Day Seventy-Five in the Neighborhood
This morning at 5:00 am I stepped out the backdoor and Venus was glowing in the pre-dawn sky about a hand’s-breadth above the horizon. Orion was off to the west climbing and hunting for the sun. As I turned to go back inside a chorus of yaps, screams, and laughter exploded through the trees: Coyote!
The first half of coyote spells “coy”. A shy or sweetly innocent quality? Are they deliberately intending this behavior to attract attention? Artful, playfulness, cute, coquettish? Or maybe they are exhibiting reluctance to make any kind of commitment. All of these might describe coyote, but certainly not their raucous din!
Fading in and out, falling to a whisper, I carried this song into my day. As I fly south toward St Louis, I have this picture of several coyote young vying for mama, yelping for attention and milk, balls of soft fur hopping about, calling wistfully into the trees out of pure joy in the calling, the need to communicate with chopped syllables, chunks of guttural and fricative vowels, consonants, and combinations of sound not to be imitated by human beings thereof.
I carry coyote into the atmosphere with me, resounding in my skull. As the stewardess exclaims her warnings and welcome through the cabin, coyote dominates the internal dimension of my inward flight. Coyote makes demands on me to keep listening for the next pre-dawn outburst, and into the circumference of my dreams.
And I will wake tomorrow before dawn and step outside. It is there that I will make my acquaintance with great horned owl, cricket, bobwhite, and a palette of sumptuous symphonies of scintillating sound, the stapes and hammers of the inner ear pounding like brass bells announcing the coming of our only sun…
Day Seventy-Six in the Neighborhood
The backyard here in Southern Illinois has changed. “Officially”, autumn has descended on us despite 80-degree weather, high humidity, mosquitos, and the like.
The squirrels are busy separating various pieces of the sweetgum tree on to my car in the drive. They are at it all day long, industrious as a squirrel might be, chattering and flicking their tails with delight in anticipation of the cold settling in.
The cicadas have also descended, it seems, into their 13 or 17 year entombment. And the crickets trill is slowing down during the cooler evenings,, my windows wide open at night, my ears wide open at night, my mind wide open at night, marveling at a cricket’s blackness, the cricket’s ability to leap, the cricket’s penchant to synchronize stridency with other stridencies (if there be such a word). One must listen closely, as one must listen for the intracacies of, let’s say, Beethoven’s Ninth, for the subtle expediencies of rhythmic variation, for the call and response of love beating against the heartbeat of all creatures.
I can easily imagine that the backyard pulse may be measured by the cricket’s. I can imagine that although we are lulled to sleep by the cricket, that life goes on metamorphosing discreetly and indiscreetly, that what we give harbor to in our dreams keeps us awake inside a cosmos of rich and textured rhythm, and that this cosmos stands at the edge of the amorphous and delinquent borders of life that are nothing but an illusory separation of the mind’s grasping at shadows.
But the song of the cricket, the squirrel shredding sweetgum pods, the mosquito searching for protein (blood!), can’t seem to sit still.
Is there no respite? Is there no stopping this world? Is there nowhere to place the foot into what sameness of what river nowhere forever?
Tonight, my first night back home, I will set up ship in the backyard, embedded deep within the neighborhood, and dream a cosmos, a cosmic web, a rhythmic stanchion like a post upholding the vast heavens, and I will direct the seeking I toward Polaris as the stars twirl around crickets, squirrels, mosquitos, backyards, neighborhoods, and me.
There are nests inside of nests inside of nests…
Outside? Out the side of what? A place or region beyond an enclosure or boundary? Out the side of what? One precludes the other.
The exploitation of all peoples must end. Oil will not soothe the squirrels, and the crickets will go on singing regardless the next technological wonder drug…
Day Seventy-Seven in the Neighborhood
A Willow Spotting
“Where there is willow there is water.” You are sitting above a sandstone rockface in the desert. Your eye follows a meandering line of green. The sun makes you squint. Water is near at hand. Even if there is no surface water you know that if you dig down deep enough you’ll find it. The willows tell you that. So you descend cautiously, quietly, careful not to chase what could be a mirage. Impending thirst, possible heat exhaustion. The line of green begins to take on more definition as you approach, sounds of water navigating rock gurgle at your ears, down through your throat, and into your dry gut. There is a gentle desert breeze here, and what you pictured as willow has now become reality. And the willow leaves give definition to the gentle desert breeze. You will never take water for granted again. You drink, your lips finding the creek’s surface, and you take the plunge! The willow has directed you here without words, maps, street signs. She waves her long arms in the wind as if a finger were curled repeatedly saying, “Come. Come here. Here is water beneath my body. Come drink. I will not let you die of thirst. Come. Drink here”.
Next to pines, oaks, and maples the willow (Salix spp) is one of the most well known trees of America. In fact, willows range from polar-regions to tropical latitudes. They are the most widespread tree family in the world. Three to four hundred species, and their hybrids, bring countless subtle variations to their form. From shrubs to large weeping willows they colonize wet areas very rapidly and literally “take over”. All species of willow exhibit lanceolate, serrated leaves, separate male and female catkins, small pointed growths at leaf bases, and winter buds covered with a single scale. Many willow clones reproduce from suckers following fires, or from stumps. Some of the most common species are the weeping willow, the black willow, and the pussy willow, so familiar in springtime flower arrangements. Aspens and poplars are also members of the willow family (salicaceae). The buds and twigs of willow are some of the most important wildlife food. Grouse, grosbeak, beaver, hare, elk, moose, mouse, rat, squirrel, and muskrat rely on the willow for nutrition, sometimes as an exclusive food source at particular times of the year.
Willow is a multi-purpose medicinal plant, and it certainly qualifies as a “wilderness pharmacy”. It contains salicylic acid, which is the prime ingredient of aspirin. Many times when I have gotten a headache from excess heat, cold, food, stress, or whatever, I have chewed a small piece of extremely bitter willow bark for relief. It works (if you can stand the bitterness!). The bark tea helps to relieve inflammations, rheumatic joint pain, and fever (just as aspirin). The astringency of the bark makes a valuable diarrhea and dysentery herb. It also helps to stop internal bleeding. Willow is tonic for digestion. It should be ingested only at widely spaced intervals. Salicylic acid, being antiseptic, helps clear the kidneys of uric acid deposits. Willow tea is an excellent gargle for sore throat. Apply externally as a skin wash for sores, burns and cuts. I have even poulticed leaves on bug bites and cuts with some success.
