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IT MAY BE DARK HERE BUT I AM NOT ALONE

It is being spoken and preached in abundance, with grief and worries occupying the commotion. It is a narrative of disruption; a weary message told through veering winds, harsh rising seas and drastically alternating landscapes. A message of massive change that intensely adjusts the fragile balance of my natural, interconnected and versatile habitant. I am on the verge of despair and deep concern.

Life creates conditions conducive to life”

- Janine Benyus; Biomimicry 3.8

I am not only part of the scenery but also the most vital mix of components and multiple identities that make up our only home. The magnitude of how it has become a symphony in disarray and wicked problems is profoundly laborious to measure. This telling echoes in the muffled weeping of premature blossom that previously harmonised with the seasonal melody. Now it is challenged and faced by erratic patterns accompanied by the accelerating warming as the feverish symptom of uncontainable careless acts on my delicate health.  My withering lungs from assuring trees, ancient and new, struggle to sustain life. I am transformed into witnesses and victims, watching helplessly as fire and looting diminish my presence and simultaneously minimising the diverse ensemble of biodiversity that is part of me. 

Lives are being threatened including those of the nonhuman* as it slowly empties in sight. It is together with the nonhuman that ‘of diversity and of symbiosis’ (Næss 2005) complete our living and deep ecological systems. I sigh with the same shifting winds, carrying tales of extreme recurring weather happenings, of hurricanes, droughts, and floods. These are my laments, my desperate cry for attention, my plea for the consequences of its actions to be recognised. I shall not breathe in this deprived atmosphere of solastalgia*. The notion of learning to unlearn the menacing behaviours that currently intimidate humanity’s existence is crucial. The same veering wind steers high to cast its sharp warnings for such minds so hubris and nearly blind that will be outlived by remorse and regrets. Let the same veering wind shift how these minds should know and learn how the roles of symbiotic empathy can revolt and bring calm again to our home.

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                "The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes."

- Arne Næss & George Sessions

Winter recess; the annual spell where I slumber to recuperate and harness new vigour for the warmer seasons to come. As I temporarily lie dormant in almost all senses, my premises are muted. The surrounding hues are tarnished and its touch is simply frigid. 

EARTH AS A MATERIAL SUBSTANCE

Underneath the earth, I am soaked in the moist, placid and jet-black humus. It may be dark here but I am not alone. I rest with the network of sprawling rhizomes, the lattice of mycelium that mingle with the lengthy gliding earthworms in the slowest steady rhythm. I am punctured with cavities allowing the next rain to penetrate the compact forts. In this recess, every activity is unhurried and tranquil. Within the rich context, I am surrounded by essential elements that accommodate multiple abilities. Underneath the earth, I am resources and materials capable of regenerating multifaceted characteristics and functionalities time and time again. I am also different minerals spanning from sands, clay, rocks, water, gases and other organic matter and ‘such materials furnish necessary physical foundations for life’ (Ingold 2007). Hence for centuries, I have been the fabricator to realise ideas and dreams, from primitive shelters, and majestic cathedrals to a modest ceramic cup.

Underneath the earth, every single organism is part of a huge spectrum of interconnectedness and relations. “Soil is the source of all life in earth, and without it, humans cannot survive” (Oosterheerd et al 2021). However, “humans show scant regard for this vital part of the living environment” (Oosterheerd et al 2021). I am being depleted as the minute ticks. Excess robbing of my essential parts is encouraging my deterioration. The extraction is severe and immersed, allowing me inadequate time to regenerate new lives. Emptied lifeless quarries and drained shrivelled lakes are the harrowing scars and the new Anthropocene landscape. With my parts burrowed out, I am a limbless mother weakened, the tapestry of life unravelling as the essence of my being is withdrawn. Hollowed and weary, I yearn for the healing touch of mindful stewardship to mend the wounds and revive the vitality that once defined me.

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EARTH AS THE ONLY HABITABLE PLACE FOR ALL SPECIES

Above the earth, as I pry my miniature eyes out of a loose mount of dirt akin to the likes of a humble mole, I enter the breakpoint where soil meets the ground. From my low and meagre perspective, the earth that inhabits all species is vast and powerful. While daylight baths with warmth and optimism; it nourishes us with the ultimate language of sustenance and existence. I may not have the prestigious sight to witness all the copious fruits of life above ground but life itself resonates a distinct presence even in the deep winter. Snagged in thick layers of woollen fleece, I can keep warmth from tip to toe.  As I peek away, I stare at the nuance of how a pair of feet is meticulously protected and covered by hides of different shades. 

