Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Atamai Village

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope the warm seasonal gatherings of this time of year have brought you much joy, and I send you my best wishes for 2008.

On January 2nd, I'll return from my visit to Australia to live in the house you might dimly discern in the centre of the second photo. Jack is already there, together with a young family with whom we'll share the dwelling. The fields you see here will begin to be cultivated over the coming year and will eventually be an important component of the food supply for Atamai Village. This part of the village lands is known as Te Mara - Maori for 'the garden, orchard, cultivation'. The first photo is of the very pretty stream at Te Mara.

The pine woods you see here are also part of the village lands. They are a Pinus radiata plantation. They are non-native, bad for the soil and do not sequester carbon. They will slowly be replaced by native forest trees and bushes and ferns.

Over the ridge of the pine forest is more village land - a fairly steep bowl of former grazing land. Most of the dwellings will be built in this bowl, including the village centre complex. Some of it has been terraced and much of it has been planted with 7000 fruit, nut and forest trees.

Let me describe in more detail the intentions for this village. You already know that designs for the village have grown out of a need to respond to the threats of climate change, oil and other resource depletion. It is intended to provide for the growth of a settlement that will:

  • show that 'living sustainably within our means' on Earth is both feasible and attractive

  • contribute to ongoing learning about how this can be done

  • withstand possible coming economic and resource shocks, and demonstrate to others how this can be done

Planners work with the idea that settlements evolve in response to their environment and to changing human needs and that, in the words of a scholar of settlements, Christopher Mare, 'A truly sustainable village must be skilfully designed to create itself.' It will need to be revised and changed over time, yet should be built to last centuries.

Atamai Village can be considered in relation to the following dimensions:

Scale: Optimal scale is a tension between two needs:

  • big enough to have a complex economy with specialization of function, enabling a high degree of self-reliance in basic needs

  • small enough that everyone knows everyone else, more or less, enabling safety, accountability, and increasing moral responsibility for the common good.

Atamai can grow to a population of several hundred people. It may be too small. Many writers suggest that 500-5000 is optimal.

Food provision: An experienced UK organic gardener and an experienced French land manager are involved in this group. They consider that Atamai can produce a food surplus beyond its own needs before long. There will be communal fields on the land you see above, private gardens around dwellings and the food-bearing trees planted all over the property. Domestic animals may be involved. (We already have some resident chickens at Te Mara.) The above folk, Adrian and Jacques, will soon produce a land management plan for agriculture. Permaculture and French intensive gardening methods will predominate. Both methods pay close attention to soil. The 'terra preta' system of soil enrichment is already in use with the recent tree plantings, and will continue. This may evolve into a small business providing for other regional farmers and gardeners.

Water, waste and sewage: Water will be from rainwater collection and from wells. Gravity will be used as much as possible in water arrangements eg tanks from house above supply house below and so on. Composting toilets will mean no so-called 'blackwater' to take care of. 'Grey water' from household use will be used for garden irrigation. There will be an effort to move towards a 'no waste' economy of materials.

Health: I anticipate that people will be healthier. They will be doing more physical activity (walking, cycling, digging, hoeing) and they will eat better. A village structure as described fosters healthy human relationships - people cooperating in common endeavours and caring for each other. This fosters good mental health.

Forest: Another person associated with the project is Helle, an expert on regeneration of New Zealand native forests. He will produce a plan for conversion of the pine forest to native forest, outlining (I hope) the uses of the pinewood eg construction and fuel.

Dwellings: A team of architects, green builders and designers is working on plans for construction of some dwellings in the early New Year. There will be some mandatory specifications - limit on size, use of locally available building materials (clay, mud straw, stone, wood), passive solar design to minimize heating costs, rainwater collection, composting toilets, possibly wood stoves, photovoltaic panels. The houses will be aesthetically pleasing. Some of us hope for designs that intrude minimally on the landscape. There need to be family homes, space for extended family, eg aging parents, rental accommodation, places for people in the WWOOFer system (travelling organic farm helpers), places for seasonal workers, possibly co-housing areas with some shared facilities. Diversity of design will be encouraged; aesthetic unity will be imposed by the local construction materials. It is hoped that villagers will learn to construct and repair their own houses

It is expected that many houses will have their own food gardens. Common areas will be landscaped for beauty as well as productivity.