As an all-purpose craft and utility plant willow is a godsend. The long thin ends of the branches are used extensively for basket weaving, either as warps or weavers, or both. From certain species of willow you can strip the bark from branches and use it as the weaver for coiled baskets, or twist it into strong cordage for any number of projects. Willow branches are great for wattle work weaving and to tie off bundles for carrying goods. Willow wood makes for good fires, and as elements of a fire by friction set. It is an excellent bow wood. For quickie survival bows it need only be debarked, notched, and stung for immediate use. And willow wood, in general, is crafted for all kinds of items, from digging sticks to ladders. One can slip the bark off a branch in the spring (when the sap is running), notch it in an appropriate spot, slip the bark back on, and create a willow whistle, much to the delight of kids (and adults!). For shelter making, the flexibility, suppleness, and strength of willow for lashed frames is unsurpassed. And, last but not least, willow is the preferred tree for sweat lodge construction, venerated by Native Americans for centuries.
Willow is one of the last trees to shed leaves in autumn, and one of the first to leaf out fully in the spring. A green friend to remember warm days by!
So you drink and you splash in the creek. Now, with thirst quenched, the desert breeze drying you almost instantaneously, refreshed, relaxed, you think back to your childhood. Massive weeping willows leap up into your memory. You wander into the woods behind your house. Patches of June sun penetrate small openings in the canopy, creating a quilted pattern on the forest floor. Inchworms greet and curl about you, spider webs entangle you, blue jays signal your approach. There is light beyond the trees in the distance, and blue sky. You near the edge of the forest and you are standing on a ledge, a fifty-foot drop. You sit down. You are thirsty. In the distance, amidst the steep mud banks of a small valley, you spot a meandering line of green. Carefully, quietly, cautiously you pick your way down. Willows come into view. Hundreds of willows!!! Water gurgles over stones drowning the blue jays’ screams. Your lips meet the water’s surface and then! You take the plunge! You flop around like an otter discovering water for the very first time. And you remember, yes, the willows pointed the way. No words, no street signs. It is simply the willows pointing the way!
Day Seventy-Eight in the Neighborhood
Was walking around the neighborhood this morning admiring burgeoning autumn, the cool dawn breeze and the quiet before the blue-collar storm. Bumped into my friend Chuck. We started to talk about the state of the world and this is what he stated:
“We don’t understand things synthetically. This means we don’t look ahead to see the consequences of our actions. We don’t understand the theory of motion, wave theory. We don’t know that the good beginning will have a bad ending or a bad beginning a good ending. We don’t realize that every peak has a trough. Every trough a peak. This is how life moves until we die. Every beginning has an end. Everything in this relative reality begins in motionlessness, is expressed in a pulsative motion and ends in motionlessness.
We don’t know that the green revolution will destroy agriculture or that the energy that empowered a civilization will destroy the fabric of our climate. We don’t understand why our food and medicine is killing us.
We don’t think to include the peak and the trough. We only think about peaks and suffer the troughs.
Now we are building artificial intelligence. It will be more rational than we are. We are mostly sentimental. Although we can act rationally it seldom determines our decisions that are mostly based upon self-preservation and group preservation. We take this for rationality. It is not. It is sentimentality. Now we are creating machines that think.
We will inevitably come to a time when AI creations will begin to make their own chips. They will produce more and more chips to allow themselves a greater range of functions at en ever increasing rate. We will not be able to keep up because we didn’t think ahead to build in safeguards. We didn’t have a vision of where we wanted this thing to go. The peak experience of having so much intelligence to do our bidding will simply result in the trough of enslavement. This is a general law of nature. Whatever we become attached to we become a slave to.
We don’t have the foresight to avoid this. We don’t think synthetically. We don’t think of the whole. When someone asks the scientist why he created something he says he did so because he could. A businessman justifies his exploits by saying if he didn’t do it somebody else would have. The general starts a war because he has the power to do so. This is human nature. It has the capacity to destroy itself and the ignorance to do so.
Life would be utterly hopeless if this were all we were. Fortunately we have the capacity to be more. We have the capacity to be transcendent. This is the perennial message of spiritual masters. We must learn their science in order to succeed as a species. It is the only way.”
Fortunately we have the capacity to be more. Just another walk about the neighborhood…
Day Seventy-Nine in the Neighborhood
Today in the neighborhood dogs were leaping into water, otherwise known as the “universal solvent”. But, the dogs came from the water whole. Rather, they were nested in water after a courageous leap of faith, nested, so to speak, in the love for their “master”, the one who directed them, through force of habit, to leap, retrieve, dog paddle to solid ground.
Are we not all nested in water, in the humidity infused air? Are we not nested in greater nests and lesser nests nested in us? Are we a whole annidated to greater and lesser wholes? Or do we “take a stand”, force our own perspectives on the world, build walls about us, cut ourselves off from countless other perspectives, a lack of integration thereof?
How do we see nature? Do we turn nature yet into another idol, force on material nature transcendence, refuse it as yet a bridge, up and down, in and out along the great chain of being?
The idea of hierarchy has become anathema, an evil that seems to relegate some human beings lesser or greater than others. But, this is only one perspective, one rendition amongst a plurality of perspectives.
Who creates nature? Where is the fire that ignites this fluid, eternal manifestation and re-manifestation of creation? Are minerals, plants, animals nested inside the human being, or otherwise?
Dogs leap into water. Human beings leap into air. This is named, to breathe. I am in a house at this moment, nested as I write.
The dog leaps. We leap, and we land…
Day Eighty in the Neighborhood
From the backyard whilst harvesting passion fruit:
What is it that motivates us to take on the exigencies of a path in life such as Permaculture, or to “become” an organic farmer, or to build a tiny home? Granted, we all have witnessed and are witnessing, everyday, the rather cultish self-importance of people in our “culture”, the illusory inexactitude of the images we create around success, failure, sex, goods (commodities), what we have or don’t, our frantic need to be “somebody”.
We have substituted the worship of great saints for “stars” of the silver screen, mythologizing housewives and quarterbacks into gods and goddesses, creating idols out of rock stars. But do we really know these people, in other words, what lies beneath their crusts, what do they feel underneath the Facebook frenzy, their chiseled bodies and Barbie Doll breasts? And have we created a “cult” of Permaculture, green this and that? But how could we avoid it, get underneath all the electronic hoopla, the drama perpetrated and perpetuated by a corporate deluge and the moneylenders at the bank?
I can remember vividly that Mr. Mollison (the founder of Permaculture) spoke about, “ecologically sound and economically viable”, from the get go. What the hell does economically viable actually mean? That we succumb to a marketplace that brings us the ability for me to post this and “communicate” over the airwaves on a device that in order for me to do so causes the absolute degradation and debility of all that I hold dear in my life: family, friends, nature, God, in the production of it thereof?
Is there a middle path here, one in which we might navigate between and betwixt the foibles inherent in the illusion, or not? And what might this path look like, where would it lead? A dark forest? A back alley of a city? A “department” store?
So what is it that motivates us when we don the robes of Permaculture, organic farming, or tiny homebuilder? What is our intent? And how would we spread the word? Through the channels we have come to rely on? Or is there another way, because when we really get down in it, or down to it, or simply get down on our hands and knees on some sweet smelling, fertile earth, and think on all this, maybe this awe full trickster of a mind can find some quiet, and enough solitude to reflect, contemplate, mull over how no matter how many jets we take all over this planet to “spread the word”, it still all comes down to One thing. And this is all that is going on.
