Why Natives? The Wyoming Sunflower
Helianthus maximilani or the Perennial Sunflower will soon be gracing every
open space, every road barrow pit, and my garden. Why my garden?
- Nothing is like the warm, golden color of these natives.
- Fast Food for the Road: The flowers feed late pollinators, preparing them
for migration, hibernation or egg-laying. Seeded flower heads feed migrating
song birds as they head south for winter.
- Disguised: The “flower head” is actually hundreds of tiny flowers. Look
- The Good Bugs: Our native sunflower attracts one very special pollinator:
the bee fly (I love this name ~ Bombyliidae). You’ve seen them. Fuzzy little
flies with a long proboscis that looks like a stinger, but is used to take nectar.
These little insects will fill the centers of the sunflowers, their legs and fuzzy
bodies packed with golden pollen. And here is the ecological role of these
peaceful creatures: The Bomby is able to detect small holes in the soil where
grasshoppers have laid their eggs. The Bomby bee fly hovers over the hole
and drops its own eggs into that hole. The Bomby larva hatch first and
consume the grasshopper eggs. I love native team members. The first and
most important practice in permaculture is observation. Observation is done
to understand and apply what nature has developed over tens of thousands
of years. This reduces waste of resources and introduction of toxins or other
human long-term damage. As practitioners we support, even encourage natural processes. And so every year I collect the native sunflower seeds and
strategically plant them in the gardens near the fruit shrubs, and I offer them
water so that they will grow strong.
- Yummy: Collect the little sunflower heads when they have gone to seed.
Remove the sepals, or leaves, from around the flower head. Brush oil – like
olive flavored with garlic or sesame oil. Bake or grill the entire flower head.
The flower head will soften and then it can be eaten whole.
My cows are less appreciative of the gifts of the sunflower. They simply put the entire flowerhead in their mouth and pull the crunchiness in, crushing the sweet oily goodness.
“Each plant in each specific location under each specific moment of conditions responds specifically. You can work to create the best set of circumstances to support and encourage the best ecology for that plant even to its best death. Study in-depth or take a seed and stick it in the ground and water it. Then observe, learn, try again. When you figure it out the 8 year cycle of grasshoppers will pop. You will do everything you can and still be overwhelmed. You will wait a year and start over. Thus is nature. Live IN it. Don’t get too cerebral. Stay light on your feet and ready to learn. Or else you will miss the important stuff. Then pick that sweet ripe berry or grape, eat it and smile. The End… and The Beginning.”
The life of plants is not a mystery, but it is completely enmeshing. I believe that all approaches to horticulture should be held up to a very wise bit of advice:”Do not believe in what you have heard; do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; do not believe anything because it is rumored and spoken of by many; do not believe merely because the written statement of some old sage is produced; do not believe in conjectures; do not believe merely in the authority of your teachers and elders. After observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it”. Who knew Gautama Buddha was a gardener… in other words, take that seed, stick it in the soil, tend to it and see what happens. Oh and don’t wash your hands right away. Moon or no moon.
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” One of the most frequently used lines from any movie ever made (The Silence of the Lambs; Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter). Not only in the film arts but in the history of human cuisine, the fava bean has been and still is a staple for so much of the world.
Humans appreciated fava beans so much that they brought them home from the wild. Wild Vicia faba or Faba / Fava Beans were growing in the Lower Galilee of what is now Israel at least 14,000 years ago according to radiocarbon dating of plant material found at archeological sites. The first domestication has been found for Neolithic farmers 10,200 years ago. (Source: Caracuta, Science Reports, 2016)
Fava or Faba beans are a legume; when the beans are harvested the plant releases nitrogen from nodules in the roots and that nitrogen feeds surrounding plants. The bean is used to make falafel, similar to chickpeas, also known as garbanzo. An interesting twist in this relationship is that some humans have a genetic defect which causes red blood cell breakdown by a chemical in fava beans. It’s very rare and seems to be mainly in those of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent – the population that originally tamed the bean. It is believed to have caused 33,000 deaths in 2015.
There are many reasons that humans were moved to bring the plants they gathered in the wild close to their dwellings. Those reasons may include: finding safety from predators – animal or other humans; closer to a water source to have more consistent growth and production; religious or cultural rules, such as women going out alone to gather food; and isolation driven by plagues, such as the Black Plague (Bubonic plague; bacterial; spread by fleas). Closer their shelters, the humans assisted those plants by cultivation. Observation and accident led to crop rotation, dried food, seed collection and intentional planting, and seasonal recognition ~ when to plant, when they flourish, harvest.
