George Monbiot has a book that came out last year about rewilding. It is called Feral, and is a good, entertaining read. He covers some of the same territory in a TED talk.
Monbiot describes a sort of nameless unease, a feeling that something was not right with his life. Things were too safe, too ordered, too controlled. But how to break out?
One of the stories he tells in this age of austerity is that the environment authorities felt a need to spend money clearing places in the upper Wye valley where fallen timber had clogged the river. The two immediate consequences are of course increased flooding downstream and the destruction of habitats behind the blockages. This blog review is about how what happens in education and development mirrors what happens in the way we manage the landscape. My belief is that this metaphor goes much deeper than we think. So we imagine against all the evidence that young lives should follow a standard, streamlined journey to adulthood: free of blockages.
Monbiot’s great complaint, having moved to mid-Wales to engage in rewilding, is about the great Welsh desert. Sheep make sure there is nothing but grass. Biodiversity is almost none existent: no wildlife, no birds, no plant diversity. People simultaneously want to believe that mid-Wales is supposed to be like that, and that the desert has to be preserved against its tendency to revert to shrubs and woodland as soon as the sheep are kept out. For many children school is just such a desert where there is no natural vibrant social complexity but a well ordered monotony that is deemed by adults to be in their best interest.
It is from diversity that life in all its abundance comes. We have lost the sense of how many fish there used to be in the sea and the rivers, how teeming with all sorts of beasts and birds the land was. And even though we know the fish and the whales that follow them will come back if we leave areas of the sea to regenerate free of trawlers, we won’t do it. Even though we know that if there were wolves and beavers, as are returning across much of Europe, we would have a landscape and a fauna that would rejuvenate the rural economy, we are stuck with our need to manage things.
Rewilding is about overturning the logic. Our conservation keeps our habitats impoverished. The best unschools that refuse to manage curriculum or teaching, show that young people can thrive given half a chance and their own company. It is our imaginations that most need rewilding. It is time we let some good things happen!
Life simply teems. It does not depend on the right conditions, it generates and stabilises its own conditions. It does not simplify to make things comprehensible, it endlessly complexifies, with new potential building constantly. In this sense life has infinite potential. It is awesome. To be in awe of the teeming of life we have to experience it. What is the use of a beautiful video of an orange compared to the thing itself. Neither George Monbiot nor I can simply read about rewilding, we have to experience, to participate to feel the awe.
That is what Wild Routes is about. The severe impoverishment of many, most, childhoods is in a sense an opportunity. It is an opportunity to sense the deprivation and to respond to it. To take control of a missing dimension and to watch ourselves blossom in response to a landscape recovering its own blossoming. To be able to see both the destruction and the recovery. The wild route is the route via the rediscovery of the infinite potential of life to our own infinite potential.
Monbiot is not grandiose in what he claims to have done. He is a bit player in some small experiments and an observer of some bigger ones. Some people feel small in the face of awe. But that is really not the point. In life we have our niche, our role to play in the greater scheme of things. We become truly effective when we act from who we really are, not from some fantasy of might and domination. Where else can we learn these lessons?