you’re not in kansas anymore: a guest post by fish in the water

Today’s post is brought to you by local food enthusiast Fish in the Water, about the changes she’s found herself undergoing as she spends more and more time outside.

I feel like I’ve wandered into Oz. Things look strange. Things sound strange. I feel like I’ve just discovered color- like I’ve been sleepwalking all this time and now I’ve woken up for the first time. Time is actually moving slower. Houses look alien and dandelions look like food. It’s starting to get pretty intense.

I noticed it again today while peeing in a public bathroom. Someone turned on one of those electric hand dryers that blow out air. It was so loud—apparently there was some kind of echo—that I was momentarily startled. What the hell? What is this noise? After a moment I registered that it must be the hand dryer—what else could it be— but still paused to think how strange that sound would be if I were say, a fox. It would be a terrifying noise. And how strange that we all accept that as a normal, day to day sort of thing.

I often find myself looking around at the “built” environment, wondering why it’s looked normal all this time. This is especially apparent after spending a day working in the garden. Over the weekend we took a trip to Lowe’s, and I found myself peering around the aisles with the sense that I had stepped into an alternate reality. I’ve been to Lowe’s before. I’ve been to a million hardware stores. But this time it just seemed strange. Why were there so many different lamps? What was up with the towering shelves of fencing? Why were they blasting what sounded alarmingly like a parrot from the loudspeakers (we later decided this was meant to be a hawk, to scare small birds away from the store, where they often nest in the rafters).

Have you ever looked around the built environment and just realized how weird it all is? And I don’t just mean giant box stores. Streets, historic buildings, light posts, cars, locked doors, glass windows—have you ever paused and tried to look at this from the perspective of someone who had never seen it before? If you can really get yourself into that mindset, you really start to wonder what it’s all for. Why is it there? I’ve always been a questioner—I’ve always liked to wonder what would have induced someone to make a particular product, because as a designer, I am well aware of the work that went into every object, even something so simple as a pen. Someone decided to make it that color. Someone decided that eight inches or whatever was the appropriate length, and that there would be a little swirl in a different color on the end. Why? What were their reasons for doing it?

Now I’m taking it a step further. Why do we have streetlights? Well, because it’s safer. Why isn’t it safe? Why is there so much crime? What happened to that whole concept of ambient light? Each question brings out a million more. Why are we doing all this? What’s the point?

I call this Derrick Jensen syndrome. It’s not just him—it’s the product of all this reading. When it starts to occur to you that there are other options, you start to wonder why we’re bothering. You start to look at strip malls and imagine what they’ll look like when they’re abandoned and ruined. What will be worth salvaging (not a lot).

It’s also the product of being outside. Now that all my intentions are focused on growing things, I follow the weather closer than I ever have before. Every morning, and sometimes several times throughout the day, I’m checking the temperature. Instead of being surprised by the rain, I’ve been tracking the signs, and checking the radar. I am intimately aware of how wet the ground is. And while the days used to speed past, they are now marked by how much longer it will be until seeds are up, by how much taller the tomatoes will be before I transplant, by the buds on my currant bushes.

All that waiting makes time go much slower. The workday flies by—I barely remember what I’ve done from day to day—but when I get home and get the rake out of the garage and start in on the grass clods in the new garden everything slows to a crawl, and all there is for me is the sound of the birds, my own grunts as I pull at a particularly stubborn clump of grass, the sun on my neck, and a vague awareness of where the dog is.

When I go back inside, I feel odd. Enclosed. It didn’t occur to me until I snapped at the handsome fella, for absolutely no reason, that it might be because I’m no longer used to being indoors and that my body simply doesn’t like it. I was fine when I was outside raking, but as soon as I came in I was agitated, fidgety, and uncomfortable. It fades after a while—especially if I turn the computer on—but there it is.

I might not have thought twice about it except for the passage in Into the Forest where the main character stays in a tree all night, waiting for a pig, and then shoots it (they need food). After she returns home, she can’t be in the house. She starts to wake in the night with the sense of being trapped. Her sister tells her that in a way she’s become the pig. Essentially she’s become wild, and wild things don’t belong in houses.

Am I becoming wild, I wonder? I don’t think I’ve gone to any extremes (she says as she types on a laptop), but I do wonder. I’ve always felt trapped, now I think I’m just starting to realize why.

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