I just today received the second proof copy of my new book, Beyond the Search. Again, there are a few issues that need to be corrected before publication. But, in doing a little proofreading of the book I find myself inspired by my own words, strange as this may sound. I’m including below a few words closing out the 150 pages of the book which take place in the high desert of northern New Mexico. I trust you find them inspiring.

The story then moves on to Arizona, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands.

Lashings of Ignorance and Dollops of Greed

M

y time in the high desert garden of my creation gave me occasion for reflection. My experiences with the squirrels and the rattle snakes helped to shatter a myth I believe Western civilization has been guided by for a long time, too long—that nature is the enemy and something to be controlled and exploited.

I began to view nature as a friend, a teacher, a guide. Not always a gentle teacher. Sometimes the lessons were dispensed with startling alacrity, like a Zen Roshi dispensing a rebuke to a recalcitrant monk. I appreciated the clear lessons, in hindsight at least. They were probably necessary to break through the conditioning I was so entangled with. Just being in this remote setting gave me perspective, gave me an opportunity to view the life I had led until then from a distance, so to speak. I hadn’t counted on the extra, sometimes harsh, reminders of a deeper reality that permeated my relationship with nature.

And I came to realize, with the help of my serpentine friends, there was nothing to fear from nature when nature had nothing to fear from me.

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years man has conducted a full-scale frontal assault on nature. The evidence is omnipresent and undeniable. This very land, of which I was a temporary caretaker, was quite literally riddled with such evidence—with mines, shafts and adits—testimony to the greed of a few in search of the raw materials fuelling the insatiable appetites of the many, of all of us, for more.

The Anasazi had penetrated a mountain in search of turquoise, the Spanish had enslaved Indians in search of greater mineral riches and late nineteenth and early twentieth century miners had stripped the vegetation and pockmarked the earth in search of lead, silver and gold. As if that wasn’t enough, visitors from afar, from the land of my birth, had arrived in 1990, and had come very close to creating an open pit mine enormous enough to engulf and obliterate the damage inflicted by the aforementioned and mostly uninvited callers.

Man’s continuing quest for material improvement, fuelled as often as not, by an advertising industry bent on convincing us that more is better, and much more is better still, came with a price, and that price stood right before my eyes, in the scars of a thirsty and denuded desert plateau.

It is a small step from digging in the sandbox as a boy to digging for gold as a man; a small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind. We had come inexpressibly close to making the leap from relatively inconsequential shafts, adits and slag heaps of concentrated heavy metals to an open pit mine of unimaginably horrific proportions and supported by cyanide-laced leach ponds capable of wiping out countless small animals and birds. We had come exceedingly close to leaping into the frightening abyss of an open pit gold mine

It was a relatively small step from killing one mammoth for food to herding a hundred over a cliff at once and then to waking up one day to find no mammoths at all. In recent history that pattern had been repeated with alarming frequency. The only place to find dodos, aurochs and moas today is in a book or on the internet. Zoos such as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in the Channel Islands are now seen as arks, sanctuaries of last resort for many of the world’s endangered species. God promised Noah that such a flood would not revisit man, but I wonder if we know the consequences of our own ruthless actions.

European man’s relentless urge to improve and to conquer, to take over the lands of his neighbors, has left today’s race to pick up the pieces, where those pieces are not beyond repair. The great deserts of the world, the Sahara included, are largely of man’s making. The Romans had turned the North African bread basket into an inhospitable desert suitable only for the hardiest camels and Bedouins. This land on which I stood and toiled in New Mexico had been dense with waist-high grass just over a century before. Now, the few cattle left to graze turned to cacti as a food source as often as not.

What lies at the roots of this relentless call to conquer? Have we forgotten our connectedness with all of existence? Is humanity’s increasing sense of powerlessness and desperation inversely proportional to the amount of wilderness left on the Earth?

We’ve been taught to fear the vampire, yet acted like vampires ourselves. We’ve been taught to fear the shark, while proving to be a more formidable predator ourselves. The shark, which has survived relatively unchanged for millions of years, is ruthlessly slaughtered at present to provide fins for an expensive soup.

The memories of the buffalo still haunt the Great Plains and prairies of North America today. Their cry can be heard in the hearts of those prepared to listen.

