About

Hello there.

This blog has been gestating in my mind for about six months now, ever since the last one started grating on me, and I feel like it’s about time it came (or, more actively: I brought it) to term. The idea was to create a wild foods & herbs blog which charted my movement away from all things indoors and, more loftily, to ‘chronicle attempts to extend my social circle beyond the habitual human spheres‘, using it to develop (or return) to animistic ways-of-relating with ‘our plant brothers and sisters‘. How does that sound? Strange? Stick around, I’ll try to explain (something I was never good at with the last blog).

Question: ‘What do you find growing “on disturbed ground”?’
Answer #1: ‘Weeds’.
Answer #2: ‘Crops’.

Really, I don’t think there’s ever been such a thing as undisturbed ground. There’s always a volcano or an earthquake or an avalanche or a flood to shake things up and reshuffle the ecological deck. Nonetheless, life forms, until recently, have always tended to move, communally, away from disturbance & toward a balance of negative feedback loops which the ecologists term the ‘climax ecosystem’. In this movement, the plants we know either as ‘weeds’ or ‘crops’ have an important role to play. Richard Manning compared them (in Against The Grain) to an emergency first aid crew for when disaster sets the ecological clock back to zero. Elsewhere he describes how the seeds of hardy pioneer species lie dormant in the soil for long periods just waiting for a disturbance which gives them the opportunity to do their work and start the process of succession running again. ‘Natural Farmer’ Masanobu Fukuoka put it this way: :

[W]hen you cultivate, seeds lying deep in the soil, which would never have germinated otherwise, are stirred up and given a chance to sprout. Furthermore, the quick sprouting, fast-glowing varieties are given the advantage under these conditions. So you might say that the farmer who tries to control weeds by cultivating the soil is, quite literally, sowing the seeds of his own misfortune. (One-Straw Revolution, p.38 – pdf)

Here’s the story as I currently understand it: around 10-12,000 years ago, people living in the Near-Middle East and in other parts of the globe, perhaps as a response to a traumatic period of post ice-age climatic disasters, took this movement toward diversity, stability and resilience (everything embodied in the ‘climax ecosystem’) and turned it in completely the opposite direction. From now on they would actively create the disturbance and work tirelessly to reset the ecological clock. In Manning’s unforgettable words they would get their food by creating the ‘annual artificial catastrophe’ we call agriculture, ‘ripping [the catastrophic] niche open again and again’. This pitted our cultural ancestors in a war against the tendency of all living things; a war we’re still fighting today.

Ran Prieur, still a big influence, likes to link to this article, ‘Planet of Weeds‘, which describes the impoverishment of the global biodiversity as a result of civilised humanity’s disturbing activities. The key point: farming doesn’t drastically lower the amount of life in any given area (until it completely kills the soil, that is), it just kills back the diversity and channels all the life into a few ‘weedy’ species.

So yes, apart from the quibble that we already do, I agree with the various people exhorting us to ‘eat the weeds’. The important thing as I see it is that we show a willingness to travel with them as they lay the foundations for the journey of succession; that we relinquish our desire to control and learn to accept the gifts the land provides in return for our help in getting it where it wants to go.

Another aspect of this comes with the recognition of ourselves as weeds (you are what you eat, right?). Hence this blog will also deal with the kind of growth that occurs on our own disturbed ground (disturbed by those trying to ‘cultivate’ us for their own purposes) – celebrating the hardy, fierce eruptions of life that somehow manage to germinate and thrive in soils where all of our variously hybridised, inbred, manipulated, adulterated, monocultured forms succeeded only through a massive importation of artificial stimulants, leaving the soil all-but dead…

What does it mean to grow on disturbed ground? Having observed and eaten the plants who do, and noticed some of their qualities in – or, through the act of relating to them, taken those qualities into – myself, it feels like a protection and preservation of life at its most basic, indomitable level. Moreso: it feels like a promise and an all-or-nothing dedication to spend that life selflessly and tirelessly working to undisturb the ground on which we grow; to prepare it as best we can for those-who-come-after.

Derrick Jensen wrote this in Culture of Make Believe:

If your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and that your water comes from a tap, you will defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If your experience is that your water comes from a stream and that your food comes from a landbase, you will defend to the death that stream and that landbase because your life depends on it. (source)

I’m trying to change my experience.

Do not fuck with the weeds!

- Ian M, SE England, April 22/3, 2010

3 Responses to “About”

  1. old blog / new blog « Rugged Indoorsman Says:

    [...] and my concurrently declining interest in all things Indoors. As I try to explain on the ‘About‘ page, ‘Disturbed Ground’ refers to the kind of soil where you’re most [...]

  2. Ian M Says:

    Oops, I think the ‘emergency first aid’ comparison came from William Kötke’s Final Empire. The surrounding passage contains lots of relevant material (NPP stands for Net Photosynthetic Production):

    A climax ecosystem is the Equilibrium State of the “flesh” of the earth. After a severe forest fire, or to recover from the injury of clearcut logging, the forest organism slowly heals the wound by inhabiting the area with a succession of plant communities. Each succeeding community prepares the area for the next community. In general terms, an evergreen forest wound will be covered by tough small plants, popularly called “weeds” and the grasses which hold down the topsoil and prepare the way for other grasses and woody shrubs to grow up on the wound. (“Weeds” are the “first aid crew” on open ground.) As a general rule, the “first aid crew” – the first community of plants to get in and cover the bare soil and hold it down – is the more simple plant community with the smallest number of species of plants, animals, insects, micro-organisms and so forth. As the succession proceeds, the diversity, the number of species, increases as does the NPP, until the climax system is reached again, and equilibrium is established. The system drives toward complexity of form, maximum ability to translate incoming energy (NPP) and diversity of energy pathways (food chains and other services that plants and animals perform for one another). The plants will hold the soil so that it may be built back up. They will shade the soil to prevent its oxidation (the heating and drying of soil promotes chemical changes that cause sterility) and conserve moisture. Each plant takes up different combinations of nutrients from the soil so that specific succession communities prepare specific soil nutrients for specific plant communities that will succeed them. Following the preparation of the site by these plants, larger plants, alders and other broadleaf trees will come in and their lives and deaths will further prepare the micro-climate and soil for the evergreens. These trees function as “nurse” trees for the final climax community, which will be conifers [in his region, I'm guessing]. Seedling Douglas Fir for example, cannot grow in sunlight and must have shade provided by these forerunner communities.

    The ecosystems of this earth receive injury from tornado, fire, or other events and then cycle back to the balanced state, the climax system. This is similar to the wound on a human arm that first bleeds, scabs over and then begins to build new replacement skin to reach its equilibrium state. The climax system then is a basic standard of health of the living earth, its dynamic equilibrium state. The climax system is the system that produces the greatest photosynthetic production. Anything that detracts from this detracts from the health of the ecosystem. (source)

    Thanks to Dan for keeping that remnant on his site. That’ll teach me to try and attribute half-remembered quotes! I think the proper ass-covering formulation should go something like: “I once heard a wise elder say…” before going ahead and saying whatever was on your mind in your own words regardless :)

  3. Ian M Says:

    BTW I forgot to mention that you can write to me by sending email to:

    frequently_growing at yahoo dot com

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