This is the sixth post in the series, Succession II: Queering the Environment, a fourteen-part series in which contributors explore topics related to unruliness, care, and pleasure. Succession II centers queer people, non-humans, systems, and ideas and explores their impact within the fields of environmental history, environmental humanities, and queer ecology.
How can we embrace pleasure in nature?
How can we add to our understanding of queer ecology?
How can we find the intersection of pleasure with the natural world?
This is a tale of a how a group of individuals and couples came together for a week in Portugal in late April to answer these questions. The common goals were “to imagine an infinite number of possible Natures,” to “queer nature,” and to “take action through ‘performance,’” one project at a time.
The location for this common purpose and desire was the Quinta Project. The Quinta (translated as “farm” in English) is a self-described “hybrid ecovillage” project run for and by queer people. The physical location of the Quinta is in view of the walled town of Marvão in the São Mamede Natural Park. The Quinta “aims to cultivate an experiment in creating queer eco-systems, inclusive and shared experiences and going back to Nature and also going forward with and for Nature.”
The first Work Week took place April 17-24. Keeping in mind the “diversity, paradox and history of nature” and of our location on the quinta, we met and worked on the land together. Each participant, known as a quinter, was invited to decide how to queer nature in their own design and at their own pace.
“Queer ecology is a liberatory ecology. It is the acknowledgment of the numberless relations between all things alive, once alive, and alive once again.” – Alex Johnson
All quinters first met on the Quinta’s patio under the laurel tree. Quinters introduced themselves, defined pronouns, and then all had the chance to walk around the location to attune themselves with the local landscape. This allowed for each person to assess for themselves what projects they could embark on during the week. There was no list or agenda! Each individual decided on what and how they could contribute. Queer ecology, as Caitlin Marie Doak explains, can be liberatory in “that it queers boundaries and thus provides room for individuals to have more freedom and choice conceptually, which can translate into more freedom in action.” Before action there must be liberation!
During the Work Week, quinters put their hands in the earth. Some planted garden plots of heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, and asparagus, and then lined the gardens with stones. Another planted a lavender “star.” One couple built a polytunnel; they cleared the land inside their hoop greenhouse, planted clover in a thin layer of soil, and prepared seeding pods for future plantings. They decided to queer it with solar powdered fairy lights and renamed it: The Love Tunnel.
“Bewilderment is an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and reconcilability. It breaks open the lock of dualism (this or that) and peers out into space (not this, not that).” – Fanny Howe
Because listening is a way to “promote deliberate engagement with and reverence for nature,” quinters experimented with an aural exercise. This exercise was organized by littleseedrevolution, which also located in the Marvão area. In pairs, one quinter was led around the location by another with eyes closed, listening to the sounds around them. After 10 minutes, the partners reversed positions, and the exercise continued for another 10 minutes.1
Listening fostered a sense of bewilderment. For the quinters accustomed to experiencing a place through sight, relying on a guide and focusing on the sounds around them bewildered, enchanted, and opened opportunities for new relationships to emerge.
During the Work Week, each quinter decided for themselves how they could best contribute — one person chose to draw. Based on their own connection with and interpretation of Nature, the artist drew and colored throughout the day and night. The quinter said of the work: “My inspiration was to make it only what I resonate with and that’s why I chose sacred geometry. Sacred geometry is the micro form of every living being and it’s the tool to create anything living. Inspired by love inside me to create something I had never done before.”
“Words on a page are incomplete. The poem, the novel or the non-fiction pamphlet are finished when they are taken up and engaged with. Connection is collaborative. For words to have meaning, they have to be read.” – Kae Tempest
On the fifth day, an automatic and collaborative writing activity gave each quinter the opportunity to express what they had been experiencing during the Work Week. On a blank sheet of paper, an individual wrote two lines and passed it to the next person, who wrote two more. The second person folded back the initial contribution, leaving only their own two lines exposed, then passed it to the next, and so on. This was passed around the room until every quinter had contributed to each 10-line poem. Each person then read out their 10 lines for all to hear. You can hear these poems recited above in a spoken-word performance.
“What queer can offer is the identity of I am also. I am also human. I am also natural. I am also alive and dynamic and full of contradiction, paradox, irony. Queer knocks down the house of cards and throws them into the warm wind.’” – Alex Johnson
From discarded cork bark and branches left behind by the periodic cutting of the trees, two quinters lined the paths leading to to various destinations throughout the location. One of these paths leads to a quiet place with a view of the Quinta’s young olive and cork trees. A quinter decided this would be an ideal space for poetic contemplation, not through reading but through listening only. As the person said: “I want to ensure the words are heard! They must be listened to while in Nature, looking out over the trees with words and sounds engaging in a performance.” This place was named the Poet Grove.
A tree in the Poet Grove (top left); crochet art on a tree in the Grove (bottom left); a hammock for rest and contemplation (center); a cork-lined path leading toward the Grove (right). Photos by the author, 2022.
One quinter, when walking through the Poet Grove, spontaneously decided to adorn a tree with a piece of art created during the Work Week’s crochet circle. This tree is dedicated to Henry David Thoreau, as the quinter had expressed interest in building their own house in the country one day as Thoreau himself did on Walden Pond.
The Poet Grove and will be furthered developed during Work Week 2 (June 19-24). The quinter will create QR codes linked to YouTube aural recordings. The codes will be laminated and hung from the trees so anyone can engage with the poets’ words and sounds among the trees.
Yes, we need to act. But we also must recognize that any action is also a performance, and possibly in drag. “– Alex Johnson
Whether watering the plants or repurposing garden tools into workout equipment or upcycling found materials into a scarecrow Tiresias for the vegetable patch, quinters queered the farm with play and pleasure. On the last evening of the Work Week, everyone dragged up in their own fashion and design from things shared and found in a “queer closet.”
“Creative connection is the use of creativity to access and feel connection and get yourself and those with you in the moment into a more connected space.” – Kae Tempest
To find pleasure in Nature, quinters exercised freedom and choice, which not only fostered personal creativity but also furthered a sense of empathy, collaboration, and shared experiences — the spontaneous connection with everyone and everything that is the core of queer ecology.
Queer ecology and its tools resulted in liberation in so many ways during this week. Each individual, no matter of their pronoun, background or language, not only had the freedom to choose what needed to be done on the Quinta but also how they could connect with others and with (and within) Nature. Each performance, each collaboration, as unique and unpredictable as the natural world itself.
The author acknowledges the contributions of all the Quinta ‘villagers’ as well as the work of those who helped put together the proposal for this piece: Benedict Morrison, PhD, lecturer in film, television and queer studies at the University of Exeter, UK; and Stephan Dahl, PhD, Associate Professor of Behaviour Change Marketing at Charles Darwin University, Australia.
John Owens (JohnO) is originally from Florida but now lives in Lisbon, Portugal. He works with the Quinta Project, which aims to cultivate an experiment in creating queer ecosystems through inclusive and shared experiences.