Village Centre: This may comprise a meeting hall, performance area, AV facilities, central laundry, restaurant and bakery, perhaps a centre for spiritual activities. Some houses and workshops will be clustered in this area.

Transport: Private cars will be discouraged; there is no provision for them in the settlement arrangement. Much movement will be by foot and bicycle. There will be a system of paths throughout the village, and electric vehicles available when needed. A small company will operate a shared car system, and possibly provide regular trips to Motueka (the town 6 minutes away) and Nelson (the city 45 minutes away). The bike trip to Motueka was timed by Jack the other day - 30 minutes. Soon we'll have our electric battery-assisted bikes to help with the hills. (Jack and I haven't had a car of our own since leaving Canada.)

Economy: It is hoped that from an early stage at least half of Atamai Villagers will find employment in the village. The community will own the infrastructure; some livelihoods will be directed to village maintenance, and some to goods and services beyond the village. Other people may earn their livelihood in the local town or nearby city, but it is hoped this will not be a general pattern. It may be that a local currency system will evolve.

Child development and education: There is a considerable focus on having the village be a safe, loving and stimulating place for children to grow up. With no cars, children should be able to move freely throughout the village, to enjoy and learn from many people. There will be many economic activities proceeding, involving skills that children could acquire. Some children will be home-schooled. Others may go to the local school.

Lifelong learning and research: In the shift from our highly consuming, fossil fuel-dependent way of life to the way of life described here, there is an enormous amount of learning to be done. The group designing this village already has been holding potluck dinner-seminars and workshops. The group includes experts in a range of areas. We are eager to learn from each other, from an abundant literature and from the experience of other similar efforts. Subsequently we hope to engage in research relevant to the village and to contribute to the learning of others. This latter function will be carried out by a planned Bioregional Institute, which we hope will serve settlements in this region and others.

Arts: Arts are seen as an important aspect of village life and will be encouraged. There is an aspiration to have occasional artists in residence. There will be a performance space and audiovisual facilities.

Leisure: Much leisure equipment can be shared eg kayaks, camping equipment. This has to do with a value held in this group to minimize material acquisitions, but maximize quality of life.

Values: The above value is part of attempting to live with minimal harm to the Earth and within the biophysical limits of the planet. Nonviolence to both people and Earth is a paramount value. Sharing, cooperating, helping each other, caring for the less able, respect for persons and for diversity; organizational values of honesty, transparency and accountability are all held to be important. It is not supposed that those who join this endeavour will be unusually highly moral or spiritual people. The hope is to create a social structure which will foster the good inherent in everyone and minimize the potential for bad behaviour.

Social structure and governance: This must ultimately evolve with those who live in the village and cannot be designed or prescribed. Those currently involved value participatory democracy with consensus decision-making and close attention to dealing constructively with conflicts.

Process: The group working on the village shares an understanding that supporting the process of village evolution is important, rather than having a clear vision of the final form. Living organisms are self-organizing; a village will be so. It is hoped that Atamai will be the first of many. Each will be different and will learn from and support the others.

As you can imagine, dear friends, this is an enormously interesting project, and the people involved are for the most part, delightful to work with. Jack's business skills give him an instant niche to fit into. My skills are more in the social area; my role hasn't crystallized yet. That's OK for now. I'm grateful to be working with people with high degrees of knowledge and expertise on a project that offers hope for human survival and thriving.

Warmest wishes to all,


Monday, November 5, 2007

Parihaka - a nonviolent village

Dearest Family and Friends,

I was in the middle of doing some research for a blog on the concept of the village, when the remarkable evening Jack and I spent last night demanded that I devote a blog to it. The focus is the history of Maori nonviolent action, but it is also the story of a village. The images above are firstly, the village event of Parihaka's men returning from years in gaol, in 1898, and secondly, an artist's collage of many aspects of this history. (They should be reversed, but my blog skills grow only in tiny increments.)

