Tag Archives: travel

Land Delvings

All photos by David Ashwanden

For many ages and across many cultures, the question of land ownership has puzzled and confused those who consider it. Should we really have to pay just for being somewhere? And if we should, surely we should be paying whoever put us here; God, Mother Earth, the universal energy – call it what you will, for many it makes more sense than paying another person. After all, they too are only being.

In cities, perhaps, this feeling is less easy to define. Go out from the concrete box and away from the tarmac streets; follow the faint scent of wildflowers and sweet adventure, and stand with your bare feet on the bare earth, and then…breathe. Here is the clarification that you are a part of the land: it belongs to you and you to it.

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Connecting to the land…Photo by David Ashwanden

Yet if you want to live in a place that is not completely wild, it was probably built by someone and so they should receive some kind of acknowledgment, perhaps. Generally, however, the line of contact is not so direct and it is rare to find that the person to whom you have to pay money for the place you live is the same as the person who built it. More ‘normal’ is to pay someone who has nothing to do with the place you live a continuous stream of money simply to be in the space. But is it necessary to pay anyone at all?

There are many different ways of playing with alternatives to paying simply to live somewhere, a few of which I have explored.

Exchange

One quite common method is to exchange something other than money – most commonly, time given to the person who claims some kind of ownership of the place, to help them out in whatever occupies them.

This method is fairly well established and websites such as WWOOF (Worldwide Work on Organic Farms) (1),  Helpx (Help Exchange) (2) and Workaway (3) have thousands of members globally. The kind of places you could end up living in through one of these websites could range from a hand built concrete geodesic dome in the middle of the desert, to an immobile caravan 1600m up a mountain side, and the range of projects you may be asked to participate in is literally humungous. This is especially true with living with Helpx hosts, as this website has no specifications for what kind of place it needs to be (by contrast, to be a WWOOF host you have to prove that you are an organic farm). Workaway seems to have more hosts outside of Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand but many request a monetary contribution for food.  

If you really want somewhere to live where you don’t have to pay money, but fancy something more politically controversial than a farm is generally considered to be, you could also try Wwolfing (4) – “WWOOFing with teeth”. This is a website bringing together projects from all around Europe which are protest sites, squatted communities or other kinds of project which may be more risky than if people simple owned the land. The website is small at the moment and anyway there are crossovers with Helpx as many of the hosts listed on Helpx do not actually own their land either.

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Playing with animals…A real option with Helpx

My own helping experiences include, to name but a few

  • Building artificial coral reefs from recycled toilets
  • Riding and chasing horses around a field for exercise (for both of us!)
  • Helping to empty a 100,000 litre water tank into a deposito in the desert
  • Implementing irrigation systems in a Holistic Management farm
  • Feeding and playing with cats while staying in a wood cabin in an orange grove
  • Creating an adventure playground for a summer camp
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Desert Stars…

Hospitality

Fun and enlightening as all of my help exchange experiences have been, it seems clear that they still rest on this basic presumption that you should be giving something for the place that you stay. There are other alternative ways of living which question this notion entirely.

Three that I have some experience with are squatting, “free” communities, and websites such as Couchsurfing, Tripping and Bewelcome. They are all very different ways of going outside the idea that you need to pay to stay, and all add their own hue to this woven tapestry intermingled with, yet not quite touching, the generally accepted norm.

Occupied Buildings or Land

Beginning is easy…Right? The world is full of abandoned or forgotten buildings or pieces of land; jam-packed, in fact, and all beckoning with the exciting potential of what they could become. All you need is the will to change them into a living environment…Right?

In my experience, it seems that in order to occupy a piece of land the most important thing is to first establish a community. Without the support of your fellow so-called “squatters” (a strange term which we perhaps need to transcend if we wish to propagate the idea that the Earth is everyone’s to walk upon freely) or, crucially, of whoever lives in the area already, then it doesn’t matter how much you put into the occupation; you do not have the necessary network to succeed. This, much more than whatever the local laws may say about occupation of buildings or pieces of land, appears as the most important factor.

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Country Bath Anyone?

