Friday, 26 June 2009

a walk on the wild side

The allotment has been invaded by ladybirds. At first I didn’t understand what was happening; tiny scales coloured orange and black were appearing on the logs and the stems and the leaves. I knew some predator was coming, just not what.

Then one day I turned up and next to a shrivelled larva shell was an yellow ladybird with no spots. When I next looked at the beetle, the spots had gradually faded into being. Was it next going to turn red? Now there are hundreds of red ladybirds with spots all over the plants. Just in time to consume the aphids, which are also proliferating on the fruit trees and other sensitive plants.

Last week a large snake appeared in the long grass at the edge of the allotment, to die. It was three feet long, probably a grass snake. I sprayed water on it but it was on its way out. After it died, I noticed it had been bitten, perhaps by a fox, which had left its poo on the path edging the allotment.

Perhaps the snake had been attracted by toads there. I noticed one when I was picking redcurrants from the forest of currants; it’s cool and dark and damp there, a good place for a toad.

The blackbirds are still singing as I pick the currants. They love redcurrants particularly, and I wonder from the poo on the leaves whether they’ve had their fair share. The hungry gap is over and the land has started to yield a crop for us humans as well as others.

I am in love with the whole thing, and every part, as well as the interconnectedness. Of ladybird, blackbird, snake and cabbage. Compost, soil, nettle and worm. The lessons just deepen and will never end.

I look at the yield of my allotment neighbour, who used to be a farmer. It’s far better than mine, at least double, even triple. He's a top-notch grower, and everyone's envious of his yield. Yet I doubt whether he has any ladybirds, snakes or toads. There’s no room for wild places on his allotment; he uses every square inch and he’s an avid weeder. He uses slug pellets and goodness knows what else. Bless him. This is the situation of our world: we humans want to maximize our crop, our income from the earth’s ‘resources’, but what happens to wild nature? I doubt we can exist without it. I welcome a time when we humans discover our own interconnectedness, learn to walk on the wild side.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

malling brooks

What would the world be, once bereft,
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left.
Oh let them be left, wildness and wet.
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerald Manley Hopkins 1844-1889

Thursday, 18 June 2009

what doesn't kill us heals us

I am now a woman with one breast. Don’t be distressed by this news – I am not. I’m recovering well, resting, doing only what makes me happy. What’s surprised me about this surgery to remove the tumour is that I still feel entirely ‘me’. I’d somehow expected to feel diminished, more vulnerable or less worthy. But so far, and it’s only been a few days, it’s increasingly clear to me that even if I lose my hair or a breast, or my work or identity in my role, I am still essentially me. The me that is not me.

It’s often been said that what doesn’t kill us heals us and I’ve felt for a long time that this cancer has come to teach me how to really live. You could even say that I have chosen this path. As Aristotle commented a couple of thousand years ago, breast cancer can be caused by grief, and part of my healing is to end – now, in this time and for my line - the huge grief and even despair I have felt for mother earth, which is linked to and sensitised by my own mother’s death when I was three.

So nowadays I’m living firmly on the lighter side of my own edge – in full trust in the process of the Universe, which is where meaning is for me. And by trust I don’t mean sitting back and watching life unravel like a movie. I mean being actively involved in the extraordinary art of co-creation, yet with trust and acceptance.

I recently walked with my friend Viviana past this sign on the building site off Western Road. At first glance I was convinced it said No Hat, No Boobs, No Job. A zen-like description of how I feel, and how perfect that feels.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

save Malling Brooks

I’ve been wondering about how visionaries appear and manage to influence the society of their time and place. Tom Paine, for example: did he emerge from the crucible of a world ripe for revolution and revolutionaries? And how has Barack Obama appeared just at our hour of greatest need? I do have a sense that doors are opening very easily nowadays even for ordinary people with vision, perhaps because the underlying instability of our times allow us to make large changes using small leverage points.

What got me thinking of this was John May’s new Vision for Malling Brooks (read it at the new Lewes Coalition website). This is a wild piece of green-field land of 2.7 hectares surrounded by houses, which the developer Charles Style has proposed to pave over and ‘develop’ in to light industrial units and parking. The land is a cornerstone for Style’s proposal to develop North Street, so he can move the remaining light industrial users to Malling Brooks.

Malling residents are outraged by the proposal, since the land was under four metres of water during the last floods; further development of this floodplain would, they claim, increase the risk of flooding to their homes and be dangerous to the development itself. The District Council’s planning committee has twice postponed a decision about the application on technical grounds, and it goes back to planning in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile I ran into John May at the Farmers’ Market and he told me how he’d come up with the vision. He’d been trying to find a fault in the application on the basis of damage to the wildlife. But Style’s plans had included a comprehensive survey and proposed moving the wildlife to a corridor in one corner and managing it more intensively. May took a long walk around the site and woke up the next morning with a vision for the whole area – to leave most of it as a managed wildlife sanctuary as well as creating some much-needed allotments for Lewes residents. One of the reasons why our planet is becoming eroded is that money and markets and national development policy speak louder than nature. As Prof Michael Sandal said in this week’s Reith Lecture by turning everything into commodities, we lose sense of its real worth to us. OK this vision doesn’t make anyone money, but it is deep ecology and it is common sense, which, says May, is lacking in our society.

I love the way that visions, however impossible-sounding or against the materialistic status quo, have an irresistible magnetism, a life of their own. Positive visions seed themselves in our minds and take root; they grow in our imagination so that pretty soon we’re living AS IF they have already happened. I do believe that once you have a vision, it’s virtually already happened. So kudos John May and the Lewes Coalition for dreaming dreams.

Friday, 5 June 2009

queen bees

So the swarming season is in full swing and any colony of honeybees that has an old queen or wants to multiply is now looking for new places to swarm to and colonise. It’s that perfect combination of heat, light and moisture that affects all beings in different ways. My fellow beekeeper Steven and I have tentatively welcomed two colonies in to the Lewes churchyard near my house. One is an artificial swarm: frames with queen cells from my colony in the woods and lots of unhatched brood and worker bees to support the emergent queen. It will take a month before we know the queen bee has hatched successfully and then flown out and mated with the 5-15 drones hanging out in the ‘drone congregation area’ high above the land and then returned and started to laying - half her bodyweight in eggs in one day.

The other colony was a swarm clustered on a wall along the Winterbourne seasonal river last night. They’d been there for at least a day and were unusually tired, hungry and aggressive. I got a sting to my ankle, which has swollen up. But Steven got the bees in to the box and then in to his top bar beehive. When I looked yestarday many of them had died – of starvation. I fed them syrup to try to save the rest – assuming there was a queen –and today they are flying in and out quite purposefully, but it will be a month before we know whether both queens have survived and their larvae are hatching.

I am starting to form a relationship with the bees. I visit them and ‘tune in’ to their energy – sometimes I sit and hum and sometimes I just sit. Ever since my scrape with death I just don’t care how that sounds. My hair is growing back now the chemotherapy is over and I have dared to expose my head to the sun and other people – which has been really liberating. I suppose that after a certain amount of life experience, or surviving a serious illness, you can either batten down the hatches and live within your comfort zone, or just let go of, or leap over, self-limiting inhibitions and boundaries and feel an intense freedom. I love being around people who embody that freedom, and here’s a video of someone else who seems to know a thing or two.