The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Sunday, 26 February 2012
living within our limits, and the forest garden
February in England is so often a sunny soft month, contrary to our expectations and beliefs. I remember many occasions when my daughter and myself would eat outside our cottage high up on the Bere peninsula, overlooking the river, on a sunny February day. As I think this I remember, to my shock, how so often I was ill and wrapped up in the weak sunshine. February seems to be an annual lowpoint, at least for me; the year's equivalent of the nadir of diurnal biorhythms; and once again I'm at a very low ebb physically. Stress and continual exhaustion take their toll, and flu has wiped me out.
I recognise that I have a problem with living within my own personal limits, energetically speaking. I'm not good at being sensible with my own internal resources – I'm too enthusiastic for too many things – which is another way of saying I'm greedy with life and don't recognise when I've hit the end of my rope. I put out a lot of energy, but don't take the time to let my well refill itself.
I have been thinking a great deal, as I have for many years now, of what living within our limits means. I'm speaking ecologically, not personally, now. We have exhausted this planet, and we're at a tipping point. It's as if we believe we have divine right to take what we want, from where we want, simply by virtue of being human, 'top of the tree', as we mistakenly, in my view, see it. The planet may or may not survive; ecosystems simply won't, humans included, if we don't change things. I know this is a view that many people find hard to swallow; some of the changes are unpalatable. But I believe we urgently need to address this – the issue is too desperate to be dressed-down (or do I mean dressed up?). If we don't reduce our consumption, it will be drastically reduced for us. We worry about the economy: without an ecology there is no economy.
We need – and I am saying nothing new – urgently to revision our relationship to the planet and the needs of her other inhabitants. We need to understand, really understand, what it means to live genuinely ecocentrically rather than anthropocentrically – to live as if every other species which shares this planet with us has the same inherent rights as us within their own different sphere. We need to perceive and relate horizontally, for a change, instead of heirarchically. We need to stop seeing other beings and other parts of the planet as 'resources', and instead as integral and crucial parts of a healthy functioning ecosystem. Think it doesn't matter that we are losing species at the rate of – what, three a day? It does. Everything has a place in the web of being, even if we can't see it.
Globally, I have a reasonably low impact – it matters hugely to me to walk lightly, and I'm continually looking to shave my footprint. The way of living to which I'm drawn is extremely simply, in tune with natural rhythms, in a wild place, with very few 'conveniences': I'd be genuinely happy in a small wooden cabin in a clearing in woodland or perched on a wild coast, with a solar panel, candles and a woodburner, big enough simply to house my books (OK it's true I'd need a small study/studio), with no or few gadgets or 'white goods' (a solar powered computer would be essential, though), no debts (I don't have any money but I also don't use a credit card or have loans or mortgages), and minimal overheads, so that one is not hooked in to working forever simply to pay for 'stuff'. It'd be good if there were others living out an eco-vision nearish – communities, sharing vision, work, ideas and bartering skills, sharing harvests, co-operating with each other as well as the natural world. 'You can call me a dreamer...'
Last night I watched again Martin Crawford's DVD 'A Forest Garden Year'. Building on the work of Robert Hart, Crawford, who lives close by, promotes a permaculture lifestyle based on agroforestry, where the natural conditions of a woodland garden are followed to provide a genuinely sustainable method of food production based on perennial crops that work in synergy with each other. (Crawford is also developing any number of fruit and nut species that yield well in the British climate; the increase in which is one advantage of global warming.)
There are many benefits, to both us and the planet, of this system: for a start, the input for upkeep on the part of the human is much less demanding than a high-production veg bed, once the system is up and running; although the yield is less. For the planet, there are many positives: by using a diversity of plants one can accommodate and mimic a natural and healthy ecosystem where shade-loving and sun-loving plants can work together, where heights are 'matched', where bees and hoverflies and butterflies and other wildlife are an integral part of the scheme, and where trees can contribute moisture and act as a carbon-soaks.
What's more one can use a very small space effectively for us, wildlife and the planet: Hart's pioneering approach worked in just one eighth of an acre – a very small garden. This seems to me to be a wise way to go; and if the deep green views are correct, it may be that our survival as a species might depend on small groups of people buying up land for the forest garden method of local production, with its returns to the eco-sphere as well as to the human.
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