Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Peter French Round Barn

“…hardly anyone, to my knowledge, is expressing concern about the removal of humans from the roles within the ecosystem that we have evolved to play, and that Nature has evolved to have us play. Nor is anyone conducting studies to determine what these roles were or what changes have occurred because we no longer fulfill them. Most important, perhaps, no one is trying to reintroduce humans into the environment to have us resume our duties as hunters, herders, gatherers, and whatever else, even though we’re going to great ends to restore animals that have played much less significant roles.”

On a recent camping trip in eastern Oregon I stopped at the visitor’s center for the historical Peter French Round Barn in Harney County. The barn and the visitor’s center are well worth a visit. The visitor’s center has an amazing book selection, mostly concerning the American West. I wanted so many, but I had to choose just one: Gardners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature by Dan Dagget. I was particularly drawn in by cover quotes from one of my favorite ethnobotanists, Gary Nabhan, author of several books about indigenous plant use in the Sonoran desert. I was surprised I had never heard of this book, but when I saw that it was published by a charitable trust it all made more sense. The author is a former environmental activist, and the book in many ways looks like a glossy brochure for an environmental group, laden with pictures, side quotes and, large margins. That is not a bad thing, it was an easy and beautiful read that I devoured in just a few days.

Disgruntled and frustrated by “leave it alone” environmentalism, Dan gives numerous examples of how human interaction is an integral part of natural ecosystems, and how most ecosystems rely on disturbance of some kind such as fire or grazing or harvesting to be healthy. He is a particular fan of the “poop and stomp” method of habitat restoration whereby cattle are brought into a desertified area such as an abandoned mine, which is strewn with hay and straw and native seed, which they eat and grind into the ground fertilizing it while at the same time creating divets with their hooves for rainwater to collect in. Another method he is a fan of is the building of trincheras which are small stone dams that pool water and stop erosion. Being much like the small dams that children build for play, these do not stop the water but merely slow it, and it is not important or devasating if they wash out because the idea is you can build dozens or even hundreds of them on one stream.


Trincheras on El Coronado Ranch

This book comes off as one long rant,  which some people might find annoying. I find it humorous. It would make an excellent  companion to Samuel Thayer’s latest wild foods guide Nature’s Garden which is also hilariously ranty. My only criticism is that the book focuses mainly on the west/southwest and that I would like to see more non-cattle ranching related examples of how modern humans can restore ecosystems.  It would be great to see it expanded for more bioregions, and while I personally have no problems with the use of domestic animals raised humanely and on a small scale, I would love to see some other examples, okay, do I need to spell it out? This may not be happening in too many places, but I would like to see hunting and gathering being deliberately used for restoration, and also to keep environments from deteriorating further.  The author points that when the Forest Service is making management decisions it does not prepare impact statements for leaving the land alone, even though this could be very harmful. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a public policy that actually required hunting and gathering!?

I’m an anarchist at heart, but I like to play a little game called if I were President of the World, (this can entertain for days on a roadtrip) and if I were president of the world I would turn over the management of public lands to the tribes which originally inhabited them with similar restrictions on development but allowing traditional cultural uses including dwelling and gathering. In fact, a National Park Service rule that would allow tribes to collect plants minerals from parks and that admits that traditional gathering helps preserve plant communities has been been propsed, but it is experiencing strong backlash from a group called Public Employees for Environmental Purposes who believe that doing so would open the door to commercial level harvest and threaten endangered species.  (National Park Service Moving To Let Tribes Collect Plants, Minerals From Parks For Traditional Practices), Naturally, there are also racist undertones to the resistance.

Another idea that I’ve had would be to start a land trust or hunting and gathering collective of some sort… The quote I used in the introduction also bespeaks of ecopsychology: how does shirking our duties as caretakers affect not only the land, but our bodies and minds? Perhaps Gardner’s of Eden Volume II is a book I need to write. So if you are currently working on a project of this nature, lets talk.





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Sick Earth

In the book I recently reviewed  Ecotherapy: Healing With Nature in Mind I found a link to a very interesting article: Ecological Collapse, Trauma Theory, and Permaculture by Lisa Rayner. The article closely approaches something I have thought for a long time, that Gaia, the Earth, is sick with the disease of civilization and that individual disease (mental or physical) can be seen as a microcosm of planetary suffering and vice versa. As a species we have multiplied and overrun the earth, much like a systemic candida yeast infection (candida normally resides in the healthy body in small amounts).

