Where I’ve been


Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. I’d like to reassure any patient readers still out there that I’m continuing in my growth (is that benign or malignant?) and exploring some pretty disturbed places in both the physical and psycho-socio-spiritual geographies… The trouble is I keep letting the cat out of the bag in comment sections on other blogs instead of actually sitting down, sorting through everything properly and putting the results up here. Then when it comes to it I don’t have the heart to repeat what I feel has already been said. Case in point: I had a huge post about parasites all lined up and waiting for completion, but then I had to put that line about wealth redistribution into the badger thing which completely took the wind out of its sails. I wish I could just run with these things and splurge the ideas out as they came with minimal editing, as many talented bloggers seem to be able to do, but it seems perfectionism has me held too tightly in its grip.

So yes, unfortunately I don’t have the energy or inclination right now to tell you where I’ve been or where I might be going, but if you really want to know I can point you to a couple of other forums where that stuff has managed to leak out:

  1. (Oh boy, this was ages ago) – My old ‘Lessons From Burdock‘ post was published on the Dark Mountain website and subsequently on Energy Bulletin with a few minor edits, a rather waffly introduction and a new fourth lesson comparing starchy foods to fossil fuels and asking why they cultivate and eat Burdock root in Japan but not here. The DM discussion went in some interesting directions including the legality of digging up wild plants (and whether we should care) and some fascinating stories chipped in from a Japanese forager. The EB discussion got into the question of whether lots of people died while getting to know which plants were safe to use for food or medicine, and for some reason it continued in this Leaving Babylon comment section (from #94).
  2. Someone tipped me off about a BBC4 program dealing with traditional woodland management in the UK back in the Autumn – ‘Tales From The Wild Wood’ (unfortunately no longer available on iplayer, but I’ll let you know if I find it elsewhere on t’internet) in which Rob Penn, a writer/woodsman, attempts to restore some neglected coppice woodland in Wales and make some money out of it in the process. I enjoyed it over all but it had me shouting at the screen a lot of the time for reasons I elucidate in several lengthy comments under this article on the Save Our Woods site. Basically, that Hambler & Speight article I linked to under the ‘recent’ post about soil fertility had me questioning and ultimately rejecting a lot of the standard lines you hear about the supposed conservation value and ‘sustainability’ of traditional land management.
  3. I took my humans-stealing-biomass-from-the-rest-of-the-living-community spiel to Charles Eisenstein’s site after he came out with the doozy that ‘permaculture methods can easily feed the peak world population of perhaps 10 or 11 billion we’ll see by mid-century’, roping in all the usual Quinnian arguments about excess food production driving population growth (‘usual’ meaning I’ve never discussed them properly on this site before but you should know I once talked about it in this forum). People seemed receptive, but unfortunately CE didn’t join in. I was polite enough not to bring it up in person when I went to one of his workshops in November.
  4. I led a wild food walk at Sarah’s herb festival in the Cotswolds back in September, and I started out by getting people to notice that the most abundant foodplant around them was actually grass, fed indirectly to humans through sheep and other livestock, and that people had shaped the British countryside for millennia to mainly suit the needs of this species and its close relatives – the seed-bearing annual grains. I mischievously called grass an invasive species and said that there were other ways for humans to subsist in this land, but they had literally been pushed to the margins in hedgerows, woodland edges and ‘waste ground’. Our job as herbalists and wild foodies was to start pushing that frontier back by moving our dependencies away from the big, open monocrop fields and pasture meadows and expanding a co-reliance on the other marginalised plant & animal species. Unfortunately it turned out that my theory was half-baked – Fred the Forager came up to me afterwards and gently let me know that I was technically wrong about grass being invasive in the UK, and that several species (or was it just one? – I forget) made their home in the preconquest woodland ecology.* I was pretty stumped at the time, but came up with a considered response™ which I duly sent to Fred a few weeks later via email. I’ll put it in the comments in case anybody’s remotely interested.
  5. Eatweeds Robin put up a nice video about Sea Kale, noting that it had previously been overharvested in this country for its root and asking people what they thought about this kind of involvement of wild foods in the money economy. Naturally I couldn’t refuse such a generous invitation, so I typed out another lengthy book quote and laid out my case for a militant insurgency defending the integrity of local plant communities from the depredations of foreign imperialistic powers. You think I’m joking??
  6. I used Shaun Chamberlin’s recent, excellent post, ‘Land, and the army marching to claim it, in the UK and around the world‘ to vent a little about the absurd concentration of land ownership in this country (second only to Brazil in its inequality, where ‘70% of land is still owned by less than 1% of the population’, and ‘nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population’) and explore how hunting and gathering and other low-key subsistence cultivation could combine with civil disobedience by simply ignoring the exclusive right to land that the wealthy have claimed for themselves over here. Land ownership? What land ownership?

