Day Fifty-One in the Neighborhood
The Neighborhood goes on forever. It stretches like a rubber band to the breaking point and springs back just as we do after a journey or a stroll to the outskirts of town. Somehow we always end up at home. It is a familiar place steeped with memories. Are not all memories steeped in place? Some place? It is where we reside, where we hunker down, where we dig our heels in, and where we ultimately rest in order to wake to the day. And where we ultimately come to rest for the long haul. I have asked, does not the neighborhood come with us no matter where we remove to physically? Do we carry the neighborhood inside? Are not outside and inside indistinct, the edges merging into ecotones, rough and wild edges mixing with the cultivated, the mingling of field and forest, ocean and dune? Do we walk through this life with a constant question, for how can we answer any question with finality, unless our eyes are on the corpse, but then as you all know it does not end there, for the corpse becomes fodder for the next round of life, does it not?
And so goes the neighborhood. A hundred years, two hundred years hence, will the neighborhood be just this particular neighborhood? Will all these houses (including the one that my family inhabits) still stand and continue to struggle biology, rain and snow? Will the foundation ultimately stand?
I wander here and there and read what I see with my senses. I take in the neighborhood whole. It does not disappoint. Even the sidewalk gives up its patterns to my eyes, and the clip clop of heels to its hard, porous surfaces. And on either side of this plants suffuse the eyes with green, blooming flowers waft scent to the nose, and as I kneel down to pick and eat, the taste buds leave all discrimination behind and simply savor the juices spread out before the tongue, because the palate knows what we know not (in the mind).
So, after the first fifty days in the neighborhood have come to completion, I step off yet again into the unknown and record my reflections. Where will these paths lead me, what will I find? What would I find anywhere? Always like a sieve may I catch the next observation, and let in flow right through to the next observation, and the next. But this is not linear, it is all happening at once, always and forever…
Day Fifty-Two in the Neighborhood
Yesterday, here at Kinstone, in Wisconsin, our students worked the entire day completing our straw-clay cabin. In this thriving neighborhood, situated on the bluffs overlooking that grand river, the Mississippi, folks danced in clay, sculpted walls, put the finishing touches on the rocket mass heater, inserted insulation into the floor, and limed the exterior.
We are fond, as human beings, of completion, or the sense of it thereof. So yesterday we had the opportunity to step back from our work at the end of the day, take it all in and feel that sense of completion. Many hands do make small work, but small work is larger than all the minutiae of this world, when community reigns, and a thriving ecology of people create an ecosystem for the ages, the traces of which never fade over time…the neighborhood does go on and on and on…
Day Fifty-Three in the Neighborhood
At Kinstone in Wisconsin
Aquaponics construction and test. The siphon works! Bring on the fish! Chicken coop finished, ready to be placed! Fruit almost dry in the dehydrator! Hot compost pile ready to be turned again! Food forest on the terraces maturing and bursting with life! Watching Olomana Gardens in the classroom! Taking honey off the bees! And pizzas, yes pizzas, in the cob oven to cap off the hour! Just another day in this neighborhood…
Day Fifty-Four in the Neighborhood
Musings From the Back Porch…
I often wonder at all the gardens, cob houses, the “appropriate” technologies, all the externalities that we attach ourselves to on the journey through this life, the transformation of ecosystems, back yards and front yards, 10,000 acre farms. There is a faint alchemy in all this, a lifting of one veil amongst the many layers, an opaque membrane about the circumference of the surface of this earth.
But, may I say succinctly, that the real alchemy is a subtle one, and it is insatiable, a metamorphosis of the base metal of the heart, a practice, struggle for the acknowledgement of the seed that must break the thick crust of clay in order to breathe into life where there is little closure for the plant, no secret lobby or hidden crypt.
But, at the end of the year the seed needs must drop into soil, luscious and life giving topsoil, as if a dead nodule, as if concealed from the forces that inspire, a hidden gem without a necklace, without a clasp, without any attachment, simply nested there, inside the inbreath of seasons, not even waiting for spring rain, but arising as if its heart were thrust toward the black hole inside the burning edges of the sun…
We have travelled as one
Who ages gently,
As one body with all
All the violence jammed
Into the eyes of those
Stacked gently into the
Magnificence of the human
Yes, we have come for
And stepped into revolution
The kind that turns and
It is always a
Question of purview of
Silencing the chatter,
Of the longing that
Separates our Adam
Into our Eve and
Eve into Adam.
But we have all tasted
The glorious fruit
Of the death of’
The fruit that
And sloughs off skins
Until the last
The last day,
The circumference of which
Cannot be regarded
From the mind’s
Because the rooster
Still crows and
The robin still
Explores the soil
For wet worms…
Day Fifty-Five in the Neighborhood
Milkweed: Some Reminiscences from the Neighborhood
Milkweed can be found all across the United States. Here are some reflections on my relationship with this marvelous plant…
Years ago a friend invited me to his farm in upstate New York. Near the pond grew a greenish-gray plant, nearly five feet tall with umbels of purple-pink flowers hanging juicily from the stems, and seedpods that looked like elves’ shoes. He broke off a young leaf. “Try some.” A white, milky sap oozed from the leaf base and the stem from which it came. “I know”, I say to myself, “I’ll call this plant, milk-plant.” Two weeks later I am in a field covered with “milk plants”. Thousands of bees swarm the blossoms, seeking nectar, emitting a deep drone in concert. I cannot help myself. I walk through this field in awe. The bees are not alarmed. They do not sting. By the time I reach the opposite side of the field my pants are covered with milky sap. “Milk plant”.
I open the plant guide in my hand to:
Milkweed (asclepias syricas), a perennial plant inhabiting many regions of the United States, stands out not only as a delicious and diverse food, a miraculous utility plant, an efficient medicinal, but the milkweed’s annual cycle of life, and the creatures attracted to it, make it a never ending source of wonder and study. Its leaves are long and ovate, and its flowers appear from June to August. By late fall the elf-shoe seedpods burst open, revealing silvery threads that carry seeds with them upon the wind. Empty seedpods remain on stalks through the winter.
Milkweed is a native American plant. A popular related native species is orange butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa), the New York State flower. Stands of milkweed are tied together beneath the soil by a spreading rhizome. The natural history of milkweed is marked, specifically, by the unusual insects that feed off of it. Milkweeds are impregnated with poisonous glycosides. Few species will tolerate ingestion because of this. The ones that have grown immune to this poison: milkweed bugs, milkweed beetles, monarch butterflies, and many moths, butterflies, and flying insects that visit the lavender like fragrance of the blossoms for nectar, and ultimately, pollination. Slugs, aphids, caterpillars, wasps, flies, harvestmen, mud daubers. One could sit for months and observe all the yearly activity around milkweed communities and never even begin to scratch the surface of all the milkweed plant has to offer. And yet, there is more.
A tea of milkweed rootstock is diuretic for kidney ailments such as water retention, dropsy and stones. It is expectorant for coughs and asthma, it soothes the pain of rheumatism, and causes sweating for fever and colds. The milky sap is applied topically for wart and mole removal, and ringworm. In large doses milkweed is emetic and can cause severe heart problems. The milky sap is not pleasant at all when rubbed into the eyes.
