Posts Tagged ‘transition’

On Making Space for Nature with Sustainable Bungay

This post was first published on 24th September 2014 under the title ‘Mark Watson on Making Space for Flowers’ as part of the “Making Space for Nature” theme on the Transition Network website.

IMG_1158“Did you grow all those yourself?”, a young woman asked me last week at Transition Town Tooting’s 7th Foodival.

She was pointing to a wicker basket filled with the aromatic lemon balm, rosemary, anise hyssop, marjoram and a dozen or so more herbs and flowers I was preparing tea from at the event:

“A lot of them I grew at home in Suffolk, some are wild plants and others are from gardens here in Tooting, including the Community Garden up the road.”

She looked suprised, almost shocked. “My only reference for that kind of thing are the supermarket shelves,” she said.

In that moment I realised many things all at once: that events like the Foodival show how we can come together and regain autonomy over what we eat (and drink); that you never know who will walk in the door and get switched on by something they’ve never considered before; that making space for nature goes beyond the world of nature reserves, wildlife documentaries or even pilgrimages into the wilderness. I realised that an intrinsic engagement with the living world is what I’ve been showing and teaching in the last six years since I became part of the Transition movement; and that Transition has offered me a role where I can use my knowledge and skills to bring plants and people together in a dynamic and inspiring way.

Bungay is a small rural market town of 5000 people on the river Waveney in north-east Suffolk, surrounded by conventionally farmed agricultural land. The common idea that people in rural areas are automatically more connected with nature can be misleading. Wherever we live now much of the time is spent in artificial spaces: in front of computers, television screens, in our minds and indoors.

When I consider Sustainable Bungay, the Transition group where I’ve been most active since 2008, I see that (re)connection with living systems and considering the planet is implicit in everything we do, from the permaculture inspired Library Community garden, to the Give and Grow plant swap days to a cycle ride down to the pub by the locks of the Waveney at Autumn equinox. The very first Transition event I led was a Spring Tonic Walk introducing people from Bungay and Transition Norwich to dandelions, cleavers and nettles, the medicine plants growing in the neighbourhood.

Voilet-adorned prunes detailOur monthly community kitchen, Happy Mondays is now in its fourth year. A meal for 50 people, most of it locally sourced, is prepared from scratch in under three hours and features everything from nettle pesto and bittercress salad to puddings with foraged sweet violets or blackberries from the common.

Bungay Community Bees was formed in 2009 in response to the global pollinator crisis. There are now more than a dozen beehives in orchards and gardens in and around the town. The group has also created a purpose-built apiary (an observation shed with a hand-crafted glass hive) in association with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms. In the summer schoolchildren from the region come to visit the bees and go on nature walks where they learn about flowers and pollinators.

College farm apiary

Even behind the Give and Take days with their ethos of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refashion, Re-just-about-everything, there is the sense that the planet needs a major break from all the stuff the industrial system keeps pumping out. Nature needs a breathing space!

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A natural breathing space is among the many things that Bungay Community Library Garden offers. In 2009 a subgroup from Sustainable Bungay teamed up with the town library, organised an Introduction to Permaculture course with Graham Burnett and worked with local builders, gardeners, tree surgeons and group members to transform the unused brick courtyard with one jasmine and a honeysuckle into a flourishing community garden with raised beds, fruit trees, flowers and herbs.

BCLG 13.7.2014

Each year since its opening in 2010, the garden’s central bed showcases a different theme: plants for bees in 2011, plants as medicine in 2012, an edible bed in 2013 and this year dyes and textiles. This way people can get a feel for just how multi-faceted plants are and just how interwoven they are in our human lives. In many cases the categories change but the plants stay the same. The calendula you made a tea from in 2012, you tossed into a salad in 2013 and dyed a scarf with the following year!

The person curating the garden each year organises events around the theme. In the Plants for Life series I ran in 2012 focusing on health and wellbeing, there were monthly talks, walks and workshops with guest speakers, on everything from biodynamic growing to walking with weeds to the medicinal properties of homemade wine! I also ran ‘plant surgeries’ during the summer where people could come and ask questions about the project and the plants and exchange their knowledge too.

