This project started 8 years ago, when I wandered the deep, green, mossy forest of Yakushima.
From this far off place I retained my love of moss, and this love has transformed in lockdown into this new series. Learning to Listen is a sci fi narrative of a future where humans and nature have evolved into a new working relationship, with original score by Steph Singer.
It’s amazing to think people used to view plants as inanimate objects. I can remember my Grandmother reminiscing about the world when she was young, in the early 2000s. She spoke of endless green deserts of produce, a pea sea where no whispers could be heard or bird sustained. Once she spoke of isolated oaks, with falling crowns and severed roots cut off from communication. The roots were stripped of their endless reach, energy which would usually connect with a vast multitude of microscopic highways severed, stopped and silent. The soil was seen as a chemical storehouse, broken down to its components, its rich community life was invisible when divisible by words like potassium and nitrate, checking only for NPK. My Grandmother foolishly poured a gluttonous syrup over the land until it choked and spluttered, drowning the billionions of voices and hands which could have told them how to help, had they listened.
These days every child knows that plants “speak”, but that their basic dialect has to be learned alongside other subjects at school. For some this is just the beginning, those who hear most clearly are encouraged to become Plant Portals, spending their lives clarifying the mysterious, mossy voices of those who have been around eons longer than ourselves. The Plant Portals start their training in the Green Dens that can be found in any large city, initially focussed on reading and tending to the needs of the local fauna and flora, they gradually learn to lose the quick, imprecise human concept of communication, and enter into different conversations. Green Dens welcome visitors, and host events throughout the year where anyone from the city can spend time entwined with vines and slowly (from our perspective) growing professors. Green Dens are also hospitals, places of Plant Medicine working hand in leaf with the vaccine, fMRI and other bright lights of mechanistic medicine.
After a few years (no set time is given, time moves rather differently in these circles in general) the Plant Portals leave their Green Den to undertake pilgrimages to sacred plant sites. Their methods and ways are somewhat mysterious to outsiders, but I have heard whispers of Plants Portals spending days, weeks or even years dieting on welcoming plant ‘superstars’, learning, listening, learning, thinking, learning and returning with knowledge to be shared. In so doing these humans connect us with green teachers whose ‘minds’ reach far back and beyond, operating on a different temporal plane with tools and techniques which were, for many years, outside of our comprehension. They have revolutionized the way we grow food, cure disease and consume resources, thank goodness we pulled ourselves back from the brink of destruction in the early 2000s, thank goodness we heard their voices in time.