Thus, the paradox: There is a circle of life and death that intrinsically must be maintained, whether we “like” it or “not. And yes, someone out there is burning all of our books in the fire…
Day Eighty-One in the neighborhood
From the Online Etymological Dictionary:
Old English neahgebur (West Saxon), nehebur (Anglian) “neighbor,” from neah “near” (see nigh) + gebur “dweller,” related to bur “dwelling” (see bower). Common Germanic compound (cognates: Old Saxon nabur, Middle Dutch naghebuur, Dutch (na)bur, Old High German nahgibur, Middle High German nachgebur, German Nachbar).
word-forming element meaning “state or condition of being,” from Old English -had “condition, quality, position” (as in cildhad “childhood,” preosthad “priesthood,” werhad “manhood”), cognate with German -heit/-keit, Dutch -heid, Old Frisian and Old Saxon -hed, all from Proto-Germanic *haidus “manner, quality,” literally “bright appearance,” from PIE (s)kai- (1) “bright, shining” (Cognates: Sanskrit ketu “brightness, appearance”). Originally a free-standing word; in Modern English it survives only in this suffix.
So the neighborhood is a bright and shining near dweller. The hood is also a state or condition of being. Do we see our neighbors this way? And how near is near? And what is a neighbor in this sense: people, trees, snakes, frogs? These are all dwellers in the vicinity.
Today the family took a hike through Larue Pine Hills here in Southern Illinois. These “hills” (cliffs) are part of the Ozark Plateau that is cut by the Mississippi and extends through Arkansas, Missouri and this part of Illinois. This is an extension of our neighborhood, is it not? Wasn’t Carbondale, Illinois carved out of this same bedrock, this sandstone and limestone sediment?
I will call this the “frog blog”. Green tree frog, spring peeper, leopard frog. A cottonmouth made our acquaintance. A steady, light rain doused us with a fine mist.
But what if there were no words for these refined creatures, no field guides, nothing but our senses, raw and unconditioned by word or concept, preliterate? What if all we had were our senses full on? What if we waited for the creature or tree or stone to reveal its name to us (what, by the way, is a “tree, stone, or creature”? What would we call that snake: White fang, black vortex, broad head, don’t mess with me no-legged slithering thing?
And what of the beings in the neighborhood that hop and scurry about: Piston legs, hip hopper, wet-belly slimy one?
Harvested watercress from the swamp at the spring that bubbles up ravenously at the base of the cliff: Lime wall, stone face, old stiff five hundred foot rock ribbed entity?
Yes, another nourishing walk about the near dweller bright appearance shining state of being position habitation…
Day Eighty-Two in the Neighborhood
After returning home from a week in Northern Alabama I am back in the neighborhood in Southern Illinois and it is harvest time. After many vegetable gardens have gone to seed, and are at rest for late autumn and winter, the harvest continues late into the year. Today, on a walk with the family, the acorn, sweet crab and persimmon trees are full of nuts and fruit ready for processing and consumption. Acorns will be worked up next week upon my return from Wisconsin (instructing a Permaculture teacher training), sweet crabs will go into tonight’s smoothie, and persimmons are there for our eating pleasure!
I look forward to being on the ground for much of this winter and seeking the hidden foods and medicines from the secret corners of this universe of neighborhood. Little do most folks realize that there is so much and all we needs must do is walk, observe, harvest, prepare, and eat. There are no seedlings to plant and baby, no soil prep, no cultivation, only the willingness to take a yield from what is given, always given.
Acorns were harvested at the city park, sweet crabs at the side of the video store, and persimmons around the corner. Tomorrow morning’s smoothie will include lamb’s quarters, nettle greens, peppermint, yellow raspberries, dandelion and plantain greens, Solomon seal tubers, and a variety of other wild and cultivated plant species, all fresh and as local as anyone could possibly obtain.
Just another fine, and lavish, walk in the neighborhood…
Day Eighty-Three in the Neighborhood
Some may say that we are in a “descending” time of year. But have we “risen” as a precursor to this descension? Have we been elevated to an above, a beyond, a zenith, apex, pinnacle? Has the bread risen in the pan, or soared o’er the oven? Are we once light and now heavy? Has the ocean evaporated, lifted to the nether parts of the troposphere, chilled itself into rain only to make ocean full once again so that cycle may repeat as cycle?
There is this unmistakable feeling in the air as the hazelnuts fall from the hedge, a final flush of poblano peppers engender their deepest green. Autumn’s apple harvest adorns the dehydrator, almost ready for the fruit jar, and the faint memories of summer upon winter’s consumption.
Last night here at Kinstone (in the Southwest Wisconsin neighborhood) the mercury dipped to thirty-nine degrees, and the wind rattled the screens, a cold north wind, a Canadian blast reminding us that the subtle nuances of snow shall soon enough flood the land with its purity and wholesomeness. We shall rise above the earth on snowshoes, yes, we shall ascend and turn autumn on its head, or feet.
In the interim we shall enjoy the fruits of the harvest, consume the summer in the form of fruit, nut, vegetable, herb. We shall anticipate spring with our longing, our yearning for green: fruit, nut vegetable, herb.
But the layers of the seasons nest one inside the other, and at times we find it incomprehensible to make distinction as four gives rise to one, or is it the other way around?
Day Eighty-Four in the Neighborhood
Reflections from our Permaculture teacher training: at Kinstone Neighborhood in Southwest Wisconsin
A New Paradigm for Education
“Every living culture and language is the result of countless cross-fertilizations- not a rise and fall of civilizations, but more like a flowerlike periodic absorbing-blooming-bursting and scattering of seed.” (Gary Snyder)
The Latin etymology of the English word, “educate” means “to lead out”. This means that a teacher would help a student to go inside himself/herself to find wisdom and then externalize it. Our modern concept of teaching totally contradicts this approach. We stuff students with information, sit them down on hard, wooden chairs, one behind the other in linear rows, and, nowadays, we even sit young children in front of computers and ask them to learn on their own. By taking instruction from a two-dimensional screen in this way we create tunnel vision and a lack of spatial and bodily awareness. This debilitating practice fails to take into account the fine art of observation and experience of the actual world even in the student’s immediate environment at hand. The only motor and hand skills developed are a constant tapping and pecking with very little range of motion. In later life joint pain, stiffness, carpal tunnel syndrome and countless other physical and emotional ailments may arise from this lack of wholeness. On top of this the student learns to collect thousands of bits of disconnected information that have no relevance to an actual presence in the physical world.
If we take the Latin root of the word “educate” literally we must assume that true education is an attempt to guide individuals to draw out of themselves the inherent wisdom from within. We may also assume, as we have previously mentioned, that the point where internal and external energies merge is where reality gains expression. Education causes external exposition and responsiveness to meet internal revelation and wisdom. In this meeting is where an idea finds a vehicle for its expression. At this juncture, idea sculpts matter into form. The profundity of education lies in its ability to render this process into a conscious, creative and ultimately satisfying human experience.
