Wednesday, 29 August 2012

52 FLOWERS: 7 wild plum

great milton, oxfordshire 98
This is a story about time and wild roses. About certain moments in which life changes its form and its direction. Time is what makes sense of everything in the end on the earth, and only the heart, lover of mysteries, can tell us why. When you are young you know that time is precious and when you blossom, like the rose in the hedge, you think that moment of the heart is forever.

You think the moment of the bee arriving is everything. Then as summer comes and you become busy with leaves and stems, you forget about blossom. And then one day you discover the fruit. At a time when you thought everything was over. There in the middle of your life you find its green rewards, ripening in the autumn of your time. And you realise, as the birds begin to gather, as the people begin to look up into your branches, that the fruit was what everything was really about.

When we return to England, we stay in a cottage belonging to a writer who is away researching a thesis in Mexico. On a shelf in her kitchen, there is a book about vegetables by a writer called Colin Spencer. Sitting in the sunny kitchen, under the thatch one afternoon, I begin reading the introduction to this book and halt abruptly half-way through: I have found a sentence about slaughterhouses. I have not, until this moment, considered slaughterhouses, though I have all my life been an eater of meat. The sound of a thousand cows are bellowing through the kitchen.

You might say: Oh! Just a vegetarian statement about factory farming, and turn the page, ignoring the sound. Except that I cannot turn the page. Because I once knew Colin Spencer. I stayed in his house. I had a dramatic experience once in this house that is now coming back to me, bellowing through the years, a bellow louder than all these cows who face their executioner in the abbatoirs of England, and the sound is shaking me, deep within the core of my being.

When I was young, in my blossom time, cooking was one of my greatest joys. I met Colin Spencer whilst was working as a food and style editor for a magazine. Many of my friends and colleagues in those days were food writers. They were critics and cooks, restaurateurs and barmen. We all lived in a world governed by batteries de cuisine, and set our clocks by the migration of game and the vintages of fruit and wine. We were hunters and gatherers of a modern sort. Travelling abroad, taking trains into the countryside, we went gleefully in search of local produce, fresh ideas, new dishes, raiding markets, farm stores, smoke houses, roadside stalls. We always returned laden: we wrote of our voyages in the newspapers, produced photographs, cooked up storms in each other’s kitchens.

Off duty, we sallied forth to research the bars in obscure barrios of European cities, in the glittering restaurants of Manhattan and Hong Kong, high or low, we did not care: we were in pursuit of the obscure, the delicious, the authentic. We hunted down grocers, delicatessens, bakeries, taco stalls, noodle parlours, tavernas, inns, brasseries, imperial hotels, harbour hotels; we spoke with fishermen, mushroom collectors, herb gatherers, all manner of cooks and shopkeepers; we sampled, selected, tested out. We were generous in our international exchange, gave each other cookpots and curios - ceramic knives from Japan, bitter vegetables from Italy, tagines from Morocco - kept extravagant bunches of fresh herbs on our windows sills, our larders replete with salamis, artisan jams, boxes of country wine. We could quote Elizabeth David, and knew every which way with tomatoes and olive oil. In short we were obsessed.

But Colin Spencer was different from us. He was older, in his fifties, and did not roam the world like a conquistador. He lived modestly in a forest in Suffolk, grew his own vegetables, kept a wicked-temperered goat in his orchard. But what distinguished him most was the fact he was vegetarian and held very strong principles about the production of food. He ate game – duck, rabbit and pheasant - when they were caught by the local hunters, because he said they were wild, part of the fabric of the place. Food for him was not the quarry of holiday markets or Soho restaurants; it was sustenance that came out of the land he was living on.

What did we know of this relationship between land and man and beast? What did we know of ethics, of responsibility? The time of fruit? We were questing in our callow blossom time: romantic, sophisticated and perhaps a little greedy.

Sometimes we went to visit Colin Spencer in his house in the woods. It was a solitary house at the end of a forest track, surrounded by a large garden. You entered through a conservatory full of sharp-scented geraniums. A generous table always awaited us, as we turned up full of city gossip, bottles of wine in our hands. Twelve or fourteen vegetable dishes lay spread on a cloth, in the dark interior of the house, the fire roaring in the grate. Something about this welcome, this house intrigued me, the way Colin was with us, inviting yet brusque, passionate yet spiky (I did not know this but I was looking at myself in twenty years time). Sometimes you found these qualities in the food he served. I once was eating what I thought was an ordinary baked custard when suddenly the taste of an unknown fruit burst into my mouth - sour, perfumed, intense, surprising.

“Oh, goodness!” I exclaimed.
Colin laughed: “That was a quince” he said.

It was the most shocking dessert I had ever eaten.

One night as I lay sleeping in his forest house, I was awoken by powerful feelings running through my body. It was as if an animal were charging through me. I got up and went to the window Outside it was dark and windy, the branches of the pine trees were tossing violently to and fro. And then I heard a sound that I had never heard before, and yet knew so deeply, it was as if my self were made of it.

It was the bellow of a stag.

In October the native red deer of Britain gather all over the forests of Suffolk: in Tunstall, Dunwich, Minsmere, Iken. As dawn breaks and the mists rise they meet in the clearings under the birch and pine, for the autumn rut, carrying their antlers aloft, to decide the business of who should be running which territory. The sounds of their contests rumble through the land. To experience this primordial sound is to remember everything about wild things.

This is the sound that comes roaring through time, shaking me awake, as I read these words by Colin Spencer in this cottage in Oxfordshire on an August day. It is in that moment that I decide to give up eating cows.

Later I walk out of the kitchen, stepping out into the small lane that runs behind the garden, past the rows of evening primrose, through a meadow with a pond full of water lilies, into the barley and pea fields, across to the neighbouring village and back home past the churchyard and the great chestnut trees sighing in the warm wind. The corn fields are mostly cut now and there is that burnished feel that comes to the land after harvest, after the grasslands have ripened and set seed. I pause halfway through my walk by a herd of dairy cows. “Hello fellows,” I say softly as I approach them, and they gaze at me with their dark liquid eyes, with their implacable flanks, and then continue their business. They do not move away.

I lean on the gate and pause in the mysterious presence of the great beasts, in a moment of their endless time. The gentle afternoon extends itself through the rolling land. A red kite swings overhead. I breathe out with the soft breeze and feel myself take flight and soar over the hills and tumuli of southern Oxfordshire, over the Chiltern Hills, over Wittenham Clumps, the vale of the White Horse, passing by its rounded forms and curves, following the shining dark river Thames like a giant snake running through the land.

