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The Rewilding Academy

A week from now, Uncivilisation 2013 will be under way! In the last of our series of previews of this year’s Dark Mountain festival, Steve Wheeler – who “rewilds captive humans” – introduces the Rewilding Academy that he’ll be running throughout the weekend…

When animals have been raised in captivity, there is a necessary process of re-training they must undergo before they can be released back into the wild, one that enables them to recover their natural instincts to hunt or flee, that relieves them of their learnt dependency on the human institution, and that returns them to the kind of physical condition they would have naturally maintained through a life of continual movement and stimulation. This process is known as ‘rewilding’.

The term has since been extended to encompass entire ecosystems, describing attempts to return complex ecological networks to the kind of natural functioning that existed prior to large-scale human intervention. Anarcho-primitivists have also appropriated the word, meaning by it a programme of training in ‘primitive skills’ – bushcraft, tracking, hide-tanning and flint-knapping being regular favourites.

Many people are drawn to Dark Mountain, and to the Uncivilisation Festival – which takes place in Hampshire in only a week’s time, and for which tickets are still available! – because they too recognise within themselves a desire to cast off the constraints and conditioning of civilised life, and to reconnect to the deep nature of nature.

For some, this might mean simply having a chance to live under canvas for a few days, or to gather round a real fire with like-minded people. For others, poetry and art provide a bridge from our civilised consciousness back to the rhythmic swell of unquiet emotion. Ecopsychological exploration or the simple act of sharing fears, loves and truths together yet provide other ways of reconnecting. But, for many, there remains a sense of mediation, an unresolvable distance between their own being and the natural world that calls to them that no will, words or walks can erase.

For the last two Uncivilisation festivals, I have run sessions that sought to provide a different kind of rewilding: one that acknowledges that is not enough to turn domesticated humans out into the wild and expect them to immediately recover their buried instincts and feelings; one that recognises that we have all been conditioned by civilisation into certain persistent patterns of thought, behaviour and physical restraint; one that makes use of our remaining capacity for play, curiosity and learning to open a small crack in the armour, to give a brief glimpse of the path that can slowly lead us back to experiencing the fullness of our human nature.

This year, we have not one session of this kind of tomfoolery, but an entire strand of activities. We’re calling it “The Rewilding Academy”, the word ‘Academy’ being partly ironic – to remind ourselves not to take ourselves too seriously, and not to fall into believing that Rewilding can ultimately be anything other than self-taught – and partly as a distant echo of the original academy, Akademos’ grove, where truths were sought in the heart of nature, apart from the scrolls and stones of the city.

Our bodies are much abused, ignored and neglected in our civilised lives – and when we do remember them, we often apply the same harsh logic of control, ‘going for the burn’, ‘pumping iron’, toning, sweating and finally collapsing in a ragged-breathed heap of exhaustion. The first step in rewilding, then, is to reconnect to our bodies with gentleness, attention and good humour.

Each morning of the festival will start with a choice of Qi Gong – a traditional set of Chinese exercises that combine mindful breathing with gentle stretches and movement, led by myself and Tom Hirons – or Slow Yoga, Bryony Henderson‘s unique combination of gentle yoga postures and creative intent. For those who want to go further, Bryony will also lead an atmospheric candlelit session late on Saturday night.

We are also blessed with the presence of artist Anne-Marie Culhane, who will be guiding us in the subtle art of Fieldsensing; slow, mindful movement that allows the walker to absorb the full power of the natural environment around them. For those who would like to move through nature in a more dynamic flow, Vivo-certified barefoot running coach Naeem Akram will be on hand to teach the basics of barefoot movement, helping us to discover life beyond running shoes – if you’ve never felt the forest floor spin away beneath your feet, as your toes come alive and your natural reflexes reassert themselves, you’ve never really experienced running!