I ran a test with Chickpeas last year, hoping to be able to make homemade hummus and falafel over winter. I found that they honestly need 100 days and hot dry weather. So this year I will be starting them inside, then to greenhouse until our temperatures get up into the 70 degrees F.
And a medical note: If you are on MAO inhibitors DO NOT eat liver, fava beans or wine. They cancel out the medications. This was an inside “joke” in The Silence of the Lambs: Dr. Lecter’s psychotic episodes could have been exacerbated by his diet.
Further Tales From The Refuge: Recently someone asked me how winter was going at the farm. Well, actually winter just officially got here. Hasn’t seemed like it since fall. Some folks I know have measured what they think are record-breaking snow amounts in the Casper area for the late fall. The biggest problem with snow events like this is the snow drifts that form in three places between my cabin and Ten Mile Road. I can see the road; I can see it’s clear; but I can’t get there. I have to rely on others to help move the drifts and that is never comfortable for me. It was during one such drift problem that my furnace decided it was lonely and needed a nice man to pay some attention to it. I dealt with two repairmen and both were amazing. They were from Jim’s and Sheet Metal Specialties. And even on my present pre-Social Security budget the cost was completely reasonable. I am hoping that the regular temperature dips below freezing will kill off the majority of the grasshopper eggs. Let’s not go there. All the indoor projects are in-progress. The enclosed porch is now a cozy, sun-filled place for coffee in the morning with a view of the mountain. The kitchen is getting a face lift. And all of the logs inside the cabin are being cleaned with Murphy’s Oil Soap. I’ve used the woodstove more this year than ever before, going through all of the newspaper and firewood I had stored. When the weather allows, I drive out to the greasewood and collect dead and dry material. This reduces the fuel loading in the wilder areas of the property, and it doesn’t take very much of this wood to heat the stove up for the evening. Once the stove is heated and the flames have died I close all of the dampers and flue and keep the fan on. This keeps the cabin at about 64 degrees until bed. The ice hasn’t been good to Bridget either. She injured her front leg so she is spending this winter in the pen in the shed. Rough life: she gets cracked corn, COB and MSM with grass hay in the morning and grains and an alfalfa flake in the evening. I clean the pen and massage the leg and have placed an ACE bandage above the knee to give some support. Some days she stands on it just fine; other days she puts little or no weight on it all. Soft tissue damage is a long heal for anyone. I’m also using this ‘quality time’ when she is happily eating her cow candy to trim all of her hooves. But she won’t be going out as long as there is ice in the corral. I’m certain she will be a princess cow by the time this is all over. Maybe I should cut back on the massages and hair brushing. Those horns disqualify her for My Little Pony. As I do not have a water hydrant inside the shed, I carry a 5 gallon bucket to fill her tub twice a day. Now the whole point to this is that next week I will be 66 years old. I have been graced and blessed – so far – with good health. I am doing yoga every morning to warm up; ten pushups; planks for core work; jogging a quarter mile on the drive (weather permitting), climbing fences and opening gates, pitching hay twice a day, feeding and watering the ducks and geese and tending to Bridget. I wish I had a dime for every time someone has said “You’re a survivor; you are so self-sufficient!” Even I can’t do it all. I get hurt. I get exhausted. I castigate myself for not doing more, or doing it all better. But for now I cannot see doing anything else. I’m sure that one of these days I will be found, face down, frozen in a snowdrift (Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.) And when that happens please, please, please refrain from saying – all of you, at all times – that I died doing what I loved. I hate hearing that. There isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t want to die, ready to go, in a comfortable bed, tired, easing into the dust from which we came. Survivors only say that to hide their own discomfort. It’s 4pm. Time to tell the birds to go into their houses, pitch some more hay to the Black Angus girlz and pamper Bridget. That’s pretty much the day here until March. Soon cabin fever will set in heavily and either I will dream up some new classes for the spring or … fall face down in a snow drift… wish me luck.