I feel in this moment exultant. The land and sky shimmer together, gold and blue, and at once all the constraints upon the country, the neat and tidy gardens, mown lawns, cropped and bordered fields, roadsides, clipped hedges, burst out of their constriction, like so many snapping fasteners of a dress, revealing the real beauty of the place that lies beneath - a country full of light and blue air, like a young woman walking and singing, lightness in her step, intense, intelligent, her dancing dress the colour of the glowing sun. In that moment of liberation, some forgotten part remembered itself in me; I was incarnating, taking form, as my feet found their place on the soft green turf, as I stood beside the cows, as we stood together in our mysterious creaturehoods, present on this island.

On the way home, crossing the long pasture behind the house, my eyes flick upwards into the hedges. And it is then that I notice the fruit among the leaves, and feel a sudden surge of happiness inside: wild plums! Soft oval-shaped fruit of all colours are shining in the tall dark hedgerows of the pasture - golden, orange, red, purple. An abundance of plums! My hands fly into the thickets and I cram my mouth with their sweet and sour tastes, gleeful as a blackbird; testing acid skins, fragrant juice, all manner of textures, looking for the best and most delicious, filling my pockets to take some home to Mark. Plums!

As I feast on these wild plums, standing happily in the meadow, new feet on green land, the autumn of my life begins. It is a radical change of direction. The wild plums herald the beginning of the fruit season for the rose. After the plums I will collect blackberries, sloes, damsons, crab apples, greengages, cherries and rosehips. After the plums I will hear the geese flying over the roof in the morning, tawny owls flying over at night. I will see the deer moving through the dawn. I am no longer in the rough male territories of the Americas and Australia, the bright spaces, the stern red rock lands of warriors and ancestors. I am returning to the place of birds and rivers and flowers, the England of the sweet wild rose. The place of time. It is a female territory and requires a different step.

The rose throughout the world is known as the flower of the heart: sweet-scented, beautiful, sharp-thorned. The high vibration of its fragrance inspire all mystics and poets to contemplate the love and divinity within all living forms. The gardens of paradise, all edens and avalons, are the province of the rose: apple, pear, medlar, cherry, peach, the sour and surprising quince. All creatures – man, beast and bird – love the sweet perfume of its fruit more than any other. The rose lies within the exalted heart of England: its presence is everywhere. For the wild dog roses, brambles and thorn bushes form all its hedgerows, strips of ancient wild wood that ribbon the country in all directions.

Within the rose’s spiny embrace the spirit of the wild is kept: banks of hawthorn and blackthorn harbour and feed all the kingdom’s small creatures, the song birds build their nests in rose briars, the butterflies and bees feed on the nectar of roseflowers, the hedgehog sleeps in the roots of the rose, the field mice store the rose’s hips and haws and sweet berries. To observe the wild roses as they blossom and fruit, to follow the path of those that fly and move within their entangled boughs, is to know about the nature of time. The plums I discovered that day were the fruit of the cherry-plum, the first rose that flowers in February and announces the spring, as its many-coloured fruit announces the autumn. It is the rose that heralds the change of the year.

In Spring the cherry-plum is exultant. It stands in the hedgerows, sometimes growing into an open-crowned, green-limbed tree, dazzling, drenched in complete whiteness, fragrant, impervious to frost and late winter wind; now in autumn its fruits shine like jewels, full of opulence and sweetness. Its generosity knows no bounds. I sit in the kitchen looking at these jewels in the bowl, the summer evening light stripes all the walls. Outside the rooks begin their circular flight around the village rooves. I put the cookery book back on the shelf. I shall not make any compote tonight, nor any kind of chutney or mirabelle jam, nor shall I make a sharp plum sauce, spiced with chillies, for a cold meat supper, or a roasted duck, nor any manner of fruity English pudding or pie I have learned to make in all these years I have spent surrounded by pans and knives and wooden spoons, my apron hanging on a hook behind the door. Tonight the plums shall remain, as they are. Fragrant and alive in the bowl. A balance is taking place.

The truth of the matter is we have become like the land, domesticated way beyond our natural selves. As female beings we are especially domesticated, caught up in endless dinner parties, obsessed with diets, dazzled with fancy dishes, keeping ourselves and everyone in our houses, penned in, endlessly cooking, cleaning, decorating, tidying. Each evening the women stand, like empresses, holding sharpened knives in their hands, their aprons smeared with blood and chocolate, in front of their chopping boards; they are imagining all manner of imperial feasts, from China, from Spain, from the restaurants of Paris, from the brothels of Louisiana; they hold the bodies of beasts and birds and fishes in their hands, heedless of their beauty, deaf to their cries, blind to the rainforests and flower meadows destroyed in their name. Lost in minarets of self-absorption, it is a kind of power they wield. The unconscious will of the Empire exerting its absolute control. The scent of roses pervades the kitchen, subtle, all-encompassing, its thorns pricking the edges of conscience. I shudder to stand amongst the heartless, at the slaughterhouse door. My heirloom carving knife and fork, bone-handled, whetted on stone cottage doorsteps for over a century, remains still within the drawer.

It was not that the cooking was bad in itself (how could you resent a beautiful and tasty dish?) it was what it covered up, what connections it prevented, the ways, even as we threaded our way so carefully through the world’s markets, past meat hook and fish basket, we did not consider to whose cost it was, our predilection to these unnecessary grand cuisines. Whole geographies, whole peoples, whole biological kingdoms, enslaved to keep our palates amused, our bodies trim and satisfied.

Most of all it did not let us stand humbly beside the beasts as we could have done, and come to our own conclusions. It did not let us see how all this pleasure and control suppressed our real female selves, how it weighed us down. How it affected our native wild lands, the human hearts of men and children; how there was in our obsession, no space left to dance amongst the miles of tarmac and suburban streets and tidy gardens. We needed to hold the world beloved in our hands. Outside the misty land of the wild rose lay waiting in that summer evening, bathed in light. The great song of the heartland rippled sweetly down the river and ran in rings around the soft blue-tinted hills. You have to start somewhere. I started here, in a borrowed kitchen, as evening came.

In the modern supermarket world these small kitchen decisions are arbitrary. But on the solar path they mean everything: because they lead you back to a country you have forgotten and make you a fellow of all its wild inhabitants. After this day I will walk through the heartland of England and be able to access part of my imagination that was closed down before. I will grow more light, more free. In this lightness of vibration, a dialogue with the flowers, with the wild things, will become possible; the land will open up and reveal itself. But in the human world not everyone wakes to hear the stag outside the window. Most like to remain, fruitless, in the callow times. Why do you not eat meat! the women shout at me. I will remember Colin’s spikiness then, everything he said about ethics, responsibility, the fabric of place. It is our right, they carry on outraged. Man is a hunter! We shall remain deaf and blind!

