inspiration2022/05/18

Reclaiming Our Relationship With Nature With Claudia Ayuso

by Claudia Ayuso

Claudia Ayuso is a writer and presenter, based in London. Her work is mainly themed around environmental and social issues concerning climate change, mass consumption and human rights

As a child I loved the outdoors. I grew up in a hot climate and my days were spent playing around the fountain in the park, or running up and down the hills deep in the heart of the island while my parents cooked food in a stone barbecue. The fountain is now dry, a lone palm tree growing in a makeshift concrete pot in the centre of it, and the barbecues are out of use due to risk of wildfires. That’s how much everything has changed. And although these were my favorite places, those in which I could be surrounded by plants, I never experienced the miracle of building a relationship with them.

This winter, the foundations of my confidence and sense of purpose crumbled and gave way to a deep, dark pit. Where I had built the house of my identity now there was only a hole. I tried to fill it up again with all sorts of soil, but this pit seemed to swallow it all. Some other days I could only lie in it and cry the hours away. Desperate to find purpose again and learn something new I started looking for volunteering projects in London: in community kitchens, elderly homes, refugee organisations… Anything that would connect me to others and I could balance with my job. This is how I found an organic permaculture garden in East London that feeds the people that come to their cafe and donates some produce to food banks.

My first visit to the garden fell on a biting cold February day. Three other volunteers and I knelt on two beds and, careful not to step on the loose soil — since, as I’ve learnt, compacted soil isn’t great for root growth — we spent two hours weeding it bare, then two more planting rhubarb. The first time I saw rhubarb was when I moved to the UK and, four years later, I’m still to try it (I know, crazy!). I was wearing my warmest jacket, thick gardening gloves, wool socks and boots, a beanie and all sorts of layers and still my body was trying to shake the cold away. I was freezing by the end of the day, covered in mud from head to toe and with the biggest smile on my face and heart. We chatted for five hours straight, our eyes fixed on our work, knitting a web between us, the soil, the animals we encountered and the plants. Those hours shared with like-minded people and plants were medicine to me.

I’ve taken home with me the names of plants I knew only by face, met new ones I never realised existed, finally been introduced to the full being of those I only knew fragments of like chicory root, ground cherries, rocket or runner beans. I’m learning what they like and what they need, how they grow and how we can collect their gifts without jeopardising them.

What I didn’t see at the time is that I retreated with the seasons. In August, when the first leaves were starting to fall so did mine. In the bleak winter, when the trees stood bare and stopped life, so did I. In the spring, when the first buds began to unfurl, I could smell the sweet scent of the blossoms growing somewhere in me. Many of us have forgotten that our lives are intertwined with those in nature, that life is cyclical and not a straight line of exponential growth like our society is asking from us. I am certainly starting to remember that the closer I am to plants, the more I understand about so much around me.

At some point in history we shared a relationship with nature. We cared for seeds so they could awake into life, we protected seedlings until they didn’t need us anymore and, in return, they gave us shade, food or medicine. In my late twenties, I’m eating plants I’m tending to and all of a sudden food becomes sacred. I’m growing to respect plants in a profound way and, because of this, something is shifting in the way I move in the world. I believe the Earth can heal, but it needs us. It needs us to speak to her in the way we always did. And all it might take for you to remember is sowing the seeds of your favorite chilli by the window.

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