Mountain Gardens

Paradise Gardening (an essay by Joe Hollis)


Paradise Gardening

By Joe Hollis


photo by Brynn Anderson, 2009.

photo by Brynn Anderson, 2009.


We want to save the world, and we want to save ourselves. It’s the same thing. The problems confronting us are enormous and at every level: personal, social, planetary. I will spare you a list. My aim is to suggest that they are all symptoms of one problem, and to propose a solution.

The problem: to find a way to live on earth which promotes our health and happiness / is conducive to the full development of our innate potential, and at the same time, is “democratic”, that is, available to all / not using more than our share, and harmonious with the biosphere’s evident drive toward increasing diversity, complexity, stability.

Our world is being destroyed, in the final analysis, by an extremely misguided notion of what constitutes a successful human life. Materialism is running rampant and WILL CONSUME EVERYTHING, because its hunger will never be sated by its consumption. Human life has become a cancer on the planet, gobbling up all the flows of matter and energy, poisoning with our waste. What can stop this monster?

Nothing. Just this: walk away from it. It is time, indeed time is running out, to abandon the entire edifice of civilization / the State / the Economy and walk (don’t run!) to a better place: home, to Paradise.

Paradise is, first of all, a garden. A garden in which everything we need is there for the taking.

2) And Paradise Gardening is a way of life which serves to maintain the garden, and is in turn maintained by it. Odum calls this the “ecosystem manager… an organism that utilizes a small fraction of the total energy budget and in return provides a service which aids the system in its function and continued survival.” ( The concept “illustrates the ideal which man should imitate in his attempts to manage a natural ecosystem.”) Genesis, with the characteristic compression of myth, says we were put into the garden ” to dress it and keep it.” Same thing.

3) Paradise gardening is not work. Work is a subjective concept: one person’s play may be another person’s work. It has nothing to do with effort: tennis, for example, is usually “play” ( unless you’re a pro), sitting at a computer terminal is frequently “work”. Work is whatever you are doing when you’d rather be doing something else. Paradise Gardening is not “work” in the same sense that what a bear does all day is not “work”. This is the distinction which the Taoists make between “doing” and “not-doing”. Genesis refers to the same matter in saying that only outside the garden do we have to earn our living ” by the sweat of our brow”.

4) Paradise Gardening is not agriculture. From chemical to organic agriculture is a step in the right direction, but only the first step. Agriculture itself is, after all, half of the one-two punch that knocked us out of Paradise in the fist place. (Good) farmers, to be sure, love nature: but they love her in the context of plowing her up every year and deciding what to grow next. Our addiction to annual species and disturbed habitats has put us at odds with the main thrust of the biosphere ( and ourselves).

Oh, Earth is patient and Earth is old
And a mother of Gods, but he breaks her,
To-ing, fro-ing, with the plow teams going,
Tearing the soil of her, year by year.
–Sophocles, Antigone

Every spring, nature begins again to clothe the earth in beauty, the process of succession, the initial strands of the intricate web, rebirth of the Tree of Life. An every Autumn we scrape it off, rake it into barns, take it to market: we increase human diversity and complexity (butcher, baker, candlestick-maker…) by appropriating to ourselves processes which are meant to benefit all.

Paradise is a habitat and a niche. Eliade refers to a universal “nostalgia for Paradise”. Memories coded into our genes of our place, our fit. How, after all, does a bird (for example) select a place to build a nest? So many factors to consider (and such a small brain!). It just picks the most beautiful spot available. It was born with a “template” for Paradise. Concerning this the Book of Odessays “The twittering yellow bird, the bright silky warbler, comes to its rest in the hollow corner of the hill”, and Confucius commented “Come to rest, alights, knows what its rest is, what its ease is. Is man, for all his wit, less wise than this bird of yellow plumage that he should not know his resting place or fix the point of his aim?”
(Pound, trans.)

Like any other creature, we are our niche. By our physiology and behavioral programming we are born to live a certain kind of life. Paradise is our birthright and our duty.

Now, instead, we take up a niche in civilization. The premise of civilization is that if everyone is a less than complete human being (I’ll be the brains, you be the back), it will be the better for us all. This insulting premise has guided us for so long that we are unaware of an alternative. We equate “making a living” with “making money”. Thus we spend the best hours of our lives pursuing our careers, being part of the cancer.