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

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I mentioned in In Search of Simplicity the inspiration I had received from Japanese scientist and farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka. He found through trial and error a number of secrets that nature revealed to those prepared to work with her and to observe keenly. This knowledge didn’t come easily to Fukuoka. He openly revealed in his writing that he almost killed the existing citrus trees when he first took over his father’s farm. But his wisdom, presented in books such as The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming  is a palpable testimony to the unswerving dedication of one man.

Fukuoka maintains that our society’s motto seems to be that ‘Bigger is Better.’ People want to feel important through ‘important’ jobs. He saw that agriculture, in Japan and elsewhere in the modern world, has come to rely on chemicals and machines. In order to pay for the costs of these inputs farmers aim for higher yields and people get busier and busier.

fukuokaFukuoka suggests we can look at how plants grow in Nature—effortlessly. If man could work with Nature to grow his food he could live without much work and exertion.

After leaving his work as a trained microbiologist and research scientist, Fukuoka began to search for methods of growing that were more natural than the modern trends that surrounded him.

He developed a method of growing rice that involves no digging, ploughing or machines. He walks through his field(s) of high standing rice just before the time of harvest, hand sowing seeds of winter grain—usually barley—and white clover. After harvesting the rice, the rice straw is left lying on the ground as mulch and to return organic material to the soil. Some chicken manure is added.

In time the winter grain and clover seeds germinate and grow. Clover fixes nitrogen for the barley, reduces weed growth and its roots break up the soil.

Rice is usually sown in the spring, when heavy rains help it to germinate and discourage the growth of the clover. Barley straw is left on the ground, again as mulch and to improve the soil. Fukuoka hasn’t ploughed his fields in decades. In that time the soil has dramatically improved. Microbes, worms and other creatures broke down organic material and, together with the roots of plants, aerated the soil. He experienced little insect and pest damage, hypothesising that the plants grew stronger and more resistant in the undisturbed soil.

He decided to plant a steep hillside with citrus trees, without resorting to the building of terraces. He started out by dynamiting holes in the rock-hard soil for mandarin and orange trees. In time, he found an easier and more natural way. Fast growing acacias were established to fix nitrogen. Within seven years each tree was the size of a telegraph pole and could be cut down for firewood. The citrus trees were under planted with comfrey, burdock and daikon (long white radish, a traditional Japanese vegetable). The soil is now richer and more manageable and it supports low care vegetables (even comfrey roots are eaten and are claimed to be delicious) and a nearly pest-free citrus crop. He plants a few acacias each year to ensure a constant supply of firewood for heating and cooking.

Fukuoka states that chemically-grown vegetables may be considered as foodstuffs but not as medicine, whereas organic, naturally grown plants can be considered to be both medicine and food. This sounds like Hippocrates saying 2400 years earlier, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Fukuoka warns of the dangers of Europeans dedicating so much of their arable land to wine grapes and livestock. He says that an equivalent acreage, dedicated to the growing of grain and vegetables, could support many more people. He is concerned that the industrialization of society is wasteful and polluting. In Japan sulphur dioxide (SO2) from factories changes into sulphuric acid in the atmosphere, and has resulted in the widespread death of native pine trees. He sees that the world is moving forward quickly and without regard for the consequences of rapid change. One Straw RevolutionIn the West, people are separated from nature and industrial agriculture is based on what he considers contempt for Nature. In Japanese philosophy God is in Nature, the wind and the rain and the plants, in everything. Since God is in rice, eating rice in a conscious way puts one on the same level as God. He urges everyone to turn back to Nature for solutions. He says anyone can use ‘Natural Farming’. What he calls The Great Way has no gates.

The One Straw Revolution is Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge. In reading it I could see and feel that for Masanobu growing and eating food is indivisible from spirituality. What a contrast and challenge to the present global systems of food growing and procurement.

Two days ago I watched this movie with my nutrition class. Rebecca Hosking grew up on a farm in Devon. Her memories of her childhood are less than nostalgic. Farm life was drudgery. Her father called the work glorified sanitation work. It seems they were always shovelling manure. She was encouraged to leave the farm and get a ‘real’ job. She did. She became a wildlife film maker.

 

This movie is a coming home of sorts. Here’s what it says on the BBC website:

 

“Wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future, and discovers that nature holds the key.

 

With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year’s high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realising that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is.

 

Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.”

 

The film is roughly 48 minutes in duration and is spread over five clips. I highly recommend viewing this. It is a wakeup call with a positive message. Once again it looks like we’d better learn to grow some food. Permaculture and organics appear to hold the keys.

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.