This leads us into our next questions: Why educate? If education is simply the process to transfer basic skills or fit into the labor market, then why take the time to nurture and guide, to train the mind, to observe and calculate and theorize? Why self-educate, read books, walk in the woods and look for salamanders under rocks and match scientific nomenclature with what is found? Why meditate and seek to learn in a deeper sense what is coming from our so-called essence or core? Why learn at all?
If our educational goal is more than job training, if we want to address the full spectrum of our humanity, we will see that everything in our environment is in a process of learning, of changing, of adaptating to change. All beings are attempting to find their way back into the circle, unity, the One. Learning is built into us in and beyond our DNA. It seems to be something cosmic or esoteric, a hidden ore within that drives us to smelt our yearning for knowledge into works of art and genius. This question of “why educate?” therefore leads us into a deeper concept of what it means to be a human being. Given the current social and environmental crisis, isn’t it just and good that we teach our students how to think for themselves no matter how much pain or frustration this might cause them? Why do we teach children algebra? Why do we as human beings continue to invent new fangled ways to view and manipulate the world and use our principles, theories, strategies and tactics to teach others?
It is time, I believe, to rock the boat, to watch the tidal wave crash the shore and sweep away, if necessary, the very foundations upon which we build our social edifices and start afresh. If we wish to jump into this life whole and not just as another cog in the globally destructive economic system, we must be willing to steal the child out of childhood. And steal education from the education system.
Day Eighty-Five in the Neighborhood
From Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture
You will notice, in one of these photos, that there is a gentleman standing beside a long measuring rod that depicts a large amount of subsidence that has occurred in an area of California since 1925. From a presentation on water and soils from one our students, Jonathan Castellano, at our teacher training at Kinstone.
Let us define subsidence (form Dictionary.com):
the act or process of subsiding or the condition of having subsided
(geology) the gradual sinking of landforms to a lower level as a result of earth movements, mining operations, etc
A mix of tillage and cultivation, soil erosion, fracking and oil extraction, groundwater depletion and the resultant drawdown, all contribute to the gradual (and sometimes abrupt) plummeting of soil horizons. In this particular photo you can easily see how far the land has dropped. This is daunting to think about.
Soil and water are tied at the hip. When soil goes into solution it is carried as a liquid slurry downslope and is lost forever when land is treated the way it has been treated, in many ways, throughout history. Needless to say, “peak soil” is immanent if we continue to “manage” the land in what has become status quo practice. Peak oil is benign compared to this. We cannot drink oil, nor would we choose to bathe in it. But if we fail at managing our land in a healthy fashion we run the dire risk of destroying our mineral and nutrient base and the absolute demise of a healthy agriculture that would provide sustenance for all human beings.
Typically, “subsidence frequently causes major problems in karst terrains, where dissolution of limestone by fluid flow in the subsurface causes the creation of voids (i.e. caves). If the roof of these voids becomes too weak, it can collapse and the overlying rock and earth will fall into the space, causing subsidence at the surface. This type of subsidence can result in sinkholes which can be many hundreds of meters deep” (from Wikipedia).
Based on this definition it is not a stretch to see that the scratching and blasting of subsurface bedrock layers (especially where I live in the Midwest, which is primarily sedimentary sandstone and limestone) will synthetically produce these same voids, and, as soil erosion carves the surface of the earth, we have drawdown (of soil) and collapse happening simultaneously. What is lost each year is equivalent to a train of connected boxcars, stuffed with our topsoil, stretching all the way around the surface of the earth.
As a result of this soup of topsoil (water plus topsoil), and agricultural chemicals, we have perpetrated a dead zone at the Mississippi Delta, and basically destroyed existing vegetation. The “destruction” of a Katrina is not far behind (granted that we have also built a large city below sea level which does not help the equation, and with no vegetation, there is nothing to suck up excess flood waters).
If you look at these slides closely Jonathan has laid out where our current issues and constraints lie. We have a limited amount of water that circulates from ocean and earth (predominately from plants) into the atmosphere via the hydrological cycle. As we continue to break the cycle by cutting down trees (50% of all water circulating through trees is evapotranspired every day back into the atmosphere, and is a most important cog in the wheel of the hydrological cycle), uncovering soils and exposing them to the drying sun (also a major cause of soil saltation), paving larger and larger areas of the surface of the earth, dumping untold trash into our waterways and oceans, amongst many other destructive practices, we have wandered aimlessly onto a precipice of our own making. Whether we fall off the edge or not depends solely on the way we go about instituting resilience, restoration, and care into the fabric of our everyday lives.
Jonathan did not stop there. He offered up several pragmatic approaches for healing of which the methodologies and principles of Permaculture, if aptly applied, can and will do what is necessary. Thank you brother for your heartfelt presentation, and the infinitely crucial reminder that there is only one thing going on…
Day Eighty-Six in the Neighborhood
Thoughts after another week of teaching at Kinstone
It is my wish that 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 instruction, a responsive, learning dynamic results. By delivering a systemic method of observation 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”. Can we consciously take a step closer to the stability of sustainability that we, in one way or another, all seek, for ourselves and for future generations? And what would this actually look like? Can we as an intrinsically ethical people support the need of basic necessities for one and all? Can we move beyond the greed and grasping for “more” dollars, more goods, more material “wealth”?
What do we value? What do we truly value? Nutrient dense food, clean drinking water, intact and thriving forests and ecosystems, sound relationships, happiness, love?
At this time in history the delicate balance of Nature and Her systems are threatened, i.e. water, soil, air, forests and protective ozone. We desperately need to promote care and understanding for the earth and all her creatures. Implementing the proper eco-skills does make a difference and will help restore health to our environment. By developing “local and regional agriculturally productive ecosystems” (Bill Mollison), and by utilizing appropriate technologies that sustain, rather than hinder and destroy the balance of nature, we step on a path toward harmony and health.
When the natural resource base of a society is destroyed, when an abstract monetary system becomes the guiding light of a people, when greed and power become the status quo for the few, and when the means to production and money are taken out of a local bioregion strictly for profit, the circle of life is broken beyond repair.
One can come to understand the inherent connection between Nature, humanity and society, revealing that every thought, word and action carries consequences. Each person shares responsibility for the development of another. Ethics and values grow naturally out of these practices: care of the earth, care of people, ethical surplus distribution, building an ecological-human support base. Care and love of the environment are at the core of our work. Education focuses our efforts to answer life’s fundamental questions. Learning the answers to these questions is best encouraged through love, nurturing, cooperation and reverence for all life.