Rewilding is not just about techniques and attentiveness, of course; sometimes spontaneity and play are the royal road to rediscovering our wild selves. Mystery man Charlie Davies will be revealing the arcane secrets of ‘Kung Fool!’ to dedicated seekers on Saturday afternoon, about which I can only say: expect the unexpected. And leave the nunchucks at home. Meanwhile, in ‘Being Human,’ voice and movement facilitator Eliza Kenyon will be leading us in a very different kind of play, as she takes us off to a safe and private space to “explore what it is to be alive in sound and movement, to listen deeply for the wisdom of your own heart, body and mind, and to feel supported in taking the next step in your journey as a human being.”

Perhaps we learn the most about our wild selves when we combine together all of these elements: movement, mindfulness, play, and conversation. Dark Mountaineer, improviser and Doctor of Psychology Alex Fradera will be rounding off Sunday with a session called ‘The Honesty of Children’, exploring the connections between our playfulness and spontaneity, and the honesty and sincerity of our beliefs. And we are immensely excited that we will be joined on Saturday by Jorge Goia for ‘Games You Can’t Play Alone’. A capoeira teacher and direct student of Roberto Freire, Goia brings a wealth of experience and wisdom to this session, in which we will be exploring the connections between play, the body, and our relation to one another.

Oh, and apparently I’ve scheduled myself to do something called Full Circle on Sunday, where we turn the whole Academy on its head and discover everyone’s capacity to be their own (and my) best therapist…

Rewilding is not about returning to a pre-rational state. It’s not about daubing ourselves in woad and roaring at the moon (although if anyone else is up for that, I’ve got nothing scheduled for Sunday night). You may have noticed George Monbiot on the prowl recently, promoting his new book Feral and its vision of rewilding the British countryside. In it, he writes: “The rewilding of natural ecosystems that fascinates me is not an attempt to restore them to any prior state, but to permit ecological processes to resume.”

In the same way, our little human rewilding project is not an attempt to return ourselves to a pristine primordial state, or to deny the experiences we have had and the people we have become under the influence of civilisation. But our inner lives can often seem as barren and lifeless, as controlled and constrained as the deforested, monocultural fields of Britain. And perhaps, by joining together in gentleness, playfulness and honesty, we might risk letting the natural processes of our own inner ecology begin to resume. The forests will not grow back overnight, but the seeds can be planted. I hope you can join us in Hampshire.

The last ever Uncivilisation Festival takes place at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, 15-19 August 2013. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.

THE PARACHUTE STAGE

With just over a week to go till this year’s Uncivilisation, Dougie Strang, the curator of the new Parachute Stage introduces the wild and wonderful goings-on you’ll find at this corner of the festival.

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Dark Mountain began as a writers’ project, but it has welcomed the involvement of a wider range of folk: artists and musicians and makers of things, foragers and psychologists, storytellers and dancers and, of course, those who defy the labelling. What binds us, perhaps, is the belief that creative expression is a valid and necessary response to this era of crisis and loss.

The Uncivilisation festival has seen an annual flourishing of that expression, and one of the things I’ve loved most is that it seems to embody a different kind of creative sensibility to that of mainstream festival culture. We’ve not been interested in spectacle for its own sake, recognising that making something bigger and louder might grab attention, but it doesn’t confer value. We’ve aimed instead for intimacy and depth: acoustic music sessions, storytelling at the fire, found theatre and art in the woods, talks that are less lectures and more participative conversations.

There’s an appropriateness to this approach, but also a delight in the possibilities it offers. This year, for example, as well as the main marquee and the woodland stage, we thought we’d build our own stage. It feels like another step – Unciv began in a pavilion with full PA system and rows of chairs and it’ll end, for now, with a parachute stage strung between trees and straw bales to sit on.

In putting together the programme for the Parachute Stage, I wanted to reflect that wide range of people who have given time and energy to Dark Mountain, and the breadth of ideas and practices that they bring. So there will be some familiar faces: Tom Hirons inviting us to delve deeper into Rites of Passage, Dougald Hine on the continuing influence of Ivan Illich; as well as others who you might know from their contributions to the Dark Mountain anthologies: Bridget McKenzie, who will present ‘Beuysterous’, an all-in-one talk, workshop and art installation, and poet and psychotherapist Steve Thorp with his fascinating session on ‘Unspsychology’. It’s also a real pleasure to welcome Jeppe Graugaard and Morten Svenstrup who will discuss some of the ideas from their ‘Time Culture’ project.

