REAP Posts

HATCHing a Future for the Planet

If you are like me, you are deeply worried about the most recent news and warnings about the effects of climate change on our planet.  We are hearing about coming climate crises in as little as twelve years, a 6th mass extinction, hothouse Earth, disappearing wildlife and ecosystems degradation.  As educators, persons involved in education, or just people with children and an interest in their future, we are aware that we need to act on our children’s behalf, but often feel isolated or in despair about how to do that.

I am Katharine Burke and I am a teacher, permaculture certificate holder, and regenerative design practitioner.   In my recent presentation at a global school conference in Vienna, I outlined the shift in mind and the shift in design that regenerative action toward climate health will need to take.  I shared resources and offered a set of regenerative principles that can be useful in promoting ecoliteracy without students and in our own design and curriculum work.  Talking with educators at the conference, I became aware that many teachers and school leaders want to continue the conversation and would like to share ideas and initiatives on climate health as well as resources for designing initiatives in their schools.

For this reason, I have set up a shared google.doc in that includes materials from my presentation as well as other resources for designing and sharing climate health initiatives.   I think that part of ‘thinking like an ecosystem’ means that we need to interact with each other, develop relationships, foster synergy and share our expertise and our successes and our needs and our resources.  it will take courage and a concerted effort to address the type of large-scale problems we are facing, but educators can be an essential part of the solution.

The google.doc folder  presents access to design tools, templates, and interactive spaces where we create a shared Hub for Action Toward Climate Health- in short, HATCH.  Educators, schools or school groups can access the documents by replying to this mail and asking to be included.   If you are interested, or a school you know or are involved in is interested in designing initiatives for climate health and sharing ideas with others, please share this and message me for access to the hub.  I look forward to welcoming you to the HATCH community.

Warm regards,

Katharine Burke

Twitter and Facebook: Small Earth Institute


Deep Evaluation

March 2018

As I mark the papers for Sociology, I assign marks, giving numerical value to the work of the students in my class. Doing so, I am reminded of the first precept of Deep Ecology:

 The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have intrinsic value in themselves.  These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.

This means, of course, to refer to the equal inherent value of every form of life, but for just a minute I want to focus on young people in our society, youngsters in school.   The school system that I work for assigns grades.   I am happy that I work in a high school, with sixteen-year-olds.  According to the law they are no longer obligated to be in school, so I can make the argument that they are choosing this system, and therefore giving their tacit approval of the grading system.

This, however, belies the fact that they are each a product of their society, their socialization, which places a stigma on not finishing school and in many circles not finishing university.  Assuming their free choice also ignores the peer pressure and pressure from familial norms, and sanctions in the form of exclusion or derision if they do not go to school.  It does not address the fact that if they were to leave school, in this society, there is nothing for them to do- even basic jobs require a high school degree.  Going out on your own, especially without support from family or other social groups, is a difficult venture, and there are few young people who can manage it.  So as much as we say they have a choice to be in school or not, they do not; the culture and society around them will devalue them if they do not finish school.

And so, these students stress and struggle and sometimes excel, as measured by the grading system.  And I participate in this valuing.  What I long to say to them, what I am desperate to say to them, is that this mark on a paper is not a value of their worth, that every human and non-human life on earth has value in itself.  That they have intrinsic value in themselves, inherent value in simply being alive.

How often do we tell our young people that?  How often do we even think it?  And what error, or even violence may there be in saying it, when the culture at large does not honor it and indeed will punish it?  My recourse is to say it, all the while reminding them that society doesn’t particularly see it that way.  They do have a choice, to remain within the system or to buck it, but bucking it would be difficult, financially hazardous and sometimes painful, though if done consciously and creatively it just might lead to growth experiences as well.  If they do choose to be in the system, as they mostly do, they have a choice to accept the valuing of the system, or as I hope they do, to do their best within the system while knowing, understanding, and acknowledging that their worth is not defined by the system, but by the act of living itself.

These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.

The value of each young person, and indeed of each person, must also be independent of their usefulness in society, and especially independent of their usefulness to the economic models we have established.  When we as a society come to understand this, we will be ready to embrace the myriad of possibilities that can be made available to young people. We can begin to look at a slew of other options beyond, besides, and alongside traditional schooling. When we uncouple school from fiscal usefulness, from financial worth and from preparation for economic contribution, we will find its intrinsic usefulness in nurturing young beings toward their natural full potential.  We can begin to embrace Deep Ecology’s second principle, that

Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves. 

Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

So too, do the diversity of choices in a society contribute to the realization of the regeneration of society.  Diversity is a result of embracing the multiplicity of life, in nature and in our youth as well.   Embracing diversity will rightly mean that we can no longer do ‘school as usual’.  Much will have to open up if we will genuinely facilitate the right of children to grow and develop both at their own pace and in their own directions.  This will entail that students are not in rows or desks, or perhaps even in rooms. It will entail that learning is completely redesigned, as are teachers’ roles, availability of materials, access to spaces and to nature, choice of activity, blending of ages and more.  Diversity ultimately opens up an ecosystem to development and evolution; so it will be with our schools and our children.  Opening up to diversity and the richness in our children’s potential will also call for us to re-evaluate evaluation.

What does deep evaluation look like, in a diverse and rich ecology of school?

Suffice it to say it will not be impersonal.  This is not to say it will not be rigorous, or demanding, or perhaps even strict.  All societies have methods and means of correcting and shaping the development of the children and young people in their care.  Indigenous societies paid a great deal of attention to the socialization of their children, and the response, or evaluation if you will, could be swift and even strict.  The biggest difference overall, I think, is that evaluation before the advent of institutionalized schooling happened in relationship, in network, in community, and often face to face.

