Above our bach at Mahanga there is rare and precious remnant of native coastal bush. [Tragically it is dying because stock are allowed to graze it, eating the seedlings that should be replenishing it, but that is another story.]
I love to wander under the dense canopy of trees such as Kohekohe, Karaka, Rewarewa, Kaikomako, Pukatea, Titoki and Tawa, some of which I have never seen anywhere else. There is also a rich profusion of other growths such as creepers and epiphytes. Large Rata and Kiekie grow as big as the trees, but there are many smaller creepers whose names I don’t know. And lodged in the canopy are the mass growths of epiphytes, somewhat like the boulders that dislodge from the steep hillside and end up rolled against a tree trunk further down the slope.
It is the creepers that particularly interest me. In England where I grew up, creepers such as ivy are parasitic: they eventually smother and destroy their host trees. But these creepers here are symbiotic, meaning that they live in balance with the trees (arguably even the rata), as do the epiphytes.
It strikes me that flora reflect society, although actually it is probably the other way around! The British model of the ivy’s growth at all costs results in cycles of boom and bust as the plant pulls down the rotten trees it killed, allowing new trees to briefly emerge. The New Zealand ecology finds a balance, and creates an environment where all can thrive in a mutually supportive community.
Well at least, in human terms, that is more the Mãori way; it is not the way of our rulers and captains of industry who gleefully emulate their ex-colonial masters in their lust for short-term riches for the few, cavalierly waving aside any concerns about the long-term destruction of our environment. They have duped enough followers into believing that they too will share the benefits, but we now see this for the lie that it is. They are the parasites, leeching our creative and natural wealth.
So let us build our own communities and ruthlessly weed out any parasites before they take hold. How do we do this? It is not easy and it does not come without some personal cost and sacrifice, and we have to believe in the vision of a better society to do this.
Spend in the community
The key guiding principle has to be that as many as possible of the dollar we spend remain in the community. This ensures that cause and effect remain within reach, and hence can be controlled.
If you buy cheap furniture from China, the clear-felled timber, the polluting factories and the exploited labour are all conveniently out of sight and out of mind, while the profit goes off-shore. When everything is local, you couldn’t avoid the ravaged forests, and the pollution spilling on your doorstep. If materials run short, then that is bad community planning and you will have to wait. If the furniture falls apart or contains pollutants, you will take it back to the factory and no one else will buy there until they improve. Local people will be employed, and some of the profits from the business will go back into local causes. And of course we won’t be frantically trying to export more of our heritage to pay for the imported junk.
Similarly with food. Hawke’s Bay has some of the best growing conditions in the world. There is very little we need import, especially when we learn to eat only seasonal produce. We should not expect everything all the time because that usually means airfreighting in not only produce, but someone else’s precious water. And we should not expect meat at every meal, because the land can’t support that much production without abusing animals and environment.
Similarly with services. International bankers, investors and phone companies couldn’t give a toss about Hawkes Bay. They have no stake locally, will bleed it for all they can, and leave when they wish.
We can build local micro-finance, as been proven in other parts of the world. Local profitable businesses invest locally to support the community that supports them.
One of the reasons why we have embraced the parasitic model is greed. It has seemed to offer us abundant riches with the added attraction of deferred payment. “Go on buy it now and pay us later. You want a loan? Sure, here’s twice as much!”
This is where the sacrifice comes in, because to build our supportive local community we are going to have to forego some of the addictions. We have to learn to replace instant consumer gratification (which is designed to be utterly non-satisfying to ensure you keep coming back for more) with more wholesome and lasting community fulfillment. We should learn to be satisfied with less material goods, which will not be easy because it is like coming off a drug. So we have to be creative and generate our own distractions and entertainment. We have people here now who can do that, but currently they are struggling because we buy most of our entertainment internationally.
It is important not to see this as xenophobic or isolationist. We are not turning our backs on the outside world, because now we have mass global communication with instant sharing. We can still enrich our lives with ideas and culture from around the world, without any material transfer. And it is really important that we continue to do this, so that all like-minded communities can share what they are doing and feel part of the greater global caring community.
As I wrote this I realised that the withering of the Mahanga bush is not actually ‘another story’ – it is all part of the same story and metaphor, because the imported farming methods and business values are the parasites that are destroying the bush.
My vision for Hawke’s Bay is a sustainable local community free of parasites, and we can do this by starving them of the nutrients they need, or in other words, denying them the dollars they suck from us.