A couple of years back I was chatting to a young woman I met at a Permaculture gathering in Yorkshire. She asked me where I was based and I said ‘Southend on Sea in Essex’, she openly laughed in my face. I asked her what she found funny, she replied “oh I didn’t mean to laugh, but its not really the sort of place you’d immediately associate with permaculture projects is it?”
A few days ago I finished reading Rachel Litchenstien’s book ‘Estuary’, which talks about how the Thames has always been the dumping ground (literally) for London’s metropolitan shite sent eastwards. She also recounts stories of the Sea Forts and other Estuary front lines that protected the capital from the brunt of WW2 Nazi aerial bomber attacks. I spent today at Wat Tyler Park in Pitsea, a few miles west of Southend which is now a wonderful nature reserve and wildlife habitat, reclaimed from a former landfill site as well as being a wartime munitions factory, and has a great view of the new Thames Gateway ‘Super port’ where so many consumer goods enjoyed and taken for granted by the nation arrive here. Yet another example of how geographically we dwellers on the Thames Delta do the countries dirty work. Southend, Essex and the Thames are very much places where Permaculture work needs to be done, and I’m proud of my heritage, my home and my bioregion even if the rest of the country can’t see beyond our ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats (I’ve not actually seen one for about 30 years BTW), white stilettos and Sugar Hut stereotypes. Just sayin like…
I could have made the obvious case for urban permaculture (others did in the thread), instead I posted a reply on the fly, inspired by my love of the local landscape:
If permaculture is only about rural plots in Wales, the south west, Yorkshire and the like then it’s a failure. That said, like most places, Essex has got its share of natural beauty even in its denigrated south. When I watch the sun set over the Crouch, go wild swimming at Ulting, wander round the woods on Danbury Common, sit on the shell bank at Bradwell surrounded by sea heather and sea beet, watch hares race ahead of me and step around adders on the sea wall walk alongside the Dengie nature reserve, take a boat out to see the seal mothers teaching their pups to swim in the shallows around Wallasea and Foulness, when I drift through cow parsley on tracks by hedgerows in which cuckoos call out spring on my way to Paglesham, or trace the fox ways and badger paths between Maldon and Purleigh, or make any one of a thousand other engagements with the natural world hereabouts- I celebrate that the whole Earth is an Eden if we want it and we shouldn’t retreat to AONB refugia in search of some sacred covenant with nature but engage with, protect, regenerate and re-enchant the places where we are #RadicalEssex
Despite the new age leanings of some permaculturalists, there seem to be few overt moves towards re-enchantment as a design aim. I get that the concept is problematic, especially as I’m in the reason-based, science wing of permaculture rather than the intuition-based, spiritual wing, but I can’t help but feel that Max Weber’s description of the perspective of traditional societies wherein “the world remains a great enchanted garden” offers something valuable that purely utilitarian post-industrial visions do not.
American permaculturalist Brock Dolman has noted that Ego-system Re-storyation is at least as important as Ecosystem Restoration in us being able to live-in-place.
There’s some parallel here with one of the Dark Mountain Manifesto‘s principles of uncivilization: ‘We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.’ Which seems to me to lead towards Aleister Crowley’s definition of Magick as ‘the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will’ and Crowley didn’t limit such Magick to the realm of the supernatural:
‘What is a Magical Operation? It may be defined as any event in nature which is brought to pass by Will. We must not exclude potato-growing or banking from our definition. Let us take a very simple example of a Magical Act: that of a man blowing his nose.’ – Aleister Crowley, Magick, Book 4
This probably seems a strange direction to go in for someone describing themselves as being in ‘the reason-based, science wing of permaculture’, but as I described in my essay ‘Frankenstein Foods Belief and Delusion in the Campaign Against GM Foods‘ (red annotations are Alistair McIntosh‘s critical comments) we are in a war over meaning that uses magickal tactics. The conflict for the control of consciousness in the attention economy is evident in the waves of #fakenews, the desire-narcissism-junkie machines of social media and the occult associations of Palantir, Cambridge Analytica, GCHQ and other more discreet covens.
Returning to where I started, that’s why I think we need to ‘hold our ground’ by engaging with, protecting, regenerating and re-enchanting the places where we are – and why we need to counter negative visions of ‘the sort of place’ we live in with bolder, vibrant, colourful counter narratives.