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
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.
One day, back in the early 1990s when we were homesteading
in the Australian bush, we went to town for supplies. Just before we headed
into the hardware store for our latest unglamorous purchase of whatever it was
we currently needed in our build-your-own-self-sufficient-mudbrick-house
project, I noticed that we had parked immediately behind a very large and very full logging
truck, to the back of which was affixed a sticker that said: "Fertilize the bush: 'doze in a greenie."
I remember hoping the cowardly hope that when the logger came back to his
truck he would walk around the front of it rather than around the back of ours
where the Greenpeace sticker was, in all its rainbow glory. Both vehicles were
on a very steep hill, after all, and ours was an awful lot smaller than his.
I made light of it at the time but I do remember well the
frisson of fear that I felt when I saw that sticker. Australia is a land of
rough humour, to be sure, but there was some real hostility in that message. In fact even
more of it than I had suspected, and steadily growing – as witness this blog post from a decade later: http://brianwaltersmelbourne.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/visiting-licola.html
Fortunately for us, the morning passed without incident. But
I found myself remembering it again today,
when several friends posted a story on Facebook about ‘coal
rolling’—a particularly unpleasant tactic the Neanderthal inhabitants of
some nether regions of the USA are now using to intimidate anyone they suspect of
being a ‘greenie,’ which they seem to think includes anyone whose politics
might be significantly to the left of theirs.
Back then, when our dreams were new and shiny and we really
did believe we could head off total environmental disaster by reducing the size
of our own eco-footprint and encouraging others to do likewise, an incident
like that one with the log truck caused only a small, temporary shadow over the
day. Once we had driven out of town again we could even enjoy the humour of it.
For deep down we still believed that commonsense and eco-awareness would
eventually triumph over small-minded self-interest. After all, we could
empathize with the plight of the loggers who felt their livelihood being
threatened. Many of them had families, some with young children. We realized
how hard it must be for them to see beyond that to the bigger picture and to
understand that the health and welfare of any individual life form in an
ecosystem, whether it be a logger’s newborn son or a newly-hatched sparrow, is
only ever as good as the health and welfare of the whole ecosystem.
But back then we still believed that governments would see
sense eventually, even if it took a while longer than we would have liked. In
our naïveté we still believed they had the power to change things and that once
the truth dawned on them and the laws of the land starting coming into line
with the inexorable laws of Nature, as they surely would, everyone would rally
round and work for the wellbeing of our planet and all would be well.
I wish I could still believe that. But the shadows that fall
over my mornings nowadays –like this morning’s coal-rolling story—are darker
and gloomier and last longer.
My way of dealing with them is no longer to rely on a bright
dream of a revolution in human consciousness but to face firmly into a future
that is adapted to deal with—and somehow to survive—a collapsing economy, a collapsing
civilization. And to help save seeds for whatever post-industrial future there
might be. And meanwhile, to keep loving and honouring this beautiful Earth.
Because we don’t stop loving those we love, even when they are ailing. In fact,
when they are ailing, our hearts open to them even wider than before. That can
only ever be a Good Thing.
Even an elderly greenie is not willing to be 'dozed in. Neither is this one dozing. Her eyes are wide open and so is her heart. Her sleeves are still rolled up. Whatever the future is—and however much or little of it is left to her—she intends to be fully there for it.
It takes a chest infection and a week of sitting around
indoors to appreciate fully how quickly the spring is moving. Even before I got
sick, the world around here was golden, with primroses dotting the banks and
vast drifts of daffodils and celandines everywhere I looked. The marsh
marigold beside our back door was bursting with thick buds, the first violets
were appearing and the first few white flowers of stitchwort were starting to
emerge in the rapidly-greening hedgerows.
Just one week later and the marsh marigold is now a mass of
glorious flowers. Stitchwort numbers have doubled, the violets have trebled,
there are already wild strawberry flowers appearing. Scurvy grass is suddenly
flowering where last week there were just glossy green leaves: the wild garlic
leaves are well and truly up and the dog’s mercury now has its sprays of
flowers—those humble little things too tiny for the naked eye to register as
such but flowers, nonetheless.
Ten days ago there were no chiffchaffs; on today’s walk I
encountered eight of them, singing lustily from eight different trees spread
evenly across my three-mile route. I fancied, in my anthropomorphic way, that
they might be singing about how glad they are to be back: glad to have left the
south before it hots up too much: glad to have made the journey safely back from the macchia to
these English woods of oak and ash, beech and sycamore. There are other
warblers again too now, singing from the about-to-leaf-out branches of the goat
willows. And the robins, who never venture far but spend their winters quietly alongside us, are well into their glorious annual
Soon there will be bluebells—their leaves are now well up.
And today I searched for a hint of the wild orchids. No leaves yet except in
that certain place in a nearby bank where I knew one would have already emerged.
Why that plant is so far ahead of the others I’ll never know but it always is.
