Category Archives: Rewilding

Some is Better than None – Electricity Edition

So, I (finally) signed up for Bullfrog Power. Contrary to advertising, it’s not an alternative electrical company.
It’s more like a subscription service.
I’m officially now paying ~$45/month to help increase green-energy infrastructure (wind and water power) in Ontario. And, like, yes I know. Hydro Ottawa is called Hydro for a reason (Portage Power is a subsidiary of Hydro Ottawa that specifically handles green energy generation). But still. For now, this is my latest “next step” in cleaning up, or making amends for, my household energy footprint. This is very much like the whole thing where I “plant” (sponsor the planting of) trees to offset my household carbon footprint. I’m essentially throwing money at a problem – because I have enough money now to actually do so – in order to “cancel out” said problem, rather than doing something to actually solve the problem itself.

I was having a conversation with my relatives… I guess about a week ago. And I always feel really out of place when I’m talking to them. My household is still pretty low-income, whereas they’ve all got money in the form of pensions, investments, and job security. My household is queer, polyamourous and child-free, and theirs are… none of the above. We’re renters, and they all own their own houses. We are definitely the “them” to everyone else’s “us” in those conversations. That said, we’re all various degrees of Lefties, so it’s not a disaster. Anyway. We were having this conversation about how to get people off oil. And some of what I was thinking was “I’m a renter. Even if I had the $100K it would take to install geothermal heating (if that’s even an option around here) and solar electricity directly in my house… I don’t own my house, and so that’s not an option for me”. I can’t Get Off Oil until there’s another option available for heating my house that doesn’t first require me to own said house. Even a lateral move like switching from fossil natural gas to, like, landfill gas (which is still pretty-much all methane, it’s just more renewable) isn’t really an option at this time.

So, sure. One reason I take steps to “cancel out” my carbon footprint is convenience: It’s way less exhausting and painful to fly to visit my girlfriend than it is to take a 22-hour, two-transfers train trip that starts at 6am, so I fly, and do carbon off-setting. But the other reasons is because, in a lot of cases, I literally can’t take steps to not cause the problem in the first place. I figure – I hope – that, by signing up for Bullfrog, I’m also managing to contribute in some small way to shifting the local infrastructure – when that infrastructure is my only option – to something more sustainable and less greenhouse-gas-producing, to something that’s more respectful of, and more in concert with, the rest of this whole wild world.