Last night, Jack and I drove the short distance to Riverside Community, a 65 year-old settlement founded by Christian pacifists. It is no longer Christian, but maintains a strong peace culture. Members of the community had worked with local Maori to produce this event. It took place in a beautiful hall which once was the Methodist Church for the Riverside Community. The event began with a calling into the hall by conch horn. The 100 or so people who moved into the hall spanned infancy to advanced age. The narrative was told in Maori and English, in voice, dance and song, very movingly. Then four community members rotated to the four quadrants of the room, speaking simultaneously quotations of key figures on nonviolence. A Maori Anglican priest spoke, then went to the courtyard to bless the ample and delicious potluck dinner.

Over dinner Jack and I conversed with a Maori public health worker who wants to move forward with plans for a Maori village, and is interested in what we're doing, as we are in what she's doing. We'll have dinner with her next week.

Then there was another 'coming together' of people in the hall, singing a most beautiful Maori song, which seemed known to many folk there, including nonMaori. A young Maori spoke spontaneously of the importance of the occasion, and of unity between peoples. He said that in Maori gatherings a speech to the community was followed by a song. He would play one on the flute about All-encompassing Love. Even the little kids listened quietly.

Then, astonishingly, seven giant marimbas were carried in and set up, and the place erupted in Zimbabwean music played by 9 local (white) people. Everyone, of all ages, was bouncing with joy. You can't imagine how loud seven giant marimbas could be. I never saw Jack dance so happily and for so long. There was a pause while the players reminded us that Zimbabweans weren't themselves having much fin these days...we noted, and then bounced on. How is it, I ask, that this little town (popn. 6000) has such a group? I was told that another little town over the mountain pass in Golden Bay, has an even bigger Zimbabwean marimba group.


So, what's the story of Parihaka?

It's set in the mid- to late 19th century, when land developers were encouraging European immigrants to come to New Zealand, and attempting to take over Maori land for that purpose. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, but in this shameful phase of NZ history, was flagrantly ignored. The NZ government supported this surge of land acquisition and European settlement, desiring the tax revenues that would accrue. Worse still, there was an influential group of landowners, known as 'the Mob', profoundly racist, who actively desired war with the Maori, expecting and hoping to exterminate them. They were supported by some New Zealand newspapers. War erupted in 1860 and after stalemate and truce, flared again as settlers moved in and took over Maori lands. In the south-west of the North Island, in the shadow of beautiful Mount Taranaki, lay the lands of a people headed by two men generally referred to as 'prophets' -- Te Whiti (pronounced 'te fiti') and Tohu. Together they generated a philosophy of radical nonviolence in response to this situation and strategies to implement it. Te Whiti was described as the greatest orator in New Zealand at that time; Tohu was more retiring.

Prior to incursion on their land, Te Whiti and Tohu had shown the utmost friendliness to pakeha (Europeans), speaking repeatedly of the need to share the land, and expressing willingness to give up some of it for European settlement. 'Enough blood has been shed for that land. Let no more be shed.' They founded a new village at Parihaka. On the 17th of every month, the anniversary of the beginning of the wars, thousands of people came to Parihaka to hear Te Whiti speak. The two men were known by all as a peacemakers. Their village was known as a model village.

Certain elements of the government were determined to provoke a war. Surveyors were sent in to the cultivated areas around Parihaka to mark settler holdings. They cut through gardens and trampled crops. The villagers quietly removed their pegs overnight. Eventually, on Te Whiti's orders, the Maori in the area surrounded the surveyors, packed them, their instruments and their camping equipment on to carts, and conveyed them all out of the area.

When settlers came to take up their holdings, teams of ploughmen were sent out by Te Whiti and Tohu. With their horses, they began before dawn and ploughed until dusk, conveying symbolically that this was their land for cultivation. They were described as 'very civil and dignified' and no settler was ever threatened. Te Whiti said, ' I am cutting a furrow to the Governor's heart.' Two hundred ploughmen were arrested. the government passed a bill allowing Maori prisoners to be held without trial. The government collapsed; Te Whiti ordered the ploughing to cease.