But modern man is not a hunter, I will reply. Hunters honour the animals they kill. They respect their spirits and make a bargain with them every time they pick up their bow or knife. We are consumers and do not respect the spirit of living beings, not even ourselves. This does not mean this spirit does not exist, nor that we cannot walk again in balance, or listen or see.

The women become furious. There is nothing one can do. To become kin again with the animals, to return from our lonely exile means you have to relinquish something dear, dear to not only yourself but all those you meet. No modern person likes to look at their bargain with the physical earth, and will fight very hard against feeling even the slightest prick of the rose’s thorns. But sometimes we long for a relationship with our wild home for without knowing we long for it, and when you taste its forgotten fruits, you are prepared for the thickets and briars. When the red deer roared in the kitchen, I gave up my occupation with cooking, and everything that went with it, including my old alliance with cooks. Food became about sustenance.

Those are the kind of bargains you make on the solar path. They are revolutionary those decisions, those small moments, those irrevocable moves. They throw your life into the air. And yet they give you everything your heart ever desired. That summer’s day I left a domestic kitchen and entered a whole new kingdom, an archaic kingdom ruled by the stag, by the directions of the sun, by the fragrance of the wild English rose. At the end of the autumn, just as the hops were scrambling over the hedges, we left the village and went to live in Oxford, where our plant inquiry began the following spring.

First you taste the fruit, then you know the territory, then you find the flower. That is the way round it is.

Sometimes you travel a long way to come home with empty hands.

Wild plums was originally from Chapter 1: Germination. It is one of 20 unpublished flowers from 52 Flowers That Shook My World which will be posted on this site over the next few months

Saturday, 25 August 2012

postcard from the woods - uncivilisation festival 2012


For we are all,
We are all,
We are all the children of,
We are all the sons of,
A brilliantly coloured flower,
A flaming flower.
And there is no one,
There is no one,
Who regrets what we are.
(Huichol Peyote Song from Pharmako Gnosis by Dale Pendell, 2005)
How can we become people who regret nothing and whom no one regrets? How can we find the new narrative about ourselves and the earth that Charles Eisenstein calls "the new story of self and the new story of the people"? Was it always there and we have forgotten it, or is it here now inside us, waiting to be cracked open like an acorn, to rise and take root?
I am at the Uncivilisation Festival in the Hampshire woods on the downs of England, giving a writing workshop based on my book, 52 Flowers That Shook My World. I am standing in at the last minute for a poet who couldn't make it, and as I walked through the dark wood last night, the warm wind shifting through the trees, I thought: what are the medicines the plants have taught me that I can now give?
One thing peyote showed us: we are not what we thought we were. We are more. We are not defined by class, or family or work, we are creatures of the sun and wind and the mythos of many lands, and no tranformation of the world, no transition, can truly take place until we become different kinds of people. And how do we do that surrounded as we are by the city world, its buildings, its harsh statistical language, its abstractions and globalised mindset?

You have to change the territory in which you move and speak, in which you come to different conclusions. You have to go into the woods and encounter the wild. The wild is not an escape from reality, it is a liberation into reality, out of the illusion of civilisation. For we are more than we think we are. We are kin with all creatures, all clouds, all rivers. We move and breathe and create part of the world's dreaming, the verbs and adjectives of its language.

This is one of the precedents for the Dark Mountain Project and for this festival, which over an intense August weekend gives 300 people a glimpse of what the future might feel like once we shed our conditioning, and start to tell our stories around the fire. Once we loosen the shackles of our identity and let the trees in.

There are several words for human being I said, in other cultures. The Okanagen word is land dreaming capacity. It is our function, if you like, to name the world, to make stories, weave fabrics, to dance and to sing. It is how the earth sees itself in our reflection. Another is winklil which is a Mayan word for vibrating root. The human being comes into the fabric of the earth with a certain sound or frequency, which resonates and harmonises with other beings. When rooted, it is our music that keeps the world in harmony.

You only have to think of the kinds of sounds cities make, or politicians or motorways to know the world's discordance. Out of time, out of place. It is our work as writers, I suggested, to name the physical and imaginative world beautifully, to root ourselves and get us all back in tune.
Breaking the acorn
The first writing exercise is to find the seed within and the right conditions in which to germinate.
I am holding my hands open and in my right, I hold practical seeds from my Transition garden: chickpeas, broad beans, sunflower seeds; in my left, two dreaming seeds, both from the desert in Arizona, a bearberry and a scarlet coral bean. The first is a traditional medicine for the kidneys, the second a tool for divination. Everything in our culture suppresses the germination of these seeds. Everything at Uncivilisation encourages it - practical worshops on scything, imaginative storyteling about Siberian shamans and the loss of the Caspian tiger. If you are a plant, I said, what kind of plant would that be? In which territory do you flourish?

At the Festival everyone is camping in the meadow. We meet around fires, listen to poetry and music in this woodland theatre, we debate in tipis and yurts, walk through tree and leaf galleries and performances under the starry skies. Last year when I stumbled upon Uncivilisation I felt I had come home. Lover of Transition as I am, there are parts it does not reach, where Dark Mountain speaks directly - language and creativity, mythos and earth. I realise that my roots lie deep within its territory, and that though I am happy working in the community kitchens and workaday comms and events of Transition, here I can be myself: here I can tell the medicine stories I learned and be heard in a certain attention.

Attention is what I am looking for this year - not the attention for the performer ego, but the set and setting in which to receive and transmit vital communications between ourselves as a network. Last year the festival had a very different feel, and I was a different person. It was just after the London riots and there were many talks about collapse and a lot of urgent political and intellectual debate. This year everything is acoustic and seemingly more mellow, more art and psychology than economic discussion. I am familiar now with the language of Dark Mountain (partly because I distribute the three books and help out with publicity). So I walk from event to event in search of the story. Not the journalism story which I wrote last year, or even the one I just wrote about Dark Mountain for the activist magazine STIR, but a story of a breaking kind. Like medicine, you don't know what you are looking for; you just know when you happen across it.

"What is the dreaming of Uncivilisation?" I asked everyone at the workshop. You can look at a dream - a night dream or an event or a relationship - on five levels. 1. the everyday level: what is happening over 48 hours 2. on the life level: in terms of your biography, what does your presence here signify in terms of your life? 3. As part of the human collective - what does this festival mean in terms of society? 4. on the mythical level - how does Uncivilisation affect the mythos of the world? 5. on the earth level: as the earth speaking to us. What are these woods telling us, the trees and the hills?