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The garden has become a focal point for many of Sustainable Bungay’s activities from steering group meetings in the summer to seed and produce swaps, Abundance exchanges of foraged fruit, and apple pressings. It is also the starting point for the wellbeing walks begun by the Arts, Culture and Wellbeing group last year.

The idea behind the walks was to explore local places together to encourage wellbeing and a sense of belonging. How that might increase personal, and particularly community, resilience, help combat the desire to be somewhere else and so encourage lower use of fossil fuels. Many people reported that simply by taking part in the collective walks brought an experience of wellbeing in itself.

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There is more. Recently a group called NR35 (‘Natural Resources’ 35) based on the local postcode, began to explore “how to use our skills, knowledge and labour to generate an income by sustainably managing/harvesting the resources which are wildly abundant around our rural market town.” The results include the harvesting of fruit and vegetable gluts, some of which are supplied to local restaurants and grocers and a communal firewood store. Last spring a small group of us learned how to make a dead hedge with local tree surgeon Paul Jackson. It took just a morning but I remember practically everything Paul taught us.

So what I’m saying here is that making space for nature can start right outside our doors, and in the places we find ourselves. That it’s not always the big exotic landscapes abroad where Nature is to be encountered. We need to discover the natural world where we are and engage with it, because it’s the natural world that makes sense of everything in the end.

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In 2015 it will be my turn again to curate the theme at Bungay Community Library garden, and the focus will be on ‘Helpful Herbs’ of all kinds. Lavender and rosemary are settling into bed, with thyme, St. Johns Wort, sweet cicely and others already there. And I’m working with a team on some exciting events. I’m also planning to map the project as part of a group helping to shape a new Transition Diploma, a collaboration between Gaia University and the Transition Network. Oh, and to make it into a Transition livelihood!

Meanwhile here is a picture from a plant walk around Bury St Edmunds I led in June this year with Sustainable Bury. The caption would probably go something like this:

“You can’t go anywhere nowadays without people sitting on walls looking at Hoary Willowherb!”

hoary-willowherb-bury-wall-14-june-2014

Mark Watson is co-chair of Sustainable Bungay, a Transition Initiative in Suffolk, UK. Mark teaches groups and individuals to reconnect with nature through plants in the places they live. Details about his talks, walks and workshops can be found on Mark in Flowers.

Images: Talking plants and teas at Tooting Foodival, September 2014 by Chris from NappyValleyNet; Wild sweet violets adorn Happy Monday pudding by Josiah Meldrum; School visit to Bungay Community Bees’ observation hive by Elinor McDowell; Preparing the beds, 2010, Bungay Community Library garden (MW); the garden flourishes, summer 2014; Walking with Weeds, Plants for Life, 2012 (MW); 1st Wellbeing walk by the Waveney, 2013 by Charlotte Du Cann; Throwing our arms up under the cherry trees, April 2014 (CDC); Of walls and hoary willowherb in Bury St Edmunds, 2014 by Karen Cannard

Making Tea in Tooting – Foodival 2014

Tooting FoodivalI was delighted to be invited back for the second time to take part in the 7th fabulous Transition Town Tooting Foodival, which took place this last weekend.

A total celebration of locally grown and cooked food, involving many different people and organisations from the local community: individuals, restaurants, the community garden, the Friends of Streatham Cemetery bee group… it is a most joyous affair, with performances by neighbourhood musicians and artists and a Top Tooting Cook competition to boot.

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I was there making and demonstrating fresh herb teas and like last year I was struck again not only by how much everyone enjoyed the teas, but how interested people were to know about the plants.

IMG_1158I collected 25 or so different types of leaves and flowers from the garden here at home in Suffolk, and was brought lovely bunches of lemon balm, sage, marjoram and thyme by Jenny from Tooting Community garden and Malsara from the Foodival organising group. And on Sunday morning Lucy took me to a spot on Tooting Common where she’d seen yarrow growing after we found the community garden wasn’t yet open. And there it was! The day was saved.

