Saturday, 28 April 2012
In 2001 I took a journey with two friends from Southern Arizona to the red rock country of Utah. On the way home we passed through Hopiland and gave a lift to an old woman who was walking back to her village on the first mesa. We were silent for a long time in the car together. Our heads full of Sedona vortexes, fossilised forests and medicine wheels, the presence of a real Native American was unnerving. ‘What you do call that bird?’ I finally asked, pointing to a red-tail hawk floating above us in the giant bare landscape.
‘Bird,’ she replied and looked toward her village where the coal mine blew out toxic dust into the atmosphere and she said her sister was losing her mind.
The desert is a place where you get real. Where the reality of growing crops in one of the toughest territories in the world comes home to you. This is years before the seeds of the Transition movement are sown on the coast of Ireland, where Rob Hopkins, a teacher of permaculture, designs an energy descent action plan with his students for the town of Kinsale. This is years before I come to the end of a walk along the East Anglian coast, and realise that to be any use to the place we call earth, I will have to look at the coal mine and the world that was driving everyone crazy.
The Hopi nation are famous for making a pledge to keep the world in balance by example. Harassed by the industrialised world to conform, they still grow maize and beans by hand and honour the cycles of the growing year in their kivas and ceremonial dances. Everything has meaning and significance in the life of the pueblo. But the one thing they do not order is the wilderness, represented by the form and spirit of the wild turkey.
You give a place for wild turkey to remind you what comes before the kivas, the village, the fields of corn. Our ancestral link to the earth and the living systems of ourselves, without which all life goes haywire.
Transition and the Big Frame
The Transition movement began in Totnes in 2005, with a series of documentaries about peak oil. These films made it clear that everything in our industrialised world, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat, is wholly dependent on cheap fossil fuels. For people whose lives are defined by the private ownership of cars and houses and technology, these facts were a shock. Hopkins called it The End of Surburbia moment. The moment you realise the mantra of economic growth won’t hold in the face of dwindling resources and ecosystems in a state of collapse.
In 2008 I watched a film called The 11th Hour in a market town in Suffolk and found myself in a group known as Sustainable Bungay, discussing the steps we could take to make ourselves resilient in the face of peak oil and climate change. For the last four years, we have been engaged, like the 876 Transition communities worldwide, in the business of relocalising everything we do: creating CSAs, co-operative bakeries, breweries, community kitchens, wind turbines, solar-power stations, alternative currencies, alternative media, planting trees, reducing waste, setting up exchange systems, seed swaps, tool libraries. In short, reshaping a culture that has become entirely divorced in its mind from the territory in which it sits. Rob Hopkins' new guide book The Transition Companion lists 82 ‘ingredients and tools’ that define initiatives. Based on the seminal work of ecological design, The Pattern Language, these represent ways in which communities can shift from individualism towards working together. How we might downshift to a lean-energy, low-carbon future, following the permaculture principles of fairshare, earthcare and peoplecare.
Our hardest task is to consider the price our fossil-fuelled everyday lives exacts from the earth and its atmosphere. We stand before the petrol pump aware of the tar sands of Alberta, in front of the stove and consider ‘fracking’for shale gas in Lancashire, turn on the light and see the plundering of the Appalachian mountains and the Amazon.
Walking the coast in 2008, I found I could no longer keep these geo-political realities at bay. I encountered activists on the Sizewell Nuclear power station, stood amongst protesters at Walberswick as the government withdrew funds for flood defences, along the Blyth, the Alde and the Ore. I looked out of my window, across the marshes, and where once only moonlight reflected on the sea, oil tankers floated in the darkness, waiting for the oil prices to rise, like giant neon sharks.
Reconnection with Nature
In Transition I find myself surrounded by lovers of the wild. By herbalists, foresters, birdwatchers, men who run Toadwatch schemes and study the ocean’s plankton at the UEA. ‘Reconnection with Nature’ is the most popular subject on our community blog. But it is hard to have a dialogue beyond our private passions, beyond our foraging for wild leaves and hedgerow fruit. People sit in ‘heart and soul’ circles and talk about their grief and anger as an expression of the earth’s rage and despair, quote the ‘deep ecology’ philosophies of the Buddhist, Joanna Macy and the Christian monk, Thomas Berry.
‘People are in a state of disconnect,’ a fellow Transitioner declares as we walk through Walberswick marsh.
‘Do you know the name of that plant?’ I ask her, as she hold a stalk of common reed (still used here for thatch).‘No,’ she says. And stares out toward the sea where second-house owners from the city go for their New Year walk along the beach.
