Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Pondering peaks

Photo of two caribou bulls with locked horns, from http://trondekheritage.com/our-places/

(First posted at www.highupintherollinghills.blogspot.com January 3, 2014)

As another year slides into the past and a new one challenges me in my winter cocoon to shape up and be more energetic, efficient and productive than ever, the world we inhabit remains challenged on many fronts. I am reminded on a passage from my book, High Up in the Rolling Hills:

“I ponder whether I have reached the maximum rate of return after which returns enter a terminal decline—peak life? Have living standards for many of us reached peak abundance? Is the big bubble about to burst? My generation has certainly borrowed much from the future and from the planet. The debts to be repaid are astronomical, and it is certain that they cannot be fully retired, at least at current punitive interest rates and current accelerated rates of destruction. Governments and mega-corporations—now in the developing world as well as the developed—plough through finite natural resources like there is no tomorrow.

Intensified industrial technologies have been aggravating unintended consequences for the ecosystem: air pollution, nuclear waste, radiation contamination, extreme weather events, desertification, acidification of the oceans, ravaging of fossil-fuel reserves, poisoning and depletion of soils and farmland, loss of flora and fauna habitat (and biodiversity). With these upheavals and losses go peak food, peak soils, peak health. It is simply not feasible for us to maintain our general well-being by turning our backs on the natural world. The truly wondrous biodiversity and plenty that recent generations inherited in short order by feverish greed in the quest for short-term gain. Long gone are those vast herds of bison roaming the wide-open North American grasslands, great auks patrolling the seas and passenger pigeons swarming in the skies. Wild salmon, cod, whales, sharks and turtles are disappearing from the oceans. Domesticated and farmed surrogates of wild creatures are no real substitute. With the animals and plants goes the heritage of ancient cultures, languages and whole ways of life that had been passed down over millennia. Which species is next to be rendered extinct by this orgy of wastefulness? The caribou? The hippopotamus? The rhinoceros? The elephant? The panda? The gorilla? The tiger? The polar bear? The penguin? The whale? The tuna? The butterflies? The bees? The frogs? All of the above?

"Humans have been killing other animals and slaughtering our own kind for as long as we have stood upright. But only in the last half century or so have we developed the capacity to extinguish not merely a species or a tribe, but whole floras and faunas. With the burning of fossil fuels, the splitting of atoms, the synthesizing of chemicals unknown in nature, the genetic engineering of organisms, and the headlong growth of our own population, we are disrupting all the life-sustaining processes on Earth. As our actions throw into disarray the conditions that have nurtured humankind for hundreds of thousands of years, what conditions will replace them?" (Scott Russell Sanders, Buffalo Eddy)

What are we learning from the tsunamis, the earthquakes, the volcanoes, the floods, the droughts, the tornadoes, the typhoons, the hurricanes? We should react to these extreme workings of nature with some humility and a determination to rebuild and adapt. When we witness melting glaciers, ice sheets and polar caps; massive oil spills; radiation leaks from damaged nuclear plants; and extreme weather volatility across the planet, we would be wise to take a hard look at our world, size up the gravity of the situation and set out systems to mitigate the severity of the threats. As we witness the poisoning of our bodies and the poisoning of our planet’s lands and oceans, it only makes sense to make substantive changes to the way we live our lives. Our governments, drowning in debt and consistently sucked in by unrestrained multinational corporations, are driving us not away from but into the storm dragging us in a downward spiral. In tandem, governments and corporations lead us toward the brink, just as the herders led the buffaloes to the cliff to jump to their fate.”

The Rolling English Road

G. K. Chesterton was a fascinating, erudite social critic who espoused a more just political system called Distributism, which has often been described in opposition to both socialism and capitalism, which distributists see as equally flawed and exploitative. He also had a joyous sense of humour as the following testament to the ways of old attests:

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,

Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

To Farm or Not to Farm?

A reminder of sultry summer in the fields at Rolling Hills Organics

(First posted August 6, 2014)

To farm or not to farm? For me, there is only one answer to this existential conundrum – a hearty affirmative. As an organic market grower, I would be bereft if I were not to be able to farm. I dread the day when my bones ache so much and my back is stooped to such an extent that I shall have to surrender my body to the waste heap and give up this farming life.

Yes, farming has its challenges – the trying weathers with their spikes and extremes, the bugs, the pests that gnaw away at the leaves, the weeds that grow faster and bolder than the sown plants,  the fatigue, the various downsides that Montana describes, but…

There is nothing in this world that I would rather make a livelihood from, nothing I would rather be doing, dreaming about, planning, experimenting on, learning about, innovating with, or even getting wrong, not perfecting. Each season always throws up something new – new crops, new failures, new shortages, new over-abundances, new challenges, and fresh successes, fresh insights, fresh joys.

What could outdo the pride and joy gained from seeing seeds germinate, planting out rows of transplants, dripping with the early morning dew, watching the red sun come up over the horizon hills, harvesting the fragrant blooming lavender and the strong garlic bulbs, looking back from the tractor as the earthy soil folds over with the furrow plow, being in tune with the weathers and seasons, inhaling drafts of fresh country air, feeling the glow of robust good health, interacting with cheery regular and loyal customers, coming home from market sold out of produce again, tasting the bounty, falling into bed and deep sleep as head hits the pillow? Only by sinking hands into soil, out in the fields, in the glorious landscapes we steward – only by farming – can we do all of this. To me, farming is a learned trade; as with everything, proficiency comes with practice. And yet, it is also a romance, a passion, a marriage, and a full-time commitment. There is occasional heartbreak, but there is endless beauty. As in life in general, we do it for the love.

So, it’s off to farm I go. Let’s keep on encouraging and inspiring fresh, new, young farmers, and count our blessings.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

A Love That Is Wild

“...The eyes of the future are looking back at us. And they are praying that we may see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we may act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wildness, wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands....”

Terry Tempest Williams, at the Bioneers National Conference, October, 2014

Into a New Year