On the Animal Trail coverEd. note: This post is an excerpt from On the Animal Trail, by Baptiste Morizot, translated by Andrew Brown, and published by Polity Books. You can find out more about the book here.

Being in the fresh air means simultaneously being enlarged by the living space around us when we take up room within it, and with our feet in the soil, lying on it as on a fantastic animal which bears us, a gigantic animal come back to life, rich in signs, in subtle relationships, a donor environment whose generosity is finally recognized, far removed from the myths that tell us we need to tyrannize the earth if it is to nourish us.

Being in the fresh air means being in the living atmosphere produced by the respiration of plants, since what they reject is what makes us. It means recognizing that the breath of fresh air and the earth are one and the same fabric, immersive, alive, made by living things in which we are caught up, mutually vulnerable – and thus forced into more diplomatic relations?

Being in the fresh air is, at one and the same time, an invigorating opening and a way of finding our way back to the earth.

The last word, the one which finally summed it all up, is a word we stumbled upon by chance. It’s a word from Old French that comes from the coureurs des bois of Quebec. It’s the way they expressed the idea of going off for a breath of fresh air, after each return to town to do their business. They would say: ‘Tomorrow I’m heading off, I’m going to enforest myself (‘je vais m’enforester’).

Enforesting oneself is a twofold movement, as the reflexive verb suggests: we go out into the forest and it moves into us. Enforesting oneself does not require a forest in the strict sense, but simply a different relationship to living territories: the twofold movement of walking across them differently, connecting with them through other forms of attention and other practices; and allowing ourselves be colonized by them, allowing them to enfold us and move into us – just as the pioneer forest fronts of the Cévennes pines advance towards the villages, covering the old pastures which are no longer maintained by pastoralism.

It was tracking, in a philosophically enriched sense, that set us on the path to this process of ‘enforesting ourselves’, which shifted our way of looking and living – a tracking associated with other practices, such as picking wild plants, which require a very fine sensitivity to the ecological relationships that weave us together into living territories. This ‘eco-sensitive’ tracking inaugurates another relationship with the living world, which simultaneously becomes more adventurous and more welcoming: adventurous because so many things happen – everything is active, everything is a little richer in strangeness, every relationship even with the bottom of the garden deserves to be explored; and more hospitable because it is no longer silent and inert nature in an absurd cosmos, but living creatures like us, vectorized by recognizable but always enigmatic vital logics, a mystery which can never be completely fathomed by investigation.

There is a Zen aphorism which to my mind suggests something of the trail that we are following here, this trail to enforest ourselves. There’s a monk standing in the pouring rain, his back turned to the door of the temple, gazing at the mountains. A young monk sticks his head through the door of the temple, bundled up in his robe, and says to the monk: ‘Come back in, you’ll catch your death!’ The monk answers, after a pause: ‘Come back in? I hadn’t realized I was outside.’

In a sense, in the old days, we were often bored when we found ourselves ‘outside’, in inanimate landscapes, seeking physical exertion and picturesque views. From now on everything is populated, calling out to us, and we must live together in a great shared geo-politics. Trying, as amateur trackers, to become diplomats towards forms of life that dwell among us, but in their own ways. We could undertake to become ‘intermediaries’ towards all these living beings. ‘Truchement’ is a nice word from Old French – it can mean translators or intermediaries, and is sometimes used to describe strange characters: it was the name of the young French coureurs des bois that the explorer Samuel de Champlain, when he landed on the Algonquin territory that was to become Canada, allowed to winter among the Amerindian tribes so that they could learn the language and customs of the so-called ‘savages’ and become diplomats between nations, now wearing frock coats and sporting feathers in their long hair.

We would need to become coureurs des bois of the same order, but this time dealing with different ‘savages’: to enforest ourselves is, as it were, an attempt to winter ‘over there’, to see things from inside the point of view of wild animals, of the trees that communicate, the living soils that labour, the plants that are akin to the permaculture vegetable garden. To enforest ourselves means to see through their eyes and become aware of their habits and customs, their irreducible perspectives on the cosmos, to invent better relationships with them. It is truly a question of diplomacy, since it involves a variegated people whose languages and customs are poorly understood, a people that is not necessarily inclined to communicate, although the conditions are there simply because we share a common ancestry (we descend from the same ancestor). To ‘enforest ourselves’, we will need an acrobatics of the intelligence and the imagination, and an indefinite, delicate suspense, as we try to translate what those plants and animals do, what they communicate and how they live.