How can we reconnect when we are so deracinated, out of synch with the natural world, when the countryside is parcelled into properties, when the wild things are only allowed on reserves, or else live perpetually on the run? Transition breaks you out of your bubble. And whether this bubble is a fantasy about the earth as spiritual paradise, a view, a pleasure dome, it challenges us to be real about the place we utterly depend on to be alive.
It's a hard bump with reality when that happens. We want to live on an enchanted earth, full of goddess and wizard and fairy. We want to play with animal totems and Celtic mythology, live like Romantic poets, in Narnia, in a festival tent. We want to flee to the hills and breathe fresh air, know the magical name of a hawk floating on the breeze. I wanted to stay in Arizona, to sleep in the straw bale house in the shade of a cottonwood tree. But destiny is not taking any of us that way. When the wild turkey appears he doesn’tbring redemption or escape, he takes you back into the fray.
As the novelist-turned-activist Arundhati Roy said: Once
you have seen it, you can’t unsee it.
Reconnection with Neighbourhood
Returning to England, I find myself in one of the most agricultural places on earth. Here I am in Richard Mabey's waterlands, in Mark Cocker's crow country, where Robert Macfarlane began his quest for the wild in a Cambridgeshire beech tree, Roger Deakin in the River Waveney. I can weave myself into the fabric of place, in the sanderling grove and marsh, and avoid the walkers on the path. I can, like Sebald,trace its history in my imagination, following the ancient tracks across heath and coastline. But still I am an outsider. To belong I will have find my place amongst the people.
‘Transition Towns’ now span the globe, principally in the UK and US. There are initiatives in the favelas of Rio and in the backcounty of Japan, in Moss Side and the Scottish Highlands. But no matter how diverse the bio-region or settlement, to be resilient you have make a connection with
your local community.
Loving red rock country is easy, loving the neighbourhood is hard. You feel enraged by industrialisation of the land: the pesticides in the the soil, the way suburban gardeners cut
down their ‘unsightly’ cherry trees and birch, call wild plants and creatures vermin, pest and weed. The ancient lane with its great oaks has become Route 31, a leisure lane for cheery
cyclists and people walking dogs. Sitting amongst retirees at a Suffolk wildlife talk, I feel I am in a morgue. How can you feel native in your own land? How can you not bear ill-will towards people who act with such hostility towards the non-human world, who see it only in terms of control or entertainment?
You have to change the paradigm in which all these things take place.
Engaging in Transition changes the paradigm, allows different connections to occur, brings the future into play. It's a conversation you have with your neighbours, the oral history, the skills you share, about growing beans, chopping firewood, scything grass, keeping bees – a conversation you never had before. It’s David Moyse who gives me green tomatoes in exchange for chutney, who tells me how to make wine out of rosehips and lends us his lawn mower. It is a thread that leads us back into community, if we let it.
You think living in seclusion amongst the dragonflies and damson trees is the radical move. But it’s not. Being amongst the people in another spirit is the new territory.
I am sitting with Mark and Josiah, after our monthly Green Drinks at the Green Dragon. We are sitting on twenty sacks of field beans in Josiah’s front room. Three years ago I would not have understood the significance of these beans. Unlike most pulses they can grow in the cold and damp of Britain. They need little inputs to flourish and little energy to cook. To live in harmony with the living systems means we have to downshift our diet, and these versatile protein-rich beans are a key staple for the future. Being wealthy in the new territory you discover has little to do with money: it is measured in sacks and log piles, stored apples, pickled cabbage, seeds, honey, hand tools, shared knowledge. It is measured in the generosity between people, in our informal exchange of goods and services. It bears the thrifty values of country folk, with the networked intelligence of the city, in knowing the territory inch by inch.
The fact is, unless we radically alter our social relationship with the land, our narrative about food and energy, the wild places – the rainforests, oceans, marshes, glaciers, peat bogs – cannot remain intact. They will keep being exploited by a mindset that only thinks in terms of financial profit, a corporate machine that devours the world, like a marauding caterpillar.
Ecological activism resists its advance, by saying NO. Stands up for indigenous people in the Mongolian coal fields, for the exploited worker on the seafood factory ships of Indonesia, for pristine forests everywhere cut down for biofuels, tar sands and palm oil. Transition puts its attention into saying YES, into creating a culture that respects the land and the people, rather than a consumer culture that makes everyone dependent on global corporates and destroys all ecosystems in its hunger for power and privilege. That ignores the vital relationship between
human communities and the earth which the Hopi on the mesas strive to keep intact.