The new Native Minister was John Bryce, whose answer to the problem of disputed Maori land was to take it all by force. He moved hundreds of troops to the area on the pretext of repairing the roads. 'Even though the bayonets of the soldiers blind your eyes with their brightness, do not flinch,' Te Whiti told his people at Parihaka. Te Whiti announced that he wanted the road repaired and sent several cartloads of food to the soldiers working on it. In return, the army band performed for them.This was not at all what Bryce had in mind.

The chief surveyor changed the course of the road and drove it through the Parihaka gardens, breaking down the fences around them. In the morning the army returned and found the fences repaired and the road blocked. They broke them down again and the Maori rebuilt them again and again.The colonel in charge telegrammed Bryce to say that the Parihaka men were very reasonable and wanted gates across gaps in the fences. Bryce refused to authorize gates and ordered the fencers arrested. Day after day Te Whiti sent new teams to repair fences after each team was arrested. This was played out 40 or 50 times. Some prepared themselves for arrest by wearing their best clothes and holding out their hands for the handcuffs. At one point, 300 men and boys descended on the roadline, dug up the road, sowed it with wheat and put up a fence. Bryce introduced more legislation to make erecting a fence punishable with two years' hard labour. Hundreds of Maori from the area received this sentence. As the men dwindled in numbers old men and children carried on the demonstrations, the singing children known as tatarakihi - cicadas. The government had had enough. Bryce was ordered to stop taking prisoners. He resigned as Native Minister.

But the land confiscations did not stop. Te Whiti's thousands of acres of mountain forest, plains and beach was to be reduced to an inland town, its inhabitants living on handouts and surrounded by white farms. An armed force was sent to amass outside Parihaka. Te Whiti never wavered in his attempts to accomplish 'an extraordinary political feat - to forge a permanent and not merely an expedient peace between two of the most bellicose peoples in the world, the English and the Maori' (Walker).

It is not right that fear of war, or imprisonment, should be made master of the world, and that the great and strong, by coercion, should become masters of creation. It is not right that the men of the island should be made slaves to fear of war, anger and vexation or that the land should be relinquished from that cause. If it happened to be the case that the world had been created in a feeling of anger and vexation, then it would be right that these moods should continue to rule the world, and conclude all things. But no, the world was created through love and all things made upon the face of the earth were created out of affection and love. Therefore I say, since things commenced with love, our affairs should continue by love, through to the end. (Te Whiti)

Then Bryce, back in power, unleashed the dogs of war. Volunteer whites streamed into the area. The army was ready to strike. Te Whiti gave a last address to 2500 to 3000 people, including many pakeha.

The canoe by which we are to be saved is forbearance. Let us abide calmly on the land...Be firm, that the world might be informed and hear the good word.

Tohu said:
I shall place no weapons in your hands. You were imprisoned for ploughing and fencing, but there is no imprisonment for what we are now doing. I will not take you away from death or from the mouth of the guns; I will thrust you into the mouth of the guns and on the point of the sword.
"I will not save you or give you any means of escape. If any warlike man among you ask me what is to be done I will not answer him ... I have no place to hide you except in this marae, and we cannot be overcome ... Those who flee from the guns will fall by them. If you are overwhelmed in this day be patient ... have faith ..."

A Maori policeman was sent out to invite Bryce and his escort into town. Bryce declined. Bryce had imposed a news blackout, but five journalists sneaked by the patrols, were welcomed by Tohu, hid in the cookhouse, saw and recorded everything. The thousands of people of the town sat quietly on the marae, the forecourt of the great meeting house. One of the journalists described 'a prevailing sadness, as though they felt a great calamity were approaching...It was saddening in the extreme; it was an industrious, law-abiding, moral and hospitable community calmly waiting the approach of men sent to rob them...'

