Why rewilding?

Why am I embarking on a rewilding project for our land in the Andes mountains?

There are many answers to that question.

WHAT DO I MEAN BY REWILDING?

First, what do I mean by rewilding?

I am perhaps using a more loose definition than some others. For me, and in this case, rewilding means supporting the land in becoming more diverse and vibrant and a good habitat for a range of life from microbes to insects to birds to reptiles and mammals.

It won’t be the way it was before humans came here, or before Europeans came. That’s not possible. But we can use native plants to help the ecosystem recover and become more vibrant and thriving.

Rewilding for me means what the word implies. It means helping the ecosystem become more wild again, even if it will by necessity look different from how it has ever been before. It won’t be a copy of how it was, but it may rhyme.

WHY REWILDING?

And then, why rewilding? What’s the reason for it? Isn’t it better to make use of the land for food production or housing? Doesn’t it make more sense to sell parts of the land to make money on it?

Here are some of the answers that come up for me.

MOVED TO DO IT

The most honest answer is that I find myself moved to do it. Life moves to do it through and as me.

Beyond that, I don’t really know. I can have reasons and elaborate on those reasons, but I don’t really know.

MEANINGFUL

At a more personal level, I can say it feels meaningful. If this is a project for the rest of my life – and hopefully far beyond, continued by others – then that would make me happy and I would feel my life had meaning in a very specific way.

On a day-to-day basis, it gives my attention and energy direction. It’s a project I can put energy and time into as things move in that direction, and I can give it a breather when that feels more right. It’s a project with its own pulse and life and without a particular timeline.

EXPRESSION OF MY NATURE AND REALITY

It’s an expression of my nature and reality.

I am an expression of this living evolving system we call Earth, just like anything else here is. I am this global and local living system supporting itself.

INTERCONNECTIONS AND SHARED FATE

From a more conventional perspective, I also know that my life as a human being is intimately connected with the rest of this living system.

Although Earth will continue without me and humans in general, we also share fate to some extent.

My health and well-being and the health and well-being of society and our civilization is intimately connected with the health and well-being of our local, regional, and global ecosystems.

It’s in my own interest, and the interest of all of humanity, to take care of our ecosystems and do what we can to help them recover and become more diverse and thriving.

LOVE FOR NATURE AND HUMANS

I love nature, and I have loved nature since very early childhood. I do it because I love nature. I love to see nature in a more healthy and vibrant state. It makes me happy.

I do it because I care about humans and the future of humanity. I love our amazing – and sometimes terrible – civilization and it would be a shame if it ends now. (Although if that happens, that’s OK too. Earth or the Universe doesn’t need humans, although we do bring something unique and beautiful to it.)

THE MANY BEINGS HERE

There are millions of beings on this land. This is their home. Many of them are born, live their lives, and die here. This is all they will know. This place is their life.

If I, as one person, can help millions of current and future beings have a good life here, I would love to do it. I cannot imagine anything more beautiful and amazing.

Each of these beings are their own world. They are their own cosmos. From the smallest microbes and up to the mammals here. What a privilege to support these worlds to have a life here.

I do it for their sake. It’s easy to imagine myself in their situation, and how much I would want someone like me to protect them and their habitat.

NEEDED IN THE WORLD TODAY

Biodiversity loss is one of the major issues in the world today. It’s one of the massive crises we are in the middle of, and one that’s tied in with the more popular climate change and equally if not more important.

If I can play a (very) small part in this global effort to protect our diversity, then what I am doing here is more than worth it.

Just by living in our current economic system, my life inevitably has a harmful effect on life. So this is my small part in making up for it.

LEARNING

I love learning and especially about sustainability and nature, and this is an amazing opportunity to learn.

We will hire two local experts to guide and help us with our rewilding project, and I am looking forward to learning as much as I can as we move forward with this project.

I also look forward to sharing it here and perhaps on social media and/or a dedicated website.

A MODEL

If what I am doing here can be a small local model, then that’s icing on the cake.

If it only inspires one person to do something else, that makes it more than worth it.

We sorely need these models today, in all aspects of society.

