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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

A study by the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that for kids with ADHD a 20 minute walk in the park improved concentration with effect sizes (the relationship between two variables) comparable to Ritalin. The walk in the park beat out a downtown walk, and a neighborhood walk.  Children also rated the park walk as significantly more fun than the other walks. Here is the abstract http://jad.sagepub.com/content/early/2008/08/25/1087054708323000.abstract. 

One basis for this study is Attention Restoration Theory which was developed in environmental psychology to explain why people report feeling restored after spending time in wilderness. The theory maintains that natural environments are restorative in part because they are “gently absorbing” or hold effortless “soft-fascination”.

The researchers in the walk in the park study explain that:

…ART, which is based on work by William James, posits that attention draws on two different mechanisms: one for deliberately directed, effortful forms of attention, and another for involuntary, effortless forms of attention. The notion of two mechanisms underlying attention may partially explain why individuals with ADHD can routinely sustain focus on tasks they find interesting (i.e., tasks drawing primarily on involuntary attention) but are unable to do so for tasks they find uninteresting (i.e., tasks drawing primarily on effortful, directed attention).

In other words, ADHD is probably a result of the things you are required to do being freaking BORING… like HOMEWORK! Duh. Unfortunately rather than the blatantly obvious critique of compulsory education that I read between the lines, the authors of this study conclude that hopefully in the future nature may be used in “doses” to help us do better on homework.

In earlier work on the subject of directed attention, researcher Steven Kaplan implies there may have been historical benefit to the less directed style of attention:

It might seem peculiar that a mechanism so intimately involved with human effectiveness would be so susceptible to fatigue. Yet, in evolutionary perspective, this apparent limitation might have been quite reasonable. To be able to pay attention by choice to one particular thing for a long period of time would make one vulnerable to surprises. Being vigilant, being alert, in one’s surroundings may have been far more important than the capacity for long and intense concentration. Further, much of what was important to evolving human-wild animals, danger, caves, blood, to name a few examples-was (and still is) innately fascinating and thus does not require directed attention. It is only in the modern world that the split between the important and the interesting has become extreme. All too often the modern human must exert effort to do the important while resisting distraction from the interesting (emphasis mine). Thus the problem of fatigue of directed attention may well be of comparatively recent vintage.

If I may paraphrase, I agree with Kaplan that modern life is rather sucky. Yet, if anything many tasks of paleolithic living such as hide tanning, acorn grinding, and basketry, are incredibly slow and tedious, and would seem to require directed attention. Are they the equivalent of primitive homework? And if so, is that ability to concentrate restored by practicing more scout-like skills which require a more the ADHD style of attention!? And doesn’t “gentle absorption” or “soft-facsination” sounds a lot like being in wide-angle vision!?

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Steampunk iphone charger

Steampunk is a science fiction genre and an aesthetic subculture typified by neo-Victorian design elements including brass, leather, polished wood, clockwork gears and goggles. Popular movies depicting steampunk style include 1999’s Wild Wild West, and Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.

Does steampunk technology have a place in the rewilder’s vision of the future? Well, sure, some elements might, but I don’t see the return of the sternwheeler or steam locomotive as a step in the right direction. While that melancholy train whistle may sound romantic, these modes of conveyance used shitloads of wood (presumably the most readily available post-apocalyptic source of fuel, although coal and fuel oil were also used) causing massive river bank deforestation and erosion. For example, Flyer, a steamboat built in Portland, Oregon burned 24 cords of wood a day. Most steamboats on the Columbia burned an average or 4 cords of wood an hour, traveling at perhaps 4 miles per hour. For reference a cord of wood is 4 x 4 x 8 feet and the typical amount of wood used to heat a family home is about  3-5 cords per year. The fact is that while they were used for pleasure and travel, as well as commerce, steamboats, and other steam-powered engines would be largely unnecessary in a non-industrialized society.

I did find a fine description of a turkey trap while reading Cutting Wood for the Mississippi Steamboats:

They found a supply of ear corn and they would shell off a few handsful of corn.  They would dig a trench that got a little bit deeper and deeper along.  And then over the end of that trench they would build a house of saplings, just little sticks cut and laid across each other to make a house big enough to hold a turkey or two at the end of this trench that they’d dug.  And as the trench deepened, the turkeys — they would string the corn, one kernel at a time following the other and the turkey would begin eating and would eat his way down to the end.  And when he reached the end where there was no more corn, he’d raise his head up in the air and try to get out.  He didn’t know enough to duck his head down and go out the same way he came in.  And he was trapped inside of the little homemade trap that had been made which was nothing more or less than saplings criss-crossed and made into a little house.