“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.” (Bill Mollison)
Day Eighty-Seven in the Neighborhood
Eighty degrees today, late October, 2015. The squirrels in the backyard are running slipshod across the sweetgum and cypress, feasting and fattening for a winter that feels only as if. Leaves, cellulose digested in a slow burn, branches cleansed in the fire, earthed up and risen above soil. Soon only the transparency of bark and abandoned bird nests, snow banked on exposed roots, rain shivering down through soil pores, the freeze, oxygen and ice restricting capillaries, arteries, veins of the earth’s skins.
Always in awe that trees withstand sub-zero, and seeds nestled in a downy softness of frost rekindle in spring. Leave a human being “out” here and skin will turn to bone, and the squirrels puff up their furs and slide and ride a highway of filigreed branches through Januaries and Februaries, until buds burst, and buds will burst.
Where has the din of cicada gone, the peaks and valleys of a constant drone, and the cricket’s fourths and fifths clocking the katydids in 4/5 time?
It is enough for me to relinquish the songs of summer, but I can hear sleet exploding on rooftops and automobiles whining in the ice in a different key.
I remember my winters in New Jersey, nineteen miles due east as the pigeon flies from the skyline of Manahatta, buildings popping up and down like metal birds at a shooting gallery, and when foot deep snow stalled the local orange school bus, and the forts we built, and the snowballs flying, and bridges we need cross after giant plows buried the front of the drive, and icicles like stalactites pulling at the gutters, and the taste of those icicles like eucalyptic lollipops, and all this variety in the neighborhood, and our wet pants clinging to our legs, an animal’s hide drenched in oil.
It was eighty degrees today in the neighborhood in Southern Illinois, and I could feel gray and white winter heave in me, the way frost heaves the soils of this glorious existence and makes us scream inside with absolute and unencumbered joy…
Day Eighty-Eight in the Neighborhood
As the sweetgum leaves tumble they have always reminded me of dancers floating on magical currents. Red and yellow. The bark of the sweetgum, deeply fissured, a puzzle to one who would draw it: negative and positive spaces in flux. In the spring, when the sap is running, my car is a canvas for this painterly tree. Pioneers chewed the sweet sap, thus, sweetgum. The round, spiked, fruits, a hundred baby bird beaks stuffed together, decorate the ground, a pincushion, and when walking in the dark, roll underfoot. But, where the seed? Cut open the pod and a faint, resinous smell refreshes the senses, seeds nested inside like larva. Squirrels have a peculiar knack for shredding the bright green pods in minute shavings that seem to settle into every crevice available.
I once thought of cutting down the large sweetgum in the yard to allow more sunlight to reach vegetables and fruits. But, how could I cut a tree that that gives such sensual pleasure everyday, in every season? A plus is that it is a prolific disseminator of organic matter, a ready carbon source and fertilizer for my crops, and only a few take root.
Stratus clouds lower dusk’s sky. A cooling trend. Autumn comes out from hiding. The sweetgum, straight and true against the west wind. Leaves rattling. I often wonder about the majesty and longevity of old trees, what they have witnessed across decades, centuries. Do we humans not also have trunks standing firm or on tiptoe against the prevailing winds and elements?
Since I began writing down these days in the neighborhood, almost a quarter year has passed, and I am a quarter year hence. Inside the recording of it I pray that my senses have painted my observations with a bit more wisdom each day that I wield the pen and put marks to paper, marks that arise seemingly out of nothing.
Did not one of these spiked balls of seed at my feet produce this old grandfather of a tree seemingly out of nothing? Am I nothing but a mimic, producing something from nothing? Or is there a deeper question here?
The backyard in not what takes place indoors. Wind blows the last mosquito of the year on to the back of my hand, and I deliberately quash it and drag my hand across my jeans, a linear maroon streak on the thigh with my blood as paint.
Without the intervention of mosquito there might be little to write about in this particular moment.
And there is still food to be harvested beneath the sweetgum, and smells to be harvested, and a resinous scent wafted to the nostrils, and a sweet melancholia for summer’s passing, and the inevitable force of spring…
…I just stepped again into the backyard, and the crickets are rubbing their legs on their bellies. Summer is not yet finished with its musical business.
Memories never die..
Day Eighty-Nine in the Neighborhood
Today the earth turned cold. Or is it the sky? I can barely make the distinction. They blend at some irrelevant border, an ambiguous turning of the lathe, clouds like wood shavings caught up in the extremes of blues, yellows and reds. And a drizzle has descended on the backyard, and scattered lamb’s quarters and the last of the poblanos. I had to wear a jacket today for the first time, something like bittersweet, nostalgic, sentimental in the circling of the year as warmth moves south and crosses the equator.
I was at the university this morning working with architecture students attempting to stuff years of practice and study into a few hours of instruction. This always seems like an impossible task until I remember that I had to start somewhere and that incrementally I arrived at the place that I am currently at with a speck of knowledge, maybe a few specks more than them. We could place these specks in our fists and shake, and what would we come up with? And we could add a bit of water and maybe we would have some plaster to coat our memories with, or batter for bygone beliefs, or some sort of magic dust to throw into the face of humanity to help refocus us toward care of earth and care of people. Or possibly this is the dust that was respired into and the dust that returned to the dust? Baby steps.
In lieu of all this, tonight I stepped outside into the garden and the dazzling array of burning leaves that are still attached to the trees. They are burning with all the hues of the color circle, the primes, secondaries, tertiaries. As dusk rolls in on a gray horse values change, and the raindrops sparkle on the variegated leaves like pearls found inside wayward oysters, lost at sea, but discovered and recovered here in the middle of the great land mass of North America.
On Sunday I travel to the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa to work on a site with the Sac Fox Tribe. It is all about growing food, nourishing food. Nary a tree in large swathes of the entire settlement. Former tall grass prairie, savannah. I can imagine big bluestem waving its turkey foot, autumn red, in the winds that bluster and puff across the plains, in my mind’s eye. I can imagine a sea of grass, forbs, herbs, and bison, a thousandfold, and the Sac and Fox gliding on horses like that same blustery wind, as though they were one.
So, several topics here. The spin of seasons, clouds and cold, architecture students, specks of dust that we shake in fists, magic dust, burning leaves, primes, pearls of rain, Sac and Fox gliding across the wind that glides across the prairie. Shall the twain never meet? Shall all of these thoughts and experiences remain as separate and scurrilous entities of the mind? Or shall the day’s canvas be as one artistic masterpiece, painted by the mind that reflects, mulls over, meditates on the flow of time that simply does not flow as if in a line.