I have visited and lived in many squats in Europe and the successful ones are always the ones who are considerate of their neighbours, at least to some extent, and wherein the community of squatters is at least somewhat cohesive. These range from a squatted community in a forest in the UK, who were asked to occupy the land by local farmers to attempt to halt planned development which would have caused deforestation and loss of ecosystems to an impressively well-organised ex-fortress in the centre of Rome, Italy, where people not only live but grow their own food, host festivals and events and run a range of community workshops. 

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Creative Community

It is not always easy to find occupied buildings to stay in, for their grey legal status means that they are often only found by word of mouth. Of course many have an online presence but if you want to find out what is really going on there it’s best to visit. I lived in one squatted community in Spain where, when I left to visit local villages or cities, I was frequently given the news that the community had been evicted by the local authorities- only to return to find everything as ‘normal’ or at least how it had been when I left.

I have intentionally left out the names and locations of the occupied projects mentioned as the people living in them and running them may not wish to be public. If it’s right for you, you’ll find some occupied communities to stay in; just keep your eyes open.

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Beauty in the city

Intentional Communities

The global network of intentional communities is growing all the time; all of them with different aims and principles and all with different rules about whether or not you can stay in them. Some, such as Tamera in Portugal (4), are very strict: if you wish to visit Tamera you have to pay to stay for a minimum of 1 month as part of your ‘education’, after which time you can choose to pay to stay for more time, and on the ‘visitors’ section of their website they say rather inhospitably “we wish you an intensive time”. Others, such as many Rainbow communities around the world, are much more loose and indeed less hierarchical about who can stay and for how long. You can find more information about intentional communities in general here: (5).

Couchsurfing and related themes

The second most helpful website in revolutionising the way I travel, after Helpx, has been Couchsurfing (6), an international network of hosts and travellers where, if you have a spare room, bed or couch, you can offer it for people to come and stay with you. The central idea of this is that hospitality should be a gift: there is no reciprocity expected, simply the inherent idea that anyone who is coming to visit your home is worthy of being hosted. Such an idea seems in my experience to be quite an integral part of culture in many Islamic societies but is a new idea for modern industrialised civilisation. Couchsurfing has existed for a number of years now and in that time it seems to have morphed somewhat into a kind of dating website. However, the idea remains and many other websites have sprung up which are similar, such as  BeWelcome (7) and more specific ones like Warmshowers (8) where people host travellers on bike tours, usually providing them not with a bed but with space for a tent and, as the name implies, usually a warm shower.

Workplace Accommodation

There are many jobs which offer accommodation as part of the position, from artist’s residencies to boarding schools, and from architectural assignments to landscape gardening. If you already have a particular skill it may be worth considering if you can travel with it.  Similarly there are many online jobs which you can do from anywhere, though there still remains the question of how you choose to relate to being where you are.

The power of the book of face

It seems strange to include social media in an article about physical community-connections. Yet it didn’t feel right to include all of these ways of staying places for free without including the power of Facebook (9) in facilitating this. There are so many groups now on Facebook that it seems you can find hosts in most places. The advantages of this are that you don’t have to pay the website fees which Helpx, Workaway, Wwoof, Couchsurfing and others all require, and that, since many many people use Facebook extremely regularly, you are much more likely to get a swift response. The appeal of using websites such as Couchsurfing is that there is a reference system so you can check up on your potential guests or hosts; however, Facebook also provides a kind of informal reference, with really a lot more information than a couple of lines someone who has known you for 2 days may have written. Of course, there is a also a lot of irrelevant information on this website but using it is perhaps healthy exercise of one’s critical faculties.

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They say travel opens the mind….

Go Explore!

All of the aforementioned represent changes in our ideas and our culture which are a part of a real evolution into a more consciously connected global community, linked not by our ability to pay to be somewhere but by our shared humanity and wanderlust. Want to find out more? Maybe that holiday you’ve always dreamed of isn’t actually out of your reach; maybe you can learn the skills you’ve always wanted to study by practically doing them while being fed and hosted; or maybe you are simply a little curious to see how people do things in different ways.

Why not try it out?

