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 of an acre is a large parcel in the context of the neighborhood. We have 250 species of plants imbibing in this postage stamp of an Eden. I have an image of what has taken root in this yard breaking the hard pan of this neighborhood, forging an interactive web of mycelial madness and ripping apart unsuspecting pansy beds, but not before I harvest the flowers for my next salad, and scaring the daylights out of Puff, the neighborhood cat, bird hunter extraordinaire.
These roots, grafted to countless other roots, congealing into a mass of yield, predicated on human health and sustenance, balancing what already exists into an ecosystemic whole.
Have we swapped the carbon budget for a name: Carbondale? Have we mined the guts of Southern Illinois to power our power? Or can we rename: Carbon-sequester-dale?
Day Two in the Neighborhood
So let’s put this house in context: the lot is 50’ by 120’. The house has a footprint of 1400 square feet. How in hell have we gotten 250 functional plants into such a small space? The answer is that we did, and have, and will add 250 more species before it is all said and done. Done? Never. This kind of density is key to the way we will group plants in the future, and now.
The world of the monocultural debacle, spread out over thousands of acres of once prairie, once forest, is already a nuance of archeological spectator sport. Imagine the suburbs and the city as once upon a time forest and field, where transitions between forest and field were gradual, intact, supporting diverse species in what is called an ecotone in ecological circles. This is the place of thriving edges, full on filled in niches bursting with life as we might know it. We can create these kinds of edges, these transitional tempests of copious plant and animal milieu, of real profit: food, food, food!
But doesn’t this already exist in these grid patterned, up and downtown matrices designed by the pyramid builders of recent generations: prison, tomb, school, government building (all equal in design- yes, check them out).
Remember the mature overstory here in Carbondale? Remember that when there is a mature overstory we needs must plug into the understory all the way down to the tip of the taproot? And yet, there is already some of this understory in place. We have simply got to explore the neighborhood and assess what is already there for the taking. So this is where we will begin today. We will look at the residence in context and begin to expand out from there, in concentric rings, further and further, and just maybe expand far enough to take in the ring of the globe. The inner ring is non-different than the ring about Saturn. It may seem so, but what the heck…drop a stone in it and watch the waves eke out from there…
Day Three in the Neighborhood: Taking a Walk
I find it rather odd that the most dangerous thing that I do in my life is to take a simple walk. So, this evening as I was wondering I came to within three feet of a police car that, as I approached, pulled out in front of me for no apparent reason. Lights were not on. No sirens. No rush. I do not understand this idea of “sidewalk” when there are rarely any others walking on said pavement. The looks that I receive from those that drive automobiles are nothing less than incredulity (or maybe awe, which I have come to doubt?), even disgust, that I, a lone walker of all things, should dare cross the street at a stop sign. Your car can crush me in an instant. You hold the power in your steering wheel. What, may I ask, has become of a quiet walk in the neighborhood, a time when one may hear birds rustling about, or the voices of playful kids, or a lone dog barking in the distance? What is it that we have created a culture that wakes up in a box (on the hillside), jumps into a box on wheels, sees nothing along the way, works in a box, gets back into the box at the end of the work (?) day and goes home to a box to watch a box until one falls off into unconsciousness on a box spring.
So, I came home and worked in the garden. Another thing altogether. Why have we opted to grow our food miles and miles away from where we live, where the only way to get it there is by some kind of transport, that, when a lone walker is attempting to cross the street on a sunny morning, has to nearly fight for his life, Lord help him should he dare walk in front of that transport technology, when all he is doing is walking. WALKING! So, I take it that this is an exercise in observation, of being aware, of seeing the patterns and moving about based on these observations. I take it that in the world that I inhabit there is this hankering after “owning” a farm. What is a farm anyway? “Miles from nowhere, guess I’ll take my time, oh yeah, to get there.” If only we could take our time…
Day Four in the Neighborhood
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 front yard, and the neighbors, hesitantly curious, plucked that plum and punctured its flesh with teeth accustomed only to plums shipped in from Argentina since childhood?
This is a statement, something worth more than a thousand words, a boondoggle to the code makers, the lawmakers who place chains around life and circumscribe the already diminishing abilities to touch and smell and taste the pleasures of bounty.
There are veils placed over eyes and ears. There are too many backyards written into the annals of suburban and urban history where many treasures lie, unexposed, fenced in, the “fruits” of our labors isolate from the taste buds of all creation.
Day Five in the Neighborhood
There are wide expanses of “farm” here in the Midwest, formerly wide expanses of prairie. Cities continuously mushroom out like stones thrown into water. This concept of “farm” is odd, is it not? What defines farm? Is it a place to grow food? For who then? Is it a place to grow biomass for fuel? Or do we turn pigs into the biomass that we eat, massively?
These unappeasable vistas, nary a tree. Uniform masses of corn tassel and soy pod, flush with nary an insect, “weed”, bird (blackbird?). I remember the time it rained incessantly for two days and what was once wet prairie became just that, wet prairie. The beavers started to move in searching for trees. But the fencelines had all been obliterated, so the beavers moved on to the rivers. It was a long journey, but when we are in search of food and shelter, sometimes the journey can be far-reaching.
So what is the point here? Where are the prairies now? The big bluestem? The butterfly weed? The butterflies? They have gone the way of the dandelion, once the arrogant flower of the American lawn (prairie? poison?).
There was this guy who wrote a letter to the editor when we were in the process of getting the livestock ordinance in our town overturned so that we could have a few chickens in the backyard. He was troubled by the fact that chickens would shit in yards and cause interminable ground water contamination and oh the smell would be dreadful (along with fossil fuel contamination, dog and cat feces, plastic and formaldehyde laden junk strewn about the yard?).
How far have we come? Maybe as far as the superstore. Maybe as far as the car will take us on one tank of gasoline. Maybe as far as the oddity that when I go “outside” in the morning to take a long walk I seem to be dodging automobiles by myself. Damn if there is not one other human being enjoying the sunrise while working up a sweat.
Or like the time I was driving to Dallas through Arkansas and it was cotton harvest season and there was this combine, big as a massif, and there was no one in the driver’s seat, and it was doing what combines do, and there was no one in the driver’s seat and I was thinking about the history of cotton production in the South, and slavery, and the fact that cotton destroys our precious soils, and that massive chunk of steel is voyaging over the landscape, and there was no one in the driver’s seat and I thought to myself, “what’s the use”, and I wrote an email to my friend and I said, “what’s the use?”, and he wrote back: “we have to hold out hope for people”, and I haven’t stopped since…
Day Six in the Neighborhood
Raccoons and Possums alternate under our shed. Recently I viewed a video where “they” tagged neighborhood raccoons and “they” surprisingly found that raccoons range only four square blocks. In the wild they range four square miles. What is up here? Tells me that there is abundant food. Could it be that we dwellers in the landscape are feeding the coons and possums of the world with the 70% of our food (a fact- 70% of all we prepare and eat little of is discarded) that we distribute to the wild animal grid? Not to speak of squirrel, cat, dog (feral and domestic), mouse, rabbit, bird, and then the hawks that swing by are eating all of the above, and on and on within the food web?
So, are we at the top or bottom of the web, the chain of so-called being? Are the animalcules of soil, porch, wall, kitchen and compost bin (where are all of these, by the way?) above or below in the hierarchy we think we rule? Us burly pharaohs of commerce? Us responsible, caring individuals feeding the coons and possums we want to exterminate for “getting into our garbage”? Garbage=food? Food=garbage?
The shed: every time we open the doors the roaches scurry about, junebugs flutter into faces, mice wind up their rear haunches and blast off like rockets launched from a battleship. Who captains that? “Admiral sir, what about all these here mice?” Hungry, small, eat their weight in food everyday, rapid metabolism, mouse is real. Got to set traps. Use cheese. Got to keep them out of our trash bin, our kitchen. Trash bin=kitchen? Kitchen =trash bin? What is up here?
You will notice that we have a chicken shack in the backyard. Took two years and 643 meetings to get the local livestock ordinance overturned in what is primarily a town of 50,000 (when the students are in session at the university) and in a town that is primarily surrounded by farms and forests within the 23 downstate Illinois counties. Herds of deer, foxes, multifarious animals make their homes in town. A few chickens in the backyard are quite the dilemma. Ten, one hundred and fifty pound dogs per household is not (code).
