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whole-life skills for a radically different future

Musings from Bruce Johnston

Earthaven Ecovillage Member

It's been a hard last few years for me, both personally and in terms of what I see in the human world. Everyone is fighting, we have a person I consider profoundly incompetent and potentially quite dangerous at the helm of the US, powerful multinational corporations bid to turn the world into a low-wage plunder-state, and the Earth's climate and oceans continue to unravel. The leaders of the world's two largest industrial states apparently consider climate change a non-issue. Sometimes I can't quite believe it. I would laugh if I did not want to cry.

But perhaps all is not lost, at least not yet. As I look and walk outside, in the Appalachian forest I live in, I begin to forget the modern human-imperial world of clashing religious and national systems, the horrors of Chinese work camps, Islamic madrassas, and meth-soaked abandoned industrial towns and find myself immersed and surrounded by an intricate and (to use David Abrams' expression) more-than-human world. This is a different kind of awareness than the one I use in most "civilized" contact. It is one that I treasure and never want to lose; bigger and stronger and infinitely more profoundly "seeing" than the focused, reduced state I enter to type these symbols into a keyboard.

I wonder briefly how it or anything else Earth-oriented will ever survive into the future. The world's large states and empires, whether American, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Nigerian or Mexican, seem hell-bent on eradicating all that and the Earth on which it depends and replacing it with their own versions of civilizational loyalty, fanaticism, industry, war and plunder, be it from the Earth or human "owners" of the products of other cultures. Crazy they may be, but they are also very strong – and seductive, until one looks beneath the surface.

Martin Prechtel, author and shaman, with whom I studied for several years, has said that this is simply a very dark time, though it is cleverly lit with electric light to mask this fact. People who care and can see what is being lost need to guard what is precious, keeping it alive as best they can, whether that is planting corn and tending her by hand or making small hand crafts vital to surviving as people.

Sometimes this attitude can feel to me like defeatism. Part of me vastly prefers to fight, to die on my feet rather than live on my knees in stupid tolerance of blatant evil and snarling danger. Yet as I get older I see his wisdom. As a practical matter, I have found that I cannot fight those forces without becoming like them, turning into them, much as I might often wish to do just that. Perhaps love of the Earth and its inhabitants is like all real love – powerless, simply present to the Other and what it loves, echoing that back. It can't make war or guns or cynical, manipulative advertisements. It can hate, but not in any organized way.

Therefore I'm going outside to tend my corn, to make offerings of what rudimentary poetry I can muster from my worn-out, modernized brain and relatively unskilled hands. And, of course, to cry, and to grieve at what seems an absurd, impossible situation. The stakes are high but I can't know how it's going to turn out. Life has always been a fragile and perilous thing. It will remain so no matter what I or anyone else does. This is just another chapter, albeit a harrowing one.

So remember what is precious, no matter what the TV or books or those ridiculous “Green American” magazines tell you. Go outside, look and feel and smell. That's what matters, and it's what saves, if anything does.  


Bruce Johnston has been connected to Earthaven since 2007, when he became the first work trader to be brought on to work on projects all over Earthaven. Since then he has helped run Useful Plants Nursery, sat on several committees, and travelled, living in Boulder, CO and Ollantaytambo, Peru. His pre-Earthaven background is as a mathematician and he still uses that lens to think. He lives with his wife Kaitlin in the Hut Hamlet neighborhood.

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