And when I parted the ferns and peered down into the tangle of undergrowth there it was, sure enough, its
exotic-looking spotted leaves already in position, patiently awaiting the
flower spike that always comes.
the worldview of many indigenous people, such as Native Americans and
Australian aborigines, time is perceived not as a linear progression but as
cyclical, with patterns that appear, disappear, reappear. Living with that
worldview also involves living with a sense of responsibility for maintaining
balance and harmony. It comes with a feeling of deep embeddedness, a knowing
that we humans, as one species among millions, are part of the very fabric of
the Earth. As part of the Earth, we can never be separated from it. Thus it
behoves us to take care of whatever other parts of it we come into contact
with, whether directly or indirectly. For if we harm the Earth in any way at
all, we are harming ourselves.
outside, walking these green lanes in the fullness of spring, I find myself remembering
other springs, just like this one. As I walk, springs past present and future
merge together seamlessly and just for a few precious moments I know what it is
to live in cyclical time. These celandines, as they fade and reappear, shining
golden again in the sun, year after year, are eternal celandines. They are the
celandines of my English Dreamtime. There is only one timeless spring, a
pattern that appears, disappears, reappears in endless celebration of the life
force. There is just one chiffchaff, a bird who was and is and always will be,
singing those two joyful notes again and again from the top of the tallest
(Chiffchaff photo by Andreas Trepte (Own
work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via
A few years ago, Big Pharma’s push to have everyone taking
cholesterol-lowering statins was starting to make news all over the place. See
for example this
article in the New York Times from 2008.
More recently, there has been more and more news emerging
about the downside of ingesting these drugs. More and more warnings against
starting on them. More research into the dangers. I was reading about this,
often, in the ‘natural health’ magazines. But following the recent publication of two scholarly articles
about the dangers of statins in the hallowed columns of the British
Medical Journal, the pushback has started in earnest.
A report in
the BBC today says that: “A leading
researcher on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs has accused critics of
misleading the public about the dangers of taking them.
Prof Sir Rory Collins
said two critical articles published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) were
flawed. But BMJ editor Dr Fiona Godlee said they were well researched. The
drugs are already offered to about seven million people in the UK who have a
one-in-five chance of heart disease in the next decade. The National Institute
for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says the scope for offering this
treatment should be widened to people with as low as a one in 10 or 10% risk to
save more lives. Its recommendation follows a study which was overseen by
Professor Collins' team at Oxford University. Prof Collins criticised articles
in the BMJ by John Abramson from Harvard medical school, and Aseem Malhotra, a
UK cardiologist, who both claimed statins caused harmful side effects and did
not reduce mortality.”
Professor Rory Collins is the lead investigator of the Heart Protection Study - the
largest trial in the world of cholesterol-lowering therapy. According to the
official press release, the funding of £21
million for the study was provided by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC),
the British Heart Foundation (BHF), and the pharmaceutical companies Merck & Co. Inc.
and Roche Vitamins Ltd.
The Medical Research
Council website tells me that: “Alignment
with industry remains at the heart of the MRC's strategy and delivery
plans and there is continued commitment to develop and sustain close and
productive collaborations with companies in the UK. …The MRC has promoted partnerships with more
than 500 companies, ranging from the large pharmaceutical companies
to small and medium sized healthcare companies. To date, collaborative efforts
have resulted in the development of 518 products and interventions, with
23 of these currently in wide-scale adoption.”
Oh yes, the Heart Protection Study press release is at great
pains to point out that “The study was,
however, designed, conducted and analysed entirely independently of all funding
sources by the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU)
of Oxford University.” Independently? One of the co-directors of the CTSU
is Prof Sir Rory Collins. And the CTSU also gets some of its core funding from the
Medical Research Council, (and some from Cancer Research UK, which also goes in
for ‘corporate partnerships’)
And you still think Big Pharma isn’t pulling the strings?
My new copper trowel arrived in the mail
It is truly a thing of beauty. When I
unwrapped the parcel and took it out, it positively glowed. As I held it in my
hand and admired it, it seemed almost a shame to put it into the ground.
We already had a trowel like this that we
bought several years ago. But since we have two gardens—the one next to our
cottage and an ‘allotment’ down the lane, in our neighbour’s field—only one of
us at a time could use it. So last week, we made the big decision to buy a second
one. At £30 for a small trowel, this was no small decision. These trowels are
guaranteed for 25 years and in 25 years from now I shall be 102. It would be
nice to think that I shall still be out there messing about in the garden at
102, but I think it is a fair bet that this trowel is going to outlast me by
decades. But, as the poet said, ‘a thing of beauty is a joy for ever.’ And now
we are a two copper trowel family.
The Austrian engineer, forester and wise
elder Viktor Schauberger, best known for his discoveries of the energetic
properties of water and his design of beautiful, functional flowforms, also did
research into the use of copper in gardening tools. Hecame to the conclusion that cultivating the soil with
copper implements rather than steel ones would be morebeneficial to the Earthand
lead to healthier plants. In his writings, he listed several reasons for this.
§Minute amounts of
copper create the conditionsfor beneficial micro-organisms
§Copper tools penetrate
the soil easily. Copper has a lowcoefficient offriction, therefore there is less tendency for clay to cling to
§Copper isnot magnetic so it does
not disrupt the electrical fields in the soil
§Copper tools bekept sharpwith a
whetstone, file or by peening (hammering the edge against a steel anvil)
You can read a whole lot more about this concept—and about Schauberger—here
The other thing about the use of copper tools in the garden is that it
is said to deter slugs. And here in our damp corner of south-west England, that
is certainly a plus.
I carried my shiny new trowel up to the garden and I knelt down and
stuck it in the soil. Kind of reverently. But isn't that how gardening should always be? Reverent?