Nourishing life, community, family, home.

Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Human Beings are Not Born

I was greeted to the day with this post on Phillip Carr-Gomm’s blog (a blog I enjoy tremendously).

The beauty of this short film is only surpassed by the poignancy of the message Stephen Jenkins is sharing. I thought of the many endeavors of my friends and the questions with which they dance as they consider how to live a sane and beautiful life in this culture and these times. Ann Kreilkamp with her wonderful blog, Exopermaculture–wherein she addresses big questions about creating permanent culture, the changes of our times, and how to approach death and dying in our culture. I thought of Kevin and Monique, Mark Morey and the 8 Shields Institute, and Maya’s efforts to go to Coyote Camp. There are so many rich and wonderful responses here–and I know there are many more.



Sisters of the Earth

It was soooo much fun to be surrounded by many, many intelligent, beautiful women who are dedicated to re-visioning how we inhabit our beloved Earth. Tugged along by my friend, Ann, I made my way back to the St.-Mary-of-the-Woods campus in July for a weekend of song, celebration, presentations, and deep conversations about the state of our world, women’s work within it, and how to create a new story. We were at the gathering of the Sisters of the Earth,  which happens every two years.

While there, I heard Nettie Wiebe, of La Via Campesina, fresh back from the Rio Summit. Nettie Wiebe, a farmer and philosopher from Canada, spoke eloquently about the place of action and the power of women gathering together to do the work that must be done. Women are the majority of “farmers” around the world. Women’s rights and food sovereignty are directly linked.

It was heartening to hear a nun stand up and point out that we are all peasants. We are all “of the land.” Isn’t it true. Much of the future of our world has to do with access to land to grow modest amounts of food for ourselves and for trade. My friend, mentor, and colleague, Peter Bane, has often said when we are teaching permaculture that, “We are all peasants. Some of us just don’t know it yet.”

Helena Norberg-Hodge spoke eloquently from her home, via Skype, about the need for women that are young and older to take action, as the middle-aged women are trying to feed and care for families, aging parents, and do the work of community in that way.

Carolyn Baker wow-ed us with her drumming and storytelling. She spoke about the need to develop inner resilience through creativity, culture, and intelligent preparation.

As a 30-something woman, I was delighted to be appreciated by dozens of older women–and to recognize those both my contemporaries and younger than myself. I am looking forward to the next conference in two years.


Utopian Dreams and Radical Realities

That was the name of one of the best undergrad classes I had the fortune of taking. Dr. Ed Spann taught the course in the Honors program. It was a challenge. Through reading utopian and dystopian novels we were introduced to so many social failures and triumphs. We read the obvious ones–Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, 1984, A Brave New World, Walden Two. And some others that I enjoyed–Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and one of my favorites: Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Those are the most memorable. I learned about Henry George’s ideas about land reform. I researched the Transcendentalists and their attempt (and failure) to create a utopian society at Brook Farm. Religious communities seemed to have some success–but also a lot of failures. Leadership or the failure to transition from one leader to the next created tension. The Shakers had recruitment problems., There are so many other groups. I sometimes run into small groups that are reminiscent. The Grail is one–begun as a Catholic women’s organization, but now focused on women from many areas. Their international headquarters, Grailville,  is in Loveland, Ohio.

Many of the examples we covered were led by people that bought into Enlightenment ideals and believed their group could make a fresh start in America. Places like Oneida and New Harmony were relatively successful. The remind me a bit of ecovillages–and also some of the permaculture work many are engaged in. Each community, each group

During the class, I became more sensitized to how the stories of a people shape its culture and its direction. This 30 minute video (warning: it is extremely disturbing) put out on the Disinformation site, drew my attention. Not only does it contrast the fears of Orwell and Huxley, it reminds me that although I spend my days doing the work that builds life and resilience: growing food, tending children, and teaching about permaculture, there are views and behaviors that strongly contrast with mine. It is a very good attempt by some to wake our culture up to its life-denying, desensitizing practices. In the fashion of Huxley, I have great fears for the future–the future that is very much true today.

Food Security around the Globe

There is so much urgency in this issue. We have enough housing–should we care for and retrofit. Much as my fiber artist/weaver’s heart hates to admit, we don’t need clothing either. We need food. We need healthy food and clean water around the world. Creating permanent cultures is the way I approach it.

