artificial intelligence

How to Ask a Question of the Earth (and how to hear the answer)

Let’s be practical. Things are what they are. If you ask a question of the earth, you need to place something in the earth. It will answer, according to what you have placed. If you plant a ditch, and ask “what happens if I break the soil open to the sky?” you will collect water, which will collect old quail on their last days.

If you plant an anchor for a power pole, however, a power pole on its last days, and ask “What living environment can be made out of metal and wood?” you will get an ancient celtic hedge, and then might ask yourself, “What does an English colonial longing for a Celtic past have to do with stealing Syilx land on the other side of the world?”

The answer might surprise you. You might be answered with a Chinese elm, also distributed by colonial culture, also introduced aesthetically but now a weed everywhere, yet maintaining its original Chinese values of profusion, exquisite temporal beauty, and ornate detail. Likely, it will then plant itself in you, and you will open into applications, because, after all, you have a body that lifts, shapes and moves thing. It might be a military strategy, an understanding of Chinese mercantilism, the deep connection between English colonialism and England’s Asian experience, and so on.

Yes, you could say, “I thought of that all on my own, eh!” But you didn’t, just as the neighbourhood’s very sick old quail didn’t think, “Hey, I’ll just go hide out down by the water until the owl picks me off. It’ll be a nice retirement.” Nonsense.

Similarly, if you plant the conditions for the Earth to plant a ponderosa pine…

… and a siya? …

… and ask, “What capacity to I have for suppleness?” you might be answered that suppleness fills space just as well as rigidity does …

… but in clumps…

… and as you plant your attention there, in the Earth, you will soon find this supple, clubbing energy emerging to catch your eye as you walk on, because, after all, you have a body that moves in this way. It is your attention that catches you, the attention that you gave to the Earth, she ripened, and then gave back.

Soon you will find complexities within this energy…

… and memory laid down before you were born …

… and complexity. In the way that our ancestors saw gold, yellow, black, white and blue as the same blinding of the past and opening of the present, you will, perhaps, find the roping energy of the sagebrush buttercups, and the patterns of their intermittent blooms…

… and see in it the roping energy of bunchgrass and sage, and how lichens colonize it at key points only …

… and leave a question on an old stump. 

You are not expecting an answer, in the way you might open a Nuclear Reactor Manual and find out the optimum water pressure to draw the reactor’s heat away from its brooding plutonium, but you are open to an answer. You have, in effect, made the answer by choosing a stone in a particular shape, with a particular heft and feel, have carried it for such and such a time, thinking, and have left it, as your attention. It now lives in the Earth. You will find it again, and it will speak to you by blinding you. Your trail will rope between these blindings.

So, to repeat, if you have a question of the Earth, plant something. Whether you plant it in the Earth or in your mind makes no difference, as long as you have the ability to hear the answer. For example, seven years ago I planted a flower garden in a place set aside for a lawn, and have reaped many years of flowers, bees and birds, every year different…

… and because quail love to come here to dig the dry earth for flower seeds in the winter, when everything else is covered in snow …

… I have saved seeds through the winter and replanted them in the spring, so some can come again. Calendulas do well at this.

These calendulas aren’t growing in my flower garden, though. Because the garden used to be a driveway, and was seeded with crushed gravel to keep cars from sinking into mud, each spring I pick out the rocks that quail digging (man, those birds can dig) and frost have laid on the top of the soil, and scatter them on the side of the road, which is a better place for cars than a flower garden. As they are mighty small and frustrating, I raked. Well, say no more, the calendula seeds came along. That is what these stones below are doing, too.

So do a garden and an earth duplicate themselves. If you plant an Oregon grape, for another kind of aesthetic beauty, you will get an environment that extends far beyond you. It might include a stinkbug.

Think of it as another clump, on another invisible roping line. You will find its clumping energy soon enough… spaced across time.

And time is only your attention. If you do not notice it, there is no rope. You will not be able to use this rope.

Instead, you make talk of poetry, or beauty, or the vagueness and imprecision of thought, or creativity, and think, perhaps “Man, am I ever good at making ropes.” No, you are good at slipping out of them into privacy and artificial intelligence, which asks questions of databases. So, until tomorrow, remember, things are what they are: pines ingrown into a grassland in wet seasons are fire. They will burn, and dry the soil out again so that once more it will support grass.

And other things.


We will be talking about private life and fire soon.

1 reply »

  1. I have just weeded mint (brought originally from J’s grandmother’s garden in Suffolk) from the bean beds. I have lots of mint but somehow don’t like to just chuck it. If I pot it up and put it among roses in pots on the decks, the bees love it. And the aphids don’t. “What capacity to I have for suppleness?” I’m not sure if’s suppleness but it’s something. And oh how I love that church north of Spences Bridge. Have seen it most of my life.


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