References

  1. Wwoof International, 2016. ‘How it Works’. http://wwoofinternational.org/how-it-works/
  2. Helpx, 2016. ‘About Helpx’. http://www.helpx.net/about.asp
  3. Workaway, 2016. ‘Who We Are’. http://www.workaway.info/whoweare.html
  4. Wwolfing, 2016. ‘Wwoofing with teeth’. https://wwolfing.wordpress.com/
  5. Tamera, 2016. ‘About Us’. https://www.tamera.org/what-is-tamera/about-us/
  6. Fellowship for Intentional Community, 2016. ‘Welcome’. http://www.ic.org/
  7. Couchsurfing, 2016. ‘Couchsurfing’. http://www.couchsurfing.com
  8. BeWelcome, 2016. ‘FAQs’. http://www.bewelcome.org/faq
  9. Warmshowers, 2016. ‘Home’. https://www.warmshowers.org/
  10. Facebook, 2016. ‘Facebook’. http://www.facebook.com

Sacred Dance to Reawaken our Truth

With thanks, love and appreciation to David Ashwanden and to all my fellow space-holders.

Many people have written about the various themes which underlie all of human society and culture, regardless of how far back in history you go or how far-flung from each other the societies are.  Among the things which unite us all as humans we have myths and stories (1), transcultural symbols (2) and even intoxicants, which have been used in one form or other by the vast majority of societies in human history (3).

As fundamental as all of these is our need to express ourselves with our bodies, an expression which comes out in dance. Having been following this need as a professional artistic pursuit for the past three years (as well as a social enjoyment activity for much longer!) I decided to take it further by doing some kind of training. But what kind? I am not really interested in learning formal steps or a particular style, but more in the free expression. And there are plenty of dance courses which encourage this out there, from 5 Rhythms (4) to Biodanza (5). Such styles seem interesting, if a little prescriptive, yet I did not feel drawn to actually training in them. Perhaps because as important as the free expression is the recognition that dance is a form of healing, an integral part of human enjoyment and therefore as such can be recognised as a sacred act.

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Dancing as a Sacred Act. Photo by Catherine Brogan.

Maybe it was too much to hope for to find a training which combined all these things: healing, enjoyment and recognition of the sacred. Yet find it I did when I discovered Daisy Kaye’s  5 Element Dance Teacher Training (7) – a training which focuses on using cacao as a key part of the ritual and ceremony in order to enhance the experience. This meant I got the added bonus of being able to practise and expand my love and knowledge of herbalism. Oh, and the course was being held on a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand. Somehow, it just had to happen.

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Arrival on the island. Photo by David Ashwanden

And it did. And I got out of it a sense of healing and reconnection with my body, renewed enjoyment of dancing, and many more tools for welcoming the sacred into my everyday life, as well as much more knowledge of different medicinal plants from around the world.

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Some of the herbal medicines we were learning about, including, of course, cacao. Photo by David Ashwanden

However, I also got more even than all of this. Because part of what the course helped me and the other participants to gain was a sense of deeper truth. What do I mean by this? Read on to find out…

Dancing Alchemy – Mixing Up the New Human Culture 

Though the course was a teacher training which eventually gave us the tools to run our own ceremonial dance meditations, the first week was simply an introduction to Daisy’s Five Elements dance, which uses a system of symbols to understand the relationships between things in the world, including our bodies. These are used in various ways by different cultures globally, though one of the interesting aspects of Daisy’s style is that she does not focus on one system only. While she is very experienced in and influenced by Chinese medicine, Taoism and Qi Gong, ‘her’ Five Elements are not based exclusively on the Chinese interpretation but also use Ayurvedic, Native American and Daisy’s own ideas.

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Connecting with the Fire element. Photo by David Ashwanden

Indeed, this amalgamation of ideas from different cultures was a recurring theme throughout the course and was one of the most beautiful aspects of it to me. Though much of the actual action we were engaging in can be seen as an ancient practise – breathing and breathwork, gathering together, sitting in circles, sharing herbal intoxicating brews and of course dancing – the fact that Daisy was bringing together traditions from many cultures across the world meant that this course was encouraging the development of an entirely new practise. Importantly, as Daisy puts it, her ideas are not fixed and we are all encouraged to create our own personalised versions. Thus we are engaging not in a rigid system but in the growth of a transglobal new human culture.

