In the beginning
People often say things like 'We've lost our connection with nature' but the conversation doesn't go much deeper. It's the kind of thing we can just say to each other without really thinking about what it means.
In the past I've tended to nod politely and think to myself 'well, I have a connection with nature, though I might not put it like that, in fact even talking about it seems a bit, well, unnatural...' Until I got involved in Transition it was an intense but rather private affair, a practice of keeping in touch with the plants, trees, seasons and territories wherever I lived or visited, getting to know them on their own terms, keeping connected.
It had little to do with other people.
Then in April 2009 I took a group of people from Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich on a 'Spring Tonic Walk', introducing everyone to the plants and trees growing in the local area, starting right outside the front door.
The idea came out of our involvement in the Heart and Soul, Arts, Culture and Well-Being group in Transition Norwich, and conversations we were having about our relationships with the natural world.
It being a Spring Tonic walk, that day we focussed on three plants in particular: Nettle, Dandelion and Cleavers and made a feisty, energising Nettle Soup along with various wild salads as part of the shared lunch.
What surprised and delighted me was that so many people actually did make a connection they had not felt or been aware of before. The discovery of Cleavers (a relative of coffee) so energised one fellow transitioner that she hardly slept that weekend and saw the plant everywhere she went. She made potfuls of cleavers tea, foraged dandelion salads and began organising the distribution of some of her allotment nettles to friends so they could get connected too!
Suddenly my personal relationship with the natural world was looking rather limited. Transition was obviously not going to be a private affair.
In the meantime
Nature is big and encompasses so many things. Forest, ocean, whale, field, meadow, sky, bird, flower, cow, river, mountain, sun, tree. Human too, though we often don't think of ourselves as part of the natural world. That's a big part of the problem. It means we don't truly see that the havoc we wreak on the living systems of the planet, on all our fellow creatures and plants, we wreak on ourselves, connected as we are in the web of life.
Today there is much talk of our deracination from nature, compounded by ongoing planetary degradation: tar sands removal, gas fracking and rainforest destruction, all carried out to keep the global industrial economy and way of life going at all costs. This way of being some label 'just human nature', greedy and rapacious by design and natural selection, munching our way through the planet's 'resources'.
Transition is as a chance to respond in the face of these threats wherever we find ourselves, whoever we find ourselves with, by making life and planet-affirming moves together, from the creation of community food growing projects to Reconomy to communications networks. To open up the possibility of something else to happen other than business-as-usual.
Last year, as part of the team on the Norwich transitioners' blog, This Low Carbon Life, I led a week on Deep Nature. I recommend all the pieces on that week for their diversity and quality and as an expression of how each of us, when we give ourselves the time and space, is a hair's breadth away from making that connection.
If I look at Sustainable Bungay, where I'm most focussed, I see that the Connection with Living Systems is intrinsic and implicit to everything we're about, from the permaculture inspired Library Community garden, to the Give and Grow plant swap days, to Sewing Sundays and Happy Mondays and the emergence of Bungay Community Bees' in response to the global pollinator crisis. Even behind the Give and Take days with their ethos of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refashion, Re-just-about-everything, there is the sense that the planet needs a major break from all the stuff the industrial system keeps pumping out.
And what would we do without plants? We couldn't even breathe. There would be no air, no food to eat, no paper to write on, no beauty, no medicines, no bees, no moisture. Plants synthesise so much of life as we know it. No plants, no life.
It's three years since that Spring Tonic walk. In the meantime I've been on hand to assist with many of those Sustainable Bungay events in true Transition get-together-and-just-do-it style.
Last year I took an active part in Bungay Community Bees, helping to raise awareness of the value of wildflowers for bees and other insect pollinators. In the community garden at the library we planted the central bed with bee-friendly flowers and enjoyed the summer buzz. This year, at Nick Watts' suggestion, I decided to lead a project myself.
What should we call it? Medicinal plants at the library? No, I prefer Medicine Plant bed, it's more focussed. Or better still Plant Medicine Bed. Yes, we'll be very permaculture about it and 'see what's there' (great for me, 'weeding' is one of my least favourite activities!). And in fact there are a lot of plant medicines there already (January 2012): Vervain, Plantain, Feverfew, Burdock, Herb Robert, Foxglove, Greater Celandine, Nettle... We can put in some Echinacea, St. John's Wort, Valerian and Richard, who tends the garden, says Opium Poppies will have reseeded themselves from last year.
The Plants for Life events have really taken off. We began by Connecting with Our Roots in January and learned about Growing Organic and Biodynamic Herbs in February. And yesterday, local medical herbalist and transitioner Dan Wheals, showed us how to Adopt a Herb.
We each chose one particular plant to pay attention to, the one we were most drawn to, then everyone made a drawing of the plant and then took it in turns to speak our impressions of it out loud. It was magic. And totally absorbing.
Dan guided the whole process so gently I only realised when I'd got home just how much went on in those few hours. I had no idea Lesley or Richard could draw like that, or that Charlotte, who I've been living (and working with plants) with for years, knew that about parsley! Jeannie's enthusiasm on discovering herb Robert was completely infectious and reminded me of finding it for the first time myself all those years ago...
So what about me and my personal relationship with plants? Well, it's there, but I'm much more happy to bring, share and swap and join in with other people these transition days.
Every day this week Transition social reporters and guests will take their own look at Connecting with the Living Systems and its relationship to Transition. Stay tuned! Stay connected!
Plants for Life poster Feb 2012 (MW); Spring Tonic Walk nettles April '09 (Helen Simpson); Spring Tonic Walk encounter with Knee Holm (Butchers Broom) 2009 (Helen Simpson); Sandwiches Against Migraines - Feverfew in the Plant Medicine Bed March 2012 (MW); Dan Wheals shows us how to connect with the plants, March 2012 (CDC); Richard's rosemary flower drawing March 2012 (MW)
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