Friday, 30 October 2009

give and take, and take, and take

As the Indian summer turns to a mellow autumn, there seems to be an intensification in the air of all good things. It gets to me every year, in small surprising bursts, like the sight of rose hips lit up by the low sun, or in whole blasts, like a walk past the autumn colours or watching the bees bring in loads of ivy pollen for their winter stores, like little bundles of late sunshine. And the more I’m out there, in nature, the stronger it gets: a harvest festival of the heart. Yesterday I spent a morning on the Landport allotment, moving compost to a new bed, raking it out and planting next year’s garlic and onion sets. It was a perfect confluence of elements: a couple of days before the full moon, on a root day, the sun was on my back and the earth was warm and moist. I moved through the soil with my bare hands, crumbling, smoothing, patting it, before sprinkling over a thin layer of straw mulch.

I worked slowly, savouring the moment. I had time to think about the things I’d read about the world, the previous day on the internet. Things are happening fast. Science and politics seem at last to agree that we’ve got a problem, or a great convergence of problems. Most still seem to think that technology and carbon agreements will get us through, though the pragmatists say: look folks, we’re already beyond the 350ppm tipping point. At 387ppm we in the West can only now look at radical reduction of consumption and conservation of forests, soils and oceans.I hope this isn’t the autumn of the human race, even though the external signs indicate that it is. I’d rather believe that we’re growing up at last. Mother Earth has given and given and we have taken and taken. I’d like to think we’re starting, one by one, on a very personal quest, in which we will learn to take personal responsibility, to become accountable. In the blessed absence of a judgemental God, we only have our own conscience, our sense of interdependence, our own mothering instinct, to be accountable to.

This video made me happy.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

the great turning

Like a hunter tracking its prey, I’m always on the look out for signs of the Great Turning. Sometimes you find the tracks in the oddest places. Last week I got a flyer in my door from Milk and More. My milko, now celebrating 150 years, has, over the last couple of years, evolved from a beast at the edge of extinction, under threat from the great supermarket giants, to a multitasking, all-song-and dancing delivery scheme. He now offers me not only our usual organic cows and goats milk, but 150 ‘essential items’ including bread, yoghurt, cheese, veggies and baked beans. OK, these are big national/international brands delivered by a national chain, but that will change. And, surely a sign of the times, among the usual tacky Christmas offers, there’s an energy-saving ‘novelty’ draught excluder – in the form of a cat or a dog – for £2.99! But most brilliantly of all, I can order online, up till nine, the night before my 5am delivery. No more last-minute bread baking/neighbour cadging (which used to be supermarket dashes) for lunchbox materials. Milk and More has come to the rescue.

Why is this a sign of the Great Turning? A recent important report from the UK Energy Research Council, authored by Lewes resident Steve Sorrell, predicted that despite recent discoveries, peak oil would hit within the decade, with very little government preparation for a bumpy, chaotic, irreversible energy descent. In a future with less cheap oil, we are going to have to be more resilient, that is, flexible to unexpected changes and shocks. Mainly, that means, more interconnected, more local. Local means fresh, real, food, which means more local markets and, probably, more deliveries. Life will – if we make a planned, managed, rather than resisted, Turning - look a bit like Victorian times, in terms of food, though in other ways, very different. Problem is, much of our resilience/infrastructure has been destroyed in the meantime. But not the milkman. Long live the milkman.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

the vanishing of the bees

At last loads of people are getting concerned about the plight of the honeybee and some interesting things are happening locally in response. On Saturday, Zu Studios was the venue for a Celebration of the Honeybee. My friends Clive and Philly hosted it, and it included an undescribable, full-body, bee experience, as well as song and dance of various kinds. Clive and Philly are two of my beelover friends, and they have created a walled bee garden in their new home in Polegate. The day before the Zu experience, I spent the morning with my beekeeper friend Mike, who made three beautiful topbar beehives last winter and filled them with swarms this spring. We visited the bee garden of another new friend, Heidi, who has just started the Natural Beekeeping Trust. Her place is heavenly, with a feeling of wholeness and integrity about it. And it’s home to all kinds of hives full of bees – none of which have died out because of varroa or Colony Collapse, which killed about 30% of the British bees last winter. Heidi, as a biodynamic beekeeper, takes a whole-system husbandry approach that includes agriculture, the moon and stars, and a high degree of observation and loving kindness.

Conversely, ‘traditional’ beekeeping has involved increasing levels of intervention and, one could say, corporate violence. Some people have likened this approach to the way chickens are kept in battery farms. The film Vanishing of the Bees, which I saw on Tuesday at the Duke of York’s, implies that there’s no one cause of the vanishing of the bees, and although nicotinoid pesticides are likely to damage the bees’ resilience over generations, there are other factors, including lack of biodiverse foraging, and the way the bees are treated by traditional beekeepers.

Despite the British and US governments’ refusal to ban nicotinoid pesticides, and as the British Beekeeping Association continues to be sponsored by Bayer, the manufacturer of the main nicotinamide, there are many voices calling for change. Meanwhile, there’s lots we can do to help the honeybee, apart from training as a natural beekeeper. As Michael Pollen, food commentator from the University of California, says, simply by eating organic, local food we are creating an environment with less toxicity for bees. And, he added, we can turn our lawns into bee-friendly havens.

