Saturday, 31 December 2011
At the TN Third Birthday bash, Rob Hopkins showed slides covering various transition schemes across the country - from community gardens to community shops, from bakeries to breweries. And the one that got me sitting up in my seat - the Lewes power company with the solar panels on the brewery roof. It's the UK's first community-owned solar power company, and that is a really exciting prospect. That, coupled with what's proposed in Totnes with the Totnes Renewable Energy Society, shows a real sea change in people's ability to take control over the things they need in everyday life.
I don't imagine that it will be easy. We would need to come together, raise the money, find the premises, navigate the legal and logistical complexities of making it happen, and find someone to actually do the work. It might not be solar, it could be wind, biomass, anything. There are no easy answers, no quick solutions or magic bullets. Solving the problems will be a challenge. But on the way, we could do something great!
So, a Norwich Renewable Energy Society anyone? That would be an amazing aspiration for our fine city in 2012!
Friday, 30 December 2011
So, my experience tells me that, rather than just trying to get people to stop something, could we get people to start, or do more of, something else? Can we incentivise people to do the things that are less harmful, to the environment, for example, or more beneficial, to our communities, say, on the other? What enterprises are there out there that make it easy for people to choose a different lifestyle?
Earlier in the year, at the Spring Scheming, we sat around tables and discussed things we could do in Norwich, that would really make a difference. We talked about going into schools, into workplaces, communicating with people. We also talked about creating schools, creating workplaces, creating the kinds of communities we wanted to be part of. Can we challenge the current paradigm - the consumer-led, in-it-for-myself world-view - by creating a new way of living? What structures would work? What businesses would we need?
Out of that session was born Norwich Community Bees - a community-led, not-for-profit cooperative beekeeping venture. It's taken a lot of hard work and time from many people, but we're up and running, with one hive of bees established, and ready for an exciting 2012. It might not change the world overnight, but then again, it just might - that's the beauty of possibility.
Another idea out of that Spring Scheming that really caught my imagination was that of a community-managed woodland. It came around the time when the government was thinking of selling our public forests to private companies. I was all fired up. Then I discovered just how much even a modest piece of woodland would cost... That idea went on the backburner, if you'll excuse the pun.
But recently I had a conversation with someone about how much more UK-grown building timber costs compared to imported tropical hardwoods. And I mean, significantly more! I was shocked, but it made me think - maybe there's an opportunity there. Yes, it would be a business, yes, it would need to make money to be viable, yes, it was about chopping trees down. But could it be done locally, in a truly sustainable manner, in a way that provides employment, protects and promotes habitats, and provides pleasure and opportunities for our community? Some parts of the country are already exploring ways to make this happen. Maybe it's an idea whose time has come again.
So there are just two of my hopes for 2012 - that Norwich Community Bees will grow from its small start into something really great, and that we can explore the possibilities for setting up a community woodland somewhere near Norwich. If you'd like to be part of either of these visions, do get in touch - or if you've got anothere great idea, suggest it on the comments page!
Look forward to hearing from you!
Pic: from www.climateark.org
Thursday, 29 December 2011
Cycling is not just about reducing traffic pollution and oil consumption but also provides both physical and emotional health benefits. Cyclists can easily stop at local shops and can exchange greetings with other cyclists instead of fuming at each other in traffic jams. Making it attractive for people to cycle to work ticks so many boxes that I struggle to understand why so little provision has so far been made for cyclists. Cars are cosseted indoors in multi-storey car parks whilst my bike is lucky to get a rail to lean against, out in the rain. I’m forced to conclude that too few of the people with the power to make things happen ever get on their own bikes and they don’t see cycling as a ‘proper’ mode of transport.
|NCC proposed cycle links|
Picture of MP Richard Bacon joining children on ride to school in Hethersett
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Seriously. Where would we be without the plant world?
Reconnection with Nature continues to be the most frequently used tag by Transition Norwich bloggers. As we head into a 2012 of continued planetary degradation with no conventional political will to stop it, becoming aware of ourselves within the living systems takes on a more urgent and meaningful tenor. It also makes economic sense as the present financial system collapses, whether you grow more of your own food at home or join a local veg box scheme.
So what am I doing to help everyone reconnect with nature in 2012, in Transition Norwich, Sustainable Bungay and within the wider Transition movement?
