Zone 4 or Rewilding Permaculture

There is this thing called Zone 4 Permaculture, or Rewilding Permaculture, and it involves developing a relationship with a zone in nature that is not meant entirely for humans and their basic needs; a place where humans ought to share this territory, nonhierarchically, with the other creatures who dwell there. Think of a forest, or a desert, or a coral reef. Ben Weiss and Wilson Alvarez, two well-respected permaculturists based in Lancaster, PA, have developed an entire system of working in zone 4 environments to tend to the wilderness and obtain a yield. Imagine that you lived in a home that backed onto 50 acres of forest that you and your dozen or so co-inhabitants took turns spending eight hours a day walking through and observing, noting which plants should be added and which should be removed, and what can be harvesting and what needs to be planted back, in order to ensure the greatest health of the ecosystem while generating a yield for yourself. Like a body-scan for the forest. The harvested products could then be transformed into useful objects, foods and medicine that could nourish the entire household and be sold at market for money or exchanged for needed items. Or perhaps they are circulated through a bioregional network via gift economy. It is so easy to imagine this and yet there are so few examples of this that exist on this earth at this time. Why?

Well, if we decolonized ourselves enough to even get to this idea, let alone set about bringing it to fruition, we would still then be faced with all of the industrial programming in the world. Those who are born in Babylon are children of the industrial complex until they return to nature. Borne from a death-obsessed taking-machine we carry within us the seeds of our own failure, shame, demise—all of those things that don’t really exist—until we can turn to face the rising sun again.

Finisia Medrano and Seda Joseph Saine—two hoopwalkers who have kept each other company for thousands of cumulative miles in The Great Basin, “planting back” on private property and Bureau of Land Management land, and in National Parks—have watched the dissolving of Babylonian thinking from their hoopwalking cohorts’ minds in real time. Confronted with a wild nature that one starts to hear talking back, in the middle of nowhere with scant resources and minimal shelter, in the company of fellow vagrants who started decolonizing themselves long ago—that is when the magnitude of our inverted relationship with the earth is probably felt. Breakdowns ensue. For this phenomenon, Finisia has coined the term ethnotrauma. Since almost all the hoopwalkers seem to have some significant measure of white ancestry, and Finisia is herself white, this “ethnotraum” that Finisia supposes is an ethnotrauma of whiteness. Though I have never heard her read or define it, I would then say that “ethnotrauma,” by Finisia’s definition, is something like the realization of the magnitude of oppressions that one’s own race has committed, and continues to commit, unto others, both human and nonhuman, in order to maintain a lifeway that can only exist because of slavery.

One of symptoms of ethnotrauma, according to Finisia, is “double-talk,” where you say one thing and do another, and self-sabotage while on the hoop. How painful to know that the option to “walk in beauty,” as Finisia says, is both readily available and at threat of extinction because of a lifeway that is inherently destructive and lifetaking?

I had a Facebook discussion with Finisia a couple of years ago, back when she still had a profile, and after she shot down a photo of my permaculture classmates and I graduating with our PDCs, commenting “…It’s all slave planting and permafarm,” the last of last-ditch efforts to stay in this lifeway even though we know we are all doomed. Finisia pointed out, also, that this doomsday mindset has been around for as long as this organization has been around, and I don’t disagree with her. I tried to explain that I felt like permaculture was a bridge between the old way and the new way, birthing a new culture in the husk of the old, a bridge that could touch the hoopwalkers from the jaws of Babylon, and she said that unless the bridge actually reached the other side, the walk-in-beauty side, then it was just an import dock for the empire. This thought was like lightning down my spine.

I abhorred the idea that all of this work I had done to understand our systems as they are might just effectively turn me into a smarter neoliberal, burning through fossil fuels as I blogged on about how our time on earth could be if we just changed our lifeway, etc. It was then I realized that no matter how approachable my modality might be, it also needed to have its feet in a lifeway that eclipsed it altogether. That if a walk-in-beauty lifeway was available, my modality would cease to become useful and would annihilate itself. For that I would need to spend time in the wild with wild humans beings.

Chloé Rossetti