Saturday, May 28, 2016

At This Time of Year...

. our Devon hedgerows, 
the campions reign supreme.
And when I get to the top of this lane, there is another beautiful sight to behold. 
The wild orchids have popped up again... they do every year around this time,
despite the rough treatment this ground has seen during the winter, with those big, clumsy agricultural machines that gouge out deep, muddy ruts and hack the hedges around.

Nature is so forgiving, so resilient. Will it always be able to bounce back, just as these orchids do? As climate change bites ever more deeply and the sixth great mass extinction picks up speed, what will survive? Who will survive? In a hundred years, a thousand years, will the orchids still pop up each year? Will the campions still reign supreme in the month of May? How many more years will the hawthorn tree outside the bathroom window of our cottage blossom in glory, like it is doing right now and probably has done every year since the cottage was built in 1733?

Who knows? But right now, in this moment, in the midst of all this beauty, and despite the dark despair that so often tries to overwhelm me, I feel blessed. 

Living in these times can feel schizoid. But as Charles Eisenstein said in a recent essay,

"I am fond of saying that no optimism can be authentic that has not visited the depths of despair. But today I have realized a corollary: no despair is authentic that has not fully let in the joy."

I think he is right. So much so that when I look at these orchids and I start to cry, I realize that it is neither joy nor grief that makes the tears flow. 

It is both.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Deep Green Living

Once again, I have had the pleasure and privilege of editing a book in the GreenSpirit series of ebooks. This latest one has the title Deep Green Living, and it deals with themes that are very dear to my heart. It has a lot of very beautiful writing in it, too. Like several of the other ebooks in the series, it is an anthology. Some of the pieces have been published previously in our GreenSpirit Magazine and some appear in print here for the first time.

The ebook is available through both Smashwords (in all the popular ebook formats) and Amazon, and it costs less than a cup of coffee.

The reason that we at GreenSpirit sell our ebooks for next to nothing is that we are not the least bit interested in making money from them. The only reason we produce them is that we want to introduce our message (about loving the Earth and caring for it) to as many people as we possibly can.

(In fact, we would be perfectly happy to give them away for free. The only reason we don't is that many people like to use the Kindle to read their ebooks and to publish a book on Kindle means you are obliged to set a price.)

I am hoping that some of our readers will take the time to post a review on Amazon or elsewhere. Even just a few sentences and a good rating will make me a very happy bunny indeed. And I know the contributors will be delighted that their work is being read and reviewed.

Click here to read a list of contents, find out more about the book and its contributors and click through to it on Smashwords and Amazon.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Roller-Coasters and Robins

Most of us who have been parents will probably recall that our children's behaviour seemed to cycle between periods when everything seemed calm, pleasant and easy and periods when chaos reigned and we started to wonder what we were doing wrong. I remember very well the day, nearly half a century ago, when I discovered a book in our local library that explained how and why this process occurs.

"Research by the Gesell Institute of Human Development has shown that this pattern of behavior is very common and that children’s growth is not always steady and progressing from less to more maturity. Instead, their development follows a course in which smooth, calm behavior often precedes unsettled, uneven behavior. It is almost as if children need to take two steps backwards developmentally before taking a huge leap forward.
In fact, all children grow through predictable stages of development beginning at birth and extending far into their teen years. Some experts in the field refer to this occurrence as going through periods of equilibrium versus disequilibrium. Children cycle in and out of times when they are more a joy to be with, It cycles up and down and in and out of times when their behavior can be more or less challenging – (disequilibrium). Hence, the “roller coaster” of child development.
The equilibrium periods can be looked at as a time when your child is consolidating learned skills; practicing what he has struggled to master; they are plateaus in development. The disequilibrium periods often occur as the child is entering a new, quick time of growth and development, when he is mastering new tasks and working on new abilities."
It was a huge relief to me to discover that this roller-coaster of psychosocial development throughout childhood is perfectly normal and not some sign that I was somehow being a bad parent.
I hadn't thought about that in years. Until yesterday, when I suddenly found myself wondering whether the increasing disequilibrium we see and sense all around us as our materialist, consumerist Western culture starts to come apart at the seams is in fact part of a similar pattern.
Do humans, collectively, go through a similar set of stages to those we see in individuals? I suspect that maybe we do. There are certainly many 'experts' around today who say that we are now in a new phase of evolution. But we know from history and biology and paleontology that new evolutionary projects don't always proceed smoothly or easilyor even successfully.
If we are indeed "entering a new, quick time of growth and development, when we are mastering new tasks and working on new abilities" it will be because we have no other choice. Overpopulation, the ruthless exploitation of Nature and a doomed-to-be-short-lived reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels has brought us to the point where we MUST learn new skills and learn them very quickly if our species is going to survive at all.
Shall we succeed? Nobody knows. I feel sad, sometimes, that I shall almost certainly not live long enough to greet—and enjoy—the next stage of equilibrium. For that will surely be a time of peace and sustainability, when humans have at last learned how to live in an ecocentric way, like true Earthlings, knowing themselves to be a part of Nature and interdependent with all other life forms. If indeed such a stage is ever reached.

If it is not, well perhaps it is as well for me that I shall die unknowing and still hoping. That way, on my deathbed, if I hear the robin singing in the tree outside my window I can die still believing that there is a chance. I can die thinking that maybe—at least for the next few billion years till our sun becomes a supernova—there will be robins, and trees for them to sit in, and a song for them to sing. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Off Travelling Again

Yes, I have been neglecting this blog for several months. And that, of course, is because we have been 'on the road' once more.