The local paper printed a letter to the editor in the midst of all this haggling, written by a local gentleman who did not even live within town limits. It went something like this: was upset that anyone (this Mr Weiseman guy) would want to have chickens in town. “If Mr Weiseman wants to have chickens I will parade my hogs through Carbondale with lipstick on.” Worried about chicken excrement and all the luscious things that go along with that. Did not mention all the roundup, oil, gasoline, dog excrement, cat pee, and countless other unsavory fluids and such. Chicken poop: compost it! Anyway, would have loved to see hogs with lipstick on parading through town. What a sight!
Yes, we have water collection off the roof. Yes, we dug swales. Yes, we have hugelkultur beds, etc, etc, etc…
But, you know, all in all, plants take center stage here. Plants: obsessed with them since childhood. Used to wonder at the breaking spring buds on the sycamore tree in front of our house in New Jersey. Could not explain it: why it happened every year and could count on the fact that it would happen every year.
So, let’s step back and take a look at the house, all 1400 square feet of it in a yard, ————measure————-. Now, let’s step away from the yard and begin our journey through the neighborhood for an infinite harvest. We need do nothing here, no planting, no tending, no zeitgeist flip out freak out nervous breakdown bug eating all “our” food type of derangement. This neighborhood is the farm. To reap what we have not sown…
Day Seven in the Neighborhood
Imagine an urban or suburban landscape where every niche in the landscape is filled with a diverse and healthy mix of flowers, fruits, herbs, vegetables, where paths lead one to the next scent, the next fresh and delectable, juicy apple or pear or persimmon, where one can harvest a tomato right off the vine and bite into it on the spot. Imagine a “food forest”, or for that matter, a whole city of food forests, places of gathering, where people harvest nutrient rich foods “at their doorstep”, and at their leisure.
There are many empty lots, former building sites, alleyways, parkways along street corridors, roofs, back and front yards, that are ideal for planting, places where we can, as human beings, produce high yields for our sustenance. And in these places we can reestablish some semblance of the pristine wild places that were here, intact for millennia, before us. We can “rewild”. We can create forage systems that cycle endlessly with food for all creatures, even food for stones. Nestled into these plant matrices, our buildings and homes are a few steps from tonight’s salad or stir-fry. We are enmeshed in an effort to “relocalize”, to bring the production of fresh food back into cities and towns, these once glorious thriving landscapes, prairies, forests, wetlands.
Now imagine the city as a garden city, teeming with the beauty and scent of many flowers and a potential selection of foods that is unlimited, foods that we choose to plant, foods that we do not have to plant, foods that we carry a short distance to our kitchen, prepare, and sit down with the family to a good night’s meal. There is no car going to the supermarket, no fuel being burned, no hunting and gathering at the meat counter. We walk to the harvest, we are surrounded by health giving plants, we meet others along the way and we talk, exchange ideas, find out from one another what fruit is coming ripe around the next bend, what herb can be used in what dish and how we might prepare it.
Imagine cities all over the world feeding a large majority of their population with food grown right at the doorstep. Imagine the urban gardening movement in America taking off in the next few years. It is incredible what can be grown on a postage stamp size plot! The nutritional health of people in urban environments is tantamount to health: socially, politically, economically.
And finally, imagine the ills of the “food desert” eliminated, where we grow healthy produce within city limits and supply the nutritional needs of the urban population, people gardening together, evolving into tight knit communities.
When people garden they benefit from the healthy physical practice of gardening. When people grow their food close to home it eliminates all the supply line issues of the corporate food scene and also the addictive use of fossil fuels for not only transport, but conventional farm practices: synthetic fertilizers, huge tractors and combines. When people gather to garden all the world’s pressures and constraints go by the wayside and we breathe easily, and eat from the fruits of our labors.
And do not forget the acorns this autumn. They are there free of charge. The only labor involved is the labor of thinking, time to get out there with the basket I wove and fill it with food. Time to break into the third, fourth and fifth dimensions of real life and put the information super highway to bed, let’s say flower bed, let’s dream of squirrels digging up my tomatoes and relishing in the juicy flesh, let’s say, “time to harvest a squirrel”, yes, let’s just say this…Imagine…
Day Eight in the Neighborhood
This is a piece that I wrote on Easter Sunday in another neighborhood, but I feel that it applies to all neighborhoods, and is worth repeating:
Easter Sunday: the Resurrection of the Trees
After finishing teaching a Permaculture course at the glorious Accokeek Foundation on the Potomac River, across from Mount Vernon, I find myself in Arlington, Virginia, a sprawling, peopled megalopolis of pentagons and national government. Peering down from my hotel room the yards of condos and apartment buildings are a blank slate: brown lawns, brick walls, a concrete and macadam mass, a conveyor belt of automobiles, and not a soul to be seen on foot. Where are the human beings? What two-dimensional world do they inhabit? What virtual non-existence?
The only forgiving grace is the trees, like church spires blinking in the sun above the rectangular meltdown of settlement.
We live and breathe off the “waste” of trees, oxygen cycling through our lungs, fruits cycling through our guts, biomass cycling though the intestine of the soil, and doing it all over and over again, endlessly. Knowing this, that the primary producers of this earth are circumvented by the willy-nilly and catastrophic reclamation of land by a petroleum addicted tornado of a status seeking culture, wallowing atop piles of greenbacks, these lone trees, church spires blinking in the sun (our backbone), is the grace of the world.
On this Easter Sunday, may the trees be the resurrection of this world. May the trees in their strength be the promise of this and the generations to come. May we plant them, and plant more of them so they may lift their sprawling arms to the benevolent sky and proclaim: “We are the cross to bear, we are the promise of all generations, we are the air you breathe and the giver of gifts. May we serve the humanity in all we do, but may you serve us, care for us, nurture us. Let us come to an agreement. The relationship works both ways. We’ll scratch your bark, if you’ll scratch ours. So be it.”
Day Nine in the Neighborhood
Today the neighborhood is a grid, a series of linear pathways intersecting perpendicularly, and albeit, if I continue on the “beaten” path I am forced to adapt my thinking linearly and into right angles of mentation. But how could this be if the world is in constant flux, circular, regenerative, eternal return in every instant?
I cut across a lawn and circle my house. As I return to the point of departure, slightly skewed, a “new” scene presents itself to my senses and recreates me as I recreate it. Does the yard even exist without me? Does this flower atop its staff rise up against gravity or does levity pull it up from the farthest plane of the cosmos? After all, how did the apple get up in the tree that conveniently bashed Newton on the skull?
This place has always been here, no beginning, no end. Granted, it has metamorphosed considerably in outward appearance, but its heart is still its heart. This flower, this fruit, this freshly scented herb are the vibrant colors that seep from the earth and meet the sky, and it is this in-between, these scintillating surfaces of life in all its trappings that enters our senses, knocks about inside us, until we synthesize all of it into pure thought, pure conception, until the force of our imagination conforms to a creative mind that is unrelenting and infinite.
This morning I surrender to Nature’s timing and the grid falls away like a receding wave. This morning I allow the sinuous convolutions of plants and insect flight and stones to break the bones of my habitual patterns into chaos and lift me into the order that gives birth to chaos. This morning I surrender to the bumble bees sucking nectar upside down from violet comfrey flowers and I taste the sweetness they taste, and I am good…
The plant throws off its body every year,
Peels itself back to seed.
Unencumbered by its skin,
The plant perpetuates the species,
From before the before,
To after the after.
The plant is primary: to our existence,
To the matrix of the life of the soil,
From the ground up,
In defiance of gravity,
Its colorful gesture an imago,
A stationary butterfly,
Bent and windborne by soft summer breezes.
Seed precipitated out of pod,
Sweat off the body green,
Swallowed in color,
Swelling in autumn,
Dropped as hard node,
Packed tight into it’s own essence and food.
A body clothed in thrift shop cotyledons,
Stems, leaves, flower, fruit, seed,
That never does not end,
Like an undammed river,
A road lost in the rain forest,
A bird migration north and south,
Every, and all years,
A blind alleyway that sees no limits.
How comes a plant from a nondescript nodule,
A point of biotic substance,
Seemingly a minute corpse lying supine
In a world of animalcule minutiae and mycelial madness?
The journey begins here for a plant created out of thin air,
And the carbonaceous waste of the creative breath.
