It's Friday afternoon and I'm doing paperwork in my cubicle--filling out the dozens of forms needed by my boss to prove to the administration that I'm doing the job they pay me for. In reality, all the papers prove is that I spent most of Friday doing paperwork in my cubicle. Glancing at the clock on the wall, I notice that the workday is nearly over--another week has passed and it's time for the weekend. On the bus ride back to my apartment, I think about my plans for tomorrow. I fantasize about getting out of the city and maybe going camping. My thoughts carry me away from the bump & jerk of the bus and its faint mix of diesel-fumes and people-smells to the last time I sat around a fire with friends, breathed fresh air & woodsmoke, slept out under the stars, and awoke to a sunrise heralded by birdsong. My fantasy ends with the memory that I promised my best friend & his wife that I would help them move this Saturday. They have a big apartment and lots of stuff, so it will take awhile. On the walk from the bus stop to my apartment, I stop at the grocery store and buy a frozen pizza and a six-pack of beer. Later, the slight twinge of empty discomfort I experience in the silence of my studio is quickly subsumed by the flickering light and canned laughter coming from my TV and the slight buzz entering my brain as I finish my third beer. During a commercial break I hit mute on the remote control and stare blankly out the window and into the distance. I find myself thinking...just what is Reality? What is the Truth of my Life?
It's years from that particular Friday (though I have no idea what day of the week and no reason to care). I'm fishing along the shore of a glassy lake surrounded by deep green forest. The sun is tracking low across the western half of the sky and I'm starting to feel a slight hunger which tells me that it's nearly time to rejoin my people for our evening meal. My willow gathering basket contains five good-sized panfish caught today, one for each of us. On the way back to camp, I stop on the edge of an open meadow and gather some wild greens (milkweed, nettles & burdock) to accompany the fish. I notice tracks in the soil telling me that Black Bear has passed by this meadow today. My senses heighten in response to this new awareness, and I notice more signs that tell me what Black Bear was eating today. Other signs in the trees lead me to spot Porcupine lounging in a nearby Hemlock, lazily munching on a branch. In the distance, I hear the call of the Loon. A bit later, As I approach our lean-to shelter the smell of woodsmoke and sound of spontaneous laughter tells me that my campmates are already back from their day's activities. I sit with them in a circle around the fire where we share food as well as stories of our day's adventures, joys and hardships. Shortly after dinner, we bed down for the night and my thoughts slowly fade into Dream-time...
I am sometimes asked--what is the main difference between civilization and wildness? My most succinct answer borrows a bit from the words of Bob Black in his essay "The Abolition of Work". To put it bluntly--civilizing is serious work. Wilding is serious play.
The ramifications of this are profound and far-reaching.
Doing work (i.e. "forced labor") requires that we subdue our deepest inclinations--that we act contrary to our own innate will. Every moment that we spend working, one part of our psyche must maintain control over all the other parts who wish that we were playing instead. In fact, one of the most prevalent desires in our society is to either escape work--say by winning the lottery or retiring, or to somehow reconcile work and play--to get paid for doing what we love and feel is deeply important. Some in our society are able to realize such dreams, but most are never able to do so--instead, they struggle with the various yokes placed upon them by societies numerous bosses' until their spirits finally succumb and lose vital essence.
The same principle is found in the dynamics between us and every other creature drawn in to the civilizing process. Every moment that we labor to subdue the earth, one part of the ecosystem (us) must maintain control over all the other parts (animals, plants, insects, bacteria, as well as various powers and forces of nature) who wish that we were all playing together instead. If we cease (or even just slacken) our constant effort to maintain control over our environment, then life goes back to playing. It is only through constant inputs of massive amounts of energy that civilization is able to keep the natural tendencies of life on planet earth subdued.