Listening to Our Bodies

Five Elements dancing is not just a dance, it is a “manifestational movement meditation” (8). By dancing to clear our minds, we become clear about what it is we actually want. By sharing this with others in a circle we help to crystallise it and make it even clearer. Then we dance through the five elements: grounding with the Earth, flowing with Water, enlivening with Fire, soaring with Air and connecting with Ether. This has the effect not only of helping us to achieve a meditational state but also with helping us connect deeply with our bodies. And when we do this, perhaps surprisingly for some, our bodies usually have some messages for us.

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Listening for the messages. Photo by David Ashwanden

As I’ve quoted before (9),

“We may never have been conscious of our life energy, but our bodies can feel it. We may never have been conscious of our suffering in childhood, but our bodies can remember. We may never have been conscious of the suffering of our parents, but our bodies received it in the womb and carry it. We may never have been conscious of the pollution of the planet but our bodies feel it and manifest the effects…

So if we inhabit our bodies and let them speak to us, we can become aware of transpersonal energy, and in welcoming it, we heal not only ourselves, but our families, our communities and our planet” (Hayes, 2007) (10)

This ‘inhabiting’ is a practise which is often so overlooked in modern culture that it can be a bit of a shock to begin doing it once more. The Five Elements seem a very effective way for helping to tune to what our bodies are telling us, as each element connects us to different emotions, so any emotions which our bodies “remember” can be released. However, we do not dwell on any element in particular, so the emotions can also be let go of.

Magic Circle

Holding space is a key part of helping make a place sacred. It can help to create your own sacred space like this Magic Circle, though the first sacred space to create and recognise is within you. Photo by David Ashwanden

Mind-Truth and Body-Truth

In the circle we are encouraged to speak the truth and part of the art which the course helped me to learn was holding space in a way which facilitates and fosters this. However, sometimes our minds may get in the way of what we’re saying so that even we are not sure if it’s really true.

The dance meditation connecting us to our bodies, encouraging us to be “at home in our bones” brings out a kind of truth which is even deeper, more subtle and perhaps more difficult to define – the truth our bodies and senses are sharing with us. It seems as though once we connect to this the whole way in which we speak takes on a different significance, as well as the way in which we act and move around in our lives.

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Circle Dance. Photo by Tianna.

Because one thing which the course helped with was in making it easier to connect to our  deeper truths – to be honest with ourselves. The radiating effect of this is that it’s less easy to lie about anything in life, whether it’s participating in an activity that you do not really enjoy or agree with, or speaking your mind about something.

Bringing the dance out

In the sacred dancing circle we are all human beings, fresh personalities poised and ready to listen to our guiding desires and to begin the delicious journey of manifesting them.

Outside the circle, we may pick up different characters here and there to help us in our journeys. One of the main teachings of the course for me was being able to tell which of these characters are beneficial to us and which help us to develop healthily in body, mind and spirit. The dancing meditation makes it easy to differentiate – but once we go back into the world, it may also be easy to forget. The fact that the course was on a secluded beach on a tropical island meant that it felt very much like a holiday. Many of the other course participants defined themselves as living double or triple lives and seemed unhappy with the lack of integrity this seemed to be giving them.

Hopefully by the end of the training they were more sure about where their integrity lies, and strong enough to follow it: why leave holiday behind when we can embody it as part of our lifestyle?

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Creation of altars – one way of making a space sacred. Photo by Tianna.

Tune in now

You don’t need to participate in one of Daisy’s courses in order to connect to your deeper truth or help you to make every day sacred, though it has certainly aided me in re-finding my path. There are so many ways to do it: maybe you find it through yoga, qi gong, mindful walking; from practising circus skills or martial arts; by learning about the Tao, the Chinese medicine system or Buddhism, or simply by standing still and focusing on your breath. None of these things are exclusive and the most important thing in practising them is probably your own enjoyment.  Sacred spaces are all around us, and the sacred dance is within us all the time. We can let it out however we like…

Just remember to keep dancing…

Notes

If you are interested in reading more about the course, feel free to check out my fellow participant Debbie Bird’s experiences here: Bird is Travelling.