It was in fact a brilliant day and I didn’t stop making, pouring and talking about the plant teas from the time the event began at midday until about 4.30pm. I hardly left the table. Thanks to Charlotte (the day’s ‘food tsar’) and Lizzie at the food table, I got to taste some of the wonderful food – including delicious aubergine fritters, spicy vegetable stew and poori masala.

My only regret at being so busy is not having had more time to visit the other stalls at the Foodival. I need to factor that in for next time. But it was a great day and I spoke with many people. Some hadn’t realised they could grow herbs themselves and didn’t have to get them from the supermarket; others wanted to know what to do with all the lemon balm in their garden; still others had no idea that there was a community garden they could join in with in Tooting. One woman who had no growing space where she lived was delighted to find out about it.

IMG_1168One of my favourite things was seeing people’s responses when I offered them to smell the mixture of plants in my herb basket. And the openness many showed for trying something different. The small pieces of Aztec Sweet Herb flowers and leaves went down particularly well. As you chew the taste just gets sweeter and sweeter. I’ll write about this extraordinary plant in another post…

Meanwhile thanks to all the Foodival crew at Transition Town Tooting for welcoming me up from the country for the event! And of course to Lucy and her husband Simon for having me to stay and being great hosts.

Foodival

Delicious teas

PS If you would like to host a plant medicine talk, walk or workshop with me please see here for details.

Images: Foodival banner by the Phantom Knitter of Tooting; Setting up the herb tea table; talking with people about the plants; tea-tasting; the foodival in full swing; a lovely bit of twitter feedback Photos by Simon Maggs, Transition Town Tooting, Mark Watson and Chris at NappyValleyNet

Text and images: Creative Commons with attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives

Because the worlds are round… and wavy

For the Summer Solstice and 24 Hours of Possibility I stayed offline and concentrated on connecting with the living systems of the earth, beginning with a visit to the beach at four in the morning to see the sunrise half an hour later.

It sounds like the simplest thing in the world to just remain offline for twenty four hours. The truth is I can’t remember the last time I had an internet-free day. Much of Transition communications is a web-based business. Just the previous day I’d been emailing and tweeting everyone in Sustainable Bungay about Green Drinks that evening and updating a post on the website about it. I went to the Green Dragon with a host of flowers in jars to speak about plant families for the second Plants for Life event in three days.

It was a misty dawn just off the sunrise coast here in Suffolk and I settled for sensing the moment of the sun coming up over the sea rather than seeing it. It can be just as exciting, that moment when you FEEL it and become aware of other senses than the visual at play.

But the coast was clear, the tide was out and the sea was calm! And here’s what it looked like a few minutes after the sun rose.
The photograph gives only the merest impression of the stillness and the quiet fullness of everything. No one else was around. The tide was out. The wind was occasional and light. I stilled my thoughts and tuned in with my feet on the ground. Everything felt big and wide and yes, if I had to put it in words, filled with possibility. My body felt relaxed and alert all at once. The sun seemed like a being, something like a person.

Back home

I set about making a midsummer birthday herbal drink for Charlotte to take on her journey to the Transition Tin Village at the Sunrise festival later that day. It was some time before seven, the sun well risen and the whole garden alive and shining with its mix of wild and cultivated plants and bushes. Plant and flower time can be a very different experience from clock time and when I glanced again at the kitchen clock it was way past nine o’ clock!

By then I had gathered 47 different plants for the midsummer herbal cocktail, and they were infusing in the teapot. You could smell them throughout the house: a whole array of mints, English and Japanese mugwort, elder, heartsease and marigold flowers, two types of fennel, lovage (one small leaf!), anise hyssop, giant mexican hyssop, lemon balm, salad burnet, southernwood, lemon verbena, two sages, chia, epazote (very small leaf!), lavender, vervain, alecost, plantain, white deadnettle… and twenty-odd more. I added some fresh organic lemon juice and some fruit syrup (we’d run out of honey, which tastes better, but the syrup was okay) et voila!