Josiah and I have been having a conversation about the land for three years now: its East Anglian shapes of barley, flax and sugar beet, the arable fields that no-one notices as they speed by, about community orchards and allotments, river valleys that flood or grow perilously dry. We have discussed agro-forestry and wheat varieties that can withstand climate change and do not rely on pesticides (oil) or fertiliser (gas).
Around these fields of the future is interwoven a territory for the wild turkey, for plants and insects, lapwings and larks. In a project connecting farms around the town, known as The River of Flowers, the Transition group, Bungay Community Bees, sow wildflower seeds in a bare meadow in Flixton: bird's foot trefoil, white clover, musk mallow, viper's bugloss.
Everything happens at the edges, he says.
This the place where I now live. In a droughted land with a handful of beans and poppy seeds, at the eleventh hour. I am no longer an outsider. I am engaged, like thousands of Transitioners, thousands of communities, across the world, in an extraordinary work: reclaiming the fields, swapping seeds, making plant medicine, having the conversation where none existed before. This is not an interchange you might see in mainstream media, or hear in conventional circles, but it's happening nonetheless. Like Roy, we know when we meet up together another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, we can hear her breathing.
Images: Broadland Winter Afternoon | Carry Akroyd; Mark and Great Tit, lead image in week on Deep Nature and First Cucumber (both photos from This Low Carbon Life)
For more information and to purchase a copy of EarthLines contact www.earthlines.org.uk
Friday, 27 April 2012
Norwich FarmShare which he has helped set up), Abundance projects, collectives like Growing Communities in Hackney, Transition allotments and school gardens. We're growing chard and lettuce in cracks and crevices, burying potatoes in barrrels, filling salvaged basins and gutters with seedlings in our back yards. But what about the big stuff? Our daily bread.
Millet and Rice
Thursday, 26 April 2012
In an abandoned lot in Pittsburgh a boy is selling lettuce. Down Tooting High Street a carnival is in full swing. In a village in Portugal two men are walking in a field beside horses. In a fire station in Moss Side a film preview is taking place: “There was silence. You could have heard a pin drop. And then a sound, kind of like a pin dropping. There it is again. And again, many times in rapid succession. Then silence. Nothing.” This is Joel Prittie, writing about his experiences previewing the film, In Transition 2.0, simultaneously with eleven other initiatives worldwide in February. He’s telling us how the machine jammed, how he resolved the dilemma, and how everyone cheered at the end.
It’s a small story. These are all small stories. You might not know they are happening or take much notice of them. But if you were curious, you would discover how that lettuce came to be growing in such an unlikely neighbourhood; why everyone in the carnival was wearing clothes made of rubbish; why the elders of the village were teaching the young people to plough; why Joel Prittie, ex double-glazing salesman, knocked on 1100 doors in the rain in Manchester. If you pulled these stories together, you would notice they all had a common thread. That’s the moment you realise it’s a big story. The story in fact. The story of how people are coming together in the face of difficulties and making another kind of future.
That’s the story of Transition 2.0.
The Transition movement began in 2005 in the market town of Totnes in Devon and since then has sparked off 900 initiatives worldwide. There are initiatives in cities and rural villages, towns and bioregions. Originally billed as a “community-led response to climate change and peak oil”, Transition provides a structure for communities to engage in order to become resilient in the face of these challenges. The term, borrowed from ecology, means the ability for systems to adapt and survive great shocks.
Living within a dominant corporate monoculture where communities are often fragmented and there is little mainstream media attention on these global realities, this is a big ask for most modern people. Every aspect of our industrialised lives has been made possible by cheap fossil fuels, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat. We live, however, mostly in the dark about these facts, or the effects of our daily actions on the environment. Or if we do know them, we see them as information and do not take action.
In Transition 2.0 focuses on the moves groups of people are making to look at the future squarely, to make connections with one another and to find ways to thrive in challenging times. In 2012, resilience also means the capacity to deal with Transition’s third driver, the economic crisis. The shock of the shock doctrine — the crushing blow of austerity, as people everywhere feel the consequences of our growth-at-all-costs culture and the increasing consolidation of wealth for the few.
In its typical pragmatic, positive way In Transition 2.0 doesn’t analyse this situation within a political frame. It acknowledges the big picture, and then gets down to work relocalising the neighbourhood. The film lays out the three drivers briefly at the start, then follows the track of the second book, The Transition Companion, dividing its attention on the different stages Transition initiatives go through, from the start up phase — forming a group and raising awareness — to building up local social enterprises. Rob Hopkins, the co-founder of the Transition Network, explains these stages, and the film looks at the projects that best illustrate the way Transition works.