Day Ten in the Neighborhood
The cucumbers are coming on like gangbusters (remind to look up the origin of this phrase), tomatoes are popping (and the peppers!), and the lettuce has succumbed to its own sweat. It is that time of year, or it is any time of the year, it is always and ever a harvestable feast. There is always food and medicine to be gathered. This date: cornelian cherries, gooseberries, lilies, Echinacea, elderberry, celery, peppers, squash, kale, currants. Couldn’t I simply say that the list goes ad infinitum (remind me to look up the origin of this phrase). And yet, we continue to scramble in our little metal boxes on wheels to the big box of synthetic forests and fields and pastures and lay our greenbacks down at the frozen meat counter
And then there is mullein and its exquisite yellow flowers:
Mullein: Survival Toilet Paper
It is difficult to drive down America’s highways without seeing tall stalks of mullein on almost every embankment. At times I have gotten so mesmerized with this plant that not even the person behind me blowing their horn and screaming loudly can get me to move any faster. The yellow blossoms at the top of the spike are the main attraction. When they begin to bloom in late spring I am a goner. I could not begin to count all the times I’ve pulled over to the shoulder of the road to sit next to the mullein plant. The velvetleaf rosettes climb the stalk until a burst of scintillating yellow grabs your attention, rivets you there. And when you finally come to, and take a look down at the embankment, and there’s a state trooper, light’s flashing, checking out your car (and you), you quickly pull a leaf from the mullein, rumble down to the highway, and present your treasure to the trooper (with a big, toothful smile, of course). After all, why do you think state troopers are constantly pulling people over? It is not to give tickets. No. It is simply to get a closer view of the mullein. Right?
Common mullein (verbascum Thapsus), also called velvetleaf, flannel leaf, Aaron’s rod, Jacob’s staff, and a variety of very descriptive titles, was originally brought here form Europe, becoming well established by the 1700’s. Mullein is biennial, producing a rosette of wooly leaves the first year, a tall stalk (up to six feet), topped by clusters of five-petal, sessile yellow flowers, the second. The leaves spiral up the stalk. 150,000 seeds are produced each second year and some of them can lie dormant for as many as one hundred years or reproduce immediately. Many bugs and beetles lay eggs and feed on mullein, especially within the middle of the first year leaf rosettes, and in the flowers. The yellow flowers bloom from June through September, and the stalks stand tall through the winter. The low-lying rosettes stay green through cold weather and snow.
Of all herbs used to treat respiratory infections and congestion, mullein is one of the foremost. It tones the mucous membranes and facilitates expectoration. Its demulcent qualities soothe soar throat and inflammation. Bronchitis, catarrh, hoarseness are all treated with mullein. This can be done with an infusion of the leaves or the dried leaves can be smoked. The leaves are a mild sedative, and they will help cleanse an overburdened digestive tract. A tea of the more astringent root helps stop diarrhea and bleeding, and is used as a wash for eye soreness. The leaves are also poulticed on sores, cuts, and skin inflammations. The whole leaf is wrapped around a sprain to ease pain and bring good circulation to the injured site.
A tea is made from the seeds of mullein is poured into a pond to stupify fish, for easy harvest.
The stalk is the preferred drill for making friction fire by hand. The brown stalk is taken, stripped of old dry leaves, shaved with a knife-edge and rounded off. This stalk is twirled between the hands on a notched fireboard, creating heat and a powdered residue that will soon, when hot enough, produce a coal to be dropped into a tinder nest for ignition.
I have made some fairly straight flying arrows from mullein stalks, but to get the right size, straightness, and proper weight is very difficult.
We used to laugh standing near mullein plants, thinking about the leaves as “survival” toilet paper or “primitive” halter-tops. And yet, this strong and powerful plant keeps us in awe. The mullein, naked on a hillside, withstands scorching summer sun and sub-zero winter winds. The beautiful, velvet, leaves must act as insulation against the cold. Yet, another possible use of mullein for us also.
[Gangbusters, from Yahoo Answers: Gang Busters was a famous radio program that was first heard in 1936 and aired until 1957. Its creator, Phillips H. Lord, worked with J. Edgar Hoover to bring closed FBI cases to the listening public. All scripts were based on actual police records and had to be okayed by the Bureau first.
The radio show was originally titled G-men. It began on July 20, 1935 under the sponsorship of Chevrolet. The name was changed to Gang Busters on January 15, 1936. Palmolive Soap was the new sponsor for the Wednesday night CBS show.
The sound effects of police sirens, tommyguns, and screeching tires that opened the show were dramatic. They inspired the expression “coming on like Gang Busters”.”
…and the expression was used to indicate that some one was coming on strong to right a wrong, or to apply corrective measures to some one who was out of line. Like your momma would do if she caught you doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing. It had nothing to do with being rude or obnoxious – except on the part of the person who was going to get gang-busted.] AHHHHH!!!!
Day Eleven in the Neighborhood
I have this picture. It is a picture of the neighborhood. It takes place in the suburbs. It looks like a farm, or to define it more properly, it looks like, and it is, a food forest, a medicinal forest, a utility forest. And the animals that roam this neighborhood are not the typical cats and dogs. There is my neighbor milking a goat, and another neighbor harvesting paw paws and hazelnuts.
Up the street little Noah is learning how to graft the scion he harvested this winter onto the crabapple tree in his yard. Or should we say that the distinction of “yard” is not appropriate here?
Someone relieved the neighborhood of its fences. There are no property lines to be found here. But, there are many foragers, wildcrafters, wildcrafting medicine from what used to be a fenceline.
No carbon leaves this neighborhood, and the trash haulers are a remnant of the past.
Storm drains have been rendered inoperable, and the tops of the ridges, the roofs, water future yields.
“Waste” has been relegated to the garbage heap of ancient dictionaries and composted there.
There is no “gray” water, so to speak. There is only nutrient dense liquid flowing endlessly to the trees.
The word “excrement” is excised, pruned from the vocabulary, and replaced with, “fertilizer”.
Those that pass through the neighborhood prefer to do so on foot, to take it all in, slowly reinvigorating the senses. And they have this unquenched thirst to observe, participate, converse, find repose in relationship.
Homes have retrofitted to collect and direct sunlight and wind.
A wetland can be found here, fish there, acorns strewn about for the taking (and processing) seemingly everywhere.
And there is this stultifyingly exquisite table, handcrafted from palettes, where those from all the surrounding neighborhoods congregate, and place the gifts of infinite harvest, gently, for consumption.
And then the whole thing starts all over again because you know…people make fertilizer after they eat. And it is all good…
Day Twelve in the Neighborhood
Musings While Standing in the Yard, on the Origin of “Farm”
What is the origin of a “farm”? How is it defined? From whence does the “farm” arise? And why are we so accustomed to reliance on farmers for our nutritional needs? What is it, really, that has played into the dependence on farms and large- scale agriculture? Who raises our food? Even if we establish organic cropping systems and rotational grazing of animals, even if we develop prime agroforestry landscapes, and we do all of this with the market in mind, we are willy-nilly enmeshed in the cycles and competition that markets succumb to.
Success and failure may be basic to our being as race, yes, but whose success and failure are we banking on? Why all this crazy research dedicated to “cash” crops, food fads dictated by the powers that be? To where has the farm led us as a race- progress as an expanding species?
The gadget syndrome. Of course there is always another gadget out there to satisfy our collective sweet tooth. But hey, don’t worry, because when the urge surfaces again, there is always enough to satisfy that sweet tooth once again, even if for a while, and again.
Back to the farm, the way it used to be, before agricultural chemicals and big ass combines and fuel fueled War of the Worlds style monsters that can strip a field of cotton in minutes took center stage. But who harvested the cotton before this War of the Worlds? Does anyone remember the history of the plantation culture in this country? Farms and markets. Markets and the greenback. Who can climb breathlessly to the top of the food chain and manacle the hoards? They are subtle, these chains. They make us obese, they flatten our lives into two-dimensional pundits that falsely make us believe that we “know” something.
What is food? Is it corn? What is sustenance? What is a farm and what does it really represent to us, and what have we become as a result of it? Foragers of the marketplace seeking the next best pluck for the holidays? Isn’t there something somewhere about teaching people to fish rather than putting fish on their tables? But hey, there are plenty of fish swimming in the basements of banks and office buildings, albeit, all across this “modern” world.
So we pay heed to all the delicacies spread out before us smorsgasbord style in the marketplace and we all live and breathe the little that is left, the last vestiges of a once thriving and abundant nature. We have fricked and fracked our way along a strikingly incongruous path that weaves and wends linearly from source to sink. We hollow out this earth like so many termites all for the precious baubles that dangle from our ears, noses and eyebrows.