Rudolph Steiner predicted – 50 years ago – that in half a century, the traditional approach to beekeeping would cause a crisis for the honeybee. He rightly pointed out that our existence depends on honeybees (2/3 of our food species are pollinated by them). In order to take care of ourselves, then, we have to take care of the bees.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

goodbye to all that!

My treatment for cancer finished last week. Hurray! My friends want to know whether the cancer is gone and all I can say is that the tumour was removed, along with my breast, in June, and that the radiotherapy I've been having daily for three weeks was to zap any cancer cells remaining on my chest wall. Will it return? I don't know, but for the rest of my life I will be much better at nurturing my terrain of wellbeing.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer nearly a year ago I set out on an urgent quest to find the cause. The toxic mix for me was a combination of despair about our planet (along with an echo of grief about my mother's death and even from lives beyond that) and a great attraction to alcohol; no doubt the two were related. I didn't tell many people, but for most of the last year, the cancer was suspected (but no longer is) as being a rare and agressive form of cancer, 'inflammatory breast cancer' from which only 40% women are left surviving after five years.

That really focused me on healing in a way that perhaps nothing else would have. So apart from handing myself over to the good people of the NHS - who really are wonderful despite working within a very limited paradigm - and all the other healers from whom I've learned so much - I've been developing (it's still wobbly) a 'trust that goes beyond time' about the process our world is going through I've also finally got the hang of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is one of the sanest, funniest bunch of people I've ever come across. It sometimes strikes me that the one billion of us who are so determined to follow an over-consuming lifestyle that we would even destroy our own home and the people around us, are behaving much as an addict does towards alcohol. Watching myself and the people around me gradually letting go of flying, giving up the aspiration to material wealth, this feels like a kind of withdrawal, with all the sadness and loss of deluded, pseudo-identity that goes with it. But as I've found out this year, losing things can actually be quite liberating.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I’m in a state of utter bewilderment. My planet is at risk and the people I love are causing it. It’s like abuse in the family, but speaking up is dangerous. To some extent I’m colluding. And oy! The flying! Everyone I know seems to be getting on a plane this month. Isn’t it bonkers? Don’t they know? One long-haul flight (10 tonnes) is about a decade of bearable emissions (1 tonne). But the addiction is strong, and as the song goes, Don’t take my freedom away!

My only refuge is to reconnect, with Spirit, with nature and likeminded souls. So it was with relief that I turned up to the Transition Camp, last weekend, convened for all the Transition initiatives in the South East of England. It was hosted by Wo-Wo, a wonderful campsite just 20 minutes north of Lewes, that allows open fires and gives a fantastic welcome to families. We were in a field surrounded by woods and a little stream, where nestled yurts, a wood-fired sauna and compost loos. In true transition style, several dozen of us turned up and tuned into what we could offer and what we wanted.

So this glorious Indian summer weekend was filled with rich experience for my head, heart and hands. One minute a wild food forage, the next an intensive Joanna Macy Conference of all Beings. A bicycle workshop, a seed saving talk with a biodynamic expert, and exchange of seeds. I helped someone make fire with friction and led a visioning session. Much of the time we just sat and chatted. In the evening, after a delicious meal, we sat around the fire receiving training in consensus decision-making followed by music and a warming sauna till I tumble into my sleeping bag with owl song all around.

In an insane world, it’s healing to let go of the pain of bewilderment and allow myself to be Be-Wild-ered.

get a life!

More and more people are discovering the joy of living a low carbon life. One of the first steps for our own empowerment starts with measuring our carbon footprint. This is the amount of carbon dioxide we emit each year as a result (mainly) of using fossil fuels: petrol, oil, gas and coal. There’s a good website for doing this. The Carbon Independent tool is both accurate and easy to use; it takes a few minutes.

Currently the average emissions for someone living in England is about 12 tonnes. The average emissions of someone living in India is about 1 tonne. That’s about where we have to get to (by 2050) and what the Copenhagen agreement is about, if we want to aim for a world where every person emits (consumes) equal amounts. In an unequal world we need to aim for 3 tonne living.

Over the last couple of years our family has been able to halve our emissions from about 9 tonnes to about 4.5, quite easily, through small steps that have also saved us money; I've documented many of them in this column. Roughly 1.2 tonnes of that is emitted for me by the government in terms of roads, hospitals and war.

One of the easiest ways to go on a carbon diet is to reduce inessential flights. A return flight to New Zealand or Australia emits 12 tonnes – doubling our annual load. To South Africa, Beijing and Bangkok it’s 6 tonnes; New York, India it’s 4 and to Greece, Moscow, it’s 2; Rome is one tonne and Dublin is .5 tonne. We’ve become rather addicted to non-essential flying and somewhat forgotten the joys of local living. So by getting a life you’re also getting other people a life. Which can only be good.

Source: 3 Tonne Handbook, written by Ann Link, a transitioner – available at Lewes Farmers Markets on the Lewes Pound stall.