There’s no specific theme this year, though it’s surprising how things tend to weave themselves into relationship – like the Mychorrizae that feature in Bridget’s talk. At ‘Rise and Root’, our opening session, members of Mearcstapa will be encouraging us to explore such weavings and connections, and to keep making them throughout the weekend. And finally, I’m very excited and delighted that the Parachute Stage will be hosting performances from the amazing Metaforestry, and from Persephone Pearl of Feral Theatre. There will also be a certain badger…

As well as having to do with the Parachute Stage, I’m involved with Mearcstapa who will once again be adding a sense of otherness to the weekend. In particular I’ll be contributing an installation called ‘Charnel House for Roadkill’. It’s something to look out for in the woods, but it’s also an opportunity for those who want to participate in what will be a kind of relay performance piece running throughout the festival. If you’re interested in taking part, then please contact me beforehand (email: dougs@live.co.uk). Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at what’s shaping up to be an unforgettable weekend.

Uncivilisation 2013 takes place at the Sustainability Centre, nr Petersfield, Hampshire over the weekend of 15-19 August. Tickets available through Eventbrite.

UNCIV FLASHBACK: VINAY GUPTA, ‘TIME TO STOP PRETENDING’

As we count down to the final Uncivilisation festival in two weeks time, we’re going to take a look back at some memories from previous years. If you’ve got your own stories, images or recordings that you’d like to share, let us know!

‘Collapse means living in the same conditions as the people who grow your coffee.’

One of the most memorable sessions at our first festival in Llangollen was this talk from Vinay Gupta, grounding the fears that hover around conversations about ‘collapse’ in the reality of how life works for most people on the planet now. (Vinay also featured in our first two books, including this conversation with Dougald in Dark Mountain: Issue 1.)

We’ve gradually escaped from the kind of “speaker on a stage, audience in rows” set-up that defined a lot of sessions at the first festival, but Uncivilisation is still – among other things – a chance to hear from and get into conversation with people who’ve spent much of their lives thinking and working with the kind of questions Vinay spoke about back in 2010.

Check out this year’s Uncivilisation programme – and book your tickets. It all happens from 15-19 August, 2013 at the Sustainability Centre, nr Petersfield, Hampshire, England.

THE STAGE IN THE WOODS

stage

By Charlotte DuCann

This is one of the stages where it’s all happening this year at Uncivilisation. Made from cob and wood and standing in a beechwood glade, this small theatre is a perfect set and setting for performances with their feet on the earth. When this photograph was taken it was midwinter and the Sustainability Centre was blanketed in deep snow. In spite of the weather, seven of us had crossed Britain and converged here to organise this last festival. Some of the background to the programme was discussed at the Woodland Stage as we sat around its open fire at night in the fierce cold (helped by a dram or two of island malt!)

turtle

By day this space is traditionally the literary stage at Uncivilisation and has hosted all kinds of writers and writing-forms, from poetry readings to small publishing houses (at night it transforms into a music stage). Last year I appeared on its rough boards by happy accident. A workshop was cancelled at the last minute, and I stepped in to talk about my book, 52 Flowers That Shook My World, and share some of its insights. One of these was about a concept called Land Dreaming Capacity, which is an Okanagen word for the human body. The native people of British Columbia saw human beings as the language makers of the planet. They gave the trees and the sky names and sang their praises, connecting everything that took place within the territory as the seasons turned, as generations were born and lived and died. It made sense of their being here.

My own feeling is that writers are people who haven’t forgotten that capacity, that we retain a loyalty to the planet and in everything we do we keep naming the world and making our place within it coherent. So this stage in many ways reflects the writers’ art of keeping those vital connections alive. In 2013 this is an urgent task. We are writing against great odds. And yet, like the nightingale in the fairy tale who sings more sweetly as he presses his heart against the thorn, the harder the times, the more intense and beautiful and courageous can be the response: you drop what is unnecessary and get down to what really matters.