Book Review with Feelings – To Speak for the Trees

So I picked up a book from the library (one of many, many books that will now be hanging out at my place for the duration), because it was unexpectedly available. It’s one I have on reserve, but was not expecting to be able to get it early.
The book is To Speak for the Trees by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
The author is local to my area, and she’s suggesting that everybody plant one native tree per year, per member of their household, for the next six years, in order to help slow climate change.
Which is a good idea, if you’ve got the space and/or know how to sneak new trees into public parks. Recommended.
However, that’s not what this book is about.
It’s, um…
It’s mostly a memoir?
There are bits of it that are good. I like the last four chapters of Part 1 (so slightly less than a third of Part 1) and Part 2, which is about the Ogham tree alphabet, and is interesting even if it’s… oddly ordered.
But I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, and I’m…
Okay. I’m just going to say it.
The story-line of how the lonely child of minor English nobility – half Oppressed Minority on her mother’s side, no less – was Tragically Orphaned in her tweens, then taken in by her rural, Irish maternal line only to become The Chosen One who would be given all the Ancient Celtic Wisdom (and she specifically says “Celtic”[1]) of her ancestors by the aging – think octogenarians circa 1950 – population of a village that had somehow, due to isolation, managed to avoid the worst of the Penal Times practices… and is now, only NOW, passing that Wisdom on to the rest of the world (when those octogenarians, and all of their immediate offspring who ostensibly didn’t wanna hear it, are reliably dead and unable to contest any of this) in the hopes of changing how (white) people relate to the non-human world…
Let’s just say that I find this a little too convenient combined with a little too… Hero’s Journey?
Like… I find it more than a little unbelievable.
The same way I find Dorothy Clutterbuck (who, granted, would have been about the same age as, or a tiny bit older than, those Wise Celtic Ancestors of Diana’s) a little unbelievable. I’m aware that Romanticism was at its peak between 1800 and 1850, well before Dorothy OR the Irish Ancestors were born, and I can imagine some of this stuff being just… leftover romantic stuff. But I also can’t help wondering how much of this is just… straight up fiction. Or at least someone drastically stretching the truth of her 60-years-gone memories into something that sounds like “White Folks Were Wild Once Too”.
I’m kind of conflicted about that.
Like, on the one hand, I’m over here trying to naturalize myself, develop relationships with The Neighbours, not be an asshole to the plants I cultivate and wild-harvest, and be aware that I’m not the only person who calls my back yard home. And I’m doing it explicitly as a PAGAN-identified religious white lady.
I want this stuff to be true.
I want there to have been vestiges of pre-Christian religion hanging on and still being practiced as part of folk-Christianity by people who were being exploited by capitalist extraction rather than benefiting from, or driving, it.
I want to have examples to draw on of “How To Be” from cultures considerably, vastly closer to the one I spring from, if only so that I’m not strolling around quoting Braiding Sweetgrass like I’m not part of the problem.
And, on the other hand, this book reads so much like it’s trying to be “Braiding Sweetgrass for White People”, with a heaping helping of memoir and a side order of “No Really, This Is Ancient Wisdom, For Real For For Real”. And I don’t know what to do with that.
Look… What do I want? I want to know how my very distant ancestors – my pre-Roman ancestors, who were later called the Selgovae by Rome – interacted with the rest of the world. I want to know how those late stone-age farmers (neolithic) and hunters (mesolithic, but later, too, apparently) interacted with, and understood their place in, the forests-and-shorelines where they lived.
I want to know how to grow a… a “savana garden” that’s more raspberries and pavement roses, rhubarb, sorrel, lovage and other perennial herbs & flowers, with only a few (mostly fruit) trees clustered here and there under-which the real shade-lovers – Bayberry, witch hazel, spice bush, wild ginger, ramps, fiddleheads, sweet woofroffe, and lungwort – can comfortably grow.
I want to get familiar with the tiny ecosystem of my (next) back yard, and to help it thrive. To be a good neighbour.
I want to flavour my food BOTH with the flavours of the place where I live – cranberries & partridge berries, raspberry and thimble berry, spice bush, bayberry leaf (NOT the berries), maple, anise hyssop, crab apple, choke cherry, ramps and crow garlic (I know there are others, but I’m not familiar with them) – AND of the place where my ancestors came from (red currants, gooseberries & josta berries, rosehips, rhubarb, every mustard under the sun and every cheese that Scotland ever boasted, juniper berries, thyme, savoury, onion, garlic, leeks, lovage, sorrel, culinary sage, a million different mints, apples, pears, pie cherries, the bitter wild greens we brought with us (dandelion, mallow, plantane, yarrow, rampion), rose petals, begamot, lavender, elder flower, sweet woodroffe, honey, wine, mead, beer, and cider).
AND I also want to know the magico-medicinal plants of my own ancestors. I want to burn mugwort and summer savoury twigs in a Beltane fire. I want to steep juniper berries and rosehips and (cooked!) elder berries together in vodka, gin, or wine to make a tincture full of vitamin C, and to fill a bowl with hot water and pine needles, juniper berries, birch leaves, creeping charlie, and peppermint when I need to open up my lungs. I want to flick salt water off a pine or juniper broom to consecrate a space. I want hawthorn for good boundaries and roses for romance and apples for fortune telling.
By that token, Part Two of To Speak for the Trees is interesting and something to chew on, even if she’s – apparently – writing out the tree alphabet in entirely the wrong order.
I like Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s Bioplan that encourages people to plant native trees on the regular. I like the IDEA of sustained ancient knowledge. But I don’t really think that I can recommend her book as a resource for pagans.
Here, have some (distraction) videos about trees and suchlike:
Suzanne Simard on How Trees Talk to Each Other
Diana Beresford-Kroeger discusses climate change
How to Grow a Forest in Your Back Yard
A documentary on Rewilding Scotland
Have fun, kids.
Meliad the Birch Maiden
[1] Look, I thought that was something only people like me did, people who are actually really removed from Irish culture, Scottish cultures, Manx and Cornish and British and Angolish cultures, Breton and Iberian cultures, heck Newfoundland and Cape Breton cultures, so it seems odd to me than an Irish woman is using that term. Maybe I’m wrong? But it seems… strange to me.

Some is Better than None – Carbon Emissions Edition

Conifer Seedlings sprouting in the undergrowth. McCloud River Trail - Shasta-Trinity National Forest - June 2017. Photographed by Carol Underhill, via Wiki Free Images.

Conifer Seedlings sprouting in the undergrowth. McCloud River Trail – Shasta-Trinity National Forest – June 2017. Photographed by Carol Underhill, via Wiki Free Images.