The young shoots and leaves, flower buds, and pods are cooked in several changes of water and prepared like asparagus. The flowers make excellent fritters, especially when covered with acorn flour batter and fried in sunflower oil. I have nibbled the very young leaves and flowers along the trail, but this is an acquired taste.
The down from the autumn seedpods is excellent for stuffing pillows, as tinder, and as insulation.
But, the main use of milkweed is as a strong and durable fiber plant. Bend the old brown stems back and pull the fibers free from the pithy cellulose. It can be made into very delicate thread or into thick rope. Along with dogbane and nettles, mainstays of the open fields, and milkweed, one could weave cordage forever.
It is early August. We are headed with a group of twenty-two into Water Canyon, at the end of which is a deep spring pool where the canyon halts abruptly, surrounded by a hundred foot high in-slanting, sandstone amphitheater. Along the way, amidst this breathtaking Utah landscape, we have gathered numerous brown milkweed stalks (last year’s bounty) and several thin willow withes. Today’s class is about cordage, how to locate the proper plants, extract fibers, make cordage. Then we will weave a simple basket with willow withes as warp, milkweed string as weaver. With many feet plunged into the cold spring, a soothing desert breeze in shadow, we begin. The fingers dexterously split fibers, roll, weave, braid, create. A simple skill with a thousand and one applications. Split, roll, weave, braid, create…
Day Fifty-Six in the Neighborhood
A Rumination on Relevant Education and Great Teachers
A Digression: this is the beginning of an essay that I have written on education and the educational process. I will posting more pieces of this, from the neighborhood, over the next few days…
I initially wanted to write about my experience teaching Permaculture. But after many years of working as an educator in so many different venues, I did not wish to delimit the practice of teaching to one modality. I wanted to explore the essence of what it means to educate, so that we can teach anywhere, anytime, no matter the age group or the curriculum model. So, this essay morphed into a general piece about education, drawn from many a year’s distillation, refinement, contemplation and meditation on what this educational thing is all about.
I first entered the embrace of Permaculture in 1988. My friend handed me a copy of Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, the Bill Mollison magnum opus, and I was taken aback and awed by what I found from first to last page. I have read and reread the entire manual from cover to cover every year since. Permaculture addresses the inter-related needs of nature and human beings in a profoundly systematic, simple, and sustainable fashion. It applies to every landscape no matter the scale. Permaculture relies on observation and an understanding of patterning to help us delineate what is already indigenous to a site and what changes we might want to make to retrofit the site into an ecologically balanced and vibrantly abundant land base.
Permaculture consists of comprehensive design (in the fields of agriculture, the built environment, energy, and the waste stream). It addresses functional relationships, stacking functions, and utilizing biological intelligence.
Mollison states: “Cultures cannot survive without a sustainable agricultural base and land use ethic. Permaculture is about the relationships we can create between minerals, plants, animals and humans by the way we place them in the landscape. The aim is to create systems that are ecologically sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.”
All these principles, I believe, help form the basis of a relevant education – observation, understanding functional relationships and biological intelligence, ethics – are these not the key concepts that a relevant education would strive to incorporate? As educators, are we not trying to learn to read the actual patterns in the classroom and in the field, read the students as individuals and as a web of dynamic, energetic beings, as we would imagine a complete ecosystem to be? Can we really “see” what we are looking at?
We have all been educated somewhere, someplace, sometime. So, whether it be Permaculture that you teach or a seventh grade life science class, it is my greatest wish that this small tome will inspire and confirm, push and test, inform and augment the yield of our educational effort.
“The soul having been often born, or, as the Hindus say, ‘travelling the path of existence through thousands of births’…there is nothing of which she has not gained the knowledge; no wonder that she is able to recollect…what formerly she knew…For learning and inquiry is reminiscence all.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Through my years as an educator and teacher the natural world has been my greatest guide. The following principles of learning have grown intrinsically out of many years of wandering the mountains, forests, streams, towns and cities. The countless growth rings of the tree that have grown inside me, with many branches spiraling out of the trunk of time, represent old and new pith alive within the bark of memory.
Dedicated educators are determined to grow universal leaders from the grassroots up. There is no single method to accomplish this awesome task. Therefore, we as teachers constantly challenge assumptions and habitual programming to carry our students toward this ideal goal, and ultimately, to a place of compassion and love for all.
I remember when I first consciously entered the woods as a child. What seemed like a great forest was simply an empty block soon to be filled by split level homes, driveways and manicured lawns. We were crossing the street to bury our pet bird that had died that morning. The sycamore tree in front of the house was just large enough to support the weight of a child. As I held the small bird in my hands I realized sadly that I would never hear its lovely song again or marvel at its bright green and yellow plumage. Soon the earth would swallow that small body whole and turn it into soil. Weeks later the area was excavated and our bird’s tiny grave became nothing but driveway, macadam and tar.
But the memory of that small creature lives on. As I observe the downy woodpeckers, cardinals, chickadees, catbirds and robins from my front porch in Illinois, the miracle of flight and birdsong carries with it the memory of a childhood buoyed by lightness and the mellifluous tone of a small bird. In what now seems in the memory like an angelic apparition, something beyond a mere earthly existence, flight and song trickle in to the senses and leave me in awe, if I can only slow down and see what I am looking at, hear what I am listening to.
Through my many years as a teacher I have witnessed countless people of all ages marvel at the majestic flight of birds, their sometimes sweet, sometimes raucous songs and melodies, their diversity of brilliant color. How many memories might surface for us? Will we learn to take our observations to new heights of understanding and conceptualization? We have all been witness to, and been touched and retouched, by the animals and plants and stones at some exotic and magic moment in our lives. It is an education worthy of us all.
I am looking for a way to create an environment of learning that will put our highest ideals into practice: goodness, unity, truth, and beauty that surround us and dwell in the deepest places of the human heart.
How can we make our precious revelatory moments of observation and realization true for ourselves and future generations? It will take conscious work and determination to make the necessary changes and to find the discipline and perseverance to follow through. Because we “never step in the same river twice”, we know that change in life is inevitable, that it is the status quo, that life and death are always present and in constant motion everywhere. Why do I hold onto old and weary methods of learning, instruction and ways of “seeing” the world? I want to penetrate into the essence of this life as it continually flows and metamorphoses into endless forms. I want to dig deeply enough to discern what it is or who it is that continues to create and take apart, ceaselessly, this mountain of existential mystery that appears afresh in every micro-millisecond of our lives, in all that lives and dies.