What matters to me in a dark time are the writers who can face reality – intelligently, beautifully, generously – and make you feel that whatever you do in praise of this mysterious earth and your small life here, has meaning and value. In an industrialised world governed by denial and illusion the ability to live – creatively, expansively, wildly – is a possibility I hope this wooden stage will hold for one fleeting weekend in August.

book 4 cover

The programme

So this year, as the curators of the Woodland Stage we (poet Susan Richardson and myself) wanted to showcase a breadth of writing that responded to this planetary crisis, and to show how writing is a key to weathering the storm. It’s a programme that ranges from the inner relationship between words and the body (YogaWrite) to the collective drama of climate change (Beacons). We wanted to continue some of the strands that Susan and fellow Dark Mountain poet, Em Strang, developed last year, which means a vibrant mix of poetry, prose (fiction and non-fiction), performance, workshops and discussion, and an invitation to the contributors of the new Dark Mountain collection to read from their work. Dark Mountain Books is going to branch out next year, so this session will be hosted by one of the DM editors, Dougald Hine, who as well as introducing the writers, will also discuss the future of the press.

One of the key themes in those collections is the shift from a human-centric world view to an earth-centric one. So another strand we wanted to include was the essential relationship between human beings and other animals. Susan is heading up that section and in Humanimal has invited the writer, Caspar Henderson to talk about and read some of his luminous text in Barely Imagined Beings, to be followed by a talk and workshop, Art in Other Skins, organised by ONCA, the innovative environmental art space in Brighton.

green man

Another driver, discussed in the original manifesto, is the grounding of our words in time and place. In remembering 
the land and the people co-founder of Dark Mountain, Paul Kingsnorth and co-producer of The Telling, Rachel Horne will both recount their unique ways of recording past events. The Wake is Paul’s first novel, written in its own language, a post-apocalyptic story set during and after the Norman invasion of England in 1066; Rachel Horne has dramatised the aftermath of the miners’ strike of 1984, through words, poetry and song, and will be sharing ideas on how art and action can lead to social change.


Sweeping the stage

A performance artist I once knew called Alex Hay told me that the first thing you do in a performance is sweep the stage. You prepare the space and afterwards, when everyone has gone, you sweep up and leave everything as you found it, ready for the next show. That way the space and everything that happens within it has its own hermetic strength and significance. Alex had given up a glittering career as an artist in New York to live out his life humbly in a desert town in Arizona, caretaker broom in hand. That conscious giving up of a city life, with all its dazzling allures, in order to grow down, is one of the steps the artist and writer make in order to show the way. That strategic step is the shift of Uncivilisation.

Doin Dirt Time is a performance piece about that very move. Based on an interview by Suzi Gablik in her book Conversations Before The End of Time, Rachel Dutton and Rob Olds are about to give away their artworks and possessions and to disappear into the American wilderness. Fern Smith, one of the founders of Volcano Theatre and Emergence, and writers, Phlip Ralph and Sarah Woods will reenact this famous encounter that questions both the role of the artist in society, and what it means to leave that society behind.

seakale Meanwhile I’ll be sharing the practices that revolutionised my own life and writing career in Rewilding the Self. In order to write about that shift you have, as I found out, to become a different kind of person and this session will look at how as creative people we can reshape the way we communicate with the planet and its inhabitants. The Earth Dreaming Bank was originally inspired by a talk given by a psychologist called Stephen Aizenstat, based on a meeting with an aboriginal elder in Northern Australia. Once you have a dream, he said, you have to share it. You have to speak it out loud.

Writers are not silent, strange creatures, who live in a small room, tapping away at a machine (though there is quite a lot of that!) The writer is the one who can boldly stand up and speak out, so that the world can hear another language being spoken, far kinder and wilder than the dominant broadcast of Empire. Uncivilisation is a chance to hear those voices that are often drowned out – the voices of the creatures and the trees, the wind and the sea, ourselves – and forge those imaginative connections that make sense of all places, all times, on this earth. Even the hard ones.

Looking forward to meeting you there (I’ll be the one with the broom!)

Saturday’s Woodland programme

Sunday’s Woodland programme.