When a product enters the marketplace it is suffused into the whims of price, want, desire and habit. Plant trees that yield nuts and fruit. Harvest healing herbs and use them to heal. Strip the outer cellulose of a milkweed stalk and make rope, baskets, clothing. It is all at hand and immediate and it travels not, except if a walk in the sun to fetch it is considered travel?
Day Thirteen in the Neighborhood
Today, after stirring the biodynamic 501 silica prep for an hour and spraying it on my plants I was taken up by these thoughts:
We cannot separate biodynamic agriculture from the entire lifestyle set forth by Rudolf Steiner that he delineated during his lifetime. Permaculture is much more explicit in the rendering of a complete lifestyle. Both systems are based, in essence, on a dynamic understanding of pattern and ongoing metamorphosis in action. Rudolf Steiner speaks of the farm organism, and we can extrapolate from Bill Mollison’s writing on Permaculture that he is also speaking of whole systems that operate as complete organisms in themselves.
It is up to us as practitioners of either system to develop astute and rigorous observation skills in order to design, implement, manage, and maintain not only our food production, but every aspect of our lives: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. We could say that an understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s work completes what Permaculture leaves out. Rudolf Steiner speaks intrinsically of the merging of cosmic and terrestrial forces whereas Bill Mollison leaves off pretty much at the physical level (earthly).
But for those who have eyes to see, imbedded in Bill Mollison’s writing in Permaculture one cannot help but find the cosmic spelled out in the ongoing discussion of dynamic pattern in play. “What is above, so is below”. Both Mollison and Steiner talk about how everything lies in functional relationship and lives in a dynamic ecological and cosmic web where materials and energy are in constant flux that cycles endlessly through the biological realm.
As we approach our work through Biodynamics and Permaculture it behooves us to tap into the biological intelligence of place and life. The mineral, vegetable, animal and human kingdoms are one unified whole. We are one being, so to speak, with countless gestures. “Congealed cosmic function”. There are few differences between Steiner’s and Mollison’s perspective on life.
As Permaculture states in its basic ethics, care of earth and care of people, this is a truth that I do not think Rudolf Steiner would have any difficulty relating to and expounding. In essence, the underlying intent of Steiner’s work is to cultivate a profound and deep experience of love. So, farming and gardening are a practice, for growing not only food, but for growing the person.
In my reading of Permaculture though the years, if we drill down into care of earth and people, and if we really live into these two ethics in the deepest way, then we can only come to love. Love for people, animals, plants, and stones can be the only outcome. The dynamic patterns and geometries of life are the rich artistic creation of the Creator that never stays the same, even for an instant. It is our job as observers of this changing landscape of life to learn, to fluidly move in synchronicity with all of metamorphosis. The senses do not lie. The mind does not stop. All ideas are found in the things and beings themselves. When we, as artists of life, gather the colors, shapes, forms, and textures through our senses pre-conceptually, then the creative and free workings of the mind blended with the heart’s calling can only bring about a scintillating creation of our own. Thus, we not only become designers of Permaculture or Biodynamic landscapes, we become active designers of life.
Just as the great alchemists of past and present have revealed that the practice of alchemy is not about strictly transforming base matter into gold, it was in reality an internal process of transforming base tendencies within ourselves into gold. So, all of life, no matter what avenue like takes each one of us is practice to become truly human and to be in service.
When we raise healthy, life giving organic produce for not only ourselves, but also for others, it changes us and those that we serve, and it is a step toward the education of those that we serve to learn how to grow healthy produce on their own and for their families and friends. Just as Jesus would say “teach a man to fish”, it becomes our responsibility to share with others what we have learned in the process of doing.
Practice does make perfect (well, almost). Practice in action is dynamic and a force of the creative will. Both Steiner and Mollison have asked us to step up with their call to action. They have given us concrete steps in order to proceed. Through a profound understanding of pattern in action we become creative thinkers and artists of our world in which we will never lack that inspiration to live into our humanity, en total.
Day Fourteen in the Neighborhood
Thoughts while out harvesting for a green smoothie this morning at sunrise:
Bill Mollison, the founder of Permaculture, has stated repeatedly that the “the problem is the solution”. Buried beneath a veil that looks to human perception as a constraint, whether uncontrollable or the reverse, lies the opposite of a constraint, an opportunity. Although our global community is beset with multiple problems, if we heretofore make the effort to begin a creative process of lifting and looking deeply beneath the surface, if we as explorers and adventurers in search of essential truths, principles and methodologies that reward us, when put into action, with sound templates for restoration and resilience, we must arrive at the shores, at the edges, of understanding that we needs must implement needed changes to what has become status quo.
As an example let us take a look at the overwrought concentration of carbon currently suffusing the atmosphere. “Climate change” is a topic that seemingly will not go away. Whether the over concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is caused by humans or not, it is statistically convincing. If, in fact, a constantly “growing economy” is the precursor to the “greenhouse affect”, when we take cognizance of this fact, it seems overwhelming to those that would follow its developments, almost with a sense of doom, albeit an issue that cannot be stopped.
But where lies the opportunity in all this? Plants, our primary producers, through a process of photosynthesis, sequester carbon and build their architecture with this carbon. It is as if plants appear out of thin air. With a bit of moisture and oxygen thrown into the mix, carbohydrates and proteins are created and embodied in green life that is our primary form of sustenance. Without plants we simply do not exist. So, here lies the problem, and here lies the solution. If one of the primary elements, carbon, that is responsible for creating our primary producers, lies just above the soil matrix in superabundance, we have the unthinkable opportunity to profoundly affect the state of the world by planting trees, and more trees, and the like. A dense plant culture can only benefit from this superabundance of raw materials floating just above their heads and ready to eat.
As Permaculture practitioners an essential focus, regardless of the agricultural methods that we choose, is the health and yield potential of a plant and is part and parcel predicated on the health and fertility of the soil. Although ninety-five percent of plant nutrition is absorbed from the atmosphere, the five percent taken up by roots is tantamount for not only the needs of the plant, but the mineral and carbohydrate density of the plant that we will ultimately ingest for our sustenance.
In the modern era we hear endlessly about peak oil, but in reality we cannot drink fossil fuel nor would we choose to bathe in it. Peak soil is another issue altogether. The depletion of our topsoil over the past ten thousand years of tillage agriculture is a well-known fact. Is it possible to grow our food, medicine and utility and grow topsoil at the same time? The key to all of this is organic matter. But what is organic matter and how do we build up a reservoir of it?
The biomass produced by plants is the key ingredient, not only in supplying food substance for plants and animals, but in producing the organic matter that builds fertility in the soil for the healthy growth of more plants. The animals that eat the plants produce rich and highly mineralized manure that adds to the buildup of soil carbon. This completes a never-ending cycle: plants-animals-humans-soil (minerals).
By including all kingdoms of nature in our own agricultural and gardening regimes we complete the circle. Our focus is, of course, on fertility. There are many techniques in order to secure these natural cycles and sequester the precious carbon that is required for plant structure and growth: sheet mulch, cover and green manure crops, compost, animal production, foliar sprays, biodynamic preps, hugelkultur, et al. The intended purpose in all of this is the reincorporation of all organic materials from the “waste stream” back into the soil matrix. Just as we go through a process of digestion after ingesting foodstuffs, the soil acts as the gut of this earth. The billions of soil creatures transform biomass into a nutritious blend of vitamins, hormones and minerals for uptake by plant roots. For example: in forest ecosystems all of the leaf and woody matter that falls to the ground throughout the year is food for soil organisms. We can mimic this cyclical process by designing plant guilds and food forests into a landbase. If we include a modicum of perennials in the systems the biomass that falls to the ground year after year maintains a consistent smorgasbord of carbonaceous materials for plants, animals and humans over the long haul. One of the essential Permaculture principles: RETURN.
We human beings have the advantage of consciously intervening in our gardens and assuring that soil receives what it needs in order for us to produce health giving food, medicine and utility.
In essence, all of this comes down to building up a constant nutrient cycle. As described above, the nutrient cycle is what keeps biological systems in perpetual motion. Plants are the progenitors of soil. By paying attention to our plant landscapes, by providing an ongoing effort to feed the soil with a diversity of nutritious foods for our soil livestock, we deliberately reincorporate the nutrients back into the soil that have been taken out by plants, animals and humans.
A nutrient cycle is the movement and exchange of organic and inorganic matter back into the production of living matter. The process is regulated by food web pathways that decompose matter into mineral nutrients. Nutrient cycles occur within ecosystems. Ecosystems are interconnected systems where matter and energy flows and is exchanged as organisms feed, digest and migrate about.