What evaluation in our schools today has lost, besides a relevance to life as it is lived, which is a discussion on its own, is the ability to spend time face to face with a child or young person. We are missing the opportunity to explain, to discuss and cooperatively determine an evaluation, and then to creatively explore and collaboratively apply the means for growth.  Of course, if a child is failing or conversely, is motivated to seek the teacher out, this face to face conversation may take place, but these are often not collaborative and on the whole, because of the press of so many classes, so many students, a good deal of evaluation for ‘regular’ students is done on paper, and increasingly, online on educational platforms.

If we reflect on the past while forging a route to the future, and take the good with the good, our new, deep evaluation can combine individual potential and individual agency with personalized, deeply effective mentor, peer, and self- evaluation, and with feedback and direction in face to face settings, as well as in smaller groups and community. The cost of these smaller groups and one on one time can only be criticized if we continue to tie ourselves to a monetized worth, if we do not understand values beyond economic spreadsheets, and the value of the children themselves to our society as a whole.  This too must change as we move toward deep evaluation.

Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

Humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of a child’s nature and growth, except to satisfy vital needs.  ‘Vital’ here is not economic gain or social uniformity or conformity to tradition or norms. Vital here refers to survival, and the ironic truth is that at this juncture in our society what we are coming to understand is that what is most vital, most imperative for our survival as a society and perhaps as a species as well, is that we do not reduce, but instead promote the richness and diversity of our world, of multitude species, as well as of our children and young people.  In doing that, I believe that it is also vital, as in essential to survival, that we nurture deep ecological awareness and understanding in our children and in society as.  I believe it is vital that we all adopt inter-being as a way of seeing the world.

Finally, it is vital that we create the types of synergisms that can lead to the emergence of the new societal structures which will help us to continue to survive and thrive as a species.  These synergisms are forged through diversity, in relationship, and in affirming the unique potential and agency of each element in a synergistic expression.  Synergism, the essence of a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, is the process that will bring forth the emergence of new social structures, the more elegantly ordered complexity that is evolution.  It is an evolution of social structure, a new phase shift in identity, relationship, cooperation, and mutual benefit, that is vital for our species to survive.   Clearly our vital needs are to promote the richness and diversity of life rather than to hinder it.  I believe this can be most efficiently and quickly through a reform of schools that promotes biophilia, eco-literacy, and the internal structures, networks, relationships, and values that are in themselves reflections of natural growth, synergism and emergence.   I call these ‘emergent schools’.

But right now, locked in a pile of paper that is designed to evaluate success or failure, I would settle for the simple understanding: every living thing on Earth has value in itself.  These children and young people have value in themselves.  Tell them that.



The Celebration Isn’t Over Yet-  Happy Perihelium, and May Emergence Begin.

I spent New Year’s in my goat shed. I have long been ambivalent about New Year’s celebrations. As a child, I hated firecrackers, cowered when fireworks went off, and have been known to drop to the ground when a particularly loud one went off near me. I understand my goats, whose inclination is to run to the farthest, darkest corner of the shed and huddle together. This year, when a small group of friends gathered for dinner, and then after dinner headed out to watch the fireworks, I headed to the goat shed. I made up an impromptu song and sang it to them. The crackling explosions clapped around us. At one point the small window lit up with an eerie blue and red light. The goats ran, turned, and ran again back to their corner. I petted them and cooed comfort words and noises. I too, reacted to the largest bangs. I reflected on this ultimate display of purposeless self-gratifying consumption, the waste of resources, material and money, literally going up in smoke.

I often wonder how that money might be spent. London this year created 10,000 explosions and spent 1.8 million pounds; Sydney outdid them, at least money-wise, with a tally of 7 million dollars. It doesn’t just happen on New Year’s Eve of course- Americans spend some 800 million dollars a year for the Fourth of July, and China spends more than 200 million on its New Year’s displays. I reflect on the way we in our increasingly global culture spend this much so lightly; create fire and release carbon to the atmosphere so easily. It is a testament to our lack of connection to the Earth, I think, and to those, too, of our own species who could use those resources. I might be called a party pooper for calling this madness, but how is it not madness to celebrate by engaging in the very activities that are leading to the possible extinction of our species? Why do we celebrate the New Year in the least sustainable way imaginable?

There is no natural reason either, for celebrating the New Year on January 1st. The celebration, as well as the name of the month, goes back to the Roman times and the worship of the god Janus, he of two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. Janus was the deity of doorways, and thus of entrances, beginnings, and transitions. He is associated with times of peace, as well as trade, and with springs and streams. He is also given credit for having ushered in the golden age of Rome, with its civilization, monetary systems, and agricultural development.

If there is a natural time to celebrate at this time of year, it is linked to the heavens, the solar system and the sun. Early January brings us to perihelium; the time when the Earth comes its closest to the sun in its entire yearly orbit. This year perihelium will take place on the 3rd of January in the morning in Europe. Perhaps it is worth reflecting, at this special time, on the unique and serendipitous placement of Earth in relationship to the sun- often called the ‘goldilocks’ position, since it is neither too hot or too cold; just right for life. It is our sun, and our relationship to it, that is the basis of all life on Earth, including our own. It is this unique placement of Earth that allows for water to exist on our planet, neither evaporated or permanently frozen. It is in fact the Earth’s inter-relationship with its entire solar system, formed out of the collapse of a supernova more than 4.6 billion years ago, that created its unique formation as a rocky inner planet with an iron core, that gave rise to the collision that created our moon and stabilized our rotation, and that also formed the outer planets that slung meteorites bringing life giving water and perhaps even the seeds of life itself, to our Earth.