Day Fifty-Seven in the Neighborhood
More Ruminations on Relevant Education and Great Teachers
Healing Our Educational System
“Modern life, with its over valuation of intellectual thinking and its neglect of feeling and willing- especially in education- forms man’s physical constitution in a pathologically one-sided way. This raises once again the deep connection of education and healing…All education should be healing, just as all healing must ultimately be educational.” (Rudolf Steiner)
The ideal of the religious mystic is to merge with God. If we could, through our limited human perspective, assign attributes to God, we might conjecture that God is the Perfect Being, perfectly balanced, perfectly integrated and perfectly whole. We might also say that God is all-encompassing, all- knowing, creating everything always. As such, we might also conjecture that this great archetypal being has created and will create infinite beings and systems that always seek and are always evolving back into the balance and equilibrium that is the perfection of God. What we witness is that if biological systems deviate from a state of homeostasis, a mechanism is set in motion to recreate homeostasis. We might also conjecture that there must be a series of archetypal, creative principles that give birth to all beings in this created world. This seems to be how nature works. From an ecological perspective, it has been said that the natural evolution of a piece of land begins with a disturbed or empty site, which then evolves through a series of steps from annual plants to biennials, perennials, shrubs, vines, small trees and large trees which ultimately form a canopy known as the climax forest. The archetypal climax forest is considered the most balanced and diverse of all ecosystems. To achieve this state, there must be an integrated movement and a balanced rate of growth in all the species within the system. From observation, we can see that while our own human form is constantly going through a metamorphosis, beneath these shifting points of growth, we are still human. The ideal form of the human being remains. Thus, our conjectures lead us to believe that all created beings in the universe posses an underlying perfected form to which we continually make reference.
Let us take another point-of view. From the perspective of medicine, a healer is someone who acts as guide and intermediary to help another find the balance and full potential that is their ideal form. If, for instance, the human body is dis-eased, the healer seeks to understand the natural and essential movement of the body beneath the disease. The healer then attempts to help draw the body’s deeper essence to the surface and allow natural wisdom to bring the dis-eased organism back into its “normal” state of homeostasis and equilibrium. This sensitive balance lies on the fulcrum between opposites whose tendency is to tip the scales one way or another. We wish to heal the rift between our essential and earthly natures, between our animal and Divine natures and find the means to keep the scales centered while we move on a path from the crude to the subtle. Some people call this attempt to create balance in motion the “middle path” that which guides us to find true purpose and meaning in this gift of life.
But having said this, what is the “archetype of education”? How do we move toward its perfection? We have all been a part of the education system. Does it reflect our ideal? In this book we will explore the theoretical and practical applications of relevant learning, from both the educator’s and student’s perspectives.
As we journey through life, at times we find ourselves in states of ecstasy, at other times in states of depression, pain and suffering. It is in the balance between the highs and the lows, between yesterday and tomorrow, between all the contradictions between this and that – it is here on the “middle path” that whole learning is made possible. It is here where growth and understanding blend into a sense of unity beyond our programming and all our inherited preconceptions of reality. If the mystic seeks ideally to merge with God, we wish also to walk beside the mystic and, hopefully, through the mercy and compassion that lie deep within the recesses of the human heart, uncover a natural model of education where students and educators merge in their work with each other.
On many occasions, through trials and tribulations, as an explorer in the complex jungle of the education process, I would find myself asking, “Where do I go from here?” Here I am standing in front of a group of students and I am completely stuck. What to do next? I know intrinsically that the responsibility in the classroom rests solely upon the shoulders of the instructor, and that the students need some kind of structured guidance. In order for them to learn optimally the teacher has to find a method to integrate all their varied learning styles, temperaments, moods and propensities into something inspirational, something that makes them feel proud of themselves and carry over into their lives outside the classroom.
In our Western culture we are entrenched in what German philosopher Ernst Lehrs has entitled, the “onlooker consciousness”, which has developed unmistakably from our scientific point-of-view in which we objectify and quantify all phenomena as something outside ourselves. Even our languages have developed the perspective of subject against object: a separate entity viewing separate entities. We describe persons, places and things through qualifying adjectives that delimit and delineate the objective being of the “thing” in all its vested glory. We grasp the forms in time and place but don’t see the essence, its inherent perfection. What of the spirit?
Day Fifty-Eight in the Neighborhood
A Rumination on Relevant Education and Great Teachers Continued
Benjamin Lee Whorf, a brilliant linguist, astutely clarified this aspect of the underlying structures of language that permeates our thinking. His study of the Hopi Indian language brought new insight into how our linguistic thought forms inbreed in us the way we view the world around and inside us. Everything in the language of the Hopi’s create a universe that is in constant transformation and dynamism. Nothing is stagnant or static. Nothing is separate from our perceptions. Everything moves together in a unitary process. Life is always alive and we are as much a part of this whole process as a tree with its sap rising in spring and a rock being weathered by water and wind. The human being is as much a microcosm of mineral, vegetable, animal and cosmic energy transmuted through time as anything in the external world around us.
How can I see the world of the Hopi? As I stand in front of my class we are all changing, communicating, exhibiting our emotions and thought processes. We are in vital relationship with each of the students, their histories and dynamics and the four walls in the room and the sunlight streaming in, the dust flying around and the insects buzzing past our ears. Every minute the dynamics of everything in the space are affecting everything else in the space. Every action is another action acting on another action. Every thought acts on every other thought. We cannot separate anything from anything else in that room. Subject and object merge and disappear. The classroom becomes a great breathing in and breathing out. The divide between learning and teaching breaks down. If we possess the skills to observe this interaction we can take a giant step toward honest and truthful human relations.
The curriculum mandates that we use in a majority of our schools are as old and tired as the hills. Outside of a few examples, unique in their approaches to the growth process, we are skating on the thick ice of centuries of static form. Today these mandates have reached their intellectual limits and the time has arrived for the sunlight to pierce the educational canopy of the climax forest and stir the dormant seeds of the next generation of theory and practice. All they need are the proper conditions to germinate and grow from the primal source that we have forgotten. There is so much more to the human being than repeating what has already been discovered. So, when I stand in front of my students and ask myself, “where do I go from here?” I know I must reach inside and find that primal seed of my humanity and “educate” – draw out of each one of those students the wisdom that they already possess in dormancy and help to activate it.
I think what I need is a spiritual education. I need to accept wholeheartedly, my state of divine remembrance at every bend along the path of my life. It is a long and sometimes arduous road to uncover each layer of the internal landscape to get at the core. All the codes, symbols and systems that I live by in my daily life form within me an imprinted pattern that stamps itself on all my thoughts, words, emotions and actions.
The human mind is not some piecemeal object to be broken down and manipulated by media, electronics, scientific experimentation and the stultifying grip of the corporation. As an educator it is my personal duty to look into and nurture what is great within them at a time when the world is in crisis.
When I’m weak I believe that the current system is overwhelming and impossible to change! Therefore, I want to give up. I convince myself that the only route through the maze of the “system” is through doing it. Who cares if the students aren’t better human beings for taking my class. They passed the test and that’s all that counts. If you cant lick ‘em, join em, I say. But in my gut I know that at this point is when the hero must enter the battlefield and takes responsibility to stomach all the consequences of revealing and putting into action his or her deepest beliefs about human progress and love. Care of people, care of earth, benevolent distribution of resources and yields generated from those resources. These are the ethics of permaculture that I try to live by.
I also try to remember Rudolf Steiner. He was an Austrian philosopher, educator, agriculturalist, architect, and a brilliant man of the late nineteenth century whose expertise was instrumental in creating Waldorf Education and Biodynamic Agriculture. Waldorf education is based on the interplay of cosmic and earthly processes of growth. He observed how forms metamorphose through time, guided by a spiritual force that endlessly and timelessly creates and recreates.