Day Fifteen in the Neighborhood
Want and Need
What do I need? What is necessity? Does it have something to do with my longing, with the maintenance of my body, my home? Can I distinguish between what I need and what I want? Or am I simply an impulse away from the next best thing? The next gesture from those that make things, leaves me little choice, and leaves me with leaving my thinking and emotions to them? Through all my years of digging in the earth, building things, crafting a life from the raw materials I have found around me, the distinction between a need and a want is more of a slow burn, a process of decision making, a struggle to find what would be best not only for me, but for my family, the neighborhood, the town.
And there is little instant gratification here, or should I say that the only instant gratification is in the process itself, in the making of the thing, in the doing of it, or in the planting of the tree that would bear fruit three years hence and flash its juicy freshness to the neighborhood, yes, to all those who pass by. So, in the long and short of it, literally, what is a need and what is a want? The line between them becomes obscured and our wants and needs merge into one sacrosanct effort, one gloriously creative effort of the human soul.
Day Sixteen in the Neighborhood
Perception and Landscape
How do we perceive “landscape”? Perceive. We are not speaking of conceive. This follows. When we walk the land we take in ridge and valley, plant, stone, animal sign, cloud above, soil beneath.
Do we take time to allow sensible perception to reveal the essence of the topography, chill of the north wind, sound of a body of crows, or are they crows? A mass of black movement against a pastel sky? An undulating wave of wings, rising and falling, sonorous cackle? Do we perceive intervals, melodies, harmonies as if a stupendous symphony conducted by circle of sun and cycling season tap a wand in rhythmic consistencies and inconsistencies, order concealed by chaos, chaos covered by symmetry?
Do we step back, step forward, do we allow the body to tell its tale: how it twitches here, spasms there, how the eyes tear from cold wind, and the feet measure slope, mud, protuberance of stone, stump, and crackle of leaf? Is it autumn, spring? What mysteries are hidden beneath grass, feed the grass, crush the grass? Above, below? Left, right? Cold, warm?
What textures, shapes, relationships, hue, chiaroscuro, line, circle, fluttering leaves, flagging trees? Does the wind move the trees, or do the trees give shape to the wind? Does the lip of a branch act as woodwind, like the reed in a mouthpiece of a clarinet? How is my body embedded in this vast grandiloquence of wind and water, earth and sun? And how is it, how, that I live off a waste product of trees breathing?
Can we say that the neighborhood or a vast forest are non-different? Different? How?
Day Seventeen in the Neighborhood
After arriving home from coastal South Carolina for a master planning consultation, and cruising the lost highways of the US, I have landed back in the neighborhood in Southern Illinois and am pondering the two dimensional state of the world as I pick cucumbers from the fence in the backyard:
Who will remember if I do not engage in the supersonic virtual where “friends” have no bodies and words make or break lives and render them silent? What is this kind of “engagement”? But if you were here and I looked you in the eye you may very well turn it all into a Seinfeld episode and nitpick it into oblivion. So I engage in the two dimensional stormcloud and wait impatiently for it to burst? But who cares because I can get whatever I want whenever I want it to stoke the fires of my identity and suck easily at the fruits of mine or someone else’s labor: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual? Is this the true obesity? No family, no neighbor, no political representation can jog this juggernaut. Wasn’t there an actual physical disease called “consumption” at one time in history? Did consumption consume itself? Did the “free” gift delivered seamlessly from the corporation elicit a response? Or the promise of wealth and more toys in the now, until the stress of the credit ballooning into mountains of debt somewhere down the road shows up?
Or could we for once sit and watch a tomato plant grow from seed to fruit, and take pleasure in the first bite? The anticipation is enough to give me self-control…
We can comb the internet for more and more information, but who would plant that seed? Robots? But who would actually build that robot?
Day Eighteen in the Neighborhood
A point may sit at the very center of a circle, or assymetrically off toward an edge, somewhere in the enclosure of the circumference of the circular. When centered it seems stable, focalized, focused, with all eyes looking inward from the edge, from the extreme, from the skin. But the point that sits away from center seems more dynamic, expresses movement, wants out as it moves toward the membrane that is enclosure. As it travels it leaves tracks in its wake, a “line” of tracks, maybe meandering , curvilinear signposts for trackers to track, or eyes to follow, from point to point, or beyond a demarcation of points into infinite necessity. And then, this line rolls over itself, tips along the way, creates surfaces, planes, tables and mesas, buttes, and seats for butts. Tripping again into three dimensions, volumes appear, cubes and spheres and all matter of solids, or hollows with metes and bounds, architectonic opportunities, trees and inverted trees, valleys and ridges, bodies on two and four legs.
Color enraptures, qualifies, makes distinct possibility, draws us into an emotional envelope, washes over us like spring water, filled to overflowing with mineral rich substance, solid, liquid, gas. How might we translate this into design? How might the landscape obviate point, line, plane? What already exists, pre-designer? What language does this landscape speak? What textures: rough, smooth, or something in between? Does the mighty oak at the center (point) spread it’s branches (line) to the extremes and its trunk (volume) encircle what might better serve as a fruit bearing guild of shrub, small tree, pumpkin patch? Or have we not yet tasted the delicate acorn?
Day Nineteen in the Neighborhood
I am sitting in the backyard. The humidity is thick. Cicadas are thick with rhythm. The plants are a quiescent deep green, the deepest of greens. Sweetgum pods litter the drive. A comfrey leaf lifts its ovate leaves gently. Mints waft the air. The chickens are perched for the evening and the mosquitos swarm my ankle flesh.
It is summer, but I can feel the descent into autumn as the sun sets earlier each dusk.
I am blessed to have all this food strewn about the yard, alive with chlorophyll, dense starches, complex sugars for my family’s nourishment. It is the truest of victory gardens, and the basis for all we are and will be.
This transition to autumn is yet another circle of my sixty-two years, a vortex into which I gladly ascend.
In the front yard the forest of fruit and nut absorbs the moisture of the inbreath of evening. It is seemingly motionless, but the fruit swells and the nuts make rich and healthful oils, essential, disintegrate. The alchemy never ends, the distillation into gold, the incineration of substance from base matter into precious and unspeakable gold, an internal process, a metamorphosis of dark to light.
I am not alone: the plants are signposts to something much deeper than root, stem, leaf, calyx, flower, fruit, and seed. My mind root, my will flower, my heart leaf. And the four essences of all life, earth, water, air, and fire, are the sap and circumference of the world as we know it. We are born of water and earth, we breathe, and the scales are tipped toward fire, but the seed never dies. It rests for a time and comes to blossom yet again, and again, and again.
Six and a half billion souls inhabit the subtle matrix of life embedded in stone, plants, animals, planets, stars. And the garden is the juggernaut, the wild plants of the neighborhood the environs surrounding what we cultivate, the sky in all its constellated glory the letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, pages sequestering us in the very book of all existence, transforming us in time…
Day Twenty in the Neighborhood
The “Greening” of the Corporation
I remember a time when we uncovered the wrenching reality that corporations were perpetrating a slow and uneven death on all things life, how it hurt so deeply that we would go to sleep at night crying for the earth, and the plants, animals, the people. I remember how angry we were, that our lives were being compromised by greed, gluttony, and all the other “deadly” sins. And I remember, quite distinctly, when as a child I would stand in front of trees in spring in awe of the buds bursting with the season’s new life. We had arrived at a deep understanding, that if the buds would continue to revisit us each and every year, that we had to do something about it, we had to go to all extremes to save the trees from the sound and work of chainsaws eating wood in forests and making dust of two hundred year old living monuments to Nature’s scintillating existence. And when the precious soil started to erode away, and the rivers overflowed because of it, and the cities we had built were buried beneath millions of pounds of water and topsoil, we took notice, even if only for a short while, because we were in the path of it and we could not escape it, and when it had passed our awareness had passed with it and life went on “as usual”, all in the name of progress.
I remember when “green” became a thing, a marketable thing, a Madison Avenue juggernaut of a thing. I remember because it is not too far in the past that this happened, seemingly suddenly, and thus it is still with us. I remember that when some thing becomes that thing then it is all about “business” per se, about positioning, and competition, the cult of personality, about who might be the next darling of the green universe. And the fortress rises out of the desert and empire is bound to crumble to dust, some day, any way.
