Maddy Harland is the co-founder of Permaculture Magazine and Permanent Publications, a publishing company dedicated to practical and leading-edge solutions to global problems. She is a forest gardener, a beekeeper and the author of Fertile Edges, - regenerating land, culture & hope and The Biotime Log.
We all love stories of regeneration; of fish and dolphins returning to quiet Venetian canals, goats foraging in the streets of Llandudno, and the regreening of unshod paths. We relish in the clear blue skies and the clean air in cities usually choked with fumes. Has Covid-19 been a pause in the relentless quest of the industrial growth model, the potential for a mass questioning of values, a reframing of the shallowness of wealth and consumerism, and a visceral appreciation of life’s preciousness? What really connects us is friends, family, being outside, clean air, clean water, enough food, gardening and gainful work. Perhaps enough of us will have tasted the purity of the morning air, savoured the absence of frenzy, the new shoots of garden greens, and will decide there is no going back. Could the agency of Corona be our longed-for opportunity for systemic change?
Our Longing for Systemic Change © Maddy Harland
My partner and I walk quietly and with concentration in the woods, noting each tree, watching the changes and the gentle flow through each season, how the weather and natural succession alters the landscape, and the intervention of humans in the woods. I had not thought of our regular woodland walking as making songlines. Though we have made up stories about individual trees, even identified a special place where we imagine the fairies would to like to dwell and go there to tell these stories, we have not made songs of them yet. But now I understand that, in our own way, we have indeed created songlines, as humans walking our woodland paths and sharing these sounds, songs and stories.
The woodland is alive with intelligences, with rhythms and timescales we can only guess at, and with a language all of its own, the language of Nature. We listen to the whispers of its deep wisdom.
Imagine then that songlines exist beyond our outer walking, that by an act of imagination we can create them within the inner landscape. Our love of Mother Earth and our passion for the natural world can span out, creating paths of loving, vibrant energy across whole landscapes, regions, watersheds ... There are lines of healing, Earth meridians, ever-flowing outwards on the planet, gathering in great wheels in some places, snaking out and curving like the flight of birds across the land in others.
Extract: Weaving Songlines © Maddy Harland
In the darkness after Samhain, when we descend into dreaming before the conception of the seed of the new year, hibernate, don’t do anything. Take a break. Console yourself with time in Nature. Recharge. Switch off. Heal. Hold the capacity to not know anything, anymore. Have no answers or bright schemes. It’s where we need to go. Then the centre will hold and the power will slowly slip back through the warm, dark space of utter unknowing.
The Power of Not Having Answers © Maddy Harland
Come my friends, let us emerge
To hear the fern gracefully unfolding,
The smell of a river singing whilst flowing,
The taste of the flight of a Red Kite soaring,
Walking the songlines between the worlds.
And flexing our wings over aeons of time,
To arise renewed, filled with ancient wisdom.
Let Us Emerge © Maddy Harland
Permaculture has traditionally focussed on the narrative of practical, positive solutions that aim to reduce carbon footprints, restore biodiversity and relink the bonds of community that our juggernaut culture has fractured or squashed out of existence. We have always been active but perhaps less activist, preferring to create change by our deeds and what we stand for, rather than what we stand against. Yet these are extraordinary times in human history and now we must not only be known by our deeds but also by what we give voice to and protest against. I believe that we have a balancing act to perform within a new narrative: to do all that is ecologically balanced and intelligent in how we live our lives and then go out and be part of a mass movement for collective change, even if it means becoming civilly ‘disobedient’. We need to stand up and become active Earth Protectors as well as being practical permaculturists. The fulcrum point between the two will vary for each of us, yet it is important that we understand why both deserve our encouragement and support.
Being Active and Being Activist! © Maddy Harland 2019
We need at least a lifetime to get to know and understand bees. Even then some aspects of their fascinating lives remain a mystery. For example, no one really understands exactly why the chemical constituents of Royal Jelly create Queen cells or how a hive communicates the location of nectar flows through the waggle dance. Bees are fundamentally mysterious.
When a Queen cell is allowed to hatch, she takes a maiden flight into the mysterious ‘drone congregation area’ to mate. This place is where drones (male bees) from various neighbouring colonies congregate and wait for Queens. It is about 100m in diameter and from 5m to 30m in the air. These areas are often near the edges of tree lines towards the horizon. The drones like a breeze too. It helps them chase after the Queen to mate! Allowing nature to take its course and enabling bees to swarm and mate freely, we ensure the genes of the new colony are mixed and thus more likely to be healthy and resilient to bee diseases.
