Tag Archives: earth

Scruffy for the love of the earth

Being scruffy is something we can all do for the good of the planet. It’s a low cost, low effort response to cutting carbon, cutting plastic use, cutting the impact of the fashion industry. I appreciate that in some jobs and contexts it’s simply too high a risk, and that the more affluent and comfortable you are the fewer implications there are in looking a bit ragged round the edges. If you are poor, people will judge you – but they will also judge you for not looking poor enough.

Scruffy clothes – anything a bit worn, or faded, marked from use or obviously repaired falls into this category. Wearing old clothes is something we can celebrate as an assertion of loving the Earth, and I think if we can re-enforce those choices for each other, there’s a lot of good to be found in it.

It’s also a way of pushing back against all that glossy new age rubbish full of improbable dresses in fields and things you’d never wear for a decent walk in a wood because it wouldn’t last five minutes. And for the guys, and the non-binary folk there’s very little visual content out there. That’s something else to push back against – if we are going to be spiritually glamorous, there should be room for everyone, not just young, thin, white, female-looking people.

I find that if I’m outside for a while, my hair becomes messy. I find that if I don’t wear makeup this impacts on how I look in photographs and videos alike. But, getting makeup without getting throwaway plastic is hard, and animal testing is back, and makeup is expensive, and I don’t think those chemicals do my skin much good… and maybe my face is ok without it. Your face is definitely ok as it is, I feel sure of that. I take no issue with people wearing makeup creatively and playfully and for fun, but if you feel like you need it… you’ve been had by adverts. (I have been had by adverts, but I’m pushing back).

A Pagan aesthetic that is scruffy for the love of the Earth is available to everyone. Body shape doesn’t matter, nor does age, or gender or our ability to conform to ‘beauty’ standards. If you live closer to the Earth, you won’t be able to keep your clothes perfect anyway. Crafting, gardening, walking, doing things from scratch – anything physical like this causes wear and tear. You can only have pristine new looking stuff if you don’t do much with your body while wearing it!

For too long, a ‘Pagan’ look has meant velvet cloaks. Impractical shoes. Flouncy shirts. What happens if we start dressing as though we’re going to walk everywhere? What happens if we walk everywhere and start to look like that? What if looking like you spend time outside is the most Pagan look you can cultivate? What if you make actual crafts part of your Craft?

Changing the surfaces of how we present isn’t superficial. It calls for a massive change in what we value and celebrate and treat as appealing. Show me your dirty Paganism. Show me the love that goes into keeping clothes out of landfill, and I will show you mine…

Here’s an old photo of me in the kind of clothing I can walk in and sit out in. Not especially attractive, but I wasn’t doing it for the camera…

In search of the ancient dead

By ‘ancient dead’ I don’t mean the human ancient dead, who, by planet measurements of time are really quite recent.

I grew up on the Jurassic limestone of the Cotswold edge. I guess it started because I wasn’t very steady on my feet – born with my toes pressed against my shins, I’ve always had weak ankles, and falling over was a frequent feature of my childhood. I still fall over on rough terrain more often than I am comfortable with. As a consequence, watching the ground carefully became part of my life early on.

The ground, it turns out, is an exciting place to fix your gaze. Alongside the hazard avoiding, I started seeing the wonders of the local rock. Shells, and limestone quartz can be picked up round here, and I collected, with a magpie’s glee for shiny things. Looking at the ground a lot stopped being a problem and started being a gift. It was only much later in life that I learned to walk with my head up and pay more attention to views.

Looking for dead things remains a comforting, heart lifting activity for me. Spending time with my face close to the earth, really starting at the ground, to discover its secrets, is wonderful. I come home with my pockets full of treasures, and the companionship of long dead things. They give me a helpful sense of perspective. How amazing it is, that of all the countless things alive in the Jurassic, these shells remained intact, sometimes in incredible, life-evoking detail. And against all the odds, I have seen them, divided as we are by amounts of time that I can’t begin to imagine.

Poem – I am earth

I am earth

You seek power

I grant it

You ruin me.

Wielding, withholding

You diminish

What made you mighty.

Power to strip worth

Fell forests

Make barren.

So much power.

Let me teach

Other ways

To love, respect

Nurture growth,

Accounting for soul,

Power to do

Power to dream

Power to be.

I am earth.

