Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days in the Neighborhood: The First Fifty Days Complete

Thoughts and musings on Permaculture, plants, economics, life, and other sundry reflections Day 1: A Walk Through the Neighborhood A journey about the neighborhood, a short walk, a stupendously harvestable walk: food, medicine, utility. Mineral, vegetable, animal, human. All here in abundance. The built environment, the waste stream, water pouring from the highest ridges, rivers of water teeming with possibility, coursing unforgivably down gutters and storm drains, when a simple ditch would do to keep the water where it falls. And the native overstory of this 250 year old settlement (Carbondale, Illinois), rich in biomass for the taking: acorn, crabapple, mulberry, too much of it, too damn much of it under tire, become macadam, and all it takes is reaching hands, and a tongue to taste the delicate flesh, or bring some home in a basket to dry, jelly, jam, drink. Did not plant them. The birds did. Did not weed around their feet. Where is the work in this, let alone the money? A mulberry is richer than a bank president. Its account is endless, and it will never go bankrupt. So, let us begin at the house. I have to conjecture that this 110 year-old home was built with materials garnered from a small radius of the map. Modern transport had yet to become “bonified”. Every home on this street is different. The circa 1900 houses that have survived are unique, singular, have character, no cookie cutter monolithic “design” of later burbs. I wonder at the waste stream of 110 year ago. Where did it all go? What of grids, gas fired stoves, oil fired boilers, and...

Day Forty-Nine in the Neighborhood

How is heat generated in compost? I have heard many scientific explanations but I find myself somewhere between, in some transformational mystery, some alchemy that is inconceivable, rather out of the realm of the conceptual, at a border between manifestation and not. We combine materials, the typical greens and browns in particular ratios in order to generate enough heat to “kill” unwanted seeds and critters. Ironically, it is the critters that do the work for us. Is it that ingestion of substance carries heat deep within its structure? Is plant material a reservoir for the heat of the sun, stored as such until a force is applied to it for its inevitable release? There are all kinds chemistry and physics explanations in play here, but I wonder, if heat transforms the substance that we are so familiar with in our every day lives, what is it that transforms heat? And then what is it that transforms what transforms heat? We could say that this might go on ad infinitum, or ad nauseam, to a sickening or excessive degree (so says Mr. Webster). But, what of mystery, what of permitting the unknown to be a companion on the journey through the curvilinear pathways of this life? Is there anything inside the infinite mystery that may be manifest in this world, but which we do not see as we rush about, fighting for greenbacks, and the scheduled television extravaganza? It has been said that the senses do not lie. Agreed. Whence can we free the senses from this will o the wisp mind, this conceptualizing, habitual rendering of what we have...

Day Thirty-Four in the Neighborhood

After coming back into the house this morning after a short hike about the neighborhood and preparing to hit the road this week for master planning and teaching: Astute designers rigorously attempt to lift the veil of a land base and penetrate to the essence of what they observe. A master plan is a complex endeavor and needs insight, intuitiveness and practical skill in order to create a comprehensive design that will pay heed to the ecological integrity that will bring health to the land for generations to come. It is a concept map. This framework, based on P.A. Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence, aids the designer in delineating a master plan: Climate Landform Water Systems Access and Circulation Vegetation and Animals Microclimate The Built Environment, Energy and the Waste Stream Zones of Use Soil Aesthetics and Culture These broad terms range from a “connection” to the earth forces of wind, sun, soil, water, heat and cold, to the inclusion of the often felt spiritual forces that our ancestors are watching over us, or that there is an ever present force, or God, with some type of universal plan. In light of this we will consider an eleventh point: Spirituality. These eleven points of permanence ground the vision for the project in “real time” and offer a comprehensive framework for planning and design. A master plan is by no means a finished product. It is a scaffold for depicting the vision and goals of the stakeholders involved in a land development project. We might liken it to a painting wherein the painter works within a frame (think of the property...

