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

Clean Water

Clean and adequate water will more surely promote peaceful revolution than any guerilla warrior or political extremist ever could dream. The simple act of finding a spigot that slowly trickles water will change the life of a community such that it is no longer vulnerable to the promises of someone seeking power through numbers. The simple act of replacing a thatch roof with metal or impervious plastic sheeting and some method of containment is the first peaceful step to revolution, for more human minds and souls are pending in limbo over this than over the industrial-military complex, or some government or any religion. The key methodology of terroristic change is to completely disrupt the reality of the target population and, when in crisis, when they have lost all faith in their institutions, offer new institutions which reform that population into Believers. This disruption is best done through substantial, unexpected, immediate pain – destruction, desolation, death. It is amazingly effective with most populations, especially with populations which are already suffering, struggling for daily life. The revolution is supposed to lift them up, empower them, move them to a more utopian, community or religious life – at least in the eyes of the terroristic revolutionary. But it is fact that those populations immediately become oppressed by the revolutionary. Power equates with control, equates with adopting the philosophy, theology, economics, government of the terroristic revolutionary. All revolution, all change begins with the individual. Moving beyond the oppression of ignorance requires the luxury of questioning, of experiencing moments of no struggle, of clear thought, of normal levels of intellectual and physical stress that comes with hope and visions for the future. Providing clean and adequate water is the moment in which the individual can take a deep, free breath, an opening for new belief, new thought. Your act: Never turn on that faucet again without understanding the impact and the blessing you possess by being able to do so….The monsoonal flow across the Rocky Mountains makes the air dense, heavy, wet…so rare in the Great High and Dry. I will not have to water the nursery today. The air alone will do. Now, off to the alternate reality of The Day Job…Namaste

Elegance of Water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANature is so elegant, so well-fit. Light rain, light snow, falls from above and drips from the edges of the plant – the drip line. Water from above is immensely important. Root growth matches the drip line and mirrors the reach of the limbs, stems, leaves. The water collects nutrients from the leaves – dust of soil, bird and bug droppings, tiny dead bodies, full of nitrogen and nutrients – down into the soil below. The moisture underground keeps the roots warm and moist – think soaker hoses and drip systems – but it does not provide that which water from above provides. So bend down (gentle deep knee bends moves the blood and lymph systems in good ways) and check the moisture under the plants. Take a pinch of soil. If it sticks together, you can wait. If it falls apart or will not stay in a pinch, take the time, the quiet, the refuge of standing with the hose and the water wand on “shower” and sprinkle the plants from above. As rainwater is best so use rainwater…and condensation and melting snow, all that, by gravity are provided in such precious, limited amounts in this steppe, sagebrush environment. A very basic, very simplistic formula: 1″ of rain on 1000 square feet of roof = 600 gallons of life. Metal roof is cleaner and better transport than composite roof. Composite is made of petroleum products. Tiles are porous and can release chemicals or minerals. Seamless gutters are best. Downspouts into potable water tanks. Simple hoses or drains leading to gardens, windbreaks, hedges, food-forests. In one rainstorm 200 gallons were collected…200 gallons easily watered the nursery when things began to dry out three days later.Two hundred gallons less from the treatment plant at the river.
Stand in the quiet, the green peaking out of last years branches and stems. Listen to the water; enjoy the light blow-back of the spray; watch the life return. Not mastery; but stewardship. Try not to struggle.
Work with; learn from; let go.