The Steiner universe is a non-linear, architectonically, dynamic interaction of relative shapes, forms, colors, textures, lines, geometries, infused with spiritual purpose. Steiner depicts a human being as containing a nerve-sense pole (located in the head), a rhythmic system (located in the heart, lung and chest area), and a metabolic pole (residing in the digestive organs and the limbs). The upper, or nerve- sense pole, is the realm of our thinking. The middle, or rhythmic, pole is where our feelings come alive. The metabolic pole and limb system is the seat of our will. Basically, the head, heart and gut. When these three loci of the human are in balance we are in a state of equilibrium. Dis-ease arises when these three “poles” clash. Underpinning these three regions of the human being is an admixture of the four basic elements of life: earth, water, air and fire. These four elements have been depicted and understood in some fashion in almost every culture on this earth, from India’s Yogic philosophy through the Western alchemical tradition, to Steiner’s more contemporary system of Anthroposophy. In the educational sphere Steiner applied the four elements to the essential constitutions of the children we teach: melancholic (heavy or sad, of the earth), phlegmatic (cool, calm, composed, of water), sanguine (positive, optimistic, of air) and choleric (bad tempered, irritable, of fire). These elements of life are set out before the teacher when he or she enters the classroom. The array of temperaments expressed by the students can be confounding, and exasperating. But through rigorous and conscientious observation a palette of colors emerges for the educator-artist to set a diverse and balanced design to canvas.
Steiner applied the ideas of threefolding and the four elements to his work in social theory, medicine, agriculture and countless other dimensions of expertise. When one begins to appreciate the comprehensive, all-inclusive philosophy and practice encompassing Steiner’s thought and understanding, the leap into the educational sphere seems as natural as water maneuvering its way through the crevices of a healthy soil. The water filters into the topsoil and water table where it is held in suspension for plants to draw into themselves and utilize for their growth, nutrition and transformation.
I see Steiner’s perennial philosophy as nutrition for the soul of education and the soul of the complete human being metamorphosing through earthly time. As we wend our way through our discussions on the spirit and renewal of education, the vision of Rudolf Steiner colors many of my thoughts and beliefs. Steiner’s system is a whole system that incorporates learning on many levels: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. For now, by way of introduction, I will say only that I am inspired by what Steiner has synthesized for us. His teachings continue to support me as I attempt to shape an educational vision that will give meaning to life.
Day Fifty-Nine in the Neighborhood
A Neighborhood of Whitecaps and Gulls, Long Island
The wind coming off the ocean is a great broom sweeping the dunes into convoluted conundrums, tracing its tracks in sand, whipping the succulent bayberry and beach plum into staggering forms, lush scent, and sugary fruit. The perennial question gnaws: What lies beneath Mother Ocean?
Breakers break, and the unclad people plunge into the salt brink, the receding edge of tides, diminishing sheen, whitecaps surging and disintegrating into the distended body that buoys and then sinks to pressures unknown, the tectonics of which are only surmise. But they do up the elevation of rock mass into scurrilous peaks and snow smothered granite.
Today I sighted a gull pull a bag of chips from a beachcomber’s sack and peck at it til it popped. Ah, the gull made off like the Frito Bandito!!! And the bobble-headed Geiger counter guy looking for fool’s gold, a Kidd’s treasure, centuries, so it seems, ago.
And then there is, of course, the wind like a chimney elevating flat-bottom thunderheads off the ocean’s skin, as sandpipers, pigeons, and herring gulls ride the drafts and vortices skyward, only to trample the wind and dive, skimming for fish, trash, chips floating like dingies across an eon of metamorphosing waves.
How can I not speak in superlatives here, in pinnacles of metaphors? How can I stand between the lush experience that I experience here at the ecotone between sand and sea?
And I have caught a glimpse of the great white whale with a raving maniac strapped to his hull. So, call me Ishmael, and allow me to soar and hiss as a grand old wave, and let death ride me back to the depths from which I may be reborn, a bit wiser, a bit wilder, a bit wetter, just a little bit with patient impatience, and the release of suffering on this immeasurable, imponderable, incomparable earth…
Day Sixty in the Neighborhood
Long Island, Continued
I imagine the last outbreath. Just as a plant releases its seeds to the wind and soil for renewal come spring, like jewelweed, otherwise known as spotted-touch-me-not, explodes its future far and wide. I imagine the raccoon on its back, legs stiff in the atmosphere after consuming its last omnivorous meal, leaving behind a legacy of four offspring to patrol the suburbs in search of sundry morsels, what we two-leggeds think of as “waste”. I imagine plant and animal bodies become the next plant and animal bodies for the next feast for creatures large and small, for fungi, springtails, actinomycetes, vultures, termites. I imagine a succulent web, patterned after the spider’s, and the threaded tracks and trails, beaded droplets meeting life’s basic necessities in the guise of liquid nutrient, a metabolic extravaganza that comes and goes, comes and goes.
I see human beings swimming at a beach, their tracks in sand, signposts to their passing, and tides roll in and drag their tracks to the bottom of the big sea, and crush them, and spit them back out, of another thrust into creation, and then, as one can well imagine, the tides roll in again, and again, and again.
And the seagulls whistle and fuss over seahorses and the insides of flipped over horseshoe crabs, leaving webbed prints for incoming tides.
I imagine my feet cloaked by the sea, and the tide rolls in, drags and spits me in and out, clothed in reconfiguration, where the seed may stay the same, but the flesh belies the roiling order of chaos…
Day Sixty-One in the Neighborhood
Leaving Long Island Neighborhood
So, what about Permaculture, as I sit at the edge of sand and sea east, heading west tomorrow at sunrise? What about the life of the great sea, and the breakers that caress and crash with all severity, and the sky, and the clouds that will change? We cannot hold, but only in imaginative perception, all the forms of the clouds, all the blue from whence they arise, like thoughts of love emerging from mind.
So, what about Permaculture and the meshing of all these gears: sun, wind, water sand? Seagull shaping wind, human body submerged shaping water, sky shaping beach, and the fire of the sun shaping and framing my eyes?
There is no separation here, nothing is but in relationship. Is this any different anywhere? Can anything be isolate as in the test tube of a laboratory? Even this test tube is in relationship with the liquid it contains, and the eyes of the experimenter, and the atmosphere of the lab, and the wind that blows freely against the side of the building in which it is housed.
So, what about Permaculture and the patterns that we all claim to seek and see? What are these patterns that appear and reappear in every micromilisecond? What gives birth, and death, to these patterns that sometimes seem chaotic and sometimes seem as ordered as a bill of lading? Is this not the stuff that life on this ground is made of? Does this investigation only take place in discrete circumstances when we assess and inventory between the perimeters of a property, or are we constantly and forever seeking these patterns, these undulating webs every minute of our waking and sleeping hours? What drives these patterns, and do we care to drill down into them and thus seek out from whence they arise? Is this life practice or do we pick and choose, when and where, at our own discretion, and what do we miss of life in the picking and choosing?
There is something that goes unclaimed, some ultimate sky against which the changing clouds paint a palette of dazzling forms, and are we separate from them, or do we gyrate the typical subject-object of the typical cognition that runs us willy-nilly against the background of modern culture, and all we have to do in order to find moments of silence and clarity, even if for an instant?
