That prefix ‘re’ is a beautiful one. The Latin origin means ‘again, back’. It implies putting something back to an original state. My favourite words are ‘re’ words: reconnect, remember, restore, resilience, reciprocity… revolution. When we put ‘re’ in front of something it is a reminder that what we need is already here, that we have the necessary knowing already, that it was here all along, and is ready for restoration.
Over the past few years I feel like I’ve been on a journey of reconnection, to something that has felt lost in this Industrial Growth, Capitalist society. One thing that has been lost for us in the developed world is knowing how to live within ecological limits. Everything we could ever desire is right at our finger tips to varying degrees (according to income of course). We’ve outsourced so much energy and labor, disempowering those we have relied on to make the products we consume. And we’ve disempowered ourselves too! We are too dependent on the system and have left behind some incredibly useful tools. Now we approach a precipice where we will have no choice but relearn how to live resourcefully and within ecological limits, even as that boundary shifts dramatically with climate collapse.
I have been trying to increase my ecological knowledge, to learn about foraging and herbal plants and medicines, to reconnect to place, to relearn animistic ways of seeing and mythological ways of relating to the earth. At first I was driven by both wanting to relearn ways of knowing so as to live in harmony with the earth, and gain useful skills for survival in the event of systems collapse, as the threat of it grew in my consciousness. Many of us half-joke about the coming apocalypse, even if we’ve never really investigated what this might look like. And whether or not someone has hope that we’re going to avoid the worst of climate catastrophe, it’s clear and certain for most that those of us in the developed world can no longer continue living in the same way we have been. Massive, r/evolutionary, broad reaching culture shift is necessary.
This autumn I will be attending the Nature One course through Nature Philosophy, to learn bush and ancestral survival skills and continue this journey of relearning. Yes, I am drawn toward this because of looming catastrophe and existential threat, but apocalypse to me in this moment (ever-changing and flowing as my perception of this time is) feels less like something on the horizon and more like a continuously unfolding process we are presently engaged in that yes, is going to get worse for us, but has had peaks and troughs of doom and devastation through earth’s history, in different locations, for different peoples and at different times. The fires we’ve experienced in Australia this Summer have brought that into sharp relief.
Really what this learning of ancestral skills will teach me is how to live resourcefully in hard times reconnect with a new/old way of being in relationship with the earth – a new/old way of feeling and seeing. And it is in process, it is incomplete, it is a slow integration. In this sense to me this path feels like a response in line with Bayo Akomolafe’s teaching of ‘the times are urgent – let us slow down’. I say new/old way because just as with a memory, it’s never exactly as it was, it’s always changed in some way as we project onto it or as it fades over time. Nevertheless the traces are there to find our way and adapt to for these specific times.
Part of the process of Deep Ecology/The Work That Reconnects is reconnection to deep time and ancestors, past and future. One of my fears of the future is around food system collapse but when I look back at my ancestors they survived through famine, starvation, upheaval and this gives me a source of strength to face this potential future. In my line are ancestors who fled Europe during the potato famine, ancestors who lived in Newcastle’s tent city during the depression surviving starvation and catholic orphanages, ancestors who were resourceful and had skills that kept them clothed and fed in hard times. Ancestors (both living and dead) who knitted and crocheted and knew how to make their own clothes, ancestors who knew how to make fishing nets and crab traps and boats, ancestors who were humble and close to the earth, ancestors who grew their own food and lived within the ecological limits of the time. Each of us alive today is connected to an unbroken lineage of survivors, of human and more-than-human kin, connecting all the way back to the beginnings of life on earth when two single-celled organisms merged and lived in symbiosis.
I’m only one-generation removed from these ancestral skills for living within ecological limits – the resourceful and localised way of life that subverts the globalised industrial growth society we currently operate within. My mother learnt to knit when she was 4 and knitted her first jumper by the time she was 8. I’m one generation removed from connection to ancestral skills because I’m two generations removed from real hardship and the absolute necessity of having these skills. So though I’m in that process of learning ‘survival’ in a rewilding sense, I’m also finding myself seeking reconnection to the knowledge of my ancestral line – though it’s something I resisted growing up and my mother never pushed on me because back then our world seemed stable for the foreseeable. The threat of nuclear war seemed resolved, the food and economic system seemed stable, and who would have thought in just a few decades we would have pushed the world all the way to the brink of ecological collapse?!
So what do I think will save us? Maybe nothing can. But really in the medium term I believe, as others have said, it’s going to be how well we can live in community with each other, helping each other in hard times, forging new connections and mutual support networks, skill-sharing, resource-sharing and imagining new ways of organising ourselves, but and also rewilding and regenerating land and self, relearning how to be custodians and live in relationship with place and kin. In any case, this learning of skills and different ways of seeing gives me a feeling of reconnection to old ways. It is a way of relearning how to be in relationship with the earth, of reorienting and repositioning myself, of relearning how to live in harmony and reciprocity, of how to be resourceful in hard times, of humility in the sense of knowing what we are made of.
Last time I was home my mother taught me how to make a rag rug, which led to her reconnecting with her uncle, and she asked him to pass on the skills he holds of fishing net and lobster pot making and mending (don’t worry vegan friends I’m still vegan but this is the story and these are my people), which led to him giving her a cutting of a cutting off her grandad’s plum tree. And what a beautiful salve this is in a time where we have all become disconnected in a hyper-individualised culture! So how should we face these times? For me the answer is to reconnect, weave and mend, darn the tears in the fabric of our belonging and togetherness and relearn old/new ways of living that were cut by the blade of colonialism and imperialism, industrialism, capitalism, neo-liberalism. How should we face these times? For me, after I spend five days in the bush learning wild survival skills this autumn I’m going to ask my mother to teach me how to crochet a dish cloth.