Me, bundled up for a walk, in March. I didn’t know winter extended into April.
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
Long sigh. I love winter, but… these are our only signs of Spring so far, in addition to the bird chirping in the morning which is lovely.
And then there are the occasional sightings of bare ground on driveways.
I know it has not snowed overnight by seeing the oasis of a bare patch outside where you can see the road. Amazing.
I have been reading some other blogs these days and people have captured wonderful quotes; inspiring, gritty, thoughtful. I admire those who can remember quotes or author’s names, whole poems, or stanzas at least. I used to think I had a good memory, photographic at times. I can still sometimes ‘see’ things to confirm my memory, but being able to ‘see’ the grocery list or someone’s phone number has limited use. My memory is mostly empathic; I remember the feeling about something. I am right now trying to remember what was so funny and interesting about what I wrote in my mind for this blog last night. I was too tired to get up and write it down. I am remembering only mountains and valleys of thoughts and something about narcissistic self-loathing being a genetic trait. But what was really on my mind, the unstoppable gears grinding on something I wanted to go away, like the tune from a bad pop song, were titles.
All that comes to mind are titles. Titles, titles, titles, as if we start from the beginning. There is no beginning, as much as we try to find it, as much as we want to restart from there. No, titles don’t take me far enough into it, they are just playthings, little balls we toss and toss or roll in our hands, squeezing them but they never pop, never land. Re-starting, landing, that’s what a friendless person of my age wants. The bitterness has not set in yet, there are still dreams, illusions, even a little hope of magic left, but we can’t seem to find enough of it.
Contemplating the iron blades of the just-too-high fence I dare not sit upon it to climb over into the well tended garden that does not belong to me, nor do I wish to look down at my sinking boots. I am looking for definitions, but I don’t want to be defined by this mud. I reach for the letters of others’ titles, holding onto the serif of an ‘s’ or a ‘t’, wanting to bring them into my own hand and let them grow new branches, branches that grow and grow and breath deeply the air and sunshine and make something entirely new. But I am just looking and blinded a little by the grey bright sunlight of late winter. The wind is so strong in the trees. The blowing snow is creating new topographies. So how is it that I am in the mud on this freezing day? This bright day. This blinding day that leads me only further into it….
I describe this place, the mud in front of the fence, because it is the place that belongs to me. I forever see the garden ahead of me but I can only spin around, making mud in the ground, never sinking, just turning against the wind when it stings my face.
So this is a beginning, always terrible, unscripted, too serious and disconnected. Am I supposed to think this out beforehand? Would it bring me to a different place, or just set me down for a while longer, thinking? No sustainability, no way of moving forward, no insight gained from looking back. The only teacher here is this mud, telling me something through its persistence.
Awe. Sunday’s storm brought heavy freezing rain, then hail and 50mph winds, followed by 10 minutes of sun, then snow and wind and it repeated like that all day.
Watching the storm was a great show for me. I love a good storm, not the Life of Pi kind, but the safely watched from indoors or not far from home and not needing to go anywhere kind.
Nature is simply awesome. I have no power over it and I choose to call it beautiful, I have that luxury. I am wonderstruck by it strength, soothed by its sound and delighted by its purity. The rain, snow and wind created mountains and valleys in front of me. And, while I am not delighted by the booming sound of whatever it is on our roof that buckles when the temperature goes below 20F, the sound of snow falling tickles my ears and makes me more aware of sound itself. Also, there are few things I love more than a great field of freshly fallen, untouched snow. The vast expanses sparkle like the universe itself. So, before the snowplows start doing their work and before the shovelers start clearing their walks, I dwell in the tickling sound and the sparkling splendor and feel that I am receiving a gift from the infinite.