Images: Steve (Rewilding Academy) sweeping the stage, January 2013; Dark Mountain 4 cover by Kit Boyd; illustration of leather-backed turtle from Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson; Green Man from Norwich Cathedral; Sea Kale Project notebook (CDC)

WOMEN’S & MEN’S SPACES

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Cat Lupton and Jack Richardson, curators of the Women’s and Men’s Spaces at this year’s Uncivilisation introduce their programmes – and explain some of the thinking and feeling behind the creation of these spaces.

Something new for this year’s Uncivilisation will be a dedicated space and workshops offered separately for men and for women. The teepee, used in previous years as the open space, will hold the men’s programme on Saturday and the women’s on Sunday.

For men, Jack Richardson will host ‘Whittling and Wittering’, a gathering to talk about the language men and boys inherit, use, develop and pass on, with willow weaving and whittling to occupy the hands together with minds and mouths. Sarah Jewell will lead a vocal workshop for uncivilised men, and Tom Hirons will offer an introduction to the Four Shields, drawing on Council, wilderness rites of passage and pan-cultural models of the self, to help men reconcile the polarities and conflicts that manifest within and outside themselves.

For women, Annie Davey will be offering a life mapping and embodied experience workshop, ‘Women and Earth Constellations: listening to the song that is my life’, which draws on the model of Constellations Work (and with no singing involved!) Jackie Singer will guide ‘Singing Over The Bones’, a journey onto the terrain of the Wild Woman, inspired by the seminal work of Clarissa Pinkola Estés, via song, movement and improvisation. To close, Cat Lupton and Bridget McKenzie will host ‘Weaving Our Stories’, a creative making and conversation space where women are invited to make story-threads to weave into a collaborative artwork.

Why separate spaces, you might be asking, possibly feeling resistance or discomfort at the prospect. The idea of men and women in single-sex gatherings can conjure up images of exclusion, antagonism and rigid, outdated gender roles: the men-only golf clubs, professional societies and university colleges which women have had to fight hard to gain access to, or the mums and toddlers groups where full-time fathers feel out of place. Many modern societies have made significant progress towards an ideal of sexual equality, but precisely because there are still yawning gaps between that ideal and what goes down in reality, any initiative that re-emphasises differences between men and women can easily get cast as a step in the wrong direction.

What happens to and for men and women, though, if the societies that sustain the ideal of sexual equality begin to unravel? As the collapse writer Carolyn Baker has recently observed, you don’t have to scratch far below the polite surface of gender parity to uncover a seething mass of conflicts, resentments and projections erupting between the sexes. She highlights ongoing discussions and arguments, within the collapse-aware community, over the potential for widespread social and environmental instability to erode the gains made by women especially over recent decades. In the background of this and similar discussions lurk the violent and still very much present realities of patriarchy and misogyny, which are all too readily fuelled in a climate of sharp economic contraction, social fracturing, staggering global inequality and relentless environmental devastation.

Intertwined with the depth and seriousness of these conflicts, the sense of civilisation coming apart is also drawing to the surface fresh awarenesses and questions about what women and men might bring differently to a radically transformed, uncivilising future. If we’re looking to become wild again, does wildness feel and manifest differently for men and women? If the world around them falls apart, do men and women react and cope in the same ways, or not? Do men and women take broadly identical steps on the path back to interconnection with the more-than human world, or does each gender bring distinctive gifts, qualities and attitudes to this journey? And if the Dark Mountain Project specifically is about telling new stories to give shape to an as yet unrecognisable future, do men and women craft the same tales, or does each sex carry differently coloured and textured strands into the yarns they weave?

These questions, and conflicts, have been weaving through and around the Dark Mountain Project since its inception. In planning the programme for this year’s festival, the idea of offering a programme strand of separate spaces and activities for each sex gained traction. The thinking and feeling behind these spaces is to give the men and women of Uncivilisation an opportunity, if they would like it, to explore for themselves how it is to be in a single-gender Uncivilised space for a while, especially if that opportunity doesn’t present itself much in their everyday lives. What, if any, difference it makes to the kinds and depths of conversation that unfold, the questions that are raised, the quality of attention, energy or connection that arises.

