September 18, 2010

Valuing Berry Patches And The Commons


"Rather than by your culture spoiled,
Desist, and give us nature wild."
- Matthew Green

I have been gleaning late season blackberries this week. My pink, purple stained hands are a work of art with angry red slashes and dots recording my encounters with piercing thorns. Still, what joy to experience a part of my world that has not been privatized, put behind fences and gated off. The ample blackberry brambles along roadways are still in the commons, and are free to all willing to pay the price in a bit of pain.

Small thorns are still in my fingers, not-so-gentle reminders of my brush with the brambles. While picking I thought of how out of place the practice of free berry picking is in our current system. There is no monetary value assigned to these berries, and enclosure has not struck... yet.

But occasionally I expect to show up at my favourite location only to see the berry patch surrounded by a chain link fence, and some 'businessperson' at the gate collecting admission fee. What a sad day that would be, however expected the outcome. Land-grabs are still taking place all over the globe, including in our own back yards. We must protect what is left of the commons before they take that, too.

About 500 years ago, before capitalists started assigning everything a monetary value, the planet was our supermarket, our mega, mega mall. It was all the commons, and humans gleaned freely from it.

"The commons were traditionally defined as the elements of the environment - forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land - that are shared, used and enjoyed by all. It refers to resources that are collectively owned or shared between or among populations. These resources are said to be 'held in common'. In some areas the process by which the commons were transformed into private property was termed enclosure."

We can not even comprehend the freedom of the commons in our money based economy. Today we are more familiar with commercial complexes called "The Commons", which is a complete bastardization of the term. More generously, we define the commons as parks and places where we recreate in order to recover from being privatized to near death. At one time we knew the value of the commons, and the struggle against enclosure was, and is, persistent.

Today we know, as Oscar Wilde said, 'the price of everything, but the value on nothing'. Most of us have no other way of valuing the world around us except with money equivalents.

However, the experience of picking the berries has great value for me, and it pays off in mental well-being. I value being outside in nature. On one day of picking, the soft warm rain was an added bonus. As was the quiet that surrounded me, punctuated only by my occasional cries of "ouch!", and the guttural vocalizations of the resident ravens. The air so fresh, the berries on the vine so shiny black, the spiders and their webs so HUGE. Bending, moving, stretching, reaching. I am doing a slow motion Berry Dance. How many money equivalents is this experience worth?

And then there is that jam, that sweet, purple profusion of perfectness. And frozen berries to put in smoothies in the morning. Many things have great value, but are beyond our limited ways of pricing things arbitrarily. It seems to me that the things that can not be bought with cash are the most valuable of all.

Things like friendship, love, play, and watching the fog lift off the hills. Berry patches, the commons, and home made jam spread on bread fresh out of the oven have no price. These are, hopefully, forever beyond enclosure and the range of the for-profit soldiers and their price guns.

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