In many ways the documentary is a tool, a showcase for people who may know nothing about Transition’s aims and structures. It is a mild watching experience, with interviews and information, and you might wonder why someone who has been involved in two initiatives and immersed in Transition communications for almost four years would have anything to find in it. What more did I need to know?
But the fact is: this is a big story. Resilient systems enforce their connections by constant feedback. You are consciously connecting with others through a vast communications network, that works like the mycorrhizal fungi in soil. I might know what is going on in the neighbourhood, but I don’t know what is going on in Portugal or Maryland. You don’t know for example that the first Transition initiative in India has created 400 vegetable gardens in Tamil Nadu. You don’t know how the co-operative Handmade Bakery in Yorkshire set up business, how the Brixton Pound (Britain’s first e-currency) works in the market, or that the mayor of Monteveglio in Italy has adopted an energy descent plan for the whole region. Most of all you realise that the crisis which up to this point has seemed academic is now very real in many places.
Unlike the first film which focused on the start up exhilarating phase of Transition, this had a darker, deeper tone. Here are initiatives who are undergoing the shocks of climate change and the collapse of top-down infrastructure. Here is Japan after the nuclear disaster, New Zealand after two earthquakes. Transition groups that had already been working together were able to respond collectively to the crisis. Thanks to the connections already made though the Lyttelton time-bank, the initiative was able to pull in help to deliver water and food all over the devastated town.
“We are setting up structures, pioneering them and putting them in place for the future,” explained Dirk Campbell of Ovesco in Lewes, Britain’s first community owned solar power station (see right). “It’s difficult and takes enormous amounts of effort, commitment and time.”
Facing the crisis
There are many criticisms of Transition. It is not political, realistic, activist enough; it is white and middle class; it lacks structure; it’s too structured, too fluffy and feel-good. It doesn’t fulfill everything. It’s true, it doesn’t fulfill everything. But you would be hard pushed to find another method that can bring diverse people together within a frame of change. There are plenty of adversarial organisations that address climate change (Climate Rush, Greenpeace) and the financial system (UK Uncut, Occupy); there are plenty of low-carbon incentives (10:10, 350.org) and urban growing projects (Growing Communities in Hackney, Abundance and city farms in Sheffield). But what Transition does is address all these aspects simultaneously. It allows for many kinds of people to sit in a room together and work out ways to proceed. What is the most important ingredient or tool in the book (87 in all)? I asked Rob Hopkins at the Twitter launch of the Transition companion. The first one, Working in Groups, was his reply.
Our number one challenge is working in groups when we have been raised in an individualist hierarchical culture, taught to be hostile to the max. The film doesn’t show the struggle that most groups go though in dealing with this, though it does talk about conflict (including the testimony of Chris Hart from Transition Lancaster that collapsed and then reformed itself successfully a year later). Nor does it show the massive fall outs that happen when an old way of doing things (my will against yours) clashes with a new (our way together). How these old structures cling on. How the new ones demand massive inner shifts, but that if you manage to hold together extraordinary things start to happen.
What it does show is how Transition as a method, culture and network brings people together to work out solutions in places suffering from massive downturn. In the Portuguese village of Amoreiras the initiative held a meeting and asked everyone to dream. The village had suffered the fate of many rural places where most of the population had left for work in the cities. The group listened to everyone’s desires and then put their collective vision into motion. They painted the whole village, set up a local market, organised a working party to bring about better healthcare.
Here is Fred Brown in Pittsburgh, a city that in the 1970s and ’80s, lost 100,000 jobs when steel mills transferred their manufacturing to countries around the world. It’s a city where marginalised low-income neighbourhoods are threatened by incoming gentrification and big businesses. In his community of Larimer, Google have recently built a new facility, benefiting from millions of urban redevelopment funds that were intended to help the residents:
“The community doesn’t need or want more experts telling them what to do. We want partners and we want help to develop and implement our dream. Transition is helping us come together, deepen the vision, create working groups, get practical work done, and understand community-wide needs. It is also giving us language and a process for negotiating with those who seek to take, or to give on their own terms — empowering us to be proactive and co-creators.”