The army advanced. 'At the first sight of the soldiers, a great cheer rose from the gates of Parihaka. Two hundred children, the cicadas, ran out to meet the soldiers. The boys began to sing and perform action dances. Behind them were girls with skipping ropes and 500 loaves of bread that had been baked during the night for the soldiers.
The advance guard marched on the children and wheeled away at the last minute, unsure of how to proceed. Bryce then ordered a cavalry charge, but the tatarakihi sang on as the horses thundered towards them. "Even when a mounted officer galloped up and pulled his horse up so short that the dirt from its forefeet spattered the children, they still went on chanting, perfectly oblivious, apparently, to the pakeha,' one old soldier recalled...' (Walker) He described how he found his way blocked by skipping parties. When he grabbed a skipping rope, he suffered a rope burn. He picked up one girl and carried her to the side of the road. He looked back to see his men grinning at the ridiculous sight.

Officers went to the packed marae and read the Riot Act. The crowd did not acknowledge them and kept their eyes fixed on Te Whiti. Tohu spoke briefly:

Let the man who has raised the war finish his work this day. We will wait where we are...Even if the bayonet be put to your breasts, do not resist...'

For an hour, nothing happened. Then Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested. As they were led away, both spoke words of encouragement to the assembly and urged them to remain steadfast in peace.
A woman began to cry. Another said to her, 'Why are you sorry? Look! He's laughing as he goes away with the pakehas.' The people remained on the marae all day until darkness fell. The next day the town was destroyed and the people dispersed.

Parihaka was rebuilt by Te Whiti when he was released from prison. Today it is the site of an annual international peace festival.

Several more things were said in the oral narrative we heard on Monday night. One was that the children born of rape after the destruction of Parihaka were accepted and loved by their communities. Another was that Gandhi heard the story of Parihaka in South Africa. I am immensely moved and inspired by this story. The captain of the arresting party said that if one rifle had gone off by accident among the Maori, there would have been a mass slaughter. No one was killed. (One officer suffered skipping rope burn!)

For a long time, I've been told, Parihaka Day, November 5th, was commemorated in the mood of 'Look what they did to us.' Now the mood is 'Look what we, the Maoris, invented in the 1880s in response to the brutal colonial treatment. We have a message for the world.'

Love to all my family and friends,

Walker, Peter. The Fox Boy: the story of an abducted child. Bloomsbury, 2001.
Oral narrative of Parihaka Peace Gathering, Riverside Community, 2007.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Idea of the Village

Dear Friends,

In this blog entry, I'd like to convey some of the ideas that have been developed about the characteristics of villages to be built in this project.

Why a village at all? While most humans have lived in villages (settlements of 500-5000) for most of human history, the last century has seen a strong and continuing trend to urbanization, recently passing a milestone in which about half the global population now lives in cities. Many who live in villages would rather live in cities, especially in the low income countries, where cities offer better education, better health care, more stimulus and novelty, sometimes greater acceptance of diversity. Yet nostalgia for whatever people imagine a village represents is readily apparent. Bits of cities are often wistfully labelled 'villages', as are retirement homes and gated communities. What is it people long for?

This particular village idea of the Sustainable Settlements group is a response to the complex global ecological and economic crisis of climate change, coming oil scarcity and other resource depletion. The thinking behind it is that humans are very rapidly degrading the Earth's capacity to support many species, including ourselves, and we must learn to respect and live within the biophysical limits of this capacity. It is not only the ominous climate change effects of greenhouse gases, it is degradation and depletion of fresh water, of soil, of fish stocks, of coastal ecosystems and so on. It is the addition to the ecosphere of chemical and radioactive substances foreign to it, and of genetic combinations that did not evolve in the web of life, but in the laboratory, and have unknown effects on the web.

The thinking behind this village development includes an awareness that an adequate response to the climate change crisis entails a need to stop and eventually perhaps reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This obviously means minimising the use of fossil fuels. The peaking of oil supply will support this process, but, as a result of inadequate planning for it, it is likely to cause severe economic disruption in the short term. It is important that populations, whether rural or urban, plan for so-called 'post-carbon' living.

