This Little Things post by Jackie French is especially close to my heart. Her Household Self Sufficiency and Backyard Self Sufficiency books were my saviours in my teenage years when I suddenly found myself caring for the family home after the death of my father and funds were, ahem, short.
In those books, I found a loveable mentor that kept me sane and I now credit the books as being a big part of the path my life has taken. So, I was really excited when Jackie said yes to sharing her Little Things and they are indeed special. Enjoy x
- Learn your land.
One lifetime isn’t enough to know a valley, nor even ten lifetimes. I have been lucky to have teachers, who had teachers too. In a small way – I am all too aware of how much I do not know – I’ve been given the knowledge of hundreds of generations, mostly women’s knowledge but some from men, too. If we are going to adapt to the changing world – and the world always does change, even if not at the speed with which it is changing now due to human impact – we need not just to listen to the land, to learn it, to study it, but to use that knowledge to make political and planning decisions.
Walk your land, and learn it.
- Be part of the society around you.
Humans survived as a species by co-operation.
Individuals survive best by co-operating too.
But generosity between people isn’t enough. We need to be generous to the world too, to rejoice in it to extend to it the duties and rights that we offer each other. This isn’t because of any religious or pantheistic imperative. It’s because humans operate most efficiently when we are generous.
In the last decades, we have begun to learn that other hominids survived right up until the last Ice Age, or even – almost – beyond it, the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, Homo floriensis, the ‘Hobbit’ people of Flores. I suspect we will find more.
But only Homo sapiens survived. Was it the ‘sapiens’ bit, our cleverness, that let us survive the last Ice Age and the rising waters after it, not just the cold, but the unexpected disasters that fast climate change brings, like the floods that broke open the Straits of Gibraltar and turned the Mediterranean into a sea, or isolated the islands off the Great Barrier Reef or Kangaroo Island? Fifteen thousand years ago Tasmania was part of the mainland and we were joined to present-day New Guinea. The changes to our coastline in the next hundred years may be as dramatic as that – and faster.
So how did we survive?
We walked. We talked. We had the intelligence to be able to communicate with strangers: we bring no threat, just hunger and desperation. We had the empathy to understand the needs of strangers. A community doesn’t have to be geographical. It can be a stamp club or an amateur dramatic society or the place where you work; it can even be a community threaded throughout the world via the world wide web.
- Eat Good Food
All food choices are ultimately political decisions. English sweet biscuits needed colonies and slaves to provide the sugar. Tomatoes airfreighted from Israel, garlic from Mexico and snow peas from China mean we needed an invasion of Iraq to ensure the oil that lubricates it all.
Good food connects you to the world. Refusing to eat bad food is one way to make change happen.
Good food isn’t frozen, or at least not for long. Place skull and cross bone symbols on all packs of frozen carrots. I have never met a frozen carrot that I’ve liked. Feeding kids frozen carrots should be a minor crime against humanity – you’re training the kids’ palates to accept crap.
Good food isn’t refrigerated either, or again not for long. (Widespread refrigeration is a blessing on one hand, but it’s also meant that most humans now eat food that has had most of its flavour sucked away by prolonged cold.)
Good food is fresh. Good food is seasonal. But most of all, good food is idiosyncratic. It’s just what the eater feels like at that moment. Good food either means growing stuff yourself, or knowing how and where to buy, be given or swap reasonably local mostly organic tucker … all of which needs a time-rich life and lots of social contacts, unless you happen to be a hermit with a really good garden. It means learning how to cook a basket of tomatoes oozing juice, a choko invasion or a dozen mushrooms from the back paddock that sprang up overnight and the yabbies the kids caught before breakfast, rather than following recipes.
- Be deeply suspicious of anyone who says, ‘But that’s impossible!’ unless they have given at least a decade’s thought to the proposition.
There are two great myths about living a sustainable lifestyle. The first is that our standard of living is going to have to fall. Our lives will become grey and meaningless, while we squat in the dark in a mud hut.
And the second is that it’s impossible.
There’s magic in the word impossible. It means we don’t have to try. I’ve lost count of the number of ecologically positive things that are supposed to be impossible:
It’s impossible to grow as much food without pesticides or fungicides. (Then why does productivity go up – not down – in countries that reduce pesticide use? Answer: Pesticides kill the predators that control the pests. A reliance of pesticides and fungicides INCREASES pest problems.)
