We have just completed our first Permaculture Design Certificate course as facilitators.
Fionn has taught on numerous PDCs before and Laura has also. We’ve even taught on the same PDC before, but never solely as Fionn and Laura Quinlan. This, for us, is a real milestone. Something we’re very proud of, though are still very much aware of the managing and tweaking that can and will be implemented to make our next course even better.
We began designing our course around 6 months ago. Utliising the SADIM methodology, along with broader permaculture design techniques we mapped out the desire lines of the course, stated intent, objective and desired outcomes. Some of our included intent/objectives included goals as lofty as “assisting in creation of new neurological pathways”, through to more humble objectives like, “creating a safe space”. Upon initial analysis it would seem that we either accomplished stated aims, or we certainly got very close. This was however a particularly spirited and diverse group of 12 individuals, whom without it is obvious to us that none of it would have been possible.
The course was held over two weeks at the pictresque Hare Krishna Community outside Murwillumbah in the Tweed shire. The children joined us, tentatively introducing them as a part of our tribe and an integral part of our journey together. So with tingle of excitement for what was to come we, slightly noisily, introduced ourselves to our group of 12 budding permies.
Throughout the course we were able to take a couple of short trips to see some of the finer points of permaculture in action. We paid a visit to Australia’s best established Syntropic Agriculture plot, run by Scott Hall and an on and off again team of willing helpers. We also invited the whole crew down to Djaning to see our ever evolving 21 acre plot, with an emphasis on closed loop systems, earth works, main frame and garden design. These trips and grand design schemes, coupled with regular morning contributions to our shared plot at Krishna village, run ins with local Syntropic marauder Thiago Barbosa, swims in the nearby river, and regular yoga sessions made for all round fun and informative two weeks.
If you’re at all interested in ecology, community and self sufficiency or the environment more generally then pop along to our next course planned for 2019. See https://krishnavillage-retreat.com/ for more details.
It’s rather hard to put succinctly the feeling of returning to this wet little island known as the United Kingdom. It’s a little like putting on one of your old pair of shoes; a little musty, possibly mouldy, but comfortable, welcoming and if a little spit and polish is applied as good as the day you first wore them. Upon stepping into these old shoes we’ve encountered old and new projects, rekindled friendships and developed some anew.
The unifying theme it would seem of the trip was in fact contrast. The individuality of this unifying movement known collectively as permaculture, has presented itself to us beautifully. We’ve tasted the social and interpersonal aspects of it as shared through the nurturing mentorship of friends and acquaintances, like Klaudia Van Gool. We’ve had our comprehension of potential alternative systems of governance explained in detail by the likes of Andy Goldring ,Maddy Harland and others. We’ve been taken in, wined, dined and toured wonderous living classrooms such as Karuna Insight Design and Lammas Ecovillage. And we’ve consistently tasted some of the finest forage we’ve ever had the pleasure to have dance on our taste buds. With each experience being presented to us with the personal flavour and splendour of the individuals themselves.
One particularly special insight afforded us came from Karuna in the Shropshire hills. Fionn had been a WWOOFer here a few years ago and had been so taken by the place that he was adamant we had to return in whatever capacity. So when we managed to organise and co-teach an Introduction to Permaculture course there (a first for us, anywhere in the world!) it was serendipitous to say the least. Having the Wheelhouse’s allow us to share their space and guide us through their lovingly and painstakingly created ‘Sanctuary’ was truly a treat. The evidence of their care, their observation and their willingness to integrate seemingly disparate elements was and is everywhere to be seen.
As we pack our bags for our return we’re thankful for so much. All these beautiful beings have again roused and shaken our understanding of what it is and what it means to be alive. With these memories in our hearts we happily venture forward into the next chapter of our little part in the quiet revolution.
How is one supposed to compose a considered piece of writing after several months of disengagement? Easy right? Well, not so much.
The fact that we haven’t written has been playing on our minds, and the fact that it plays on our minds creates further blockages. We do however feel we have more than enough ‘excuses’ to warrant our absence. We half promised ourselves we wouldn’t do this, but here’s at least one good reason why we haven’t ‘blogged’ for such a long time.