I anticipate that tomorrow may bring something miraculous yet again, some masterpiece written by clouds, or coyotes yapping in the distance, or mothers wheeling babies about in black and silver strollers. And I will take a walk through the neighborhood at the rising of the sun, and marvel at the reveal of it behind the trees to the east, silhouettes, yes, silhouettes, and behind me what I cannot see just might come into view, or it might not…
Day Ninety in the Neighborhood
It has been raining all day, a lazy, ponderous, soaking rain, no breaks, a sensuous gloom, as though one were living in a moist cave. As I stepped toward the door to the backyard, a moth, a silent, stationary Lepidoptera, clinging, sticky-footed to the beige paint. As I approached in wonder the moth uttered its silence and stillness with assuredness, and clung, not aimlessly, basically, no attitude or skittishness here, no fear, or so it seemed, for what the hell would I know of a moth’s motives, or a moth’s next move, or the lack of a moth’s movement thereof? I switched off the light, and then switched it back on, and the moth clung, hung there. How, might we ask, does a moth’s feet cling to a metal, enamel, painted door?
“Numerous insects, such as common moths, as well as certain amphibians and reptiles (true frogs and geckos, for example), are able to walk on and cling to seemingly smooth surfaces – including glass and windows.
This trick is accomplished not by suction cups or adhesives, but rather by a large number of tiny bristles or hairs on the bottom surface of the animals’ feet. Surfaces that appear perfectly smooth to us actually have many microscopic bumps and fissures, which serve as footholds for the tiny hairs.” (Robert C. Paul)
Obviously, this statement cannot be authenticated without the utilization of a microscope. But, what if we had no microscope? How would we come to a conclusion on how a fly or moth clings to a smooth surface such as this particular backdoor? What might our observations tell us? What does the seeking eye without help of an instrument communicate?
As I ponder this clinging moth I can see no outcrops, no handholds, or footholds, no protuberances to clutch, nothing that might appear mountainous to a moth. I can well imagine many scenarios bordering on science fiction, or the best mystery novel, or if we blew this moth up to the size of a human being how it would slide down the door and hit the floor with a thump. Damn.
From the Online Etymological Dictionary:
Old English moððe (Northumbrian mohðe), common Germanic (Old Norse motti, Middle Dutch motte, Dutch mot, German Motte “moth”), perhaps related to Old English maða “maggot,” or from the root of midge (q.v.). Until 16c. used mostly of the larva and usually in reference to devouring clothes (see Matt. vi:20).
Maggot? Now there is something that I can bite into (literally?). Midge? A small two-winged fly that is often seen in swarms near water or marshy areas where it breeds? I know that midges can also cling to smooth surfaces. Can a maggot?
How about this for a midge from Wikipedia: “The Ceratopogonidae (biting midges) include serious blood-sucking pests, feeding both on humans and other mammals. Some of them spread the livestock diseases blue tongue and African horse sickness – other species though, are at least partly nectar feeders and some actually suck insect bodily fluids.”
It is the sucking thing that immediately grabs my attention. Could it be that this clung moth on my backdoor is utilizing its mouthparts to cling to the enamel, that the feet are not doing the clinging, that what we think may not be the absolute reality, that it is sucking the door, and thus, holding on with its mouthparts? Does it think that it will draw blood from the door, or perhaps, spread some kind of blue tongue cattle disease or African horse sickness to the door, the jambs, the walls surrounding the door, and eventually to the human inhabitants of this place? Or maybe it surmises that the beige paint is a source of the finest nectar, like a fine wine, or a piece of 80% cacao? Or, and last but not most, this moth perceives the door as another insect and simply wishes to suck the bodily fluids from it and shrink it to the size of a dollhouse egress?
Three hours into the future…
The moth is gone. It is not clinging, anymore, to the door. And I continue to ponder the mystery of the clinging moth. Something was holding it up or pushing it down, and there was equilibrium built up between the up and down thrusts that held it there. A faint breeze, not to be felt by human beings, forced it against the door. What we thought was dry enamel paint on the door was not exactly dry and the little hairy feet of the moth embedded itself in the not exactly dry paint (even though this door was painted years before this episode). The moth was one of those magician moths and accomplished this magical feat by sleight of hand (or foot).
Again from Wikipedia: “Nocturnal insectivores often feed on moths; these include some bats, some species of owls and other species of birds. Moths also are eaten by some species of lizards, cats, dogs, rodents, and some bears. Moth larvae are vulnerable to being parasitized by Ichneumonidae.”
Now I have a clear picture of whence the moth clinging to the backdoor: a bear must have eaten it, or a lizard…
Or maybe the moth thought that the door was our clothes and it was clinging and it was going about its business of eating them…
Day Ninety-One in the Neighborhood
As the first quarter year of these posts, Days in the Neighborhood, comes to a wrap, it is time to go inside, deep inside the home, and discover and examine the wonders of nature, some of which have migrated from outside in the neighborhood to the inside of our home, seeking comfort and food.
We have been “feeding” avocados to mice in our home. It is obvious that the home ecosystem is thriving: crickets in the basement chirping, roaches in the woody corners of the office, mites in pillowcases, mold in the walls. In the compost bucket kitchen scraps writhe and insinuate a stench when the lid is lifted abruptly to receive more. The chickens in the yard are cackling with delight anticipating at least a small fraction of this bounty. Yes, the home is alive, a living, breathing organism with its inputs and outputs, just like a tree, or the raccoon crawling under the shed whose eyes sparkled a pinkish fluorescence in my approaching headlights last night.
Are there not microbes everywhere? And we, are there not trillions of organisms that live on and within us in the guise of viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa? Do we not spend a majority of our lives (outside of work) nested inside our home ecologies? Deep down in our guts, on our skin, in our noses, mouths, tonsils, lungs, and genital tracts a thriving microbiology flourishes. Over ten thousand species of bacteria alone live inside our bodies. Unfathomable.
Animals need food and shelter just like people. Animals may move into basements, attics, or garages in search of a place to live. They may also be attracted to food such as garbage, pet food, or birdseed. When my family first moved into our current home, one day I went down in the basement and staring at me from the crawl space was an opossum with beady eyes. I called animal control and had them bring a live trap. The next morning I carried the trap (with opossum) out to the backyard and animal control picked it up. I searched the entire perimeter of the house to find entry points but to no avail. Basically, I patched up the entire perimeter. As Halloween approaches we can only imagine what might lurk in our basements!!!
So, the animal kingdom thrives inside our domiciles, bats, birds, raccoons, rodents, skunks, snakes, tree squirrels, and we probably know it not. And how might we respond to these critters should we even suspect their presence? With fear, anticipation, excitement, dread? Are there signs that they have taken up residence? Do we even wish to find out? There are moths sniffing through our flour drawer, ants strategically wending their way to the cookie crumbs hidden under the plate with the nick in its base that is intrinsically a door to bounty, worms and strange larvae in the raisin bag. According to the outrageous film, Raccoon Nation, raccoons roam a four square-mile territory in the wild and only a four square-block territory in suburbs and cities, taking up residence in any available niche for a maximum of four days, and then they move on, only to return again some time soon. Has anyone seen this film? I cannot believe how many raccoons patrol our neighborhoods, let alone opossums, voles, mice, rats, weasels, fox, deer, coyotes, and assorted diverse and sundry fur bearing and non-fur bearing creatures.
