Hyper Wilderness / Hyper Culture


"People cannot maintain their spiritual roots and their connections to the past if the physical world they live in does not also sustain these roots....

Traditional societies have always recognized the importance of these sites. Mountains are marked as places of special pilgrimage; rivers and bridges become holy; a building or a tree, or rock or stone, takes on the power through which people can connect themselves to their own past....But modern society often ignores the psychological importance of these sites. They are bulldozed, developed, changed, for political and economic reasons, without regard for these simple but fundamental emotional matters; or they are simply ignored."

-A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander

In the summer of 94, while searching for the ideal piece of land to purchase, I came across a 120 acre property, with several acres of walnuts, lotsa rock outcroppings, tree cover & a massive south facing slope perfect for building a bioshelter. While the notion of real estate & speculation remains a blasphemous thought, I've always been tickled by the fact that properties on the market are in some marginal way, temporary autonomous zones (till they're sold). Over the course of 6 months I visited the site numerous times, exploring & observing the intricacies of this property's wilderness. I felt a genuine kinship with this parcel & even the quarter mile frontage filled with 100 years of dumping & 40 acres of badly eroded corn field did not deter me as my relationship matured into a love affair with the land. I was convinced that this would become my life long home even tho I was essentially penniless.

These visitations foregrounded a series of 6 or 7 waking visions during February of 1995. Being the only visions of this sort that I have had in my lifetime, this lucid, drugless deepspace was thrust upon me, each vision seeming to last for a forever yet when I reentered consensus reality, perhaps a few minutes had passed at most. Each was framed in a similar context, always taking place on this same property, & each time I would enter the vision by walking thru a handmade stone gateway on the edge that seemed to separate the old world from a new world inside. The only way I've been able to convey the holographic sense of time is that walking thru the gateway was like going thru a portal in a time machine, each time I would be able to observe the development of this property at a different time in the future, one time 25 years hence, another time 75 years, etc. Not surprisingly, the visions were heavy with the unspoken knowledge that particular fragile biomes such as the island of Malagasy (formerly Madagascar) & the rain forests of Australia had become vast deserts bereft of the spectacular ecologies which made them so genetically unique. Institutional infrastructures had crashed as well. The visions were further informed with the revelation that the "crash" was not something doomed to happen in the not so distant future but had in fact been precipitated by the smashing of the atom in 1932. As the aborigines say, we had become the mutants.


"I've worked a great deal with grass roofs, putting soil on top and having things grow, but there is something strange in this, more than ecological. It is a religious act to have soil on your roof and trees growing on top of you; the act reconciles you with God, with nature, maybe not Christian or Jewish monotheism, but something wider, older - a very ancient wisdom."


Two revelations presented themselves. The project seemed to be named Qazingulaza (a word coined by my son, Zon, as a name for time machine), & it was dotted with bioshelters. In a northern climate like Wisconsin, bioshelters are an evolutionary shift in living lighter on the land, gardening resources for a consciously more efficient energy exchange. What is notable to all of us 20th century house dwellers is that the paradigm of the house as we know it has expanded the metaphor of the body & biology. No longer are the 4 walls what separate the wilderness outside from the civilization inside. These bioshelters were designed & constructed specifically to make possible the co-existence of humans with plants, animals, reptiles, insects, fungus, birds & any genetic material whose existence had been destroyed elsewhere on the planet. So for instance the bioshelter which I inhabited was designed for the Madagascar biome, and within a place was made for lemurs, pachypodiums & other threatened wildlife. An Australian bioshelter was planted with acacias & eucalypts & maybe a wallaby or a platypus lived within as well. This is terribly simplified.

These bioshelters demonstrated the permaculture models of multiple functions for a single element, loading a system for maximum edges & diversity, & the stacking of elements in closed system self-organizing loops. Sustainability of these paradise gardens was dependent on the care & interplay between the humans & all the other sentient life. The creed for genetic survival was that humans had created (or hastened) the entropy which led to the demise of threatened biologies & humans were responsible for insuring their survival. What distinguished these habitations from zoos & preserves was how all the various life forms evolved toward an interdependent community over the course of many years of experimentation & observation.

Humans were paired up with flora & fauna with which they felt kinship & bioshelters were designed to be closed in under glass in the winter & open to the outdoors during the warm months. Constructed of local & recycled materials, they were south facing underground, living roof, large solar atriums for growing foodstuffs, fish, nursery plants. All wastes were cycled thru a living machine, heating was minimized by super-insulation & solar gain. A small scale power plant on the property using a combination of solar, wind & low-head hydro provided electricity. (One would hope that by this time in the future the technology of free energy devices would have been made public, but this is entirely another story.) Everything fit together in endless complexity, new relationships constantly revealing themselves as the design generated more edges.