References

  1. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books: New York City
  2. Corbett, L, 2012. Psyche and the Sacred: Spirituality beyond Religion. Spring Journal Books: New Orleans
  3. Walton, S, 2003. Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication. Three Rivers Press: New York City
  4. 5 Rhythms, 2016. ‘Who We Are’. https://www.5rhythms.com/who-we-are/
  5. The Art of Biodanza, 2016. ‘About Biodanza’. http://theartofbiodanza.com/origins-of-biodanza/
  6. Daisy Kaye, 2016. ‘Live a Holiday Lifestyle’. http://www.liveaholidaylifestyle.com/
  7. The Sanctuary Thailand, 2016. ‘Sacred Cacao 5 Element Dance Teacher Training’. http://www.thesanctuarythailand.com/sacred-cacao-5-element-dance-ceremonies-teacher-training-with-daisy-kaye.html
  8. Daisy Kaye, 2016.
  9. Haworth, C, 2016. David Bowie: Helping us Dance to Heal. Abundance Garden, 4/2/16. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/david-bowie-helping-us-to-dance-to-heal/
  10. Hayes, J, 2007. Performing the Dreams of Your Body: Plays of Animation and Compassion. Archive Publishing: Chichester

The EU Referendum: Towards a Global Citizenship?

On Thursday (23 June 2016) the citizens of the United Kingdom voted on whether or not they wish to be part of the European Union in a referendum (1). The results of the referendum, as well as the media portrayal of events leading up to and following it, have thrown up some interesting questions of identity and what it means to be united. Though much analysis of these questions focuses on the political aspects of the EU and the UK as a state, it could also be important to consider the wider implications when it comes to travelling in general, and what it actually means to be a citizen in today’s world.

United!….Are We?

Geographically, the referendum results have thrown into clear contrast the idea of the United Kingdom being one nation-state. Though most of England voted to leave the EU (1), the majority of Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay in (1), suggesting a lack of unity within the ‘United’ Kingdom. However, if Scotland and Northern Ireland become their own nation-states, independent of English law, the major English cities will probably wish to follow, having all voted to stay in the EU, so we could end up with six or seven new EU member states, including the country of London (which may raise some logistical questions of how the politics of England would function without the Houses of Parliament and all of the bureaucratic institutions which are based in London, but surely just a little re-organisation is needed).

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Photo by David Ashwanden

Considering our movements

One issue which seems to have been central to the referendum is the idea of ‘immigrants’ coming into the EU (see for example 2). Those voting to leave the EU may well have been doing so in order to stop more people entering Britain as an immigrant. However, there are an estimated 1.2 million British-born people currently living in other EU states (3) whose right to reside in such countries could potentially be compromised by the referendum results. If those who voted ‘remain’ were hoping to limit the number of people entering the UK, they may wish to consider these 1.2 million.

The right to travel 

It is difficult to tell what effect the referendum will have on a practical level for people who live in Britain or who have been officially designated British. However, in many ways the results seem to be throwing into clear relief the irrelevance of such official designations. How can we identify with England if we live in Italy or Spain, and England wishes to close its borders to these countries? Furthermore, in today’s increasingly connected and multicultural, multi-perspective world, what does it mean to identify with a nation-state? It is perhaps easier to feel an identity, for example, with a person who was born in a country on the other side of the globe, but who likes the same bands as you, than to your next-door neighbour who bangs on the wall every time you play their music too loud. Then there is the more holistic idea that we are all related and that a deep respect for the world around us- the trees, the mountains, the flowers, and all our fellow animals- is resonant wherever we are in the globe and whichever side of a political line we happen to be on.

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Mountains – the same, whichever nation they have been designated a part of. Photo by David Ashwanden.

The flowers, after all, do not need a passport to travel. As someone who has lived for extended periods in the mountains I was refreshingly amazed to find, on my first ever visit to the mountains of Abruzzo in central Italy, many of the same plant species as I experienced in the Sierra Nevada, thousands of kilometres away in a different so-called nation, as well as in my own native land. The plants flourish in an environment which is conducive to biodiversity, creating a resilient network of abundant life. Different from plants as we may be, it does not take too much of a leap of imagination to analogise this to humans.

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Mountain Flowers. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

International imports but no freedom to leave?