I have been focusing on animals here, but I could easily expostulate about the thriving diversity of plants that anchor their roots into our neighborhoods and into our homes. Have you looked at your gutters lately and noticed how many maple and oak trees have sprouted and are reaching for sunlight and rain? The ivy has embedded itself inside the basement wall, and lo and behold, the next basement visit reveals that this ivy has found itself a gap and drifted inside. Houseplants! What we witness outside, the overwhelming diversity of all nature, flourishes inside our homes!
Take a look around. Observe and examine closely. If a centipede greets your wandering eye do you jump, stop and look more closely, or run away screaming in fear? Is this hundred-legged miracle not part of the greater whole, a magnificently designed creature to be admired, for its pure geometric insanity and beauty?
The Japanese beetles are breaking down the doors in waves, and windows. They are coming inside for tea and coffee, to hang out, to exhibit themselves, their iridescent greens and browns, eating the leaves off the potted fig tree, or lemon tree, and they come in droves, hordes, multitudes, scores, throngs. Is this a plague? A wake up call? Look at us! We exist as you exist? Without us, if you eliminate us from the grander ecosystem it will all collapse. Rest your laurels on our ability to thrive! We are food and we eat what needs be eaten. And we become the soil that gives you sustenance, gives you health, gives you life. Search around. Find us. Watch us. Enjoy our presence in this stunning world, in this world that stuns, if you decide to participate fully, and inconceivably?
And yes, the first quarter year of these musings and impressions comes to a close, but day ninety-two is close on the heals, tracking you, anticipating your next move, hounding your sensibilities, waking into your senses, tying rings around your mind and imagination, waiting and waiting and waiting with patient impatience for the next day, and the very next…
Day Ninety-Two in the Neighborhood
I arrived back in the neighborhood in Southern Illinois last evening to a rather warm and humid November. I spent three full days working at the Meskwaki Reservation in North Central Iowa. We are designing a large acreage for fruit and nut production and the reestablishment of savannah. After an initial meeting that consisted of several native and non-native folks, including two Meskwaki elders, we worked to produce a set of goals in order to design and begin implementation of the site in the spring.
The Meskwaki reservation is a privately purchased and owned native property consisting of about eight thousand acres. They provide most of their own services and this particular site has been in their possession since the mid 1800’s. Much of their indigenous culture is still intact and there is a continual stream of traditional knowledge that is being passed down to this and future generations. They had the first casino on native lands constructed in the 1980’s, and this provides funds for the entire community. Originally known as the Sac and Fox tribes of northern New York State they migrated and were moved around by the BIA and the US government for years until they eventually took a stand, obtained funds, and began buying this land. The Meskwaki were a forest dwelling tribe, and when they were moved to Kansas and Oklahoma by the government, they resisted (not interested in these ecosystems) and purchased the place that they call home, buying more and more acreage through the last one hundred and fifty years, There is much intact forest throughout the property. We will be restoring savannah (stands of woody vegetation surrounded by grasses and forbs) into the open areas and creating a perennial production operation that will be integrated into a preexisting annual cropping area.
When I think on the true meaning of neighborhood, it exists on the reservation. As a self-governed community it is one of the rare occurrences in the U.S. that has the kind of longevity and stability that is required of us if we are to heal the ruin and ongoing degradation that we are experiencing in the modern world.
We also visited with folks at Grinnel College and their mature four hundred acre prairie and savannah site. This consists of remnant and planted prairie. If you have never visited a mature prairie it is worth the visit.
At the reservation they are raising a forty head buffalo herd. Each year several of the buffalo are culled from the herd and the meat is distributed throughout the community. As one approaches the herd one cannot help but imagine thousands of these majestic hoofed creatures roaming the prairies and savannahs and maintaining the integrity of these regions while enjoying the fruits of a diverse plant culture.
All in all, this neighborhood has its problems, but by the same token, it is thriving, just as all of our neighborhoods could be. What would it take to bring the bison back to the suburbs, and the forbs and grasses of the prairie, and an unbroken commitment to restoring and regenerating the land that we depend on for all of our basic needs?
Day Ninety-Three in the Neighborhood
How much do we honestly know about where we live, ecosystem, habitat, watershed, climate, landform, native history, settlement history, plant and animal life, geology, the way the sun moves throughout the year, prevailing winds, rain averages? How thorough are we? Do we know our place from the most minute microorganism in the soil to the constellations above? Why is this so important? What resources are already available to us in our yards, in the neighbor’s yard, up the alleys and streets that intersect our place of domicile, in the dumpster behind the market, on the street at trash day?
In truth, we have an infinite supply of sustenance surrounding us. The question remains: how observant and wiling are we to jump deeply into the immediate environment, observe protractedly, take inventory, analyze, study, immerse ourselves so deeply into our place and its environs that “yield” can be found everywhere, sustenance lies at the doorstep, and an oak tree becomes much more than leaves that we have to rake from the lawn.
What is inside the house? Where does the sun enter what window at what time of day? What is the opportunity in knowing all this? We have this built-in, dual manner of designating inside and outside, we draw lines in the sand and take sides, but little do we realize that climate outside is happening inside the house, same process, same movement of air and moisture, same critters crawling and flying about. A roof is as a sky, and walls are nothing but transitional barriers interpenetrated by doors, windows, cracks, vents, that let the world “in” and “out”. Let us say, for example, that we could shrink our 2000 sq/ft house down to 200 sq/ft: our living room is now situated on the outside, amongst the squirrels and mourning doves. We have been raised and trained to believe that separation, inside – outside, day – night, cold – hot, are status quo, but have we considered the fact that one cannot have one without the other, and that they contain the immanence of each other, and the potential to become the other? Even if we slice a coin through its thickness we will always have heads and tails, always, no matter how many times we slice it.
What if we simply thought of these membranes that we live in as transitions, as places where energy and materials are constantly exchanged and shared, where each relationship between elements, objects, plant, animal, people, is seed for the next transition, where emergence and death are happening all the while, and life in its dynamic is no different than a complex web of give and take.
What we can do outside, we can do inside. What powers the stratosphere, powers the living room, what is food for raccoon is food for countless other creatures in a cyclical process of infinite and forever transformation. How do we approach “place”? Do we know what exists here? Do we take protracted time to observe and research, ponder, to find a thousand uses for an acorn?
It is important that we pay strict attention to the change of the year. Different plants go through specific changes through the seasons, and foods and medicines are always available in season. Even in the coldest moths there are roots, barks, etc for the taking. The perimeter of the property is not a limitation. There are myriad harvestable foods, medicines and utility plants covering the neighborhood, and beyond. For example, we typically sprout alfalfa, clover and radish seeds in jars, but these are store bought seeds. The fact is, is that there are a wealth of wild seeds that we can easily harvest and sprout indoors over the winter (or all year round). Lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium) is the most nutritious plant in the United States. As late autumn approaches we thresh and winnow the small black seeds, dry them, and sprout them in winter on soil in trays or in sprouting jars for a fresh and nutrient dense food. I allow an entire bed of this nutritious “weed” to grow through the season, harvest it for greens, smoothies, and juices, spring through fall, and sprout the seed in winter. Little planting prep if any, no cultivation, little or no care. It simply arrives on my property with the season.