The second feature of the visions was a vast sacred grove where the 40 acres of corn field had been. Some sacred groves have existed for thousands of years & this enduring is perhaps what cultivates the magic of such places. The visions emphasized that this vital notion is missing from the American landscape. At one time, in parts of India, Africa, Indonesia & the UK sacred groves were a necessary part of any village. The trees & plantlife were anthropomorphized & worshipped & perhaps the sacred groves were where plant based culture emanated. This is where medicines were grown, where the dead were buried, where the best seeds for planting anew were collected. Often times this was also the site of the drinking water and of shrines to various deities.

The following account illustrates this tradition. "The sacred groves of Tamil Nadu are a part of local folklore and religion. Every village has a grove, a protected area associated with local folk deities of obscure origin. In the middle of the grove there is generally a shrine of Amman or the Mother Goddess in one of her many forms -- Kaali, Maari, Pidaari, Ellai, etc. In front of the shrine is a pond, either natural or artificial. Surrounding the shrine and the body of water are the male consorts of Amman, generally regarded as spirits or deities ... and their bodyguards or warriors. The people of the village make votive offerings of terracotta horses, bulls or elephants to Ayyanaar, the mythical watchman of the village whose statue is also consecrated in the grove, in fulfillment of prayers for a good harvest or good health. The priest at the village shrine is the potter, who represents the cyclic powers of mother earth." [1]

The sacred grove of Qazingulaza was a study in permaculture fantasy. Walking thru a grove of all the different Oaks which would grow in Wisconsin led into a grove of Maples... Cherries... Chestnuts...Walnuts & Hickories... Ginkgos... Birches... Pines... Spruces... Mountain Ash... Locusts... Pears... Aspen... Willow... Elm... Mulberry.... Each grove was modelled after the diversity one would find in a jungle, I believe the figure is somewhere around 400 species within a hectare (2 1/2 acres). Diversity is exploded by stacking species. Beneath the tallest nut trees, in descending order are smaller fruit trees, tall berry bushes, smaller bushes, woody herbs, forbs, grasses & groundcover & fungus. Essentially 8 different vertical zones (plus whatever grows in the rootzone). Quite a contrast to the neat little suburban garden laid out in a flat horizontal grid.

"I maintain the garden on the principles of energy...This gardening, this co-creative energy gardening, is a metaphor for life. As you change your approach to the garden, you will, in turn, change the very fabric of how you approach your life."

-Machaelle Small Wright [from Secrets of the Soil]

Understand that to design something like a sacred grove, one has to think like a tree, in terms of tens or hundreds of years & ecologies that prosper & self-organize are created by careful observation & an endless spirit of patient experimentation. It would not be the intent of such a space to model a native Wisconsin climax forest, tho such efforts are equally valuable. One should be constantly reminded that nature is spinning out of control & seeking a new balance & that new balance suggests a different sense of what wilderness might look like. Information & thoughtful design are central to establishing these sylvan stomping grounds. The wisdom that planted heavily irrigated palm trees in the desert or introduced kudzu to southeastern US is quite questionable, but does not in anyway reduce the necessity of exotics. In fact, the majority of garden vegetables grown in the US did not originate here. It is crucial to take a step back & look at how humans as an innate aspect of nature have permanently altered the lay of the land, the size & flavor of fruits, nuts, vegetables & herbs, the potency of medicines & entheogens.


"There are many dimensions in alliance space, and the pharmacological axis is only one of many. The old doctors had helpers like mountain lion, owl. Maybe the power plant was a conduit, or a call, a sort of whistle. Or the plant was like a delivery service. Not like the plant itself was the ally.....maybe the ally lived in the plant, or maybe the ally lived in the next world, and the plant was like a bridge...That plants have virtues...was known by the ancient herbalists. The virtue of a plant was its truth, its strength. Maybe the best synonym is integrity. Or power. Or poison."

-Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft by Dale Pendall

The survival of wilderness is synchronous with creating local cultures which celebrate their own unique species & phyto-customs. Once again, parallells are easy to draw & are recuperable as patterns to build future do-it-yourself culture upon. Some plant rituals that quickly come to mind are the Japanese custom of the cherry blossom festival, with a multi-generational history of music, dance, theatre & society brought forth by the blossoming of the cherry tree. & closer to home maple syrupping & morel hunting are specific times of the year when those connected to the rhythms of the wild go hog crazy & immerse themselves into the trance of boiling maple sap over a woodfire. Reducing 80 gallons of sap down to 2 gallons of syrup is always a whole day & night vigil. Or scavenging morel mushrooms at that particular time in May when the temperature is just right, scutinizing the forest floor with such concentration that before long everything looks like a morel.

