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  • Jennifer Jewell


Valley Oaks in the Canyon.

Barefoot with the scented geraniums. May 2021

My friend Susan Wooldridge, the poet, walks barefoot as often as she can - the bottom of her feet directly on clean bare or plant covered earth. "Try it more," she said to me recently at a gathering where she cheerfully wandered through the fields, the wild gardens and the garden guests barefooted. I wondered aloud at her bravery given the dry grassy seed heads, goathead, and prickly matter. "So far so good," she assured me, winking, sparkly as she is. She offered up sandals held in one hand to demonstrate her preparedness in the event of a rough patch: "more time barefooted helps my mood, my sleep, and they say even with inflammation....all kinds of things... and it feels sooo good."

Referred to alternately as "grounding" or "earthing" in the last few years by groups doing research on the positive effects of going barefoot, the many benefits of being barefoot - or indeed having any section of our bare skin in direct contact with Mother Earth (this being the day before Mother's Day in the US not in any way lost on me) , has been widely touted.

In an article titled "Barefoot Gardening, How to design a Garden for your Feet" The Foot and Ankle Institute noted that "A dozen peer-reviewed studies summarized in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health suggest connecting with the earth, as we do when we're walking outdoors with bare feet, improves sleep, normalizes levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reduces pain, reduces stress, increases heart rate variability (a sign of heart health), decreases inflammation, and speeds wound healing."

Legions of parenting and mothering sources recommend having children go barefoot as often as they possibly can, helping to improve natural gait, posture, and skeletal formation as well as mood, energy, and healthy circadian rhythm regulation.

Many of these benefits are attributed to the negative charge of the earth helping to balance our body's overall charge, but the benefits of going barefoot, like the benefits of being in contact with the earth and her plants which we experience with our feet, hands, knees, and butt while gardening, are also attributed to our physical systems (specifically our immune systems) interrelating with the enormous microbial biodiversity of healthy soil, leading to such results as fewer allergies and less inflammation generally as Susan mentioned. (Yet one million more reasons to never use toxic chemicals and advocate fiercely for less pollution, and vastly more access for all humans to healthy clean green spaces and land.)

Me and my dad. Late April 2021

In late April, my 83 year old father took a bad fall into a dry acequia on the outer edge of his farm in Northern New Mexico. He was not found for some time and due to both bodily and head injury, he landed himself in the neurological unit of Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque for 10 days followed by an extended period of time in a rehab facility. He transitions home next week, on the mend.

And so, unexpectedly, my sisters and I found ourselves flying on airplanes from various locations a few weeks back in order to see our father for the first time in going on 18 months and to support our step-mother in this touch and go situation.

I knew I would be relieved to see him. And I was. But beyond that, I was overwhelmed by my own emotional and physical reaction to the simple act of holding my father's recognizable old hand.

To go into the hospital room - you know what they are like, but in times of Covid we were very lucky to get 1 visitor per day beyond my step-mother and only one person in the room at a time - and to hold his long-life-altered, familiar hand, grounded me into a moment when as a 55 year old woman, I felt unmoored, groundless.

As many of us have and continue to feel in an often disconnected world, culture, and time.

I was grounded and grateful for holding his hand, knowing full well that he has had a good long life, and when it is his time to depart this sphere, he will die a lucky man and me and sisters lucky to have had him for so long.

Staghorn sumac in winter dress, photo by Seabrooke Leckie, all rights reserved.

John holding hands with a generous native Triteleia laxa "Ithuriel's Spear'

I am guessing it will come as no surprise to most of you reading this far that studies on human to human touch indicate much the same emotional, mental, and physiological benefits of being in direct and unmediated contact with our Mother Earth and her wider nature: the simple act of loving human touch makes us happier, calmer, kinder, healthier, longer lived...

These seemingly random and unrelated threads of my human experience these last few weeks came together and crystalized for me in conversation with Claire Ratinon last week when we discussed the toxic myth of self-sufficiency. As I wrote in the podcast's episode notes: "Claire’s exploration of the concept of self-sufficiency is so gratifying and thought-provoking to me. Self-sufficiency is held up as such an important goal in so many ways in our lives as Americans - and dependency is likewise held up (inaccurately) as negative, weak, demeaning and a moral failure of some kind.

And nothing could be farther from the truth. Our deep bodies and souls know this and act out quite loudly/plaintively/clearly when they are put into isolation of any kind: We as humans were not designed and have not co-evolved to be on our own - we have co-evolved to be entirely interdependent as humans with one another and as a species with all other beings and elements of this world.

This particular disconnect (self-sufficient versus interdependent) in cultural paradigm and mindset are valuable for us to interrogate: with our feet on the ground and hands holding the other lives around us. What does/has this inaccurate thinking cost us all? and what is lost when we don't expose it for what it is?

I had not thought about the concept of self-sufficiency as not only harmful, but actually an implied insult to the many beings that hold us all up – as an antithesis of planetary and biologic and human community - but of course it is. The concept of self-sufficiency belies and dismisses all who hold us up and support us and make life possible as well as more pleasant. It diminishes, and erases even, their importance and necessity in our lives.

This reframing and re-centering of the importance and joy of interdependence - on earth and human family - makes our necessary networks valued and visible – it maybe even asks us to consider what is sufficient – what is enough?

And what is invaluable quite differently. And perhaps, with widespread acknowledgement, it leads to a more humble and appreciative mindset and more effectively directed action and aim as we thread our ways through our garden works and days….

completely dependent on one another collectively. Born of our mothers and fathers, and carried forward by many, many nurturing and in turn nurtured lives.

In this month of May, may we all be kind out there (remember the poet Ross Gay talking with us about kind-ness and carrots? :),



and the Cultivating Place Team

PS: For those of you who so kindly pre-ordered Under Western Skies, there have been slight delays in shipping of the books from printer to publisher and publisher to me, but rest assured yours WILL BE in the mail no later than the week of May 17th. Thank you for your kindness and patience with this....and for your supportive orders.

Two other notes of appreciation: even before its official publication date of May 11, 2021, UNDER WESTERN SKIES has gone into its second printing!!!! Wow.

AND, I have just heard that The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries has awarded The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants the 2021 Award of Excellence in Biography.

I could not be more honored on behalf of the garden hearted people and places in these two books.

We are each co-creations of many, our children are co-creations of many, our gardens are, and so too are our books - these two titles very specifically.



(just click the live link that is the green title of each program to get to the audio file and listen in....)


Me and spring asclepias, touching ground in the May garden; Mother's Roses gifted to me from the garden; Ms. Emily Apple Wilkins my Garden/God sister supporting me and John (among my greatest grounds) at the recent May 1st Book Launch for Under Western Skies at John's Canyon Creek gardens.




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Me. Bio photo by Eddie Altrete 2019.



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