Michael Leung / ON LAND 03: One Day We Won’t Need to Sweat (and Add Oil) 「在地」三:到那天,我們不再需要流汗(請加油)

Michael Leung / ON LAND 03: One Day We Won’t Need to Sweat (and Add Oil) 「在地」三:到那天,我們不再需要流汗(請加油)

Michael Leung 梁志剛

Michael Leung 梁志剛

發表於: 22 May 2020

The 2 years and 7 steps firewood takes to become available to us… A child’s slingshot. Hong Kong. The thought “We must use the methods available to us, and those I have learnt recently” … Michael Leung’s notes transport us on a peculiar virtual journey of concrete things, positively weaving a viable network of trans-regional relevance, on land. 兩年、七個步驟,樹被砍成可變柴火的木。一個法國小孩玩弄著的彈射器。香港。一個懸念:「我們必須善用周遭已有的方法,還有那些新近學過的技能,盡用。」梁志剛的「在地」手記(三)把這幾個點連線,呈現了一張跨地域、國界的,由在地的日常結成的、可變動的網,肯定了飄移者、觀察者、生活作為研究…對創造新知識的付出。



In November, that great teacher the woodpile comes into our lives.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass [1]


I learnt from an ecosopher farmer that in France there is a saying about firewood that roughly says, ‘To have firewood, one must sweat seven times for it.’  This refers to the process of acquiring dry firewood: 

1) Chopping down the tree
2) Chopping the tree into liftable logs
3) Moving those logs to an accessible path/road [2]
4) Moving those logs again to where they will be used
5) Slicing the logs with an axe/chainsaw so that the pieces could fit into the stove
6) Stacking those pieces outdoors and covering them (waiting two years for them to dry)
7) Carrying them to the stove where they will cook food and keep people warm

At L.M., a 10-person strong collective near the Pyrenees, I joined the process at step number four with Z. and C., an 11-year old boy who once lived with the collective in a squat nearby. Since the eviction of the squat, C. often spends his school holidays living at L. M. and other collectives in the region, where I’m sure he receives a valuable life education. I was happy to teach him chess during my time at L. M. I learnt chess at a similar age, less excitingly from a library book.

To a USB of European trance music we drove only for a minute, powered by an “illegal” engine running on waste restaurant oil, to an area where processes one to three were already completed. Seeing the mossy logs watered from yesterday’s rain, the task ahead already looked like an impossible project, but we proceeded — C. carrying those he could manage. The logs were the heaviest objects I’ve ever carried, the many cuts on my hands and arms are a small reminder as I type.

For six journeys, the modest-sized car was completely full of wood, sometimes with the boot unable to close and Z. having to drive whilst leaning to the left. On one journey I stayed behind, bringing a remote pile to the side of the road.* There I found a branch which forked, perfect for a slingshot. When Z. and C. returned, I gestured the slingshot action to C. who smiled. Z. said, ‘Lance-pierres’ (the French word for slingshot) and, ‘Like in Hong Kong!’ I smiled and wondered what images were making their way to France, and especially to the French radical left via websites such as Lundi Matin — hopefully not those American and British flags!

This conversation brought me back several days, in the Basque Country, where NoTav activists shared details of their struggle against the high speed rail, in preparation for a demonstration planned for the following morning. Furious with the proposed neoliberal development plan that will connect Zaragoza with Bilbao with another train track and rip through a valley and pierce mountainscapes, I asked just how “creative” can we be tomorrow at the demonstration. Following M.’s reply, a member of the Clown Army then asked, “Can we use bow and arrow here in the Basque Country?” The assembly room erupted into laughter. After the sharing, the Clown Army member, with whom I shared a room with during the Reclaim the Fields European Assembly, said that he asked that particular question following seeing images of Hong Kong protesters using a bow and arrow (during the The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University sieges in November 2019).

Such nuanced images of the slingshot activist (allegedly a police officer in disguise) and bow and arrow activist (who struck a police officer’s calf) penetrate borders and the minds of comrades around the world. At times I was asked to share the Anti-Extradition Bill movement in more detail and to elaborate on the five demands (dual universal suffrage being the slightly embarrassing demand [see The Invisible Committee and “Toni” Negri destitution/direct democracy debate]). [3] When there was more time I would share the dark premise of the murder of a Hong Kong pregnant woman called Poon Hiu-wing, by her boyfriend Chan Tong-kai in Taiwan, the “Trojan Horse” used by the government to accelerate the extradition bill. Regrettably many struggles around the world are fuelled and diverted by police brutality and impunity. The government is smart to diffuse the movement like this, and (co-)build spectacular images like those aforementioned.

We must use the methods available to us, and those I have learnt recently—such as the Awareness group, co-purchasing and building collective spaces and solitude — to unframe the narrative by the international media and Carrie Lam (Hong Kong’s chief executive) when she was in Davos speaking to the world during the start of the Coronavirus, and to bring milestones such as the “Trojan Horse” and police sexual violence to the foreground, problematise and deconstruct them, so that in movements to come (or maybe this is “The Revolution”) we are hardened, like the seven steps in having firewood, to resolve conflicts effectively, so as to achieve our individual and collective demands, and those beyond.

18th February 2020, T.

Cutting chestnut trees to give them more room to grow, E.

The Hoel Chestnut becomes a landmark, what farmers call a sentinel tree.
Families navigate by it on Sunday outings.
Locals use it to direct travelers, the lone lighthouse in a grain-filled sea.
Richard Powers, The Overstory




[1] Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 2013): 151.

[2] Being careful not to snap surprisingly-already-budding twigs of the surrounding beech trees, I thought of the book on our research group’s reading list, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human by Eduardo Kohn. I wondered what these trees were thinking, about the warm winter, what the three of us were doing and the European trance music blaring out of the car. Perhaps I could re-situate my text, from a tree’s perspective, and propose How Forests Feel in this overdue age of fossil fuel and capitalist globalisation.

[3] https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/the-invisible-committe-now#toc4 

Le Collectif


Related Reading:

Michael Leung: ON LAND 02: the Collective

Michael Leung: ON LAND 01: No TAVs Everywhere

Michael Leung’s <ON LAND> series

Floating Projects Collective 2024