Clay metaphors

When I lost my way with the writing earlier this year, I kept this blog going because so many people told me they had a use for it. I also kept going with the poetry, in part because it is the least commercially orientated thing I do. I’ve written poetry since childhood, and since before the age when I could confidently manage a narrative. I’ve written it to unravel things, to cope and make sense of life – as a teenager it’s a cheaper, and more private option than therapy. In more recent years it’s become less about the navel gazing, more about the desire to share.

Yesterday I finished typing up a set of poems that I might venture out into the world with. I read them out loud, start to end because I wanted a sense of the piece as a whole. At this point it became apparent that there were some themes. The hill and the barrow are regular presences – not a great surprise there. That’s a place I go to seek inspiration and to connect with land, sky and ancestors. There are a startling number of clay references and metaphors, doubly surprising because they were all in the mix before I even thought about becoming a studio assistant for a ceramicist. Something was in the air, perhaps.

I like clay as a metaphor. Fundamentally earthy, clay comes to you in wet lumps, but with love, skill and effort can be transformed into incredible things – the useful, the beautiful, the ornamental. Tending to see myself as a lumpy wet clay sort of person, physically and spiritually, that scope to be more elegantly shaped appeals to me. Then there’s the firing process, that entirely changes the material substance of the clay.

There was a potter in my childhood – one Pete Brown – who round here is now rather collectable. I’ve recently been gifted with four beautiful mugs of his making. I get excited about pottery. It’s a very old technology, and a critical one for human civilisation, allowing the storage of water, food, oil, medicines, enabling us to eat grains. Although my insight is minimal, I know that ceramics are incredible materials, and that we are just scraping the surface of what it might be possible to do with what is, essentially, baked earth.

Little wonder, then, that I keep coming back to clay as a metaphor. I haven’t worked with clay in a hands-on way since my late teens. It was something I used to love doing. I do not know if there is something in the nature of clay that craves the opportunity to be shaped, but there’s something in the nature of me that most certainly does.

Mother Nature

She feed us and gives us a place to live, free of charge. Like inconsiderate teenagers, we leave our crap lying about wherever we drop it, we wreck her most precious things, seldom bother to apologise and show no gratitude. We expect her to give everything, and assume we need offer nothing in return. We collectively envisage Mother Earth as the kind of mother who will say ‘never mind dear, have another sweety’ no matter what we do to her, to each other, to ourselves.

Even the most tolerant and indulgent mother has her breaking point. The moment of saying, “No more of your shit. I am not paying your way and clearing up your rubbish and putting up with your lousy attitude any more. Get useful, start contributing, or get out of my house.”
Of course the teenage git has alternatives. A friend’s couch to crash on, social housing. Hell, they could theoretically even get a job. We have nowhere else to go. If Mother Nature decides she can’t put up with any more of our uselessness, there is no couch to crash on.

The spring equinox is past, and there is snow on the hills of the Forest of Dean. The wind is so cold my hands hurt from being outside. This is climate change, and we’re told this morning we can expect twenty years or so of drought and flood just from the excess carbon in the air RIGHT NOW. Are we working to reign in that carbon addiction? No. Do we have any chance of holding at current levels? No. Are we in serious trouble already? Yes. Are the politicians busy trying to save the species? No. Far more important to keep shuffling the imaginary money around so that they can claim an every bigger piece of the pie.

Well, Mother Earth may not be making much more pie. Standing outside today it was pretty obvious to me that Mamma is pissed. Mamma doesn’t want any more bullshit excuses about GDP and how we can’t harm business. We are running out of time to put our shit in order, while Mother Earth taps her foot impatiently and reminds us that there is a door, and she can boot our sorry arses through it any time she likes. Actually boys and girls, extinction is an option. For us.

Maybe one day the leaders of the world will wake up and realise they need to get cleaning and fixing as a matter of some urgency. Maybe it will occur to all of us that, like any other mother, Mother Earth has finite patience, finite resources, and we have been taking the piss for far too long.

Closed system earth

The boat is a closed system. It’s not on the grid, or plumbed in to the water and sewerage systems, anything that is going to be in the boat either has to be generated in situ (electricity) or physically brought in (water, fuel, food etc). There are of course some obvious downsides to this – especially when you consider having to sort out your poo… but on the plus side having the means to generate your own energy and source everything you need creates independence. If the grid falls over, I’ll still have lights.

