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Hyper Wilderness / Hyper Culture


by Miekal And


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

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

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

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.

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