And then one evening, upon lying down to go to sleep, we find ourselves crying again for the earth, this earth that is our real Mother, our sustenance, from whose milk we suck and are nourished. And this ancient thought comes to the mind and dips into the heart of hearts, and we succumb to all the wonder and beauty that is forever and always. We cry the hurt, the kind of hurt that only our ribs could describe as an awe full pain, a melancholic pain, an earthly and mysterious pain, but a pain that has joy hidden right at the very center of it, at the core of it, at the seed of it.
And lest we forget why we got into this at all, why the spirit of life nudged us, prodded us, forced us up, to take a look, to listen, and smell and taste and, most of all, to touch. So yeah, we can make a bit of money out of this “green” thing, this marketable, newsworthy, thing. We can raise the quality of our lives, we can consume goods and services to infinity, but as we do this we consume all that lies precious, we re-source, or should we say that we simply source without giving back, we only work the contract and never go beyond it because, Lord help us, if we were to extend even a little bit beyond the contract, if we were to serve the people, and the animals, and the plants, just a smidgeon beyond what the contract says, then it “will cut into my time”. Ah, time! That gnarly thing. That cat and mouse of subterfuge, that ploy, that harbinger of non-existence, that beast that lies hidden in the jungle, those shadows that creep until death do us part.
And so, off to the marketplace! Ha! In the system. Care of earth and care of people? Where lies the courage to drill down into that and live it to the extreme. This is the real adventure, the scaling of Himalayas that no Sherpa dare enter…
Day Twenty-One in the Neighborhood
Every morning I awake at dawn, get upright and immediately step outside to begin the day. This morning I harvested dandelions for juice. All year the dandelion is available for harvest. Why spray these nutritious and medicinal plants when we have so much “free” food and medicine available, and we do not have to plant or cultivate them? So, there are many species that thrive here in Southern Illinois. A large percentage of what you see on this list is planted in my yard with more to come.
PLANT LIST: Southern Illinois, Zone 7B
- Edamame (soybeans)
- White Clover
- Kohl Crops
- Sweet Potatoes
Aquatic Plants for Pond:
- American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)
- Arrowhead/Duck Potato (Sagittaria spp)
- Bulrush (Scirpus spp)
- Cattail (Typha spp)
- Spatterdock/Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar advena)
- Water Lily (Nymphae spp)
- Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi)
Ferns & Spleenworts (understory/full shade):
- Adder’s Tongue (Pterophyta filicineae ophioglossum vulgatum)
- Common Polypody (Polypodium virginianum)
- Lobed Spleenwort (Asplensorus pinnatifidus)
- Maidenhair (Asplenium trichomanes)
- Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis
- Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
- Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
- Walking Fern (Camptosorus rhizophyllis)
- Basswood/Linden (Tiliaceae tilia Americana)
- Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
- Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
- Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
- Carpathian Walnut (Juglans regia)
- Heartnut (Juglans ailantifolia)
- Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
- Kingnut / Big Shellbark Hickory (Juglandaceae carya laciniosa)
- Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis)
- Northern Pecan (Carya Illinoiensis)
- Oaks (Quercus spp)
- Red/Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)
- Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
- Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa)
- Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
- American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
- American Plum (Prunus Americana)
- Apple (Malus spp)
- Apricots (Prunus Armeniaca)
- Asian Pear (pyrus bretschneideris)
- Asian Persimmon (diospyros kaki)
- Cherries (Prunus spp)
- Chicago and Brown Turkey Figs (Ficus carica)
- Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia)
- Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima)
- Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)
- Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus spp)
- European Pear (Pyrus communis)
- Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
- Hall’s Hardy Almond (Prunus dulcis)
- Iowa Crab Apple (Malus ioensis)
- Italian Alder (Alnus cordata)
- Munson’s Wild Plum (Prunus munsoniana)
- Narrow-leaved Crab Apple (Malus angustifolia)
- Osage Orange/Hedge Apple (Moraceae maclura pomifera)
- Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
- Prairie Crab Apple (Malus coronaria)
- Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)
- Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
- Shadbush/Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
- Silver Bell (Halesia Carolina)
- Smooth Alder (Alnus serrulata)
- Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
- White Mulberry (Morus alba)
- Wild Goose Plum (Prunus hortulana)
- Witchhazel (Hamamelis)
- Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia arguta)
- Fox Grape (Vitis labrusca)
- Muscadine Grape (Vitis rotundifolia)
Shrubs (small to large)
- Allegheny Shadbush (Amelanchier lamarkii)
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)
- Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum)
- Jujube (Ziziphus jujube)
- Juneberries (Amelanchier spp)
- Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
- Dwarf Canebake Bamboo (Arundinaria gigantean)
- Stone Bamboo (Phyllostachys nuda)
- Sweetshoot Bamboo (Phyllostachys dulcis)
Low Shrubs (tall)
- Black Currant (Ribes nigrum)
- Black Raspberry (Rubus occidental)
- Blackberry (Rubus)
- Chinquapin (Castanea pumila)
- Dwarf Bush Cherry (Prunus japonica)
- Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)
- Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora)
- Hazelnut/Filbert (Corylus spp)
- Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
- Mongolian Bush Cherry (Prunus fruticosa)
- Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa)
- Rabbiteye Blueberry (Vaccinium ashei)
- Red and White Currant (Ribes silvestre)
- Red Raspberry (Rubus idacus)
- Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens)
- Yellow Raspberry (Rubus spp)
Low Shrubs (short)
- Arrow Broom (Genista sagittalis)
- Chinese Indigo (Indigfera decora)
- Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolia)
- Rosa Rugosa (Rosa rugosum)
- Trailing Silky-Leaf Woodwaxen (Genista pilosa)
- Groundnut (Apios Americana)
- Jinenjo Yam (Dioscorea japonica)
- Maypop/Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Clumping Herbs (above 6 inches)
- Anise Hyssop (Melissa officinalis)
- Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
- Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)
- Burdock (Arctium spp)
- Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Chicory (Cichrium intybus)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Cinquefoil (Potentilla spp)
- Comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum)
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
- Egyptian Walking Onion (Allium cepa proliferum)
- Evening primrose (Oenothera spp)
- French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus)
- Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)
- Ginseng, American (Panax spp)
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis)
- Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)
- Hollyhock (Alcea spp)
- Lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium spp)
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
- May apple (Podohyllum spp)
- Milkvetch (Astragalus glycyphyllos)
- Milkweed (Asclepius spp)
- Mints (Mentha spp)
- Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)
- Multiplier Onion (Allium cepa aggregatum)
- Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp)
- Ramps (Allium tricoccum)
- Rhubarb (Rheum spp)
- Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum)
- Scorzonera/Oyster Plant (Scorzonera hispanica)
- Sea kale (Crambe maritime)
- Skirret (Sium sisarum)
- Sunflower (Helianthus spp)
- Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
- Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora)
- Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
- Virginia Sweetspire
- Yellow Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria)
- Yucca (Yucca spp)
Running Herbs (above 6 inches)
- Chinese Artichoke (Satchys affinis)
- Daylily (Hemerocallis spp)
- Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
- Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
- Pink Tickseed (Coreopsis rosea)
- Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
- Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
- Wood Nettle (Laportaea canadensis)
- Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca alpina)
- Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)
- Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
- Galax (Galax urceolata)
- Garden Strawberry (Fragaria spp)
- Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
- Miner’s Lettuce (Montia perfoliata)
- Sweet Violet (Viola odorata)
- White Clover (Trifolium repens)
- Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
- Wild Strawberry (Fragari virginiana)
- Chicken-of-the-Woods (Polyporus sulphureus)
- King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata)
- Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
- Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
Addendum: Day Twenty-One in the Neighborhood
Early morning contemplation
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?
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 plants, animals, other human beings, we are all changing, communicating, exhibiting our emotions and thought processes. We are in vital relationship with each other, our histories and dynamics, the general environment, 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 place. Subject and object merge and disappear. The natural world becomes a great breathing in and breathing out. The divide between mind and body breaks down. If we possess the skills to observe this interaction we can take a giant step toward honest and truthful relations in all guises.
Day Twenty-Two in the Neighborhood
The industrialization of agriculture. How did these two terms merge? When I think of industry I think of stacks spewing contaminants, fish eating chemicals, complex machinery a substitute for hands, a petroleum driven maelstrom.
How is agriculture any different in its current configuration: stacks spewing contaminants, fish eating chemicals, complex machinery a substitute for hands, a petroleum driven maelstrom.
Odd, is it not, that our hands are replaced by machines, our bodies mere appendages to four hundred horses of metal, piston, explosive devices driving “seed” into a barren landscape? Assembly lines, conveyor belts, a pinball machine of life and we are the metal ball. If the flippers don’t keep us in the body of the machine we are dropped down an abysmal hole, but voila! somehow we pop back into the machine, but…drats…game over! And who controls the flippers? Rack up points…free game! Free game! The play of the universe? Play of industry? Manufactured for our convenience?