Otherwise, I met a few new people at the last Uncivilisation festival who, like me, were interested in the various aspects of ‘rewilding‘ that many have picked up on in the States, and in seeing where those ideas might lead over here. A few of them have websites which I’m sure you’ll enjoy. I’ll be adding them to the links column soon, but for now check out:

Tom’s site, ‘Coyopa: Lightning in the Blood‘,
Nick’s brilliant efforts at formulating a ‘Culture 3.0‘, and
Steve’s impressive attempt of ‘Mapping the Omnidirectional Halo‘ (no, I haven’t got a clue either).

Don’t worry, I have been keeping up with the wild foods & herbs, despite the crappy growing season – it’s just that I didn’t want to repeat stuff I’d already talked about before, and didn’t (yet) find the energy to talk about the few new things I did dabble with. I’ll have some stuff to say about working garden maintenance too at some stage, as I have been doing since last April. I’ll probably feel a desperate urge to talk about school shootings or Palestine or border control or workfare or the olympic legacy or public sector cuts or some other irrelevant bollocks before I get around to that though… Bear with me 😉

Oh, and happy new year!


* – More recently I had a ‘duh’ moment when reading about the megafauna that populated Northern Europe during the Pleistocene ice ages. They weren’t eating trees, that’s for sure – practically the whole bloody continent was grassland!

6 Responses to “Where I’ve been”

  1. Ian M Says:

    That grass mail:

    ‘Hi Fred, hope you’re well.

    I’m still thinking about this idea of grass acting as an invasive species (in Britain) which you challenged me on at the Sanctuary festival. I guess it was still a bit half-baked at the time, based mainly on a couple of paragraphs I’d just read in this LRB review of a book by Graham Harvey:

    The grass family, Poaceae, is one of the relatively few genuinely cosmopolitan families of plants. Grasses can be found from Alaska to Antarctica, from coastal salt marshes and desert sand-dunes to tropical forests and the Tibetan mountains. Exceptionally speciose (more than ten thousand species have been formally described), they range from tiny herbaceous plants to the giant, woody, perennial bamboos of China’s western forests. They dominate the natural landscape in the prairies of North America, the steppes of Central Asia, the savannahs of Africa and South America; in total they cover about a quarter of the world’s land surface, and probably account for a disproportionate 10 per cent of the biomass of land-dwelling plants. Wherever people have settled down to manage the land, grasses in the form of crops or animal forage have been key to its transformation. The cultivation of three grass species alone – wheat, rice and maize – has been hugely influential in the development of human society, in many periods accounting for more than half the dietary intake of protein. (In this engaging but lopsided book, Harvey doesn’t bother much with grain crops, their breeding, history or influence.)

    Grassland in Britain and Europe is generally not an aboriginal vegetation: its presence and form is determined – unlike the prairies and steppes and savannahs – by human intervention rather than soil and climate. Its presence is a result of the clearing of forest and woodland to make way for arable land and pasture. The rich mix of plant species – not just grasses, but all manner of herbaceous plants – characteristic of ‘traditional’ pastures and meadows sprang chiefly from the open vegetation of forest glades, riverbanks and heathlands. Grasslands spread with the onset of sheep farming and with the cutting of hay for winter forage. The introduction of the grass ley, in which a mix of grasses and nitrogen-fixing legumes were sown in rotation with arable crops to restore fertility on a roughly triennial cycle, was at the heart of the agricultural revolution of the 16th century, and persisted for three hundred years until the introduction of inorganic chemical fertilisers began to short-circuit the managed fertility cycle.

