Way back in the autumn of 2019, when I was putting together our programme for the following year, I roughed out a session with the provisional title “living under wartime conditions”. It would only take an afternoon, Chrissie Gladwin offered to host it. My friends tried to discourage me; some scoffed at the idea, others thought me too miserable to be thinking about it.
As it turned out, our whole programme was scuppered by the reaction to the pandemic that broke so many hopes and dreams in the following year. Only now, three years (or is it a lifetime?) later my thoughts are returning to that session. Winter is coming.
Traditionally, at this time of year here in Britain, our ancestors would be busy preparing for the winter. Nature’s abundance would be harvested and larders stocked with pickled vegetables, dried fruits, salted and smoked meats. Failure to prepare for winter could lead to hunger, discomfort, or even death. We were required to live, and work, with the cycles of Nature.
Modernity has change all that. The world of seasonal shortages has been obliterated. Or has it? There are troubles ahead, talk of the return those old shortages, even of rationing. My own worries for this winter are dominated by the recent step-change in the price of energy. For now, however, I am appreciating the persistence of warm weather. Every day I say a little prayer because we don’t yet have to put the heating on. At 53 degrees north of the equator, the sun still warms us in the middle of the day (when we can see it, that is). The temperate winds continue to blow off the ocean, fending off the frost and snow.
This will not last. Good times never do, they are part of a cycle, too. And our recent good times have been delusional because we have used fossil fuels like a regular injection of amphetamines to keep us going. But it was too good to last, too good to be true. Modern humans have this tendency to become lazy in the good times, to think that we have transcended all the natural cycles on our journey towards “endless growth” and “limitless prosperity”.
Our lords and masters have lost the plot. They blame the pandemic, they blame Putin, they even blame Brexit. They ignore the fact that energy prices have been ramping up for a while. The jump in the cost of living, which anyone shopping for food is experiencing, has a simple reason. Just about everything we need, food, fuel, mobility, all are highly dependent on the availability of cheap energy. Most so-called experts are blind to the fact that The Economy is really about energy and very little to do with money at all. The result of this blindness is likely to be an economic winter, as money continues to lose its value and paid work becomes harder to get.
The great thing about permaculture is our drive towards a world where we shake free from our dependence on fossil energy (and from plastics, too). The unfortunate side of it is the resistance that we meet on just about every day on our journey. For our ancestors, dealing with hard times was part of life. Modernity has largely drained away that mental resilience that accepts and responds to difficulties. Many people will struggle with the cold of the winter that is coming.
So, as we move towards winter we must be ready for whatever might come. It is easy to get distracted from our task but we must press forward, no matter how hard it gets (“when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”) But in winter we must be mindful that it is easy to become exhausted and we should plan for some quiet time tucked away from the cold world outside. The nature of our journey is both movement and rest. The coming winter is a time to look after ourselves and each other.
In a voice from the recent past, there is some sound advice from Bill Mollison in an article he wrote on burnout that we republish in this issue. It reminds me that our collective is not organised enough to meet all the challenges that lie ahead and we need to husband our collective energy carefully (and recruit others).
The article also reminds us that we have colleagues working in less stable and more dangerous countries than our own. In comparison, most of us don’t even know what hardship is. In spite of all our perceived troubles at the moment, those of us living in Britain are incredibly fortunate, free to go about our business, practice permaculture to discuss plans for the future. At the same time, we must not forget, for a small but significant, and growing part of population of our islands, “wartime” conditions have already arrived.
The end of autumn is the time for us to take care, to stay well and keep positive, so we might move forward more strongly next spring.