Last year on one of those very early spring days of cold shade and clear sunlight, the open space near the front steps to the cabin was filled with a low rumble. It was so loud that I checked the approach to the nearby airport for the gigantic FedEx freight plane preparing to land. I scanned the small yard next to the cabin. The juniper-fragrance of the five-year-old Black Currant bush on the north side of the house filled the warm air. The bush was so full of buzzing bumble bees, disturbing and brushing the leaves, that the oils were released. Beneath the leaves the stems were populated with racemes of retiring bell-shaped flowers, tinged with a light purple promise. Hanging from almost every small flower was a fat, fuzzy bumblebee – beautiful gold-orange-brown-black grizzly bearish pollinators.
Tonight, on this freezing, Wyoming, February evening rich burgundy frozen juice is thawing in a bowl on the kitchen counter. Just a little organic cane sugar will bring out the deep black currant flavors – a little juniper, a lot of dark berry, mildly acidic, like citrus. The final liquid is used as a concentrate to make almost a gallon of juice to drink. After the best and fullest ripe currants had been harvested, the rest were left on the branches to dry on the bush. The dried berries are now kept in Mason jars with pale green burlap secured over the top. These, along with dried wild rose hips, are steeped with the Sri Lankan white tea in a vintage porcelain tea pot for seven to ten minutes: the vapor of the garden in the middle of winter.
The timing of the bumblebees of last spring was perfect. These were the first large pollinators to appear, climbing out of their hibernation seemingly all of a sudden, in one day, and covering the early flowering currant. That will not be true every year.
In the practice of permaculture, we follow the patterns of nature. Nature does not behave in isolated cycles or a single path of progress. Time and space overlap, work with and through each other. When an installation is designed it often includes layers of product: early spring-flowering fruit , mid-summer richness, early fall wine fruit. Late fall includes harvesting the wild rose hips and grapes. Any fruit left on the shrubs or trees or vines decorates the bare branches through winter, often feeding birds and mice until snow covers it all.
As we seek balance in our practice, we need to seek a balanced view of the elements of our landscape. The majority of the currants grown at The Farm were actually pollinated by small flies: all of the red, pink and champagne currants. Observing is the first and foremost permaculture practice. No bees worked on those shrubs. This year the little flies also worked on the grape vines. Honey bees worked on the crabapples and mason and carpenter bees on the wild roses. Some years the buffaloberry shrubs glow with tiny, iridescent wasps on every hidden, yellow flower.
The activity of human beings has disrupted the organized chaos of diversity with monoculture and manicured lawns Some behavior attempts to mitigate the consequences of homo sapiens who are not so wise.
This year, for the first time, a North American bumblebee has been listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “Endangered”. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee was very common in 31 Eastern and Midwestern states prior to research done in 2000. That research found the bumblebee in only 13 states and part of Ontario Canada. As usual the research also found that the most likely cause was loss of habitat.
Inhabitat magazine reported that Japanese scientists and engineers have developed a small drone that can be programmed to “grab and deposit pollen” in flowers. (February 2017). It goes without saying that isolating one behavior of any element in the landscape does not in any way replace the entire impact of that element. The beating of the wings of a pollinator may have an entirely different impact on the landscape than the whirling of the rotors on a drone.
But the role of any one element in the landscape never carries the field.
Research done by Roger Morse and Nicholas Calderone of Cornell University – done with very rigorous treatment – concluded that approximately $15 billion of the estimated $394 billion in agricultural production is enhanced by bee activity (“Value of Honey Bees As Pollinators”, 2000). In truth, the majority of human-consumed food product is pollinated by wind or self-pollination, or will develop even without the act of pollination. The largest type of food consumed – grains including but not limited to corn, wheat, rice, rye, barley – are wind pollinated.
Nonetheless we are the landscape. The majority of human behavior in the landscape is “take”. Any time a project can incorporate hand craft, nature craft and science it meets the permaculture Rule of Three. This year take a little time to hit the second hand stores or your stacks of unused clay pots in the shed. The Craft Project for 2017 is about pollinators, starting with bumblebee nests.
Bumblebee Nesting Sites
Step One: Timing and Siting
Use the primary method of permaculture – Observation – to identify plants in your landscape where the bumbles appear in the early spring. There are two times that nesting is important. In the spring when the over-wintering queens come out, and in fall when the queens of that year fly out to find protected places to spend the winter. They seek out abandoned rodent holes, or piles of mulch. The clay pot nesting site provides that place. Make sure that you place these out of high-traffic areas as the bees will defend their nesting sites by stinging intruders.