When I asked Charlotte to guess what plants were in the drink, she named at least twenty five that I hadn’t put in along with the ones that were there!

Now it was time for the tortilla, or Spanish omelette, all local eggs, potatoes and onions, Norfolk tomatoes and homegrown parsley, basil and Greek oregano. The birthday, solstice and cross-country journey food and drink were prepared.

So when Simon arrived from Norwich with two friends just after midday to pick Charlotte up for their shared car journey to Somerset, I thought, now I’ll do my reconnecting with the living systems.

Then realised I’d been doing it all morning.

One thing that struck me during these 24 screen-free, pixel-free hours of possibility: How wavy the living world is. And how round.

Photos: Summer Solstice Foxgloves at sunrise, Southwold; Talking plant families at Green Drinks, Bungay June 2012; Summer Solstice Sunrise, Southwold June 2012; Garden Shining, June 2012; midsummer birthday 47 herbs for infusion; mostly local Spanish tortilla (all by MW)

First published on the Transition Norwich Blog – This Low Carbon Life and the Transition Social Reporting Project on 22nd June 2012

 

Talking with Fellow Transitioners – Plants and Places

Since I started blogging for Transition on This Low Carbon Life when it began in October 2009, and on the Social Reporting project since last September, I’ve written posts on everything from connecting with the earth and the value of a handmade ‘A’ board to personal carbon reduction and how to make a medicine jelly.

I’ve also interviewed fellow transitioners and those engaged in energy descent, growing food, waste recycling, working with plants and living in a lighter way on the planet; and it’s these posts I find among the most rewarding to write. One example is my interview with Nick from Sustainable Bungay. We sat down over a cup of tea after he’d helped me fell a dead elm in the garden and saw it up for firewood, and I asked him how transition had changed his life. Another is walking down to the end of the lane I live in in Suffolk and speaking with Norman who has a local market garden there. And Saturday I did two short interviews with friends in transition in London.

Sarah Nicholl and Alexis Rowell were part of the original steering group of Transition Belsize in north London and have been instrumental in setting up both the food growing site at the Premier Inn on Haverstock Hill and the more recent Royal Free Permaculture Garden above the local hospital car park. Sarah is a trustee of the Transition Network and Alexis was a local councillor (Camden 2006-10) bringing climate change and peak oil to the local agenda. He also wrote Communities, Councils and a Low-Carbon Future: what we can do if governments won’t (Green Books, 2010).

Last weekend Sarah and Alexis invited me up to run a Planting Medicine workshop at the Royal Free Permaculture Garden where I spoke about the medicinal value of wild and garden plants and brought some along to include in the bed with the food plants and fruit trees. They also put me up for the night, did brilliant publicity for the event and made me extremely welcome. Alexis cooked a delicious risotto for dinner accompanied by vibrant beetroot tops, curly kale, kohl rabi leaves, purple sprouting broccoli leaves and spinach all freshly picked from the Premier Inn site.

I’ll be writing more about the actual workshop in the near future, but I also took the opportunity whilst I was there to speak to Sarah and Alexis about some of the reasons they are involved in these growing projects. My questions are in italics and Alexis’s and Sarah’s responses are in normal type.

Alexis

What motivated you to start up these garden projects?

Primarily I wanted to inspire people to understand food and plants, learn how to grow their own, about the medicinal, the edible, as well as the beautiful.

What difference has your involvement in the gardens made to you?

Well, it’s very relaxing to be on the growing sites. And also encouraging to see how many people want to participate. Also restoring a piece of neglected ground from a place full of cigarette butts and empty bottles to a living space that has meaning and beauty and relevance is very satisfying.

Has doing this work increased your knowledge of plants?

Before transition I knew nothing about plants. Now I know so much – about foraging, how to make a food site, do container planting, set up a wormery, and of course now something about medicinal plants.

Do you have any favourite plants?

