Bambi and the Death of the World’s Oldest Thing.

This is Andy.

I think I’m having an existential crisis. I am on the edge of something new, or perhaps re-learned and, just like jumping out of an aeroplane, it takes quite considerable mental courage to just let myself fall.

Much as I miss Yvette and Katy very much, I feel that my time living in the Grain Bins has been a very important experience for me which I will remember all my life.

The things that are now important are: that I have enough wood to burn when I get back at night, otherwise it’s a cold bed, and that I am able to get somewhere to buy food when I have some money, or to forage when I don’t. I also need to be able to wash myself, which involves heating water and standing up in a bowl, something you don’t do at leisure in December. Even though I am working outside all day, I still need to get out for long walks or a run because that physicality seems very important to me.

Someone commented recently; “Andy why do this?”

Answer. I support, as much as I am able to, the call to revolution. Climate Change is one element and I am fully supportive of Extinction Rebellion’s aims and ethos. If, however, all we do is to change the materiality of how we conduct our lives, rather than the essence, then what has changed? An electric car is still a car, of which there are too many; a recyclable plastic bottle is still a disposable bottle.

I would like to go further than focusing only on Climate Change. Climate Change is taken to challenge our relationship with the natural world, but don’t we also have to challenge our relationship with ourselves? If we dramatically alter humans’ relationship with humanity, then we also alter humans’ relationship with our natural environment – and yes I am quoting Murray Bookchin again!

So what about Bambi and the Death of the Oldest Living Thing!

It is very pertinent to talk about Bambi as recently (BBC news from the 18th Dec 2018) there was a news story about a hunter in the USA who has been made to watch the Disney film every month as part of his ‘punishment’ for killing deer indiscriminately. I wouldn’t have chosen the 1942 Disney film, but instead have offered him the original 1923 book ‘Bambi, a Life in the Woods’, for good reasons, not least of which is that the Austrian author, Felix Salten, was also a hunter.

What has that got to do with the oldest living thing?

The Pando Clonal Wood is a stand of Aspen Trees in Utah, that covers 43 acres, and the stunning fact about it is that every tree in that wood is a clone of one pretty determined male tree. They are linked by the same root system and are (or should it be ‘is’?) 80,000 years old. Even more stunning is that the wood last flowered 10,000 years ago and has found the climate of the post-glacial period of the last 10,000 years not to its liking.

Overgrazing by increasing herds of deer as well as by cattle have caused significant damage. The increase in deer population has been brought about by the decrease of their natural predators, which have been over-hunted, and the increase in the recreational and residential use of the land around the woodland: leading to a reduction in hunting and as well as other forms of damage to the wood related to development of the area. The results is that this 80,000 year old wood has spent the last 30-40 years dying.

Anyone else feel a certain level of blame here?

At the bottom of the article describing the plight of the Pando Clonal Colony someone responded that the film Bambi was to blame for turning an entire generation off hunting, hence it’s use by a judge to try and influence that indiscriminate hunter and turn him off hunting. Largely forgotten today, however, is that the original story of ‘Bambi’, upon which the film was extremely loosely based, was one of the first environmental novels, and did not pull its punches.

When the book was released in 1923, it was a best seller worldwide. This was only 5 years after the horrors of the first world war: the industrialised destruction of the trenches that had spared nothing, whether human, horse, tree, grass, insect. This was also a time when Tolkien wrote ‘Lord of the Rings’ in which he voiced his disgust at the corruption of nature through the characteristics of the Auks and the violent hell of ‘Mordor’.

Disney thought Bambi was too grim for a young audience. They vastly down-played the environmental elements of the story, added Thumper the Rabbit and Flower the Skunk to give the film a much lighter and friendlier feel, and even changed the species of deer to make ‘Bambi’ more recognisable to an American audience. It was an oversimplified, and distorted, message.

Murray Bookchin wrote that in order to really change our way of being, we can’t simply take hold of a single aspect to change. It can’t simply be a ‘pick and mix’ of elements of environmentalism or ‘eco-living’ of our liking. His belief in ‘organic’ societies, without overarching hierarchical structures, involved a fundamental grasping of all elements of change not just parts of it. So our remedies for climate change, if they hold on to the structures and values that supported the damage in the first place, are not grasping the important issues.

I wouldn’t suggest that moving to a remote Scottish island (or indeed living in a grain bin) is a panacea, or that it is for everyone, or even anyone, else! For us it is experimental in that it forces us to accept radical changes to how we live. But do not be deceived, it is not romantic, it is absolutely and genuinely bloody hard and threatens regularly to chew us up and spit us out.

However to quote, ironically, an American. “We do this thing not because it is easy, we do it because it is hard!” (J.F. Kennedy’s ‘mission to the moon speech’).


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