“When you sit by a flower, don’t be as a person, be as a flower. . . . When you sit by a tree, don’t be a person, be a tree; and when you do this millions of signs are given to you. It is a communion, not a communication; nature speaks in thousands of tongues but not in language.” – Janisse Ray, The Seed Underground, 49
“Words are the domain of the linear mind, only the heart can hear the language of plants.” – Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Secret Teachings of Plants, 133-4
“Music is a universal language.” – Karen Litfin, Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community, 174
In one of her wilder adventures, the skeptical professor Karen Litfin begins to talks to plants. More accurately, she begins to feel with plants, and what she hears is their music. A disbeliever, Litfin has arrived in northern Italy, visiting a community nestled in a remote valley. She is carefully guided through the woods to a series of small houses. Here, she is told, is where members of the community talk to plants.
She enters a small room made of wood, where she sees an unusual machine. Her guide removes a set of electrodes from the wall, attaching one set to a plant’s leaves and the other to the temples of the skeptical professor. The plant begins to hum. The device makes the music of the plant—its electromagnetic frequencies—audible. With some effort, Karen connects to the emotional state of the plant. She sinks into it. Her body, and her heart, entrain. The tone shifts, and she hears the beginning of a tune. “Music,” she proclaims.
There is a new theory of human evolution. We humans are distinct from the animal world in our speech, in the language we use to communicate with one another. The new idea is that before we humans spoke, we sang, that music is the mother of all language.1
In music we find the richness of emotional expression. Music, without our willing, makes our bodies move. Music, even in this time of disconnection, brings people together. Music is magic, music is language, and music is so much more.
“In the beginning was the Word.” So begins John. In the beginning, in his beginning, was the word, or in Greek, logos, order, rhythm. I’ve heard another interpretation of this line, that in the beginning was the sound, that all of existence began from a single note of cosmic creation.
Music is what birthed us. We find music in all of life. And music is what binds us together as a people, as a whole.
Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again, we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the hold of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
– Wendell Berry in Earth Prayers, Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Amidon, 286
1See Singing Neanderthals, Steven Mithen