I’m not the first to question the eco-viability of the steampunk movement. Jacob Corvidae waxes philisophical on the romanticization of the steam era while pointing out that perhaps,  “it’s an attempt to reunite our modern technological lives with a crafts-based, hands-on engagement with the materials of our lives”.  Perhaps so, and I have no problem with designs based on the recycling of steel and other non-stone age remnants of civilization, such as the steampunk treehouse below, but have yet to see many practical steam punk inspired items that could be manufactured and used if the entire gas-electric grid were to collapse tomorrow…as it should 🙂

Designed by Sean Orlando and company, photo by Zachary Wasserman

haha, "donkey puncher"

Traditional NW native canoe building: How's this for steampunk?

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Daucus Carota

The other day Rebecca Lerner and I were prepping for one of our Urban Foraging 101  walks when I spied a regular carrot in somebody’s sidewalk garden.  Domestic carrots will rapidly interbreed with wild carrots. Saving carrot seed involves vigilantly eliminating nearby wild carrots (aka queen anne’s lace).  I said, “Maybe we can point this out for comparison to wild carrot.  You know, if you leave the domestic carrots alone they just revert to their wild state, like, really quickly…hey maybe that is a metaphor! Becky helped me figure out exactly what the metaphor might be which is this: The instinct for rewilding is within each and every one of us. Think about it: Why do we like grilled meats so much? Why do children build forts of sticks and dirt? Why do millions of Americans go camping on vacations? Why do most of our hobbies involve pursuits like hunting, fishing, gardening, and making crafts? If left alone, unconstrained by laws that prohibit wild living, schools that break our spirits, and brainwashing by the media that tells us we need to purchase more consumer products, how quickly might we too begin to revert to a more wild state?! If you have any more ideas about the “rewilding instinct” please share them here.

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It seems necessary as of late to define some of the terms I use often on my blog. Although the definitions below may sound judgemental, I have been a member of all of these communities at one time or another. As I teenager, I was drawn to survival skills because I loved the outdoors. At the same time I was into gear intensive sports such as backpacking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting.

As a college student at The University of Vermont I studied with world-renown ecological design pioneer John Todd, sold desktop “living machines”, and designed fancy strawbale houses at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. I also took a course in permaculture, and helped plant a fruit trees as part of a permaculture system at a local community garden.

After leaving UVM I attended green anarchy gatherings, read Species Traitor magazine, and  wore a black T-shirt with the words “Against Civilization” on it. Later I read all of Tom Brown Jr.’s books and attended the Tracker School. And just before joining the rewild forum, and moving to Portland, one of the  few cities in the US to have what might be called a “rewilding community”, I dated a How to Build Your Own Bazooka reading gun nut!

Although it may be considered the father of rewildingGreen anarchy/ anarcho-primitivism seems to be a more politically loaded term. While I do not mind being called a green anarchist as I essentially agree with the philosophy, the word calls to mind a certain type of militancy and idealism. Green anarchists are mostly likely to openly advocate fucking shit up, burning shit down, and unfortunately practice what I call “reverse snobbery” for example attacking someone for watching television, dressing fashionably or writing a blog. To be blatantly stereotypical, they may also practice security culture, quote Derrick Jensen and John Zerzan, wear a lot of black and appear to be what is known as a “crust punk”.

Green Anarchy Magazine

The terms Primitive skills, primitive technology, and wilderness skills on the other hand carry few political connotations. Some people practice these skills as a form of experiential archaeology (see Society for Primitive Technology). Others simply do it for fun, for example as an adjunct to general outdoor recreation such as hiking and camping. Gatherings such as Rabbit Stick and wilderness schools generally fall under this category. However, graduates of Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School (Brownies) do tend to carry some underlying moralistic-survivalist philosophy. Brown writes that if we do not change our destructive ways, “…only the children of the Earth will survive”.

Permaculture, as I hinted in my last post, is limited by its agricultural origins. Although the world permaculture can be and sometimes is used on a broader scope,  to describe a “permanent culture”, the fact remains that at this point in time it most commonly refers to a system of gardening. If you were to sign up for a permaculture course at your local college you would expect to learn first and foremost about bioswales and rain catchement systems, not about the practice of animism, indigenous language, or other contributors to cultural sustainability. “Permies” also tend to be into natural building, such as cob, and ecovillages or intentional communities. Many peak oil proponents see permaculture as possible solution.

Permies love rocket stoves!

