It is another frigid day today, topping out at about 5F degrees with 25mph winds plus gusts. It basically feels like Antarctica. I somewhat enjoy listening to the wind, but do not cherish the thought of having to go out in it. I thought about building a snow fort and am surprised not to see some around town. I think I could just dig a hole in one of the piles of snow on the side of the driveway at this point, no construction required. An instant igloo.
Despite or perhaps because of the cold what is mainly on my mind these days is gardening. It is my hope carved out of the winter grey. My dreams before sleeping. I am reading and watching videos and courses about permaculture. Permaculture is primarily a design system, but most people incorporate organic growing and many are interested in interdependence and community development as well. The Permaculture Research Institute defines it this way:
Permaculture integrates land, resources, people and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies – imitating the no waste, closed loop systems seen in diverse natural systems. Permaculture studies and applies holistic solutions that are applicable in rural and urban contexts at any scale. It is a multidisciplinary toolbox including agriculture, water harvesting and hydrology, energy, natural building, forestry, waste management, animal systems, aquaculture, appropriate technology, economics and community development.
The succession of nature is simply not tolerated in our modern landscapes and it is amazing to read stories of how nature recovers and builds from disturbed areas if allowed to while being moderately managed or harvested instead of controlled and chemically attacked. Toby Hemenway’s story of the Bullock brothers in “Gaia’s Garden” reads like a fairy tale of growth that could have been more like the story of the woman who swallowed the worm to catch the spider. Instead it tells a story of a destroyed wetland that, when intelligently and sparingly managed, grew cattails that brought in muskrats that over time restored balance and biodiversity. It reminds me of the collapsing outdoor pool I lived near that was much lamented by its former human swimmers. The collapse allowed duckweed to grow, then ducks came to visit, then a muskrat or two and then the crown jewel of a great blue heron would often grace its smooth surface.
One of the things that is so hopeful about permaculture as a philosophy is that it is fundamentally regenerative. Rather than ranting about the evils of excess, greed and destruction, permaculture begins where we are now, not where we could be if things were ideal. We have long and wide stretches of highways and parking lots. We have suburbs and small plots with big houses. It is not necessary to bulldoze it all and try to begin anew. We can build gardens on parking lots, we can paint intersections and have neighborhood farm stands on road corners to build community, we can raise vegetables and useful plants in small spaces using all of our vertical and horizontal space and big houses with extra rooms can become storage areas or plant nurseries. The possibilities abound, and all the more so because we begin where we are standing, with already existing walls, ditches and shady places and we build on them instead of against them.
My heart beats warmly for ideas about neighborhood farm stands and sharing fruit and having little frog ponds even in my current farmburb. Listening to leaders like Bill Mollison, Will Hooker and Joe Hollis is an uplifting experience with generous doses of knowledge, humor and enlightened sarcasm. Not only that, but I somehow feel like I am listening to my grandfather when I hear them speak.
My grandfather grew up on a farm and continued to do large backyard gardening and raise chickens well into his elder age. My grandmother managed the harvest with baking, canning and pickling. She even had a root cellar that ironically is a point of yearning for me now. I only wish they had more time to teach me what they knew. Maybe it is just their echoes that I hear in the voices of wizened old men.
But late winter is exactly the right time for dreaming in the grey light, listening to the wind blow. I plot my garden chart over and over, refining it all the while knowing that once my hands get in the soil or grab a tool that my charts will be carried off by the breeze. That breeze will be a warm and welcome one.
The hope for Spring is also the longing for connection and a chance to re-start our life. Joe Hollis speaks of how we are trying to define our selves through our status, our possessions, our jobs, and to meet our needs outside of ourselves; our food from the grocery store, our exercise from the gym, our inspiration from the church, our creativity from somewhere else. In the paradise of gardens our identity is found within and all our needs are met in the work and harvest along the way.
May we all dream of gardens before sleeping.
I love this man. Joe Hollis and Paradise Garden