Life on Earth, our goldilocks planet, is indeed a gift to celebrate and protect. It is good to remember that we are just a small speck in a huge universe, a small planet in a tiny solar system. This year, we should heed the caution not to squander this gift we have. In his New Year’s address, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres issued a declaration for a Red Alert on Earth. Calling for peace, equality, human rights, and unity, he said, ‘this is not just an appeal’. It is in fact an imperative for the health of our species, and the regeneration of our culture, as well as the health of the Earth itself. This is not a drill- the accumulation of scientific, ecological and environmental evidence has made it clear that the inequalities in our societies, the over-consumption of Earth’s resources, and the health of the environment are inextricably linked. We are now, in our self-named Anthropocene, at risk of destroying not only the intricate and delicate interaction of life on this special planet, but our own species as well.

Maybe this is where we can re-invoke Janus and give some meaning to the January celebration, for Janus was also the god of civil and social order, said to aid the transition of societies from one order to another. If there ever was a time to lift human life and society out of one state and into another, now is it. If there was ever a time to invoke the principles of regenerative design to move our global culture to a higher level, it is now. The property of emergence, in evolutionary terms, refers to the ways in which new, previously non-existent properties at a higher order emerge out of the interaction of diverse elements in a complex system. I think Janus, the deity of doorways, might be seen as a tribute to the emergence of culture. Perhaps we can celebrate January as beginning of a transition to the evolution of a higher order for our species- one where, as Secretary General Guterres said, there are peace, equality, and unity, three properties that are essential if we are to survive as a species.

And we will not survive if we act alone, or see ourselves as separate from our environment and the Earth itself. It is time to fully understand the interbeing of humankind with every other form of life on Earth. Life itself is an intricate web, a complex system that itself is in a continual state of emergence. There is nothing that we do that does not impact our planet itself, and we humans are indeed dependent on every other life form and the very environment for our own survival.

In my goat shed last night, there was a knock on the door, and my friends came in to join me with the goats. I was so pleased that they included me, and the goats, in the celebrations: we rang in the New Year with goat petting, laughter and libations. This too, is an essential element for the regeneration of culture; it is only with the support of communities that join and work together that we can hope to develop or create change. We must keep our communities close, interact often, and support each other towards emergence.

Happy 2018, and Happy Perihelium! Here is to emergence of a regenerative culture for our species and the entire Earth as we travel on our small planet around our sun this New Year. May it begin!

The Gift of Life: a Christmas Reflection on Water, Our Most Precious Resource

An earlier version of this essay was originally written in December 2016 in support of anti-DAPL protests at Standing Rock.

December 2017.    The Earth is 4.6 billion years old.   About some half billion years into its existence, it was cool enough for water to remain in liquid state on the surface, and to create an atmosphere.  It is that water that filled the ancient seas, washed down rocks eroding them into soil, provided an environment for the first life, microbes, then animals and plants to form, and has nourished all plants, animals, and us, ever since.

This is the same water we drink now.  This is not a metaphor: there is no new water.   When it rains, the water doesn’t come from somewhere out there, it comes from Earth, and returns to Earth.  It falls over every country, into every river, lake and ocean. The water you use today may have touched the hands or mouths of strangers, or of friends, or of those you call your enemy. It may have been drunk by Jesus, or Mohammed, or the Buddha, or Gandhi.   It may have been used to baptize, or clean wounds, or wash newborn babies or the sick and dying.  It is our only water, the only water on Earth, and the only water Earth will ever have.

I would like to ask you to make a reflection, or a meditation on water.  Every time you touch water, drink water, use water, take a shower or flush your toilet, send a small appreciation toward this water we have access to.   Remember it is the only water on Earth, and be thankful for it.  This is a small act of earthfulness, the appreciation for and re-connection to understanding our dependence and interdependence on nature.

And if you have read this far, I will add this:  The oil we pump out of the ground is formed from the billions of bodies of ancient animals and plants who lived in our same water, were sustained by our same water, and died in our same water.   We have made their bodies a burnt sacrifice at the altar of our consumerism, our corporatism, our rabid rape of resources on Earth.  This fire sacrifice leads to the destruction of our environment, of animal habitats, of our soil, which took millions of years of water action and erosion and decomposition to create, and of our very water, through pollution.  All of this is sacrificed for oil.  We are also living sacrifices but many of us don’t know it yet.

At Standing Rock last Christmas water and fire met, and despite the great sacrifice of the water protectors, fire, for the time being, has won out.  The retribution of those who keep the altars to fire – for yes, they have temples and high priests as well- has been swift and harsh. The damage to Earth and water is clear: a year ago in December the North Dakota pipeline spilled its poisons into a creek just one hundred and fifty miles from Standing Rock. More than a hundred gallons leaked from the Dakota pipeline in March.  On Nov. 16th 2017 Trans-Canada quietly announced that 5,000 barrels of oil, the largest ever spill on the Keystone pipeline, leaked in South Dakota.  The day before the spill, attorneys for tribes from Standing Rock filed a motion in federal court asking again for reconsideration of the native peoples’ proposals.  The fight continues.  This is still the time to stand for the protection of water.

The continuing Standing Rock movement is our movement: to stand with Standing Rock is for each of us who uses, drinks, and gives thanks for water. This fight for water is, I believe, a focal point for ecological, compassionate, and reformative action on Earth. Not everyone has access to water, or to clean unadulterated water.  According to WHO, water borne disease is the leading cause of death around the world, and  most of the victims are young children.  In places with little access to water, water bearers are predominantly women; in sub-Saharan Africa the time women and girls spend carrying water keep children and make women and girls vulnerable to attack and rape.   Everywhere, water is necessary for life.  Connecting mindfully to our use of water is also a conduit to  appreciation for this vital resource and empathy for others without.