It’s impossible to grow fruit and veg without shooting/trapping/poisoning wildlife. (Grow decoy fruits)
All meat and egg production is ecologically unsustainable and inhumane. (Tell that to our pampered grasshopper and fallen fruit eating chooks.)
It IS possible to run a community on wind power or solar power.
It IS possible to build houses that survive bushfires, floods, cyclones and even tidal surges.
It IS possible to live a fulfilled rich life while doing all of the above.
- Beware of the terrapath
We call humans who don’t feel empathy with other humans sociopaths or psychopaths – so little empathy that they can hurt or kill and feel no guilt. Maybe we should begin to call those who have no feeling for the planet terrapaths.
How do you recognise a terrapath? Terrapaths are the ones who know that what they are doing, whether it be mining or logging a forest, will hurt the other species of the earth – and simply don’t care, as long they make a profit from the activity. Others even take a joy in destruction – the pyromaniacs, or those who find the disorder of untamed nature so frightening that they long to concrete it all over.
I suspect true terrapaths are rare. Often those who hurt the earth aren’t aware of how much harm they are causing, or don’t have the confidence or the habits of mind to look for different ways to do things. Most humans have just never learned just how sapient Homo sapiens can be. If humans can’t outwit cockroaches, pear and cherry slug, fruit fly and possums, and how to gather timber, grow food and utilise minerals without irreparable harm to other beings we don’t deserve our name. But maybe we also need to recognise terrapath as a severe mental disorder that needs treatment, fast, just as we would respond to a psychopath or sociopath. Psychopaths may kill tens of humans. Terrapaths are a danger to us all.
- Be Optimistic
Optimism invented the wheel, processed the first olive, and, okay, created the atom bomb, too. Pessimism stayed glum till dinnertime, and then complained.
Humans are tougher than cockroaches. Cockroaches die at 46º C. Humans don’t. (Mostly).
Humans really are one of the toughest and certainly the most widely ingenious species on the planet. (It’s worth remembering though that we gave ourselves the name ‘sapiens’ , like a king of three paddocks and a dunny calling himself ‘Emperor of the Universe’.)
But that’s humans for you. We are so wrapped up in our magnificence that we see other species as the humbler creations and feel we have the right to fence them out or take their homes and food supply, which amounts to the same thing, just slower and nastier .
Think of what humans can do with the most unpromising places to live or grow food. No water? It rains everywhere, even if not often or much. Your water supply depends on the size of your storage area, tank, cistern, dam, plus recycling and water retention methods. Steep? Terrace, and fit your house to the land. No land? Grow ten hectares of vegetables up the wall of a sky scraper (it’s called vertical gardening, and turns a city in to roughly ten times the amount of productive land that it was when it was mostly horizontal).
- Love Your Country
Perhaps the first step in learning how to live well on the land is to love it. The European sailors saw a land with no easily visible safe harbour; with tough ground covers instead of the lush grass to cut for the hay needed for their voyages.
The mutton-eaters saw a land to be transformed into the fields of home, with grass, not tussocks, and fat sheep and cows. Who was the first colonial, I wonder, to actually see the land as it is? How long did it take the first emigrants, 60,000 years ago, to say: This land is who I am.
What is it to love a country?
I love the creek here, smooth deep holes in granite bedrock, worn by a hundred thousand floods; I love the sunlight turning the casaurina dew to diamonds, the frozen spider’s webs on barbed wire fences. I love the land I know.
This knowledge is deepest here, but if this valley is a partner, then Uluru is a sister, west Australia a brother; they are familiar, known, though not as closely.
Where does the love stop? At the Pacific islands? Malaysia, which I’ve never seen? The USA on 9/11, Indonesia and Japan after their most recent tsunamis? I wept for them then, and for the first time realised those lands were my brothers too.
Maybe the love of country eventually stretches to the whole planet, because finally – as humans, as creatures of this planet, the breeze from the butterfly wings that sweep across the African plains do eventually reach us here.
Love the planet and you will work for it. Love your neighbours and you will fight for their survival, or at least offer them a casserole when they are crook. Love this life, it’s richness and diversity, and it will be (mostly, or at least quite often) good.
If you would like to read more: Let the land Speak by Jackie French is published by Angus and Robertson.