Scattered about almost miraculously, I also provide mouths with food to eat. From the parade of ruby leaves to amber crops of various sizes, I bear nourishment and fortune to satisfy hunger and survival needs. However, with the lingering fever sweating above the earth, crops will fail, and water, once the nourishing essence of flourishing fields, becomes an absent healer. “Drought might be an even bigger problem than heat” while my “most arable land turning quickly to desert” (Wallace-Wells 2017). The relentless impact of climate-inflicted weather casts a shadow upon the fields, as the soil, cracked and sterile, bears witness to the repercussions of ecological imbalance. In the face of this ecological challenge, an urgent request is obvious, urging humanity to undergo a collective mind shift, embracing empathic practices and harmonious coexistence to restore the delicate balance between nature’s rhythm and secure the sustenance of future generations.

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EARTH AS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE

Despite all I can unconditionally give, I find myself distressingly deprived. In this union of earth opulence, the prospect is hindered by abyssal shades of fear and bleak darkness. But I remind myself again, it may be dark here but I am not alone. The interconnectedness of how we bridge is the urgent motivation for new beginnings and flourishment. I am timid to feel my weakening fate but I see potential* and stimulus for adjustments to reach “ecological harmony or equilibrium” (Næss 2005) while reinstating our Earth’s “inherent value” (Næss & Sessions 1984). As a catalyst for regenerative change, I implore humanity to recognize the symbiotic partnership we share, fostering a harmonious connection that not only rejuvenates my ailing vitality but also sparks a renewal in the collective spirit, propelling us towards a sustainable and regenerative future. 

As I can be effortlessly gathered in a handful for examination and discourse, take me as a force of change and transformation. With the curious tools, use me as a medium, role model or source of hope. Inspect me thoroughly as this simple yet profound act served as an opportunity to observe the intricate dance of reciprocity among the organisms within. It is a call to recognise the symbiotic relationships that form the foundation of the natural world. Embedded in this observation is a deeper message, a call for a fundamental paradigm shift* that is essential to learn “to move humanity towards a more responsible and sustainable way of participating in natural processes” (Wahl 2005). “The role of human beings on Earth needs to shift. We must transform from despoilers to co-evolvers.” (Mang & Haggard et al 2016). I prompt humanity to depart beyond exploitation and adopt a mindset of reciprocity and respect for the environment. The handful of earth is the witness to give-and-take, the cycles of nourishment and renewal that sustain life. It is a symbol of the interconnectedness of all members in this living system, emphasising the need for harmonious coexistence. It is an invitation to re-evaluate and change the relationship with me and to cultivate a sustainable and regenerative approach that honours the delicate balance of the ecosystem for the well-being of both our home and its inhabitants.

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ITERATION RECIPROCITY 

The outing took place on a grey cold autumn day and lasted a couple of hours. The participants were a youthful group of composed, curious and creative young adults. They were thrilled with the idea of a field trip to begin with. Armed with their slick waterproof gears, thick-soled shoes, polished cameras and handy pocket knives, they diligently followed instructions to look first for an ‘earth item’ which spoke out to them. After carefully surveying the thick and calm woods, they strolled back with a colourful collection of acorns, stones and leaves. With the item held in their palm, we took some moments to gather and sat in a ring. As we paused, we gently entered a mental imaging exercise of revisiting an act of reciprocal in our memory. The woods remain silent and still. The peculiar birds chipping came and left. Wilted leaves rustled to the late autumn breeze, slightly lifting off the moist ground and rest again. 

As we picked up the present moment again, we separated to gather a handful of earth, just so delicately off the raw surface either under a weathered log or the densely-weaved moss. There was not much talking involved and our surroundings remained noiseless. They were in full focus on a simple and childish play. All eyes were surveying the dark humus while carefully separating the composition with the tips of their knives. The content was very dense, moist and in clotted pieces. Awaken without a doubt were the half-hibernating worms, some longer than our fingers, struggling to the sudden daylight and fighting in slow dance for refuge. There were shells, extremely small shells and still intact. Laces of fragile root fragments were spotted along with tiny fungi of various types while the rotting leaves in the small pile had transformed into intricate sheets of translucent artwork.