It is Christmas time again- what are you doing for the holidays?  Are you  giving presents because you need things or because it is the only way you know to show appreciation? Perhaps you will make a commitment to give handmade and homemade things, or to buy locally.  Perhaps you will give a donation to an Earth saving cause.  If you, or your family, need nothing, perhaps you could give something away.

Often, the most memorable gifts at Christmas are the gifts of family and communion.  At my daughter’s in-laws where I am celebrating in Devon, the tea kettle is on.  One or another family member will offer a cup of tea, early in the morning before breakfast, after lunch, at tea time, in the evening before bed.  Tea is a ceremony of connection, an offering of warmth, a small token of generosity and hospitality. Unspoken, unacknowledged, and perhaps unconsidered as well, is the abundance of water we enjoy together, that gift of life that infuses everything we do, and that we barely notice until we are without it.

As a meditation over the holidays, and as a token of appreciation to the Earth, may I suggest we remember, and create a ritual to give thanks for water, for the infrastructures that make water so available to us, and for water protectors and water bearers everywhere.  it may seem a daft, unnecessary thing to do, and yet is is one of the simplest ways we can reconnect to the gifts of Earth and to empathy for others.  Give a glass of water, or perhaps take a glass and sip from it in turn.  Offer a cup of tea, celebrating both the water and the herbs, or make it a glass of wine if you like, and consider the grapes converting sunlight to sugars.  Recognize water around you.  Appreciate it and love it: it is the most precious thing on Earth.

An Ecological Imperative

October 2017.     On the first day of class, I told the 16 year-old students in the Social Studies class I teach that I am a member of the Green Party.   I usually don’t talk about politics til later in the year, when we know each other better, when they know I am not judgmental toward others’ beliefs and stances, but we were discussing the elections in Norway coming up in two weeks, and they asked.  The response was interesting.  One girl blurted out, ‘Oh, I hate them!’  ‘Why is that?’, I asked.  ‘Because they want to take cars out of Oslo.  I want to be able to drive to Oslo.  ‘I know, I said.  I also like driving to Oslo.’    Another boy said, ‘They are ridiculous.  They want to stop drilling for oil.  What are we going to live on?  Fish?’   ‘It’s true, I said, Norway has depended on oil economically.  The loss of oil as an industry will a difficult change.’

I didn’t argue, at this point, on the first day of class; we will all have more to say before the election and through the year.  But I did think about what they had said, and how, even why, they had said it.  It reminded me of a clip I saw of Une Bastholm, Norway’s Green party spokeswoman, in a debate this week.  She was powerful, articulate and passionate. She spoke about the need to make large changes in the face of climate change, and  she was met by confused and dismissive expressions on the faces of the leaders of both the right and left.   I thought to myself at the time,  ‘It’s like she is speaking a different language that they can’t even understand.

This is true, and yet it is not always possible or practical.  People who have petrol cars will be disadvantaged by the move to fossil free mobility, and often it will be those who are also at an economic disadvantage and have not been able to make the move to an electric vehicle, even if they wanted to.   There will be huge change and displacement in the oil industry,  and there will be those who suffer losses.  It is difficult to imagine that all of the change that is coming can be presented realistically or honestly or compassionately as an economic or personal plus.

How then, can we expect to have a dialogue about an economic imperative?  How can we expect that people will change their cultural frameworks, and how can this be encouraged and abetted?  How can we come to develop a cultural framework that includes the ecological imperative?

I believe the answers to these questions lies in developing new ecological identity.  Culture changes slowly, but identity shifts can be quicker.  Think of your friend who falls in love, and suddenly it is all about ‘we’ not ‘I’.   People shift identity when they recognize themselves as belonging to something larger than themselves, a new group perhaps, or in this case, the natural world at large.

I want to make a case for falling in love with the Earth.   I want to help people to have those experiences that bring people closer to Earth, in touch with their innate connection to it, identified with its joy and its pain, inseparable from it.  Arne Næss talked about an ecological self.  Stephan Harding has pointed out that only when we have had deep ecological experiences will we gain the deep ecological understanding that leads to deep commitment, and thus deep action.   Thus deep ecological experiences are those that bring us into awareness of, and in love with, the Earth itself.

John Seed wrote about how when one has developed an ecological identity, action in favor of the Earth becomes self-interested.  The feelings of loss and sacrifice for the other are transformed into self-interested motivation.  In this case, the ecological imperative has become the personal imperative, because I and the Earth are one and the same.

I have started to answer these questions for myself by creating my own version of Schumacher College’s deep time walk here in Vestfold.  This past week I took 36 teachers from my school on a deep time walk through the Vesterøya nature area, and several responded that they were moved by the experience.  What if teachers develop an ecological imperative that they then share with their students, not by arguing or cajoling but by providing those experiences that move students close to the Earth, out of the separation mentality our culture has engendered, and toward a larger ecological awareness?  What if children grow up in a new cultural framework made possible by new ecological identification?

I will hold a seminar for a school in Stavanger next week that will approach these issues, and offer, I hope, realistic but soulful and sensual ways of interacting in nature as well as in the classroom and in the school.  My ideas so far include an appreciation activity inspired by Joanna Macey, a meditative deep time walk, sensual interaction with Earth elements including rock, water, soil and living matter, grounding activities, permaculture observe and interact activities, nature as metaphor and mentor, permaculture principles as tools for design, and the power of poetry, myth, fairy tales and story.

If anyone has any suggestions for how to help to promote the development of ecological identity, or the desire to be involved, I would love to hear it. How did you develop Earth awareness?  What was your ‘Gaia’ moment?  What experiences brought you close to, and made you fall in love with Earth?  How do you connect to Nature and and ecological identity?  How did you develop an ecological imperative?  Where does your earthfulness come from?