My garden, in itself, is a forage system that merges into the larger forage system that surrounds it. If we keep tabs where lamb’s quarter is growing within walking distance we have an endless supply of food at our fingertips.
I could list thousands of species here, but by way of introduction this will get the ball rolling. By studying even one plant per week in depth over the course of a year this would give us fifty-two plants that we could know intimately with as many functions and uses that we could not utilize in a lifetime!
With a good field guide always at hand, and the willingness to explore and reap, we will never wont for food or medicine. And all of this is applicable whether we live in an apartment in the middle of New York City, or in an expanse of desert, or on a fifth of an acre in the suburbs. It is simply a matter of getting started: one plant thoroughly researched affords us more than we could ever imagine. Get started!
Day Ninety-Four in the Neighborhood
I often think about how we design and build houses. We have this notion of “natural building”, but what exactly is natural building? Natural, of course means nature, and in nature everything primarily grows from seed. Can a house grow from seed? Do we only design from what we know? The real question is: can we design from what we don’t know?
A seed is planted and we do not know the outcome. Each tree is unique in form, regardless of the fact that we may be able to categorize it into a specific genus and species. Outcomes, how do we plan for them? A design is merely a concept map, ideas, goals, put to paper, and visually represented. But as we begin to implement, things change. The biological world throws us many curves.
Is a house also a biological entity? Are there any unknowns for us to determine or have we designed the “life” out of the house? Are we willing to allow this house to grow organically from the footings to the ridge? When the unknown enters and throws us a curve do we bale out of the batter’s box or simply flow with the pitch? It curves. Can we curve with it?
I have been busily working with third year architecture students at the university in my town and we are attempting to introduce ideas that are not common to the field of architecture, status quo. It is a stretch for the students to think “outside the box”, the literal boxes that we typically design and build. We have developed this standard: build boxes with manufactured materials sold in the marketplace.
What would happen if we left off at the sketch stage, left off at the doodle stage, stopped there, and began to build? What might happen? In this case, a house would be non-different then a developing tree. Who could say where the next branch might appear, or the next window, or the next cistern? Each day, as we integrate with the site, we see, hear, feel more: the way the wind pushes up against our bodies, the way the distant bark of a dog ambles through our ears, from whence comes the skunk’s aroma, and how the sun catches the oak. Things are in constant motion, and if we stay in it, in ongoing reflection, if we are present to the day, hour, minute, we can “grow” a house, we can let go into the site and it will inform us.
Like today: brisk autumn morning, bluest of all blue skies, brown and yellow cypress needles lazily streaming to the ground, squirrels rambling up and down the sweetgum, oak leaves, brown and stiff, like wind chimes in the breeze. From whence might the house arrive into our consciousness based on everything that is happening in this vigorous and sensorially fruitful environment?
The trees sway gently and they tell us wither the wind, shadows on the chicken coop reveal the sun as it proceeds across the firmament, air circulating through my nose and lungs divulges my life. How will the walls, windows, doors, floors take shape? A window is not a window if it does not disclose the inside or out with the nothing that sits within the frame.
Out of nothing, a house is born…
Day Ninety-Five in the Neighborhood
The neighborhood expands out from the center as a stone dropped in a still pond, as the fruit that swells from a stem, as a heart that breaks through every membrane of the world and loves more and more intensely. This small property (1/5 of an acre, my home) provides infinite opportunity for family and friends to harvest not only the fruits of their labor, but the fruits of communing with the creatures of this earth that till our soils, break down organic matter in health giving nutrients for the plants that feeds us, and them, and give us the priceless gift of life with little forethought, if any.
The cycles of sun, wind, rain, and soil blend and merge as spheres nested inside spheres, micro and macro exchanges across all barriers, permeable and semi-permeable, a splendid diffusion of substance and energy, a vigorous web of never ending potentiality, a kinetic superorganism forever changing, but forever stable and supportive of all life.
Machines break down, explosive devices that dissipate themselves into wistful heat disintegrating entropically, and yet the biological world cycles itself into more life, and more life, partaking of the great smorgasbord of food laid out on the table of soil, alive and thriving, living and dying, where there is no end to circle, to spiral, the merging of cosmic and terrestrial forces creating all of earth’s exuberance.
It is an ecstatic and revelatory experience when one, as observer, can find the right and proper lever inside oneself, and gently pull it forward. As witness, we realize that inside and outside are coterminous, that the thinking that we do is the thinking of the world as we experience it, and as it experiences us, and that the apple from the tree in the yard that we ingest, also ingests us, and we have become fodder for the world at large, we have become as another thought, spirit, love, we have become the seed that sprouts into the next apple tree, and the next.
The neighborhood is everywhere, always, and the rings in the lake rise and fall, and soon become the clear calm that penetrates deep within the greater body of the lake, below surface disturbance, become river, become ocean.
Day Ninety-Six in the Neighborhood
Rain is an inconvenience when we are driving? If we are not careful, if we are tailgating, and we have to suddenly slam on the brakes, we might slide into the car in the front of us, and then, this will put a “dent” in our day. Damn rain, annoying rain, rust on the fender rain, mosquito birth rain, deadly rain, mold in the wall rain.
Have we thus come this far, arrived at our petty annoyances, our displeasure at what gives us life? Our bodies are essentially rainwater, wet, humid, sticky, fluid, fleshy bodies. Imagine fast food transporting toxic waste through the body without rain, the blood a solid mass of red rock in our veins and arteries.
Imagine our fledgling gardens, unsprouted, hard seed coat like an inert pebble waiting, waiting, waiting for something to soak in, something to soften its hard skin, waiting, waiting, waiting. Imagine the tap squirting nothing but air, as the tongue swells, the skin flakes off, the eyes glaze over like glass.
Imagine rivers run dry, oceans nothing but salt, magma basalt, before basalt is possible. Imagine a mother’s womb dry as a bone, holding nothing but bone, the umbilical cord empty like a length of PVC pipe.
Why the annoyance? Why the nuisance? Remember the job that you are travelling to in the rain, straight as an arrow toward an office bull’s eye, “dead” center, concentric target rings collapsing into a cubicle, a two-dimensional world, a phone call here and there, a robotic existence.
Get out of the car and simply get wet, clothes drenched, follow the rain, sip the rain like a tree sips the rain, transpires the rain, cycle the rain through yourself. Get out of the car and jump into the rain.
Rain patters the roof rhythmically, runs down a gradient, a downspout, into the garden, and when watermelon comes ripe we ingest the sweet rain and make blood that gives us life. Rain is blood. If we lose it, we lose us. Slow it down, spread it, collect it, throughout the neighborhood.