But everything needful to be completely human is available to us in the environment – the garden and the neighborhood. We can rely on the truth of this because “human-ness” is a creation of the environment, the most recent manifestation of a coevolution between our genes and all the other genes out there that has been going on since the beginning of life on earth. Much chancier is the possibility that everything we need to be completely human is available to us in the city, or through money.

The last time we lived in paradise it was as “foragers”: hunters and gatherers, omnivorous, opportunistic exploiters of a variety of environments. Specialists, not of disturbance but of diversity.

This lifestyle has gotten a lot of attention recently ( at the very time that the last vestiges of it are being eradicated). The view that foraging is a superior (to agriculture) adaptation is now well established in academia and the same theme appears in popular literature (E.g. Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines and Varges Llosa,The Storyteller, both inspiring).

A revolution in the study if human niche was prompted by the realization that foragers, far from living on the brink of starvation, as previously imagined, actually had more leisure than anyone else (Lee & deVore, Man the Hunter). Boserup (The Conditions of Agricultural Growth) suggests that there have never been any “agricultural revolutions”, in the sense of a sudden invention of a great new way to produce food; but rather that increases in food production always come at the cost of even greater increases in labor (or fossil fuel) input, that the techniques were always well known to the producers, but resisted until finally demanded by the rising population ( or the demands of the upper classes for a surplus, a “cash crop”). “Agriculture permits denser food growth supporting denser population and larger social units but at the cost of reduced dietary quality [less diversity to choose from], reduced reliability of harvest [eggs in less baskets], and equal or probably greater labor per unit of food…agriculture is not a difficult concept but one readily available to hunting and gathering groups…” (Mark Cohen, The Food Crisis in Prehistory)

Agriculture, in turn, allowed population to expand more rapidly. Any attempt to live a foraging life in the modern world would seem to be only an interesting but ultimately irrelevant exercise of the “historic village” variety. That “there is no going back” is merely a truism. What those who recite it mean to say is that there is no changing direction, progress can be only a straight line – from an original home in nature to a world eventually completely human, domesticated, farmed.

At this point, I would rephrase the “problem” with which this essay began: How can we, with our contemporary tastes and population level, live and coexist as foragers (ecosystem managers)? “Caught in the devil’s bargain”, how can we “get ourselves back to the garden”? (J. Mitchell, “Woodstock”)

The strategy here proposed, Paradise Gardening, may be described as “intensified foraging”. David Harris, in a series of papers, explored “alternative pathways to agriculture”. Particularly valuable is his distinction between “agricultural manipulation and transformation…agricultural utilization may – and, if sufficiently intensive, usually does – lead to the transformation of a natural into a largely artificial ecosystem: the replacement of a tropical rainforest by plantation, of temperate woodland by wheat fields…But agriculture may proceed by a process of manipulation which involves the alteration of selected components of the natural system rather than its wholesale replacement- a method of cultivation which involves substituting certain preferred domesticated species for wild species in equivalent ecological niches and so simulates the structure and functional dynamics of the natural ecosystem”. Harris has recently edited a collection of papers (From Foraging to Farming) which which further explores the emerging realization “that many ‘non-agricultural’ peoples were in fact engaged in intensive and sophisticated plant practices which did not fit our idea of agriculture”.

Our goal is to “naturalize” ourselves in the environment. This will involve changing ourselves and changing the environment: convergence toward “fit”. Perfect fit means the free and easy flowing of matter and energy between ourselves and our environment; life lived as a complete gift – from the garden to us, from us to the garden.

But that is in the future, what we need now is a process, leading to that goal, which is justified on its own terms. Focus on the ideal Paradise Garden will tempt us to take shortcuts, perpetuating the same old pattern of selling out the present for some imagined “better” future. “No act is good unless its goodness is seen in the immediacy of the act. An act which justifies itself by appealing to a greater good… all appeals to reason, expediency, and necessity, are appeals to the very force that wreck all ideals. One must have courage and be willing to take risks”. (Wm. Thompson, Evil and World Order)

Ecology teaches that a “pioneer” (disturbed) environment favors life forms that are fast growing but short- lived, wide-spreading, “greedy”- designed to capture the maximum of sunlight and unoccupied soil. But eventually they are succeeded by the trees, which, because they invest energy in making wood, grow more slowly at first, but are more stable, longer-lived, and finally faster growing, more influential, the “dominant species”, towering above.

We have spread ourselves over the earth, and used or burned just about everything that’s easy to get. The age of the greedy ones draws to a close ( they don’t know it yet). At last, we may hope, the “competitive advantage” passes to the practitioners of permanence, rooted-ness, slow growth and steady accumulation, the vertical expansion of the human spirit into realms uncharted, or long forgotten. A tree derives its satisfaction from the view achieved.