Well, folks, I’ve said this more than once. “Some is better than none”.
Buying the organic, fair trade coffee, or the milk in the one-litre glass bottles, some of the time is better than not buying it at all.
Bringing your cloth bags to the grocery store some of the time (and, okay, opting for paper bags when you don’t) is better than never bringing them at all.
Walking/biking/busing to work some of the time is better than never doing it at all.
Making offerings to, and checking in with, your gods eight times a year is better than never doing it at all.
Today I took another “some is better than none” step.
As I’ve mentioned before, we have a car. It’s not a functional car, but we’re hopeful that my wife can get it up and running in time for her to have a commuter vehicle by the time the roads get icy late next Fall. We have a motorcycle. We have drafty windows. I take two round-trip flights to DC every year, and would like to up that number by at least one more.
We don’t have solar panels or super-amazing insulation or geothermal heating.
I used this carbon calculator and, where I didn’t have the information on hand, looked up provincial averages for things like how many kilowatt-hours (electricity) or cubic-meters (natural gas furnace) we probably go through in a year.
According to that calculator, it would take 52 trees a full thirty years (it’s always thirty years for this calculator, the number of trees just changes) to absorb ONE year of my household’s average carbon emissions – assuming I took that extra flight and we got the car working as a daily driver.

So I signed up to sponsor the planting of five trees per month through Tree Canada.

It will run me $20/month to “plant” 60 trees per year to help offset my household carbon footprint.
I say “help” because there’s no guarantee that those 60 trees won’t be harvested before the 30-year “neutralization date”. (Because I’m brilliant, and didn’t realize that I could do this specifically for their “Grow Clean Air” program where the trees aren’t harvested for a minimum of 30 years, I am now emailing Tree Canada to find out if I can switch that up and pay $30/month – instead of $20 – to have that little bit of assurance/insurance).

Some is better than none.
Why I am saying that about this step?

Well… Look. I know this is monoculture. I… suspect that what will be planted in my name is basically a lumber plantation, and even if it’s not that, it won’t be anywhere near the kind of mixed species perennial food forest that was here before my own people turned up with intentions of taking over. I know this nonprofit, while it’s its own entity, is also heavily sponsored by the government of Canada (and by a particular oil company with a long-standing baaaaaaad reputation).
So I suspect that this is me underpinning/sponsoring the Canadian Lumber Industry and, by extension, the continued colonization[1] of indigenous lands, just as much as it’s me trying to over-compensate (just barely) for the amount of fossil fuels I burn in my furnace, my (as-yet-impending, but added to the calculation) car, plus all the buses and airplanes I ride in a given year, and the amount of non-renewable energy used to generate the electricity that powers this laptop, my overhead lights, my fridge, my stove, and my chest freezer.
I hope I’m wrong about that.
But I would feel… dishonest, where I to presume that “my” 60 trees per year didn’t have a date with a logging company already set for thirty years from now.

So. I may not love it. I may feel more than a little ambivalent about it. But it’s also SOMETHING. And something is better than nothing, so I’ve done it.

If you would like to do something similar, you can follow the links in the post and/or you can do the other thing that I do, which is spread native tree seeds in urban areas. Think choke cherries, over-ripe service berries, and other native understory trees, that will be able to grow and thrive in the relatively shaded environment of disturbed urban earth (alleyways, tree medians, the shadows of larger trees, right around the rain-line at the edge of their canopies).

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] What I mean by that: Right now, Canada – as both a governing body and a nation – doesn’t actually have legal right to most of the land it occupies and from-which it harvests natural resources. So we’re technically steeling most of the lumber we harvest. Which, at best, is just monumentally embarrassing. But we are not at the “at best” level right now.

How Did My Own Ancestors Build Relationships with The Neighbours? (In Which I’m Just Spitballing…)