These spaces are there as one – by no means the only – way to address the dimension of gender within the Dark Mountain conversation. Within each space, anyone who identifies as a man / woman is welcome. As curators, our hope is that, for some participants, spending that time with their own sex meets a need or opens a door that will continue to nourish them, as they go about carrying Uncivilisation home.

EARTHSONGS OF ENGLAND

At last year’s Uncivilisation festival, in 2012, we curated a discussion between two authors – Jay Griffiths and Paul Kingsnorth – about place, activism, nature and what commitment to action might look like in today’s culture. It drew on the 1990s English road protests, in which both authors were involved, for its seed and inspiration.

Below is a full audio recording of this discussion. There will be many more like it at this year’s festival: check out the full lineup here.

THE SLOW WING

owlPosted by Ilka Blue

I’ve been invited to write a post on the Slow Wing, a satellite workshop happening in Australia as part of the upcoming Uncivilisation festival. I’m going to begin with an ending, because I want the axis of this piece to be slippery, ambiguous, to summon the conflict in this world. For the Slow Wing is about the paradox of nothing changing when everything has changed, about a fixation with life that’s become the root cause of ecocide, and about re-imagining the world by deepening our relationship with death.

The ending I begin with comes from Paul Kingsnorth’s recent blog post Empire of the Ape, which concludes with Doug Tompkins’ response to the very common and hopelessly charged question, of what a person can do to stem our raging environmental crises? Tompkins says do what you can do. His words echo those of ecophilosopher Patsy Hallen who I’ve often heard say if your struggle is one without joy, you are in the wrong struggle. Underneath their words I find an Elder’s recognition that life is fuelled by death. This wisdom makes more potent their direct message that yours is a unique belonging to this world. Your existence influences the world, whilst simultaneously bearing no influence on its universal pulse.  This is the shadowy beauty of ecosystems.

However, like many, it is not enough for me to rationally understand how these dynamics work. I am swamped by inertia and plagued by outbursts of panic and anger. This part explains why I vocally blurted You have to get off the train! in reaction to Kingsnorth’s post. The train is a reoccurring symbol for me, a residue of my indoctrinated pull to the false safety that machines and progress proffer. In the context of Tompkins’ counsel to find an issue you are close to and which matters to you and you take a position there, my metaphoric reaction is that the greater universal pulse determines that some of us stay on the train, some of us get off at the wrong station, and some of us miss the train altogether.

I often miss the train. In 2009 I arrived at Heathrow with a sleeping bag, harmonica and journals of poetry, ready for a summer of writing. At the passport counter I showed documentation of my return ticket and a full bank account. To my shock, I was taken to a holding room. After 8 hours of interrogation the Border Force Officer informed me I was refused entry to the UK. He added that I’d be wise to find a job in Australia rather than be (a woman) out exploring the world. The sound of that summer train was painfully loud as it rolled off to my future without me.

I’d like to be able to reconcile my fate by claiming to be an Activist worthy of making a blacklist, to be someone courageous, like Tim DeChristopher is. But I am more tree than I am spear, and I simply fell victim to the vulgarities of modern civilisation. I can only claim being scared and common. I do what I can do.  The long years of my plainness, my complicity, have afforded me a meditation on the chaos of human transgression. Only be being still, lost to days of inaction and sadness, have I been able to sense a different world, sense my animal tone. And it’s revealed a hard paradox to stay awake to – by not battling ecocide I am participating in my own death.

Not long ago, I sat with the dying and death of an important Matriarch in my world. Many times during her passing I reached for mythologies, rituals, traditions, something to help the passage but I found nothing. Mine is a culture void of the practices created to help people through such a powerful transformation, it is a culture in denial of death. Imagine what this means collectively in the onset of ecocide…

Modernity’s estrangement from death can explain our dysfunctional relationship with the more-than-human world. By being apart from (not a part of) ‘Nature’, means that humans are not subject to the universal laws of transformation, which this planet embodies as the seasonal cycles of death and birth. In this modern era there is no returning, no exhale, no fall, we move only forward, onward, upward, and our addiction to the push requires the consumption of LIFE. The paradox here is that in our intentional denial of death, we are manifesting the biggest death in human history: that of Earth.