Sustainability, associated with the environmental or “green” movement, is a fine word. Sustainability is really what we are all looking for.  Unfortunately sustainability is used by corporations to describe many practices which are most likely not sustainable, such as the importation of bottled water. Most Green technologies still require a global industrial economy to operate. For example the manufacture of photovoltaic panels and the batteries used to store the energy they produce is hardly a DIY project. Also regardless of source, electricity brings its own problems such as light pollution and electro-magnetic field disturbance which can have severe effects on human and animal health.

Survivalists. Then you have your classic libertarian, gun-nut, cache-hiding, government-distrusting, paramilitary survivalist types. These types are somewhat concerned with wilderness skills but mainly in the context of preparing to defend their home territory and/or run and hide in a hostile situation (See Paladin Press). There are also survivalists such as Survivor Man who are concerned with skills and equipment that allow an individual to live long enough in an emergency to get rescued or make their way back to civilization, but do not particularly advocate living off the land long-term.

Ted Nugent–  Straight-edge, Detroit rock star known for conservative political views and feverish promotion of conservation and hunting, esp. bowhunting. Defies categorization.

Ted Nugent

All of this brings me to my favorite word: rewilding. There will be those that disagree, but to me rewilding encompasses all of the above viewpoints and more. While the ultimate goal of rewilding can be described as the return to a hunter-gatherer way of life, or going beyond domestication, as some might say, since we can never truly go back, and the term is somewhat political in that it is implied that this way of life is better for humans and non-humans alike than what we have now, rewilding embraces movement toward a “more wild” way of living.

For some people this might include purchasing solar equipment and getting off the grid (green technology).  They may not envision a glorious solar powered future, but are simply making a compromise between living a life closer to nature and temporarily leveraging the power of electricity to say, stay connected to other rewilders on the internet.  For other’s rewilding might include preventing the construction of condos in a natural area (green anarchy), learning how to weave a willow basket (primitive skills), planting an herb spiral (permaculture), or purchasing a gun (survivalism). No one person is capable of doing everything at once.

While pure wilderness survival may come in handy, rewilding recognizes that even after a monumental disaster, artifacts of civilization such as knives, clothing, cooking vessels, and shelter would be around for a long time and might as well be made useful (see Afterculture). In addition to classic “hard” primitive skills such as flintknapping, braintanning,  and bowmaking, rewilding takes into account the “soft skills” of our ancestors, skills such as story-telling, community ritual,  and child rearing. It is my belief that almost any aspect of civilized life from food to music to fashion to medicine can be rewilded. Where is your passion?

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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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Chicago

It would be inaccurate to say the heartbreaker has never had her heart broken before now. A time or two in previous blogs I might have intimated my dislike of Buddhists. Yeah, I have a few qualms with the religion. It is a religion after all. But why pick on Buddhism? I could give you a long list of philosophical reasons and some stats to back them up, but to be fair most of my hatred stems from a personal experience I had back when I was young and wrote lengthy soul baring love letters and did crazy things like drive across the country on a whim to visit boys…oh wait. It makes me cringe to look back on this and see how blind I was, how even after all of it I still wanted things to work out. I have letters from afterwards where he explains how he would do anything for the Sakyong. He never even apologized.

Love is fucked up. Okay, I don’t want to be one of those people, the cynical wounded, but I do believe that the deep spiritual disconnection in our culture causes people to look for fulfillment in all the wrong places, whether it be romantic love with a single individual, or the adoration of a so-called guru.

This is an email I wrote to a friend after the event took place. Names have been changed to protect the guilty:

(Soundtrack Suggestion: Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise Album.)

So yeah, I drove home from Chicago yesterday. Boy, was I a wreck, not enough food or sleep and emotionally sapped. I left the northern suburb where we were staying at seven a.m. eastern time (six there) and drove straight to school. It was a long-ass haul and I was tired to the point of nausea. There is only so much caffeine can do for a person. Walked into my class disheveled, shaky and late at 4:45 p.m. “Sorry Professor…I had a long commute.”

This is going to take some explaining. It’s not our world. Even I don’t understand it completely. Ok. So Matt is affiliated with Shambhala Buddhism. In fact five years ago when we were suitemates our college dormitory, we discovered we both attended meditation at the same Shambhala center in downtown Burlington, VT. Then we started going there together. He was into even before that though, in his hometown, Baltimore, MD. (more…)

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“It is by breaking our hearts that we can give respect to the victims of our culture.” -Laurel Luddite, Fire and Ice

It was a name that came to me in an instant. It had a nice ring to it. Originally it had to do with the ones I’d left behind. Some applied it to my looks, the ones who never even got a chance. Of course, in a new relationship “breaker of hearts” is not necessarily something one wants to be, so the title was somewhat discomfiting and came with the * except Urban Scout’s.