Now Mark I think you know the answer to that one already.

This is true. When Alexis first came to visit us in Suffolk, I saw a pair of cycle shorts and a bicycle pass by the window and overheard a male voice say “Alexanders! I LOVE Alexanders!” Which was excellent, because the whole of our area is awash with alexanders. That was a very good start and we did a lot of foraging together that weekend and enjoyed some awesome salads.

Sarah

What keeps you involved in the food (and medicine) growing projects?

I’ve had a long term fascination with food, medicine and nature. Growing food physically helps to reconnect us with the living systems we depend on. It makes us whole. For me this is important given how disconnected we’ve become within the global industrial food system from the food we eat.

Growing food inspires all sorts of people and can really capture the imagination. At the Premier Inn site which has been going since last year, it’s rewarding to see how building the garden has deepened friendships, formed new ones and how the combination of Transition and food creates beneficial relationships on so many levels. And all in the corner of a hotel car park! Now we have the Royal Free Permaculture Garden above the hospital car park. It’s much bigger and feels more daring.

Yes, it’s a very different space, more open and of course in the hospital grounds. How’s it go

It’s been amazing. We started the planning in December and planting in March. The mix of everyone holding the vision, planning and joining in the practical action is very exciting. It has the potential to be a really great site and bear good healthy fruit on all levels. And it’s something everyone can benefit from, including visitors and people who work at the hospital.

I know you have been instrumental in both these projects Sarah, from the planning to the planting. That takes hard work and commitment. What has your involvement in the Premier Inn food site and the Royal Free Permaculture Garden brought you?

Well, there’s a good sense of teamwork. I love that. At the Premier Inn there’s a nice dynamic, building beds together with people you didn’t know before, making friends with the people working at the hotel. I’m always learning something about myself and others, and about how we can co-operate with each other.

And what about the plants? I know from my experience setting up the Plants for Life talks, walks and workshops in Bungay that even after all these years working with plants myself, I learn something new every single time from the people who come, both the speakers and those coming to join in.

Well, my knowledge of plants has definitely increased. Though I’ve always loved them, especially herbs, and been a keen gardener for several years now, the learning never stops. We’ve done a lot of foraging for wild food as part of Transition Belsize as well. I’ve learnt to look at the many aspects of plants from the edible to the medicinal to how they bring up nutrients from the soil and what insects visit them.

It’s also really interesting in an urban, public setting. You’re working on the plant beds, people are passing by, conversations start up, you get to know your neighbours. I think this is one of Transition’s really strong points. You’re out there in the open, growing food together with others. People stop and ask what you’re doing, some of them come back and get involved. They want to know about growing more food for themselves. They might want to learn about why we’re doing it, helping to relocalise food sources for the future, having a living example of what’s possible.

So working with plants in this way helps to make these links between people?

Yes, I think it does. After the workshop you gave today several new people approached me to find out about getting involved with the garden. Suddenly plants you thought were quite ordinary turn out to have all these amazing qualities. It was very inspiring.

Thank you Sarah. I enjoyed it thoroughly and really appreciate the effort you and Alexis made to publicise the day and get such a great crowd to come. It made all the difference. That’s the kind of behind-the-scenes work I normally do in my Transition initiatives.

You’re very welcome. We’ll get those lovely medicine plants in now. It’s great to see these patches of bare neglected earth transforming into a vibrant healthy garden.

And it’s great being with it whilst it develops.

Planting Medicine poster_0-212x280

Photos: Nick Watts, Bungay Library 2011; Premier Inn food growing site, Belsize Park, May 2012 (MW); Alexis prepares white deadnettle and lemon balm tea for the Planting Medicine workshop (MW); Sarah Nicholl (SN); Planting up the Royal Free Permaculture Garden, March 2012 (Transition Belsize); Planting Medicine workshop poster in South End Green newsagents window by Sarah Nicholl and Alexis Rowell

Published originally on Transition Network Social Reporting Project on 29th May 2012

Getting Connected!