I am looking for the story. Standing with Kevin from our Dark Mountain Norwich group, stewarding the gate, I find a bank of eyebright flowers. This tiny eye-medicine flower is hard to find on the clay and sand soils of East Anglia, and we are on chalk here. Kevin tells me he found gravediggers hacking the chalk yesterday eight foot deep with pickaxes. And it's true: if you go down through the yurts and flowery enclosures you find yourself deep among the yews of the South Downland burial site.

It's easy to arrive at festivals and lose yourself in cameraderie and entertainment, and although this is no way a commercial event the desire to kick-back and have a good time is strong. Who doesn't like to drink cider and laugh and meet strangers who feel like kin? But this lightness does not crack the kernel.

I'm looking for something deeper, a more sober, urgent narrative that resonates with this land. Something more collective that allows death and loss to the party. I have been in Transition for four years now and know that we have to move together, out of individualism, beyond Me and my eternal sorrow and anger. I feel it sometimes: as we move around the fire in a Brythonic dance to the sound of bagpipe and violin, and the creatures of Meacstapa move out of the darkness in the shapes of raven and wolf, stag and hare. I hear it in the discussion I have with Dougie (who curates the Big Tent stage) as we talk about the Deep Green Resistance, and with Robert who is reading Tennyson's Ulysses out loud in the wood. I stumble into it as I move from a wilderness initiation workshop and find myself amongst the mourners of the burial site and see a glimpse of the bright downland grass. And then I find it, right at the end of the festival, at a reading among the beech trees.

She was our sister, our mother, our lover.


Jim Hindle is reading from his book Nine Miles, a searing and beautifiully-wrought story about the road protesters in the 1990s. A celebration of the protests 20th anniversary is one of the themes of this year's festival and many of the people who have spoken of their experiences are sitting in this circle, the writer Jay Griffiths, the musician Andy Letcher, and the photographer, Adrian Arbib. All around us Tom Hirons, who has organised this talk, has hung slates in commemoration of all the camps that were held to defend the trees and the land from being destroyed in the name of growth and progress. Many of them near the Sustainablity Centre where we are now.

Hindle is quiet and intense as he reads his testimony of those tough and magical winters spent amongst the canopy of ancient oaks. He was a teenager then, and badly broken by the experience, yet the passion for the land is palpably there. It burns, and you can feel it. And I realised then that this was the spirit I was looking for. It was a mood, a warrior mood, that comes once the kernel has been cracked open inside. We are older now. We have lost, our lives have collapsed. Our hearts have been broken open, and now some of us realise they were meant to be, because a broken heart that can remember and reassemble itself burns more fiercely and more powerfully than any other - as every shaman story tells us. What these initiation tales do not tell us, as a future people, is that we do this work of return together. That's our own indigenous medicine story. Now I knew why I had ended my workshop with a passage from Tree Dialogues chapter. Once in these lands we decided everything under the trees. Everything to do with right government. It was not personal, but a matter for the collective.

"Would you do it again?" somebody asked the activist and writer.
"Yes," he said.
"Yes," we all said.
I was remembering the hilltop in Oxfordshire, I was remembering the oakwood of Shotover. I was remembering the people. People I had known who had stood by trees, and people I have never known who had stood by trees. We were all there, waiting, it seemed, for an aeon by the tree in Staverton Thicks.
We are holding out, the oaks said finally.
My heart jumped.
“I am with you,” I said. “I am always holding out.”
I am holding out that our hearts will return. I am holding out that the people of this green land will throw off our dark oppression. I am holding out that even though Mark and I are alone in this oak wood, we will all one day emerge from the underground and meet together. I am holding out that even though we are hidden and often alone, we know in our hearts, in our thousands, we are together. No matter what house we come from, what work we do, where we dwell in the kingdom, we are already united: the men that walk the mountains, the men who swim the wild rivers and seas, the men who sleep in the branches of the trees and burrow among the roots to stop the machines from killing the wildwood; the lion-hearted who speak out loud, who call to account, who bear witness, the oak-seers, the acorn-bearers; the ordinary men of England and merry maids of England, who bring their lightness and beauty and laughter, who stand by the men, who walk beside them, who see them and keep the fire. I am holding out for us all standing here together, as the oaks hold the sky in their branches and their roots hold the earth. We are holding out. We are holding the land sovereign. And with one heart we say: 

This planet does not belong to you.


Photographs: woodland walk by Adrian Arbib from Solsbury Hill (forward by Paul Kingsnorth and George Monbiot); Robert reading poetry in the woods; woodland stage at Dark Mountain 3 writers' reading; slate road protest commemoration by Tom Hirons: Pete, Wendy and Paul with their 52 Flowers about to board the bus; Jim Hindle discusses Nine Miles; art installation (CDC); Farewell and Imagine Wolf by kind permission of Bridget McKenzie from This Learning Planet.
Quotations from 52 Flowers That Shook My World - A Radical Return to Earth (Two Ravens Press)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Dark Mountain Project - In search of a new narrative

It started with a conversation that became a manifesto that became a book that became a festival that became a movement. Three years on the Dark Mountain Project is still hard to define. It is both a cultural response to a collapsing world, and a network of people who gather to makes sense of that collapse. At its core is a shared recognition that the stories we have inherited are are no longer making sense of our lives, and a new narrative for the times we are living in needs to be forged.

The Project was founded by former journalists, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, and has not just inspired fellow writers and thinkers, but has also brought together performers, poets, musicians, artists, craftsmen and activists. The work and the conversations that shape and inform this cultural movement are as many-layered and diverse in their expression as a rainforest, or an ocean. The annual arts and music festival on the Hampshire Downs in August includes a Funeral for A Lost Species in the woods, a celebration of the art of protest, storytelling around the fire, workshops on scything and foraging, a children’s council, as well as poetry readings, discussions and performances. This diversity is deliberate: we live in a monoculture of Empire, which holds a firm grip on our imaginations and our perception of the world. It is hard to see or feel or think outside the illusion it maintains of the supremacy of Western civilisation, with its high-profile shows, power games and technology.

Dark Mountain however is about facing the reality of the matter, how we proceed towards the future with integrity and intelligence, no matter what the storm brings. It allows the space and time in which to discover a creative common ground, as well as our common allegiance with the living, breathing earth and all its creatures. At the heart of the project is a deep reconnection with the planet and a recognition that we need to shift away from a dissociated, mental worldview to reengage with life on a practical and imaginative level. A shift away of what some might call the domination of a heartless left-hemisphere attention, to include the the all-encompassing feeling attention of the right.

