Ownership, A Japanese Monk, and Why Your Lawn is an Illusion
There is an underlying principle regarding our place of living. It states that the land on which we reside, we take ownership of. Ownership conduces authority, and authority determines a conflict of interest.
I work and live at Culdees Eco-village in Fearnan, Scotland. I have been here just three weeks now, and my stay is undetermined. The community is not yet a self-sustaining zero-waste village as it hopes to become, but every day more planning and labor by the residents and volunteers forward its evolution. Salvaged caravans are being renovated and insulated for the coming winter months. Three yurts (large tentlike dwellings) that are made with ash wood from the neighboring forest are nearing their final stages of completion. A Japanese monk who is a permanent resident of the community is building a natural water-flow system using a stream to keep his stored vegetables cool. One greenhouse and one polytunnel are already in place, and grow various vegetables and fruits and herbs. Numerous other gardens and beds and chicken coops populate the area. There are plans to build three more polytunnels as well as additional housing structures that would feed and shelter the growing number of residents. And though much building has finished and much more is planned to begin, there is an underlying principle to all the construction in the community: the land and resources used are not the sole ownership of the people in the community; they are profitably shared amongst the entire biotic community*.
Lawns are green deserts, vast monocultures that require immense amounts of water and fertilizer, and support little life beyond the grass itself.
This is an underlying principle of living that nature has successfully demonstrated since the beginning of life on Earth. We too can grow abundantly from such an integral standpoint. No significant sacrifices are needed, just a sharply different approach when compared to modern convention. I say “modern” convention because today’s industrious style of living is a very new tradition. We have only been agriculturalists for 0.5% of humanity’s time on Earth, the rest we hunted and gathered as we needed. And with the free time gained from bringing our food to us rather than going to look for it, we have been able to advance in other areas led by our curiosity. With the further exploration and advancement of our capabilities, the originating attitudes that we are part of the “biotic community” have dissolved into new trains of thought. Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, taught us that the world is a machine without any real substance. Scripture speaks of our dominion over other living things. Human authority contradicts nature’s authority.
More than industry and technology have developed from our capabilities; a hierarchy of life, an authority over “the other” has also developed. This is not to say that agriculture itself is destructive, or that tool making and technology are unsustainable, but that the founding principle of these modern practices is not holistic.
A simple, easy-to-understand example is our grass lawns. They beautify our homes, and bring a pleasurable tone of nature back into our lives. However, when we look at grass lawns in their very essence, they are illusions of nature. They are green deserts, vast monocultures that require immense amounts of water and fertilizer, and support little life beyond the grass itself. They are scattered across suburban neighborhoods, and suggest that nature is domesticated, and designed by man. This traces back to the perception that nature is property, and can be used without exhaustion.
The claim that we must sacrifice our lawns because they are not “natural” enough is harshly unattractive. But think of it this way: when a continent’s worth of land is converted from natural prairie to grass lawns, where do all the vital resources go that sustain us?
Consider just one example. In the United States, bee populations decreased by 30% in 2006 and in 2007, and continue to decline today. While more of their natural habit is exchanged for grass lawns, there is less “home” for them to live and populate. And bees pollinate about 80% of the plants we eat.
Albert Einstein said, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” So, it is not just by the grace of good sympathy that we should allow bees a return to residence.
The possible disappearance of bees is enough reason for change. What if land disappears? Or water?
Without change, there will be no hospitable Earth to carry dominion over.
At Culdees Eco-Village, community reaches beyond the walls of our buildings; it reaches wider than the relations between the people working and living here. The template of thought begins with the understanding that nature is property of itself.
The wilderness of the Scottish landscape does not stop at the front gate, but continues through our gardens and around our buildings. More than just the potatoes we grow for food and the flowers we grow for beauty, the property grows as a biotic community. There is an aesthetic in the wild beyond what is possible through the domestic. The land holds ownership over itself; it has an authority to grow. Landscape is the home, and we are temporary residents.
*This principle is my interpretation of the work on Culdees, not a directly quoted view.
Global Whisperer Guy Walker is currently living and working in the Culdees Eco-Village in Scotland.