5 hours with the trees

Post by david.

I have lived in St Albans, Hertforshire for about 4 years, and in the past 21 or so months I have been privileged to live very close to an intersection of at least three very pleasant walking paths that are quite unique because they are almost entirely separated from roads and cars (this makes up for the damp, dark fridge Emma and I have rented – and strangely liked in a weird kinda way). One of those paths leads to an area called Highfield Park, which boasts ‘The Tree Trail’. We have walked, run and cycled these paths (not all at the same time!) over the course of our time here, but realised only several months ago that a pamphlet exists for the trail after we put 2 and 2 together and wondered why there were various numbers on poles dotted here and there.

With exactly one week left in the flat, we decided to do the trail in it’s entirety because we will likely not see it again unless we go out of our way to return to St Albans sometime in the future – unlikely, seeing as it is one of the most expensive places to rent a property in the UK, and we’re choosing a far more frugal lifestyle. We couldn’t have chosen a better time to do the trail, as everything is about as deeply green as green can be and offering blossoming delights for us to feast our relatively newly permaculture-trained eyes on. Without realising it, we spent 5 hours wondering around.

I am going to offer a chronological sequence of the numbered trees in pictures, so that any interested reader can get an idea of what the walk has to offer; the pamphlet has a small paragraph on each tree, but I won’t repeat the info here in case I tread on copyrighted territory.  Before I do that, let me admit that when I started jogging around St Albans years ago, I never really distinguished between types of trees. I noticed that there were different kinds of trees, but I would never have guessed then that there are so many different kinds of mostly massive trees. Of the 25 numbered items on the Tree Trail’s route map, 23 are trees, and clearly these have been chosen because they are amazing trees, but also to keep the number manageable – there are so many different kinds of trees in the fields and parks that one would need far more than an A3 pamphlet-map to identify them. Looking closely at nature really develops that sense of perspective to which our project nebulously refers.

The pamphlet, by the way, has been made available from the Highfield Trust, and you can pick up a copy from Charters Health Club in St Albans (http://www.highfieldparktrust.co.uk/index.php/tree-trail-mainmenu-105). A big thank you to the  folk at the Highfield Trust for this one.

1) Sweet Chestnut

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2) Holly

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3) Red Horse Chestnut

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4) Copper Beech

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5) London Plane

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6) Horse Chestnut

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7) Common Lime

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8) Purple Sycamore

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9) False Acacia

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10) European Larch

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11) Holm Oak

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12) Turkey Oak

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13) Deodar Cedar

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14) Indian Bean Tree

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15) Wellingtonia

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16) Dawn Redwood

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17) Swamp Cypress

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18) Village Green park circle – right tree is Wild Service Tree; left tree is a Hornbeam (I think! Note explicitly labelled; correct me if wrong please)

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19) Oak

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20) Silver Birch

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21) Hornbeam Coppice (not explicitly named, rather part of the beautiful Winchfield Wood which we have known and loved for years now. If we are wrong about this one, let us know)

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22) The Orchard

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23) Norway Spruce

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24) Blue Atlas Cedar

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25) Beech (big one on the left)

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Business suits may as well be bat suits.

Post by david.

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Moving on to new beginnings involves first, to varying degrees, dealing with ends, i.e. goodbyes; some people we will not be seeing for a while as we are leaving the UK, while others we will probably never see again.  This post isn’t about that though; it’s about a random thought I had on the way to say goodbye (a more temporary goodbye in this case) to some close friends.

We were driving along an A road, and standing next to his snazzy car in a lay-bye was a guy wearing a suit.  I suspect he might have been a driver having a smoke break.  Seeing him there in his suit, kind of out of the blue, I had that thought that many of us have that goes something like “isn’t that weird!”  You know, like when you see something everyday in one context, and then encounter it in a completely different context, it seems really strange.

If you think about it, business suits may as well be bat suits.  The only thing that has made them seem so normal is that, for many of us living in cities and towns, they are so common.  But if everyone wore a bat suit and we all became accustomed to them, that would become a norm and nobody would raise an eyebrow.

This all perhaps seems quite obvious, but so much of what we encounter all around us are products of custom and habit.  David Hume, a prominent Scottish philosopher of his time, asserted that even our conception of effect following cause is a consequence of custom and habit – the assertion that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, for example, may be wrong, and we only believe that it’s right because we are accustomed to that pattern of events, i.e. sun setting at night and rising in the morning.  Let’s not, for now, go that far though.  Instead, consider sport.

The friends we visited had rugby, cricket and golf on the TV in the background over the several hours that we were at their place.  We don’t have a television, so even being in the presence of one can seem odd, but the sports themselves (which I haven’t watched for years) seem incredibly odd when you look at them from an alien’s point of view.

This is a little trick of the perspective trade that one picks up along the way: pretend that you are an alien and seeing whatever it is that you are seeing for the first time (warning: this is harmless at first but later might be a view of the world that is difficult to shake!)  In this way of looking at many of our customs and traditions, they seem totally absurd; it is only due to the regularity of exposure we have to them that makes them seem normal to us.