So, what about Permaculture, what lies beneath the covers of the book, the technologies, the mere physical, and are we willing to accept the ticket and let it through the gate? The band is ready to take center stage and the music must flow, the melodies and harmonies that cannot make music in the single note. All must work together in a matrix of vehemence and serenity, in concord and discord, in pandemonium and directive. The conductor is about, as always, to take the podium and wave her magic wand, the orchestra seated and prepared to plunge into the deep of the symphony. Is it the ninth symphony, the sixth, the third? Who composed it all? Into what synchronistic conversation did the composer tap?
Beneath the broad and brief rhythms and melodies that passage through time and galaxy lies the indiscrete note, the rich and quite palatable drone that implodes into the vortex and as she spins, throws notes on the table of human hearing that blend into the sumptuousness that affords us closure of that willy-nilly mind and places us into the blue of a sky, like a precious stone with no price tag, no economic maneuver, no “modern day” pricing that removes the very object of pure perception from the pure perception of the very object that we perceive, draped in all the world and more…
Day Sixty-Two in the Neighborhood
At the Kinstone Neighborhood in Wisconsin
As we move into autumn and the death of the year the leaves on the trees here in Wisconsin are primed for the fire that will burn them to ash, a burst of kaleidoscopic flame as the wind and rain take them for food to soil livestock.
We are immersed in our plant course here at Kinstone making an attempt to answer, what is a plant? I can feel myself breaking apart inside trying to answer the unfathomable, trying to come to terms with yet another question that has no answer, from which the inconclusive is an inevitability, from which only a pre-literate confession of the plants themselves affords us the possibility of satisfaction, if we may.
These green dynamos, our primary sustenance on all levels, are waving their goodbyes, and we cannot hold them, like water they succumb to the currents of the river of life. Only the seed persists across the year, and when the conditions for new life extend the plant into cosmos and earth come spring, a green suit of clothes will show itself and wave in the winds of April.
A final (but not final) burst of colors as flower emerges from bud and calyx must capitulate to the freeze, buried in the silence of snow and ice.
We shall all go there as seed, and manifest innumerable bodies until the sufferings of black and white reveal that burst of blinding colors, that final threshold of hue for a greater eye, and the sounds that rock all the worlds as we come to rest, and then again form…and dissolve…
It is all right here
Day Sixty-Three in the Neighborhood
Monoculture, Misery and Money On My Way Back to Southern Illinois and the Neghborhood
Who can tell me that work in this culture, putting away for tomorrow, the politics of stick figures and empty slogans is the prerequisite for happiness before we die, that words, numbers, science “serve” us, that progress and the next promise of technological fix will ease our “struggle for existence” and allay the fear of “non-existence”? Can I pick fruit from an empty bowl, consume nothing, bargain away my birthright in the play of the universe, as nature, not “part” of it?
From where come we and to where do we go? What if I were to retire at thirteen years of age, or at ten, seven, five, and play beyond the heart’s content, and what arises, arises? What if prison doors were never under lock and key, and the prison of this “cultured” life never exfoliated us from the blood of rivers and the sap of trees?
What if the track of an animal was “my” track, was that animal passing by, leaving behind a record of my travels playing it forward, a foot in the mud of existence for me to scent, taste, forge into a direct preponderance of where I am at in the present, a grandiloquent suffusion of “yes, yes, yes, animal and two-legged indistinct?”
The lift off is nearly complete, the rocket ship of abandonment has hit the wall of disaster, limping toward linearity, manufactured solemnity, industrialized, clamorous, digitized ghosts in the machine.
So, what is to be said of a plant? Nothing. What of the plant, what plants speak to us in another language altogether? Everything. What of flowers and insects seeking out flowers thereof?
I remember the warmth of sound and the faint tick of the needle travelling over the record going round and round and round on the “turn” table.
To everything there is a season, not to be found in a bunch of little specks of color on bombastic newscasts, because inner and outer climate are non-different to one immersed in non-difference.
And the neighborhood goes on forever (or does it?)
Day Sixty-Four in the Neighborhood
I arrived home last evening after five weeks on the road teaching and consulting, and the yard, after complete “neglect” during that span, was bursting with food, flower and medicine, as close to a self-managed system that anyone could ask for where the work is basically in the harvest. This morning’s breakfast included a yield from the “forest” of lambsquarters, one of the most nutritious and delectable plants in the plant kingdom. The sweet potatoes will be ready to reap in about a month here in Southern Illinois, but in the meantime, the greens found their way into the smoothie this morning. The comfrey will now undergo its fourth cutting for mulch, and the Solomon’s seal root will be exhumed shortly. And a second flush of yellow raspberries!
It all continues to come on as the sun moves closer to the autumnal equinox. There is something to harvest at all times of year. I have no preference. I will cull what arrives when it arrives. There are no constraints except in the palate. Tastes change through the years. As a child I could not stand the vapid frozen peas that I was served what seemed like every evening at dinner. But now, a fresh harvest of peas!
The pigweed (redroot, wild amaranth) greens, peppers, cherry tomatoes, nasturtium flowers, tender tops of nettles, I could go on forever. The property does not end at the perimeter. The perimeter is everywhere and expands out to the non-corners of the universe. We simply have to take a walk about the neighborhood and harvest. For those of us that like to walk, and those of us that like to eat…
Day Sixty-Five in the Neighborhood
Viscous, hot night in September, drips and drops of information inside saturated air, cicadas beating their drums, a slow grind that crickets answer by rubbing their legs across their bellies, a slow tympanic grind.
Thick, hot mind, thoughts like molasses turning ever so slowly. Plants still, dewdrops shine from the backdoor light, glisten. I have always liked this word, “glisten”, especially the “s”, as though what glistens is snake, or snail, or something scintillating, surreptitious, secretive.
Lambsquarters at eight feet and more, seedheads hung, geese feet clamoring up the stiff stalk with a touch of red, no, purple, no, red. One cannot make them out clearly in this dim light. This one (me) does not wish to delimit all the hues in between, no preconceived formulas here.
Soon, as the cycle of the year touches autumn, this backyard will be laid to rest inside its resurrection, and lambsquarters will lay down with the lamb.
I think back on all who have passed by today, and tomorrow, and all who will pass yesterday, that on thick, humid and windless nights in September all is stilled, like death,,,
Day Sixty-Six in the Neighborhood
Reflections from the Front Porch on a Hot and Muggy September Evening in Southern Illinois
I run a very successful Permaculture “business”. After being certified by Bill Molliosn, the founder of Permaculture, in 1999, I have taught 225 Permaculture design certificate courses (PDC’s), many advanced trainings, consulted, designed and lectured all over the world.
I remember, quite vividly, when Mr Mollison’s magnum opus, The Designer’s Manual, arrived in this country in 1988. When a friend and I opened the book for the first time, we stopped everything we were doing (building a cordwood home in upstate New York) and read the entire tome to each other, cover to cover, for a week straight. What was it that thoroughly enthralled and astounded us about this book? Everything we had been doing in our eclectic lives was synthesized into a straightforward and well-organized prospectus on what this world of commoditization, ecological degradation, war, and meaningless political gyration could be. With a bit of honey or maple syrup on top I think we would have consumed it (the book of course).