Perhaps what defines Dark Mountain most is that it provides a space in which those perceptions can happen: an allowance of uncertainty.

That space is hard to write about because it is not easily found in an objective world where human beings are seen to be in control of the environment, in lessening degrees of sustainability or social justice; but within a more subjective relationship with our home planet, where a connection with creaturehood, ancestral form and language inform our actions and our attitude. Here is Akshay Ahuja on the Dark Mountain blog reviewing the collection I’m with the Bears: Short Stories on a Damaged Planet:

“There is real sorrow, though, and for something specific — a lost language, the Ferrarese dialect, and all of the parts of the natural world that it named, like hares, which went extinct during the Crisis.

The ruins of a language are heart-wrenching,’ the narrator writes. ‘Every word that dies out is a house that gives up, sags and sinks, becomes buried in the sand.

An acute sense of loss is one of the markers of Uncivilisation, a loss of the things we love that define us as human beings, namely our kinship with the natural world, our ability to make beauty and sense of our lives, our connectivity. It’s a loss that leads not to guilt or powerlessness however, but to questions that challenge the writer and philosopher in all of us.

What if fiction itself is no longer the form that brings meaning? What if the building blocks of our stories — the hero, the battle, the family, the house — are no longer its true foundation? What if the form itself has to change to accommodate the shift towards a different kind of world? What if our stories no longer aspire towards happy endings or conquering the peak, but on finding our way down the mountain in the dark? In many ways the Dark Mountain collections (the third is published on September 15) reflect this. There are stories and essay, myths and poems, discourse, meditation, interviews, photographs, paintings, journeys, journalism; its contributors include known writers — John Michael Greer, Naomi Klein, Jay Griffiths, John Rember, Melanie Challenger, Adrienne Odasso — as well as many new and unknown voices. What they share is an urgency, a sense of belonging in a time of dislocation:

We came to this issue of Dark Mountain with a question, how do we begin to find our way home? When our stories have failed us and our maps have led us astray, how do we get our bearings? And what remnants might we find of the meaning and security for which a human home, if we are lucky, might stand? (Introduction to Dark Mountain Issue 3)

In a world divided into stats and graphs, straight lines and pixel squares, Dark Mountain speaks in the cycles and circles of earth, at home in wild uncharted places, in silence, in the woods, on the farm, around the fire, and equally fluent in a city intelligence. Rooted, fierce, unafraid to ask difficult questions or enter a dialogue, it is most of all real about the places we live in:

Global campaigning for an abstract “environment” does not appear to work. What does work is engaging with nature on a human scale. Perhaps the best rejoinder to those who believe the world is a giant spreadsheet is an engagement with its messy, everyday complexity. A kind of vernacular environmentalism; an engagement not with “the environment”, but with environments as we experience them in lived reality.

This would be a good time to step back, to get our hands dirty and our feet wet, to smell the rain when it comes and get a feel for where we are on this Earth and what, at the root of it all, we can still usefully do. — Paul Kingsnorth (The Guardian, August 1, 2012)

UNKNOWN PATH

On a personal level, having focused my attention on the Transition movement for four years, the Uncivilisation Festival opened a door I had forgotten was there. Dark Mountain shares an awareness of social and ecological crisis with many environmental campaigns and social movements, but it approaches this “information” entirely differently. Progressive groups can bring communities together, but their scientific, political and sometimes corporate language, cannot get to the heart of what it means to be alive in human form at this time, to express what might be called the existential: my place in this world. They don’t link with the deep and rainbow-coloured fabric of the world, its dreaming and song lines, or the lineage of poets and artists who have held out for another kind of living together on the earth. For Dark Mountain is not the nature writing of Empire, the polite observations of vicars and academics: its participants meet in the commons, celebrate the rough and radical moves of Diggers and Luddites, the anti-road protesters of the ’90s and the freedom fighting of many indigenous people, all of whom who stand up for themselves and their ancestral forests and mountains against the murderous Machine.

It became clear that to proceed with any kind of impeccability, to value the world, we need to engage in creating a culture that reflects those sensibilities. And secondly we need to be able to hold the reality of what is happening, what might be called systemic collapse, not just on our own, but in the company of others. To connect, as John Berger once wrote, what has been “institutionally kept separate”.

Three months ago I wrote a blog about Transition, which, though it describes itself an experiment, has a clear road map that you can follow: it is signposted with 87 Ingredients and Tools and has a thousand initiatives around the world, engaged in downshift and relocalisation. You can write about what people in those places are doing with ease. But Dark Mountain is the uncertain path. It sits with a blank slate and it doesn’t know the way forward, or have any intention of rolling out a master plan. It is hard to define, and that is partly the point. We are from a big know-it all culture, and we sit in front of computers like the Wizard of Oz, talking about carbon reduction and supply chains, as if we could get it all sorted and go about our lives as before, just with nicer sources of energy.

But many of us — including activists and Transitioners — are drawn to Dark Mountain because a lot of the stuff we do doesn’t work out the way we would like it to work out, and many of us feel it won’t work out with climate change and peak oil, no matter how positive or right-on we are, and how do you face that? Some people react with a prescribed set of emotions — despair, hope and grief — and explain them in terms of spirituality or psychology. But for most of us, those explanations still form part of the old narrative. Our story is not yet written. We haven’t even found the words, but we might just have found each other. In the woods, around the fire.

PAYING ATTENTION

If someone were to ask me what kind of cause is sufficient to live for in dark times, the best answer I could give would be: to take responsibility for the survival of something that matters deeply. Whatever that is, your best action might then be to get it out of harm’s way, or to put yourself in harm’s way on its behalf, or anything else your sense of responsibility tells you. — From The Dark Shapes Ahead by Dougald Hine

I’m on the beach with Dark Mountain Norwich, a small regional group that formed after the Festival last year. We have taken the afternoon out of our normal routines to have a picnic by the sea. Here we are sitting among the dunes in attentive stillness, without a plan, allowing whatever arises. We have spent the summer devising a happening in Chapefield Gardens. Now we are focusing on the waterlands of East Anglia and those of everyone’s native lands: the rivers and lakes of Portugal, Denmark and the Austrian Alps. We discuss the way water informs our lives, what memories it brings. In ordinary life there is no time for this discussion, we are way too busy: our attention focused on getting through the day, earning our living, distracted by politics and the 24/7 media circus. We don’t notice what is going on, and discuss it even less. Jeppe tells us how many people he knows are living in a state of anxiety. Stuff that is hard to see when you look at the shiny successful surface of things.

