Learning to Live in Time: A Journey into Indigenous Agriculture

It is an intriguing question that sits in my house today: What does agriculture look like when conducted in “time” rather than in “space”. To show you how hard this is, here is some time:

Aspen Grove at Big Bar Lake

And here is some space:

Aspen Grove at Big Bar Lake

Pretty hard to tell the difference, eh. So, perhaps breaking it down a little into components will clear it up.  Trunks, maybe.  They make this a vertical space, that opens into time, and, actually, only has its full nature in time.

But, alas, we’re not really the greatest of tree climbers, so directly using that time is going to be rough. Maybe something lower down.

Leaves, maybe. There sure are those. Some of these are deep in the shade. They are all parts of the same creature, in the multiple trunks of the aspen creature: some young, some old. Some grow in shade. Some grow in the light. Some grow at the edge of the creature. Some grow deep within its old community of trunks. It is all the same creature.

Could we, for example, farm shade? Could we use it to change the climate, so we can harvest the dogwood above, or some other shade loving plant?

It all looks pretty useful. Remember, the goal is to create a surplus we can use, without destroying the aspen creature and its community, because that’s time. Otherwise, we’d be farming space: clearing it and all. That’s the thing about farming space: you have to take a crop off of it, which eliminates duration in time. You gotta clear this stuff …

…away. The only remaining duration is a cycle of removals: every spring you plant; every autumn you take away. Or, in the case of aspens, every couple human generations, right down to mud. Again, the obvious (it pretty much describes European civilization over the last few thousand years.) It gives a cyclical form to time, but what if we stayed in the grove, what then? What do we have to work with? Why, edges, shade, light, infilling and out-filling, to name a few: all energy effects. So, what about that? Can we farm energy? The aspen sure does, and then it drops its energy-gathering devices, to provide a mulch to shelter it from the cold. Remember: the aspen is an underground creature, with bristly bits sticking up to catch the sun, which it eats. The creatures beneath its leaves make use of its shade. They, we can say, harvest it.

For one, critters shelter under the aspen creatures branches and leaves, and move out into the grass, and back. Porcupines, deer, bear, grouse, mice, birds of all kinds, toads…


Can we do that? Can we shelter in the aspens (instead of clearing them) and move out into the interspaces for nourishment? It works for toads, after all, and, um …

Porcupine climbing the hill.

… porcupines. They make regular highways to get from one grove to the next, and then everyone else can use the highways, too. Good work.

Porcupine’s Highway

That’s a kind of farming of shade, I think, a kind of extending it out into the light-soaked land every night, trudge, trudge, trudge, trudge. But, still, can we farm the edges of the grove for its energy effects, too? Snakes do it for the fruitfulness of the crossover zones, after all.

So, what about us? Can we farm rosehips there, once half of our shelter needs are taken care of?

They love it there at the edge. Works for deer (who come by just before the snow and teach the spring fawns how to gobble them up), and chipmunks, right?

We could, in other words, farm deer (and chipmunks, cuz they’re nice.) And if rosehips, well, apples, too, such as this feral one pruned by a bear among the choke cherries (it doesn’t have to be aspens):

Right on the Edge (And Ready for a Crop Next Year Again)

We’d have to share the planet with bears, but there’d be apples for us all, so that would be good, right?

How Many Should We Share with the Bears?

Plus, the bears could do our pruning, freeing us up to pick the hawthorns (that also like the edges):

Slow work, but the bears have freed us up for it. Beats shooting them, as far as I can see. I mean, if we got it right, our cities would look like this:

Impractical? Of course, but it does illustrate how to live in time, and the price that comes by living in space. Such living is not a given, and is not the only option. That’s why it’s important to consider these alternatives: both for the solutions the exercise reveals and for the light it casts on the solutions that settler cultures have chosen instead. As we move into being of this land, we need to make these explorations daily and in great depth. There actually is a great deal to be gained, even if we just settle on an aspen copse agricultural model. Look at the edge productivity here, of the saskatoons and choke cherries harvesting the shelter the aspen provides:

For wood, we could selectively log the oldest stems, as they don’t live that long, thus renewing the aspen creature just the way the bear renews the apple. It is time to stop thinking of eliminating the creatures of this place and their finely-tuned attentiveness to soil, slope and water, by levelling all the land into a blank space on a map and planting it as if it were somewhere else. This vineyard is killing the planet.

It makes the planet into space, and space is empty.

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