I have seen the magnificent growth of the Permaculture concept find its way into countless corners of the known and unknown universe. I have facilitated thousands of students whose utter, absolute, and unencumbered joy at the prospects for change, healing, and ultimately, love, provided a reawakening to all that is good in this life, plainly a way to reap our sustenance and restore the earth, at the same time, to some semblance of harmony for all.
Consistently, every year, I take it upon myself to rigorously review where I have been and where I am going in this domain of Permaculture, and also take a deep look at the greater picture of Permaculture in the world where it has laid down tracks, and where the tracks may be headed, and, as always, questions arise.
I grew up during the 1960’s and sewed my oats in the culture, music, and back to the land movement that was exploding onto the American landscape. All of it was new and fresh, and most of it had never been seen or heard before. Creativity in the moment was thick and ripe. Freedom was right at the doorstep, and certainly, love was in the air. But, by the 1970’s most of it had been coopted and commodified. It had become yet another product for consumption. Most of my “hippie” friends descended into the marketplace, but a few of us moved forward and refused to relinquish the ideals we lived into so emphatically. Something happened to the music, some technological maelstrom beat the music into submission, and the almighty greenback took charge. The “revolution” was terminated. But, did it ever really get off the ground?
Seemingly by default, there was always a subtle undercurrent of discontent with the “system” that never went away, some secret longing and wish for nourishment that popped its head out periodically and reminded us rather bluntly that there must be something better.
After putting systems on the ground for forty years, and now at the tender age of sixty-two, I have seen many projects and communities come and go, many “clients” jump in fully, and some jump out fully. The nature of this world bespeaks ongoing change, does it not?
Currently, can we say that Permaculture has hit its stride, that years of educating countless folks in the principles and methodologies of this divine science, that Permaculture is coming to a critical mass? But, has it also become coopted by the marketplace and marketing psychology of Madison Avenue? I do not doubt that our first Permaculture “millionaires” may not be far in the offing, and a personality cult of practitioners must follow close on its heals. I have known so many “obscure” folks all over the world who are doing this work simply because it is the “right” thing to do. I cannot remember what practice we were doing before the word Permaculture came along, but we were doing it with all good intention.
So, where do we go from here? Next steps? Is it all very real for us? Is there something deeper in all of it? What exactly are we after? It does not take much to see that this world of the dollar and “progress” is completely out of control, that our addictions are running rampant, and the “powers” that be know exactly how to milk every last addictive sound bite from us all.
Bill Mollison stated way back that we need to find a way to be ecologically sound and economically viable. Where does love fit into this “equation”?
Day Sixty-Seven in the Neighborhood
Tonight I took a long walk. As I circled the neighborhood, like a stone dropped in still water and the responsive concentric rings, an eye toward my past work and wanderings in Africa opened, but it wasn’t exactly eye, but eye scented with smoke and carbon from cooking fires. After all, isn’t “labor” day all about the grill and the gathering of the tribes?
The internal eye remembered all the thousands of people, in densities unknown to America, living their lives out of doors in close contact on the streets. As I walked upwards of five miles I counted only six other people doing the same. There were some groups on porches near hot grills and coolers filled with various ales (my conjecture), but, in essence, the void of human forms was astounding (the form of the automobile and my dodging of them thereof was not astounding).
Could we blame the mosquito, the heat and humidity, fear of the “dark”, or how many flat screen televisions did I witness in all brilliance through windows, with drawn and undrawn shades?
And yet, the trees were rich and looming and subtle against the dusk, and distant barking of dogs was a faint echo in a poet’s recollection, the angles of which were unknown, some repose of sound luxuriating in timbres that touches the deep sadness and joy of all creation.
And the feet on the sidewalk, grass, macadam tapped the rhythms and meshed with the barking of dogs into undulating and liquid symphonies of saturated atmospheres.
In Africa, it was the sound and commotion of the people that captured my ear inside the night, and the distant and near specks of crackling fire that lit up my eyes. And there was some quality, some very old quality, that rose out of the ashes of those fires that said tribal, that said yes, this is what people were built for, milling together about the hearth, sharing stories, food, COMMUNICATING on so many levels.
As I turned toward the neighborhood the night dipped in and the creatures that emerge from holes began to appear in search of “leftovers” of labor day. I labored slowly so that I could catch fleeting glimpses of “wild” life in 3 or 4-D. The world in all its trappings is not two-dimensional I dare say. I will have none of it.
If gluttony be the spice of life let me fast, and slowly, oh so slowly succumb to the night, the void, the thusness of what maybe we think was there, simply, the fleeting glimpse…
Day Sixty-Eight in the Neighborhood
The neighborhood has shifted to the north. Up at Kinstone in Southwest Wisconsin, today we installed the windows in the cordwood sauna. I am imagining heavy snow and hot sauna back to back. Tomorrow the door, dividing wall, stove, and flooring go in and we will just about be there. Picture this: It is sub-zero. The snow is piled two feet deep and we are snowshoeing down to the sauna near the yurt and campground. We enter the door and fire up the stove. As it warms we strip down in the front room and enter the sauna that is now hot and a bit humid. We settle in on the benches and kick back. It is dark except for the glow of the fire in the stove, the hearth.
Stories are told. It is one of those nights when tales of coyote, the trickster, and fox, the sly one, arise from the collective memory.
It was a time when the distinction between animal and human being was fuzzy, when all species spoke the same tongue, when four-legged and two-legged were intrinsically one, butterfly and flower were non-different. There was no separation.
Coyote was always getting himself into all kinds of trouble, but there was wisdom in this trouble, lessons to be learned by all. Life in all its trappings is a trickster, is it not? Like a magician who is doing this while he or she directs your attention to that, so this life is a magician. It creeps up on us like fox. We track fox and unbeknownst to us fox is tracking us. Fox can hear a watch ticking at fifty feet.
One of my first tracking experiences was at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge near my hometown in New Jersey. It had snowed lightly the night before. A perfect dusting, painting very distinct tracks. As I followed this fox I noticed that about every fifty feet or so there was a bright red blotch against the white snow and small animal organs strewn about. Again, another fifty feet, and another bright red blotch. This went on for some time until the tracks veered off to the right. As I made my way through the understory I noticed that the tracks were circling back to the first track. I looked up and there was fox tracking me, staring me down with penetrating eyes that only a fox can muster.
So, as the winter pervades our imagination, I can imagine myself telling this story as we sit and sweat, recount what move our lives, share from the depths of our own warmth. Can you feel it? And after the sweat we run out the door and dive!!! into the snow!!! Can you feel it? Can you feel it!!!