Because life really looks OK when you look at the beach: happy people walking, the sea sparkling, the dog playing in the surf. Only when you push below the surface is something else revealed: the polluted ocean, the oil tankers on the horizon, the dog that depends on the industrial food system, the inner turmoil of the people walking past, the state of their bodies, hearts and minds. The absence of little terns, the disappearance of the cod. That depth, that inquiry, the acknowledgement that those difficulties are there is the place where Dark Mountain starts. It doesn’t rush in with solutions, or go into denial. It starts there, with complexity, with the big picture and the details. What is in front of us every day.

Afterwards we go swimming in the sea, and Kevin, who is from the Norfolk coast, tells me how he comes from a long line of bargees and fishermen, and how he spent summers in his youth out among the sandbars and the driftwood, living wild. We float in the waves, in the immensity of sea and sky, like seal people, like people in their element.

You need to go into the mountains, the writer, Edward Abbey once advised all activists, and remind yourself of what you are doing all this for.

Dark Mountain is that reminder. Earth first.

____________

Dark Mountain books are available from the website here. Dark Mountain issue 3 will be officially launched on September 15 at Mello Mello, Slater Street, Liverpool, 9pm-midnight with a party, featuring musical acts, and writers from the book reading from their work. Uncivilisation Festival takes place 17-19 August at the Sustainability Centre, Petersfield, Hampshire.

Images: Action in the Watermeadows by Adrian Arbib from the book, Solsbury Hill (forward by Paul Kingsnorth and George Monbiot); cover artwork for Dark Mountain Issue 3 by Matt Jones.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook goes to Italy

Last night I cooked risotto. I hadn't cooked a risotto in years, but then swinging into Louisa's deli on my way to the beach my eye caught the box of arborio rice. I'll make it with spinach I thought and some of the white wine we have right now. "Good with a stock made with dried mushrooms," advised Mary, who was a cook before she worked in this friendly neighbourhood corner store.

So that's what I did. I soaked some shitake mushrooms (organic sun-dried), cooked up some of Basil's spinach, chopped up one of Malcolm's onions and began the process of making risotto, which as you know is the very opposite of fast food. The key to risotto is not the ingredients - though those matter too of course - good olive oil and stock. The key is attention: risotto demands you stand and stir by the stove for half an hour, focusing on the gradual absorption of stock by those fat glistening grains of rice, so that by the end you have a rich and creamy dish, perhaps one of the most satisfying you can serve.

It's all about being there. Or here as the case may be.

In my travelling meat and fish-eating days I would have made risotto with clams or squid (known as risotto nero due to its inky-black colour), or with a chicken stock and butter and served with a good sprinkling of Parmesan. But last night I found this is truly a great vegan and low carbon dish, and goes beautifully with spinach on the side, served with lemon and olive oil. (Arborio is also a "dry" rice - which unlike "wet" rice does not leak methane into the atmosphere).

It wouldn't of course make a great Bring-to-Share dish, which is the main theme of the Cookbook recipes. In fact many of the classic Italian dishes, due to their immediate cooking and eating styles, are not well suited to our ad hoc gatherings (though pasta does make a resilient salad base). However in this great season of basil and tomatoes, something Italian is definitely in order. So here is a quick pizza recipe I learned from the Sunrise Festival, along with other summer festival favourites, chai and elderflower champagne. We cooked these pizzas in individual round tins in the wood-fired earth ovens (made from scratch on site with a tank that used the heat from the ovens to warm the water for washing up afterwards). You can bake these in an ordinary oven however in a big rectangular tin. Cut into squares and eat warm.

Oh, and if you are heading down to Sunrise Off-grid this month, don't forget to call in to the Tin Village and make one yourself!

Sunrise Pizza
All ingredients are organic and as local as possible

Dough
2 cups wholewheat flour
2 cups spelt flour
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 cups of warm water

Filling
Tomatoes (tinned or fresh), chopped
Black olives, chopped
Onions, sliced
Basil and parsley, chopped
Red, green and yellow peppers, sliced
Mushrooms, sliced
Cheese (we used local Cheddar but traditionally this would mozzarella), grated
Sunflower oil, for basting tin

Make the dough one hour before you need to cook the pizza. Put yeast and sugar into a cup of warm water. Leave at least five minutes to activate. Mix flours and salt in a basin, add yeast and sugar mix and the rest of the warm water and mix in with hands until dough is of "birds nest" consistency.

Put on a floured surface. Don't worry if it feels a bit rough and dry at first as working the dough makes it sticky and you will be adding more flour as you go. There is a lot of mystique about kneading dough, but when you get down to it and your hands are pushing and pulling crossways, you somehow know how to make all the moves instinctively. Human beings have been making bread for thousands of years and somehow our ancestral hands know just what to do. After about ten minutes, or when the dough is elastic and smooth, place back into basin and cover with a damp cloth and put in a warm place for an hour.

Assemble ingredients. You can be really inventive with these - as any trip to a pizzeria will tell you. One thing we learned from the earth ovens, those delicious thin pizzas don't need great heavy toppings or the dough doesn't cook through. So resist piling up your plate!

When the dough has risen, take out and "knock back" the dough for a couple of minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin (an empty bottle will do if you haven't got one - though traditionally you would stretch the dough by hand). Grease your baking dish with sunflower oil. Place dough into the dish and add ingredients as evenly as possible, with tomato at the base and grated cheese at the top. Put into a hot oven for 2o minutes.

Buon appetito!

Tin Village will be running pizza workshops at Sunrise Off-grid Festival this month, 23-27 August. Check out the series of great Transition talks running there too.

Images: pasta al fresco with local spinach and tomatoes and home-grown basil from Introduction to Food Patterns; lighting the earth ovens; pizza waiting to go into the oven; rolling dough and making pizzas all at Tin village, Sunrise Festival, 2012.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

ARCHIVE: On an ordinary summer's evening in a Transition town . . .

We're just on our way to Cathy's orchard and meadow for the Sustainable Bungay annual picnic and games (this year it's boules, instead of our usual rumbustious rounders on the Old Grammar School Field). So here is a summer celebration (from July 2011) of some of the people I've met in Transition and the friendliness and fellow feeling you can find in downshifting times. The above pic was taken after our July 2012 core group meeting, as we feel the heat of the Hot Wall and slip into a moody album mode.