A Tree Down

October 2017.   One the trees came down last night.  It was a huge old birch, standing right behind the goat shed.  It was raining hard last night, but not blowing much.   The tree seemed to just split in half, crashing into a smaller pine and bringing it down with it, but missing the goats.  It missed us too- if it had come at a 25% angle further south, it would have crushed both the goat shed and the car and rammed into the house, including the room we were sleeping in.

It the morning the first thing I was aware of was how much more light there seemed to be coming from the northeast.  And then I saw the tree, a tangled mass of branches and limbs splayed across the hill, a giant slain.   I went out and walked around it, filled with a sense of awe mixed with sadness.  It was so huge, it had been there so long, and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  My goats arrived curiously on the scene and immediately began stripping leaves; they will be at that for a while, I imagine.  And I thought how the tree’s calamity was the goats’ good fortune, but at the same time, had the immediate understanding that there was nothing either good or bad in any of it.  The tree had fallen.   It had neither aimed to miss us or not to.  It just was, first up, then down, and already the process of decay, ingested by goats or merging into the soil, had begun.

The thought came in to my mind, ‘We are not in control at all.’  This was not in a  sense of panic, but rather a wonder at the understanding, and a sense too, that it was quite o.k. to not be in control, even if we live in a culture that imagines we should be in control all the time, of every thing.

I found myself thinking how many things will change now in our little piece of Earth.  The north wind will blow harder, not blocked by the huge birch.  The smaller trees will be buffeted, perhaps also more at risk of losing limbs or falling.  The other tall birch, now bare and lonely against the sky, might be more vulnerable as well.  More sun will shine on the hill where before there was shade, and this will change what grows there.  The tree will slowly decay and add nitrogen to the ground, and things will grow there, where this tree has fallen.  One thing affects another, but there is no aim and no fault, and there is no grief, since grief would require a loss, and in reality there is no loss, only change; this change for now, and more change to come.

I found myself reminded of the quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn,

“At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient… only the universe rearranging itself.”

So last night the universe, in this tiny part of its existence, rearranged itself in a way that seemed momentous to me, but that, in the eye of the universe, is only one small change in its construction.  Some things have changed, and some will change because of that; more rearrangement.  And I think if I can take nature as my mentor in this, there is a great calm and peace that surrounds my lack of control.

Treasures Nearby and Unseen

September 2017.   The raspberries have done badly this year.  Hard knobby green fruit have blackened and fallen off before they ever ripened into red.  I am unsure if it was dryness, or early cold, or just an ‘off year’, but I was disappointed in them.   In the supermarket there were huge plump red raspberries, and I bought some, with an air of resignation and a mental rebuke toward the meager production of my own bushes.  Why waste time picking an inferior product, standing in thorns, getting next to nothing for my effort?  But the bought raspberries belied their sumptuous appearances; they were soft and fuzzy on the tongue and not as sweet as I expected.

Yesterday out in the yard I wandered over to one of the largest berry bushes to have a look.  There were blackened buds and wilted leaves, but also here and there, small bright red berries, and they were sweet.   I started picking and discovered as I did, that deeper in, hidden in the foliage, were larger, tender berries.  I reached in, gently lifted up long tendrils, and found hidden treasure underneath. Not as large as the supermarket  berries but definitely fresher, both sweet and tart at the same time.   The more I picked the more affinity I felt for the place, the green leaves, buzzing insects, fresh air, for the simple sense of being there in the moment, for the berry bush, and for the process itself of interaction with nature.  I moved around the bush, waving at a neighbor as she passed by, spending almost an hour and a half before I knew it, and returned to the house with mounds and mounds of berries.  There are still more bushes out there, and still more berries.

As I stood picking berries I had the chance to reflect and connect. It is always in nature’s moments that I connect the most clearly.   How was it, I thought, that I had dismissed this gift in front of me, denigrating it as ugly, deformed, less than perfect, a failure?  I was put off by what appeared to be less enticing than the commercial promise, unwilling to take the time to look deeper, and unable to appreciate the beauty, wonder, and treasure in my own space.  How often, I reflected, do I do this in my life as well?  What is there close to me that I am ignoring or rejecting because it is less than the ‘perfect’ product that society advertises?  How often to I refuse to take more time,  look more deeply,  and connect more closely with those near to me?  Could it be true that I am missing treasure in my own life because of my own lack of appreciation for the gifts I am offered?

Whether it is a belonging, a position, or a person, or even an aspect of our own selves, it is so easy to compare with the myriad of images continuously offered in our consumer culture.  It is harder to take the time and to realize appreciation for what we have, what is already here in our spaces.  But when we do, we may be suddenly charmed, surprised by beauty, and reconnected to the treasure nearby.

Being Deep Time and Whole Earth

August 2017.   There is something about the summer that brings us close to the Earth.  The windows are open, clothing is light and puts us nearer to the air and the ground.  We are more relaxed and days are long and full of promise.    This summer in particular, I feel even more connection.   I just finished a course at Schumacher College in England, and am full to the brim with not only the wonderful teaching of ecology, but with the closeness and kindness of the interactions there and the beauty of the place.   I find myself thinking differently about the things I do, the way I am in the world.   I am calling it Being Deep Time and Whole Earth.  It has become a sort of ritual or small living meditation, which I will share here, in case anyone else would like to add it to their meditations or way of being.

An example was this morning when I went downstairs to make coffee.  I usually spend the time the coffee is brewing to do my morning Salutation To the Sun yoga exercise, but this morning as I switched on the light on the machine the little red light flashed and stayed in my mind as I turned and bowed to the floor.   I sat down, and a whole series of thoughts poured through my mind.  The effortlessness of pushing a button and having coffee, the distance, the unconnectedness we have put between ourselves, that cup, and the deep time and the world that made it.   I meditated.  In this moment:

I have harvested and dug from the Earth millions of prehistoric organisms in their decomposed oily forms and burned them into carbon.