Look down from any airplane: conveyor belts, pinball machines take us where we “wish” to go?
I often wonder at the term “industry”. Etymologically it arises from the Old Latin indu-in + struere- to build, to heap up, from stenere- to spread out, from Hittite andan-within. Through our “industry” we have built, we have heaped up and then we have spread it all around, eh? What exactly have we spread around? Chemicals, hamburgers, hybrid corn pollen, a culture of what? Heaps in places subject to the bottom of more heaps? Or heaps of money? Sitting on multi-billion dollar heaps of money=pollution? Heaps and heaps of information, spread willy-nilly across the virtual machine? Heaps and heaps of information unencumbered by wisdom? The fate of fastness=vastness. The fate of vastness=the wave that sits atop the deep blue sea. But where lies the real belly of the ocean, the unchanging, the slowness of it all, the eye turned toward what?
A big, dang, industrially agricultured, pinballed machine, two-dimensioned, oil driven soup of life?
How’s bout a leisurely walk in the woods…or in the garden…
In the Garden
It is hot here in summer
humidity striking the skin like a steel blade.
And now rain.
Rivers of rain and mud
and mud and miracles
and cherts and flints lifted like feathers carried on the wind
tilted for searching hands on banks and bars in creeks.
So we dig, weed, plant seed.
And soon the harvest reaches back into
backwashes of sediment
catalyzing mineral into wealth
pebble into food.
Insects settle in.
Day Twenty-Three in the Neighborhood
Four years ago, when we started working the yard, we had to cut down four rather mature trees to fetch sunlight. We chipped them and used the remainder for hugelkultur beds. We kept two large trees on the east side: female gingko (the largest in all of Carbondale) and pine. In the neighbor’s yard are several oaks and redbuds. We harvest nitrogen from the redbuds (and luscious spring flowers), acorns and medicines from the oak (along with its infinite ecosystemic functions), nuts from the gingko, and pitch and vitamin C from the pine. These are only a few of the functions allotted to these behemoths of the plant world.
How do I document the other 249 species in the yard, let alone the numerous species abutting our property and up and down the byways of the neighborhood? My daughter and I have been tattooed with purple mulberry dye for days and we spend more than a modicum of time sucking nectar from honeysuckle blossoms (those awful, invasive aliens from the “green” planet). I could swear she is a honeybee in the making!
So, today I will stick with the oak, glorious tree. There are eighteen or so species of oak in Southern Illinois and the bounty garnered from them is nothing short of miraculous. And again, we planted not one of them. Let the blue jays and squirrels do that for us. This is what understanding the biological intelligence of the region is all about…
Here is an excerpt about the oak from my book, “Integrated Forest Gardening”…
“The oak tree is a powerful symbol in many cultures across the world, and for good reason. Its ability to grow and survive in just about every climate, and its strength and beauty, are unmatched in the world of trees. Oak (Quercus species) provides sustenance for many, something that human beings should take to heart. It is, like many other tree species, the centerpiece of any guild, and it shares its bounty with all that moves across the landscape.
In Permaculture systems oaks are planted as an overstory tree, the tallest plant in the guild arching over all other herbaceous, shrub, and tree species. In many neighborhoods across the United States there is already a proliferation of oaks that were planted when these neighborhoods were constructed. The oak-hickory forest that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River is the most predominant type of forest biome between these great bodies of water. It is up to us to insert a diversity of plants in the understory of the oak for our plant guilds, or to forage the neighborhood in autumn when the acorns come ripe.
The oak is found on every continent. There are fifty-eight tree and ten shrub species of oak in the United States, and they feature countless leaf shape variations and have a tendency to hybridize.
The Indo-European family of languages that range from Sanskrit in the east to Gaelic in the west have in common the root word for oak. In Sanskrit the name for oak is duir; that word is also used for trees in general. In Gaelic, too, the word is duir. The English word door comes from this ancient link as doors were traditionally made from the strongest available wood, oak.
There are over sixty references to oak in the Bible. Druid rituals revolved around the sacred tree, and Zeus’s oracle was set in the midst of an oak grove at Dodona. Stability, longevity, strength, beauty.
Because acorns are so bitter to the taste, their tannic acid content must be leached out. This same tannic acid, as we shall see shortly, can be used as a medicinal. The white oak (Quercus alba) contains less tannic acid than the red oak (Q. rubra) and its acorn is much sweeter. Nonetheless, the white acorn must also be leached of its tannic acid for consumption.
Red and White Oaks
Oak is a long-lived tree. The red oak can survive to an age of three hundred years, and the white oak to six hundred. Most oak species fall within these two subsets, red and white. The red oaks are so named because the wood has a reddish color; that of the white oak is lighter. They can also be distinguished by the shape of their lobes: White oaks have rounded lobes and red oaks pointed, most of the time with small hairs projecting from the point of the lobe.
Red oaks contain more tannic than white oaks, but when we leach either subtype for flour we must be cognizant that even a small modicum of tannic acid ingested can cause digestive issues.
Functional Uses of the Oak: A Woodland Department Store!
Other than habitat or centers of diversity for nonhuman species, there are many purposes to which human societies have put the oak and its products and services. Whereas the cattail is called the “supermarket of the swamp,” the oak could be called the “department store of the forest.” Different parts of the tree are used as wild or cultivated edibles, as medicinal and first-aid remedies, for crafting splint baskets, as a dye, and to build structures and make tools.
As a source of durable wood products, the white oaks are almost unsurpassed among tree species. White oak wood is rot resistant and is a premier carpentry wood; it was used for ships’ masts for hundreds of years. Red oak is less durable and more prone to splitting, but it’s used also in furniture making and plywood veneers.
Oak bark was traditionally a source of tannins for the leather industry. The tannic acid content of any part of the oak tree is used to process animal hides when the brain of the animal (traditionally used for tanning) is not available. After the hide is scraped of fat, meat, and hair, it is soaked and wrung out several times in a solution of brains and water or oak tree decoction. It is kneaded until dry. The natural brain tanning or plant tanning process assures the softest and most beautiful of all leathers.
Indigenous Native Americans used the bark medicinally. As a first-aid and medicinal remedy oak bark has internal and external applications. Prepare a decoction of oak bark as a gargle for sore throat after a cold night in the brush or resulting from a drafty window. As a skin wash for cuts, scrapes, and insect bites, it is especially soothing. After sloshing through a mosquito-dense swamp, chew a bunch of oak leaves, rub and poultice them on the bites, and enjoy quick relief. As an astringent for all kinds of ailments, oak bark is applied topically to fever blisters, herpes sores, ringworm ulcers, varicose veins, and various other skin disorders in the form of a fomentation or salve. Apply fomentations throughout the night to swollen glands, lymphatic swellings, goiter, and mumps. Oak bark decoction is an excellent douche for vaginal infections and a retention enema for hemorrhoids.
Internally, decoct and drink sparingly for diarrhea, bladder weakness, bleeding in the stomach, lungs, and rectum, hemorrhoids, prolapsed uterus, and varicose veins. A teaspoon of the decoction is snuffed up the nose to stop nosebleed. Oak bark is highly antiseptic. It will clean the stomach, clear mucous discharge, and help remove gall- and kidney stones
Food, of course, is the best use for the oak as the harvest of acorns is a renewable resource. Around the world people have been eating acorns for thousands of years; some societies based their entire food culture on the acorn. Mediterranean cultures such as Greece and Rome used the acorn for food, as did much of Western Europe and elsewhere. Even today some Asian supermarkets carry acorn flour in the United States as well as in their native countries.
Leaching of the tannins can help to make the acorn meal palatable. This meal needs to be blended with another flour, nuts, fruits, vegetables, or herbs because of its bland flavor. Native Americans mixed it with cornmeal to make into bread. They blended acorns with dried or fresh berries, meat and fats, and maple sugar and fried it as cakes. John Muir said that the acorn bread he was taught to make by Native friends was a most compact and strength-giving food. To make acorn meal, boil the acorn kernels in several changes of water until the water does not turn its characteristic brown color. The kernels can also be dried, mashed or ground, placed in a tightly woven, porous bag, and then boiled or left in a swift-running stream for a number of days to remove the bitterness and astringency. Once the tannic acid has been removed, the acorns are eaten whole or dried, ground into flour, and used in breads, muffins, soups, or ashcakes. There is no gluten content in acorn flour, so if you’re making bread, acorn flour will not hold together as wheat does. It’s better to use it as an additive than attempt to use it by itself in bread making.