"It’s definitely the stick," said Mark as he stood with a piece of wood in his hands. It had been inadvertently donated at Sustainable Bungay's Give and Take Day and suddenly reappeared in our hallway. From the outside it looked like a shiny broom handle but it wasn't: it was a fighting stick belonging to a young man mortified by its disappearance. But you’d have to be a warrior to know that.

It’s an ordinary summer's evening in a Transition town. We’re on our way to our monthly core group meeting. First we have to drop off the stick at Kate’s and have some supper with Nick.

“You share your lives in the blogosphere and I’d like to share some of what I do," Nick said as he began to fill a box full of July veg - onions and garlic, fennel, beetroot, fresh eggs and blackcurrant jam. We sat down at the kitchen table and drank some squash wine, ate a delicious bean salad and talked about the financial crisis.

You have to be in Transition to truly appreciate Nick's house – kale and courgettes in the front garden, sorrel around the door, a garage with dried herbs hanging from the ceiling and shelves full of preserves, giant tanks of rainwater, chickens, cupboards and windowsills with kegs of homemade wine, a stack of books on economics. It’s not what it looks like, but what is behind everything you see. What it took to get there. The bare aesthetic of downshift.

Years ago I interviewed a man called Tommy Roberts. I was working for a glossy magazine at the time and the subject of the article was Taste, that indefinable quality that distinguished one person or house from the next.What is Taste? I asked various arbiters of style, fashion designers and editors, owners of grand and important properties. Tommy was once a designer of natty suits in the 60’s when he was known as Mr Freedom but at that time had a shop under Centrepoint full of zany, brightly coloured modern furniture: Taste is the Japanese room with one beautiful vase in the corner, he told me. A lifetime of taking away makes that room. It’s what you don’t have that defines taste.

We live in a have and have-not culture and our value systems are entirely based around possessions. Not just the things those designers were talking about back in the 1980s when materialism and property began its great boom – wallpaper and watches and John Fowler’s "pleasing decay" - but a personal warehouse of business connections, children, communities, garden flowers, Hollywood stars, holiday countries. My special world.

"Well, you’re rich in other ways," said the man at the Financial Instability workshop at the Transition Conference after I had detailed my downshift from The World of Interiors to Sustainable Bungay.
"I really am not rich", I replied.
"You are rich in social relationships", he insisted, frustrated with my density. "In quality time. You are abundant in other ways."
"I have very little", I replied. (which is not strictly true because like most people in this country I have chairs and tables, pots and pans and all manner of basic essentials). "What is wrong with nothing? Why do we have to be wealthy at all?"

What I wanted to say was I had spent a lot of time clearing out that room. And I didn’t replace the things I used to own with different things - with people or experiences, or a low-carbon lifestyle - but had learned to love space and time and the freedom that lack of ownership brought.

In downshift less is not more in the way we once understood Japanese style. Less means you take everything you don’t need away, so that what really matters is left. It means you don’t have because having is no longer important. What becomes important is that freedom of movement and living a deliberate life.

It’s an ordinary evening in a Transition town and we’re on our way to our meeting at the Library. But first we have to meet at the pub with the Community Bee Group to celebrate the success of our Beehive Day (which I’ll write about tomorrow) and then unload Eloise’s van full of information boards and select some just picked fruit from the back of Cathy’s car. Cathy runs the Abundance project and swapping our produce and plants- at our meetings, in the Library community garden- has become a way of life. So here we are in the car park with a stack of boards and punnets of cherry-plums and blackberries meeting in a damp summer in a difficult time, swifts whizzing round the roofs, echinacea flowers full of bees.

At the Transition Conference we all did an exercise. We had to imagine a group we longed to be with in the future. I am no good at visioning and all I could think about was the fact I would be 65 in ten years time and how weird that was. And then I realised I don’t long for a group of people because I am already with those people and I had met them three years ago in the theatre down the street from here. And what was difficult to feedback to my fellow Transitioners in the canteen in Liverpool was the fact that it wasn’t the individuals in the initiative that made us matter to one another, the way we are used to people mattering in our lives, as special friends, or heroes, support systems, as possessions and dependencies. My important relationships.

It was the fact that when we met up as a group in these public spaces something happened between us. Something we held in common. We understood implicitly what we were doing and why – sharing stuff, organising events, going through the agenda. When I looked at this working-together in the visioning it looked like an energy field, the kind of energy field you sense when you stand by a hive humming with bees. A hum of warmth and intelligence that allows people to naturally collaborate and make that low-energy downshift happen. When that’s going on you don’t need possessions to compensate for your isolation, to anchor your introverted fantasy world. You don’t need data or climate science to persuade your tricky mind. You just need to tune in and act.

If you passed by Bungay Library tonight you’d notice the lights were on and if you peered in you might see a group of people around a table, eating plums and laughing, one person intently writing notes, one speaking, another occasionally calling order and everyone else paying attention. None of us look as if we are arbiters of taste, or abundant, or full of well-being or anything else the modern world puts a price on or gives value to. We’re obviously not important members of the community with homes-to-die-for, or great jobs or cars. We appear utterly ordinary and so we are. Ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing.

You can’t see the field from the outside, you have to feel it from the inside. You recognise it when you are in it because you are doing it along with everyone else. In fact you can’t be in it unlessyou are doing it.That’s the real shift. The move from individualism to group collaboration for the good of the whole is primarily a personal shift, away from ownership and control, into a field of exchange and communication and reciprocity, into give and take. And that’s a whole new lexicon of being. It’s not a replacement of things, it’s a move. A let go and a join in.

Because Transition is not a noun, it’s a verb.

Photos: standing against Bungay Library wall with Daphne, Lesley and Josiah; echinacea by the carpark; with squash wine in Nick's kitchen; rainwater storage; Cathy's Abundance fruit; Nick with harvested herbs.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Mudville - Tin Village at the Sunrise Festival

Today's post is from the Sunrise Festival where I worked in the kitchens at the Tin Village, mostly helping run the pizza workshop. Next week I'll be writing up a recipe for that delicious, ubiquitous dish (here baked in hand-made earth ovens) for our Low Carbon Cookbook slot. Right now here is the background . . .

Standing in the camera oscura, a small wooden island in a sea of mud, Sunrise Festival 2012. I'm watching the crowd flow past slowly like a dream. Pennants are flying, pinnacles of tents pointing to the sky. The camera above the room gyrates in a circle around us. A group of small girls who are tracking it from the outside laugh and wave at us inside. We can see you watching us! It's extraordinary how this lens creates a different relationship with everything you see. You treasure it somehow, love the way you can pick out people and the shapes they make that would otherwise be a blur.

