Remember the rocks.

“Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago.  Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks? Rocks contain the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this.  We are the rocks dancing.  Why do we look down on them with such condescending air? It is they that are the immortal part of us.”  John Seed from “We are the rocks dancing in Seed et al: Thinking like a mountain.

rock

Many years ago in Manchester i met a man called Gordon MacLellan, he loved toads. He also wrote several books and was extremely creative.  Here is an extract from what he wrote in 1997.

We tend to live in a world where humans are seen as ‘top’, where an, often unconscious, arrogance claims that humans are the summit of evolution: we are the end point, the ultimate achievement of the life of this planet.  This may award us ownership of the Earth, or maybe ‘stewardship’ in more politically correct circles.  Or we see ourselves as the consciousness of the planet and consequently the only ones with a say in the future. However we phrase it, that arrogance gives us excuses for claiming the right to make the choices about what happens to everything else.

Yes, it is true that we can do things that no other species can.  Yes we are amazing communicators, builders, destroyers, devourers.  Yes we offer dance and music and song to the spirits, we give moving shape to a dancing magic.  Yes. Yes. Yes. That makes us different. Not better.  Not more important.  We cannot fly as a bumble-bee does. Nothing else can.  Nor swim like dolphins, nor cross sand withe the grace of a side-winder.

bumble bee

So are we successful? What is success on a planetary scale? We may think of ourselves as successful and the dinosaurs as evolutionary dead-ends, long since wiped off the surface of this planet.  But that lineage dominated the world for hundreds of millions of years while as humanoids we have seen a scant handful of millions.  And all this stretch of time is nothing in the face of a mountain and a lifetime of growing, eroding and changing, a lifetime that sees species come and go as passing thoughts in its sleep.

There is huge richness in diversity that is really the success of evolution, or creation, that we should celebrate.  A diversity that changes, lives, dies, moves on, always becoming something more.  We cannot predict the outcomes of evolutionary patterns, we can only be where we are now: living, dying, killing and being killed like everything else.

Circle of Ferns 1

We will be swept along just like everything else.  But we have the power to break the richness: to batter it back towards a simpler, less diverse world and that is what we are doing now.  ‘Every species death diminishes me’.

Reach back to the celebration and maybe that should turn our arrogance towards humility that reveals us as servants of the whole web of relationship.  Not servants working toward human ends at the expense of all others but as agents of change who act within the flow of the pattern.  We are far from there yet: we may not get there at all, but better to start walking down that path and to try, than to wallow in our usual human conceits.

Thanks Gordon.

 

Learning with Nature

In our time of fast-paced, exam-pressured, high-tech culture, where does learning with nature have a place?

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When adults are asked to recall a time in their youth when they were happiest, invariably they refer to times spent outdoors and with friends. Our clever screen world keeps us busy and on the go, but does not help us to communicate, feel loved, gain the satisfaction of the quiet mind, and relax. Time with others in nature does exactly that — and much, much more!

Engaging and Thriving
We need an education that includes learning and understanding how the world is much more than human-centered, and that instills in us a sense of belonging and curiosity about life. When subject learning takes place outside, it becomes embodied and has greater meaning. Our work aims to bring the subjects outside while building meaningful relationships with the natural world. For example, a tree becomes a living being with its own characteristics and often with healing properties. The class “builds a tree” using all the parts: the bark, xylem, cambium, sapwood, heartwood, roots, and leaves. Real experiences build empathy, a hallmark of a healthy human.

In language arts classes, sensory description supports a good piece of creative writing and generally helps the reader to be “in” the piece. If we ask students to describe what things smell and sound like, their attention is drawn to notice the smells of soil, how rough some tree bark may feel, or the sound of the wind through branches. One consequence of this sensory focus is improved, descriptive writing full of imagination — with an added bonus of high marks on writing assignments!

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Young children thrive outdoors. They develop their sense of balance by moving, not by sitting down, and exploring the world around them. We all need encouragement to take risks, building up our resilience and confidence — the skills that will equip us all our life.

We live in a time where disconnection is rife. It is common for 14-year-olds to not know that a book is made from a tree or that the fuel for their school bus comes from the earth long before it comes from the petrol station.

We have taken hundreds of young people out into nature for a one-time afternoon session, overnight or weeklong camping trips, and regular on going woodland programs. We have worked with young people from a wide diversity of backgrounds. The satisfaction of seeing them transform from indoor kids afraid of nature, recoiling at the yuck factor and the thought of getting dirty, to brave young adventurers diving into bushes to hide from the “eagle eyes” that will be looking for them in “3, 2, 1…” makes it all worth the effort.

Outdoor Learning
There are hundreds of activities that we could suggest, but here are a couple of the simplest, most accessible, and effective.

Try a scavenger hunt in an outdoor area. In small groups or in pairs, children must seek different objects that you have written on their list, such as:

A feather
An acorn
Something that’s been eaten
Something that smells
A seed
Something that’s rough
Something that’s heavy
Something yellow
An animal hair

Depending on your age group, it can be fun to add objects that engage the imagination even more, such as something that could be a gnome’s hat. Once many objects have been gathered, you could use them in many ways depending on your aims and objectives. You could talk about classification and group the objects according to whether they belong to the animal, mineral, or plant kingdoms. You might keep some of the more robust items in a bag and have a child feel inside, pick one up, and describe what he or she can feel while the others guess, thus developing vocabulary and understanding of adjectives.