Here’s a link to a BBC story about  a new report given at the Planet Under Pressure Conference. I appreciate that the scientists point out that the solutions are regionally based–and must consider geography and climate. However, I’m completely against using GMO and industrial agriculture to solve these problems.

The Standard, Part II

Life has resumed some normalcy after the Standard–but still, I don’t approach things in quite the same way I did before.

I’d been feeling the need to attend a Standard class for over a year, but a sudden sense of urgency and practical drive pushed me to take the Standard in California. In part, my husband and I have been enjoying our weekend WILD classes so much, that we agreed we both needed to take the Standard at least in 2012. Sometimes you have to just go for it.

I knew that the approach to nature, community, and self-responsibility that was taught at the school would blend with permaculture. I’ve been telling my permaculture students that I feel that a person’s education in the world today is truly through blending permaculture and the ways of wilderness schools such as Tracker School. I’ve admired the work of Penny Livingston-Stark and Jon Young together. I would love to participate in and support other such programs (indeed, that’s the very path I would love to see happen here in Bloomington).

At the Standard, even from the first moments of registration, I did field a few permaculture questions. More often, volunteers and students were encouraging me to bring the perspective of the Standard into my permaculture work. And, I have to say, I’m all for it. Absolutely, I will teach sections of the course with greater confidence, new skills and activities, and a deeper sense of what it means to be alive as a person on the planet.

That’s what happened at this course. I became more alive. I felt close to the Earth, my ancestors, and future generations. Through skillful instruction and gentle support, I didn’t just collect 100+ pages of notes, but I broke my heart open and let the gentle guidance of taking responsibility for my own survival on the planet begin to work on me in new ways.

Knowing something of providing your own shelter, fire, water, and food brings you more into right relationship with everything around you. This is more basic than the swales and mulch and architecture and currencies of my permaculture life. It is more primal. It is real.

WILD Winter-time

This winter I’ve had the opportunity to find my own edges and build up my connections with the natural world. I followed through on the long-time wish to take a class or workshop with Kevin Glenn and Monique Philpot of the WILD Nature Project. My husband and I signed up for their three-weekend Winter W.I.L.D. program. Over each of the weekends, we planned to learn new skills and practice some familiar ones.

The first weekend, the group was very nervous about an overnight camp. We were all people experienced with the outdoors, but facing a nighttime low of 17 degrees was a bit scary. It turns out, with a little group work and good planning with our gear, we were all pretty comfortable.

The first weekend, we worked on awareness of nature. I loved it. I’ve been doing a sit spot (where a person sits very still and relaxed in one place over and over again) periodically in my own yard and out in some of my favorite haunts. It’s become something I encourage my permaculture students to do, too. It sharpens the powers of observation and fosters the connection we feel with the world around us. I find that I am more aware of the influences and forces coming into the landscape (think sector analysis all you permies). I’m more aware of the growth and change going on.

There were a lot of games and lots of questions and mysteries in the forest. I was humbled by how very little I knew about even the most common animals around. How many of you have ever explored an early-successional field on hands and knees to watch the movement of mice–or were those voles? Or seen the places where coyotes and raccoons have stopped over something interesting? One of the amazing things we came across was a feeding site up in a red cedar tree. Something had gotten a blue jay, though we never knew exactly what happened.

That's me in the middle of the picture--a white hoodie and a hand-knit Icelandic wool sweater. Burly, huh.

The second weekend, we focused on basic skills–creating a bowdrill kit and making fire, shelter, making bowls and spoons, working with rawhide, cooking over fires… I realized again how very little I know. I haven’t done much carving in my life. I know some plants and trees, but not as many as I should. I don’t know when to harvest them, or what many of their uses are. I made a decent bowdrill kit and came close to getting a coal for a fire. But I realized how these physical skills don’t come easy to me. That was an edge.

I’m a person that has been able to get most things I wanted to try first go. I’m not good at practicing. I found myself getting angry and frustrated with myself. And that is something that just won’t help. So, here I am at that edge. Mastery will always elude me if I don’t practice. And, in my opinion, these things are too important to not keep practicing, not find success in. Mastering these skills means greater freedom and self-reliance. Bill Mollison said, “Take responsibility now.” So, here I am learning how to keep myself warm and dry and how to work with fire and the forest in a new way. I’m developing a new relationship to cold. I’m taking responsibility for my well-being in a new way.  Along this journey of exploration, I get to make new connections to great people.

