Update, same morning: Since people are offering condolences in the comments section for the death of Lady Renee, I forgot to mention that she was born and grew up in St. Cloud, that Minnesota was her home state, and that I hadn’t been back there since I was a child. Interesting “convergence,” eh? Revisiting the old story. Permaculture as the new story. At some point on the bus, I could feel her presence, and her wondering why I was in Minnesota!
I don’t know how many of you have waited with bated (or is it “baited”?) breath for my return from the North American Permaculture Convergence and two day tour of large permaculture sites in the “driftless” region of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota afterwards, but: HERE I AM! Oops! NOT.
While on tour, I received news of my 96-year-old Mom’s death. She is also known here as Lady Renee. She passed peacefully, amidst three of her children singing, on August 31. Which means that son Sean and I fly to Seattle, September 10-14, to attend her funeral and be with my seven brothers and sisters and their progeny. In between today, when I have to get all my stuff together for our first annual Green Acres Neighborhood yard sale Saturday, and Wednesday next, when I leave, my time will be taken up with logistics. I’ll have to forgo this blog until after I get back. As usual, life (and death) intervenes. And as usual, family matters most.
Meanwhile, here are a few photos with notes:
A shot, from way back, of the group’s first circle, held on the first soggy morning after one of the periodic rains that swept through the region during the entire three day event. We remained remarkably cheerful, considering. 400 of us, about 2/3 young, and the rest seasoned, either in permaculture or in age, or both. Usually both. I felt like a novice. I am a novice. So much swirling knowledge and curiosity, and deep deep investigation into the ways of our Mother Earth at this remarkable convergence of people who have found their passion, and it is Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share, the three-pronged ethic of permaculture.
However, I did note one contradiction in the People Care part: many people (most young, but not all) stayed up all hours playing extremely loud music that reverberated throughout the campground. There was no way to get away. The first night midnight. Not too bad. The second night 2:30 A.M. The third night (I heard tell; that night I had given up and gone to a motel), 4:30 A.M. To me, this feels rude. To others, it’s just all part of the festive atmosphere, apparently! Do I sound like a curmudgeon?
Here’s the campground, under glorious spreading bur oaks.
By the way, I learned, on the tour bus afterwards, in one of the many engaging and sometimes deeply informative off the cuff talks by one of the participants,
— wish I had learned his name! — that this entire region (not sure how far it extends, but much of the midwest — used to be an “oak savannah,” and that an oak savannah, shaped by fire, wind and water, is capable of sequestering more carbon than any other kind of landscape, because the greenery, from the oak tree tops to the smaller trees, bushes, then grasses below, is open enough to offer plenty of room for sunlight.
Over and over again, deeply impressed by the kind, depth and quality of knowledge brought, not just by the teachers at the convergence, but by the participants. So excited to see how young ones, immersed in permaculture, flower into astonishingly aware, focused, and articulate beings, deeply concerned about the fate of this Earth during global weirding, and determined to help shift the course of human history by helping to transform the entire globe into a thriving garden.
Here’s a young presenter, can’t remember his name, who is navigating permaculture through complex mainstream bureaucracies. I sampled his workshop, and many others, through the weekend.
Here’s Pandora Thomas, a dynamic young woman who, among other projects, is working with people inside San Quentin and who have just been released from San Quentin, to offer them permaculture as a way of re-entering life. She showed a video of the first group of folks in her program at the event.
Here’s a display of what we can do to create solar outdoor kitchens. Both solar ovens and rocket stoves have been on our docket for near-term creation at our little two-home urban farmstead.
Throughout the three day period, I was subliminally aware of my mother’s dying process, and it kept me, at times, in a space of being somewhat interior and removed from others. However, I did have some great conversations with many people, including an old friend who showed up, Peter Doughty, someone I’ve known since we both wrote for the same astrological magazine, back in the 1980s.
One day Peter and I walked to the nearby lake.
A remark that will reverbate in me forever came from one of the elder teachers there, Albert Bates,
something to the effect that we will know we are successful when permaculture becomes invisible, when it penetrates so deeply into human processes that we don’t even notice it.
I bought his book, The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, and find it extraordinary. Not what you’d expect, from what sounds like a technical title. Get it. Here’s a review of the book by Peter Banes, who, among his other gifts, writes unusually trenchant reviews of worthy books for the Permaculture Activist.
I could go on and on, but more will have to wait until my return, or, possibly, until I free up some kind of time in the next few days. Don’t count on it! Meanwhile, check out Mark Shepard, his New Forest Farm, plus book and video, Restoration Agriculture. Here’s someone who, over 30 years, has found a way to convert a 110 acre exhausted soybean and corn desert into a flourishing permaculture polyculture farm which, using the principles of keyline design, has invited not only water to come back in (four springs have now developed from all the water they have sequestered), but, of course, all the plants, animals and insects that flourished there before industrial ag destroyed the land. Very hopeful. We spent four hours with him on his farm, tramping over swales and berms, walking down alleys of annual produce (which he sells to restaurants) lined with nut and fruit trees, checking out the chickens and hogs.
More, so much more! Like our visit to the Seed Savers Exchange, which has grown to 900 acres and 60 employees, saving for posterity 20,000 different varieties of heirloom seeds in a climate-controlled vault.
Here’s where they dry seeds
from vegetables that are hopefully, already rotting.
In our final hour of this tour, many of us took the hike uphill to their wonderful field where we could sample multiple species of grapes.
While there, I decided to purchase Gathering: A Memoir of A Seed Saver, a beautifully produced book by the woman who started the Seed Savers Exchange, back in 1975.
I will end this letting you know that the woman Julie, who started the recent “sheeple” conversation on this blog, and who wanted to meet me at the NAPC, but was not sure she’d get through her shyness, DID. After briefly introducing herself like a skittish colt on my first day there, on the final day, final meal, she walked up, sat down, and we moved instantly, and deeply, into conversation.
See the northamericanpermaculture.org site for lots of great pictures of the event.