I’ll continue with the Low Carbon Cookbook project, now ready to be written up after 15 months of sharing and storing recipes, experiences, facts and figures along with low carbon growing, cooking, eating and buying tips. The LCC group will also be showcasing ancient and modern superfood plants at Grapes Hill Community Garden – which I’ll write about later in the year.
I’ll also keep writing for This Low Carbon Life and the Transition Network Social Reporters project. And I intend to do more transitional speaking in public after a guest slot on Stroud FM’s Transition Show earlier this month speaking about Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay. It was nerve-wracking and fun at the same time. [Note to self for future speaking: reduce stuttering and stumbling to a minimum. Breathe and let go, hence reduce overwhelm by all the things you COULD say but can’t get out. That’ll come with practice.]
But my biggest Transition project this year is with Sustainable Bungay. I’ll be heading up the Plant Medicine Bed 2012 at the Library Community Garden, growing and showcasing plants-for-medicine and hosting monthly talks, walks and workshops with fellow plant people on everything from Medicine Roots to Spring Tonics to Wild Plant Oils to Adopt a Herb (part of the Norfolk and Norwich festival). The first three events take place at 3pm on Sundays 15th January, 18th February and 19th March. Everyone is welcome from Bungay, Norwich and the hinterland. Keep an eye on the Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich News websites where I’ll post all the details as well as write-ups here on This Low Carbon Life. NB: There is no charge for these sessions but donations appreciated.
For details of the Plant Medicine bed and related talks, walks and workshops throughout 2012 in Bungay and elsewhere contact me, Mark Watson, on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01502 722419
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
Her name is 52 Flowers That Shook My World. She is a book about plants and thanks to this blog (and Simeon who inspired me to write about it in our Sustainable Livelihoods week), the Uncivilisation Festival and Two Ravens Press, she is about to be published this summer. I love writing blogs, but there is something about the printed page. There is something about wild and medicine plants that takes me to places no meeting or community event can ever reach.
You could say the affair was inevitable given the times we are living in, where the symptoms of systemic collapse are all about us - financial markets crashing, methane spouting through the Arctic tundra. One thing I learned from experience: pushed to the edge, the best of ourselves can come to the fore. Close to death, no one worries about social niceties, about paying the mortgage or what people think of their hair. They remember the plum tree as it blossoms, or people they once cherished. And often they ask themselves: did I live life as I could, was I bold or free enough, did I love people as I could have, and the world?
52 Flowers was written at an edge time, when I had just returned from travelling. It's subtitle is A Radical Return to Earth and it looks at the steps modern people need to take to get back down to earth, the tools that will turn the tanker around as Jon put it yesterday. Most of all it considers the wild places, the fifth zone of permaculture, without which nothing in the zones closer to home and garden makes sense. It looks at the big frame in which Transition sits, the physical nature of the planet and our position in the vast wheel of time. 2012 is a big year, crunch time for civilisation, discussed as the culmination point in some spheres, as the end of one way of life and the beginning of another. It is the end of a huge cycle of time in a calendar that stretches across 5,000 years.
Oh, no, Charlotte! Not the Mayan calendar, you cry. But listen: to be truly resilient we need other ways of looking at life and ourselves if we are going to weather the storm that's brewing on the horizon. We need to connect with all our relations on the planet and know we are not just consumers and house-owners/renters, stuck in what we call History. This is how the book begins in 1991, with a Mexican plant called epazote that leads me on a journey to discover that we are more interesting, more powerful, than any of our parents or teachers or "leaders" would like us to think we are. I'm not talking woo-woo workshop or crystals here, I mean being activists for change in a real way, in our minds, bodies and hearts, in everyday life.
Here's an idea about time that I discovered on my travels. The Mayan people call the human being winclil which means vibratory root. The harmony and beauty of the spheres is perceived on earth by different “tribes” or types of human beings (which correspond to the different days of the week in their three calendars). These human roots vibrate in the fabric of life at different frequencies. Most modern human winclils however are deactivated. Lacking connection with the living systems of the planet, we vibrate only when artificially stimulated by sex and war, which creates an incoherent, low frequency. Mayan systems (such as we understand them in the modern world) activate the life-forces in order to create a high and coherent frequency. In short, instead of making noise, human beings make music. You only have to look at their textiles to know what this colourful world looks like.
So forecasting ahead and describing what I wish to see happen, or think I might see happen (which are different things) is a year of living within a wider perspective. A year in which the bigger forces come into play, whether we like it or not. A year when Transition is understood within a frame of the wild places. When all activists, all social movements for change, are understood as vital strands in a worldwide web. As the bringers of colour and vibrancy and harmony, within a black-and-white, dissonant culture. The collective butterfly emerging from an all-consuming, caterpillar world.