Step Two: Materials.
🐝 Clay pot- second hand and thrift stores are great places to find these.
🐝 Wire or plastic mesh
🐝 Abandoned mouse nests – These can be found in hay stacks, or places where there is scattered or remnant hay or straw. They will be light, small pieces of material including grasses, feathers, string. Do not use material if it is significantly soiled. Handle the material with gloves to avoid exposure to hanta or other virus or bacteria.
The old Homelite chainsaw case as home to last year’s mice.
Step Three: Construction
🐝 Use a drill bit the same size as your tubing so it will fit snuggly.
🐝 Cut or drill holes on one side of the tubing to allow any water that gets into the tube to drain out .
🐝 Fit the tubing tightly into the drilled hole.
🐝 File a groove in the pot bottom edge (when upside down) to let water trapped in the recessed area out.
🐝 Dig a hole that will cover approximately 2/3 of the pot.
🐝 Place one piece of curved mesh in the bottom of the hole to keep the nesting material off of the damp soil.
🐝 Place the nesting material on top of the mesh.
🐝 Place the clay pot, upside down, into the hole, with the tubing extending above ground but close to the surface, to resemble a rodent den entry.
🐝 Pack earth tightly around the pot and tubing.
🐝 The drain hole – formerly on the “bottom” of the pot – is now exposed. Place the second piece of mesh with grass or small leaf pieces under it, over the drain hole. This will allow for some air flow for the nesting area.
🐝 Place a curved piece of broken or cut smaller pot in an arch over the mesh to hold it in place.
🐝 Place plants favored by the bumble bees near the nesting
The ice remains beneath the surface of the earth. But materials are ready to go. There are several excellent videos on YouTube on bumblebee nests. Use this time to look up the various bumble bee types in your region. Very soon cuttings from the Black Currant will be taken, and in less than five years customers and clients will be able to enjoy the dark richness – and the pollinator’s song.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” – Helen Keller. ** The pasture behind the loafing shed looked silver in the horizontal light of late evening. That silver was the filter of the painful, sharply barbed seed heads of Downy Brome grass. In the sagebrush steppe environment these bunch grasses fed millions of bison, antelope and deer every spring. Early, soft, sweet spring growth mowed by wave after wave of large mammals. But in the useless efforts of humans to organize the earth with fences and the bizarre belief that there is some sport or pleasure in killing large mammals – some eaten, most not – this “foxtail” grows and spreads and covers ground that has been severely disturbed by other human disturbances, mostly poorly advised or ignorant agriculture. And not being grazed repeatedly has created a taller, more prolific grass. Now the waves and waves are the windblown clouds of spiked seeds that fill porches, gardens, barns, the eyes of cows, and dogs, and birds, and native creatures, sprouting everywhere they find even a hint of moisture, digging into skin if that is the only source – all the result of our inhabiting this landscape and disrupting the natural processes.
What I’m about to say will sound politically incorrect. You will just have to get over it. And before I say it, I should reveal that about a third of my family have been and still are in conventional, corporate agriculture, and I worked very closely with small operators in watershed management projects. The latter folks are not the folks I’m referring to here. The smaller operators have always seemed to be open to new ideas when economy and long range goals are supported. Conventional, traditional agriculture is primarily practiced by men, and the men who claim to know everything about “agriculture” would approach this pasture issue with lots of herbicide, plowing, seeding, chemical fertilizing, and irrigating. I will say that generally their next year the new seed comes up nicely. And every year the mechanical processes are repeated. This practice is a choice based on information, on advertisement, on expediency, and let’s be honest: something about men and large Tonka toys, overcoming the Earth and forcing their will on dirt. My value judgment on this: it is a tremendous use of resources (for a moment consider the cost in resources of creating a John Deere tractor, or swather, or baler, or all of the above because to process hay you need them all.) There is something to be said for occupying the time of that Guy in the tractor. What else would he be doing if he couldn’t sit in an air conditioned tractor with Sirius radio blaring country music in the cab going around in squared off patterns all day long….I suppose there is always NASCAR.)
