24 September 2014

Sustainability & Separation

Written by Published in Lifestyle

A much-deserved trip to the city reminds semi-seasoned desert-dweller, Mark Charlton, than man cannot live on bread alone

‘I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward!’ – from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

While on a visit to a friend in Valencia, we went to the quietly decadent Llotja de la Seda, Valencia's gothic-style silk trading hall. The entrance arch, and those embroidering the interior rooms, are made of elaborately carved stone on which closer inspection reveals the oddest creations - half-goblin, half-beasts, women suckling giant birds, reared bottoms of animals and humans inserted with various implements or frankly revealing that toilet habits haven't changed all that much in the past 600 years. So as I nipped to the flushable loos in the entrance on the way out, I couldn't help but miss Sunseed's ‘a la nature’ squat loos and think about how being introduced to them is continuing to transform and unify my relationship with the natural world.


I used to think my predecessor was slightly barking with her various rants about the importance of composting waste. That is until I saw the results of the 9 month incubation period of ‘what lies beneath’ those stone loo covers – my absolute horror as the door was opened soon turned to genuine intrigue as rich sweet-smelling cocoa-brown manure crumbled out. Having recently learnt that it is someone’s job to de-grease the sewerage system and then hearing the report that compost loos saved many Haitian lives by preventing the spread of disease after the disaster, I'm utterly persuaded that the benefits can translate to an even larger scale (and some poor chap can be relieved of his horrendous duties).

I've been enjoying life at Sunseed now for almost 4 months. With so much to engage with and constantly develop consciousness about (water and electricity use, the constant battle to preventing greens from wilting, drinking enough as well as keeping fit), a brain-free trip to the city was in order. The 'outside' world has already become a source of fascination for me and most long-term volunteers so inevitably, a few days' spent in a large town can only be, in comparison to the soaring heights of imagination, a terrible disappointment – initially, at least, as I get my feet under the table of civilisation.


The sweltering semi-desert savage charms of Sunseed already glisten especially memories of mealtimes. Working with volunteers in the kitchen to prepare fresh meals, sometimes with solar energy, and helping the gardens team harvest handfuls of herbs provides a sharp and uncomfortable contrast to my first night’s eat – a well-thumbed menu presents a dazzling array of enticing goods that come presented (badly) within an unfathomably short period of time (it's common to spend up to 2 hours cooking in the Sunseed kitchen). The experience is somehow so un-human and slightly bamboozling given the astronomical price tag. An adjustment to the impoverished or, ahem, ‘exclusive' mentality of the city is not what I daydreamt of in the golden land from whence I came. So in an act of nostalgia during breakfast at my friend's flat, I save the seeds from the supermarket watermelon and plant them in the pots on the balcony.

There's a more sophisticated cultural conversation in the city that I'd be naive to ignore – some would argue that a wealth exists much greater than our basic material needs; the dance of civilisation that has raised us far above the primordial pre-occupations of our early pre-agrarian ancestors. Many psycho-social studies show that we choose, and thrive on love and a sense of belonging first and foremost; we would perish if solely our primary needs were met. Even by doing a fruit-fast once a week, I relish in the time that my stomach isn't my master and I get to catch up with reading, watching films or dance around to nonsense.

In the same way, the city gives me that vital time to dream, to appreciate a million other perspectives, this afternoon washed down with the most divine dark chocolate and black cherry gelato. This week is time to just be, and to leave thinking for when I return to the ranch…


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