20150523_142734Before launching into any biology around botany, plant life, and transpiration, it can be a fun challenge to try doing leaf puzzles with your class. This is just like a jigsaw puzzle. We start by choosing a leaf that is at least as long as an adult’s palm and tearing it into four or more pieces (depending on age and ability of your students). Give each child a single torn leaf and break the class into pairs. Partners trade leaves and try to put the puzzle back together again. Children often soon notice how the veins can help them in rearranging their leaves and detecting differences in the upper and lower sides. Just be mindful not to include any leaves that could be toxic. Common examples that work well include hazel, lime, oak, and dandelion.

In the end, we hope that our children will be healthy and happy, and that they’ll have a good future. It’s unusual to hear people ask whether nature has a place in education. How can it not? The most important question of our time is how we can look after the natural world, because we need so much from it to sustain us. The future belongs to a generation who figures out how to do this.

Marina Robb and Victoria Mew. Authors of ‘Learning with Nature’.

Economy built upon Ecology

“What would it be like, i wondered to live with that heightened sensitivity to the lives given for ours? To consider the tree in the Kleenex, the algae in the toothpaste, the oaks in the floor, the grapes in the wine; to follow back the thread of life in everything and pay it respect?  Once you start, it’s hard to stop, and you begin to feel yourself awash in gifts”.  R.W Kimmerer 2013

Our current way of thinking often describes the world out there as a collection of objects and English using the pronoun ‘it’ not him and her to describe the non-human.   However, when i engage myself,  the world is clearly full of living subjects, full of species that count. The science of ecology is a language that is well understood by indigenous people’s who continue to tend the land and have the health of their community.  They don’t waste, or disrespect nature.  Their natural knowledge is vast.

At it’s most simple and natural, the planting of corn, beans and squash together, means that the nitrogen from the beans give back to the soil, the leaves of the squash shade out the weeds, the corn stands tall so the bean can grow up and the abundance of insects munching each other, prevents the need for insecticides and herbicides.  Everyone gets fed.  And this is all tended by a human.  The relationship of all living beings, seen and unseen is implicit.

three sisters

In Sussex where i live, the fields are full of crops, supported by chemicals – to feed us. The soil here only just holds them in, doesn’t feed them.  The crows, the Jackdaws, the Rooks are known by the farmers as vermin as they can shred the plants and kill a crop. They are shot down periodically so that the crops can grow.  The circular nature of life has been damaged.

It’s a different way of doing things.  Can anyone refute that all life is circular, and all life exists because of another’s life?  Health is relative to the health of life around us – in both non-human and human.  How can we employ this understanding so that it influences education, economy, and the environment?

I listened last week to Ellen MacArthur who was made a dame in 2005 after the fastest solo sail around the world. “As I stepped off the boat at the finishing line, having broken a record, suddenly I connected the dots,” she says. She realized that the world is like her boat — remarkably finite. The earth carries everything with it necessary for life. And we are using up much of that everything, very fast. She made the unconventional decision to leave sailing behind and focus on the global economy. “The framework within which we live is fundamentally flawed,” she says. “We take material out of ground, make something out of it, ultimately that product gets thrown away … It’s an economy that fundamentally can’t run in the longterm.” In 2010, she founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to work on how to create a circular economy, one that plans for reuse from the very beginning. The foundation works with universities, businesses and governments to make this happen.

It goes beyond basic recycling. It encourages companies to design products from the outset using as few materials as possible, rethink their business models — such as by renting rather than owning equipment — and harness technology to lower resource use. In contrast to the conventional economic system based on taking, making and disposing of things, he described a non-linear economy running in loops, reusing materials, and with big implications for job creation, competitiveness, resource savings and waste creation.  To read more and here Ellen speaking click HERE.  

It appears to me that this worldview held and understood by indigenous people, has found it’s way to a modern language, and this has the potential to bring people together who are creative and successful. To restore and create operating systems that are based on sound ecology.  The worldview of most corporations and educational institutions have not changed since the start of the industrial revolution. But 200 years ago natural resources were more abundant, and it was the availability of labour that was the thing that limited production.  (Segwe the creation of the modern educational system).

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has already succeeded in getting the topic on the agenda at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, attracted big companies to join her campaign (Cisco, for instance, and Renault), and won the most recent Breakthrough Idea award from Thinkers50, which ranks the world’s most innovative management thinkers.

It is good news that we are reaching a tipping point of conciousness.  We do have a huge mountain to climb to awaken our senses,  employ our creative abilities and match this with action and investment.  We need to be generous and courageous, to plant trees that you may never see or make changes that won’t benefit you directly.  To have visionary leaders.  We need to listen to people who are not necessarily ‘successful’ by our cultural standards.  To listen to all the subjects that share this planet.   

The natural system is the most healthy circular system that exists.  The ‘waste’ is food for another. The system is diverse and resilient, built simply for effectiveness.  It does already run on renewable energy – there is no shortage of labour or energy.  Natural law exists to support the relationship of the whole to the parts, these are non-linear, feedback-rich, and interdependent.

I wonder how we can combine our scientific knowledge with the consideration of all the relationships?  If we can consider how to apply a circular system  in our own lives and transform the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.