Slow Wing asks the very confronting question: how do we reconcile with a dying world? Death is here, it has always been here. To be clear, my work is concerned with strengthening cultural and biological diversity with the express purpose of mitigating species extinction. As I state in my thesis, Storytelling beyond the Anthropocene: a quest through the crisis of ecocide toward new ecological paradigms, ecocide is the death of nature not the nature of death. Thus the Slow Wing does not propose we accept ecocide, it asks how to be a civilisation in autumn. As a friend taught me during my recent experience of death, dying is a very different state to living.

Everything shifts with those words. Dying is the movement of loss, it is the action of falling, it is a return. Dying brings us back to death, without which there is little transformation in the universe. And here’s the connection. Transforming Modernity into alternative paradigms requires that we open to more than a singular state of Reality. Death gifts us that opening, as do multi-dimensional and multi-referential ways of knowing such as Mythology. Multiple realities constitute multiple possibilities and this complexity creates the diversity of our ecosystems. Diversity is essential for the existence of many things, not least the wild soul.

Through my research I’ve begun to see the reciprocity between cultural and biological wellness: As we extinguish large portions of the planet’s biological diversity, we will lose also a large portion of our world’s beauty, complexity, intellectual interest, spiritual depth, and ecological health …the future we’re presently headed toward…is a future of soul-withering biological loneliness (David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo, 1997). In Empire of the Ape we read the statistical reality of the biological loss in the UK. These numbers are similarly reported in countries around the globe. What is less publicised is our loss of language. While biologists suggest that perhaps 20 percent of mammals, 11 percent of birds, and 5 percent of fish are threatened, and botanists anticipate the loss of 10 percent of floristic diversity, linguists and anthropologists today bear witness to the imminent disappearance of over half the extant languages of the world (Wade Davis, The Wayfinders, 2009).

When a language becomes extinct, the diversity of our planet shrinks because we’ve lost a unique knowledge of belonging to the more-than-human world. For this reason I strongly agree with Kingsnorth on the importance of rediscovering old languages alongside creating new ones. Remembering the language of place will help us adapt to and from a dying world. And this is how we found the bridge between Slow Wing and Uncivilisation, by remembering that stories belong to different places (Diane Bell, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin, 1998).

Holding a satellite workshop in Australia 16,750 kilometres (10,400 miles) from Uncivilisation as the crow flies, actively ‘celebrates writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time’. On the surface, the differences between Australia and the UK are obvious, but it is the mythologies held by the soil that interests Slow Wing. Aboriginal Australians are the oldest living culture on earth and their mythologies are not stories as understood in the western tradition, but a complex ecological knowledge used to move culturally within bigger universal systems.  The mythologist Robert Bly believes it takes lifetimes for mythologies to grow, they are slow like mountains. It’s an idea that helps explain that the radical displacement of the Aboriginal Dreaming by Modern Civilisation, caused an equally severe biological displacement in Australia.

The land had been called and sung and tended into being through a 60,000 year-long story, then in a violent instant, the waters and creatures were re-named with foreign sounds that the land would need mountain-time to learn. It is painful to live here, belonging to the culture that killed the language of the place I belong to. I read Ngarrindjeri woman Sarah Milera’s words: You can’t change your relationship to a special place, to where your learning comes from. It’s a powerful thing. The birds talk to you. So I am here, listening, knowing everything has changed and remembering that nothing has. If it is ‘through stories that we weave reality’, then as storytellers we do what we can do. The world is dying, let us tell this story respectful of the places we belong, let our words fall into the songs of death and maybe in time they will transform the end into a beginning, and we will return a world shimmering with diversity.

Find out more about Slow Wing here. Book your ticket for this year’s Uncivilisation festival here

BUILDING A LIFE CAIRN

012by Andreas Kornevall
Whenever a crime against humanity has taken place in human history, the perpetrators have inevitably justified their crimes by subordinating their victims into ‘lower’ social, cultural or ethnic groupings. If genocide is to be committed, the victims must first be deemed to be somehow ‘subhuman’. Their lack of morals or worth must first be established in the psyche of the people; once this is achieved, then otherwise good people will often carry on with their lives whilst their government builds mass graves. What is in reality a great evil, springing from a deep moral crisis, can seem entirely reasonable – at the time.