The idea that we have the right to roam and flourish on the earth while respecting it is an ancient one, and as an increasingly global society one which it may well be important to recognise. Many people are upset, angry or scared about the outcome of the referendum – which emotions do seem to be being encouraged by media outlets – but what the referendum perhaps is really showing is that it doesn’t matter which nation or group of nations you supposedly belong to. From this perspective it is not so important to join one or other identifying group but to identify yourself as a global citizen, someone who has every right to live in the world and to freely move around it. This is what I believe we are moving towards as an international society, whatever the so-called ruling governments may say.

Official recognition and doing it anyway

Yet how can we apply this holistic citizenship on a practical level? Maybe it is easier than you think. In Britain there already exist laws enshrining the rights of so-called ‘travellers’ (4), although not many of them are followed in practise. For example, the fact that ‘travellers’ are recognised as a distinct section of society is shown in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, under which councils can provide special traveller’s sites for caravans and mobile homes, although “not many public authorities do so” (4).

What appears to be clear is that if a group of people really believe that they have the right to do something, then this right exists, regardless of the law.  This can be shown in many examples; one clear one of the law catching up to what the people had decided was right is with many indigenous tribes in what is now known as the USA, who have a deep cultural relationship to the ingestion of peyote cactus which has been developing over thousands of years, and whose right to use this sacred plant was recognised in 1965 by 28 different Federal governments even though they still currently ban all other people from eating peyote (5).

What does it mean for me?

What does this have to do with being a British or other citizen? Simply that it illustrates that if you really think something should be a certain way then it can be. If taking peyote in sacred rituals is recognised as an act of religious freedom, then why shouldn’t travelling around the world and finding a home wherever you feel comfortable, regardless of the lines on the map? The indigenous American tribes are respectful of the sacred nature of the peyote and this respect can extend out to the entire world. This is how we could approach the new global citizenship: we are not simply travellers but conscious movers; every step we take is careful and everywhere we go we can recognise the beauty and the goodness present, even in cultural gestures or landscapes which may at first appear ugly. We accept that everyone’s ideas are valid, which includes all the border games and everything they entail, just in the way that indigenous tribes may well respect the laws banning other people from using their sacred plant in disrespectful ways, though as citizens of a unified and sacred planet we are exempt from such games.

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All of our ways can be beautiful. Photo by David Ashwanden.

The previous statements are simply ideas; seeds which can be taken and planted if you have the right conditions to nurture them. Whatever effects the EU referendum ends up having, we can use it as a starting point for moving beyond mere simple ideas of nationalism or groups of nations. Wherever you travel, either virtually using your computer screen or physically sensing this wonderful planet around you, remember that the “lovers of ultimate beauty” (6) can be found everywhere. The more we realise this the more we can move forwards towards a recognition of travelling as a sacred right….

…Well it is, right?

References

  1. The Guardian, 2016. ‘EU Referendum: Results and Analysis’. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2016/jun/23/eu-referendum-live-results-and-analysis
  2. Asthana, A, 2016. ‘Immigration and the EU referendum: the angry, frustrated voice of the British public’. The Guardian, 20/6/16. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/20/seven-towns-one-story-referendum-voters-say-too-many-foreigners
  3. Migration Watch UK, 2016. ‘The British in Europe – and vice versa’. http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/354
  4. Law on the Web, 2016. ‘Rights of Travellers’. https://www.lawontheweb.co.uk/legal-help/rights-of-travellers
  5. Legal Information Institute, 2016. ’42 U.S. Code § 1996a – Traditional Indian religious use of peyote’. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/1996a
  6. Gogol Bordello, 2007. ‘Wonderlust King’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3SUPPeuRdU

On travel and diversity

The idea of gardening abundance is a metaphorical one and this blog is not only about gardening. A key way in which we can take our preferences into our own hands, however, is to take all the strings of logistics right back to the source. Access to land can increase our autonomy and probably improve our wellbeing when it comes to a great number of things, from food production and distribution to allocation and sharing of resources, or simply access to green, living spaces. Issues surrounding access to land date back quite a long time through history, and it is important to understand the complicated factors surrounding land issues if we are to understand the reasons for  the uneven land distribution which we find in our world today, and indeed, respect and use our land in a way which will benefit more people. These fall broadly into three main categories, which I shall discuss below: the challenges of getting land in the first place, where to find knowledge and gain skills, and how to develop and learn when you are stuck in one place.