What this all means for the big picture is that the civilizing process is akin to rowing upstream, whereas the rewilding process is akin to flowing downstream. Just like water, nature flows into open space--and civilization destroys far more than it creates, which is to say, it opens space. So, just as water always naturally flows downstream, rewilding is always happening--even if at only the most subtle levels. Ants, cockroaches, mice and rats begin re-invading suburban homes almost as soon as the exterminator leaves. Weeds (most of them edible) spring up in lawns immediately once herbicides and lawnmowers are no longer applied. Agricultural fields sprout weeds just as quickly as do suburban lawns and attract "vermin" even quicker than suburban houses. Clear-cut forests re-grow themselves with equal tenacity--in fact, the five small wilderness areas of east Texas (where I sit as I write this) were all clear-cut less than 100 years ago. And the North Woods of Wisconsin (where I spent a year living in a primitive camp in the wilderness) was almost completely devastated to build the city of Chicago just over a century ago. At this moment, wild animals are continuing to invade farms and cities--North America's white-tail deer, cottontail rabbit, raccoon, red-fox and coyote populations have been on the rise during the past century--I've encountered many of them along the edges of and within the confines of farm fields, towns and even major urban areas. I've seen red foxes slip through the streets of Denver in the late evening hunting for housecats and stealing from dog-food dishes. I've hunted feral hogs (once domesticated pigs brought over by Russian settlers) and gathered wild figs on abandoned homesteads in northern California (from trees planted by the same pioneers who were responsible for exterminating Ishi's people). During the past four decades Buffalo have been returning to various areas of the plains with help from their American Indian allies. Grey wolves are now returning to areas from which they were once exterminated--new sightings are occurring in both northern Colorado and northern Wisconsin as wild populations extend their ranges further and further south. Red Wolves are returning to small enclaves in the south-eastern forests after enduring more than two decades when their only surviving members were doing so in captivity.
Now my point is obviously not to say that all is fine and well here on planet Earth--because of course, it isn't. The environmental devastation wrought by modern industrial civilization is readily observable and should be obvious to anyone who has honestly looked into the matter. My point here is merely that despite the industrial machine's relentless holocaust, wildness has not surrendered nor is it on the retreat--in fact, it has never been on the retreat (being beaten back is not the same thing as retreating). Wild-Life continually springs from the cracks and fills every void available to it because it is essentially at play. And so similarly, human re-wilding can, and should be an essentially pro-active, playful and joyful process. While nearly all leftists and most anarchists tend to react to every crime perpetrated by those in power, Wild-Life Lives.
Wildness returns because it is the way of Joy, the way of Kinship, and the way of Spirit. Wildness returns because it IS the Circle of Life and death--it is life worth living and death worth dying--and more life springing from each death. In a land of domesticated, stagnant & wasting spirits, wildness returns because it is Life at its most essential and vital--it is Life in the Raw. It returns because in a land dominated by make-believe and illusion, it is Real. It returns because it is always here and it is always now.
And I believe the signs of the times are that wildness is getting ready to return BIG TIME and IN FORCE. The Mayan calendar indicates that the age of corn will come to an end in 2012. What is the age of corn in the Mayan version of history? The age of corn is the age in which the Mayans live by agriculture--cultivating their primary food source, which is maize. What could bring an end to the age of Mayan agriculture? Two words--climate change. The Mayans have already experienced significant civilized collapse due to climate change--the end of their classical period of powerful kings and city-state building collapsed during one of the more significant abnormalities in the climate record of the last 10,000 years. It would stand to reason then, that the old Mayan sages may have had particularly good insight into how climate is capable of undermining civilization. And while a relatively minor climatic blip during the last 10,000 years was successful in undermining Mayan imperial developments, it did not prevent them from cultivating their primary agricultural staple. What is on the horizon just might, however. Recent developments in the field of paleoclimatology have given scientists a radically new picture of our Earth's climate history. The orthodox view of the last hundred years was that the Earth's climate has been and will continue to be characterized by stability. This was based on the outdated understanding that past climatic change had happened slowly, with minor blips taking hundreds if not thousands of years and major changes taking tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years. Discoveries in the last decade have revealed that stability has actually only characterized the last 10,000 or so years of Earth's history (the period in which agriculture developed). For the 100,000 years prior to that, the Earth's climate continually underwent wild swings, often on a time scale of mere decades (for more on this, read Richard B. Alley's "The Two-mile Time Machine"). Such a climate made the development of agriculture impossible, and a return to such a climate would seriously undermine the practice of agriculture worldwide (for more on this, read Brian Fagan's "The Long Summer" and "Floods, Famines, & Emperors"). In other words, the last 10,000 years of Mother Earth's "domesticity" have been a relatively brief interlude in the life of THE archetypal "wild woman". If the Earth's climate goes wild again, it will very likely take us with it.
