This past weekend, our farm hosted an herbal workshop. We spent the whole day outside identifying trees; learning about their medicinal properties and how to make medicine from them. We touched, smelled and tasted. We sat in the habitats that support the trees, learning about the plants that coexist with them. And while we sat in a field overlooking all of this, we learned even more from a woman I have grown to love and respect. Because of her plant knowledge, her feel for the natural world, her earthy and honest nature, she inspires me to want to learn and live this knowledge. She helps me to stretch myself not just intellectually, but in all ways.
Sure, I could have looked up everything we did on the Internet. This is certainly a common approach these days when we want to “learn” something. But I know much would have been lost. The “big picture” thinking, for instance, that she generated around bioregionalism would have been missing, along with all the questions that got generated from a diverse group of participants. Gone missing would have been the opportunity to engage all of our senses, which took the learning even deeper. Absent would have been what her own experience, sensibilities and enthusiasm brought to the table. I could argue that if you are looking purely for information, perhaps the Internet approach would suffice. I would wager, though, that in many applications something, perhaps many things, are being lost.
Take for instance what happened late in the day. As we sat around at lunch, while she made tea from Hemlock, one of the students noticed a branch was infested by the woolly adelgid, a tiny beetle from Asia that is wiping out the Hemlock population in our area. I could have gotten this piece of information off the Internet. But what happened next never could have been delivered by a machine. This typically light, easy-going woman got as somber as I have ever experienced her. It was palpable. It changed everything in those moments in a way that was beyond words and beyond reading information off a screen. I felt the seriousness of this disease and its impact on the forest through my contact with her. It changed me.
I am so worried about what is being lost for the up and coming generations who are receiving so much of their “education” via the screen. One of the great overlooked and unintended consequences of technology’s impact on our children is how many things are going missing from their lives. Regularly. Things like being engaged with all of their senses, along with the chance to know the world through more than just the lens of rational thinking. Or how about all of the the fragmented and of questionable value information dumps they receive daily, devoid of the credibility and big picture thinking that only a living being can offer another. And perhaps worst of all is the growing disregard for anything from the past, which includes teachers, elders and all of their accumulated wisdom. In the age of prometheum boards and virtual learning, where the role of the teacher is being reduced to downloader and button pusher, will the encounters with a machine convey the depth of feeling that can only come from another human being and their relationship to the material? Once these things are gone, will these generations even know to look for them or to miss them?
Nothing other than the presence of this woman and her accumulated wisdom could have so impacted me the way that it did. Who and what are we leaving in the position of stretching, inspiring, calling forward and calling to action our younger generations? The machines…?
(Inspired by Jade)