Finding land

Historically, the question of who owns which part of land, when it has appeared as a concept – as many cultures do not recognise the idea of ‘ownership’ of land at all (see for example 1) – has been one of simply whoever has the most power gaining the most land. This was enshrined in law in Britain during the succession of “Inclosure” (in Old English) or Enclosure Acts which were passed by a series of UK governments between 1604 and 1914, turning what was once common land into private land (2). However, I shall not dwell on such issues, as it is clear that in spite of who claims to have the law or power on their side, access to land is both achievable and possible. This can be shown by the number of squatted communities in the world (see for example 2, 3), the success of guerrilla gardening (see for example 4) and the number of projects in the UK where people have begun living on the land and afterwards got ‘retrospective planning permission’ (6); permission which would probably not have been given had they asked the ‘powers which be’ and waited for it.

Of course, if you are working on the land without the permission of those who claim to own it, there is always the issue of security. But will the security of the piece of paper which you obtain at vast expense protect you from the sudden violent rainstorm which destroys half of your crops? The unexpected drought which comes, when you investigate it, from the aqueduct which carries your water from the source high above your land having a gate installed in it by a multinational water corporation, who have signed a contract with the local council for ‘rights’ to  number of litres per year rather than a percentage of the actual amount of water? The complaints from your neighbours whom you have not bothered becoming friends with as you know you have the legal right to be there? The lightning when it strikes?

For many, the idea of having a piece of land to work on is not only a distant dream but an impossibility. This is simply because they are considering land prices, planning permission and scarcity of land as insurmountable obstacles rather than intriguing challenges.

Have land – now what to do?

If you have grown up following the rhythms of your environment and learned how to utilise bits of it to help keep you alive then you still have the mutual connection which will greatly enable you to grow and build with confidence and abundance. For many in the last couple of generations, however, this connection has been somewhat cut; not severed completely, or we would never be able to survive, but made very much smaller. Now as more and more people begin recognising the importance of respecting the land and are deciding that a great way to do this is to move onto the land themselves (see for example 7), there is also the challenge of arriving in the field and not having a clue what to do with the things you find there. You can study how to grow, but most ‘conventional’ agriculture takes into account profitability as the highest goal and is therefore more likely to damage the land than enhance it. Other ways of growing are available to learn about. This can be done formally, through apprenticeship schemes such as with the Soil Association in the UK (8) or the Biodynamic or Demeter Association worldwide (9); or through courses such as the Permaculture Design Course available worldwide (10, 11) and the Permaculture Diploma in the UK (12) or more research-oriented courses such as those at the Centre for Agro-ecology, Water and Resilience (13) or at the Schumacher College (14). If you do not have the time or money to go for one of these there are more informal ways of learning, such as using exchange programmes like Helpx (14) or Worldwide Work on Organic Farms (15) to find a time and place which suits you and gain practical experience.

At the recent Oxford Real Farming Conference (16), I was present at a very enlightening discussion about the ‘rural-urban divide’ and how this can be overcome to help farmers work more efficiently and less stressfully, and help those wishing to start out in farming to begin. The discussion touched on a range of issues, but one which kept coming up was the idea of city people, who live at a faster paced life than those in the countryside, feeling that simply because they have spent a couple of months studying they know how to change styles of farming which have been in place for generations. This viewpoint, though it is not necessarily completely arrogant (as farmers probably can learn a lot from city folk; but it has to work both ways), is something to be aware of; as is the tendency, mentioned by one amused farmer, of city-dwellers to find problems with everything, and to expect solutions to come immediately or panic must ensue. “You have to just be a bit more patient”, he commented; things are changing, it just takes time.

