Within the supply systems we are born into we rely on money for value exchange and shops and supermarkets in which we can redeem that money for the things we need. Thanks to Covid-19 panic buying, we were blessed with a glimpse of what happens when those fail. Staple foods and supplies were bought in bulk by panicked shoppers worrying that supply chains were breaking down. For fear of being left without, shelves were ransacked, elders were shoved out of the way and our pitiful vulnerability was laid bare to witness when footage emerged of people physically brawling over toilet paper. We are conditioned to buy products for any problem we might have, conditioned not to think too hard, conditioned just to consume.
Our conditioning is plain to see when we can’t figure out a way to wipe our asses without reliance on a commodity.
This process of domestication began when we were born, and it is stripping us of all confidence and ability needed to do things on our own. Without the chance to learn the survival skills needed, even a mighty tiger born into captivity is doomed to stay there. Humans can make some small changes to help break the hopelessness of feeling useless, and rewild themselves a little by becoming more self-reliant.
Luckily, being self-reliant is a thing that has always come naturally to me. Growing up I learned to take care of my bicycle, because there wasn’t money to give to a bicycle shop. When it came to computers, I was given a book on them before any hardware. After managing to find a second hand computer I could afford, I remember late nights spent in the BIOS (the low-level system configuration screens) figuring out hardware conflicts after I’d installed a modem or another hard drive. My dad introduced me to a guy that used to sell pirate Playstation games and also knew a lot about computers and I’d pick his brain often. Come to think of it, not having the option to buy the latest and greatest growing up ultimately developed my self-reliance.
Last week I needed to replace a pane of glass in a leaded window and instead of calling someone in to do it, I went out to buy a scrap of glass from a local glazier, cut it to size and worked out how to replace it myself. Yes, I ended up with a bleeding thumb, but I’d never done that before and I felt good about the result. Even got a ‘wow!’ from my wife. It was especially sweet because the pane I was replacing was previously plexiglass — don’t get me started on fitting plastic windows in a 17th century building. Shocking.
So, the poignant question is ‘was I a glazier in a past life?’
…I don’t think so at least.
The Internet enables us to do anything we want now. Even if you are a person that isn’t great at observing how something is constructed, a quick search for a 2 minute YouTube video later and just like that, any gaps in your knowledge are filled.
This does raise the question of time though. In an age where the cost of living is so high, perhaps ‘luxuriating’ in a task that isn’t my specialism, choosing not to outsource it to a glazing company was the wrong thing to do? In the 3 hours it took me to get the glass, cut it and fit it I could have earned a lot more money doing web development work. I could have put 3 hours into my business plan. They’re the things that are going to contribute to this world, my happiness and hopefully to my legacy. “Once fixed a pane of glass all by himself” isn’t what I’d hoped to be emblazoned on my gravestone. But maybe there’s a balance, and we should make room for small jobs like this, even for the spiritual growth and to feel useful outside our day jobs, which so often feel so pointless.
This is about self-reliance, and specifically, breaking away from these systems we are born into, but these systems are so encompassing of every facet of our lives, it’s hard not to get carried away once you start to observe, question and unpick them. I feel this is a process many have embarked on as society’s collective momentum slowed during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
When I talk about moving away from these systems that have disconnected us from the wild, it doesn’t mean we can’t engage with alternative systems. I am learning that community plays a huge part in a rewilding journey and am inspired by other people’s efforts to rewild — whether they’re aware of my favourite buzzword or not.
Since moving to this little village I have met new people from the local area while out walking the dog. I connected with one guy named Steve in particular and we’ve ended up chatting at length. He lives on a barn down the road with his wife and has access to 5 acres of land. Despite farming not being their vocation, on some of that land, they keep 6 chickens, each free to roam around and each laying 1 egg per day. There’s only so much they can eat so they often give them away to friends and so he offered to bring some over for us.
I brew my own kombucha, an activity that isn’t quite so pure, requiring tea and sugar both of which are imported, but on the plus side, doesn’t require land to create so I offered up a bottle of that in return. And so we agreed to trade — 6 local eggs for a bottle of kombucha. I was heading out so left a little egg tray and the bottle and when I came back found 6 eggs on my windowsill. No money involved, just the purity of the produce being swapped directly.
Knowing the backstory and connection to the eggs, knowing that they came from our shared region, knowing that the chickens that produced them are well treated by nice people and having the privilege to acquire a good source of food without participating in the exploitative supermarket supply chain felt so much more meaningful and the process placed me in a pocket of an authentic interaction for a minute.
It’s like when you forage any food. You find a mushroom or some edible or useful plant that comes directly from the land. No one placed it there as part of some experiential marketing funnel. It didn’t have a price tag. It was just there, growing, and then you pick it, cook it, eat it and immediately feel like The Hulk, ready to bust out of the chains of capitalism. Who needs money, or grocery stores?!
Later on you sit down on your nice comfy sofa and watch a documentary about living off-grid on Netflix and realise that you’re actually quite enjoying some of the products of domestication. That TV is so big, that sofa. So plush. I feel the hypocrisy of even being able to sit here and write this on a laptop. So I accept that rewilding civilisation from where we are now can’t be a complete turnaround and total rejection of the systems that enslave us. I’m certainly not running off to squat on some land and cobble together a shelter out of found materials, but I do see an opportunity to make change that will lead to a happier, more authentic life while finding ways to reconnect with the natural world. And I hope to bring others along with me.
Sourcing food locally and better yet, bartering or trading with members of the community feels like progress in this rewilding journey. The direct connection to its story, the method and the people that create it just feels right, creating respect for the produce and a relationship with the land from which it originates.
By the way, I’ve started a new book called Unlearn, Rewild by Miles Olson and I can’t help but find myself wanting to take pictures of and share page after page with my friends.