    …followed by token Wikipedia research which failed to uncover the facts you raised about certain grasses being part of the native woodland matrix in this country, not dependent on management or selection pressure by human farmer/gardeners. I guess ‘grass is an invasive species: it doesn’t belong here’ was a pretty lazy formulation, not least because it sails pretty close to accepting the word ‘invasive’ as a smear in the way it’s commonly used today to demonise and justify the destruction of many vigorous, non-‘native’ plants. (The word could apply to all plants in the UK since the last ice age.) I should have read the above more carefully when it said that grassland wasn’t an ‘aboriginal vegetation’ here.

    I still think there’s a broad truth to what I said, though – even if the grasses favoured in hay meadows, grazing pastures and suburban lawns all grew natively at one time in the spontaneous ecology of this country, you could still call their behaviour (albeit with human sponsorship) invasive, to the extent that it supplants or takes over the plant communities which grew there before. I have some firsthand experience of this when it comes to establishing and maintaining lawns as part of my work with a garden maintenance company: in the ideal scenario the lawn consists of just one species, it gets continually mowed to stimulate vigorous growth and to disallow it from going to seed, and it gets chemically treated towards the end of the growing season to make up for nutrient loss from all the exported grass cuttings and to kill off any ecological attempt at re-diversification through ‘unsightly’ mosses, ‘weeds’ etc. I would guess this just takes the agrarian preference for monoculture to its logical conclusion. Pastoralists may have felt more tolerant to the wildflowers and herbs in their meadows because these provided their animals with an edible hay crop all the same (except for ragwort – nasty stuff, gotta pull it all up!) – perhaps they even recognised that this provided a better diet than grass alone. Nevertheless, grass seems to have been the main component in the mix that their activities ended up providing the strongest selection pressure for, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the trend towards monoculture was evident in recent pastoral practices (although the move to feed livestock solely on grain renders this moot).

    Anyway, thanks again for picking me up on that point and giving me the incentive to tighten up my thinking.

    best wishes,

  2. Sarah Head Says:

    Good to see you posting again, Ian. Hope all is well with you and yours.

  3. Ian M Says:

    Hi Sarah, thanks for dropping by 🙂

  4. wildcraft diva Says:

    Ciao Ian, I’m about to embark on the apprenticeship programme with Sarah. She suggested that I contact you (I suppose because of the Italian connection). I can’t find an email so I’m commenting here. you can find my email on my blog if you have time (senza impegno)

  5. steelweaver Says:

    ‘2.13 What is the “omnidirectional halo?”

    [This relates to Fuller’s epistemography. From Synergetics [501.10-501.12]]

    “Any conceptual thought is a system and is structured tetrahedrally. This is because all conceptuality is polyhedral. The sums of all the angles around all the vertexes – even crocodile, or a 10,000-frequency geodesic (which is what the Earth really is) – will always be 720 degrees less than the number of vertexes time 360 degrees.

    “The difference between nonconceptual, nonsimultaneous Universe and thinkability is always two tetrahedra: one as macro, to complete the convex localness outside the system, and one as micro, to complete the concave localness inside the system, to add up to finite but nonconceptual Universe. Thus the thinkable system takeout from Universe has a ‘left-out’ outside irrelevancy tetrahedron and a ‘left-in’ inside irrelevancy tetrahedron.

    “You have to have the starkly nonvisible to provide the complementary tetrahedron to account for the visibility, since concave and convex are not the same. That stark invisible reality of the nonconceptual macro- and micro-tetrahedra also have to have this 720-degree elegance. But the invisible outside tetrahedron was equally stark. The finite but nonconceptual inness and outness: that is the Omnidirectional Halo.” ‘

    I hope that makes things clear. 😉

  6. Ian M Says:

    Half-lost at ‘system’, fully lost by ‘tetrahedrally’. After that my brain started to melt and drip out my ears, eyes, nose etc.

    Thanks for the new experience!

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