Principles of Frugality and Ethics

Rewilding in the City – Part 2: Humans, Seasons & Elements

  • May 3, 2024
  • 12 min read
Rewilding in the City – Part 2: Humans, Seasons & Elements

Read Part One of this rewilding post here!

Workawayers Sylvia and Mattia helping me process strawberries for jam and drying

Want to supercharge the handmade? Do it together! Saving seeds, processing crops, weeding, mending and harvesting can be laborious tasks, where the hands are busy but the mind is not. So I have two options for you. Either listen to a podcast (a great place to start is Reskillience, deep conversations about the skills we need for the future we want – and there’s a recent episode interviewing Claire Dunn) or invite your mates over and make it a social event. Podding beans, rubbing seed heads, peeling garlic, destringing cardoon stalks, chopping cabbage or shelling acorns is more interesting with a pot of tea and some friends. You’ll share skills and stories and create seasonal rituals without even trying. I use Workaway to find travellers who exchange their labour with me for food & accommodation. They get a free place to live and they leave me stories and memories along with the jam, garden beds and other projects they helped with. It feels right to come together to do these big tasks throughout the year. Indigenous people in Australia used to converge to feast on beached whale or Bogong moths for thousands of years. It’s a way to build social networks and store abundance in the belly of your neighbour. I love this concept. You don’t have to stress about having to do it all yourself, perfecting every single skill and storing every seed. Aim for community sufficiency, not self sufficiency, and weave in rich celebrations into your year. If you don’t yet have abundance to store, gather for big projects like building, social activism, feasts or season changes.

Crescent evening moon above the suburbs

Marking and responding to the seasons is key part of rewilding. We live in climate controlled boxes with electric lights that create endless day and shrink our sleep hours. How many seasons do you have locally? I live in southwest Western Australia, where I grew up with the four seasons of Europe interposed onto a land that seems upside down to its home country. Traditionally there were six seasons here, and today this is recognised in council calendars and weather reports. The six seasons do not start and end on arbitrary dates, but are signified by the appearance or disappearance of seasonal markers like flowers blooming, vegetation changes, migration of animals and birds and harvest opportunities. They could overlap or stretch. Do you notice the waxing and waning of the moon? Do you mark the first local apple, baby birds, the bottlebrush blooming, the first pesky March fly? Do you know when it’s warm enough to plant amaranth? (I can only sow it from December to autumn.) Even in the city, you can find the moon. You can observe the trees around you, even if they are plane trees. Marking the seasons can be as simple as buying food in season and refusing tomatoes in winter (they don’t taste good anyway). It can be simple rituals on the full or new moon each month, a rhythm of increase and decrease. It can be setting up an altar in your home with different colours each season (does four seasons or six make sense to you?). It can be learning your local Indigenous season names and how to read them in the landscape. It can be cooking apple crumble in autumn, bean soups in winter, asparagus crepes in spring and fresh salads in summer. It can be bringing flowers indoors, from roses to herbs to bare branches of fruit trees that will unfurl blossoms in the warmth. It can be eating outdoors in summer, beach trips, drying herbs to use in winter stews, a mid-winter feast with friends, bonfires to burn vine prunings, acorn foraging in autumn. Consider both the sun and moon cycles.

Sunlight streaming into the kitchen

While we’re on the sun, I’ll mention sunshine. Do you get daily sunlight on your skin? So many of us are vitamin D deficient. In Australia, we are brought up to avoid the sun in the middle of the day. And many of us work indoors for most of our daylight hours. Yet sunshine is vital for vitamin D and a healthy circadian rhythm. When I researched things to help my sleep, I found recommendations to get early bright morning light to signal to the body to wake up and to set this time of the day as ‘wake up’ time, which should help you feel sleepy in the evening if you’re doing it regularly and not prolonging your bright hours into the night too long. Avoiding screens at night time or using a blue light filter helps people sleep better (I personally didn’t find it made much difference to me). Our bodies expect yellow light in the evening and then darkness during the night. Do you sleep earlier and wake when you go camping? What would your life look like if you went to bed when it grew dark? Could you manage with only fairy lights, candles or solar lights indoors in the evenings? Try turning the lights down and see if it helps you feel calmer or sleep more deeply. Get yourself outside during daylight hours (and be sunsafe as well, because skin cancer is a real risk in Australia). Aim for morning sunlight but take what you can get.

Winter homeschooling

In winter, it can be hard to get any sunlight at all when the days are short and you still have to study or work the same hours. So turn to the Dutch hygge for comfort, a kind of winter cosiness or nesting. We want to pull our energy inwards during winter, to huddle together and sit by the fire. Let yourself move slowly, eat comfort food and snuggle into your ‘nest’. Brew a pot of garden tea (try rose hips for vitamin C, raspberry leaves before they fall off the canes, strips of unsprayed orange peel), pile fluffy blankets near the heater, a comfy pair of ugg boots and curl up with a book. Hygge is a natural aesthetic, usually featuring wood, wool, linen, paper and ceramics in mellow, calming colours. I find it both restful and productive to process seeds by the lounge room fire in winter, with the kettle heating directly on the top of the fire box. I installed a metal shelf (discarded from a supermarket) behind the fire so I can rise bread or dry herbs. We often do jigsaw puzzles or card games in front of the fire. Sometimes we even cook popcorn! It’s comforting to just watch the fire, a primal urge that we usually satisfy by watching a flickering screen instead. I keep a basket of mending by the fire to make it easy to remember to start. If you don’t have a fire, you could light a candle or move a chair to the best patch of sun in the house, like a cat. The winter sun angle is lower and it will stretch further into the room. Make the most of it. Store winter tasks near the sunny chair so you will do them. Draw, knit, plan next year’s garden.

