A funeral procession passes by. Four men in black carry a coffin. A long train of veiled women walk behind it, singing mournfully, carrying candles. And they’re also carrying placards. They say (in Spanish) ‘Airports don’t work without information’. They are information staff on strike probably under threat of redundancy. While they march, two managerial-looking men zip up and down the terminals on their Segways trying to cover for them. It’s a deeply sad spectacle, but funny too. I’m in Spain, at Malaga airport, waiting five hours for a flight home.
Yes, I know. I flew, which is bad. But I have given a donation to the Woodland Trust, and also I’ve spent the week planting trees on a conservation project in the Alpujarras, near the town of Orgiva. We were based at Cortijo Romero, a retreat centre that provided us with Thai Chi, meditation, massage, dancing, music, creative writing and amazing food all around the tree work. I came to get some knowledge through practice for a new project, possibly a new direction for my life in the longer term: Planting and caring for trees (and all the life they support) in ways that are creative, joyful and meaningful. We planted trees along a road that led from the town to the cemetery, a road travelled often for funerals and to remember loved ones. We planted on a mountain site where wild olive and pine could take in the red soil between rocks alongside grasses and rosemary. We planted along a river bed to shore up the banks against erosion.
Three things ache in me. My wrist aches, as I’ve got a bit of tendonitis from all the digging. (Planting trees in rocky and dry ground can be quite a construction job. It’s not just popping a sapling in a hole.) My tummy muscles ache, from all the proper laughter. (Thank you so much for that, lovely new friends). And my heart aches, from being with people who deeply care about the symbolism and practical importance of planting trees, as well as from the sadness at leaving them and this beautiful place behind. Layered around that is grieving at the news that ash dieback in the UK is unpreventable, and around that a deeper grieving at the sickness of the planet.
But although my heart aches, I’m heartened as I know better what I have to do. Here are three things I’m going to do, for a start.
The first action is to develop a course that I can offer in many contexts, on Minding Nature. This will offer creative strategies for people to notice, learn about and regenerate natural environments. It will use photography, sketching, mapping, writing, sound, movement and getting hands a bit dirty too.
The second action is to create the Beuysterous toolkit: creative actions to make tree planting and care joyful and meaningful, inspired by the spirit of Joseph Beuys who planted 7,000 oak trees as an artwork.
The third is to set up crowdfunding social media bobbins for the community tree planting scheme in the Orgiva area. Due to the economic crisis in Spain, all the grants that funded the saplings and equipment have dried up. The equipment is important. You can’t just leave saplings unprotected in this terrain – they must be supported, protected and irrigated. Because of this level of care, the trees have a very high success rate. Jordi Jutglar is the local councillor driving the scheme. He is also connected with Cortijo Romero and has previously lived in the Findhorn community in Scotland. Jordi is anxious about how they will continue to fund their work and to build voluntary support from locals, so I want to help him by making it easier for you to help. You might ask: why should any of us care to support tree planting in a place that isn’t our home? Well, if trees are acting as carbon sinks and biodiversity habitats anywhere, we all benefit. Moreover, environmental resilience is vital in the face of economic collapse. Spain and Greece are among the first to suffer but also, potentially, the first to model ways of thriving that are more stable and sustainable. Many of the trees we planted produce food crops (pine nuts, carob, olives) while others such as False Pepper are well able to thrive, to grow quickly to stabilise ground, absorb CO2 and provide for wildlife.
While our governments rush to build yet more concrete infrastructure with the false belief that it will shore up against job losses, between us we need to build biotic infrastructure based on the evidence of centuries that it shores up against starvation.