Today, such a moral crisis is found within our relationship to what we call ‘biodiversity’: the rich web of life on Earth.  We are reducing the world to ashes without blinking: 50,000 species go extinct every year according to the UN. Biologists have declared this the age of the sixth mass extinction (the fifth was when the meteor struck and wiped out the dinosaurs.) Species fade away daily from the Tree of Life, and we justify it by denying life as a whole any sentience. Does a spider have what a human might consider ‘consciousness’? Not unless a human scientist can prove it. Until then, we are justified in wiping out life in the name of ‘resource extraction.’ This moral vacuum has prevailed I believe, because it has been advantageous to our material development.

It may sound audacious, but I’ve been thinking about how we can change our morals and ethics, especially in relation to the wild. When you look at a culture such as this one in the UK (I am not a UK national, so I am looking from outside in: please have mercy!), yuo may see that much of its moral driving force lies within the white men clad in bronze outside Westminster, and within the public ceremonies held a few times a year commemorating the sacrifices made during the two World Wars. There, through the grief of the soldiers and veterans, we begin to understand what sacrifices they made and what took place. It is clear to see that the ritual and unity of the political parties during this time acts to protect ourselves from the possibility of such horrors ever transpiring again. Ceremonies of this kind swing our moral pendulum, and they should not be underestimated.

Something told me, when I first realised this, that we need a similar public ritual and memorial for the natural world – that a monument needs to be raised for the sixth mass extinction.

This thought was what drove me to set up the Life Cairn memorial in 2011. The Life Cairn is a pile of stones on Mount Caburn in East Sussex, dedicated tp all species rendered extinct at human hands. Every stone on the Life Cairn represents an extinct species.  It is a place of awareness, a place to reflect on what it means to be human, to discuss ethics and morality, and to begin to understand how we have allowed the River Dolphin of the Yangtze to never again give birth after millions of years of life.

The Life Cairn has caused a stir: some people want the pile of stones removed now, for a memorial like this upsets as it reveals. It has been vandalised, and threatened countless times.  But the Life Cairn stands, humble, yet defiant, on a lonely English hill.

This summer, at the Uncivilisation festival, we will be building a new Life Cairn: a new, permanent memorial to the loss of the wild, which will remain at the Sustainability Centre long after we are all gone.If you would like to bring your own stone to the event, please do. if you’d like to bring a poem to read or some words to say – please do. A stone will also be taken from the original Life Cairn on Mount Caburn and walked, or bicycled, to the festival. If you are interested in being a stone carrier for one part of the journey between Lewes, East Sussex and the festival please get in touch: email andreas@earthrestorationservice.org

The wild is caught in a fireblaze, the flames seem too high to stop.  If we cannot grieve for all that is being lost in the wild, then it was never loved.

The Life Cairn ceremony will take place at 2pm on the Saturday of Uncivilisation 2013
The festival takes place from 15-19 August, 2013 at the Sustainability Centre, near Petersfield, Hampshire. Tickets are available at this page. 

THE PERILS OF DRINK …


One of the great things about a summer festival is buying a good drink from the bar and sitting on the grass, appraising it slowly. This year, all our beers will be locally-brewed, and sold to you good people by the folk at the Coyote Moon Cafe.

However, this being 21st century Britain, it’s not that simple. One of the pitfalls of festival drinking is the inevitable pile-up of plastic waste from the outdoor glasses we are all obliged to use ‘for health and safety reasons.’

There is a way around this waste though – and it’s to bring your own drinking vessels to the festival. The bar will be happy to fill these instead of inflicting a plastic cup on you, and it’s a sure bet your drink will taste better.

So: see what you can find! tankard, drinking horn, pint glass, jam jar, welly boot … the choice is yours. We’d like to think that plenty of creative options will be on display.