I found a patch of flattened spot adjacent to a low-lying tree trunk and sat down. The students were dispersed within about 50 meters away from me, some standing, some squatting, some on their knees. They were all still playing Sherlock Holmes while unravelling about the dead and alive on their handful. I continue to watch as they let their inquisitiveness lead the way. In my mind, I replay the words ‘if plants are our oldest teachers, why not let them teach?” (Kimmerer 2013)

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NO CONCLUSION
After winter recess, a new season will soon begin. With the benefit of stretched idle time, Mother Earth will harness the opportunity to pause and plan for new growth again. It is a loop repeating with no end and no conclusion. In her mind, her act of giving and providing is continuous, naturally also without an end. With the recurring cycles of regeneration, Mother Earth orchestrates another ceaseless symphony of life. In the quiet of bleak still winter, she inspects the renewed paradigm for spring’s coming. Time stands witness to her unfailing commitment, as every seed planted holds the promise of a possible thriving future. Her generosity is abundant, surpassing any human understanding and her charity is the resilience weaved into the complex structure of nature. Within the delicate and elaborate patterns of seasons, she the protagonist, preaches the fundamental lesson of rebirth; a profound reminder that her act of giving is not merely a temporary gesture but an everlasting narrative woven into the very essence of our shared existence.

DESIGN RESEARCH:

HOW CAN I, AS AN EDUCATOR AND RESEARCHER, DESIGN REFORMED MENTAL MODELS AND METHODS FOR A REGENERATIVE DESIGN LEARNING MODULE

TO CLOSE THE GAP BETWEEN HUMAN AND NON-HUMAN SPECIES?

In this CREATIVE WRITING article, IT MAY BE DARK HERE BUT I AM NOT ALONE, MOTHER EARTH is cast as the protagonist and narrator who explores her multiple identities and voices her agencies and concerns in this era of climate emergency.

Master Research Piet Zwart Institute  2022-24

LEXICON

*NON-HUMAN

The large web of living organisms that are interconnected and nested within our ecosystems and are not members of the human species and do not possess human intelligence and characteristics. These include organisms such as insects, animals, seeds, plants and fungi as well as geological entities ranging from sand to deserts and rivers to mountains.

*SOLASTALGIA

Coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht, solastalgia (the combination of ‘comfort’ and ‘grieve’ in Latin) describes the desperate and emotional anxiety caused by climate change.

*POTENTIAL

The ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel in all aspects. A regenerative manner to resolve difficulties not from its problems but from identifying potential and tackling obstacles from an innovating and critical lens.

*PARADIGM SHIFT

The ability to alter the most basic approaches of how one’s worldview understands and operates. To be able to change one’s paradigm can lead to transformative impact and consequences.

REFERENCES

Ingold, Tim. 2007 “Materials against Materiality” Archaeological Dialogues, Cambridge University Press, 14(1), pp. 5.

Mang, Pamela, Haggard, Ben and Regenesis 2016 “Regenerative Development and Design, A Framework for Evolving Sustainability” John Wiley & Sons, Inc, pp.213

Næss, Arne. 1973/2005 “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement” Re-edited by Open Air Philosophy, pp. 2 and 4

Næss, Arne and Sessions, George. 1984 “Basic Principles of Deep Ecology”  Retrieved by The Anarchist Library, pp. 3

Oosterheerd, Ingrid, van den Berg, Joyce, van der Made, Hans, Roos, Marco, Riccetti, Alessandra and van Zoest, Johan 2021 “Biodivercity, A Matter of Vital Soil!” NAI010 Publishers, pp. 32

Wahl, Daniel Christian. 2005 “Goethe’s Delicate Empiricism”, Janus Head, University of Dundee, 3(8), pp. 72

Wallace-Wells, David. 2017 “The Uninhabitable Earth; Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.” July 10, 2017, New York Magazine

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. 2013. “Braiding Sweetgrass”, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Milkweed Editions. pp. 232

MANY THANKS TO

Participants to the 3rd year BA students from Transformative Design course at Willem de Kooning Academy, namely Jonas Bleijerveld, Neomi Chocolaad, Anne-Florance Deul, Linde Dibbelink, Ashley van Donk, Pablo Teijeiro Fokkema, Lente IJntema, Yookyung Jun, Urvee Kulkarni, Emma Lenaerts, Anna Mascagni, Elizabete Sadauska, Nathan van Valkengoed and Danique van Venrooij for your enthusiasm and participation.

Series “Winter Recess” taken by Phyllis Wong. Locations are allotment garden Moestuinschool in Amsterdam, Bodemzicht regenerative farm in Nijmegen and Feldberg mountain at the Black Forest in Germany

Iteration “Reciprocity” taken by Bryndis Ragna Brynjolfsdottir. Location is the Lage Bergse Bos in Rotterdam

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