Technological development, especially in alternative energy resources, will be part of the solution to these challenges, but this needs to be done very carefully. Since the unthinking application of technology has got us into this species-threatening mess, we need to appraise very carefully the impact of old and new technologies on the web of life over time. We, the group working on this project, believe that both the need to respond to climate change and the need to prepare for peak oil are urgent issues. We think it is unlikely that alternative energy sources will be able to fill the gap that will grow between demand for energy at current rates of consumption and supply. Even if projected levels of energy demand could be met at some time in the future, we contend that use of that energy to move and change matter in the biosphere will unbearably strain its biophysical limits to a point incompatible with supporting large human populations.

We are convinced that alternative energy sources, though important, will not solve our fundamental problems, and that we must experiment with different ways of living. We need to live so as to move ourselves and our goods around much less, that is, we need to be closer to the sources of supply of our basic material needs. We need to use less energy generally and to take care of water, soil, wood and so on, with lower material throughputs in our economies.

In addition, since about a third of excess carbon in the atmosphere comes from changes in agricultural practices exacerbated by cheap oil, we need to move quickly to take care of the soil in such a way that it becomes a carbon 'sink' and not a carbon 'emitter'. Returning organic matter to the soil through 'no-till' methods and other agriculture methods is crucial, urgent and scarcely mentioned in general discourse on this topic. The technologies for this are known, but as with cheap oil, government subsidies are perverse and keep the wrong practices going. The agricultural practices that will accomplish this are more labour-intensive. They would reverse the global trend to rural depopulation. There needs to be reruralization of the land.

Over the last 30-40 years, the idea of agriculture that works with Nature rather than dominating and 'denaturing' Nature has developed. One of these developments, Permaculture, originating in Australia, has now been applied successfully around the world. It demonstrates the capacity to restore damaged land and to enable growing food on poor and marginal land. Its 'healing' of the soil entails the soil holding, instead of releasing, carbon in organic matter, thus extracting it from the atmosphere. It has a strong focus on knowledge - of land, water cycles, natural energy systems and storages, species that benefit humans, evolution of manmade ecosystems and the need for constant study of the land. I'll say more about Permaculture in a future blog.

Here, of course, is where the idea of village fits - a human settlement where people learn to live with lower consumption of energy and materials, to grow food, fuel, fibre and building materials near to where they use them, by means of agricultural systems that restore rather than damage land and improve natural carbon sequestration.

They will need to

  • live in well-insulated and smaller houses with passive solar heating

  • grow food close by with more intensive land-care, although not necessarily more laborious agriculture

  • rehabilitate land to better support human settlements by use of Permaculture technologies, restoring fertility, productivity and beauty.

  • restore native habitat in some areas, thus preserving species

This will mean people will be more closely connected to the land that supports them, and will be more aware of how many it can support.

This way of living, whether done in rural or suburban areas, cannot be done by isolated families very easily or effectively. It needs a community, and a highly knowledgeable one. There needs to be expertise in hydrology, soil, Permaculture, botany, food processing and preservation, ecology, land management, land and forest restoration, animal husbandry, architecture, business, economics, small scale democracy, conflict resolution, political advocacy, education and research in a range of areas.

But large, dense conurbations of many millions of people, hundreds of kilometres from their food sources, with infrastructure needing high energy inputs, may find it difficult to reduce their fossil fuel dependence and their dependence on destructive carbon and methane-emitting agricultural practices. This kind of human settlement is possible only with high energy inputs, which are unlikely to be available in the future.

While historically, villages grow organically and slowly, experiments along the lines decribed need to take place rapidly, and with the expectation of errors. It will be an advantage to have multiple experiments, and systems of rapid learning from each other. There are Permaculture villages in Africa, India and other developing countries from whom to learn.

There are aspects of this transformation that may seem unattractive at first glance - less car use, growing one's own food, smaller houses, travelling much less. What about access to high culture and higher education and the stimulus of city life?