Old fashioned roses and ferns from my garden

We have covered sunlight and firelight – what other elements connect us to the physical world? Water, air, earth. Take your babies outside and let them get muddy, mash up flower petals, pour water and plant seeds. Take yourself outside and go into the weather instead of avoiding it all year. Go watch the waves during a storm. Walk in the rain and then come home to a hot drink. Climb a mountain or a building and feel the wind in your hair. Bring flowers and leaves inside for your bath, even a foot bath if you don’t have a full bath. Hang a bunch of gum leaves in the shower – all Aussies can find a gum tree! Tuning into the elements helps the world make sense. Hang some wind chimes. Grow a hardy house plant. Fill a vase with flowers, greenery or dry grasses. Look for natural materials instead of plastic when you’re buying new stuff. I enjoy the twin cycle of chopping wood during autumn/winter and watering the garden in spring/summer. There’s fresh energy at the start of the season, a relief that it’s raining and I don’t have to water today, and a shift from tending the outdoors to tending the indoors. Then as it gets monotonous I can appreciate the mindfulness of repetitive tasks, the gratitude for the elements of water and wood and fire, the storing and expending of resources throughout the year.

As the seasons turn and the weather changes, I can observe the plants, animals and humans around me responding in annual and daily rhythms. What makes this even more powerful is adopting a sit spot, a special personal place to go to daily and practice the art of presence and observation. To begin with, your mind will resist the sameness and protest that ‘nothing’s happening!’. We’ve trained our brains to expect novelty and high stimulation all day. Sitting in the same place will feel difficult and unproductive at first. But persevere, because this is actually a really worthwhile habit. Returning to the same place again and again is how you build relationship. It’s how you notice patterns and start to ask questions. It’s how you form a connection to the land and learn what’s normal, how it’s impacted by weather and humans, who passes through there. It’s a way to ground yourself, to still your mind, to learn to be receptive and to begin to practice deep listening. Approach with respect. Soon you’ll be looking forward to your daily sitting practice. You can do this anywhere outside but look for somewhere that’s close enough to visit every day. Spend at least ten minutes and just pay attention.

Willy wagtail in the city

When you regularly pay attention, you’ll start to notice wildlife around you even in urban areas. I’ve seen endangered ringtail possums/koomals happily scurrying about the rafters outside my local pub and willy wagtails/djitti djitties finding crumbs inside an inner city cafe. I have frogs in my backyard pond after waiting for three years – last year I volunteered my property for a local university research study on backyard frog ponds. I identified tiny but loud froglets (Quacking Froglet) half a kilometre from the centre of town with the help of the Frog ID website (highly recommend this app or website for Australia). Observation will teach you about the animals you don’t see as well – the round circles cut out of rose leaves by leaf-cutter bees, possum scratchmarks on tree trunks, cone-shaped bandicoot diggings in the lawn, chewed gumnuts (marri nuts) on the ground (check out how to ID cockatoos from their beak marks). Look for paw prints, pellets/poo, nests, fur, diggings. Look up and sideways. Claire talks about tracking foxes and owls in Melbourne by the Yarra. You’ll see dogs, cats, rabbits and other ferals too. I know where there are possums in my city because I read the droppings on the pavement, even though I don’t walk that street at night.

I think it’s important to both be present and attentive to what’s around you, to be immersed in the real world, and then also to learn the names of things. Learn the common names and learn the indigenous names. I like to be able to greet birds and animals in Noongar – kaya koolbardi. It feels more respectful and connecting. You can study Noongar online for free here. Knowing the names of creatures gives them context and helps you to share your observations with other humans. It hones your attention – which froglet was it? Which wren? Male or female? And that gives you information to feed back into your observations – at this time of the year, these frogs are the most vocal, and this is when it changes. I don’t think it matters whether you use an app, website or book for this. Often the digital option is the most accurate for creatures that you only hear like frogs, insects or birds. In WA, a great option is DCBA’s little Bush Books series. They’re cheap and you can fit them in your pocket.

I love this plug for ‘Rewilding the Urban Soul’: ‘No matter your address, this deeply wise and spellbinding book is your portal out of the Matrix and into the Real, into the windswept world as beloved, into the mysteries of both nature and your own psyche, a siren’s song you cannot afford to resist.’ – Bill Plotkin. You can find Claire’s books and events on her website, ‘Nature’s Apprentice’. Next on my to read list is ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers. I heard about this book on a recent Reskillience podcast episode. It’s a fiction book about trees. Tim Winton called it a masterpiece. In the meantime, I’m going to keep visiting my sit spot on the mountain, cook crab apple jelly this week and make some more dandelion coffee to keep myself woven into the wild. May your rewilding adventures open your eyes, ground your feet and bring you home.

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