MULTIPLE REASONS

So although I most honestly don’t know the answer to this “why”, I can also find a lot of reasons.

Each one of these alone would make it worth it.

I am not doing this because I am especially noble. I certainly am not. I do it because I love it.

And I know there will be times I’ll be frustrated, fed up, tired, and want to give it all a break. I have already experienced that. (For instance, when workers cut down large areas of pioneer species allowing invasive grass to take over and did so after we explicitly told them not to.)

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John Seed: I am part of the rainforest protecting myself

I am part of the rainforest protecting itself

– John Seed

It may seem altruistic to protect nature. For me, it’s self-preservation.

ASSUMPTION OF A DIVIDE

If I see a strong divide between me and nature, then nature can easily be seen primarily as a source of resources, a place to put waste, and a place to occasionally enjoy. If I do something to protect nature, it’s altruistic and often a bit peripheral. It’s a nice thing to do but not terribly important.

INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF ALL LIFE

If I realize the interconnectedness of all life, then I recognize – in a more visceral way – that my own well-being and my own life is utterly and intrinsically dependent on the health and existence of the larger ecosystems and this living planet I am part of. Here, protecting nature becomes self-preservation. I am dependent on the health and vibrancy of nature locally, regionally, and globally.

I AM NATURE PROTECTING ITSELF

I can also go one step further and recognize that I am nature protecting itself. I am a part of this living evolving system protecting itself. I am a separate self, and more fundamentally I am a temporary and local expression of this larger living and evolving system. I am a temporary and local expression of the living and evolving Earth. I am a temporary and local expression of the evolving universe and all of existence.

GETTING IT MORE VISCERALLY

Getting this more viscerally is a big and important shift. It brings us more in alignment with reality. It gives grounding. It’s nourishing. It makes us less dependent on the more temporary surface experiences and situations.

SYSTEM CHANGE

And, of course, it doesn’t mean I am or need to be “perfect” in terms of my own life. I am also a child of my culture. I am also embedded in our social and cultural systems.

As all of us, I live in an economic and social system that rests on the assumption that humans are somehow separate from nature, that the resources of nature are limitless, and that the ability of nature to absorb waste is equally limitless. We live in a human-created social system where what’s easy and attractive to do is also, in most cases, destructive to nature.

And we have another option. We can create an economic and social system that take our ecological realities into account, and where what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals and businesses – supports life and our ecosystems. It’s possible. We can do it. We even know quite a bit about how to do it.

And yet, it does require a profound transformation of our whole civilization – our worldview, philosophy, economics, energy sources, production, transportation, education, and everything else. And that requires a deep collective motivation. Will we find it? Perhaps. But likely not until we are much further into our current ecological crisis. (Which is a socal crisis since all of our human systems are embedded within our ecological systems.)

Rewilding: Nature protecting itself

On the land in the Andes we are stewards of, there are many different ecological systems, all of them impacted by centuries of grazing and food production. (Although on a relatively small scale.)

Having visited this land for a while, and now living here, several things that come up for me daily.

RESILIENCE AND VULNERABILITY

One is how amazingly resilient nature is when undisturbed by civilization. Ecosystems have evolved to adapt to just about anything that happens in nature with some regularity.

And, on the other hand, how amazingly vulnerable nature is. Ecosystems can be wiped out in a day with the help of machines.

Ecosystems are amazingly resilient when it comes to what occurs naturally, and amazingly vulnerable to civilization and machines.

ECOSYSTEMS PROTECTING THEMSELVES

Another is a feature of the natural regeneration process. On this land, many of the pioneer species have thorns and form dense thickets it’s difficult or impossible to enter.

It’s as if the ecosystem is protecting itself.

It’s as if it’s saying: You damaged me before. Now, as I am recovering, I don’t want any interference. Stay out.

And, of course, machines and technology (including people with machetes and saws) are no match for this natural defense.

CULTURE AND EDUCATION

I keep reminding myself of how important it is to educate the ones we are working with.

The traditional view here is that the pioneer species are “weeds” and should be gotten rid of. Clear everything so you can see the land and decide what to do with it. Clear it all and lay it barren because it’s not a loss.