I have extracted copper and other metals, bound in rock since deep Earth time,  formed them into electric generators and wires and sent the prehistoric oil energy through them into this place, my house.

I have engaged workers in Peru or Brazil to work in the fields, picking coffee beans from green growing plants with deep roots in loamy humus soil.  I feel the sun on their backs like I am one of them, their sandals on the Earth, the beans in their hands.

I have transported beans across oceans, piled into crates, ground into powder, packed into plastic, placed onto shelves in the supermarket where I went to buy them.

I have pumped water up from the well under my house, placed it in the coffee machine, where it has percolated this, my cup of coffee.

This was my meditation.  I might have got some details wrong; it is poetry in my mind, and metaphor, not absolute fact. I might well have gone even deeper, into the manufacture of the coffee machine, or the cup, or who knows, but this is where my meditation took me today.  The impact was strong, and imbued my cup of coffee with infinitely deeper meaning.

This meditation in Deep Time and Whole Earth is not meant to induce guilt for the extraction of resources or the labour of workers, though it does promote consciousness, and that may indeed invoke action.  It’s effect is meant to engender feelings of ownership, reverence, appreciation, responsibility and connection.  It is, I think, closer to how the indigenous peoples lived in the world, in awareness of their relation to, and dependence on, the Earth.

I don’t have a prescription for when, or even exactly how, to do this.  I think that being reflective in and around nature opens us up to an awareness that might instigate the moment.  I think it can’t be forced, but maybe at one meal a day, or at a quiet time in the office, or even reminded by one simple action, we might try to practice this mediation, being Deep Time and Whole Earth.  This, I think, is practicing Earthfulness.

On Going to the Beach and Finding a Place in Nature’s Ecosystem

July 2017.   It was hot, and I went to the beach.  It was a gorgeous summer day, and the beach was teeming with people, children running in and out of the waves, mothers holding babies in the shade, young people posturing, older people lounging and relaxing.  I lay out my towel, careful to protect myself from the hot sand and anything else that might disturb me- I am one of the older people, I was there to relax.

But the sand flies were out in number.   As they bit me I suddenly realized, came to re-connect, that this place I was sitting was not my own.    I looked closely at the seaweed washed up and drying on the beach, at small sturdy sand grasses finding a hold in the dry salty earth, at the almost imperceptible (to me) movement of tiny mites, sand ants, a beetle on a leaf.  Here was an ecosystem in itself, teeming with life; I was an invader.

My gaze settled back on the human population, and I realized with a jolt how disconnected we all were from the real, the earthly, experience of the beach.   We were lying, splashing and stamping about, unaware of any other living interaction around us. This went farther than simply taking care not to leave cans or plastic behind us when we go; it had to do with our lack of belonging.   We were on the beach, not of it.  The sand fly admonished me: this is our ecosystem, not yours.

Where do we belong?  What is the human ecosystem?  If you ask a biologist, she will tell you that we humans are an apex predator, standing at the top of the food chain, without competitors and on whom no other animals prey.  Apex predators are keystone species, in that they are crucial to the maintenance of an ecosystem, and have a large impact on the balance of life in a habitat. Other apex predators are wolves, brown bears, killer whales, and even small but powerful animals like electric eels or honey badgers, who have defense or assault mechanisms that few or no other animals can assail.

However, apex predators are also part of the ecosystem in which they live.    Ecologists identify apex predators at trophic level four or five, meaning that they are at the top of the food chain web, above producers (ie plants) and secondary or tertiary predators who eat producers and each other.   Apex predators tend to create balance, rather than destruction, in the habitats they inhabit.  Wolves keep deer and elk populations in check, mostly hunting out the most vulnerable, which strengthens the gene pool of the deer or elk and in addition allows small forests to thrive, creating habitats for hundreds of other species.  When wolves die they become prey to scavengers, are food for worms, decay and add to soil compositions.

We humans do none of that.  We have established ourselves in an order above ecosystem, beyond trophic levels; we are not part of a food chain.  We do not create balance in the habitats we dwell in; rather we destroy habitats and deplete resources.  We do not become prey to scavengers when we die, we are isolated from nature even in death, filled with formaldehyde to stave off decay.  In so doing, in establishing ourselves as hyper apex predators, humans have created the ultimate separation- separation from Earth processes itself.

I can’t but believe that this is at the root of our alienation.  What other species live lives so distant from the Earth that formed us, and protects us?  What other species destroy other species, not selectively, but with abandon?  What other species destroy their own habitats willfully and wholesale, not creating balance but wreaking havoc?  What other species have set upon their own species with such viciousness as we now see on a daily basis?  Our lack of ecosystem has created an imbalance that threatens the earth and our own existence.

What then, is the solution?  How do we go about finding and rejoining ecosystem and creating balance in the Earth habitat and in our own lives?  Stephan Harding, professor and ecologist at Schumacher College, says in order to be part of an ecosystem we must find a place.  This place is not in our house, in a room; it is a place in nature.  It is a place I think, that we must immerse ourselves in, in small, and quiet, and integrative ways.  If we do not live in it, we must visit it often, and often, we must do nothing in it, but simply be there.  Observe and interact, but observe first and long and often- no interaction can be taken without thoroughly understanding the interaction and the place, our ecosystem.  It is a place that should be observed over time, over seasons, in cold and warm and wet and dry.