The process of Paradise Gardening involves:

-Extricating our life-support system from civilization/the Economy (bluntly, money), and reattaching it to the natural world of garden and neighborhood. This will be a gradual process requiring a real analysis of our needs and expenditures. Thus, for example, cars and gasoline are not needs but only the means to the satisfaction of needs. The solution is not gasohol but reducing the reason for traveling (usually the getting and spending of money). Concerning this the Tao Te Ching says “The country over the border might be so near that one could hear the cocks crowing and the dogs barking in it, but the people would grow old and die without ever once troubling to go there”. (Ch. 80. See Needham, Science and Civilization in China, vol. II for a discussion of ” the political program of the Taoists: the return to cooperative primitivity.”)

The key to the self justifying nature of the process is this: things made or done by professionals or machines may be technically superior to one’s own efforts, but are generally lacking in a quality which following Castenada, I will call “heart”. Satisfaction from things bought usually peaks at the moment of purchase and declines rapidly. Needs which are met by the interaction of ourselves and nature are more deeply met, and there are wonderful surprises along the way. The truth of this will be evident to anyone who has ever made anything “from scratch”. What seldom occurs to us (Someone doesn’t want it to occur to us) is that an entire life can be constructed on this basis.

-The (re)integration of needs: not to the market for food, the spa for exercise, the doctor for healing, theatre for entertainment, school for learning, studio to create, church for inspiration, etc., but to the garden for all these at the same time.

-Enriching the garden by naturalizing useful and beautiful species and learning to incorporate them into our lives. We begin , of course, with the present and potential natural vegetation, to which may be added species introductions from similar areas worldwide; then slight modifications of the environment – micro-habitat enhancement – and the resultant possibilities for new species: a palette of plants, a Cornucopia* never available to previous generations.

A well-known biologist proposes “Planned biotic enrichment: It is within the power of science [you and me] not merely to hold down the rate of species extinction, but to reverse it. Among the principal topics of community ecology now under intensive study is the species packing problem…Theoretically, assertive equilibria can be planned that exceed any occurring in nature. Species might be drawn from different parts of the world…” (Edw. Wilson, “Applied Biogeography”). Wilson goes on to discuss ” the creation of new (biotic) communities” and “ecosystem manipulation: the ultimate game… the very size of the world biota is itself a challenge that only generations more of study will encompass. The possibilities for ecosystem manipulation…offer creative work that is orders of magnitude even more extensive…”

-Hand labor. We all have two hands, one lifetime, twenty-four hours in every day. These are “democratic” factors. Working by hand on a small piece of land we can create a Paradise with relevance for all. Money, machines can’t get us there any faster, in fact can’t get us there at all, lead us astray.

We live during a narrow “window of opportunity”. Having come, at last, to the realization that a revolutionary shift of consciousness and lifestyle is required, we find that we have only a few generations to do it in, before it will be too late to make a transition (environment degraded, resources depleted, species extinct, soils eroded/ polluted, population doubled…).

Our enemy is a paper tiger because it can’t deliver the goods. The world waits for examples; to be shown, not told, a better way. Paradise Gardening is vastly more meaningful than the “biodome” experiment, and anyone can play.

We have been putting this off for too many lifetimes now.

You see the beauty of my proposal is
It needn’t wait on general revolution
I bid you to a one-man revolution
The only revolution that is coming

(R. Frost, “Build Soil”)

*Cornucopia, S.Facciola. Kampong Pub., 1870 Sunrise Dr., Vista CA 92084. Astounding new publication. Three thousand edible species, many more thousands of cultivars, sources of supply and information for each entry.


Update , 2014:


