February 29, 2012

Gathering fukinoto again can only mean that it is just over one year since we moved on to this land. Actions repeated as our rhythms synchronise with the seasons. Seasonal tasks emerge: a winter of pruning to revive long abandoned fruit and nut trees, cutting logs for growing mushrooms, gathering vines from the forest for basketry, thinning the bamboo grove, making miso and, of course, plenty of foraging for winter foods.

Short evenings spent with a pot of hot tea on the hibachi (a large urn in which charcoal is placed on a bed of ash), hands kept warm with the whittling of bamboo utensils, weaving of baskets or binding of grass brooms. Legs warm under the low, quilt covered table, covering also another bed of ash and more glowing charcoal. An arrangement the Japanese call kotatsu. For the inexperienced it will be meaningless to talk of the qualitative difference in the heat that emanates from charcoal. It may lack the look of adequate heat, the brash and violent blaze of a well fuelled wood fire but nevertheless it slowly, quietly projects a heat that penetrates deeply.  A little can go a surprisingly long way, but we are talking quality not quantity. This may be the old secret to the close-knit nature of Japanese family life: there is but one warm place in the house and you must be within inches of it to receive its warmth.

Now spring is returning, so says fukinoto, a proclamation seconded by the flowering willows. The clear days are warm. Birds sing encouragement to the swelling buds in the build up to a full spring crescendo. Encouragement is needed for the spring comes in fits and starts. Warm humid days fool shiitake into a premature flushing. The return to cold dry weather leaving only knobs of stunted and dehydrated would-be mushrooms on the logs. A hapless wasp, likewise fooled into a premature emergence, staggers on the door step, dazed by the cold.

There are good reasons for the long delay since my last post. I prefer to write in the early morning but as winter progressed my warm futon produced increasingly compelling arguments against such a routine. Winter almost done I had a novel idea: I could write with pencil and paper! Imagine that. And no need to get out of bed. Wake up, reach for notebook and pencil and dip in to the flow. Writing when half asleep is an interesting exercise. A revealing exercise. Jotting down whatever comes in to your head as you linger in that sweet space between sleep and wakefulness… But whatever comes into my head, interesting, or revealing as it may be, doesn’t necessarily make for appropriate blog material. Nevertheless, I am quite taken by this pencil and paper thing and will happily spend a lot less time in front of a glowing screen.

It is not that I have not been writing at all though. I have written a piece on miso making for the Permaculture Research Institute website and have another couple of articles in the works for them. There is a wealth of interesting articles posted regularly on the PRI website.  The pieces by Kyle Chamberlain I have found particularly interesting.

I am also working on a book. Ostensibly about wild harvesting though not a field guide. More like a politico-philosophical treatise, or a foragers manifesto, if you will.

It has been a wonderful first year at Shikigami. A difficult thing to say in light  of the traumatic events in Japan. The best news this past year has been the permanent closure of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, about 80km’s south west of Shikigami. We are very happy indeed with this announcement and look forward to future announcements of the closure of all the remaining nuclear reactors in Japan and throughout the world. From the timing of the announcement (or our awareness of it, at least) it could be tempting to think of it as last years Christmas present but we know that Christmas presents go with the opening of power stations, not their closings.

The closure of Hamaoka is good and necessary, to be sure, but it remains that the options in Japan are largely between nuclear and coal fired power plants. We say, none of the above! And forget about green tech fantasies to keep the economy rolling (bulldozing) along. Our economic system is the driver for the wholesale destruction of environments and the lives woven through them, not to mention the further decimation of communities long stripped from sustaining environments. We put our own energy into showing the desirability and wealth of low energy living. (More workshops to be held in Tokyo in March. Details soon.)

Given the continuing and deepening global economic crisis, playing out most dramatically in Greece at present, the time may have finally come  when significant numbers of people will realize that not only is a change of system desirable but also inevitable. I continue to do work on gift economics, mostly focused on researching anthropological works on traditional gift economies. I am beginning to think that the notion of reciprocity may be overemphasized in contemporary reconstructions of gift economies, something I have done in my own writing. Perhaps the inevitable result of those fully immersed in market ideologies trying to come to terms with the radical difference of gift cultures.

Recently, thanks to the brilliantly titled Art for Housewives blog, I have been introduced to the work of Mark Boyle, a Brit who has lived for over two years without using any money. Boyle has written a book, with the rather dull title, The Moneyless Man (a publishers, not a writers title choice, to be sure), recounting his cash free experiences. He has a second book on the way that addresses many of the questions and criticisms raised by the earlier work. I have not read his book but I have been looking at freeconomy, the community website he founded. Freeconomy is basically a site to find local people to join with in the creation of gift circles. People list skills, tools and other things they can share and if you require something you contact the individual concerned and a connection is established. At first it may sound somewhat like LETS (Local Energy Trading System) but an important difference is that LETS is based on the exchange of time, that is, time is used as a unit of currency. Its essential difference from the regular economy is a difference in the means of exchange. Freeconomy has no accounting, no unit of exchange and is therefore a true gift economy.

I do not mean to suggest some kind of purist gift economics dogma though. Our current economic system will be the dea(r)th of us all and any and all methods of operating outside of that system are needed. Now.

Finally, while on the subject of gift economies, this blog now features a new Gift Circle page. The Shikigami gift circle provides a way for you, should you so wish, to offer gifts that will help in the continuation of our work and the work of others we wish to support. If you enjoy reading this blog, find the information useful, the ideas stimulating  or inspiring, the pictures nice, please take a moment to check it out.


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