In the beginning

People often say things like ‘We’ve lost our connection with nature’ but the conversation doesn’t go much deeper. It’s the kind of thing we can just say to each other without really thinking about what it means.

PfL A4-Feb - 2-240x338In the past I’ve tended to nod politely and think to myself ‘well, I have a connection with nature, though I might not put it like that, in fact even talking about it seems a bit, well, unnatural…’ Until I got involved in Transition it was an intense but rather private affair, a practice of keeping in touch with the plants, trees, seasons and territories wherever I lived or visited, getting to know them on their own terms, keeping connected.

It had little to do with other people.

Then in April 2009 I took a group of people from Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich on a ‘Spring Tonic Walk‘, introducing everyone to the plants and trees growing in the local area, starting right outside the front door.

The idea came out of our involvement in the Heart and Soul, Arts, Culture and Well-Being group in Transition Norwich, and conversations we were having about our relationships with the natural world.

DSC_0389[1]_1-180x120It being a Spring Tonic walk, that day we focussed on three plants in particular: Nettle, Dandelion and Cleavers and made a feisty, energising Nettle Soup along with various wild salads as part of the shared lunch.

What surprised and delighted me was that so many people actually did make a connection they had not felt or been aware of before. The discovery of Cleavers (a relative of coffee) so energised one fellow transitioner that she hardly slept that weekend and saw the plant everywhere she went. She made potfuls of cleavers tea, foraged dandelion salads and began organising the distribution of some of her allotment nettles to friends so they could get connected too!

Suddenly my personal relationship with the natural world was looking rather limited. Transition was obviously not going to be a private affair.

In the meantime

Nature is big and encompasses so many things. Forest, ocean, whale, field, meadow, sky, bird, flower, cow, river, mountain, sun, tree. Human too, though we often don’t think of ourselves as part of the natural world. That’s a big part of the problem. It means we don’t truly see that the havoc we wreak on the living systems of the planet, on all our fellow creatures and plants, we wreak on ourselves, connected as we are in the web of life.

Today there is much talk of our deracination from nature, compounded by ongoing planetary degradation: tar sands removal, gas fracking and rainforest destruction, all carried out to keep the global industrial economy and way of life going at all costs. This way of being some label ‘just human nature’, greedy and rapacious by design and natural selection, munching our way through the planet’s ‘resources’.

spring tonic2-240x160Transition is as a chance to respond in the face of these threats wherever we find ourselves, whoever we find ourselves with, by making life and planet-affirming moves together, from the creation of community food growing projects to Reconomy to communications networks. To open up the possibility of something else to happen other than business-as-usual.

Last year, as part of the team on the Norwich transitioners’ blog, This Low Carbon Life, I led a week on Deep Nature. I recommend all the pieces on that week for their diversity and quality and as an expression of how each of us, when we give ourselves the time and space, is a hair’s breadth away from making that connection.

If I look at Sustainable Bungay, where I’m most focussed, I see that the Connection with Living Systems is intrinsic and implicit to everything we’re about, from the permaculture inspired Library Community garden, to the Give and Grow plant swap days, to Sewing Sundays and Happy Mondays and the emergence of Bungay Community Bees’ in response to the global pollinator crisis. Even behind the Give and Take days with their ethos of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refashion, Re-just-about-everything, there is the sense that the planet needs a major break from all the stuff the industrial system keeps pumping out.

And what would we do without plants? We couldn’t even breathe. There would be no air, no food to eat, no paper to write on, no beauty, no medicines, no bees, no moisture. Plants synthesise so much of life as we know it. No plants, no life.

It’s three years since that Spring Tonic walk. In the meantime I’ve been on hand to assist with many of those Sustainable Bungay events in true Transition get-together-and-just-do-it style.

Last year I took an active part in Bungay Community Bees, helping to raise awareness of the value of wildflowers for bees and other insect pollinators. In the community garden at the library we planted the central bed with bee-friendly flowers and enjoyed the summer buzz. This year, at Nick Watts’ suggestion, I decided to lead a project myself.