Restore your place in on the planet. In the spring I start by moving the five cows onto the areas of the property where the spring bunch grasses are thick. As spring progresses rotational grazing helps to manage the growth. In late spring, when the growth is less palatable for domestic cows, mowing comes in. Any seed head that is produced is very short, low to the ground. Mowing stresses the grasses. For unpalatable bunch grasses the stress reduces the vigor. In the extremely short growing season here in the Great High and Dry, cool season grasses can do very well on very little water, and the mowing or grazing of the green plant forces the grass to produce roots, rhizomes, spreading and creating turf, increasing the organic matter in the salty clay dirt. Turf-building grasses starve out the short-season bunch grass. Sweet clover – a nitrogen fixer – finds small open patches in the new culture and mowing or grazing releases the nitrogen from nodules on the dying root ends. Controlled flood irrigation works best as the rhizomes follow the moisture in the soil and spread by following the irrigation water. “Control” is the key term here. Too much water will result in more bunch grass. Mowing exposes grass hoppers to the meadow and horned larks and robins and sparrows that follow the mower. In the fall I have allowed the cool season grasses to go to seed, and I add seed. Invasive exotics – like the knapweed brought to the US in the 1950s in alfalfa seed from Afghanistan – are controlled with very well timed, very limited spraying. Tiny, poppy-seed-sized black beetles were released in this area for Canadian thistle. They eat the core of the seed head out, significantly reducing seed production. Mowing of thistle does the same thing and stresses the plant. Limited, well-controlled herbicide application is a TOOL. Integrated “pest” management is one of the few agricultural terms that effectively hits the mark.
The world is integrated. When we believe that we are somehow separate and apart from our environment the patterns we see and the patterns we impose are contrived, come from our need to not feel helpless in the midst of such richness, complexity, violence, variability. Chaos. Sometimes we just need to sit on the ground, feel defeated, let it pass, look again, consider, and seek something new as part of the viewshed.
While it’s still cool outside, before the 90 degree day sets in, it’s time to water and feed the ducks and geese and move them to areas to eat the weeds and grasshoppers, time to move the cows off of the rich grass to the weeds for a few days, time to water the veggie garden, water and weed the nursery, and harvest more black currant….8 pounds so far from one five year old plant…chokecherries are just beginning to turn rose-colored, raspberries are peeking out from the coolness of the plant, green grapes are so heavy I had to prop them up with cottonwood branches…if you are reading this you are among those who are blessed to have the time and place to even think about it……and the world goes on…..NOTE: This ability to observe the environment, to interpret those observations, to listen to our ancient intuitions WILL BE THE ONLY REAL PROTECTION AGAINST TERRORISM. NOT THE GOVERNMENT, NOT THE POLICE, NOT THE MILITARY, NOT THE INTELLIGENCE NETWORKS, NOT THE ANALYSTS. BEING AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND THE DIS-EASE IN THOSE AROUND YOU WILL BE THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DO. Wake Up. Live in the World.
In 1987 I had a major life-changing event which moved me away from a twelve year career in law enforcement and into emergency and disaster management. After writing several major plans, I was approached by the local district coordinator for the USDA, NRCS to coordinate a 36-agency program to restore two major anadromous fisheries watersheds on the Northern California Coast. Five years later I was hired to include a third watershed damaged by leakage from a Browning-Ferris Industries landfill near Half Moon Bay California. So began my immersion in natural resource management. I found stream restoration was amazingly clear to me, and I worked with hydrologists to design repairs, riparian habitat restorations, fisheries habitat installation, bank stabilization, restoration and conservation of agricultural and forest-product lands. That work was the most rewarding, satisfying time of my life.
After a few moves I found myself in Casper Wyoming in 2000, and although this is in no way a place in which I ever expected to be living, the property I have here would be far out of reach financially in many places I would prefer to live. By the time I found myself alone with a cabin and a livestock loafing shed and 18 acres of abused, over-worked ground I had also lost most of my sense of self. I was exhausted from a period of challenges, and my confidence in what I knew had vanished.
I began slowly to make improvements on the property – within budget and under my own labor. I started the nursery in small ways in 2003, began selling plants in 2005, continued with small improvements, and then was blessed with a cost-share situation from which I was able to have an underground irrigation delivery system installed. Up to that point I had used ditches and dams to move my irrigation water from a quarter mile away to the fields on the property. I think it is important to add that I was always employed full time – first as district manager for the domestic water system, then as business manager for the Federal irrigation district, and in the last seven years as a clerk at the local municipal court. Salaries and wages in Wyoming are a small portion of what those types of positions would pay in higher-cost-of-living states. I have always lived on a budget and that ability served me extremely well during these years since.