In the forest where the passionflower grows, where its leaves have been used as a poultice for thousands of years, the Maya sit in small straw huts and weave patterns of extraordinary complexity, the most beautiful fabrics of the world in all the colours of the quetzal bird. In their imaginations and in their hearts they hold calendars of equal complexity, that rotate at different speeds like the stars around the sun. They have held these complex patterns inside them for thousands of years – patterns of time, of colour, of beauty. They held them before the cities came and after they fell into ruin. The temples did not hold them. The temples never do (2: Passionflower, 52 Flowers That Shook My World)
On the ground I plan to continue the Social Reporting project that had its successful pilot this year, this blog, the Low Carbon Cookbook and the communications work for Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay. I'll keep spreading the word about our myriad projects and events, our community-building and low-carbon ethos that are key to resilience in downshifting and difficult times. But elsewhere I'll be coming out with 52 Flowers, speaking about life in the fifth zone, connecting with our wildness and our inner transformative abilities. This will start next month with a talk on Roots for the Plant Medicine Bed at the Library Community Garden which Mark will write about tomorrow. Watch this space!
Climbing the Temple of the Magician, Uxmal, Mexico, 1991; Wild by Jay Griffiths and Martin's woodworking tools, Uncivilisaiton Festival, August 2011; with Teresa and Cecilia in Real de Catorce, 1993, from 52 Flowers that Shook my World; fairtrade textiles from Mayan Traditions; speaking about medicine plants at Transition Camp, October 2011;
Monday, 26 December 2011
Research says that we're more likely to keep our resolutions if we do them together, and what better community support network to help than Transition.
Last year on the blog we talked about the personal things we wanted to see in 2011 (check out the blog posts to read our hopes). This year, we're writing "forecasts" rather than resolutions, things we would like to see happen, and some suggestions for making it happen. Transition is all about the people, so ideas are only ideas until people get behind them and make them happen.
If you like the sound of something in this "New Year Forecasts" theme week, get in touch. Only with your help can we make the ideas a reality!
Sunday, 25 December 2011
Saturday, 24 December 2011
A teasel seed head. After the seeds have formed in autumn the plant starts to die, but the dried stems and seed heads will still be around all winter
Friday, 23 December 2011
Whilst our Southern Hemisphere readers are celebrating Summer Solstice, our Sun ends its waning cycle in the Northern Hemisphere today, the shortest day of the year. Winter Solstice heralding the return of lengthening days, falls tomorrow on Thursday 22nd December. From then on, the days will grow longer and brighter until the height of next year's Summer.
Today, many of us have lost touch with seasonal changes as our lives seem entrenched in artificial environments immersed in technologies and thought patterns that seem to negate the need for nature. Even where the Earth's provisions are relatively direct, such as for food, clothing and warmth, we tend to either ignore the source of these sustaining goods or take them for granted. How many of us or our children, for example, think and act as though our food and clothes emanate from the supermarket or the high street, rather than from the Earth! Our lifestyles allow us to forget that cotton and food are grown in the soil beneath our feet.
Reversing this conception is easy. It is simply a matter of making time to appreciate what we have. So, when sourcing new clothes, or throwing on a favourite sweater, for example, we can look at the fabric and label, think about where the materials were grown and all the people and elements that played a part in getting the items from soil to us - the sowing, caring, harvesting, designing, producing, transporting, selling and so on. And we can feel grateful. When we eat a meal, we can take a moment to think about how it was grown, who was involved in putting the ingredients together and appreciate all the efforts made by people and elements involved in the sowing, caring, harvesting, storage, transporting, selling, washing, preparing, cooking... Two simple words can change our whole outlook on Life - "Thank You"!
When asked to recall our happiest times, we tend to envision and remember people and places rather than technologies and material things. Breathtaking landscapes, fresh air, open fires, endless oceans, loved ones. These are the things that make us feel alive. Re-Membering our connection to nature and taking time out to acknowledge that we are part of the natural world, gives us the opportunity to grow, to accept the nurturing gifts provided in abundance by the Earth and use them to enhance our well-being.
When we acknowledge the influence of Nature and her seasons on our physical and spiritual well-being, we become aware of the profound links that exist between us, each other and our world. Our connection with the Earth, all its inhabitants, the skies, stars, galaxy and universe beyond run deeper than we can ever wholly know.