Time does that sometimes, acts like a lens. In the madness of the mud, in the struggle to get from place to place you don't notice the beauty of things. The handprints on the wall.

This is a postcard from the Sunrise Festival. Or perhaps it's a letter, a smoky, muddy love letter. It's from a temporary place called Tin Village that appears at festivals sometimes across England: at Sunrise Off-grid, at Tolpuddle, at Glastonbury. It goes up and then it comes down; people come together and then they depart. Something in the way the place is constructed stays however. That's the essence I'm trying to recapture. It was a watershed midsummer (and that's not just the rain). I had been continuously on line for weeks and then for five days I came off. I was offered a lift from Simon, Pete and Georgina from Norwich who wanted to hear about Dark Mountain. And so we talked non-stop about the world in transition, as we headed to the hill and pasture country of the West.

That's one thing festivals do: they break your crystallised patterns, break you open, open you to people you would be unlikely to meet otherwise, make you look at where you are going and where you are coming from. Teach you to receive gifts, as much as give them, take you out of your personal camera oscura and into the field. Perhaps the muddiest field you have ever encountered.
earth oven
Tin Village is an off-grid experiment in community living. It is built by a core crew who put up everything from scratch: the outbuildings, earth ovens, grey waste system, rocket stove kitchen, field shower, permaculture garden. During the festival an additional crew arrive and we work at least four hours a day running the pizza workshop and cafe, which provides the income for the enterprise. Most of us also give workshops (I gave two: one on Herbs for Resilience, based on my book, 52 Flowers That Shook My World - published today! - and another on grassroots communications with a poet from Occupy London called Venus, based on my experiences with this blog and the Transition Free Press). The sessions range from the intellectual and political to the practical and inspirational - from how to get involved with Frack-Off and Diggers 2012 to thatching and foot massage. This year the Village has been co-ordinated by Ian Westmoreland from Transition Heathrow, so there is a strong activist element. It's a lot less fluffy and spiritual than last year, and there is something exciting about this set of progressive and environmental groups coming together in one place, working alongside each other, swapping stories, making links. Last year I felt on the edge - everything was more distant, more polite. This year I am in the thick of things.

Where we meet is around the fires, the two pizza ovens and the four rockets stoves in the kitchen run by Harry from the Kitchen Collective. The tasks at hand first appear insurrmountable. At our pre-Festival meeting around the camp fire we put our hands up for camp duties and write our names on a rota. Then the rain began to fall. A rain that will last all weekend and turn the whole village into a quagmire, put out the fires, soak the carpets, drench ourselves, dampen the firewood, dampen everything - except our spirits.

Maybe it's because I have a warrior heart that I love the spirit of this camp. Not warrior in the sense of killing and fighting, but in the sense of a people coming together in resilience, not serving their own interests, but doing their own thing impeccably, which turns out to be everyone else's: acting collectively, sharing skills, knowledge, resources. The rain washed away the rota, so we let it go. Looking from the outside from the position of contol, running a temporary working community without a plan or leadership seems impossible, but when we got down to it everything self-organised.

I went to all kinds of music events during the weekend, danced, chanted at sunset, drank chai, listened to some great talks at the Green Dome - Mark Boyle, Maddy Harland, Theo Simon - spoke with low carbon cooks and Transitioners from all over the county, had a lovely meal with fellow reporter Ann and her family in their tipi, but I kept feeling pulled towards the home station of the Village.

Something there made sense in a way that a lot of the festival stuff, which is centered around entertainment did not. That floated away, the stuff we did for real stayed. The physical work - making dough, digging ditches, washing mountains of dishes, collecting plants in the rain, staggering across the field in my mud-encased boots, keeping the tiny tent dry for sleeping, talking to strangers who don't feel like strangers - remained in my memory. It felt like the kernels of coloured corn that Ann gave me for Mark. Seeds for the future.
rocket stove
I'm writing this midsummer postcard in hindsight. I pocketed those seeds and now the corn is growing in our garden six weeks later. It's now Lughnasa, the traditional time of the harvest and gathering. Tin Village came and went and yet the essence of it still flourishes. Some of the crew are coming to the Uncivilisation Festival this month, and there will be a Tin Village at Sunrise Off-Grid too (though a slightly smaller version). I wished I could have stayed and helped dismantle the camp but Simon and the East Anglia crew were heading back that Monday. I would have liked to have had that experience, got to know everyone more, as well as feeling I had played my part in the hard task of construction.

Sometimes you have to go off-line, off-grid, out of your comfort zones, to get a sense of what is possible. I know now when push comes to shove people can work together in hard conditions and flourish. And when they do something beautiful can happen that you would not expect if you judged everything from the way things appear, from the outside. The people who will make the future work are not the people you think: the control people, the shiny people, the spiritual people. They are the activist people, smart, funny, edgy, generous, friendly, warrior-hearted. The people who are not afraid of the mud. Who are not afraid of the earth or each other, and who can still make a fire, come what may.

Sometimes you wait a long time for the story to make sense. I had a seminal moment when the sun finally came out at the end of the weekend and everyone was going home. I found a chair to sit in and put my face happily in the warmth and the light (at last!) and heard a girl's voice singing: I wanna see the sun, I wanna see the sun (at least that's what I thought she was saying).

"This is it!" I cried. "I wonder what CD that's from?" and went into the tent to find a real girl singing the song, and a familiar figure taking photographs.

"Aren't you the person who shot Transition 2.0?" I asked her when the set was finished. "Didn't we meet in Liverpool?"

"Yes," she said, "And this is Rebecca Mayes. She found an impromptu slot here and I said we just had to have the Transition song!"

"Oh," I laughed."That's where I've heard it before!"

You think the sun is a star, operating outside of us in a scientific impersonal way, but it's not. It is in all things. It's a creative, mysterious, self-organised. connective intelligence that operates through everything on earth. Many strands and shapes interlocking and working for the whole. It works through our hearts and our fiery spirits and we can get a sense of its extraordinary organisation when we break out of the camera oscura of our minds and get into the field. When we trust the people we are working with, when we let go of control and enter the collective. We have been kept seperate for aeons at the behest of forces that have nothing to do with right relations on earth. It's time we got back together again. It's time we got back into relationship.

Sometimes we get that chance. Now is the time.


Images: mud prints on the camera oscura; constructing Tin Village (Heather); Tom and the pizza ovens; workshop blackboard; Transition rocket stove workshops; permaculture no dig garden outside the Green Dome; the stone circle