In fact, the Mayan practice of farming is far more stable and climate-resilient (due to the use of a diverse blend of hardy heirloom varieties of corn) than what is being practiced by countries dominated by modern industrial agri-business. Modern hybridization and mono-cropping have seriously undermined the genetic diversity of mainstream global food crops to the extent that all of our core agricultural staples are essentially endangered species from a genetic diversity perspective (see chapter seven of "Earth in the Balance" by Al Gore for more on this). Since it is the genetic diversity of a species' population that enables it to adapt to and survive changes in its environment, modern mono-crop farming practices are a sure recipe for disaster when set against the possibility of an unstable future climate. In addition, we are already beginning to see diminished returns in terms of our agricultural technocrat's ability to control disease through antibiotics, their ability to control bugs with chemical insecticide, their herbicide's ability to control weeds, and their chemical fertilizer's ability to restore the soil. Soil depletion as well as plagues of resistant weeds, bugs, and disease are all on the near horizon for modern agriculture, just as they have plagued farmers in the late stages of every civilization throughout history. Genetic engineering and chemicals can only forestall the inevitable and will ultimately make the return to balance that much more violent & traumatic for all those involved. In other words, if Mayan agriculture goes down, you can bet Con-Agra is going down.
On top of this, we add the looming problem of peak oil. The modern industrial economy basically turns oil into food--in fact, it turns oil into nearly everything we need for life--food, transportation, clothing, shelter, heat, etc.. The growth of our global economy is contingent on pumping more and more cheap oil out of the ground year after year. However, such growth does not continue forever when it is based on the availability of a non-renewable resource. Global oil production is near the verge of peaking, and once that happens the growth of the global industrial economy will begin to reverse itself into precipitous decline (see www.hubbertpeak.com, www.peakoil.org, and read "The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies" by Richard Heinberg for more on this).
Put together the three factors of; #1 the onset once again of a radically unstable climate, #2 industrial mono-crop agriculture's precarious lack of genetic diversity and inherent unsustainability relative to soils, disease, insects, and weeds, and #3 peak oil, and you get a recipe for not only the end of the "age of corn", but the end of modern industrial agriculture worldwide. Certainly such a collapse is not going to happen overnight--in fact it will likely take decades, perhaps even a century, to fully play itself out. However, the beginning of such an end is certain to be right around the corner--and if any credence is given to prophetic Mayan sages, the date for entering that turn may very well be 2012.
So what do we do with the knowledge that civilization cannot deliver on the future it tells us we must sell our present for? Quite simply, we opt out of the rat-race and its false 401K-promises and start living our wildest dreams now. We get together, cut out the middle-man (i.e. work-for-pay) and learn to live directly from the land. We begin to align ourselves with the playful forces of nature and the returning flow of wildness. We enable this wildness to return in ourselves, in our communities, and throughout the earth--both in small cracks within civilization and in larger tracks on the edge of civilization. We then create opportunities for others to follow with us as the spirit of our authenticity and wildness becomes contagious.
