Beamspun 1.4: 31st January 2021

Local sunrise / publish time: 0736 UTC (-10m)

Nature Makes its Own Soil

Green this, Green that. In the middle of winter darkness, stepping gently round the slowly-composting and otherwise-empty vegetable patch, I question what we mean by being Green. The furtive leafscapes and chaotic fields of summer feel so far away right now - everything is returned to its state of potential, the soil slowly replenishing and readying itself for when the sun gets highers and the air is warmer.

Surely, I think - surely Brown is the colour of revolution? This dark range of colours encompasses the rich red ceramics of clay, the thorough robustness of the earth, and all the way through to the pale yellowed echoes of sunshine left behind by last year's dried twigs and leaves. It's this shade of the soil which leaves me standing here, that provides a bed for everything to grow in. The yin nature that links with wombs, cool and shadowed layers which enwrap and encourage (so much courage!) the seeds and roots which turn into our own bodies.

This muddy reserve, this overlooked substrate, covered up by pavements and tarmac, deprecated in favour of fields of glass and manicured fountains and the uniformity of lawns. How now, Brown? Where wood and anthills collide.

Meanwhile, the rough pavement outside the house is scarred with the lines of time. Cracks and valleys run parallel with the wooden fence, and all along the edges, weeds are growing. Tiny things in places, yet elsewhere the growth has matured into mini forests, outbreaks of plants where civilisation has tried to repress them but continues to fail. Rebellious saplings.

And there, underneath them - a thin carpet of brown. Neither the grey of the concrete, nor the green of our dreams. A dark, subtle, but definitively-present earth, topped with the shavings of discarded weed leaves. Nobody could have placed it there, no guerilla hand would think in such small quantities.

It hits me. The weeds are creating their own soil. These tiny shoots pounce upwards from the smallest gap, then naturally they wither and droop and die, and they fall down like snowflakes, and there beneath where they once stood proudly, they rot and compost. Enough of them do it, and the ground around them becomes carpeted with a new layer of soil, a fresh and imported set of bedding for future generations to build on. Within those tiny seeds strewn around the local airspace is the matter and intent to Make New Ground. The will and the means to rejuvenate, carried by the wind. More determined to survive than us.

Crumbling yet still-standing houses are covered almost completely in green foliage.

[image of an abandoned Chinese village reclaimed by greenery via return to now]


Here's a bumber crop of links. I'm short on narratives though - have you seen or read any good, hopeful short stories about the future recently? Let me know if so.



  • Seagrass acting as a plastic filter: "the swaying plants ... may collect nearly 900m plastic items in the Mediterranean alone every year". Although it is "unclear if collecting the plastic damages the seagrass itself".

  • In Northern Ireland, efforts are in place to save "Old Homer", a 200-year old oak tree that leans precariously. Legend has it that "the giant Finn McCool" may have leaned against it" - a beautiful narrative that turns a landmark into an icon. It's a slight shame they've propped it up with a metal gantry, rather than take inspiration from Japan's wooden supports, such as these:

Tree branches in a Japanese garden are propped up by wooden sticks.

[image by Rich Edwards]


  • And Return To Now highlights the Warka Water Tower, a 30-foot tall, $1000, passive structure made from bamboo which aims to harvest moisture from the air. Here's the Warka webpage.

Concept blueprint for a Warka water tower, showing a pineapple-like lattice structure towering over 3 roughly drawn figures.



  • James Burt covers Katherine May's book, "Wintering" in a review which intrigues me. A quote from May: "Here is another truth about wintering: you’ll find wisdom in your winter, and once it’s over, it’s your responsibility to pass it on. And in return, it’s our responsibility to listen to those who have wintered before us."

  • The thoughts and material of Rosemary Morrow are described by Russ Grayson, looking particularly at "A Good Home Forever", her guide to assessing and improving any suburban home. Looking through this article on Rosemary's permaculture teaching, I'm reminded of my own subtle fear of teaching, but the idea that teaching is actually so tied up with learning and listening encourages me a lot. There's also a 20 minute video, and it looks like you can sign-up for updates for when the book is re-published.

  • Finally, So Below, a comic about land - and bodies and borders and exploitation. (via solarpunks)

Get in touch

If you enjoyed this, then please spread the word and tell someone else that you think might be interested - is the address to spread.

For any feedback, suggestions, broken links, comments, or general 'hi there' type stuff, leave a comment, or you can find me hanging out in any of these places:

I'm also documenting my own 'everyday solarpunk adventures' over at the 6suns blog.