Day Sixty-Nine in the Neighborhood
Here is a poem that I wrote after 9-11. I grew up right outside New York City and I spent many hours, when a kid, watching the construction of the Twin Towers. This poem was written upon arriving at the farm I was managing for the day and listening to reports from the road…
Basking in Indian Summer (9-11)
So you want me to go back
Notch the stick a few more times
Open the book I’ve left behind
I gather it was a merciful death
The kind that begs whether you jump
Or be consumed by the flames
Things were so clear
It wasn’t a question of survival anymore
There wasn’t the least bit of room to ask why
There was no branch
And all I could think of was
Hudson being thrown to the natives he betrayed
Or the Prophet Jesus crowned by the needles of drug wars
Or the bombs that Abraham exploded on the idols
How many times you and I stood there
We were teens amazed
Admiring the unquenchable thirst of humanity
An infinitesimal number of tons of steel
Scooped from the womb of the Mother
I am so sad today
And I have reason to be
There is asbestos and terror in the air
There are children and mothers crying
There are markets shut down
And the boys of October have all gone home
You have stolen the thunder from the machine
But the wind still tells its tale
Maybe it is finally time to listen
Because the trees may tell you secrets that no one believes
Day Seventy in the Neighborhood
We are always seeing the world through someone else’s interpretation, someone else’s “naming” of it. Who can tell me from where these words arise? Behind the desk as a child at school, in an isolated tomb of a building with a military-like master at the controls spouting second, third, fourth, innumerable iterations, a far cry from the streaming history of the “root” word? Where is the meaning in this? Maybe it is only a measure of the true length of pleasure or power, a delimiting factor like frost dates at either end of the climatic year.
By example: For those who practice and know, for those that know only because of the practice, we are more than capable of producing edible yields across the year, regardless of frost dates. We simply must set up the ground from which these plants may spring. In doing so we set up our ground in the doing of it. It is the risk we take and it is not based on the codification of anything, and the only “interest” yielded from this is an abundance of fruit and seed.
There is no naming in all of this, no tomes composed that would explain it all away, no “fencing” in, because everything in this existence grows and dies and grows again. The only word here is embedded in the dynamic of growth and change, a word that morphs, a word that defies the stickum of a flypaper world that has sailed from China in a shipping “container”.
How, after all, could words, numbers, bureaucracies contain the dynamism of this life? Does not everything, inevitably, fall apart, and then through miraculous creation reconfigure itself into the next “thing” that falls apart?
There is no middle ground here. The contradiction is within the contradiction itself, what one may call a double-edge sword, a twisted irony of the human mind, the paradox where somehow the drivers in the race found themselves busting out in opposite directions, and they could not circle back because the highway simply went on and on and on. But, you know, should these highways cross continents and oceans, eventually, yes, in the event these two opposing drivers would come all the way around and crash, everybody wins…
Are there any words to describe this? “Describe” comes from the Latin, meaning “to write down”. Are we not speaking about something that is pre-literate, something that words cannot describe because does not everything, inevitably, fall apart, and then through miraculous creation reconfigure itself into the next “thing” that falls apart?
Day Seventy-One in the Neighborhood
Out and about in the neighborhood, a flush of purples, browns, tawny yellows, suffuses lawns, remnant “prairies” of the suburbs. Dandelion leaves, etched in deep- cut serrations, spill over grasses, a brownish-lavender, a palette of subtle variations, and hues, reflecting late summer sunlight for curious eyes. Most seedheads are gone, but the few that remain are architectural wonders, spherical redundancies athwart with diverse geometries, delicate whites and grays, filigreed and lacy structures emerging from red shanks hammered into a pocked bulge at center, atop a staff of green fused to purple.
Do we stop to admire? Are we all as awestruck as I? Do we realize that the geometrical fluff will carry, when the wind and pursed lips with ready exhalation behind them, will blow seeds far and wide to neighboring lawns, synthetic prairies, and, an American addiction and homage to the golf course and the relish of John Deere?
I find it rather odd that we have deliberately bequeathed prairie environment to the yard in America, a contrived wilderness of grasses where vole or whitefoot mouse move about gingerly with increased caution, a pristine and sterile microcosm from which its opposite, a macrocosm, cannot not find reflection. Somehow the mirror has shattered in tiny unreflective shards and the scurrilous luxuries of manufacture.
Dandelions tend to congregate as tribes in this pristine penchant for uniform green, and we go out and spray. During a dry year in the prairie, grasses, forbs, herbaceous species predominate. In wetter years succession kicks in and the goal may very well be forest. But the in-between calls for succession of annual, biennial, shrub, understory, overstory in a somewhat caddywhampus sequence of events. So, after spraying these sprightly yellow spirits we flip the tap in a deluge of sprinkler water, soak the lawn. Abundant water is a precursor to setting succession to full tilt. And the dandelion, and cousins like plantain and white clover, relishing this liquid refreshment, congregate once again as a circle of tribes, and beckon to a future of trees, one hundred foot tall oaks, hickories, and the like. So, we spray and round them up once again, and we water once again, and what persists is neither our persistence in wiping away a race of species, nor our watering extravagance, but the dandelion, its yellow flowers bursting quickly into sunshine, and its supreme seedhead blown about by wind and the puffed cheeks of children (and adults!) into vast and extravagant stretches of lawn.
I cannot say enough about the delight I feel as these jewels spontaneously amalgamate from seemingly nowhere. It is time to take a walk and eat…
Day Seventy-Two in the Neighborhood
From Fountain City, Wisconsin
Up on the bluffs one can hear the rattle and hum of trucks threading sluiceways of road hemmed in by Mississippi backwaters and the steep walls of canyons. The tinker toy buildings in the distance are a sharp contrast to the birch up here, tangled in wind and sun, it’s skin eczematous with abundant oils and canoe taking shape in the mind.
Cedars haunt this bluff and predominate, giving shape to wind and climate extremes. And still the rattle and hum of trucks and train whistles pervades. Yet, through the petroleum encrusted hum a yellow-bellied sapsucker pecks, hammers, peents, pecks again, silently sipping larva into its craw, and the backwaters of Mississippi harbor rookeries of blue heron and egret, the river, walleye and catfish bigger than a barge transporting frack sand.
It is all a rather strange mix of tone and noise. The explosive devices that move us about the world cannot disrupt the chipping of the chickadee at my ear with their cacophony, or their exhaust interrupt the scent of cedar and autumn. The sun has not blinked today, has not been lathered in cirrus, except about the ridges, backdrop to the city of Winona, where industry lightens the blues of a clear sky with its fumes. I think these trees enjoy a meal and desert of all that free carbon sucked from the sands of Arabia.
The shagbark hickory nuts are falling, its bark peeling in long flat strips, massive curlicues, shedding skin like a snake’s, and somehow this bur oak to my left, burnished by bluff winds, survives, and may have survived longer than I. Let us not count the rings.
The golden rod has migrated to these bluffs where there is abundant sunlight, to shed its autumn yellows to searching eyes. Bent over like grandfathers it harkens to its blue backdrop, a kind of diaphanous wash, watercolor blue on the absorbent paper of atmosphere.
Where are all the birds? I conjecture that spring on these bluffs would be a raucous symphony, what with posturing for mates, and worms exchanged from beak to beak.
There is a flower, for which I have no name, in front of me, and I do not care to name it. Nor do I wish to reveal its color, or the arrangement of its leaves. I will let it speak. If it has anything to say to me, it will. I can only imagine, and go on imagining why she is here and not at the backwater edge down in the bottoms.
There are ecotones everywhere, as minute as a root hair, as large as a bank on the Mississippi.
Are we watching? Are we listening? Someone is in the valley burning the remnants of a tree. I can smell it.
Just another walk in the neighborhood…
Jack in the pulpit!
Why are we so awash in industry?