The issue of time

This is perhaps the most complicated issue of all, and one which I shall be writing much more about. As mentioned in my Web of Biodiversity, it may vastly help us to go about achieving our individual and collective goals if we bear in mind a celebration of a culture of biodiversity; which means not just in the seeds which we plant once we have gained access to land, but in the diverse nature of all the myriad characters and stories which make up human existence. If we are truly to understand and celebrate this, perhaps it is useful for us to travel at regular intervals in our lives, to experience the vast range of ways in which we can live in this world by seeing how people do it in other places. Travel can also be a fast way of helping us to learn, as well as helping to open up the mind, though this can be done in many ways, including sitting alone in your room, as long as you have the right stimuli.

Yet how can one care for the land and travel around learning about how others do it? If we are to truly gain an abundant harvest from or land, we need to be there, utilising the permaculture principle of ‘observe and interact’ by experiencing what the place is like throughout the seasons, learning the habits of the plants and creatures on it, in order to discover how best to design a system which will work with the natural flows whilst providing produce and joy for ourselves. This necessitates staying in one place.

However, a simple observation of many natural phenomena is that when they stay in one place with no movement, this can be highly detrimental. Plants and trees need air to move through their branches and leaves to help keep them oxygenated; water if it is left standing with no current will go stagnant. The same seems to be true of humans; if we stay in one routine for too long, we can end up losing sight of the holistic picture and become lost in our own bureaucracy.

Travelling farms

This is not true of everyone, however; as mentioned, the human race is made of a huge diversity of characters and many people may be happy to always live in the same place.  Equally, there are many who will never have any interest in having a hand in where the products they use come from, or in truly living in connection with nature, and so it doesn’t matter where they go. For those  who are interested in experiencing it all, it seems there can be a new way of looking after the land. Those who wish to learn to grow can travel from farm to farm, learning as they go, and with the understanding that they can also give, in terms of bringing new energy as well as manual labour and human strength. This is already in place to some extent with the WWOOF and Helpx systems; the only way in which it could become even more mutually beneficial is to extend the idea of land use to include those who travel around as a key part of working on the land.

Nomadic landworkers

These ideas represent only a fraction of the possibilities available to us as long as we can broaden our definitions of what it means to own or work on the land to include not just paying someone some money but all of the other activities which make up human experience. It is in this spirit that I shall be spending the next six weeks travelling around Southern Spain, helping out on different projects and learning more techniques to enable me better to garden abundantly myself. After all, even those who own land outright in the ‘official’ sense are nothing but tenants anyway; we are all only alive on the Earth for a brief period of time, and we may as well make our tenancy worthwhile.

References

  1. Halcyon, 2014. ‘Chief Seattle’s reply to a Government offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands: 1854’. http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/chiefsea.html – retrieved 31/01/15
  2. UK Parliament, 2015. ‘Enclosing the Land’. http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/towncountry/landscape/overview/enclosingland/
  3. Google Maps, 2014. ‘Résistance! Carte des utopies et luttes écologistes et sociales concrètes [ ‘Resistance! Map of utopias and fixed ecological and social struggles” (my translation)]. https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zB1OZmeGJ7OA.kepycQ8XsohU&mid=1385494633&msa=0
  4. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Grow Heathrow: Response to Comments’. Permaculture News, 10/4/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/04/10/grow-heathrow-response-comments/
  5. Reynolds, R, 2009. On Guerilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Borders. Bloomsbury: London
  6. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Need for Sustainable Building’. Permaculture Magazine, 2014. http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/need-sustainable-building
  7. Reclaim the Fields, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.reclaimthefields.org.uk/about/
  8. Soil Association, 2015. ‘Future Growers’. http://www.soilassociation.org/futuregrowers
  9. Biodynamic Association, 2015. ‘Diploma in Biodynamic Association (formerly BD Apprenticeship)’. http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/training/
  10. Permaculture Magazine, 2015. ‘Courses’. http://www.permaculture.co.uk/courses
  11. Permaculture Research Institute, 2015. ‘Permaculture Courses’. http://www.permaculturenews.org/courses.php
  12. Permaculture Association, 2015. ‘Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/diploma
  13. Centre for Agro-Ecology, water and Resilience, 2015. ‘About the CAWR’. http://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/areas-of-research/agroecology-water-resilience/
  14. Schumacher College, 2015. ‘About’ .https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about
  15. Helpx, 2015. ‘About’.http://helpx.net/about.asp
  16. Wwoof, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.wwoof.net/about/
  17. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/