Here's my latest trip report - once again from Italy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Harvest Then and Now and ...Again?

It is September and the green fields around here are interspersed with gold, just as they have been for generations. Not that there is much arable farming in this area as the culm grassland is mostly sheep and cattle country. But our local farmers do grow a little wheat and barley and this has been a wonderful year for it as the weather has been so warm and dry. Over recent weeks, on my daily walks around the countryside, I've had to keep a lookout for clanking, looming, lumbering farm machines pulled by tractors whose wheels, in some of the narrower lanes, reach from hedge to hedge.

The other day, two passed me in quick succession. The first was an ordinary, small baler—the sort that turns out neat little rectangular cubes of straw. The sight of it took me right back to the summer I turned 11, when we lived on a farm and my friend Edwin and I rode on an empty cart to the wheat field where the sheaves were piled in stooks. Talking and teasing and chewing on wheat grains, we watched the farm workers with their pitchforks, deftly slinging the sheaves on to the cart until it was full. And then we rode back clinging on to the back of the cart, with straw ticking our noses. The first big machine in the farmyard  processed the wheat, pouring a river of seed into a sack. The remaining straw went, all free and unruly, into the other machine and came out the other end as a disciplined bale, all neat and rectangular, tightly compressed and bound with wire. The bales got piled up in a big, cubist-style stack and until the process was finished the stack was multi-levelled, so it was fun to climb to the top and jump from level to level (until they shooed us away).

Unlike the straw,  hay was rarely baled back then. It just got tossed by pitchfork on to an ordinary, free-standing stack in the corner of the field—the traditional haystack that you'd have trouble finding a needle in. I didn't even notice the gradual disappearance of haystacks in the countryside until one day I realized that they were all gone.

The second machine that passed me in the lane the other day was a different one—sleeker, and more modern-looking. I had no idea what its function was until I caught up with it ten minutes later in a field and watched in fascination as it churned its way through some hay, with  its rear section slowly revolving, and then stopped to poop out one of those huge, round bales that you see everywhere these days, neatly bound in plastic.

And that just about describes the evolutionary path of the harvest during my lifetime. From men with sun-browned arms slinging hay and wheat sheaves with pitchforks in 1947 to modern machines creating giant, plastic-coated parcels too heavy to heft except with a machine. In my grandmother's day and maybe into my mother's lifetime also they would have used shire horses instead of tractors. The tractors of my childhood were small, noisy, smelly things with bouncy metal drivers' seats. No doubt the tractor seats of today still bounce but the drivers sit high up, aloof, in air-conditioned comfort, shielded from the weather and deaf to birdsong, talking on their phones.

What I am wondering now, is whether I shall live long enough to see it all come full circle. When this unsustainable, head-in-the-sand culture that has been overreaching itself for so long finally has to face up to the devastating effects of its failure to honour the Earth's natural limits shall I still be here to bear witness ? When the oil is so scarce that the tractors can't run and things are falling apart and the process that blogger/author John Michael Greer calls 'The Long Descent' leaves us no alternative but to roll our sleeves up and harness up the shire horses (if we can find any to harness, that is), shall I still be around to watch the guys who used to build up their muscles at the gym do it with pitchforks instead? Probably not. Though if I manage to live to a hundred and the changes happen fast, well, you never know…
Picture © Andrew Smith

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Ending (in haiku)

Nights are lengthening.
Leaves hang heavy, all that's left
one fluttering fall.

Swallows gathering:
"Mum, why must we wait on wires?
—and what's 'africa?' "

Shall I burrow down
here into my home soil, or
follow the sun south?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sunshine, Sweat and Purple Flowers

Lately, the days are warm—so wonderfully warm that if feels like a miracle after the cool, wet summers we’ve had here in England in recent years. There are butterflies everywhere. The grasses are high, the meadowsweet is fading into seed and there are small green berries forming on the brambles.

The colour palette for these late July days is deep pink to purple, ranging from willowherb and loosestrife through to thistles, knapweed, betony and purple vetch.

I am still taking a long, brisk walk in the early afternoons, but today, as the hot sun beat down out of a cloudless sky I found myself slowing down a little and even wondering if I should change my timetable and walk in the cool of evening instead.

Not that I am a stranger to the heat. I have lived in the tropics and in California and in rural Texas and the only times when I ever found it too hot to go for walks were those searing summer days in Melbourne when the temperatures soared above the century and every gust of the merciless north wind was like opening the door of a hot oven. To take any vigorous exercise in those conditions would have been to court heatstroke and even I am not that silly.

But today, as I paused in the shade to touch the bark of my favourite oak tree and felt the salty sweat trickling down my face, I thought about the evolutionary gift of homeostasis that Nature has bestowed on all warm-blooded organisms like us. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it—a precious gift, in fact. From arctic cold to equatorial heat, we can adjust our lives accordingly and keep our body temperatures pretty much constant at all times. And that is something to feel very grateful about.

It is also salutary, I believe, to reflect that the principle of homeostasis applies to many, many other things in the universe. It’s another case of ‘as above, so below.’ As James Lovelock demonstrated, with his famous Daisyworld experiment, Earth herself operates that way. Like any other living organism, she has to keep her temperature within a certain range and she has a number of ways to achieve that but her ways are not limitless. Like us, her adaptability has limits. Gaia’s temperature regulation  is a mechanism that has worked for billions of years—until human beings came along and started messing with the system. And now we have anthropogenic climate change. If our precious planet ends up dying of heatstroke because we were too silly to change our ways, we can’t say we were never warned.