The revolutionary potential of gourds is another tradition still thriving. Gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) were the first plastic, & "in east, southeast, and insular Asia are traditionally a commodity of utmost value, being honored for their extreme cultural utility (especially as containers / utensils, musical and gaming devices [t'ou-hu], insect and bird cages, fishing floats, an artistic medium, etc) their medicinal and religious significance, and also, tho of less importance, their nutritive value as a food source." [2] The sitar & tamboura from India, kora & mbira from Africa, & the shekeré & guiros from South America are just a few global examples of an abundant easy to grow plant generating distinctly different musical cultures. One scholar dates the "earliest cultivation of bottle gourds in tropical Africa by 40,000 B.P." Very few musical traditions can claim such heritage nor such a tremendous range of tonalities & rhythms.

At some point in the (industrialization, commercialization, moderization) of arts & crafts the deep sense of relationships between the plant world & its human creators fell prey to profit & status. What began thousands of years ago as pageants of the wilderness, of participatory rites, has become genericized & streamlined to fit into the same century responsible for disappearing what wilderness remains. Or what connection does a worker at a synthesizer factory feel to the plant life of the carboniferous era?

Increasingly the hybridization of the technological & the natural is the world order we find ourselves part of. While discussions of synthetic vs natural life will never reach any conclusive resolve, the cultures cloned from such Orwellian intermarriage are ripe for observation. Rave is an obvious hybrid of power plant consciousness, laboratory techne, & digital music, a bio-technological large scale meme which thrives on phyto-chemical & electronic stimulation. Social evolution ordered by group mind.

For culture to become more than a byproduct of civilization's frenzy the networks of all possible creative manifestion have to be accessible via some grand noosphere, whether the internet or word of mouth. Its what is not remembered which weakens cultural transgression.


The performative compulsion of wilderness gardening is instructive & life-giving. Theory & vision without a practice grounded in action & working with the patterns of nature will not grow potatoes or walnuts. Much of any permaculture design is task oriented, planting trees, mulching, laying rock, digging ponds, propagating plants, rearranging carbon. If we participate in a soulless economy, our connection to our survival is sublimated by media's blatant simulations of nature. Knowing where one's food comes from, which farmer grew it & how leads to a truer accounting of the energy & resources required to produce that food. The act of growing all the potatoes or strawberries one eats in a year is good theatre and it dismantles on a cellular level the grip institutions have on moderating our livelihood.

What inspired Johnny Appleseed to walk throughout the midwest & plant 40,000 apple trees, or Adam Purple to create elaborate circle gardens in the lower east side of NYC with the help of squatters & the homeless? Maybe information received from visionary states sheds the veils of normative behavior, and in some sense forces the vision-holder to take on the impossible. The realm of dreams & far-fetched imagination are peopled with the makers of shrines, eccentric gardens for loved ones, earth works & yard art, visionaries spending the remainder of their lives devoted to some fantastic task. These man-made environments would not exist unless an extraordinary force or conviction had intervened. A recent issue of Smithsonian has an article about a frenchman by the name of Richard Hurbain, an electrical consultant who bought Chateau Sarzay, a 14th century castle in central France. Over the last 15 years, he & his family have literally removed 100s of tons of accumulated garbage from the moats & courtyards, rebuilt fallen walls, & established gardens & farm animals. What might inspire one to take on such herculean tasks?


A propensity to entertain the impossible is a gift that not all understand nor share. In some ways it is the opposite of practicality, yet the shape of our civilization is often exploded by the marginals, the freaks, the shamans, the crackpot inventors, the far-fetched. That anything out of the ordinary can be given a life of its own is a simple miracle in these homogenized times, its value understated. The visions of Qazingulaza as a bioshelter community /sacred grove have already spawned a dreamlife of their own, regardless of the fact that the actual piece of land which induced the visions has since been sold, & subdivided by a developer into the antithesis of the visions. Maybe someday circumstances will align themselves to find the money & the land cohabiting the same temporal zone, because Ginseng Almighty, the little man & his energy is holding the vision, patiently.


[1] Conserving the ecological heritage - sacred groves of Tamil Nadu by Nanditha Krishna and Bhavani Shankar. XI WORLD FORESTRY CONGRESS Antalya, Turkey, 13 to 22 October 1997. <http://ftp.fao.org/WAICENT/FAOINFO/FORESTRY/WFORCONG/PUBLI/V2/T7E/4-1.HTM>

[2] Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism; The theme of chaos by N.J. Girardot, University of California Press.


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