Save the World, Do Nothing Now!

by in Life on the farm, Reflections on being human 16th September 2017

Busy Doing Nothing

We have had an incredibly busy time recently. Many people have passed across our deck, and left here nourished and inspired. It’s been fun, but these days you’ll mostly find me lying on the sofa staring into the long distance.

It looks like I am doing nothing, but really I’m regenerating. I sort through what I have learned in this time, discard the unnecessary, make space for the new. Actually, I am a crucible of creativity. I have a whole new universe building inside me, about to go off with a bang. A big bang!

These times of apparent idleness, like a fallow field, are an important part of the creation cycle.


Same is true when teaching horses. Present a new idea, have the beginnnings of a twinkle of an understanding of the request. Rest a little. It’s vital for understanding and absorbing what has been set out for them to learn in that moment. To the observer it may look like nothing has happened. They would be wrong.

The wonderful thing about nothing

Which brings me to “Productivity”, my new most hated concept. I took against it when trying to figure out how to buy the land next door to us. It’s a parcel that was split off from ours 40 years ago and belongs to the cousins of the people we bought our piece from.

I want to rejoin the property for several reasons, both pragmatic and poetic. But the main drive is because this piece of land is ecologically somewhat unique. In an area that is being steadily degraded through management practices, our neighbours have done a wonderful thing: nothing. 

The land is overgrown. Despite the obligation to clear weeds to reduce fire risk, it has not been done. They have simply let the land go for 40 years.

Why is this so great?

Because the ‘weed’ we are talking about is Cistus Ladaniferus. These tall woody shrubs are what is known as a pioneer species. They move into land that needs repair and are the first stage of natural reforestation. They shade bare soil, reducing degradation due to heat and water loss, and provide shelter for other small plants and trees to develop. They are short-lived, dying back after 30 or 40 years, leaving behind nitrogen-setting gorses that feed and protect the small trees that have grown in their shade.

Unproductive land?

The management practice locally is to plough in the cistus every 4 or 5 years, destroying topsoil while they are at it. But when cistus are cut back before they finish their life cycle they just grow back again. Each time the conscientious land owners chop down the cistus they interrupt the natural cycle and the cistus comes back stronger, trying to complete its work.

And the truly ironic thing? These ‘weeds’ produce an essential oil that is valuable in the traditional sense, 1 litre can be sold for €1,000. And these are not the only valuable aromatic herbs ploughed under. Cutting them down is as good as throwing away money.

Anyway…. next door 40 years of neglect means the first part of the work of regeneration is almost completed, the cistus is dying back and phase 2 is well underway.

One of the missing elements in this regeneration is large herbivores. Large plant-eating animals break open the dense underbrush as they search for the grasses underneath, or eat the shrub when grasses are low. This allows light in to the lower layers, fertilises the plants and helps slow down water run off as their hooves make hollows in the ground when they walk.

Deer have been hunted out of this area. But I have a herd of horses who would be perfect for the job! So we want to take on the care of this land and allow it to recover completely.

Productivity, really?

As I looked into ways of raising money through loans or grants, it always came down to productivity. People judge the worth of a land by its productivity. And this piece is considered unproductive, and therefore worthless.




When I walk across this land I am serenedaded by the sounds of a multitude of busy insects feasting on nectar. Aromas wash my senses as essential oils are released into the warm air. In every millisecond this wild and beautiful spot is producing endlessly. One flower is a universe of productivity and here there are millions!

As I examined the concept of productivity and its place in modern materialist culture I understood that what we mean by this phrase is, “Productive for humans”. That if something – land, horses, tribal culture – is not contributing to the coffers of Man then it has no value, no reason to exist.

In the same way so many people ask me, “What do you do with your horses?” and find themselves confused, slightly disapproving when I say “Nothing”.

The root of our enslavement

This is the root of our society’s unsustainability. We are all enslaved by this notion of productivity. Worship it. We are so much in the grip of this over-production sickness that we think it is health. We think it normal, admirable, to use this planet as a production facility, exploiting it ruthlessly. Carelessly pushing it into a state of exhaustion, where it will need to rest and regenerate, and say good bye to homo-not-so-very-sapiens.

I think we seriously need to re-examine the concept of productivity. Notice how often it is used around you.

And before anyone says, “But life is easier now than…” here’s an interesting fact for you: hunter-gatherers in Africa spend an average of 17 hours a week to feed and care for themselves. Most of those living in “civilised” society are working an average of 40 hours a week to make money, and then going home to another 35 hours of domestic chores on top of that.

Why? Because we are conditioned to want more than we have (however much that may be) and work endlessly to get it.

What do you really want?

Is that really what you want? Do you really want to waste this small human lifespan on running after ‘more’? Well you don’t have to. It’s quite easy to step out of that you know.

It is perfectly possible to live a creative and comfortable life with minimal demand on planetary resources and maximum input, while still enjoying the ease and comfort of a 21st century life. You won’t find me living in a cave by choice. As anyone who visits us here knows, we enjoy a simple but elegant life with all mod-cons.

So here is my one small suggestion for planetary good: Do nothing, often. Buy less, enjoy more. If we are all just a little less productive the planet could take a breath, catch up with itself and recover. Perhaps.

  1. Nice. True. Hope we meet on the long n winding road either on foot or horseback. Love Jess….. O Retiro dos Cavaleiros, Barao de Sao Miguel.

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