We need to consider that some of the health problems of urban life, obesity, diabetes etc., are closely related to ways we transport and feed ourselves. And what is it that people long for in the idea of 'village'? Most clearly, they long for community, to be part of a small population of people that belong to a place and take care of it and each other. Is it possible to have great intellectual stimulus, higher education and high culture in such settings? There is clearly enormous intellectual stimulus in the application of a whole range of abilities to the problems to be solved in living in a way that doesn't hurt the Earth. Villages generate arts in music, dance, visual art. ( A good deal of the cultural and intellectual activity we've participated in over the last six weeks has been centred in Riverside, a nearby community far smaller than a village, but with a 65 year tradition.) Christopher Mare, who has studied human settlements from a historical perspective, claims that the two most sustainable civilizations in human history, classic Egyptian and Mayan, were village-based. They both comprised clusters of villages that related to centres of religious activity. These civilizations generated some of the world's most impressive architecture, visual art and intellectual accomplishment. Regarding higher education, young people may continue to benefit from travel to centres of higher education; technologies of distance education advance continually.

It will be important to demonstrate that a Permaculture village is an attractive way of life. Currently, very large numbers of people are acutely aware of global ecological problems and willing to act on them. But beyond blue boxes and light bulbs, they often don't know how. The technologies of a Permaculture village can be partly applied to suburbs and to small towns or less dense areas of cities. Retrofitting houses, converting land to grow food in or near urban areas, working near to home and public transportation will be part of what needs to be done. But it will also be important to get more people on to the land to reverse that one-third contribution to greenhouse gases and sequester carbon in soil.

All of this is not a sufficient response to either the climate change crisis or the problems of peak oil. Political advocacy at all levels from local to global is needed. Issues of carbon tax, transportation, land use, housing, economic incentives and many more require social action. This action may be more powerful if it comes from people and groups who are living the solutions to the problems.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notes on Landing


Dear, dear Family and Friends,

It feels very good to be communicating with you. As we begin to construct a new life here, my links of love and appreciation to you are very real to me. We would not be who we are, doing this, but for you, even those of you who think it's odd, at least, or plain wrong.

I'll begin with first impressions of these eight days, and end with notes on what the project is about.

The town

Motueka is on the northern coast of the South Island of New Zealand, or Aotearoa, the name preferred by many. Its population is 6000 in the non-tourist season. It's near three national parks.

The houses are mainly smallish and many have quite wonderful gardens. It's Spring, so Jack and I are stopping often to gaze at beautiful and outlandish plant forms. 'Like Dr. Seuss illustrations,' says Jack. We are renting at 30A Poole St., Motueka. (Phone no. 011 643 5280189). We'll be here until the end of November.

Motueka means 'island of the weka bird', but it is not an island. A few days ago I cycled to the beach at first light to see the sunrise and do a little yoga on the beach. Behind the town are mountains which are still snow-capped. It is, in fact, cold, much colder than in Hamilton when we left. The town seems to arrange with its artists to create public art, including benches and rubbish bins. There are four second-hand stores, three bakeries, three stationery stores with books, and one serious bookstore.

The town is surrounded by orchards and vineyards, with sheep and cattle grazing here and there.

The people

People are helpful and friendly. Bureaucracy is easier to negotiate.

Not everything is beautiful in this delightful land. As I walked with Japanese-born Kyoko through the streets of Nelson, the nearby city, a passing car full of young men hurled racial insults at her. She said this happens from time to time.

The Sustainable Settlements group

So far we have engaged with three young families. Two of the guys are the founding thinkers of the endeavour. They met us at the airport, and one of them had stocked our frig. He then lent us his car indefinitely. We are treated with great kindness. Between the three families, there are children of 5,3,3,3 and 8 months. Two are twins. To some extent, this group already functions as a community. A few days after our arrival, 10 of us travelled to Nelson, 40 minutes away, in two cars to join the 3rd family. The plan was to go to a street festival, a children's masked parade. It was an amazing event with hundreds of families having fun. The children paraded as whole schools. The theme was protection of the environment. They had wonderfully creative costumes and masks and performed dances and songs about 'Reduce, Recycle, Reuse' as they capered through the street. One school was all dressed as worms to illustrate the merits of composting. This event was followed by a Japanese meal prepared by Kyoko, one of the group.

