from BARDO

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.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 20 October 2013

the nomad & the settler: foraging & harvesting; the emergence of capitalism

I have this hobby-horse theory that capitalism began in the Neolithic (some of you may recognise this little gallop of mine), with the transition from the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a settled life that required annexing of land, fencing it off, calling it 'mine' and defending it. As I see it, this began our current capitalist-materialist worldview predicated on infinite growth: the multiplication of our accumulation to an ever-expanding degree.

Clearly, the flaw in that equation is that we live on a small planet with only finite reserves. More, the 'me and mine and multiplying it' bit doesn't easily lend itself to co-operation and equitable distribution, and it also leads us to separate ourselves from the 'non-us' other, whether Other is human or not. It also leads us to see the other-than-human as a 'resource', which in my view has disastrous consequences directly related to our current environmental crises.

I've long recognised in myself the twin and sometimes conflicting pulls of the nomadic and unsettled, and the thread that wants to know one place, one person, one path to its fullest extent in all its colours and seasons. My creativity ferments at the borderlands between the two, and in my life I walk that blade. It's not always easy for significant others, especially when they are naturally more settled than I usually need to be.

The shadow-side of these polarities can manifest in me as a restlessness, a resistance to thoroughgoing commitment to one thing/place/person, a 'grass-is-greener' complex on the one hand, and a kind of inertia, a staying-beyond-its-fruitful-lifespan, on the other, and has caused me not a little difficulty in my life with a rooted commitment (that is, beyond my commitment to following Soul, which, as distinct from Spirit, twists and turns and is not concerned with the linear, the spelt-out, the clearly discernible so much as the lateral, the penumbral, the imaginal; and what's more, often loses the track, to sniff it out and pick it up somewhere else, later, animal-like).

So how to honour those twin pulls is a preoccupation of mine; and in my work with others, how to aid them to recognise and value each; for each has its time, its phase, its season, its value, its gifts, in the development of the human psyche as much as in the world at large.

But right now is harvest-time, and the hunter-gatherer (well, being veggie, the gatherer rather than the hunter) in me is foraging happily at the same time as the agriculturalist in me is harvesting. The two threads come together and I am happy.

Yesterday we spent the whole day with friends and neighbours Simon (he of the steeped hedges, the field and footpath through which Dog and I often meander) and Barbara, pressing our collective and very abundant harvest of apples, which has furnished us with enough juice for the freezer to see us through several months. (By the time it occurred to me to take a photo we'd chopped, crushed and pressed about 4 hours' worth of apples, hence their absence in the photo. Note Dog, taking a keen interest.)

I loved a day of such sensual and physical work. Since I stopped being a shoemaker, by which I earned my living and supported my daughter for 14 years, my work has been largely sedentary, though I do also garden, walk, dance and do yoga. There's something extremely satisfying about growing, harvesting and preserving food that makes you feel really good all through.

And I have loved the gathering and saving of veg, and the gifting or swapping of our excess greens and beans and receiving others' excess tomatoes, squashes and courgettes. I love the settled but scattered community within which we live with its focus on the natural, the organic, the homegrown.

And the forager in me was delighted to go out today between thunder and lightning and showers with Dog and bring back pockets of sweet chestnuts big as any from mainland Europe, and handfuls of sheep sorrel leaves to add to our supper.

There are bigger, darker, questions, of course, in relation to the agriculturalist lifestyle vs the nomad, socio-politically, these days, in terms of what both mean now: agriculturally, it means intensive land use with, on the whole, massive doses of toxic chemicals, much less habitat, and poor animal welfare standards on the one hand, and on the other, to be nomadic nowadays in a time of cheap (to the pocket) global travel involves a consumption-heavy reliance on eg fossil-fuels and their polluting effects, and a fast-food-type approach to place: seen it today, off somewhere else tomorrow. These issues are beyond the scope of this blogpost, but it's important to recognise them and their effects on the planet, each other and soul.

For me, personally, on the whole the choices are easier and on the whole I feel I can meet both aspects of myself without too much contribution to the ravages of the intensive-farming industry. The settler in me works the garden, grows veg (with TM of course) and herbs for us, and flowers for bees. I work largely from home, so can restrict car use to once or twice a week (there's no public transport in our immediate area, however). I don't eat meat, dairy or fish and we live simply. I buy little that involves food miles and almost nothing that involves supermarkets: living as close to Totnes and Riverford as I do, organic local produce is plentiful when we run out. I live in a beautiful place where much that I need for body and soul is close at hand. There's little noise or light pollution, we've a huge fertile garden-field with woodland margins, and in which wildlife – badgers, foxes, rabbits, hares, deer, buzzards, owls – come and go.

The nomad in me isn't quite so well-indulged currently, but it certainly was when I was younger. I walk. To some extent I forage in the hedgerows and woods. It's true that I also travel, mainly in Britain, and/but I very rarely fly and am mindful of fossil fuels so use the train when I can for work, and hold back on going too far too often in my campervan. But also I have feet, a pushbike, a rucksack, a tent – such riches!; and my mind, of course, is not restricted to one small patch of fertile and fenced ground, no matter how beautiful and seductive... and neither are my imagination or my dreams.

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