Your place may be as small or as large as  a garden outside your house, a park in your city, or the forest you can walk in nearby.   Immerse yourself in your place often.  Be there, and then observe and find reverence for the interactions around you.  If you chose to act in your ecosystem, pull some weeds choking a strawberry plant, or dig up a plot of grass to plant a garden, or even just sit on a log in the forest, reflect on the life you are interacting with: the micro-organisms or small creatures in the soil, the weeds, the roots, the bark.  Heighten your senses to hear, smell, touch, see, feel the environment around you.  Make yourself part of your place.

Research has shown that simply interacting in nature can have healing benefits.  Putting our hands in the soil exposes us to natural antidepressants.  Walking in forests exposes us to phytocides that have proven  therapeutic benefits, increase human natural killer cells, reduce stress and hostility, create calm and slow us down.   Imagine what consistent,reflective interaction in and with your chosen place can have:  all of these benefits and additionally, the sense of care, appreciation, belonging and well-being that comes with finding your ecosystem.



‘Mindfulness’ is a term that has become popular as a description of focused attention, awareness, and consciousness on the present moment, of ourselves and the processes in and around us. Mindfulness became popular in the last several decades, and has helped many to understand a more cohesive way of being in the world.

I would like to coin a new phrase: Earthfulness.   Earthfulness, the way I see it, is the awareness and consciousness of Earth itself, of the land and processes around us and attention to our place in the ecosystem as well as the place of every other living being. Earthfulness is a process of reconciliation with our origins and our connections to life on Earth.  In a world marked by separation, of peoples, of nations, of ideology, of physical space, Earthfulness offers a wholeness perspective.  We are, both literally and by heritage, everything that has come before us; everything on Earth is connected through time and biology and the smallest elements of life.

Earthfulness is an understanding.  It is an awareness of the processes that both created us and everything around us.  It places us in perspective in our ecology and in our history.

Earthfulness is appreciation.   Growing consciousness seeds an overwhelming gratefulness for the Earth and our place in it.

Earthfulness is grounding.  It (sometimes literally) places us close to our roots, creates a foundation for our conviction and our action.

Earthfulness is attained through conscious consideration of nature and of our place in nature, both historically and geographically.  It is a meditative process, a learning process, and an experiential process.   Arne Næss, founder of deep ecology, said that deep experiences lead to deep understanding, which lead to deep commitment and then deep action.   Earthfulness is this deep ecological understanding, arising out of deep ecological and natural experiences, and leading to committed action.

The time for the development of Earthfulness is now.

Tree Mentor

Recently, I read the wonderful book The Secret Life of Trees.  This has given me a new way, many new ways, of seeing trees.  These past few days I also embarked on a three-day fast; I was feeling overwhelmed, I needed to slow down, and see things with more clarity.

As I fasted, I became aware of time, both how much time I had been spending, in my non-fasting time, on planning, preparing, eating, and cleaning up after eating food, and how much time was left over when I was not doing those things.   A lot of time.  I also became aware of how I had been filling my time with ‘doing’. I seemed to always need to have a project to be on. In my slowed down mode, that felt like frenzy.  I took some time off, over the weekend, to read a book I had wanted to read, to pull myself away from my projects, to take more time to care for myself, and to just be.

The second thing I became aware of over the weekend was a deep sense of renewed appreciation for the food we eat.  Preparing a soup for my husband while fasting was an entirely new experience- I saw each carrot, each potato, with a kind of reverence; I soaked in its beauty as I held it, I felt almost as though I caressed it.  I thanked the carrots, the potatoes, the onions, and the celery, and I took the time to save the ends of the carrots, onions, and celery, placing them in small jars on the windowsill with a few centimeters of water, to grow roots again and flourish.   I did things slowly, and I thought of trees.

Trees operate on a different time scale than we do.  They are active-quite active in fact, and constantly active- but they move at a large, slow scale that we take for inaction.  This afternoon, after eating my first meal since the fast, I rested on the couch and looked out at the trees. One, in particular, a large birch, caught my attention.   I noticed how bare it looks in the late winter, but thought that soon, with the coming of spring, it would begin to leaf.  It is almost as if a year, to a tree, is as a night and then a day is to us.

I found myself adopting this tree, and consulted silently with my tree mentor, as she became, for I called her ‘she’ in my mind.  I said, ‘so, I understand that you are sentient, what exactly do you feel?  ‘Everything’, she intoned, and I thought back to what I had read, that trees feel more than our fingertips, sense light and the waves of sound and ‘smell’ chemical messages.  ‘But what does it matter that you are sentient, I lamented,  that you feel everything when you cannot do anything, cannot change all the things that are wrong in the world, or even the things that happen to you?’  ‘Well’, she answered gently, ‘neither can you, with all your running around’.  Touche´.

I asked her, ‘What do you do then, when you are aware of negative forces in the world or are attacked;  when you feel a mold, or a woodpecker burrowing into you, working against you, and when it hurts?   How do you just sit there and take it?’, I wailed silently.    ‘Ah, I do react, she said, though my reactions are slow, and the solutions are slow.   Sometimes it works, I build a woody knot around a penetration,  and I defend myself, and sometimes it does not, and I am invaded, or assaulted, or wounded.  But I am still here, and the world goes on.’

I asked,  ‘Are trees stressed?  Are they anxious?’  ‘Yes’, she said, simply.   I asked,  ‘Then do I just do nothing and despair?  What should I do?’  ‘Do what you are meant to do. Only that.  It is enough’, she said.   I was about to ask her how I know what I am meant to do, but I already knew the answer.  I needed to take more time, take things slowly, more like a tree. Be aware, sentient, of the world around me, and register the forces acting on me.   Find what I am meant to do and then do it purposely, methodically even, but calmly, and not in a frenzy of activity.   Say less, perhaps, and react less quickly. Know that change takes time.   I am still here.  The world goes on.