One of the things this makes me very aware of, is the degree to which everything entering the boat comes from somewhere, and everything leaving it goes to somewhere. I have a much more direct sense than most people of how much lavatorial waste we generate in a week, and that it goes somewhere else and needs sorting out. It doesn’t magically flush away never to be thought of again. It goes somewhere. Something has to happen to it.

There are no bin collections for us. Consequently we cycle the recyclables a few miles to drop them off, and there are places we can appropriately dispose of the other things. Big bins all boaters use. And where do those go? Away… to that never never land where all the rubbish goes. Looking at those big bins every week, full of things other people couldn’t be bothered to recycle, and all the useless packaging and waste does not make me comfortable.

There are features of modern life that make it very easy to ascribe things to ‘away’. Water comes from ‘away’ and when you’re done with it, it goes away. Petrol comes out of a nozzle, the actual source rendered invisible. Rubbish disappears in a lorry every week or two. We insulate ourselves from most of the process, the whole structure of modern living encourages us not to see our own place in the many cycles we interact with. This is not helping.

The earth is a closed system. Everything we have is here. There is no off-world grid to turn to if we mess up. No method of being plumbed in to intergalactic water and sewerage systems. Anything that is going to be used on the earth has to be generated in situ. Fantasies about getting it all from space are not going to solve anything any time soon. There are of course some obvious downsides to this – especially when you consider having to sort out your poo… but on the plus side having the means to generate your own energy and source everything you need creates independence. Or it would, if we weren’t being collectively insane.

Earth Mother politics

In ‘Women who run with wolves’ the author suggests that how we treat women mirrors how we treat the planet. Look back on the centuries of planet ravaging and the oppression of women, there’s definitely a parallel. Is there a causal link? I think so, and it has a lot to do with priorities.

I’m going to be brutally honest here and say that were it not for Tom, I would very likely have become the kind of radical feminist who is anti-male. There are days when hearing new stories about male violence towards women fills me with rage. But there is also Tom, who is brave, gentle, heroic, and reminds me of all the other good men I have met along the way. Statistically, about one in four men are abusers; that means three quarters aren’t. There are days when I have to remind myself of this.

However, when it comes to raping the earth mother, we’d be self-deluding if we tried to cast that as a gender issue. There are no shortage of men working for the good of the planet, and no shortage of women participating in the great commercial pillage. It would also be fair to say that gender politics are not a simple male/female conflict either. How many women were taught by their mothers to put a brave face on it and be stoical? How many women help coerce their daughters into unwanted marriages, throw out pregnant daughters, defend abusive men, and otherwise add to the problem? More than enough. The new girlfriend is often the person most willing to give that bitch of an ex-girlfriend a hard time. Knowing or not, we participate.

When I’m not raging over some specific injustice, I tend to feel that feminism is inadequate. It supports the ideas of polarisation, division and difference. It also gives the woman-haters out there something very easy to latch onto and attack. The sort of person who views every threat to total male supremacy as a feminist conspiracy to destroy all men. They most certainly exist – read the comments on the Telegraph online sometime. Getting angry and building up the barricades doesn’t help. Reinforcing the gender divide solves nothing.

A few months ago I sat in a room with a woman who was covered in bruises because her boyfriend had beaten her. She was in the process of trying to escape, and it was one of the most heart-breaking things I have ever seen. Of course women who are wounded by other means, driven to depression, to drink, self blame, self hatred, have no such wounds to show the world, but they are just as damaged by male aggression.

There’s a whole culture underpinning this kind of behaviour. It’s laden with beliefs about ownership and rights. How many men think about women, and women’s bodies not unlike how they think about the earth – as a resource to be used for their benefit and pleasure. We exploit, we use, we take, I come back to the idea of entitlement again. And sure, women do it to men as well, although in nothing like the same numbers. But the culture underpinning it, we build together. All of us. Regardless of gender. We do it in every advert that uses a scantily clad woman to sell a product, and every advert that shows woman as house elf and man as mighty leader. We do it in our stereotyping, our willingness to blame the victims, our collective reluctance to take the problem seriously. Sometimes we do it in our religions too, and our politics uphold it.

We won’t fix either earth abuse, or woman abuse, or any other kind of abuse, until we fix the mindsets that allow us to justify them. It’s all too easy to be accidentally complicit, or to be part of the problem just by ignoring it. What we do not speak against, others may assume we condone. Half the problem with abusers, no matter who or what their victim is, is that they believe they are just the same as everyone else. Everyone else is doing what they do, or would, if they were only powerful enough to pull it off. That idea is the real enemy.