At present

P3180029 640x480-240x180What should we call it? Medicinal plants at the library? No, I prefer Medicine Plant bed, it’s more focussed. Or better still Plant Medicine Bed. Yes, we’ll be very permaculture about it and ‘see what’s there’ (great for me, ‘weeding’ is one of my least favourite activities!). And in fact there are a lot of plant medicines there already (January 2012): Vervain, Plantain, Feverfew, Burdock, Herb Robert, Foxglove, Greater Celandine, Nettle… We can put in some Echinacea, St. John’s Wort, Valerian and Richard, who tends the garden, says Opium Poppies will have reseeded themselves from last year.

IMG_8044 640x480-220x293Oh and why don’t I organise a monthly plant medicine talk, walk or workshop? We’ll do it seasonally and use the library and garden as the base and go from there.

The Plants for Life events have really taken off. We began by Connecting with Our Rootsin January and learned about Growing Organic and Biodynamic Herbs in February. And yesterday, local medical herbalist and transitioner Dan Wheals, showed us how to Adopt a Herb.

We each chose one particular plant to pay attention to, the one we were most drawn to, then everyone made a drawing of the plant and then took it in turns to speak our impressions of it out loud. It was magic. And totally absorbing.

Rosemary - Richard-120x170Dan guided the whole process so gently I only realised when I’d got home just how much went on in those few hours. I had no idea Lesley or Richard could draw like that, or that Charlotte, who I’ve been living (and working with plants) with for years, knew that about parsley! Jeannie’s enthusiasm on discovering herb Robert was completely infectious and reminded me of finding it for the first time myself all those years ago…

So what about me and my personal relationship with plants? Well, it’s there, but I’m much more happy to bring, share and swap and join in with other people these transition days.

Every day this week Transition social reporters and guests will take their own look at Connecting with the Living Systems and its relationship to Transition. Stay tuned! Stay connected!

Plants for Life poster Feb 2012 (MW); Spring Tonic Walk nettles April ’09 (Helen Simpson); Spring Tonic Walk encounter with Knee Holm (Butchers Broom) 2009 (Helen Simpson); Sandwiches Against Migraines – Feverfew in the Plant Medicine Bed March 2012 (MW); Dan Wheals shows us how to connect with the plants, March 2012 (CDC); Richard’s rosemary flower drawing March 2012 (MW)

This post was originally published as the Introduction to the Connecting with the Living Systems theme week on the Transition Social Reporting project beginning Monday 19 March. It was republished on the Energy Bulletin. Original article available here

The people in the room, the people next door, the plant by the river

In the post-Unleashing days of the Heart and Soul, Arts, Culture and Well-being group (yes, we really called it that) in Transition Norwich, a lively group of up to fifteen people would meet once or twice a month and discuss everything from Deep Ecology to mental health and the NHS to Authentic Movement, Dreaming and how a sledgehammer might help us to be resilient.

We came from all walks of life, disciplines, classes, sexualities, ages and incomes, all with our different experiences. Some of us knew each other a lot, some a little, some not at all. We were all drawn by this new thing called Transition. What? Unleash creative genius – together? LET’S DO IT!

In the first months we would start each meeting by speaking about an object we’d brought along which revealed something about our lives. As we each spoke out from a knitted square, a painted tin butterfly, a photograph of a grandparent, a branch of bay leaves or indeed a sledgehammer, a kind of intimacy was created in the room which would have been impossible otherwise in a meeting lasting two and a half hours.

Over a couple of years the group shifted and morphed and ultimately dissolved; people got jobs, left, fell out, started other Transition projects, things changed.

And I wouldn’t normally be thinking about it, but five of the people writing this week* on how our relationships have been/are influenced by Transition, were in that early group. And four of us were in the room together when instead of an object we each brought a relevant night dream we’d had and spoke it out loud to everyone else. We were looking for potential keys and clues as we made our way along the road less travelled of Transition.