This is the hardest task. We are taught to listen to experts and to obey rules. Transition puts the decisions back into our hands and asks everyone to take the lead, become knowledgeable about how towns and councils work, talk with other local groups, find out about waste, alternative energy, sustainable food systems, how to write a press release, give a talk, keep bees, grow a lettuce. We are discouraged in our every attempt by the status quo. Keep shopping, keep distracted, keep listening to the old story! But there is new narrative out there, what Paul Hawken calls the greatest untold story of our time. Some of this is embodied in Transition. It’s hard work and rarely paid, but it brings rewards you don’t see on the surface, that are difficult to show on a film. These are the invisible connections between people, feelings of belonging, of meaning, of self-worth, boldness and possibility, the simple joy of sharing things, tools, knowledge, apples from your tree.
I feel proud of where I live at and it’s changed me.
Most of all it gives you an opportunity you never knew existed. Here’s next week’s schedule with my home initiatives of Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich: showing a documentary with Waveney Greenpeace in a local barn (Crisis of Civilisation), working in our monthly community kitchen (for a sit-down supper for 50), helping out at our Give and Take Day (free exchange of stuff), introducing people to medicine plants in an event called Walking with Weeds, writing on two community blogs (one local, one national), setting up a newspaper (Transition Free Press).
None of these activities would happen without this small band of people I have been working with for the last four years. We would never have met. History and consumerism and the class system would have kept us separated from one another. Our library community garden would be bare brick. The bee-friendly wildflower meadow would be unsown. Norwich would not have an urban farm. I would never have met any of my fellow transitioners I am in daily contact with, or the many affiliated groups that write in our blogs from Occupy Norwich to BiofuelWatch to the new bicycle workshop off Magdalen Street. I would not be writing this piece. You would not be reading it. The film and everything that happens in its 66 minutes would not be happening.
Except that it is happening: and it’s worth seeing if only to know that these seeds are being sown in a time when everything seems set against us and all life on earth.
There is a story that underpins what we do and sometimes we tell it to each other in the hard times. The caterpillar keeps munching his way voraciously across the green planet. One day he buries himself in a cocoon, and unknowingly begins the process of transformation. His body starts to dissolve and as it does imaginal buds start to appear from nowhere. At first the caterpillar’s immune system attacks and defeats this new form. Then the buds rise up again. This time they link up and the defence system can not destroy them. They hold fast. The old structure dissolves. The butterfly begins to emerge.
It’s a form you would never have imagined, something beautiful emerging in world that appears only to profit the greedy and antagonistic. But sometimes in our struggle we catch a glimpse of the butterfly wing. In the flash of carnival costume, in the mists over a Japanese mountain, in the sound of each others’ voices, in the smile of a boy holding a lettuce grown against all odds.
Monday, 16 April 2012
We start, as usual, in the communications dept, where alongside this and other blogs, your busy ed has been starting up a national Transition newspaper. Several of us are designing a preview edition we hope to publish in May, both for everyone's feedback and to find some investment. Can print media be a social enterprise? Can we sustain ourselves in tricky times? The thinking behind this venture is that though on-line comms is brilliant, quick and relatively easy (and cheap) to do, print goes to places that no website can. You have to deliberately search for a blog, but a paper you can come across by surprise. And so its appeal will be broad enough to go beyond Transition circles.
Sustainable Bungay's newsletter, for example, which comes out every quarter, goes into the local cafes, library, theatre, shops and waiting rooms. Anyone can pick it up and see what kinds of projects we are engaged in, what Transition is about. Even if people don't come to events they know that in their town there are projects looking at grey water systems, sowing a wild meadow for bees, organising summer cycle rides, garden share, give and take days etc. There's a whole culture happening out there. Like a rhythm that's giving the beat for a new song.
It's harder to produce print for sure. Our Spring SB newsletter was edited by Mark, with skill-share behind-the-scenes from me. You would not have wanted to come round our house last week for all the swearing going on. Getting copy and pictures to fit and look good is the main technical hurdle you face. But the greatest challenge is commissioning copy that works objectively, from writers who can listen to others, ask questions, report back. Your story has to work "cold", out of the warm and friendly context of a blog. Anyone has to be able to pick it up and "get it". It also has to reflect back to other Transitioners the life and soul of the enterprise. On a blog like This Low Carbon Life I can write from the subjective "I" or inclusive "we" position. In a paper you have to write from a different perspective, more as a witness, observer and interviewer.