The rugby game was full of men grabbing each other in their nether regions , ramming shoulders into each other’s heads, running back and forth between white lines – normal.  The cricket had people launching a hard red ball at three sticks, close ups of guys jiggling their crotches every now and again, and the occasional group arse-slapping when the sticks were knocked down – normal.  The golf showed panorama shots of masses of land flattened into open spaces dotted with sand patches with the singular purpose that a person can launch a one inch white ball with a stick over considerable distances – normal.

This way of looking at the world can offer a useful reminder that our customs and traditions are things we inherit, and that many of these hand-me-downs are outrageously strange – if only we could step back more frequently and consider them from a less conditioned point of view.

One might even be tempted to argue that at this complicated point in history, such an activity is very much-needed , as it could allow us to consider the point of our traditions: are they valued because they are useful, because they make our lives better in some meaningful way?  Or do they keep our consciousness tuned to so-called ‘channel normal’, preventing the development of updated customs that would be more suited to a people and planet facing very interesting challenges?

Luckily I’ve managed to avoid wearing a business suit for the duration of my life so far, but for those of you who might find yourselves wearing one in the near future, remember – you may as well be wearing a bat suit 🙂

About YOU! (kinda)

Post by david.

So this is the first post for the perspective project, and it’s about YOU, that anonymous entity that others call ‘a member of the public’.  Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true – it’s about a specific person; but the nature of the interaction with her was so random that it might as well have been you.

She is a call centre telephone operator for a bank (perhaps a strange ‘service sector’ to feature in a blog post on a site whose authors are rather sceptical of the monetary system – granted).  She might as well have been a cashier or a dentist or a sales rep – or you!  She listened to my mundane enquiry about using a UK bank account via the internet from the RSA, and when she heard that I am basically moving to a field, the conversation took a turn that I am yet to experience on a customer service call.

She said, more or less, “Take me with you”!  It turns out that she shares similar views to me/us, views that can be categorised broadly under the (over-used, but I’ll use it anyway) category of ‘sustainability’.  And the reason why she inspired me to write this as the first blog entry for this site is because she works for a bloody bank, yet she is on the same team as I am.

How can this be?  Bank employees with souls?  This might sound strange to those of us who were marching in the front lines of Occupy groups, ready and eager to point out that banks and corporations are eeee-vylll.  And they are! (We changed banks to the lesser of the evil among them last year – let’s just say it’s a cooperative!)  This, however, does not change the fact that hundreds of millions of people – you! – work for institutions whose goings-on we do not approve of, because we are at the mercy of socio-political and economic factors that we are born into and which we do not actively choose.  So on we slog, forced to tacitly consent because of the seeming lack of alternatives, sceptical of the system in which we work, and hope for something to change.

Exactly a week ago I met up with a South African friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for a while at a pub in St Albans, where I currently live (for about a week longer!).  His partner is a young banker who has recently started working in London.  She too was expressing views that highlighted just how inhumane the work expectations are, which my friend agreed was the same with his quantity-surveying job, and both agreed that one could only do the jobs for a limited number of years before the proverbial candle would burnt out from both ends. (I was good – I never even raised one critical point about the banking system, which is possibly a first for me!)

A week prior to that, a friend of mine who happens to be a business consultant (also a SAffer – yes, I DO have and socialise with British friends!) called me and excitedly explained his plans to spend until February consulting for his company before he and his wife and child make a move to a more simple life.  This from a high profile businessman on a fat salary.

The permacultury people we have been interacting with for the past while are obviously on the same band wagon here – one that is looking for a field to park in, to off-load its passengers to create sustainable ecologically-beneficial systems for people, place and future to thrive.  Yet every other person I speak to – i.e. you! – about permaculture, environmental activism, alternative systems, etc. is totally on board conceptually.  We all (you!) acknowledge the need for a pervasive change away from the wasteful, purely-materialistic paradigms that promote instant gratification and absolute hierarchical egotistical domination over this one beautiful planet that gives life to very sensitive organisms – organisms like you!

So maybe this post isn’t about you after all; maybe it can never solely be about you, but rather a much bigger picture.  That picture, if you haven’t noticed, is changing fast, something that people I encounter – you! – all the time are openly acknowledging.  It is obvious that change has been one of the few constants in existence, but what we are encountering is a vastly accelerated pace of change, one which I hardly need to explain because you experience that acceleration all the time.

It is worth pointing out something I offered to our lovely call centre telephone operator, who, remember, is a symbol for you: we are experiencing some major world and world-view changes, with some serious ones just around the corner; we have several choices, among them being the following –  we can choose to ignore the changes and latch onto the ‘orthodox’ views of old (which have partly been responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place), or we can be mindful of the changes and make ourselves receptive to updated, organic ways of seeing the world, our place in it, and what we should be doing to carry ourselves into the future.

Our call centre employee, that random member of the public, chose not to follow protocol and speak only of banky matters.  Instead, she chose to have 20 minute conversation with me about alternative living and alternative ideologies, about the importance of time and happiness over money, about her children, about her education and the education of her children.  She is a symbol for you, and you too have similar choices; I hope that your next exchange with another human being is more than just business-as-usual, as you too might work to increase their hope, which in turn will be passed on to increase the hope and positivity of someone else, etc.