Day Seventy-Three in the Neighborhood
A walk in the neighborhood near four acres of “corn”
When I hear the choir sing about the fate of the corn crop this year (and every year), too wet, too dry, early, late, I have to ask what “corn” are we talking about? I understand that these farmers have to “make a living” (an odd statement of purpose I daresay. How can a human being make something live?), but have you ever skirted the edge of one of these cornfields and peeled back an ear and tried to eat it? Have you ever been to a dentist with multiple broken teeth? This is not corn, because there is a story in Mother Corn, and I cannot elicit a story from this at it travels from field to factory dragging our tax dollars with it to the still where fossil fuels power inefficiency in order that you might fill up your gadget with 10%. 10% of what?
We cannot name everything. Do we want to? Well, let us name corn, maize. And let us open the blinders to examine its origins and domain.
From Wikipedia: “Maize (/ˈmeɪz/ MAYZ; Zea mays subsp. mays, from Spanish: maíz after Taíno mahiz), known in some English-speaking countries as corn, is a large grain plant domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears that contain the grain, which are seeds called kernels. Maize kernels are often used in cooking as a starch. The six major types of maize are dent, flint, pod, popcorn, flour, and sweet.
From the Online Etymological Dictionary: corn (n.1) “grain,” Old English corn, from Proto-Germanic *kurnam “small seed” (cognates: Old Frisian and Old Saxon korn “grain,” Middle Dutch coren, German Korn, Old Norse korn, Gothic kaurn), from PIE root *gre-no- “grain” (cognates: Old Church Slavonic zruno “grain,” Latin granum “seed,” Lithuanian žirnis “pea”). The sense of the Old English word was “grain with the seed still in” (as in barleycorn) rather than a particular plant.
Locally understood to denote the leading crop of a district. Restricted to the indigenous “maize” in America (c. 1600, originally Indian corn, but the adjective was dropped), usually wheat in England, oats in Scotland and Ireland, while Korn means “rye” in parts of Germany. Maize was introduced to China by 1550, it thrived where rice did not grow well and was a significant factor in the 18th century population boom there. Cornflakes first recorded 1907. Corned beef so called for the “corns” or grains of salt with which it is preserved; from verb corn “to salt” (1560s).”
Let’s break this down further, shall we? Kernel: “From Middle English kernel, kirnel, kürnel, from Old English cyrnel, from Proto-Germanic *kurnilaz, diminutive of *kurną (“seed, grain, corn”), equivalent to corn + -le. Cognate with Yiddish קערנדל (kernal), Middle Dutch kernel, cornel, Middle High German kornel. Related also to Old Norse kjarni (“kernel”).”
It is obvious that the label, “kernel” predated the European familiarity with maize.
Again from the Online Etymological Dictionary: “maize (n.) 1550s, from Cuban Spanish maiz, from Arawakan (Haiti) mahiz.”
Albeit, this most ancient of cultivated crops has been coopted and renamed. I can only conjecture that the word maize denoted something more sacred, something essential to Central America and West Indie cultures.
“Origin, History, and Uses of Corn (Zea mays)
From Lance Gibson and Garren Benson
History and Origin
For western civilization, the story of corn began in 1492 when Columbus’s men discovered this new grain in Cuba. An American native, it was exported to Europe rather than being imported, as were other major grains.
Like most early history, there is some uncertainty as to when corn first went to Europe. Some say it went back with Columbus to Spain, while others report that it was not returned to Spain until the second visit of Columbus.
The word “corn” has many different meanings depending on what country you are in. Corn in the United States is also called maize or Indian corn. In some countries, corn means the leading crop grown in a certain district. Corn in England means wheat; in Scotland and Ireland, it refers to oats. Corn mentioned in the Bible probably refers to wheat or barley.
At first, corn was only a garden curiosity in Europe, but it soon began to be recognized as a valuable food crop. Within a few years, it spread throughout France, Italy, and all of southeastern Europe and northern Africa. By 1575, it was making its way into western China, and had become important in the Philippines and the East Indies.
Although corn is indigenous to the western hemisphere, its exact birthplace is far less certain. Archeological evidence of corn’s early presence in the western hemisphere was identified from corn pollen grain considered to be 80,000 years old obtained from drill cores 200 feet below Mexico City. Another archeological study of the bat caves in New Mexico revealed corncobs that were 5,600 years old by radiocarbon determination. Most historians believe corn was domesticated in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico. The original wild form has long been extinct.
Evidence suggests that cultivated corn arose through natural crossings, perhaps first with gamagrass to yield teosinte and then possibly with backcrossing of teosinte to primitive maize to produce modern races. There are numerous theories as to the ancestors of modern corn and many scientific articles and books have been written on the subject. Corn is perhaps the most completely domesticated of all field crops. Its perpetuation for centuries has depended wholly on the care of man. It could not have existed as a wild plant in its present form.”
It seems as though Mr Columbus “discovered” not simply “America”, but maize, and shipped it back to Europe where it took on much significance. Could we say that Mr Columbus bumped into this continent and, therefore, bumped into this maize? What did he unleash on the world: how to wipe out an entire race of people, and then, how to widen the scope of this indigenous crop into, presently, the possibility of a GMO burlesque, and the joke may very well be on all of us. We know not exactly yet, but we can well surmise, the way this follows in the footsteps of “progress”, “technology”, “transformation” into greenback.
But what about the spirit of corn? From nativelanguages.org: “Corn played an important mythological role in many tribes as well– in some cultures Corn was a respected deity, while in others, corn was a special gift to the people from the Creator or culture hero. In addition to its importance as a food source, corn also played a ceremonial role in many tribes, with sacred corn pollen or cornmeal being used as ritual adornment and spiritual offerings.
Although the word “corn” comes from a general Old English word for a cereal seed (related to “kernal,”) the word “maize” has Native American origins: it comes from the Spanish version of the indigenous Taino word for the plant, maiz. The names of several corn dishes also come from Native American languages: hominy, pone and succotash (from Eastern Algonquian languages), sagamite (from Cree,) and chicha (from the Nahuatl, or Aztec language.)
Corn is a common clan symbol in many Native American cultures. Tribes with Corn Clans include the Muskogee Creek tribe (whose Corn Clan was named Atchialgi or Vce’vlke in the Muskogee language), the Navajo, the Mohave, and the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico (many of whom have multiple Corn Clans such as the Blue Corn Clan and Yellow Corn Clan.) Many tribes, such as the Caddo and the Pueblo tribes, also have a Corn Dance among their tribal dance traditions.”
Again, I would ask us to ponder the deeper essence of maize, all the years it took to painstakingly acquire what we have come to know as “corn”. Maybe it would behoove us to ponder the deeper essence of all of our food plants, all of our foods, en total, and consider what we ingest and why. It may very well be that all we would have to do is to slow down and learn to chew once again, and again, and again…
Day Seventy-Four In the Neighborhood
As we move through transition into autumn first frosts are not far behind, and leaves will brighten our mornings and begin to fall to soil for food for future leaves. What goes around comes around…
There is something about autumn that thrills in the throat.
The farmer longs to wander and cackle with crows.
It was like this before corn came down from the mountain.
Why all this solitude in the death of things?
Why do these lovers fall together in the cold of
Autumn and burn?