The Mysterious World of Bees © Maddy Harland 2018
Permaculture has three ethics: Earth care, people care and a third, fair shares or limits to growth. Now there is an impulse to redefine the third ethic to Future Care. Future care integrates limits to growth, the recognition that we live on a finite planet with finite resources. It also understands that in order to create equitable, healthy futures the sharing of those finite resources has to be ‘fair’. When resources are not fairly managed, history shows us that we destabilise whole nations and cultures. When we think inter-generationally – considering those who have gone before us and the seven generations who will live in our futures – we understand that we cannot design our lives, environment or culture in terms of sustaining what is. We must take the longer view and focus on the results of our actions in the future, designing with future generations in mind. Our decisions, designs and actions need to be regenerative rather than purely sustainable. We humans have already depleted our resources, laid waste to many of our ecosystems, and destabilised the Earth’s climate. To ensure a safe future for the next generations, we have to engage in what is a huge shift in our thinking, governance and design frameworks. When we do this we begin to live lives that merge the deep wonder and love in our hearts for the Earth and the natural world, with our daily actions. We unify the inner and outer edges into a deep inter-being and our journey towards wholeness takes another significant step.
Future Care © Maddy Harland
At present, the law permits dangerous industrial activity which we know is harmful, while criminalising those who stand up to protect the earth and their communities. To disrupt this cycle of harm requires a new law to be put in place.
Polly Higgins, lawyer, and Ecocide Law expert, has been campaigning to expand the remit of the International Criminal Court to include Ecocide as an international crime (to stand alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression). This will ensure global governance and protection when nation states and corporates cause or fail to prevent climate disasters as well as other ecological catastrophes. Her new project is the creation of the Earth Protectors Trust Fund, enabling those gifting funds from anywhere in the world to become legal trustees of the Earth or Earth Protectors in law. The Trust Fund will be used to finance the costs of small nation states who wish to advance ecocide law at the International Criminal Court.
Furthermore, because this Trust document is legally valid across the globe, activists can, if needed, present it in court as a part of their defence. They can speak out about ecocide and why they choose to stand up to it as a conscientious protector. The document creates an opportunity for judges to make use of it as grounds to acquit. When this starts happening, the Earth Protector’s Defence has a precedent and a new life- force is unleashed. Sign up and become a Trustee of the Earth at missionlifeforce.org
Ecocide and Earth Protectors © Maddy Harland
This 500 year old oak has lived through many eras: war, rebellions, the Corn Laws, Enclosure, famine, the Apollo Landings, 9/11... Let’s be as steady as the tree and wage peace. Be in nature. Ignore mainstream and social media on days when hysteria and hype are the dominant forms of communication. Switch off the weapon of mass distraction. Be kind to people. Swim in the opposite direction of greed, intolerance and ignorance. Inhabit our stature. Hold the Dream. Mediate. Meditate. Love.
Oak Tree © Maddy Harland
Imagine the meridians all over our planet... everything they touch is potentised with life. Stems thicken, chlorophyll blooms, flowers unfold, seeds proliferate and are spread on the winds... The whole Earth sheds its humanity-hewn scars and unfurls into a new vibration. And we, little humans, destructive as nuclear, are disarmed by love. Suddenly we grasp the vision and are astounded by the depth of our interconnection with each other, with all animals, with all species; we see ourselves for the first time as beings within a coherent whole, and we begin to be capable of living in peace.
Love Prayer for the Earth © Maddy Harland
Caught once in a huge storm bivvying out in woodland with just a thin layer of canvas between myself and the elements, I realised how tenuous my life is. Instead of being afraid, I felt liberated. Rather than some grand plan of a lifetime’s mission, I understood in the turbulence that the question of life is not “Why am I here?” but rather that “I am here now by a thread! If I am to live, it should be with the realisation of the fleeting smallness of my life.” From that place of humility, right action occurs. Once we understand the grandeur of our cosmos and the wonder of the natural systems that surround us, what we do arises from a perspective of respect and awe. We understand that we live within them, as an interconnected part. We can no longer consciously do harm to those natural systems. The realisation of true abundance is in our deepening relationship with the great and incontrovertible power of Nature.
The Teachings of the Storm © Maddy Harland
Non-consumerism is about developing skills, awareness and resilience. It is an adventure of the spirit where we explore our deeper connection with the natural world: wild swimming and camping, walking, conservation volunteering, tree planting, bird watching, seal watching, running, growing food, making art and crafting, propagating, grafting and sharing plants, saving and sharing seeds, upcycling... Let’s measure our wealth in terms of sunsets, the proliferation of pollinated flowers, a glut of courgettes, and murmurations of starlings.
Reframing our (W)health © Maddy Harland