And, in reality, if you wish to support a healthy ecosystem, it’s a great loss to remove these pioneer species.

IT’S ALL NATURE

Of course, all of this is nature. All of this is the doings of this living and evolving planet.

Civilization is as much a part of this evolving planet as anything yet.

In that sense, it’s all nature. It’s all really the same. It’s all part of the same seamless system.

This view helps us recognize our interdependence with all life. It helps us ground in something more real than the mind-created distinctions between ourselves and the rest of Earth, life, and existence.

And, in another sense, there is a big difference between nature and civilization. Our technology and machines, combined with our numbers, can easily destroy local, regional, and global ecosystems, and that’s what’s already happening.

We are in the middle of an ecological crisis of massive proportions, and one that will impact all of us and humanity as a whole. And, for whatever reason, it seems that only a few take this seriously.

This distinction is important as well. Ecosystems have evolved to deal with what happens naturally. They cannot defend themselves against machines and technology. (Apart from unraveling, taking us with it, and then – slowly – bouncing back.)

We have to defend them, and in that process, we are defending ourselves.

WE ARE NATURE PROTECTING ITSELF

I started out by talking about how this local ecosystem is protecting itself while recovering from damage. Pioneer species often have thorns and form impenetrable thickets.

And I ended with another way nature is protecting itself. We are nature protecting itself. We are part of the living seamless system of this evolving planet, and when we do anything to protect life, we are nature protecting itself.

When I defend this land and take steps to help it recover, I am nature protecting itself.

An additional theme for this website: Rewilding

The focus for the articles on this website has always centered on healing and awakening, with occasional articles on culture, society, sustainability, art, and other topics I find interesting.

From now on, I will also include more articles on rewilding and regeneration.

It’s not a new interest to me. I have been fascinated by and passionate about nature and sustainability since I was little, and that includes what’s covered by rewilding and regeneration.

On this winter solstice (2022), we moved into our tiny house with a large backyard on Finca Milagros. This backyard is fifteen hectares in Cañon del Chicamocha. And I wish to devote a good part of my life to supporting this land to become a more thriving and diverse habitat for plants, insects, birds, and animals.

That will, by necessity, be reflected here since I tend to write about what I am interested in and what I am currently exploring and living.

The rewilding posts will be a kind of chronicle of what we are doing here, and they may be interesting to or useful for others.

And, yes, I know that rewilding is a problematic term. It cannot be done in a literal and complete way, and it’s not possible (or even desirable) to bring this ecosystem back to how it was in precolonial times or even before humans came here. When I use the term rewilding, it’s in a much more loose sense. For me, it’s about supporting the ecosystem to thrive, become more diverse, and become a good habitat for the insects, birds, and animals that are here. I wish to support it in becoming wilder.

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Finca Milagros: A dry river

A small river goes through Finca Milagros but it’s mostly dry.

This may be because neighbors higher up divert the water. If so, then returning the water to the river is a longer-term project that involves finding better water solutions for the neighbors. If we can help them find sufficient water from other sources, they won’t need to divert the river and it can again flow. That small river will again provide water for innumerable beings and the local ecosystems.

And yes, I am aware that there are more factors. There may be other reasons for the dry river than uphill neighbors. And if they play a role, then their decisions are not always rational. Sometimes culture, resentment, neighbor feuds, and so on play a role.

Still, it’s a good start to get to know the neighbors and those upstream, identify the problem, and see if we can find solutions that benefit everyone.

I’ll occasionally write short updates about the Finca Milagros rewilding project here, partly as documentation and partly because some of it may be helpful to others.

Rewilding and cultural differences

In our very early rewilding project, there has been one big challenge so far: We have very different ideas about how to do things than the locals.

CLEARING A PATH VS A WHOLE AREA

Last year, we asked workers to clear a walking path through an area of the land just big enough for one person to walk through.

Without our knowing, they spent two days clearing a whole hectare of everything except the largest trees. They cut down all of the valuable pioneer species that bring nutrients into the soil, improve the soil structure, provide shade, give protection for other species to come in, and prevented the grass from taking over. Most of these plants were thorny bushes and trees that can grow relatively large and are very beautiful. They cut down trees with 10-20 cm diameter just because they had thorns.