So I started reading a book (big surprise). I fact, I’ve been reading a bunch of books, including a few on the archaeological remains of the pre-Christian British Isles. But the book I started yesterday is called How Forests Think (Eduardo Kohn) and it’s both fascinating and a bit of a slog, if only because it’s academic writing and I’m out of practice so even reading relatively accessible academic writing is a bit chewy to get through. But it’s got some really neat ideas so far.
So far granted, being Page Ten.
BUT, from what I can parse through ten pages of introduction, this book is about expanding the (very white) discipline of anthropology – the study of how human being related to each other and the world we exist in – to include how the other lives in that world relate to us. That “relating to” isn’t just about Us telling stories about The Other, but also how They tell stories about Us and each other and, maybe most particularly, about how WE as distinct human and non-human (and animal and non-animal, for that matter) cultures co-create stories about the relationships we have with each other.
Which is awesome!
And which is also a “weird” way of thinking, if you’re White People. Either a very, very new possibility for our collective/canonical thought or – more likely – a very, very old one that we, ourselves, forgot – and tried to get everyone else to forget, too – but that other people have successfully hung onto despite our shitty best efforts.
You guys. I want this to be a Pagan way of thinking.
Like, I’m not sure it’s even possibly to “re-indigenize” myself, as a woman of Scottish/Brittish, German, and otherwise variously European ancestry while living as a settler and a colonizer on someone else’s land. And I’m aware that, on some level, I’m still thinking of myself as “the boss of them” when it comes to the other mammals who share my (“my”) yard, and that my relationships with them remain fairly extractive in nature. But. I do want to develop this kind thinking in myself. As a pagan, as someone who cultivates and harvests and eats non-human people, I want to cultivate (further) the understanding that they are people. People who may think about me and my existence, and/or who may relate with me if I open up and allow for that to happen.
Back to this book. The idea, the author says, is to explore ways to view ourselves (qua humans) as distinct AND part of a larger conversation or part of a larger whole/community of relationships and kinships that include non-human and non-animal people rather than thinking of ourselves (qua humans) as the only kind of life that has a worldview or relates to other lives.
Which… duh. Anyone who’s so much as met somebody else’s pet knows that animals other than us relate to, and form relationships with, members of their own and other species.
And I like that.
One of the reasons I like digging into paleoanthropology and pre-medieval archaeology of Scotland and Northern England is because it might, maybe-maybe, give me an idea of how my own ancestors might, hypothetically, have related to a world that they knew related to them, too.
To be honest, I want to find evidence that we were getting it right, once upon a time. Long before feudalism and the idea that a single person could own a vast swath of land and dictate how everyone else who lived there could access or interact with it. Before Christianization. Before Rome. What we were like in the Iron Age? What were we like earlier than that?
But the information I’ve got – through library books and BBC documentaries – feels so… scattered.
Like, I know about the deer masks and the possibility that they were involved in some kind of shape-shifting… thing. And I know about the heaps of shells and the burials with seal flippers. I know about how all the rivers and wells were sacred. How gods were location-specific. How you got to, or became part of, the world of non-corporeal-intelligences by dying (the river goddesses who became so by drowning in their respective rivers, the “passage graves” that were also faerie mounds).
That stuff tells me that seals were relevant. That deer were relevant. That specific places were marked out as Special. It tells me that my ancestors, like every human being pretty much ever, most likely created rituals around uncertain events (like hunting or traveling or dying) to attempt to grant us either a little control or a little negotiating power or a little good luck or favour, because those things might help get us the results we hope for rather than any kind of worst case scenario.
It tells me that seals may have been connected to the afterlife. Like the stories of selkies, it suggests that maybe there’s a relationship there that involves shape-shifting/skin-shifting and that maybe also involves mixing families.
Basically, I can extrapolate very broadly from the few bits of actual information available, and then tell myself a story – one that may not be at all accurate – that says “My very distant ancestors may have had a story that said we/they were related to seals. This relationship may have made it okay for us to (a) hunt them OR (b) harvest fish and shellfish from the seashore or the ocean itself, specifically because we are also ‘of the ocean’ in a way that other predators, like wolves or lynx, are not”.
Think also of the Welsh (were they ever more broadly Brythonic?) stories about Anwyn – the otherworld that is “very deep” and quite probably an island – and how you get to the land of the dead via the water, you become a goddess of a river by drowning in it. The people under the hill, and the people under the waves, were – at least some of them – our ancestors’ ancestors.
So… did we have a relationship – like a literal, familial-in-some-way relationship – with the seals?
Did we – meaning literally my “we”, the Selgovae who lived by the water just north of Hadrian’s Wall, the people of what was eventually the Kingdom of Strathclyde (what is now northern England and southern Scotland) – have something similar with the red deer? “The Selgovae” is what Ptolemy called us. “The Hunters”. Did we skin-walk to negotiate with the deer folk? Did their sprits speak through us or borrow our bodies?
The Red Deer Frontlet masks/“masks” at Star Carr (contemporary northern Yorkshire, or about a week’s walk from my Ancestral Seat in Galloway/Dumfries) hint that maybe this was A Thing for My People a whole 11,000 years ago.
But, again, we don’t actually know.
I certainly don’t.
And that was a looooong time gone.
Anyway. As I said, I’m only on Page Ten of this book. I have no idea how forests – or meadows or, most relevantly, the scrubby disturbed-earth that makes up a lot of That Other Space in urban areas – think, or might think, or might be inclined to have relationships of any kind with me.
But a place to start – at least according to a Druid I got to talk to not that long ago – is to notice and recognize, to pay attention and acknowledge, to say Hello to the non-human people you meet who aren’t just directly-related to humans (e.g.: a dog on a literal leash, or your friend’s favourite succulent – although sure, them, too). Go out. Say Hello. Start – or keep on – getting to know The Neighbours.