As an herbalist, I thought, perhaps I should change my name to “Healer of Hearts”, but it just didn’t have the same oomph. Then my heart was broken and it seemed even less fitting. However, last night in bed while reading an obscure anti-civilization book lent to me by some friends called Fire and Ice: Disturbing the Comfortable and Comforting the Disturbed While Tracking our Wildest Dreams by Laurel Luddite and Skunkly Monkly, the name Breaker of Hearts took on new meaning,

Epidemic levels of rape and assault. The greatest mass extinction in the planet’s history. Global warming. Nuclear proliferation. Loss of top soil. The libraries are overflowing and the internet is flooded. This information is not new and you do not need new information to add to the list, to measure exactly the height of the walls around us. The weight of what we already rationally know is causing us to sink deeper in our cynicism and denial…

…Start with a clear-cut, a conquest, a whale carcass, a dead child. Start with whatever tragedy is nearest your heart, trying to get in, rubbing the muscle raw. Stop resisting. Feel it. To escape this prison, your heart must break.

Now I see why I don’t have to change my name. To allow one’s heart to break and break fully, is the first step to healing. Most of us go around with it broken anyway, but we refuse to acknowledge it, and are unable to let go. I had a vision once in regards to pain. They wanted their story to be known. In it pain and fear were tiny, sad little creatures, a lima bean and a chihuahua, that lived in a dark cave underground. At first they pretended not to be, but it became clear that they were very lonely. The only way they knew to get attention was to amplify themselves up into the world through a giant organ.

To many people grief, their own and especially other people’s grief, is an inconvenience. If we were to truly feel it, we would be unable to get anything done, to sleep at night, to go to work.

Exactly.

Perhaps the work we do is not the work we need to get done. But there is more to it than this. There are times when awareness is not enough, for self-preservation is our instinct. There are good reasons many of us do not allow ourselves to fall apart. The threat of death is real. If we lose our jobs, we lose our ability to feed ourselves, or our children. If we display our full range of emotion we may lose relationships when those who see a part of themselves in us but are not willing to go there, feel threatened and run. Did anyone ever tell you things have to get worse before they get better? This is one of those times. Be brave.

I believe that what I call breaking the heart, is the same as what indigenous African teacher, Sobonfu Somé calls “falling out of grace”.

As we fall from grace it looks and feels to us as if we are failing. Indeed we call it “failure”; a part of us dies. But this is the process by which we make space for the birth of something new, something true to ourselves.

It seems that within civilization most of us begin the fall from grace the moment we are born. This has nothing to do with a biblical original sin, but rather the fact that the world is currently a traumatic place where unhealed hurt is passed down from generation to generation and it is very difficult to feel safe.

In Sobonfu’s world there are two keys to regaining a state of grace: community and ritual. Community in this context refers to human community. The most important members of your community are the people you regularly interact with; friends, family, and coworkers. However, it could be said that the community includes not only the whole world of people but also all of nature and all of the invisible spirits who dwell there. If any one of these is suffering, we are all suffering a little bit. We cannot export our pain to Third World countries, nor can we keep it all to ourselves.

In the African Dagara tradition, in order to fully grieve it is necessary to have the support of a witness, ideally, an entire community. In this way even if everybody has some grief, it is unlikely that they are all in the throes of it at exactly the same time. Having a non-judgemental community creates a safe space for letting go. You know that while you are grieving someone will be there to take care of you.

In the indigenous Mayan village of Santiago Atitlan as described by author Martin Prechtel, as well as the Dagara tradition, grief is viewed as poison to us, but food for the ancestors. This is where ritual comes in. Ritual is a creative event that takes place in a sacred time and space, dedicated to a specific intent such as releasing grief. Allowing the spirits to take our grief prevents it from bouncing back and forth amongst one another. Thus ‘talking things out”, can only be so effective and perhaps sometimes completely unnecessary. During her trainings, Sobonfu is very fond of tits! That is, when shit talking and petty squabbles begin to get a group down she yells out TITS! which stands for: Take It to the Shrine.

In summary, there is much work for us to do to allow our hearts to fully break, let alone fully heal. The good news is, we are so hungry for healing it is difficult to go wrong. If you want somewhere to start. I’ll tell you just one thing. Next time someone asks you how you are doing, tell them the truth.

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