In the Transition Free Press we have an additional challenge in that everyone engaged in the paper so far is in a different initiative: Mike Grenville (production) and Tamzin Pinkerton (food) in Forest Row, Alexis Rowell (News) in Belsize Park, London, Trucie Henderson (designer) en route back to England from Australia and Jay Tompt (business advisor) in Totnes. Equally our Transition stringers are far and wide, from Erik Curren (Transition Voice) in Virginia, to Filipa Pimentel (International Hubs) at the moment in Brussels. But this is also the strength of Transition, being able to bring together a wide range of subjects and maintain coherence in a time when everything feels as if it is fragmenting and losing the plot.
This requires a whole different approach, what some people call Social Reporting, writing in the field, on-side. In the old-style journalism years you could get on a train (or a plane) to find the story. Part of its lure and edge came from the fact you were entering unknown territory. In the new media the dynamic is different, you are deliberately finding common ground. For our preview issue of TFP our main interview is with Shaun Chamberlin (see above) author of The Transition Timeline, which he and I conducted over Skype. We had only met briefly twice before, but we were able to talk at great length, because many of the subjects we discussed we had written about, talked about, thought about ourselves. So the conversation was a meeting point between two people, one talking the other listening, rather than a two-sided adversial encounter.
So this is the strength of the paper: the Press can provide a showcase to reflect that common ground between Transitioners and our fellows in other low-carbon, progressive, cultural movements and organisations. It is our hope that it will communicate the strength of diversity and co-operation in a time of increasingly unstable and unsustainable monoculture.
big story, small story
At our last bloggers meeting we watched In Transition 2.0. I'd been asked to write a review of the film for the new on-line magazine STIR and wanted to watch it in good company! One of the main things that struck me about the film was how many of the 17 initiatives filmed showed how they had responded to crisis. The nuclear disaster in Japan, the economic downturn in Pittsburgh and Portugal, the earthquakes in New Zealand. How, when push comes to shove, all the work Transition groups have been doing quietly over the years suddenly comes into its own.
In the paper we hope to bring this sense of urgency and our ability to look at reality into focus, and show what resilience looks like on the ground - people coming up with innovative projects, working together, creating something that wasn't there before. We'll be looking at the hard stuff (fracking) as well as the joyful (baking bread). We plan to feature all the big downshift news from alternative energy to the gift economy, as well as some of the smaller practical stories - medicine gardens and off-grid celebrations - plus comments, reports and reviews of the latest books and documentaries. Oh, and football. Watch out for that one on the back page!
None of this would have happened without this small home-grown blog. Because the seeds of creating a new alternative Transition media started here in October 2009. Many of the people who helped shape it are still on it and after two and a half years we still publish every day (except most Sundays). The key to media - like all projects - is consistency. Keeping to that all-important deadline! Ideas and visions are easy, manifestation and maintaining mometum are work. You can write a star blog in a moment of inspiration, but can you write one every week, on a Monday morning at 6am before you go to work? That's hard going for most of our bloggers, who are writing in their spare time. But not, as it turns out, if the rewards we get for doing it are strong enough. If you feel you are part of something that matters.
So introducing the week here is John, Chris, Elena, Jon, Mark, Lucy and Jo, reporting and reflecting on what is happening outside in the fields (Norwich FarmShare/Community Bees), in our kitchens (Low Carbon Cookbook), in the city centre (Energy Lookouts!), in the workshop (Bicycle Links), in the allotment and unseen on the roads (ToadWatch).
Watch this space!
From Transition Themes Week #13
Photos: Shaun Chamberlin reading the news; Dan McTiernan at the HandMade Bakery; Transition Amoreiras workshop on working with horses, Portugal; fracking tail pond, USA; Tierney of Norwich FarmShare (copyright Tony Buckingham, all rights reserved)
Saturday, 7 April 2012
Afterwards I walk back down the track with Vernon. That's not his real name, because this is more than two years ago now. But I do remember two things about that day: the first is how the "deprived" and "difficult" children responded the best to this wild and creative environment and really came into their own. The second was the question Vernon asked me:
"I love this feather," he says. "Can I keep it?"
"Of course you can," I said.
"How much does it cost," he asks.
"It doesn't cost anything," I tell him. "It's free."
When you are talking about living without money, what you are really talking about is living with the values of the free. Living without money is not poverty, which is a lack of money and resources, the fate of most people who live on the bottom rung of a civilisation or capitalist system. It is the deliberate way of life that Mark Boyle embodies and writes books about. Living in a world where people and land and birds are not market commodities, but integral to the living, moving, breathing fabric of the planet.
