On Self-Sufficiency

Yesterday our group took a hike from Umoljani to Lukomir in the Bosnian countryside. Aside from being by far the most educational and enjoyable of our Friday excursions, it was also fantastically inspiring to me. In addition to the rejuvenating spirit of getting out of the city and into the mountains, we learned about traditional village life, saw spectacular wilderness areas, and enjoyed a nice break from our desk jobs here. For me though, it was more than that. I was once again moved to grand visions of self-sufficiency, combining values and methods from the past with hopes and ambitions for the future.

I like being out in nature alone, and that is difficult in a group of 15, so I did my best to hang back and move a bit slower. I was in awe of the natural beauty, and of the seemingly infinite opportunities to live off of and to thrive on this land. My amateur but passionate interest in food plants and foraging was immediately aroused. I recognized a remarkable abundance of plants with a wide variety of culinary and medicinal applications. I spent a few divine moments in a dense patch of perfectly ripe thimbleberries, eating them slowly and appreciating the dynamic simplicity of this tiny red fruit born from no more than soil, water, and sunlight. Along the hike I also positively identified raspberries, ground cherries, jerusalem artichokes, lamb’s breath, chives, walnuts, two types of mint, may apple, juneberries, currants, wild pear, and all the rosehip you could ever use. I started thinking about how many more usable plants there were out there that were unique to the area that I did not recognize. I looked around at all the open space, forested areas, and water sources, and thought to myself that with a little bit of research I could live out here.

With a more complete knowledge of local flora and a few rude implements, it would not only be impossible to starve in any season, but it would be quite easy to live like a king, healthy, peacefully, and sustainably. I thought what it would be like to build a small dwelling out of cob and field stones or logs. I thought how if I started now, I could preserve more than enough food to make it through the long harsh mountain winter, and I got inspired by the fact that the principle of usufruct still seems to apply to this land. It isn’t necessarily common land, or government land, or a private holding, it is just land existing naturally, apparently ignorant of the legal frameworks, property rights, rent extraction, and subdivision that plagues the developed world and prevents the aforementioned lifeways from being possible by privatizing everything,  taxing its use and bounty, and simultaneously trampling the indigenous ecological knowledge that those lifeways rely on to persist.

It was more than a thought experiment for me, it was motivational. I got recommitted to living a life like that. A life where just a few decades after I am gone, all physical evidence of my existence will return to the soil from which it came. It made me think long and hard about being a development worker. If development means maximizing land use for profit, as it typically has, I want nothing to do with it. That is from the standpoint of an environmentalist, a humanist, and an increasingly devoted advocate of nonviolence. Once again, I learned that Bosnia and Herzegovina has countless valuable lessons to teach us know-it-alls from the West.

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