If this is so, the methods of healing should be similar for both people and the planet. Like the various ways we respond to the environmental crisis from “it doesn’t exist”, to organic agriculture, to violent resistance, people have differing opinions on how to treat candida, from “it doesn’t exist”, to just stop eating so much refined sugar and add some probiotics to the diet and you’ll be alright, to blasting it with fungicide.

Although I do not see permaculture, at least in its current incarnation, as the end all be all solution (for a rousing argument about this read post and comments @ Urban Scout’s: permaculture  vs. rewilding) I believe the author is on to something. I particularly like the quote: “I have a very visceral understanding of overshoot and collapse. That is because I have experienced overshoot and collapse within my own body. I am a trauma survivor. This experience has given me the ability to understand our civilizational predicament in a way that people who have never experienced severe psychological trauma do not posses to the same degree.”

In my experience, most rewilders are misfits, generally both sensitive and brilliant, who have experienced trauma either acute or complex, which has caused them to resonate with the pain of the earth. More thoughts on this later!

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Ecotherapy: Healing With Nature in Mind

When I first became the way I am, that is essentially a primitivist, one of the main influences on my developing philosophy was a college course in the field of ecopsychology. Ecopsychology begs the question: How can anyone be truly sane if the way we treat our planet is fundamentally insane? How does our environment affect our psychological well-being and how does our psychological well-being affect our environment?

Up until that point I had recognized that technology and civilization had terrible consequences for human physical health in the form of toxins, diet, and a sedentary lifestyle,  but I had not taken into account the fact that our minds too were evolved for a certain way of living involving exposure to greenery, deep attachment to specific places,  and a close-knit community lifestyle.

Ecotherapy is applied ecopsychology. Ecotherapy does not just see nature as a tool for human healing, but attempts to address and restore relationships between humans and the non-human world, bringing healing to both simultaneously. Whereas mainstream therapy treats the patient as if in a vacuum, or at most explores family dynamics, ecotherapy takes into account the state of the entire world.

This is becoming increasingly pertinent as more and more people wake up to the environmental devastation that is being wrought and are subsequently overcome by overwhelming anxiety, grief, anger, or depression. One basic tenent of ecotherapy is that in the absence of an animistic or ensouled view of the world, we experience a loneliness that leads to consumerism, addiction, and a wide range of psychological disorders

The book Ecotherapy: Healing With Nature in Mind is an anthology that brings together diverse aspects of ecotherapy, many more than can be covered here. A few examples:

  • Craig Chalquist reviews ecotherapy research which indicates, for example, that walking in nature has proven as effective as taken antidepressants and describes his pioneering work in terrapsychology, that suggests, “living in accord with the movements, features, and “style” of a place replaces alienation with a mode of relating in which we learn what a place needs from us–as when a nightmare of mood shift suggests a source of toxicity in the local environment.”
  • Lauren Z. Schneider, Meredith Sabini and Stephen Aizenstat all explore dream imagery in the context of societal rather than personal messages and warnings.
  • G.A. Bradshaw  recounts startlingly human-like responses to trauma by animals in his essay on trans-species psychology and suggests that human healing takes place as a side-effect when people engage in service at sanctuaries for abused animals. Neda Demayo describes the healing effects of encounters with (re)wild(ed) horses at her California ranch.
  • Landscape architect Elizabeth R. Messer Diehl and Vietman vetran Shepard Bliss expound on the profound healing effects of gardens and gardening.

While this book will be of most interest to those in healing professions, it is an easy read and very relevant to rewilding in general, especially in terms of introducing the necessity of rewilding to the mainstream public. In fact, as an outgrowth of Richard Louv’s work, Last Child in the Woods, the word “rewild” is even being used in psychology circles, albeit in a more simplistic, less radical way,  to describe the push towards increasing the frequency of childhood experiences in nature.

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Burn the Libraries

I generally don’t care much for poetry, but I do have a favorite, The Tables Turned, by the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Andy, my boyfriend at the time, sent it to me on a series of postcards when I was first getting into rewilding. The first poem below provides the background for the second. According to Wordsworth, they both “arose out of conversation with a friend who was somewhat unreasonably attached to modern books of moral philosophy.” (more…)

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