 I chose a dream from an intense, experiential exploration of the relationship between plants and dreams I’d conducted with Charlotte over several years. This is what I wrote about it for a booklet we produced, Speaking with the Heart – How to Dialogue with Ourselves, Each Other and the Earth. The plant is Hemp Agrimony, an East Anglian native wildflower. And I was being taught about getting on with the people next door.

HEMP AGRIMONY Eupatorium cannabinum
decrystallisation

Hemp agrimony is a tall, strong plant which grows by water often in the company of great willowherb and meadowsweet. It blooms in July and August and its flowers are pink and fluffy. Sitting alongside the plant on the riverbank one day, I became aware that it remains rooted and maintains itself, whilst letting things go by. That night I asked hemp agrimony to inform my dreams, although I had no specific question. I dreamt the following:

THE END OF MORAL MARK

I am staying in a room somewhere overnight and a group of drunk ‘travellers’ and ‘hippies’ come to stay in the next door room. My attitude is nonchalant and self-amused, and when I talk with my rowdy neighbours I am outspoken and non-judgemental. I was aware of hemp agrimony informing the dream and clearly heard the words: That’s the end of Moral Mark.

I felt this was a poor dream but in dialogue with Charlotte the next morning she remembered a message she’d received when working with hemp agrimony: Go with what you have.

So who or what is or was Moral Mark?

Moral Mark is the opposite of all the things I felt in the dream. He is uptight, indignant and self-righteous, quietly resentful, bitter and very judgemental.

Moral Mark certainly would not enjoy having travellers and hippies come to stay next door, particularly if they were drunk.

Moral Mark says everybody must be clean and well-behaved and most of all quiet. Especially if he is around.

Moral Mark thinks there is him and then there are them, or rather THEM, and THEY are different from him and therefore wrong, or rather WRONG.

Moral Mark does not have a sense of humour, certainly not about himself. Moral Mark does not like the neighbours.

Moral Mark is gravely offended and takes everything personally.

Moral Mark remains in his room thinking negative thoughts about the people in the other rooms. He does not go out and speak to people.

Moral Mark was never a very real character, more a crystallisation of certain collective mindsets and opinions. However this is not to underestimate his power.

When Moral Mark was in the ascendant, my life would become restricted and miserable. These crystallisations dam the flow of energy and with time can take over one’s being. Hemp Agrimony was informing me that Moral Mark had come to his end. That my heart wanted something else. It was time to decrystallise.

All these years later and thanks to Transition (and hemp agrimony) I have decrystallised. I’m no longer stuck in a room next door to the party thinking negative thoughts about others. There are far too many people to meet and projects (and parties) to be getting on with these days.

So this post is dedicated to everyone in those early Transition Norwich meetings; to *Charlotte, Chris, Helen and Kerry; to all the travellers, hippies, reskillers, authentic movers, plant people, nurses and neighbours in that room and the one next door.

Without you this decrystallisation would not have happened. And the world is less one negative neighbour. Thank you.

Photo: Purple Loosestrife, Gypsywort and Hemp Agrimony in Oxford 2011 by David Short; Painted Stone in Hand (MW)

Originally published on This Low Carbon Life, the Norwich transitioners’ blog, 19 February 2012, uploaded on Mark In Flowers on 18th March 2012

White Deadnettle, Bumblebees and Making Plant Support Sticks

We have several stands of White Deadnettle (Lamium album) in the garden, and the bumblebees just can’t get enough of them. I’m paying attention to these common wildflowers these days as I become more bee-aware, and they really are handsome.

In the weeks up until Bungay Community Bees’ Bee Day in July, when I’ll be leading a couple of groups on a bee and flower walk as part of the Plants for Bees project, I’ll be posting (probably sporadically) here on the flowers and bees I come across, as well as other subjects…

Such as whittling my own plant support sticks down from the vast number of branches which came from pruning our Buddleia last month. I’m trying to reduce the pile you see here in the picture – but talk about task of Sisyphus. I seem to spend hours on it and the pile still looks the same size. I’ve got quite a few good sticks though…