Mountain Gardens began in 1972, when I obtained 2.8 acres of woodland in the high mountains of western NC. Almost from the start, the intention has been to develop a garden which addresses the problems of our times: environmental destruction, war & economic injustice, personal distress & dissatisfaction. Paradise Garden theory holds that these are all manifestations, at the different levels of life (planet, species, individual) of a single problem: that humans no longer occupy a valid niche in Gaia, the superorganism of which we are a part.
We slipped away from a valid niche with the rise of civilization, following the development of agriculture. Civilization is an upstart superorganism and is in fact an aggressive cancer within the body of Gaia. Modernity is the final stage in which all humans occupy a niche in civilization, and Gaia, the living matrix, is redefined as ‘raw materials’. Paradise Gardening is the practice of creating, maintaining and ‘making a living’ from the development of a Paradise Garden, the garden where everything you need (not necessarily everything that you want) is there for the taking. This is proposed as a ‘valid niche’: one which increases (or at least doesn’t decrease) the diversity and fertility of the garden (and the planet), which does not use more than a fair share of Gaia’s resources (land, clean air, clean water, etc.) and which promotes the health, happiness and fullest development of the gardener. Every era and culture has attempted to realize its version of Paradise, but in the run-up to full modernity the subject has been sadly neglected – the search for Paradise abandoned as the earth is trashed and human suffering increase to unbearable levels. Yet the search for the way home remains the most urgent, meaningful and enjoyable life work.
I originally defined Mountain Gardens as a ‘botanical garden of useful plants grown ecologically and arranged ornamentally’, and over the course of forty years have found no reason to alter that, only ways to amplify it. A botanical garden implies a collection of plants, useful plants includes of course food and medicine, also craft plants (fiber, dye, basketry, paper, incense, etc.), fuel, building material and, of course, wildlife – birds, bees, butterflies – and soil improvement, hedges & windbreaks, ornamentals and so on. As of 2014, Mountain Gardens may incorporate the largest collection of ‘useful plants’ in E. N. America, particularly medicinal herbs, perennial vegetables and wildfood plants, our specialties.
“Grown ecologically’ includes naturalizing the plants by utilizing or creating habitats in which they will thrive without, or with minimal, human assistance – thus the effort to maximize diversity of species is tied to the development of / maximizing the diversity of micro-habitats along axes such as sun-shade, wet-dry, acid-neutral, humus-rich, sandy, clay, etc. Grown ecologically also includes the concept of respecting the potential (or in my case, actual) natural vegetation, which in this area is forest. More specifically, my few acres includes examples of rich cove hardwoods, hemlock, white oak and red oak/hickory/heath plant communities – portions of each of these (about half the property) have been maintained and enriched with additional useful species appropriate to them. Ecological cultivation also includes building fertility by recycling all organic matter and preventing erosion.
‘Arranged ornamentally’ has to do with creating an ideal environment. Travel/tourism is, we are told, the next largest consumer of nonrenewable resources after military/defense. The Paradise gardener would rather stay home. In addition to fulfilling our physical needs (see ‘useful plants’, above) the garden can provide for our aesthetic, creative and spiritual needs. Chinese Daoist gardens provide a model for creating a ‘separate reality’ which is both an environmental work of art and an optimum environment for fostering human development to as high a spiritual level as you care to go.
Paradise Garden theory contends that we are born pre-programmed to fit into the world (Gaia), to our mutual advantage. Despite the fact that reprogramming begins (especially in ‘advanced’ societies) almost from the moment of birth, our original program can only be overwritten, not deleted., and it is this archetypal level that it seeks to tap in claiming the ability to fulfill all our needs; physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. (and social – see Paradise Garden as a utopian community, below). At the highest level, Paradise Gardening (the practice) becomes wu-wei, ‘not-doing’ (‘flow’ is a contemporary term in the same ballpark) – a daily focussing on the ‘dressing and keeping’ of a beautiful environment which is itself the result of a dialogue between the gardener and the environment (Gaia) as expressed in the garden, the sum total of all the previous days.
An important aspect of this garden project from the start is that it be relevant to as many people as possible. This means a small piece of land (a ‘fair share’) and minimum external inputs such as fossil fuels / machinery and, especially, money. I began this project with several acres of woodland and $500, and no training and only slight experience in any of what I have been doing since: garden making, building, botany, horticulture, herbalism, homesteading. No grants or other capital infusion. I have rarely been on a payroll until I began to teach one class per semester at a nearby college of Chinese medical arts (I teach medical botany and herbal preparations) , and have always lived below the ‘poverty line’. No savings, no insurance (except now I get Medicare and $150/month from the government – I didn’t ask for it, but I don’t turn it down either) – it’s a matter of harmonizing not only our deeds with our words, but also where we place our faith and trust. The reward is the freedom to work/live whole-heartedly, and the peace of mind the Greeks called ataraxy. The eschewal of money has a deeper meaning: money is the ‘blood’ of civilization, and the amount of it that flows through us is a direct index of the extent to which we are a participant, both depending on and supporting civilization. Exactly where we are on a line that has Paradise at one end and money at the other is less relevant than what direction we are moving in. Paradise making will be a multi-generational endeavor, so much of the satisfaction must be, and is, in the process.
Of course it is almost impossible to live completely outside of money / civilization, so the garden must earn some income, which it does by selling seeds and plants (we grow some rare ones), medicinal herbs and preparations, and teaching . Occasionally we do in fact generate little burps of $, which are quickly converted into one of the three recognized acceptable items of purchase: plants, books and tools. (all non-consumables). Life without money, far from being regret-filled, is liberating – like fasting, when you suddenly find yourself with all those extra hours in the day (formerly devoted to cooking, eating, cleaning up). We are told that hunter-gatherers had more leisure time than any human populations since. I enjoy waking, whenever I feel like it, to a choice of interesting creative tasks all of which I want to do; or, best of all, just stepping out into the world and responding to it: total immersion: Paradise gardening.