Some of our living without money is a consequence of the economic downturn, a Transition making do. But mostly it is about reestablishing a collective value system that is not based on scarcity and debt but on the abundance of the earth. If you live within that abundance, you are never poor. You live like the tribe, within the richness of life itself. Rain, laughter, imagination, the closeness of trees and your playmates. The delight of having a physical body, of being alive, of having a heart that can feel and connect with all lifeforms, that can trace in its mind's eye the sky path of a bird now flying across the ocean from Africa. That remembers that this small insignificant bird will return to these woods in April, as he does every April, to sing a song that makes all the world stop in its tracks.
When you are open and free, that's when the gifts come. People are happy to give or lend you things. My neighbours are happy to lend us ladders and their lawnmower. Philip is happy to give me his boots. I am happy to receive them (even though they are two sizes too big). I have been longing for boots all winter and now here they are! There is a lot of happiness in these exchanges. Because somewhere deep inside everyone is that song, that desire to give to life. We like to be generous. We are taught to be mean and possessive, but we long to give, to have those small conversations over the fence. Transition allows us to give in a way that is not compromised by good works or charity, by patronisation or demand for gratitude. They are small insignificant acts, like those cups of tea Caroline was writing about on Thursday. But all of them break us out of a mindset that keeps us locked away from life and from each other.
Time is MoneySome of these gifts of course are invisible. We live in a world of stuff and we measure our success and our easy passage through life in terms of stuff, the owning of properties and technology, cars and smart new clothes. We are the inheritors of a consumer culture, built on the bourgeios values of possession and conspicuous extravagance. But most gifts you can't measure or own. Not really. For example, when our spade broke, I sent out an email to Sustainable Bungay asking if anyone had got an old one knocking around they didn't use. David wrote back and said he would mend it for us.
You might ask: what did you give in return? As a fellow craftsman, I could say giving someone an opportunity to pass on their skill is a reward in itself, especially when it is joyfully received. Or that we pay forward. Or I could reflect, as I did last week in a post on the Gift Economy:
When push comes to shove, everyone gives their gift. What they have in their hands at the end of the day. I write. I write in praise of everything I see. All the small and bold moves a people are making to downshift. All the beautiful and difficult things we experience. I write in praise of the people who are learning to love their neighbour and not worship Mammon. I write for the new paradigm. I am writing our story. I write for free.I worked out that since I joined Transition I have written about 250,000 words which at the lowest rate for journalism (now much lower than it used to be) works out about £50,000. This doesn't include editing newsletters, news blogs, social reporting, tweeting, taking photographs, organising press releases, teaching people about Becoming the Media, or any of the meetings or communications that bring people together and keep connected. I am not alone of course. Everyone immersed in Transition will tell you the same story.
And as lovers of nightingales will tell you: because this is your heart as it sings in the dark, this is what freedom on earth sounds like. Listen!
Photos: Schoolchildren and daisies from We'll Be coming Down the Mountain Singing; foraged spring greens from the River Blyth; outside the Give and Take Day van; Mark and Nick sawing the elm; David mending spade; blackthorn road
Thursday, 5 April 2012
We are a market people. In a world where all things are a commodity - air, water, food, animals, the seeds we plant in the ground, the minerals under the ground, the genetic make up of our bodies - money is our god. Everything we do we do in the name of profit. We emulate the rich, we despise the poor. All things on earth are property. This bird, this child, this lake, this mountain has value only insofar it can bring us financial reward. Every day we bow down to Mammon.
We forget absolutely what all scriptures and native prophesies say about a people who are entranced and enslaved to a material world. I am not a bible person, or anyways spiritual, but I know when a house is built on sand and a storm is coming.
Some of us in 2012 are remembering and waking up to reality. The fact is since the banking crisis and the emergence of movements like UK Uncut, Occupy and Move Your Money, a lot of us are becoming atheist and getting much smarter about the spell-making behind money. How it is conjured out of thin air, how the financial high priests shape the physical world to their benefit, how mainstream media and governments serve their interests, and pillory anyone who dares challenge their absolute rule.
Engaging in alternative currencies is one of the ways to break up the global cult of money, as well as providing a transaction that brings benefit to businesses and communites on a local level. There are several organised by Transition initiatives: the Lewes Pound (as Chris has already mentioned), the Totnes, Stroud and Brixton - which pioneered the first e-currency - and most recently the Bristol Pound which will be launched in May (which Ciaran Mundy will be describing on Saturday). But there are other ways in which Transition assists in changing our dangerous allegiance to the money-making Machine and that is in bringing about a culture of free exchange.