My Pea Plant; a Case for Resilience

When we discovered our septic tank was leaking, it was a bad day for the neighborhood, to say the least.  I immediately went out and bought a composting toilet, the result of which is currently still composting.  More on that, perhaps, in a different post, though, since this one is about what happened after, to my garden, and lessons therefrom.

We needed to put in a new septic system, and decided on a biovac, which is a self-contained biological system for rural homes.   When the crew arrived to install it, they insisted that the only place it could go would take the pipes in a direct line through my circle garden, the first one I had designed and built when we moved here, had cared for and developed for five years.  I asked them to please take care of the garden boxes, move them carefully, and they said they would.

It was devastation.  When I came back from work the day of the excavation the boxes were toppled all topsy-turvy in a back section of the plot, there was a ragged deep hulking scar of a hole across where the garden had been, clay soil and oozing mud made up the landscape.  I cried.  When they had finally filled up the trench, finished their work and left a bare mud flat behind, I struggled to find the courage and motivation to build a garden there again.  The boxes were useless.  Soil was piled in weird places.  Where, and how, to start?

I went out to the goat yard and started to pile spent hay, mixed with goat pellets and urine and already decomposing into a blackish mass underneath, into the wheelbarrow. Load after load I dragged across the yard and formed in rows across the muddy clay.  I turned the hay over so the black decomposing parts were on top.  I had the beginnings of a garden bed; in time it would make better and better soil, but for now, this was all there was.

I decided to plant peas.   Peas are nitrogen fixing and would add to the soil nutrients sorely needed.  They have shallow roots that would go fairly easily.   They would create a yield.   So that spring, we planted rows and rows of peas along the decomposing spent hay piled atop the muddy clay soil.  They grew.  Eventually even small weeds started growing in the hay rows. Pulling them and scattering them around the peas added more green matter to the mix of hay and goat compost.

One day, however, while weeding around a young pea, I managed to pull the pea plant up with a weed stalk.   It’s spidery roots hung limply from my hand.   I immediately dug a hole in the hay mass and replanted it, patted it down, watered and fed it with liquid bio fertilizer, and watched it anxiously over the next days.  To my amazement the pea plant prospered.  It was soon long and gangling and I set in stakes and tied it, and the other peas as well, to a network of twine.  The pea plant outgrew its frame and reached out to to join to ones across the path.  It grew to be one of the strongest and most prolific producers in the new garden.

As I mused over the progress of the pea, I found myself thinking of students I had had, those with shallow roots, from broken homes, or with ill or alcoholic, or even abusive parents. I thought how peas, though shallow rooted, had such an immense propensity to grow, a will to live and thrive.  I thought how with the right structure provided, with care to provide a healthy and stimulating environment, even the most shallow rooted, even those who had been metaphorically pulled out by their roots, could grow and prosper.  I thought too, how easy it might have been to have simply cast the small pea plant aside when I had first pulled it out; regretted it as a mistake but dismissed it as a casualty, and assumed there was no hope for it.  Do we do this with students?  Can we do better?

What is Regenerative Pedagogy?

If the purpose of pedagogy is to further learning, why do so many educational processes and systems, embodied in our schools, result in turning students off to learning, dampening curiosity, and hindering natural inquiry and learning?

Regenerative Pedagogy is the application of regenerative design to learning systems. The learning systems that exist today are the remnants of school systems devised in the late middle ages, are based in concepts of humans as overlords of nature, and often present separated systems of mostly intellectual learning. Although there have been many educational reforms over the years, mainstream education still aims at ‘training’ or ‘preparing’ a population for economic productivity. Despite recent movements toward ‘child based teaching’ and in infusion of activities based on the outdoors, observing nature, or planting gardens, much of mainstream teaching remains divorced from ecology and from natural systems thinking.

More and more, we are realizing that our economic models are not sustainable, and are not regenerative in the larger population. We have learned that the resource extraction that drives our economic productivity is not sustainable, that the resources themselves are not renewable, and the model of extraction is not regenerative. We face a world where our relentless pursuit of material wealth has resulted in the degradation of nature, of social interaction, of spiritual growth. A model of separation and a scarcity mentality permeates our current economic, social, and thus, educational models.

Regenerative processes create sustainable systems that mimic ecosystems and integrate pedagogy with nature.    There are two important concepts here; sustainability and integration with nature.   Current pedagogy is not sustainable- all too often it involves processes that break down the natural curiosity, ingenuity, and productivity of children. It only sustains, instead, models of society, culture, and economics that have created a fragmentation in the ways we view ourselves, our nature, and nature itself. Current pedagogy is divorced from nature, both the nature of the child and earth’s natural processes.

If we are to make pedagogy sustainable we need to start with the vision of system that will not waste the enormous resource that is our children, that will rather build upon the natural talent in children and on models of nature.

If we are to integrate pedagogy with nature, we will need to apply all the tools of regenerative design to the design of learning systems.

If we are to create regenerative pedagogy we need to immerse ourselves in nature and in natural principles that will guide us toward regenerative design. We need to practice deep ecology, find and immerse ourselves in the deep ecological experiences that bring deep understanding and awareness, and lead to deep action and deep commitment.

REAP is an initiative to further deep ecology experiences and ecological design in teaching and learning systems. The first aim of the initiative is to improve the understanding of ecology and ecological systems thinking through deep ecology experiences.   Without the deep experience, there is no true initiative for change, action, and commitment.

A second aim is to provide training in permaculture design and deep ecology principles for pedagogy.  Short courses offered to teachers, administrators, and other school staff will focus on developing awareness of holistic social and ecological models.

The third aim is to develop ecological and permaculture based pedagogical solutions in schools, or in spaces and places that replace schools.

The REAP blog will offer resources for and discussions of deep ecology and permaculture based teaching and learning.