When we complained, the response was: “These are just weeds, it’s good to get rid of them, they have no value, and they’ll grow back”. In reality, what has happened is just what I expected. The area is now completely overgrown with invasive grass. It went from an area with lots of shade and no grass to being covered in tall invasive grass that it’s very difficult to get rid of.

Why did this happen? We were naive and thought that our instructions were clear and understood: Make a path through here that one person can walk through, nothing more. What they heard was: Clear the whole area. Why? Because that’s what people here do. They clear huge areas of land of everything but the largest trees. Why? Because that’s what has made sense of them traditionally since they use the land for grazing. They remove the thorny bushes and trees so cows and goats can more easily graze, and they plant invasive grass that takes over whole areas to provide food for their animals.

What is the lesson? Make sure the instructions are well understood. Show them physically what to do and how to do it. Be there while they do the work, unless you know from experience that they understand.

EDUCATION IN ECOLOGICAL THINKING

We will work with locals helping us with the rewilding project, and it’s essential to educate them.

For instance, what they think of as “weeds” are often pioneer plants. They come into an area after it has been degraded by grazing, food growing, or erosion. They put nutrients into the soil, improve the structure of the soil, create the condition for other plants to come into the area, and many of them here have thorns that also help protect the land. They are pioneers and protectors of the land. They have immense value from an ecological perspective, and in the context of supporting the land having a thriving and diverse ecosystem.

Also, if we need to create a path or open up a view, it’s often more than sufficient to do a little pruning. There is no need to go nuclear.

PLANTING TREES VS ECOSYSTEM APPROACH

I have also noticed a peculiar mindset among many here interested in helping the land.

Some seem to think it’s mainly about reforesting and planting trees, and that planting trees is sufficient.

For me, that doesn’t make sense for a couple of reasons.

Just planting trees can easily become a monoculture just like any other monoculture. It can create a kind of desert. It doesn’t necessarily create an ecosystem full of life.

A vibrant and healthy ecosystem needs diversity. It needs a variety of plants and animals of all kinds. It needs layers.

And each degraded land needs specific help. For instance, we have areas with erosion. Trees won’t help much there. It’s far more effective to plant smaller native plants that keep the soil in place. When the soil is stabilized, we can start thinking about the next step which could include trees. But to start with trees don’t necessarily make much sense.

A brief rewilding update

We had the first meeting today with one of the people (JL) who will help Finca Milagros rewild, and it makes me happy to finally take this step in helping the land return to a diverse and vibrant state. It feels good to talk with someone who is knowledgeable, pragmatic, and has both a vision and a grounded approach.

Here are some thoughts and plans so far:

We need to educate and closely follow up anyone doing work on the land. These are local people with a very different mindset from an ecological one. For instance, they see any thorny plants as a weed to remove, while they in reality are essential for helping the land recover. These pioneers provide the conditions for other plants to grow and thrive.

It’s much better to do some minimal pruning than to remove plants completely. Pruning can support the plants, in some cases.

We can use plants to clear up the water in a large pond on the land. For instance, these can be on a raft and can be removed when they have done their work. (These are non-native non-invasive plants.)

We need to prevent further erosion in some areas of land severely impacted by grazing. We can do this with rocks and plants.

A natural and healthy ecosystem is diverse. It is layered with large and smaller trees, bushes, and even smaller plants. These layers help keep the water in the local ecosystem. (If all trees are the same height, which they often are if planted, the water evaporates more quickly.)

Focusing only on tree planting, which many do here, is not enough and can be a bit misguided. A planted forest can be a monoculture just like any other monoculture. It’s important to focus on the diversity of the whole ecosystem which includes many other types plants, each serving important functions.

There are several engaged species here (we saw a red-light bird after a few minutes by the pond), so one priority is to protect their habitat and create more of the habitat they need.

We have a dry river going through the land. Neighbors higher up are likely taking the water. We need to identify the problem, and possible get to know the neighbors and see if we can find a solution that works for everyone. This is a longer term project.

