Thursday, 23 April 2009

the kindness of strangers

You know that terrifying scene in Roald Dahl’s The Witches when seemingly normal women throw off their wigs and gloves to reveal bald heads and distorted hands in true witch-like fashion? As I near the end of chemotherapy that’s just how I feel. It wasn’t enough for my hair to fall out, but a far greater indignity is losing one’s eyebrows and eyelashes. Children are starting to stare at me in the street and friends are starting to not recognize me; I don’t even recognize myself these days. And when I do have the occasional weep the tears plop straight out of my eyes on to my dessicated hands in the oddest manner.

And yet… I’ve never before experienced such kindness from both strangers and friends. These last few days I’ve been going around the shops with a Lewes Pound survey. Far from showing their curiosity or distaste, many people talk to me straight, without pity or fear, and adjust to my new image. A surprising number of friends have been ringing me up letting me know they’re thinking about me. Just when I was at my lowest ebb this morning, not sure I’d have enough juice to get out of the house, my friend Nimmy rang and we ended up having a good laugh about eyebrow wigs (yes, they do exist). Another friend Lilliana dropped off an exotic scarf in my colours and my friend Hermione also gave me a quick ring. I will forever be grateful for all the friends who have accompanied me on this journey.

Chemotherapy is the damndest thing. The whole point of it is to take you to the brink of your own physical tolerance - which can also test psychospiritual reserves. It's a very Western approach to a disease caused mainly by living in the Western world. It’s a harrowing experience but it’s often life-saving. But it’s working for me, and I’m simply grateful to be alive.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

down to earth

The earth is our mother; we must take care of her. I sang these words on Tuesday in the Dances of Universal Peace, as part of the Transition Arts festival over the Easter weekend. This chant comes from the native American tradition, from people for whom nature is sacred, who lived the words, not as an ideal but as practical, interdependent survival.

Now, only a small proportion of people on this Earth live within her carrying capacity. And most of those aspire not to. Only a tinier proportion of those people actually aspire to live within the planet’s means, and these are generally native people. A scattering of native tribes around the world have survived intact because they have, unlike us in the west, continued to take care of the earth in a way that doesn’t damage her or deplete her.

Last week new calculations from nef (the new economics foundation) revealed that on Easter Sunday this year, 12 April, the UK in effect stopped relying on its own natural resources to support itself and started to 'live off' the rest of the world. This day creeps earlier each year. It’s worth taking some time to ponder what this means, especially to other human beings. There is simply less to go around because of the choices I make.

It’s not a question of feeling guilty; that’s just a waste of time. It’s a matter of taking positive, effective action. That will mean something different for each one of us, and in the years to come we'll be learning what that means. For we are entering a time of Earth Care and Earth Repair, the age of Ecology. Every single choice we make about what we eat, how we travel, how we share with each other, allows us to start to practice Earth Repair, from this moment. We have a huge amount of power of choice; far more than we have been led to believe. As the song goes, Her sacred ground we walk upon, with every step we take.

As the sap rises, I’m currently deepening my understanding of Earth Repair on my new allotment. I’ve been a permaculturalist for 15 years, but I’m now learning from the greatest teacher of all, our Mother. And just like the happy man in this video, I’m finding that the rewards are many.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

vision on

I set out this week to write about the Tescopolisation of Britain’s towns, after a trip to Scotland and the Midlands. I scrapped that and started to complain about how police are turning peaceful protests such as those at the G20, which I attended last week, into riots. But both times I felt my stomach churning, my jaw tightening.

Is this what I choose, to oppose what I don’t want? Or do I choose to attract what I do want, even if it’s a dream? But dreams do come true, whether they are personal or global. The more we realize that, the more powerful we become in creating a better reality.

This week I have been dreaming of root vegetables because it’s that phase in the biodynamic moon planting calendar that I’m working with for the first time this year. I have a three-day slot in which to plant the rest of my onions and shallots, beetroot and carrot seeds into the fine seed beds that Andi and I created last week. Maybe we’ll even tuck the chitted potatoes in to rows before next week, when it’s the turn of the leaf vegetables. Then I’ll plant up my new planter with lettuces; it was donated to me by a wonderful new venture, Food Up Front, created by Transition Town Lewes’s Food Group who provide free ex-recycling bins filled with compost and soil and instructions on how to grow abundant food in a small space on our doorsteps and balconies.

A couple of years ago I discovered that a few Lewes groups had been selected to contribute towards a vision for the 12-acre light-industrial area of North Street, and that that ‘vision’ was being engineered by the fact that a major developer was part of the conversation - he was peddling plans for 800 flats and a new clone-town shopping centre. I was told that although the discussion group was closed, I would be able to contribute to the vision for the area via Lewes District Council’s website. Several of us wrote in our visions - which are well worth a re-read. My contribution was an article from the Sussex Express, set in 2020, celebrating the fact that the community-run scheme had won an award for the most creative energy descent plan and use of local resources. The fictitious newspaper article praised the District Council for averting the plans of the developer and goes on to describe some of the award-winning aspects of the North Street development, including a biomass plant, an affordable housing scheme on stilts, a raised bed training growing area and an alternative transport hub.

In real life, Angel Property has since speculatively bought up nearly all the riverside on North Street, but because of the recession, it now seems that the developer is likely not to be developing the area. At the time I wrote the article, it seemed like a pipedream. Now that community land is no longer so attractive to gold diggers, perhaps the time is coming for North Street to be developed ‘by the people, for the people’. Read the 2020 vision under Transition Town Lewes here.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

thanks allotment

To my sheer delight I discovered last week that I have an allotment. Having at last reached the top of the Landport waiting list I have by remarkable good fortune been allotted the land previously cultivated by my friends Chloe and Tilo. Once again, my gratitude in advance has been heard (thank you)…

This is a lovely embryonic Permaculture patch, with fruit trees and bushes, a mammoth rhubarb and another giant rosemary now in full-on pale blue flower. Plus five full compost bins and an equal number of water butts and a very leaning shed… Any gardener reading this will understand the depth of my joy at being given land to caretake. For the gardening instinct runs deep among us. Evidence shows that we humans have been growing our food, mostly small scale, for 14,000 years, long before the advent of so-called civilization.

When I dig out the weeds, tamping down the clods of soil with my hoe to a fine tilth seed bed, when I sow peas as I did this morning, I am re-enacting a sacred and life-giving act that runs back and forth through the generations. It’s an act of love and interdependence, human to land, hand to soil. As I lean over in the hoeing and the seeding it’s as though my body remembers the work of all the past generations of growers. Our present fossil-fuelled supermarket fed way of life is only that of my generation – my grandparents knew how to grow a tomato or two, as did my father, even if it was just as a hobby.

This is the month in which we sow most of our seeds for the year to come, hoping and praying for a perfect balance of light, heat and wet, fondling, feeding, the soil that will nourish us. We are totally interdependent on our Mother Earth, our soil. Though most of the other allotmenteers seem to prefer a scorched earth approach, to a permaculturalist that is anathema; I will be covering the soil with straw mulch and green manures like clover and phaecelia, feeding it with nettle and horsetail teas and sprays. Dreaming into being my future food. All is well in the garden. As William Blake put it:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.