What one can do with all this leisure time, the theory suggests, is go deeper into whatever aspect of the Paradise garden (or anything else) that takes your fancy; for example, I got interested in medicinal herbs, for several reasons. I was growing them, because they are important, but rarely using them, because I rarely got sick. Then I learned about tonic, health-promoting herbs, an aspect of Chinese herbal medicine, and wanted to grow them. Twenty years later Mountain Gardens is a pioneer both in growing Chinese herbs in America, and in incorporating native herbs into the highly sophisticated Chinese herbal medicine system. I rely on these herbs for my own health and longevity, and we provide them to our community through our ‘self-help herbal medicine center’, which consists of an extensive library of both popular and professional texts and a very large collection of dried herbs, single herbs extracts and Chinese formula extracts, as well as other preparations (syrups, pills, salves, lotions, liniments, etc.) which we make here. (We do not sell our products on the open market as jumping through the requisite hoops would draw us in the direction of $ and away from Paradise). This is a unique facility for anyone wishing to do self-diagnosis (or already having a diagnosis; I do not do diagnosis) and self-treatment with Chinese and/or native herbs, and it’s self-serve and open to the public 24/7/365.
A related topic to which we devote considerable energy is exploring the ‘great botanical /floristic disjunction’ between E. N. America and E. Asia, particularly as it relates to useful plants. We grow oriental and closely related native edible and medicinal herbs side-by-side, for comparative study – another unique project. Thus, for example, we grow a wide selection of sansai – the ‘wild mountain vegetables’ of Japan, as well as their close native relatives. This aspect of our garden researches generates its own income – we sell spring wildfoods, including such rarities as wasabi leaves and the young shoots of the prickly-ash tree (another prized condiment), to a restaurant and could certainly sell more if we decide to – what we have been doing for thirty years is now avant-garde cuisine. Efforts are underway to develop some of our delicious native wildfoods as a marketable product (small-scale, artisinal). Similarly with the medicinal herbs, we grow both native and oriental ginseng, black cohosh, Solomon’s seal, wild yam, and many more ‘non-timber forest products.’
The property is a small valley (‘cove’) oriented approximately north – south, with high mountains to the north and a ridge on the east and west (incidentally, or perhaps not, excellent feng shui). The center acre, the valley floor, slopes from north to south, but is horizontal east to west, it is triangular – narrower to the north (my boundary with US National Forest), and wider to the south (the boundary is a gravel road). Originally, the property was entirely wooded, the center was rich cove hardwoods, mostly tulip poplar stump regrowth from logging about 30 years before. This is the area which I cleared for garden space and building material – a log cabin. The land had never been cultivated because it is very rocky; the rocks were used for terrace walls, paths and steps. Everything was done by hand labor with simple tools, my only compromise being a chain saw. The original plan was very simple: a clearing in the woods, divided by several E-W hedgerows of useful small trees and shrubs and dwarf evergreens, and a circuit path along the wooded ridges with framed views of the central terraces. The various structures (there are now about a dozen, counting sheds and outhouse) mostly ring the clearing.
Around the clearing (the cove hardwoods area) was a band of hemlocks, and above that (i.e. drier) oak / hickory with Rhododendron and other heaths. The dense evergreen hemlocks were a major factor in the layout of the property as they provided screening to divide the garden into separate ‘rooms’, and to block and then frame the views from the ridge path. Tragically, they have all died, over the past ten years, due to an imported pest.
An ending is an opening and, in this case, there is suddenly sunlight reaching fertile soil which had previously been too densely shaded to permit an herb layer. A priority for the past few years has been to influence the direction and composition of the succession process which will inevitably follow, by broadcasting seeds and spreading brush (to catch autumn leaves for mulch and, eventually, humus), burning the hemlock brush and spreading the ashes to neutralize the acidity of the soil and using the logs to define paths and terraces (and innoculating the stumps in hopes of generating edible fungi – no luck with that so far). As a result of the hemlock’s demise the circuit path joining the two ridges has now been completed and instead of the garden being ‘a clearing in the woods’ , the garden is now the entire property.
What was for the first ten years mainly a solitary effort is now a group project. I began having a helper as soon as I had an extra shelter, and that has gradually expanded into an apprentice program with 6-8 interns living here from March – October and usually one or two short-term visitors / WWOOFers in addition; we also occasionally host college classes and work parties. I recently inaugurated a fellowship program to encourage apprentices to return for another year or longer. I would like to see Mountain Gardens evolve into a small community in which we all work together, half time, to maintain the garden; and each person works half time on an individual garden-related project for personal income. The apprentices receive room and board, but no stipend; the facilities I have developed here: the gardens, the quite extensive research library, the herb shop and apothecary and the surrounding natural areas constitute a unique educational opportunity, and I have many more applicants than I can accommodate. The apprentices live in several small structures (cabins, yurts, earth-sheltered dome) and share an outdoor kitchen, common room, solar shower & hot tub. Meals are communal, The life style is ‘neo-primitive’ – we cook and heat with wood, utilize gravity water flow, have a limited amount of photovoltaic electricity for lights and computer with internet.
Outreach is important; my main purpose is to inspire and empower others, particularly young folks who are not yet trapped in the cash economy and feel that there must be a better, more satisfying and harmonius way to live on earth. In addition to the apprenticeship program, we offer many workshops on gardening and medicinal herb topics and maintain a website where we share helpful information. Recently the apprentices have developed a Facebook page. We have also begun making short videos about useful plants and about Mountain Gardens, these are posted on youtube.
Current goals (2015) include increasing food production – I believe it will be possible to provide all the food, not just vegetables but also fruit, staples and protein, for ten people from a couple of acres of very marginal (agriculturally) land, which will be a demonstration of the fact that, to feed the world, we don’t need genetic engineering but land distribution. Also mapping the garden and producing a guidebook to our plant collection. We have recently added ducks and now have enough sunny garden space to grow staples: corn, potatoes, beans.