I knew or suspected what’s listed above since I have been passionate about sustainability and ecology for decades. And it is a blessing to meet and be guided by someone far more knowledgeable than me, and someone who knows this particular ecosystem and has experience with rewilding and regeneration here.

The land is 15 hectares. One or two hectares are closer to the road and perfect for building and food production, and the rest will be wild and mostly left to itself with a few smaller interventions here and there. And we will move slowly and get to know the land, connect with more people in the area working on similar projects, and learn as we go.

Our first project was a tiny house where we will live while we get to know the land better. It’s good to go slowly, be informed, allow possibilities and visions to mature, and think through things thoroughly before doing anything more that impacts the land.

I wish to create wildlife gardens around this and future buildings. Gardens with native plants feeding and attractibg local wildlife, and especially insects and birds.

A rewilding synchronicity

Last fall and winter, my wife and I were looking for a small piece of land to build a house on in the Andes mountains. After some dead ends, we were shown land that was way beyond what we were looking for in size, and immediately fell in love with it. And through a series of amazing events, we were able to become stewards of that land. We both felt the land chose us, as much as we chose it.

Although the land has forests and a diversity of ecosystems, most of it is impacted by centuries of grazing so we wish to help bring it back to a more vibrant state (rewilding) and be a haven for insects, birds, and other animals.

As part of this longer-term project, I contacted a local guy (originally from the US) who specializes in rewilding. We chatted on Whatsapp and agree to meet later. For me, this is an important and perhaps vital contact for our rewilding project.

Immediately after talking to him, I called up a friend in Oregon. And without me mentioning any of this, apart from being in the Andes mountains and buying land here, he started talking about a rewilding guy in the Andes mountains he has been following for a while. It turns out this guy was the one I had chatted with minutes before.

On the one hand, it’s not entirely unlikely. My friend in Oregon is interested in anything progressive, including rewilding it turns out. (I had mainly talked with him about spirituality and integral approaches before.) Unbeknownst to me, the local guy I had contacted does have an organization with an international reach. And my friend in Oregon did know that my wife and I had been looking for land in the Andes mountains.

On the other hand, it was quite an amazing synchronicity, especially in terms of geography and timing. What were the chances that the guy he knew about was the same local guy I had talked to? Latin America is a big place. What were the chances that my friend would bring it up minutes after I had chatted with the rewilding guy?

A synchronicity is defined as a meaningful coincidence. This was certainly, in my experience, an amazing coincidence. And it was certainly meaningful to me. I feel a deep call to support this land in rewilding itself, and this coincidence only reinforced that wish.

Condors and childhood fascinations

As a child, I was fascinated by nature and nature documentaries and dreamt of working with wild animals when I grew up.

My life took a different course, and instead I had some years as an artist, studied psychology for several years, and later worked with sustainability and then as a therapist.

Now, this childhood dream is again surfacing. Becoming a steward of the land in the Andes comes with the wish to help the land regenerate and rewild and become a refuge for a wide range of beings.

And with this comes another dream: bringing the condors back to this beautiful canyon in the Andes mountains.

Others have done it in other places. They have experience they can share with me. And the land seems good for this project. So why not?

It’s more than a dream. It feels like a calling. It’s something that came and stayed rather than being consciously created.

If it is at all possible, I imagine it will require a lot of time and engagement: Learning about the process. Setting up a local non-profit organization. Finding local allies and people who can join the project. Working with the local government and organizations. Educating the locals and, when possible, getting them onboard to whatever extent they are interested. Finding local bird specialists who can consult. Getting required permits (?). Getting and releasing the condors. Follow-up. And perhaps repeating with a new batch. It may be a decades-long project for all I know.

I don’t know if this will happen. It may not be possible. It may be that the canyon doesn’t provide the right habitat, due to human activity. (Just one poisoned carcass could kill them all.) And the ones who care for the few condors available may have better habitats in mind. If this project is possible, a lot of things still will have to fall in place. And if it does fall into place, it will likely involve far more than I imagine.

Why do I write about this?