Ashcakes are a delicacy not to be missed by backcountry travelers and collectors of acorns along the byways and front lawns of America. Mix acorn flour with water until a doughy consistency is obtained, knead into a flat, round pancake, fold over (you can put raisins, brown sugar, whatever pleases the palate inside before folding, as in a turnover), then place in hot ashes and coals on an open fire. Endless variations are possible. Native peoples would make ashcakes and take them along on excursions as a delicious and nutritious food that would last for many months.”
Day Twenty-Four in the Neighborhood
I am sitting on the porch. 98 degrees. Do you all know what it feels like when a small ball of sweat rolls down the back through a labyrinth of hair and mole and takes up residence inside your belt? It stains the leather that once upon a time covered a cow, a modified cornfed cow permeated with antibiotics and the stench of piles of dung, bloated, then meandered to the slaughterhouse and its poisoned blood let loose from the highways and byways of veins and arteries. Another reality that is hidden away “over there”. The “meat” is available at the “super” market. Hunt it, gather it, grill it, at our convenience. And the hide? We are walking in it as it has been shaped to our feet, and it can be found through the loops of our jeans as it hugs the belly.
But could we participate in the process from animal to freezer and feel comfortable with this? When I used to teach primitive skills in Southern Utah for a month at a time with no equipment we would sneak a sheep in on the four-wheeler in the middle of the course. The students had to draw straws to see who would slaughter the sheep. It was an emotional time for many who had never witnessed the source of their meat. The group was required to use every last bit of the sheep for something (Ex: even the ears make nice change purses!). There is something in between beginning and instant gratification, there is a whole process that we have the habit of skipping past in our culture. This creative process takes time, revision, questioning, slowing down to a snail’s pace in order to observe before one takes a step, and another step. It as if we are to join a twelve-step program and leap from step one to step twelve in a single bound, lest we forget that steps 2-11 are where the real work takes place.
That ball of sweat would never make it to its landing place in the belt if all we would do is go inside to our climate controlled domicile. But can we know “weather” beyond what we see on the two-dimensional electronic window? Can we imbibe this weather with a full range of senses and joy in the cold, the sweat that rolls down our backs, where we become a tuning fork through total immersion?
If I cultivate my crops, I cultivate at dusk when the earth breathes in at the end of the day. Heated air rises, expands and picks up moisture along the way. As the day cools the air sinks back to the earth where it can be received. If I cultivate my life I cultivate the acceptance of the sweat rolling down my back, the moistening of the belt, in essence giving new life to the hide that traveled an uneasy life and death and has found itself wrapped around my waist.
As I sit in the backyard I am surrounded by a density of life in plants that is unfathomable. Plants are our primary producers. Without them we do not exist. Plants fed the cow that fed the craftsman that fed the loops of our jeans that hold those jeans in place. It is in the leaf that I rest and forgive the whiles and wherefores of the marketplace and its seemingly unending grip on us…
Day Twenty-Five in the Neighborhood
Training: We are not One-Eyed Specialists Here!
Training in nature skills sharpens our ability to see life as it is and develop hand and eye coordination, placing us into an environment where we must observe and create what we need in an immediate and balanced way. If my assumptions are correct then there is still an enormous need to communicate information about these topics and related eco-agricultural and sustainable technological systems to students, educators, administrators, politicians, the media, farmers, architects, ranchers and the like. The dual approach of theory and practice is specific to what is purported here.
Leading trends in sustainable agriculture, i.e. Permaculture, Biodynamic Agriculture, Bio-intensive gardening, the eco-agriculture movement as delineated by Acres USA, organic systems, the natural way of farming of Masanobu Fukuoka and indigenous systems of agriculture. To complete the picture for comprehensive learning and implementation: renewable energy systems (wind, water, solar), ecological building practices (straw bale, cob, earthbag, etc.) and everything from toolmaking to animal husbandry. We merge these systems into a working whole.
With astute observation and an understanding of essential and cyclical patterns found in the natural world we are able to help ourselves and others to lift the veil of the landscape and create new ideas based on the archetypal energies and forms which give birth to all the diversified elements and interactions on the farm, in the garden, the home site, the village, suburbs and city.
Appropriate Technology and Small Intensive Systems
By utilizing appropriate technologies that sustain, rather than hinder and destroy the balance of nature, an ethic and attitude of care, cooperation and the need to follow nature’s pristine example will become apparent. We will learn to mimic the ecological processes within the local bioregion where we live and work, creating balanced ecosystems in their own right.
Because we postulate that we start small and stay relatively small with practices such as utilization of vertical space in our planning (stacking), ecologically based design, and increasing yields-not size of acreage, we develop the opportunity to deliver a unique point-of-view geared to people on small and mid-sized land-bases. We become more sensitive to the overall health of human life, basic needs, and the needs of all beings in the landscape. By seeing wholes rather than parts, we will be more apt and willing caretakers who work to restore and sustain the intended living environment for all creation.
A Balanced Middle Way
The current education-information system will become a more flexible entity where cultural exchange between educators, students and stakeholders establish communication that precludes a deeper reading of the Book of Nature and the practical application of ideas quarried from that reading. Through a mixture of theoretical and participatory hands-on teaching and learning in the art of living, a responsive, learning dynamic results. By delivering a systemic approach to a larger and more diverse audience, an ethically balanced “middle way” approach to land use leads to a sustainability “mind-set”, viable for a large cross-section of producers, educators and students.
The systems approach is all-inclusive. If the underlying “law of unity” is constantly at the threshold of our thinking in education, research and communication, we will always be called to look for what brings us, and nature, together in harmony, rather than the separation from the natural world that most of the populace feels. This includes farmers and stakeholders who manage huge mechanized and mono-cultural corporate farms. They have “lost touch with the land “.
- Encouraging self‑reflection on Nature
- Increasing and defining ecological and bioregional literacy
- Studying cultural and natural diversity
- Teaching global thinking and the spiritual understanding of the natural world
- Celebrating change, observing and studying the rhythms and evolution of Nature
- Creating sustainable designs for living within a region of study
- Recreating the life and folk ways of local prehistoric and historic cultures
- Intertwining environmental and ecological studies with our daily existence
“We must create designs for human settlements that incorporate principles inherent in the natural world in order to sustain human populations over a long span of time.” (John Todd)
Biological-Ecological Design Precepts (By John Todd, Creator of the “Living Machine”)
- The living world is the matrix for all design
- Design should follow, not oppose, the laws of life
- Biological equity must determine design
- Design must reflect bio-regionality
- Projects should be based on renewable energy sources
- Design should be sustainable through the integration of living systems
- Design should be co-evolutionary with the natural world
- Building and design should help heal the planet
- Design should follow sacred ecology
An ecologically-biologically sound and sustainable rural, suburban or urban settlement, emphasizing zero-waste, circular models of development and energy integration for all.
- Hunter-Gatherer living skills
- Settlement, village life-ways and folkways
- Map building and modeling
- Permaculture principles
- Concepts and themes in design
- The local ecosystem
- Forms of eco-gardening and farming
- Broad scale, bioregional site design
- The application of specific methods, laws and principles to design
- Pattern understanding and observation skills, landscape analysis
- Climatic factors
- Plants and trees and their energy interactions
- Water: collection, storage, purification
- Earth-working and earth resources
- Infrastructure and roads
- Zone and sector analysis
- Food forests and small animal husbandry, forest management, agroforestry
- Cropping and large animal husbandry
- Harvest and utility forests
- Natural forests
- Land and forest restoration
- Planning the homestead
- “Green” structures, ecological building practices: rural, suburban, urban
- Craftwork and chores, machinery
- “Natural” medicine
- Cooking and food preservation
- Equipment, tools, bio-fuels and vehicles
- Renewable energy, system design and implementation
- Energy conservation
- Biological waste management and recycling
- Strategies for different climates
- Urban and suburban strategies
- Small farm and garden management and marketing
- Project planning, budgets and timelines
- Office procedures
- Building and planning software
- Emergency preparations, safety procedures
- Building codes
- Political, social, economic issues and solutions, cooperative economics, money and financial systems
- Designing public policy
- Designing sustainable economy
- Human settlement and local ecology
- Site selection, mapping and modeling
- Dividing, distributing, apportioning land
- Practical work on design, broadscale landscape and systems design