What drives (over)consumption?
Civilization (in the original – latin – sense, from civitas, the state), mimics the natural ecosystem. Consider the ‘trophic pyramid’ – a large biomass of primary producers, above which a smaller mass of primary consumers, above that a still smaller mass of secondary consumers, etc. A lot of plants support a smaller number of cows, which support an even smaller number of lions…The civilized version of this has peasants and laborers on the bottom, above them succesively smaller layers of administrators and merchants, political leaders and capitalists

Consumption (other than a minor component of ‘basic human needs’ – whatever that may be) is about defining one’s place (status) in the hierarchy of civilization. Consumption is communication. I am indebted for this insight originally to Mary Douglas The World of Goods, but by now it’s pretty common knowledge – certainly to marketers. And, of course, the old saying ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ concisely expresses the same idea. Still, it’s useful to look at it baldly: consumption is communication, it’s about saying who we are, our status, our affiliations. But surely there is a way to communicate that doesn’t involve burning down the house?

“Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home. Each is an aspect of the other…politically ‘weaker’ peoples were confronted with a single set of alternatives…This historical fact [conquest] is then reflected as a law of development; as civilization accelerates, its proponents project their historical present as the progressive destiny of the entire human race…
No matter how far we range in time and space, from Teotihuacan to Angkor Vat the tale is always the same…the history of civilization repeats itself not as farce…but as tragedy. In the shadow of this tragedy, the achievements of civilization are reduced to their proper proportion. They were intended for the use and pleasure of the very few at the expense of the skill and labor of the many…”
Stanley Diamond In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization
‘Primitive’ people never voluntarily ‘acculturate’ (become civilized) – they’ve got too much to lose – but civilized persons, exposed to the primitive, sometimes ‘go native.’

Twenty years on, I still hold firmly to the belief that the best way to address global warming, diversity loss and other planetary problems, the best way to address war, injustice and other social problems, and the best way for humans to live on the planet to realize our full physical, mental and spiritual potential are the same ‘way’. Mountain Gardens is an effort to act out this theory – we are actors in a piece of ‘visionary ecological theater’