I do not even remember the first time I saw or heard the word permaculture but I found Rosemary Morrow’s manual in a local bookstore. So much of what she wrote was exactly what I had been doing. She gave me a language to describe things I had been doing by instinct – the old instinct that had created nurseries for rainbow trout to become silver salmon to return and rest in the gravels under the redwoods. And I do not remember the first time, after all the Internet searches and books and videos, that I realized that the nursery and large installations I had developed on my property were what I wanted to do as a livelihood. I do remember finding out that I could still draw plans, structure projects, develop materials lists and budgets, when I completed the Oregon State University Permaculture course work online.
And, I do remember the exact moment that I was writing one of the Reflective assignments for the Cornell Course when reality shifted, and I realized that I already knew all of the basics. They were inside me, inside my experience, and outside in the nursery, and the pasture, and the gardens and the hedges and windbreaks I had installed. When I described this moment to a good friend, her only comment was “I told you this was your Gift.” She is a devout, born-again Christian (I, a life-long Buddhist), and when she used the word “Gift” I knew exactly what she meant. What I love about her use and understanding of that word is that it is a divine gift, something that an individual cannot avoid or deny, and which is not only something that lifts others up, but which also can be a burden for the holder. Never enough, never doing quite enough.
I remember realizing in an exchange with Steve Gabriel that he felt that weight as well. That the weight of doing what we do, living as a natural element in the environment, can be so frustrating sometimes. So much we want to achieve. The point being: I found my footing again and a language with which to share the vision.
The second most amazing thing that has happened as a result of this pursuit of an intentional life was my moment of enlightenment about design. I had no problem planning an installation or project. I saw beauty and function in the things I was doing. But it was the Pattern Language topic that shoved me outside my oh-so-practical paradigm. My irritation with the article we were asked to read drove me to a deeper research into the father of Pattern Language. In fact he had been interviewed for an article in a Buddhist journal to which I subscribe (and which published my first attempt at non-fiction some 16 years ago). And off I went. I spent hours on tangents, following names and history of design, and ended up back in my childhood. Many, many weekends, when I was a child, my family would drive to the Napa Wine Country, north of San Francisco. There on the east side of the freeway, just north of the city of Marin, was the Marin County building. My mother would roll her window down, insisting that my father slow down so we could see the building designed by “Frank Lloyd Wright”. She was fascinated. And I realized that she referred to her childhood home as a “Craftsman”. As a child I could identify the “Craftsman” style. Somehow she had developed an interest in architecture, and somehow, through all the “brown” in which she tried to bury me, the “green” was there as well. Here in my design tangent I came back to Taliesin, Falling Waters, Prairie and organic design. I watched hours of architectural design talks on the TED site. I called up scanned images of hand drawn plans by Wright, Giorgini, Fujimori, Church, and Gaudi, and so many others. In the photos of the Warka Water towers it completely came together. I had found the soul of design, and these great, great people had given me permission to believe in the divine approaches to practicality. Two of my favorites: Falling Waters by Wright and the Seed Cathedral by Heatherwick. And this quest came about because the article by Salingaros was so nominal, so arithmetic, so frustrating.
Permaculture provides a language with which we can describe for others a way to apply information, to create well-being, resilience, growth. It can be as simple as a list of best management practices, of techniques. And unlike the “hard” sciences, the goal of seeking balance in this life is held up before us by the institutions that embody and profess permaculture: Care for the Earth; Care for People; Fair Share. The constant debate about permaculture lacking “proof” is a distraction. The key parts, on the most basic levels ARE “hard” science: soil science, meteorology, physics, organic chemistry, biology, botany. But the proofs of hard science are completely useless unless they can be applied, unless they are proven in the very air we breathe and water we drink. Permaculture is the applied science. It is a practice, a methodology, a dynamic, learning community. It is motivated, as any practice is, by ideals, by justice, by a search for a sense of peace wherever we can find it. Let those who find worth in the dialectic continue to argue, while the rest of us learn from their debate. But only after contemplation with a critical mind, with our bruised, cracked hands deep in the soil, or covered with calf slime, or carefully cleaning mushrooms, or quietly watching the steam rise from mugs of hot, herb tea. Only after dreaming and designing clean water and sanitation systems for Nepalese villages, or donating fresh food to elementary school children in Detroit, or quietly creating a web of barter and trade to rival any monetary economy.