Because our childhood fascinations are important. They never go away. When we follow them, it can take any number of outward forms. And you never know when an opportunity comes up to engage in these fascinations and bring them to life in new projects.

For me, engaging in my childhood fascination in this way feels deeply meaningful and aligned with the depth of who I am.

In general, following my fascinations seem important. It’s what brought me on this journey of exploring who and what I am. It’s what brought me into art and then psychology. It’s what gave me the opportunity to work on sustainability with a group of amazing people. It’s what brought me to the zen center many years ago, and the community there. Following my fascinations brings aliveness, meaning, and a sense of deep alignment.

In this case, this dream connects me with my childhood fascination. It may be that this particular project doesn’t come to fruition, but the reconnection in me may lead to something else.

Note: During a kind of shamanic journey some years ago, in a Vortex Healing class, I saw myself in the Andes mountains with condors. They seemed to be my guides. It was an experience that resonated deeply with me. This was a while before I met my now-wife and had any plans of going to Latin America, let alone buying land in the Andes mountains.

Regeneration and culture

My wife and I became stewards of some beautiful land in the Andes mountains. It’s been heavily grazed in some areas, so we wish to help the land return to a flourishing and vibrant state. And that includes allowing a natural succession of native plants until – over some decades – the ecosystem reaches more maturity.

We hired some locals to clear existing paths through the land and gave them very clear instructions to only clear walking paths, wide enough for one person to pass. What they instead did was to clear one large area of all vegetation including smaller bushes and trees, leaving only the more mature trees. This is apparently what the locals do, and our instructions probably didn’t make much sense to them.

For us, it meant that the process of succession was set back one or two years (?) in that area. The vegetation they removed was the pioneer species that provide the shelter and environment for other plants to follow.

Although it was a slightly painful lesson, we also learned that we need to be present to oversee these kinds of projects. We need to find local people to work with who understand what we wish to do with the land, and also educate the ones we work with and make sure they understand. (This happened back in February or March this year.)

The photo is from the land, but another area than the one that was “cleaned”.

Finca Brisa

I thought I would include some posts about one of the current projects in my life.

My wife and I find ourselves as the stewards of several hectares in the Andes mountains. Although most of it is forested, the land has been impacted by centuries of small-scale farming and grazing. So in addition to building a small house there – using local materials and traditional building techniques – we want to help the land. We want to help bring it to a vibrant state which will be the home to innumerable living beings — microorganisms, plants, insects, birds, and four-legged creatures.

I’ll post a few updates here, using the “finca brisa” tag which is the preliminary name for the land. See also “rewilding” and “regeneration”.

These photos are from a meeting with some of our design and building team. This is the first meeting where we had plans for the house.

Each being is a world

After my partner and I became stewards of some beautiful land, this has been more in the foreground of my mind.

Each being is a world.

On that piece of land, millions or billions of beings (depending on whether you want to include microbes), live their whole life or significant parts of their lives (birds, mammals).

In each case, there will never exist a being like that again. Each one is a unique occurrence.

And each of them experiences the world in their own way. They are, quite literally, their own unique world. A world that has never existed before, does not exist anywhere else, and will never exist again.

Remembering this is very moving for me. It fills me with reverence to be a temporary steward of this land and do my part in protecting it and supporting it to regenerate and rewild.

Putting energy into something that’s temporary

I am about to embark on a relatively large and long-term rewilding project. And I notice one small voice in me saying: Why do it when it may all be temporary? As soon as you are no longer in charge of this land, someone else will take it over and that person may make it all into farmland or housing development.

Yes, that’s true. And yet, all is temporary. Everything I put energy into is temporary. This universe and everything it makes itself into – including all beings and all human culture and achievements – is temporary.

This is no different.

If I was not to put energy into something that’s temporary, I would end up putting energy into nothing at all.

I prefer to play the game. To put energy into something that’s temporary, including this regeneration and rewilding project.

It feels deeply right. The land is calling to me. I cannot find any good reason to not do it. So why not do it? Why not enjoy the project – with all the challenges and joys that come with it?

In this case, at the very least, it will benefit the many beings that live and will live on this land for the coming years. That, in itself, makes it more than worth it.