WeekOneCornell: Reflective Writing ~ Finding my voice

Laurel Graham / Permaculture Fundamentals

WeekOne: Reflective Writing

16 October 2014

EastPalyBaySF Bay at East Palo Alto, my first patrol assignment and the beginning of other meditations…

When I registered for this course I made two commitments to myself:  1) that I would use this series of courses to fine tune my knowledge and skills in this field toward obtaining the certificate (and would commit the funds for the course fees), and 2) that I would put aside my self-definition as “student/academic” – one which feels safe – and find my real voice.  My “cow guru” calls it my “ministry”.  Some of what I write will be purely academic; some will carry a bit of dark, or earthy, humor.  I was in law enforcement for twelve years (1975-1988) in the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the first females to be hired. Nothing will bring a person down to earth so quickly as finding your uniform covered in someone else’s blood.

But one of my faults is to rest in the academic world. I hide there and look for teachers and mentors to validate my efforts, some elder states(man) to help me feel that I am on the right track.  Through my work (not my “job”) I think I may be coming to the realization that some people are now coming to me with that same hope. I’ve worked very hard, taken on challenges, had successes and losses, but that was my choice, not Fate testing me.  I am not entirely certain what kind of example I am for them.

The definition of permaculture is and should be dynamic. Change cannot be a principle and then be denied in the very processes those principles serve. Permaculture is a systems approach. It pounds into the psyche the reality that all things are interdependent, that the only constant in life is change. Resilience is how the elements and the whole survive. This work teaches us to climb inside the flow of things, to work in it and with it as much as we reasonably can and that this surrender will make our lives rich, if also a bit uncomfortable. I find the rivalries and constant comparisons between the founding Fathers – and let’s be honest, it’s all Fathers  – Mollison, Holmgren, Lawton, Hemenway, Yeomans, Holzer – entertaining, but I find myself still looking for that Teacher.  The observation that I cannot name one supremely significant female founder is a reflection of that 1970s radical thing that was painfully prevalent.  A woman’s role in the revolution was that of supporting her man. Angela Davis and I looked at each other one day in the 1980s, sitting in the atrium of the new Student Union at San Francisco State, as a band of protesters loudly marched by, and we smiled at each other. Our only communication ever.  Been there done that, sister. She is an exception.

On the other side of ‘warm and fuzzy’, I love the science. I have always had a love affair with the science, primarily the physical and earth sciences. The replication on scale and over time are proofs to me that there are principles at work in the Universe that operate with or without us. The day I actually knew the difference between alluvial, colluvial and fluvial approaches to stream evaluation was a holiday. So please do not think that I am all ‘soft science’ (social/behavioral).  The establishment of conventional scientific involvement in permaculture will only serve to make it valid to the conventional scientist – oh, and the institutions that fund projects and programs. As a Social Scientist, I have fought that battle for 40 years.

The question becomes this: of all of the elements, all the knowledge, all of the experience, all the actions of all the Founding Fathers, what is useful?  The rest is entertainment.

I also want to expose myself as a daily, applied Buddhist. I find so many of the principles offered in the world-view of Buddhism also acknowledged in permaculture ethics, principles and practices. My head is at the top of my body, feet well into the mud and heart mediating the daily struggle to sort it out.  I’m sort of a retired warrior monk digging my toes into the darkness of a different scale of life.

That relatively brief experience in law enforcement taught me that there are issues in the world for which one should risk their life. My time as an activist and protestor in my teens taught me that radical is best and questioning authority in a way that engenders respect is huge. And my time in working to save the environment, and the people who are afraid out of ignorance, brought me to an understanding of living as I believe and hoping that the example will be a beginning for others.

So my reflective writings are more about this search for my position, for appropriate, useful practice. If this process is inappropriate in meeting your expectations for the course, please let me know now. Obtaining the certificate is presently important to me and I do not want to miss the mark along the way. Thank you so very much for this opportunity.  (I also hope that midnight Mountain Time will work. If not, please advise. The starling migration has knocked out my power and I am using the last of the battery here to get this uploaded. Ahhhh, the countryside…) Namaste

WeekOne of the Cornell Permaculture Course: Finding my voice, I shudder: Refuge!!

What is permaculture?….seriously….this is where I will find the courage to find my voice…not the self-definition of the “life-long student”, but the gal who wore sidearms for twelve years, and found her heart in a trout stream….My answer to this first weeks Participant Forum:

There is so much richness in this first week. My notes have notes. I have often wondered who was speaking when my clients ask a question and I hear a voice carefully describing an answer. It just won’t be a list, or a linear equation. The description is a fractal an algorithm. And I am always so surprised that it is my voice. And they are smiling and nodding their heads. Tonight as I re-read the What Makes a Permaculture Site? article again my past opened up. Here it is: The multifunctional principle is not an element inside a middle circle with lines or lists of all the functions. I see a Venn Diagram. In the 1990s I was blessed to be the program manager for a watershed restoration site on the Northern California Coast. My CRMP (coordinated resource management program) included 36 “stakeholders” (a word I have come to loathe) from individual ranchers, farmers, loggers to EarthFirst and Greenpeace. It was the greatest time of my life…and this is difficult to describe in lines like this now, now that a window has opened: In restoring fisheries habitat we saved valuable farmland adjacent to riparian corridors which had regularly been eroded away by unnatural high flows, filling spawning and rearing habitat for silver salmon and reducing the valuable farm land and the commercial fisheries and so in selling the idea of saving rich, alluvial farmland by implementing best management practices in riparian management and farm field treatments we motivated staunchly conservative uncomfortable farmers to adopt those practices. (thank you, James Joyce). We restored fisheries, save farmland, offered the experience of success and reaffirmed self-determination to those who feared loss of self-determination, improved riparian habitat for Gawd knows how many species, improved water quality, reduced flood damage….This is the complexity of permaculture: that the asparagus in my meditation garden provides food for me, food for the ducks, protected nesting habitat for the ducks, eggs for me, shells for the compost, duck poop for the garden, shade to retain moisture, beautiful fronds of texture in the breeze, loft for the compost when cut in the fall, habitat for friendly day-glow tiny predator wasps, organic matter for the adobe clay when the tiny leaves fall to the ground, on the ducks who make nests of them….a Mandelbrot set, a Julia. And to momentarily address the quantification/metric issue that conventional science has with “permaculture”, please spare me the word counts and how many bushels difference from year to year. The variables we have the courage to flow with can be dissected and treated statistically, but in the words of my favorite scientist of all time “Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend most all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. As a puzzle-solving activity, normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none. ” (Kuhn,T.; The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962)

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