Money enables you to control your world, and, as Charles Eisenstein says, in a hostile environment, where you are not connected to the planet or other people, money enables you to buy you some kind of protection. Money enables us to fly round the world and treat life as something we put in a shopping basket. But it doesn't bring companionship or connection. With the trees, with the people, with each other. For that you have to drop your belief in the power of money. And most of all you have to drop your fear.
So this is a small personal story. In 2007 I went into a jewellery store in my local town with a necklace that once belonged to my mother. I was running out of money. That necklace, like other small gifts, was some kind of insurance against the bad times. It's African amber, my mother had announced when she bought it.
"I'm sorry to tell you this but this is plastic," said the girl in the Amber Shop in Southwold. "You could sell it as costume jewellery."
I laughed. Half in embarrassment and half in disbelief. Plastic! And then I asked myself, why did I go along with that African story, when I knew perfectly well that amber comes from Poland or Mexico, or is washed up on the East Anglian shore.
That's the day I felt hunger for the first time. I realised I would have to face the music and go on the dole. I was no better and no worse than anyone else. I would have to endure what millions of people without voices endure daily, in a process designed to humiliate and grind down those who are not slaves to the Money Machine. It will make me angry and make me fight for self-respect. It will show me a world I have never seen before and discover fellow-feeling in the strangest of places. Most of it will wake me up and realise I am not on my own. That standing up for myself is not just for myself. A year later I will join Transition.
Not having money breaks your isolation and opens you, and when you open up that's when the gifts come. It was shocking, I told the Norwich Heart and Soul group when I related this story, but it was also liberating. My mother spent her highly-bourgeois life saying she wanted to live in a community, that she wanted to be an artist and that things didn't mean anything. They weighed you down. She didn't make it. I was about to.
The gifts of Transition
So the first thing is not to be ashamed about not having money, or the wherewithal to make any. In Transition that's not hard as most of us are broke. We get by. Most of us are on low-incomes and tax benefits. We don't talk about it much, but we know it's there. I don't know whether it's because we have experienced what it is like to live on £50 a week with the world's hostility on our heads, but we do not look at each other in terms of property or income or status. We see the deeper values of people, the work we do for Transition, our skills and generosity and intelligence, we way we make each other laugh. the vibration we bring into a room. The fact is living a low carbon life is also living a low-income life and engaging in Transition culture makes having less easier, kinder, to bear, not just for ourselves, but for everyone on the planet.
This is not just about using Freegle or volun-teering at FoodCycle. You can do those things and still worship Mammon - out of meanness or as "charity", a way to salve your conscience. It's about a whole shift in cultural values. In Transition you're not putting all your attention into living in an exclusive fossil-fuelled property with a swanky car and putting Them down, you are making connections with your neighbour and the neighbourhood. You love street trees and hedgerows that bear fruit and nuts for everyone to pick. You love allotments and community kitchens and swapping second hand clothes and admire one another for living without heating, or cycling long distances to work. Or in the case of Mark Boyle, living without any money at all. This is a culture about We, because it depends on Us to work, a sense of being in the world together. Not Me against you.
In Transition we share stuff as a way of life. We lend each other tools and pass on our skills. In the Low Carbon Cookbook we forage, glean, skip dive, and tell each other about our freegan adventures. In Sustainable Bungay we put on Give and Take Days twice a year for the community to exchange goods without any money. We run Give and Grow days where we exchange seeds and plants, flowers and bushes and knowledge. All our events have an Abundance table with produce freely given from our gardens. I have only just finished the apples I gathered and stored last autumn from the table at the Library Community Garden.
Thanks to Transition I am bold and truly thankful: I can go to my neighbours to borrow a stepladder, a mower, big things I can no longer afford. People give me furniture and clothes, compost from the horses down the lane. Our local grocer lets us have food he cannot sell. Sometimes a pheasant that has been run over finds it way into our pot. It's a different attitude to life, that brings everything you touch to life. It's not glamorous, it's not powerful, but it has heart. A heart that is not for sale.
What do I give in return? When push comes to shove, everyone gives their gift. What they have in their hands at the end of the day. I write. I write in praise of everything I see. All the small and bold moves a people are making to downshift. All the beautiful and difficult things we experience. I write in praise of the people who are learning to love their neighbour and not worship Mammon. I write for the new paradigm. I am writing our story. I write for free.
Video for Sacred Economics; queue outside Brixton Credit Union on Move Your Money Day; Mark, Nick and Eloise on Give and Take Day; Mark Boyle, The Moneyless Man, outside his caravan; with Daphne and Lesley at the Produce Swap in the Library Community Garden