The return from dark days into lighter at the Winter Solstice is a chance to look back over the year and see how we have grown, the lessons learned, those we continue to learn, the changes made, what worked well, what worked out differently from how we had imagined at the start of 2011, what made us frustrated, angry and sad, what made us smile, glow and weep with laughter. It is an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings received and the hard lessons learned. It is a chance to look forward to all that we want to be in the coming year and let go of all the things, thoughts, relationships, attitudes, feelings and habits that are holding us back from being who we truly want to be. We can bid farewell to that which no longer serves us.
Thursday, 22 December 2011
Out in the lane the jackdaws are flying out to the fields, owls still hooting. Ivy berries now ripe in the bare hedges. A waning moon in the sky. We set out to sit under our neighbourhood oak and wait for the turn . . .
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes! Rising above the oaks and the barley fields on a peerless morning, fresh breeze, curlews calling.
Breaking down old forms Thinking about John's theme for the week on the way home and getting an idea (notice jumping in air!).
Solstice is the moment you let go of what you don't need in order to go forward into the lightness and clarity of the new solar year. Providing mulch from our earthtime and blowing on those sparks for the future all around us.
Pull to climax In the natural world there is a movement known as “the pull to climax”, a condition in which natural systems become complex and symbiotic, interweaving with one another in a web of extrordinary intricacy. The poet and activist, Gary Synder once wrote that in a climax situation, such as a mature oak or rainforest, a high percentage of the energy is not gleaned from the living biomass, but from the recycling of dead matter – dead trees and animals – that lie on the forest floor. This “detritus energy” is liberated from these dead forms by the transformative actions of fungi and insects.
Are all those antiquated traditions and costumes, those hostile and haughty shows necessary? Are they impeding new ways of doing things? Are they dampening down those collective sparks we see in Transition, in Occupy, in all the dynamic dialogues and ideas that are going on as we move towards 2012? Get some clues from those mushrooms! Get in touch with the ants! Happy Solstice everyone!
Quote from Gary Synder in a talk based on his essay, Poetry, Community and Climax. Photos of moon, sun, tree, flower and fly agaric by CDC and Mark Watson. Ants, Angels and Human Nature, from the blog, Peak Oil Blues by Kathy McMahon.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Now I know this week is a photoblog of winter and decay, but as I was "Cleaning the Downstairs Toilet Window Frame of Mould for the Landlords Inspection" yesterday, some thoughts I'd had for ages and been unable to express started to cohere. So I hope you don't mind John if this post is a decayed mix of photo and poem! The text above in bold is the working title.
I wipe black mold from the window frame
I think of all the plastics.
How will it biodegrade?
Will it 'bio' degrade?
In the end.
We don't know what the planet has in store.
For us. For these things. For us.
How they will go
In the end.
What microbes, what subtle processes,
What surprise detoxifications,
I don't like to say these things
In our marketed world
In our money-mind-dominated world
In our arbitrary world of no consequence
I don't want to offer space for any more excuses
for the comments:
'that's all right then, the planet will come up with
to get rid of us, bye-bye humans
just pass me the deeds to those tar sands
as big as ten countries
and let the show go on, and the lights,
and let the land and the people and the plants
go detoxify themselves!'
we don't know what the planet has in store,
what unwritten and undreamt-of-yet procedures
what subtle and invisible armies,
what moulds, breaking down
even if we did
it would be no excuse.
Mark Watson Dec 20 2011
Pics: Beetroot Ink, December 2011, Mould on Window Frame by Mark Watson
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
However, here in my garden there's a small pile of logs that I won't burn, and that I leave alone as wintering homes for bugs, spiders and ladybirds. The wood's soft to the touch, breaks open easily and inside you can see a fine latice-work of fungus lacing the structure. Small creatures I can't name scurry and wriggle away when disturbed.
Even with Saturday's dusting of snow, this wood was still a shelter for the life that we don't normally see or think about. It's a reminder that life flourishes even in decay, even in the "bleak midwinter" of the carol, and how the great cycle of the seasons, and of life, constantly whirls around us.
Monday, 19 December 2011
On Thursday at 5:30 am the sun will be at its furthest distance from the earth and the winter solstice will occur. The sun barely gets above the trees and all life seems to have departed from the earth, even the birds are quiet.
The cold is important for many plants to germinate and to create buds for fruiting next year