or ‘regeneration’ and to notice the minimal intervention we made on Lierlou, all by hand. And, I wonder if soil can ever be death, as you say, maybe rather exhausted and asleep? When given time without interruption also ‘death’ land would slowly come back to life, don’t you think? I am remembered now of Colin Campbell speaking about the perception of death as termination or end rather then vital part of a cycle. 

I also want to add something we spoke about often before, the exhaustion we both felt and saw in other organic or biodynamic farmers might be linked to the exhaustion of the land, the lack of wild space. 

H : I do think there is a point of no return in terms of desertification where you need input of humans to bring in water and plants. Soil without organic matter is no soil anymore. That’s where the need for input comes in, and so the need for interruption too. 

J : This point of no return intrigues me, as does the ‘not being able to give without input.’ It intrigues me because I am curious as to ‘how’ we think about this. You said before that even when death, maybe animals would come and poo and so everything would change. Straight after you asked ‘but why would they be attracted to death lands?’ Nexto that I want to bring in; how could we see nature as self-regulating without humans in the middle of that self-regulating phenomenon? 

H : As long as we are acting as creators (controlling life?) I think we also have responsibility that comes with that way of relating. If you make animals, plants, or even whole ecosystems dependent you create a responsibility to keep alive. Like we are caring for the goats. But maybe you shouldn’t make someone or something so dependent that It can’t live without you. 

J : Dependent, or interdependent? I like that we have been speaking about caring for someone or yourself before in another conversation. We said that the meaning of ‘caring for’ is depending on many things – sometimes leaving a friend in solitude is more generative then trying to fix emotional distress. In that sense, meaning is born out of context and complete dependence might be unhealthy. Working with context might mean leaving behind the known. We have been noticing a few times that even though we both spent a long while growing vegetables starting with Lierlou felt like a new kind of art. You said to me a few times you felt like inventing vegetable growing anew, new kind of soil and fauna and flora. 

Coming back to creators and creating, how does creating vegetables now feel different to you then before, within other contexts? 

H : (Ongoing) 

 

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