More Days in the Neighborhood

Day Twenty-Five in the Neighborhood Management and Design As a designer of small to large acreage I know that pretty pictures and scintillating narratives do not a comprehensive Permaculture design make. It does not end here. Nature has an intriguing way of succesionally filling all niches. Somehow these snapshots, these creative gestures that we create are only a conceptual map, a set of goals, a vision for only a “finished” product, a corpse of sorts. But, in the long and short of it, all life beyond the picture is management: grooming, fixing, dealing with human and animal interrelationships, the list goes on ad infinitum because it never does not end. Is infinite the proper adjective (take it as noun, verb, whatever) here, be that as it may? Is our protracted observation (per Bill Mollison) a one year deal or an always, ever, forever deal? Who brushes their teeth upon awakening from a night’s slumber (or before falling into dream worlds)? Who does the dishes (all hail the dishwasher – got to rinse them off first – stack em in – soap – run – dry – back onto the shelves and into the cabinets)? Oh my, work, work, work. What to eat? Fast food? Off to Mickey D’s. Got to fuel up (the car). Got to order. Got to chew, digest, dispose of wrappers, and inevitably poop it all out (which can be work). So, we create beautiful designs. Works of aesthetically superlative art, simple snapshots that do not change outside of the fact that the paper that they are printed on deteriorates, the computer that they were created...

Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days in the Neighborhood Thoughts and musings on Permaculture, plants, economics, life, and other sundry reflections

 Day 1: A Walk Through the Neighborhood A journey about the neighborhood, a short walk, a stupendously harvestable walk: food, medicine, utility. Mineral, vegetable, animal, human. All here in abundance. The built environment, the waste stream, water pouring from the highest ridges, rivers of water teeming with possibility, coursing unforgivably down gutters and storm drains, when a simple ditch would do to keep the water where it falls. And the native overstory of this 250 year old settlement (Carbondale, Illinois), rich in biomass for the taking: acorn, crabapple, mulberry, too much of it, too damn much of it under tire, become macadam, and all it takes is reaching hands, and a tongue to taste the delicate flesh, or bring some home in a basket to dry, jelly, jam, drink. Did not plant them. The birds did. Did not weed around their feet. Where is the work in this, let alone the money? A mulberry is richer than a bank president. Its account is endless, and it will never go bankrupt. So, let us begin at the house. I have to conjecture that this 110 year-old home was built with materials garnered from a small radius of the map. Modern transport had yet to become “bonified”. Every home on this street is different. The circa 1900 houses that have survived are unique, singular, have character, no cookie cutter monolithic “design” of later burbs. I wonder at the waste stream of 110 year ago. Where did it all go? What of grids, gas fired stoves, oil fired boilers, and two car garages stuffed with toxic metals, fluids, plastics, emissions? A fifth...

The Backyard

                        Backyard. I often wonder at this term. Is it something we cannot see like our own anatomical rears? Must we hold up a mirror to catch a glimpse of it somewhat like a wart or mole between the shoulder blades? We have this propensity to plant our crops (if we plant them at all) in the backyard, behind the house, away from passersby on the street side that holds the mailbox and the numbers above the front door captive. What are we hiding? What could be so God awful as a cucumber vine, a bumblebee mining for nectar upside down in a comfrey blossom? I get it, food off the vine not harvested off the supermarket shelf, must be a hazard, or better yet, a virus, a virulent virus of monstrous proportions. Lest the petunias in the window box be overwhelmed and engulfed by “fresh food”, or the lawn become delinquent with the subterfuge of dandelion taproots, or plantain stalks (potent foods and medicines for the taking). The female gingko in the front yard streams nuts by the thousands every year. “They stink! The skin stinks!” But, isn’t it always what is inside, hidden from view (the backyard), where the buried treasure lies? What is so unbecoming as a ripe plum or peach hanging in all its delectable ripeness in the parkway betwixt house and street? Or a chicken laying an egg, or a Nigerian dwarf goat playfully hopping about like a newborn pup? Imagine if we turned the tables on the backyard and it became the...