Peter, one of the founding thinkers, is arranging monthly 'Atamai Tramps' for the group. 'Atamai' is the name of the first settlement site and is Maori for 'common sense'. 'Tramp' is the NZ term for 'hike'. There will be an alternative route for little ones, and a meeting point with the big trampers.

Several of us helped one family unpack their container full of goods in the last few days, while I made dinner for everyone. In the evening, Chris, the father of this family, cycled here to help us with computer problems.


Car-sharing, which will be a feature of the settlement, is beginning between Peter's family and us. Happily, our rented place has two bikes; Jack and I find it far preferable to use them to go where we need to.We have ridden to the beach and towards the mountains a few times.


The very pretty garden of our house has many greens and a small, prolific lemon tree of which I've been freely making use. I've been experimenting with kumara, a Maori staple related to yam. The chocolate cake I made for the group was a very big hit with the children, who rarely have anything with sugar.

There is a fine farmers' market on Sundays.


I can't believe my luck. On my second day I saw, in the supermarket, an ad for a drum workshop featuring African rhythms. On my fourth day I attended it. The brilliant teacher, Damara, who has just returned from Ghana, had us doing 5-part rhythms with multiple instruments. It sounded amazing. This afternoon I've had my first lesson with her.

How did I get a drum to practise on? The workshop was held at a very long-established intentional community called Riverside. It has a strong arts orientation and an excellent cafe, where Jack and I had lunch after cycling through the countryside to get there. While we ate, a whitehaired man came in and began to play excellent jazz on a good piano. When I finished with the workshop later, I found Jack was chatting with Emory, the pianist, a resident of Riverside. As we talked about music, he asked if I had a drum, and offered to lend me one. As it was raining, we didn't take it then and slipped away to ride home. Before we had our helmets on, Emory was back with a borrowed car, offering to drive us home.

At the children's festival, I heard a wonderful group of unaccompanied male voices from New Caledonia. The music sounded very exotic to my ears, with marvellous bass voices.

Radio New Zealand has pleasant music so I often have it on.

The village

It was a thrill to see the Atamai Village site. The photo above shows its undulating nature and also that it is old grazing land, pretty bare of all but grass, except for the ferny gullies that cross it. Since that photo, a part of the land has been terraced, and pathways have been cut. Seven thousand fruit, nut and forest trees have been planted, the ground between some of them sown with lupins and mustard. The soil was prepared with 'terra preta', an ancient soil technology invented by Amazonian indigenous people.

Land for us

We are looking at sites contiguous with the village, in order to extend its useful area. I've seen one site - lovely land, extremely odd house.

The project

The purpose of our being here is to contribute to the development of sustainable communities - several of them, working cooperatively with each other. This is in response to the multiple ecological threats of climate change, oil scarcity and other resource scarcity. There is every reason to continue to work at all political levels, municipal, national, global on measures such as carbon tax, fuel efficiency standards, the Oil Depletion Protocol to make 'oil descent' more fair and orderly, less catastrophic for small countries and less likely to lead to violent conflict. At the same time, there is reason to attempt to move out of a growth-dependent economy and to experiment with living at significantly lower levels of consumption, especially of energy. This will require growing food near to where it's consumed, working near to where one lives, public transport, renewable energy, houses that are passive solar and well-insulated, stimulation of local economies. This will involve changing forms of agriculture, with more people inolved in cultivating, reversing the flight of people from the land of the industrial age. It will involve changing suburbs to function more as local communities, growing food and taking care of basic needs. It will involve careful use of technology, assessed for its impact on culture and Nature. It needs many intelligent experiments, of which this is one, to work out how to do this and to show that it can be done while maintaining or improving quality of life.
We hope we can contribute something to this.
Warmest wishes to all friends,