In the time since that weekend, I’ve been continuing to practice. I had a coal for the fire yesterday–but didn’t get it to the tinder bundle to create the fire in time. I’ll try again today.

Another edge was being cold. It was 9 degrees the second night we were out. Even though we were in a better shelter, I forgot to bring a wool blanket for  my sleeping bag. I was cold all night. Every couple of hours I would wake up and build up the fire. Even though it was cold when I lay back down, while I was building the fire up I felt warm. I heard things others didn’t, too. Coyotes, owls… I learned that I can be cold and tired and still be okay.

I’ll miss the final weekend with my husband and new friends, because I’ll be at the Standard Class offered by the Tracker School in California–practicing these very things for a week. I’m looking forward to the challenges–some given by instructors, some by my self.

Working the Edges…

Permaculture…permanent agriculture…permanent culture. Always, “the edge is where the action is.” This is so true—and there are many rough and many tender edges to explore within our own hearts and in how we come together as people, as communities. We’ve inherited a broken society where our longing to celebrate common life, shared values, and rich interdependencies has eroded into bare threads of civility.

My friend Ann, a student in the first course I helped to teach six years ago, has taken this saying about the edges and run with it. She is constantly exploring the edges of physical space (living fairly close to the edge of her neighborhood), cultural space (living in a yurt in the Tetons for decades; pursuing a PhD in philosophy). She  also writes an “edgy” blog ( And it has come to be a particularly thorny issue for her over the past five months.

In 2008 she bought the house and lot next to her with the goal of creating a neighborhood garden that would also feature permaculture education and design demonstration. She’s worked with the local university repeatedly giving students the opportunity to research and contribute small projects to the overall function of the garden. Students designed a composting system and a cob oven to fit into the back corner of a ferrocement wall on the SW corner of the garden.

Now, that corner is on an intersection—and it turns out that this wall (which some of us referred to as the “Berlin Wall”) has been the source of great ambivalence. It’s been an edge—literally and figuratively. The addition of fire—in this case the cob oven—sparked conflict. This garden, which is meant to serve the neighborhood—which has influenced the region (even beyond the city), has been critiqued by one neighbor—who took her concerns to the city.

Out of the unfolding process, the garden will transform again. Ann, as the owner of the land, has engaged with the city—educating where she can, respectfully building bridges and doing good work with neighborhoods. She’s weighed her choices carefully and opted to do what is, in the end, not only for the greater good, but her long months of contemplating this difficult conflict has culminated with a welcome redesign of several other features within the garden. The “Berlin Wall”—which, we realize now, served as an anchor to shelter and protect the new garden for its first three tender years of incubation — will be moved to a place where it will serve as a backdrop to a new meditation space; it will be replaced with an embracing and beautiful gate and other features to invite community participation. The needs of one person in the community will be embraced (the cob oven will be replaced with a “smokeless” rocket stove). The garden will become even more whole, more of a community place.

The city has played its role in this transformation, too. Options, choices, considerations, and collaboration have all come out of this experience. The GANG is a bit unlike anything else in the city–the officials are just not quite sure how to fit it into the existing structures. And that is perfect. In permaculture, we want to grow that edge. There are other projects, other community programs that do not fit neatly into the space allocated either. We will all–everyone involved have to become more creative and flexible.

Ann, rather than escalate the situation with her neighbor has chosen to take on the conflict at the personal level. It’s not that she’s bound up in the ego so much—though there is that personal, hurt, agitated side (which needs a significant boundary)—but that rather than put the whole community through a dramatic conflict which would further alienate the neighbor, she’s held that edge and made space for the garden to evolve further in service to the larger community. What feels sad, and still difficult, to both of us, is that this neighbor hasn’t been incorporated into the growing feeling of neighborliness. Where, in our interpersonal work—with those rough and ragged edges in our hearts, do we draw healthy lines? How do we draw healthy boundaries while still building relationships with those who are closed to us? How much power can one person have? In the Occupy movement, consensus is reached with 90%–with the express understanding that a very small percentage can push the greater good off track.

I don’t have the answers. I know that in this case, I’m disappointed with both the neighbor and with the community in that the only way forward has been for Ann to have to make difficult choices about this project. I urged her the last time we talked, to bring it back to the communal wisdom. And I still celebrate the changes in the garden.

I think it is a marvelous gesture that the wall will be replaced with a gate.