Training to sustain, training to survive
Mid-September for me is two sets of colours. Warm ones – the deep purple of clusters of ripe elderberries overhanging fences and pavements, and the last blackberries leaving dark juice on my hands; dark red hawthorns and rosehips on hedgerows; heartbreakingly bright orange and red rowans on municipal trees against still-blue skies; and the tawny brown leaves starting to fall to the ground. But at the back of my mind lie the cold colours of the Arctic. This is the time of year when sea ice melts to its lowest point, when the bright white ice, drips into the dark gray sea beneath, warming our planet, turning eternal light to a monochrome and uncertain future.
Three years ago I attended a wonderful Transition Kentish Town training in jam and chutney making, given by Tom Allen. We spent a long slow afternoon talking around the table, removing the ends of rosehips, separating elderberries from their stalks with a fork, and learning to turn the fruits of hedgerows, which I had walked past and barely noticed all my life, into sweet-smelling purple pulp, and finally as dusk fell, into jams to feed us throughout the winter. The afternoon of slow activity was a transformative experience, showing me the calmness of a past time, and of a way of living we will yet return to. I was inspired to continue jam making, and began to teach others, the seasonal gathering, preparing and preserving becoming a part of my life.
The last week, while I walked past the bright berries of September and planned for a weekend hedgerow foraging walk, my mind has been on the icy colours of the Arctic and I have been reminded of a different kind of training. Thirty of my friends and colleagues from Greenpeace, on the Arctic Sunrise ship, were detained at gunpoint by the Russian coastguard, the day after they attempted a peaceful protest against a Gazprom rig which is poised to drill for the first drops of oil, in the pristine, melting Arctic. Since the day we lost contact with their ship, work has been a hive of activity as we tell the world what is happening, seek support, protest at embassies, and await information on their fate. Many of the activists would have gone through the same Non Violent Direct Action training I did when I joined Greenpeace – training that taught me to peacefully stop and block acts of destruction by corporations against our planet, and to stand calm and strong against aggression. Some of these activists would also have done climb training, to learn to use ropes to ascend vast power stations and oil rigs, to temporarily stop them from functioning; and last week I discovered I had also been accepted onto climb training, something I have desired to learn for a long time.
Over the weekend a Transition friend asked me why she should support the Greenpeace activists: “We’re about solutions now, what does climbing an oil rig achieve, that kind of thing is in the past”, she said. My response was, and is, that while we need to train ourselves for the kind of future we want to create, and put that future into practice now – to make it happen, to show it can be done, and to sustain ourselves along the way; we also need to continue to stop and block the destruction of the remaining wild parts of our planet, to oppose the companies who see the melting Arctic as a business opportunity rather than a warning, who will continue to heat up our shared atmosphere and destroy the weather systems our food growing depends on. And we need training for this too.
On Sunday afternoon I led a foraging walk on Hampstead Heath for Transition Dartmouth Park, and passed on the knowledge I had learnt about hedgerow berries, which kinds are edible, and how to transform them into edible food. As we picked, those who walked past us stopped to talk, to ask what the rosehips and hawthorn berries were, and the learning spread further. At the end of the walk we sat on the grass in the unexpected warmth of the afternoon, shared oven fresh apple cake that Tony had baked, and talked of ideas for future workshops – fermentation, dehydrating fruit, pickling. I was reminded of the feeling of the first jam making workshop I attended and how it felt to be part of the season, and a time-honored way of living. While on a daily basis we must continue to fight against the extraction and use of fossil fuels and an existence that is killing our planet, the most important learning of Transition, for me, has been connecting with nature, with neighbours, and how to live a life that truly sustains us.
Images: 1. Making jam; 2. Arctic Sunrise; 3. Elderberries
Please join over 300,000 people globally, and email the Russian embassy and ask them to release the 30 Greenpeace activists immediately.