The day before I left for university – car piled high and mind agitated with excitement – I went walking. The Shropshire fields and trees among which I’d spent 18 years appeared burnished by the late September sun as I traced familiar routes in worn boots I’d left unpacked on account of their bumpkin unfashionableness.
I sat at the top of a hill I’d climbed dozens of times before and said goodbye to the landscape of my childhood, remembering climbing trees, jumping between hay bales; searching for tiny fish as I sunk my jam jar into the cold water of the nearby stream, tongue curled in concentration.
The moment felt intimate and important – as if the countryside felt warm towards me and glad to see me before I left, to wish me well.
From that moment I rushed into ‘real life’, becoming a student, employee, consumer, a member of this heady, incomprehensible beast we call society. I find myself now in London with a mortgage and too many possessions, part of a seething mass that often feels as confusing as it does exhilarating.
The moment on the hill ten years ago has become one I return to at times of crisis or change – a soothing reminder of feeling loved and supported and ready to face whatever joys and challenges lay ahead. The author Robert Macfarlane writes about this comforting connection with nature in his book The Old Ways, describing the “landscapes we bear with us in absentia, retreated to most often when we are most removed from them.”
I was reminded again of this connection recently on the Wild Economics course at Schumacher College in Devon. The course explored the philosophies and practice of gift- and nature-based economics and was led by wild food forager Fergus Drennan, and Mark Boyle, author of The Moneyless Manifesto, who lived for three years without money.
The week brought flashes of clarity. One came while on a Deep Time Walk with the college’s resident ecologist Stephan Harding, when we paced 4.5 kilometres (one for each of the Earth’s billion years) along the Devonshire coast path, learning about the expansiveness of ecological time. Peering into a rock pool, the mind-boggling improbability of life’s very existence was striking, as was a sense that we’ve all known each other, and the planet, since we were part of the same ancient slime that first coated it.
Lucidity came too around the fact that we’re not really selfish beings, working against each other to snatch scarce resources, but that we’re one and part of the same thing. It made me really question the illusion that a society constructed so overwhelmingly around money is the only way of doing things. After all, it’s something that has come about in such a relatively recent chunk of history. read the full story here