Permaculture: No Guts

Researching the final assignment for the online course and finally had to make this observation: The permaculture community has no guts. Talk about how important failure is to development, but never risk their own personal failure by critically reviewing the work of the pantheon of mythical heros. Talk about how the science of botany, horticulture, agriculture, flow dynamics, geology, economics, organic chemistry is so important to the methods, but so far very little if any real science happening… you know, hypothesis, null hypothesis, research design, statistical treatment, replication, predictability, failure, redesign, etc.

It is my observation that the leading Fathers of Permaculture are not interested in this activity. It is easier to plant and then make pretty videos of the best results. Not having seen all of the permaculture videos, I am hopeful that someone has done the “Do Not Try This At Home”  video of failures. In this design work – as in science – failures are essential to progress.

Permaculture is a practice, like medicine and the law. The foundation of permaculture should be recognized as physical and ethical laws.  A practice is dynamic, and feels safe changing and growing and failing and recovering because it is based on those laws: that consistent, moisture is necessary; that specific levels of sunlight for specific plants is necessary; that certain livestock managed in certain ways will predictably increase the productivity of the land; that providing a useful demonstration which fits the value system of a community is more important than who is providing that demonstration.

The mythical heros (again, I’m not seeing a heroine among the vanguard in Valhalla) are a distraction.

This course and the reflective element and the belief in that reflective element by the facilitator has brought me to a new level of commitment and understanding of my role. For me it is not just about growing my own food (I do that now); not about improving my property; it is not just about making an income; it is not about saving the earth because I alone cannot do that. But I believe deeply in the fundamentals of this practice and I believe that individuals can experience a certain kind of freedom by adopting these ways, a feeling of self-determination, and some small relief from a feeling of helplessness. I also believe in critical mass: the smallest amount of material necessary to maintain a chain reaction…

When asked to reflect (briefly) on global warming…

FirstSnow2014

“So what?” Travis snorted quietly. “Well, what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive? For want of ten mice, a fox dies. For want of ten foxes a lion starves. For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction. Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty-nine million years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the caveman starves. And the caveman, please note, is not just any expendable man, no! He is an entire future nation. From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one hundred sons, and thus onward to a civilization. Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. It is comparable to slaying some of Adam’s grandchildren. The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations. With the death of that one caveman, a billion others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming. Step on a mouse and you crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, Washington might not cross the Delaware, there might never be a United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off!” – The Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury,1952

 

Gawd bless Ray Bradbury and Edward Lorenz. By bringing the concept of the “butterfly effect” into popular culture by way of science fiction, movies and tee shirt décor at the very least the world has been exposed to it. And this is the beginning of the evolution of thought for people (I always hesitate to use “human beings” because I have a sense of that creature as a more highly evolved creature than “person” in general; think “mensch”). It is clear that the most difficult part of global warming is getting people to accept that they are not separate from their environment. That is such a huge evolutionary step. As long as we do not accept our place in and impact on the total environment, we do not have to feel guilt, regret, shame, responsible. We do not have to adjust or change and experience discomfort – the difference between climbing into our big pickup truck and climbing into public transit. For one thing the smell usually wakes you up quicker than that cup of non-fair trade coffee. If we valued public transit more the conveyances would be so much more inviting. But then I live out in the country and drink Yuban coffee. Go figure. It’s all about balance.

 

No one has to change so drastically that it unbalances their existence. Evolution can occur by small adjustments or by ‘shock and awe’. Set your own pace and ‘shock and awe’ will be less shocking and awesome. But I do think that change should always feel just a little uncomfortable, like peeking around a dark corner.

 

But let me balance this: Gawd bless some scientists too. When reading the recently-released IPCC 5th Assessment I found very clear attention paid to the tenuousness of statistics. Really good scientists (and yes, that is my judgment call; remember I’m a Thomas Kuhn disciple) always, always, always quote their source, which can only be a replicated, peer-reviewed treatment, and they always, always, always comment on the reliability of their numbers. I was HORRIBLE in math classes up and until statistics in which for some very interesting reasons I attained straight A grades.

 

Cast away government regulation; it swings with politics. Litigation has made some huge inroads with industries cleaning up their own act. If that kind of financial fear is the only leverage on the biggest polluters then so be it. Keep that tool sharp.

 

Working with individuals, giving them the tools and opportunity to experience a healthier way of doing things is the key. And then the 100th Monkey phenomenon will doubtless occur. When a shared knowledge hits critical mass in a population, suddenly and without much warning, the entire population emulates the behavior. (The Hundredth Monkey, Ken Keyes Jr; 1952 on the Japanese island of Koshima with Macaca fuscata).

 

As individuals we make choices which will impact the world and return to us in a manner that depends greatly on our intent (initial conditions). As permaculture disciples we appropriately share the information until the neighborhood  , the community, the city, each reach critical mass of knowledge. Revolution is a glorious thing…especially when it is sneaky.

The End. Namaste

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

The Sensative Dependency on Initial Conditions

ImageThere is an air about good soil. It smells rich, dark, alive. It is the source of “earthy”. It unfolds in your hands, revealing broken stems, shattered, dark leaf parts, wriggling earthworms. It is moist and warm and completely uncommon in this place where I live. Here, in the Big High and Dry that kind of soil comes in plastic bags…unless we create it ourselves in piles of green and brown compost. Placing a seed in this soil will bring about growth; placing the seed in the native soils reduces the probability of germination. Then, there is the seed itself and the level of potential it carries, and the condition of the shell and the life within. These are the initial conditions for gardens.

I have a terrible struggle with careful, organized approaches to creating a garden and the wild-looking result I love. I do not want to introduce harmful elements and yet I do not want to be fearful and precise. As humans we have an overwhelming need to organize the world around us. We plant in rows. But what plant releases its seeds in rows? We prune for clean lines and to remove the browned, frost-bitten tips, and then we put those clippings in bags and send them to the landfill. What forest works to remove the dead and dying to a foreign place? It seems that everything we traditionally do in the garden is contrary to what nature is.

 Soil and seed are the initial conditions for the garden. Edward Lorenz used the phrase “the butterfly effect”. Although the original comment was regarding the wing movements of a seagull, Lorenz found the “butterfly” metaphor much more attractive. A seagull leaves a much more complex image. The point was that the movement of the wings of a butterfly impacts the atmosphere and therefore impacts winds and hurricanes and fluid movements in the fabric of our air. By entering the number .506 into a formula to forecast weather instead of entering the full .506127Lorenz found that the forecast completely changed. He saw this as a reflection of the theory of a very sensitive dependency on initial conditions.

One theory of landscape manipulation offers that any action should be taken as small, slow solutions entirely based on the belief that initial conditions have long term impacts well beyond our ability to predict. And with this in mind, prepare your soil, carefully select your seed, start with a few plantings and when it flourishes, I cannot help but see that we must cast the next planting to the wind, letting the seeds find their own initial conditions to bring it back to the wild.