So, tomorrow after I return home from my “grown up responsible” job for the City of Casper I hope to have the energy to get outside and set some fence posts, which will lead to fencing out the five Black Angus and one Scottish Highlander, so that the new pasture grass can grow up, so that I can spray some exotic invasive nasty knapweed, and next year have hay to sell and trade. And I will sleep very soundly from good, hard physical labor. Real sleep: one of the simplest benefits of this life. My most sincere thanks to the Cornell staff, and Steve Gabriel, and my classmates, and to you for offering me this opportunity. Three hundred new plants coming the end of May; lots of work to do.
Language has always been my favorite past time. I have been a writer from the moment I could hold a crayon. Conversely, mathematics destroyed me through most of my education…until graduate statistical analysis. I still remember being terrified by the thought that I had to get a passing grade in statistics. But more clearly I remember the moment the switch between my right and left brain was properly placed. Statistics IS language. I completed qualitative analysis and four statistics courses with A grades.
So it is with heavy heart that I have to turn the pattern language sacred cow into creamed chipped beef. I do not remember the last time I read anything so pretentious. Architecture has always struggled with the mixture of engineering and art, most often referred to as “design”. Is it applied science? If so, then give us practical methods of successful application. If it is art, then lift us up (Personally, I’m a FL Wright fan). I think there is a useful tool here but it was covered in Piled higher and Deeper, steaming LANGUAGE.
I do not have a Master’s Degree. I left the Master’s program in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences when I was offered two contracts to coordinate multi-million dollar programs to restore coastal fisheries in Northern California. To quote my thesis advisor “Why are you wasting time and money on a degree that you think you need to do the job you are now doing?” So, without the degree, here is what I know: Quote from Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander: “Vast parking lots wreck the land for people.”
Reality: Vast parking lots irritate people by forcing them to park far from their destination and create an environment in which people forget where they parked their vehicle. Well, that is what people wandering around the Walmart parking lot will tell you. Well, they tell me that even though I never ask. But what might outweigh these irritations (walking is necessary for human life – circulation of blood and lymph, and all that rot – and personally, I bent the antenna on the roof of my truck so that I could see it across the largest parking lots; no architect necessary)?
Another pattern language phrase outweighs the sloth: Safe Travel. Mr. Niko Salingaros, in his article (The Structure of Pattern Language, June 2005) reiterating Mr. Alexander’s book (Pattern Language, 1977), suggests that parking lots should be designed for five to seven cars, surrounded by gardens, trees and hedges. And here is what I know: Parking lots so designed: will create an environment where safe backing of vehicles will be impacted by lack of visibility, increasing negative emotions and insurance premiums; owners of large vehicles will avoid shopping there and they are usually people with money; will cause a marked increase in auto tampering and burglary; and the sheltered rows will increase the probability of strong-arm robberies. Oh how I would love the small shops of locally-owned businesses, with close parking and friendly alert shop owners! Yes, I have some serious reservations about Walmart’s impact on the planet, economy and human health (let’s not even go into the role of China.) But when I walk out to my vehicle at 9pm I know that: there will be lights; there will be lots of human beings around; there are cameras watching me get to my truck; and an employee to take the cart back for me.
But the truth is that government regulation and taxation are horribly unsupportive of small business. There is a pattern for you: On scale, if the Federal government creates tax and regulatory challenges to small business, and local governments create zoning, construction and marketing challenges, the businesses that will have the financial wherewithal to setup and maintain a successful operation will be those that can afford to comply with all the challenges. Ouch. Pattern language: Environment in Which to Make a Living.
I am much more interested in the webs that evolve to overcome challenges to the survival of each element, structure and system on all scales in several categories – government, business, my nursery, each type of plant in the nursery, the combination of plants in the nursery into hedges, and the elements that feed these: money, water, suppliers, supplies, and oh yes those poor people wandering around the Walmart parking lot who last year came over to my trailer and asked if the beautiful plants in it were for sale…opening the opportunity for language opening the door for new experiences opening the certainty that I will carry the plants while helping them look for their car. Pattern Language: Success.