How do we do this? First of all, we need to begin opening space for people to come together & learn how to live in direct, unmediated, and neo-primitive ways. People need to be given the chance to re-acquire a taste for the experience of an authentic, intimate & sharing relationship with eachother, the Land, and it's Wild Life. And since breaking free from domestication can be a highly challenging long-term process, we need relatively safe, supportive places where we can come together and share both the joy of our successes as well as the heartbreak of our failures. Failures and setbacks will inevitably come from engagement in any serious adventure of spirit, but they can be transformed into valuable lessons when properly received. We can begin opening space for this by purchasing small plots of land near national forest and wilderness, or by living nomadic lives while squatting on national forest land. If the Land is purchased, it can be opened up for fellow primitives to stay there long-term or as they pass through the area. People can hunt, fish, gather, trap, & camp on public land, while being loosely based on private land as needed. If a squatter's camp is erected in the national forest, its location can be made known through informal networks so that hospitality can be extended to those who might like to come & live there as well. If we had a network of these safe-havens around North America, an informal circuit of nomadic or semi-nomadic bands could form & learn to live in neo-primitive ways with active support from eachother. Such support would then tend to build strong bonds of spiritual kinship that could be counted on in a crisis. (For examples of people already forming communities and/or engaging in holistic primitive-living activities see: Teaching Drum Outdoor School, Wildroots, Dancinghawk, and Four Seasons Prehistoric Projects)
One additional idea for neo-primitive living that I think is worth playing with is the possibility of using small primitive sailboats and squatting up and down the coastline and on offshore islands (Umiak skin-boats are one type of boat that could be used, see Umiak Workshop - Skinboat School, and Umiak Adventures). The coastline of the Pacific Northwest from northern California to Alaska seems particularly well suited to such and endeavor. The Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the coastline of the Baja of Mexico may offer serious possibilities as well.
Also, these ideas are not just for those of us living in "first world" North America. While travelling in Guatemala and Belize this past winter I found a number of areas where these ideas could be put into practice. I also encountered people who had been working on communal permaculture sites in Costa Rica (permaculture is another potentially good area for neo-primitive experimentation, see Permaculture Activist for more info). "Forest Gardening" appears to have good potential for those interested in neo-primitive living in areas where land is tight, see the books "Forest Gardening" by Robert Hart and "How to Make a Forest Garden" by Patrick Whitefield.
Once established, these safe-havens can hopefully become a place where we respectfully ask the Spirits of the Land to re-create our character as people once again. Our primary teachers need to be our Wild Relations and Mother Earth herself. However, we can also respectfully follow the lead of many American Indians who are re-connecting & re-viving their Old-Ways, though we should be cautious & sensitive to the risks of cultural expropriation while venturing into this area. Hopefully, we want to get in touch with our own hearts enough to honestly re-create OUR OWN authentic Earth-based cultures, not just steal from Indigenous Peoples as civilization has always done. The operative principles here need to be respect and reciprocity - give back to native peoples & build bonds of solidarity based on common struggles and needs. Don't just take, give back. (For a few examples of points-of-entry when it comes to possible connections with indigenous peoples see: Nanish Shontie, Midwest Treaty Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, Survival International, Friends of Peoples Close To Nature, and American Indian Movement)
In addition, we can help to facilitate the same process on the Land itself through support for visions like the Wildlands Project (see The Wildlands Project, pick up the magazine "Wild Earth", and read the book "Rewilding North America" written by Dave Foreman). Then as more wild land opens up, more space is created for more neo-primitive safe-havens. In this way, rewilding the People will support rewilding the Land and rewilding the Land will support rewilding the People.
Lastly, I'd just like to emphasize that the way I see it rewilding is not about what we think or what opinions we hold. It is about re-learning both playful and respectful ways of seeing and ways of being within our most basic relationships - right now. It is about re-orienting ourselves to the ever-present reality of our wild Earth Mother and our deepest intuitive selves--rather than continuing to orient ourselves to the pseudo-reality of the echnological regime and the various lies society tells us about who we are. Now is the time for us "working people" to learn to play again - to learn how to play with our fellow humans and all our Wild Relations. Right now wildness is playfully returning everywhere....will you come outside and play?
Generations have seen centuries pass, perhaps millennia, since the particular & peculiar Friday that opened this story. The People live wild as they seem always to have done--indeed, as all Life seems always to have done. But the elders occasionally tell stories (usually when a youth is about to embark on the passage into adulthood) of how some of the ancestors once got caught in a trap set by their own minds and briefly fell from balance. They tell of how much suffering and confusion this all caused, and how Mother Earth scolded them harshly and then lovingly led those first few seekers--those who were truthful & humble enough to accept Her scolding--back into the Circle of their Relations.
Anyone inspired by these thoughts can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org