Yep, a baby boy. We called him Oak. Yes, we named him after one of natures most brilliant gifts; a tree. But we also named him after a feeling, an energy, and a human being.
First off, we should probably apologise to Oak for using him as an excuse for not writing our blog. Then we should explain and thank him, as because of him we’re relearning to slow down. To wholly appreciate. To savior moments. To stare into a little face and know that at each moment he’s receiving information that is completely new. Never before has this little being seen a sun rise, a sun set, a rain storm, a cloud, a flower, a smile. This in itself is something to be greatly treasured… With of course “treasured” being a limited term in its capacity to describe such an on going transformation.
So with this new post, we acknowledge Oak Elliott Quinlan. Soon to be 4 months old. Just beginning to smile, giggle, recognise familiar faces, tones, and sensations. With this post we publicly embrace our newest friend and family member.
This all goes without mentioning further council approvals and the mountains of paperwork that includes, the Australasian Permaculture Convergence, Family from England visiting, erecting a yurt, planting innumerable trees, organising future workshops and courses, realising dreams, and conquering inner demons. Which we all know takes a whole lot of…
Now that we’ve explained ourselves, we’d also like to take this moment to acknowledge the passing of one year, one full cycle around our star on our little rock, since we’ve been on Djaning.
We’d like to share a few of the things we’ve learned in this time.
First of all, we’ve realised one year is a long time. It’s also no time at all, and for many things it’s just enough. It’s as if you only really begin appreciating and comprehending the passing of time once you’re doing that which you feel you were put on the earth to do. Or, begun listening to ‘your heart’. Cheesy we know, but it’s true.
The near 1000 trees we’ve planted so far are establishing themselves. We’ve witnessed a year of weather cycles; the deciduous trees shedding their leaves, the frost pockets showing themselves (minus 2 a few nights), the warming up of Spring, and the intense, humid heat of summer (45 degrees on one brutal Sunday). Through observing these cycles we’ve been better able to plan our movement through the land and its emerging organic design.
The “final’ design we began a year ago is now coming into its own as the main frame is in. As many who’ve implemented such designs, there’s certain restrictions to any landscape. It’s curves and features naturally lend themselves to only a set number of mainframe alterations, ‘facelifts’. Djaning being no exception. As our two dams, main swale, and entrance road are now settling in, we have begun to be able to observe more closely our, and most importantly, natures, patterns.
Our zone one is evolving through this observation, tweaking our design as we use the space. The few citrus and stone fruit trees we planted a year ago are now settled in and are producing some excellent desire lines around our space, their edge becoming giant over flowing beds of perennial guilds. it is so exciting to watch this evolve and grow. “the edge is where its at” Thanks Charlie, David and Bill!
Our space is becoming a filled in canvas of food. Painting the landscape with garden beds. Our initial excitement at growing an array of annuals was quickly sidelined by the emerging perennials. As the delicious and common place annuals were eaten up and gone, our perennials kept growing and gave us something even more inspiring than just beautiful garden beds. Interesting greens like Kan Kong and the mushroom plant make excellent stir frys. We have all manner of wonderful herbs – medicinal, edible, insect repelling – this world of wonderous plants is just opening up to us and we love it!
So with all this and more, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with our progress and happenings.
Also, (another reason for our lack of blogging perhaps?!), see our up and coming as well as our recent forays into permaculture teaching!
The winter months here on our little soon-to-be farm have brought some interesting changes and realisations, here’s hoping we can recount a few for you.
We feel as though we’re finally getting to see some changes. We’re almost 6 months in and as we started in late summer and are now well into winter, we’re beginning to fully comprehend the necessity of the first principle of Permaculture, Observe and Interact. Noting little pockets of frost and which plants can and cannot hack it, how micro-climates can be provided by an array of things hitherto unknown to us, watching the migratory flocks of birds, and seeing the real slowing down of growth. All interesting. All integral for us to better understand where we are and how we can better live in harmony with changes for now and in future.
Another happening that has become evident to us is something Geoff Lawton often recalls when teaching his Permaculture Design Courses; a time he confided in Bill Mollison and asked, “How do I know I’m getting it right?” To which, Geoff says, Bill replied, “Resources will gather around you, and more often than not they will be in the form of people.” It’s likely too early to tell but we’re just beginning to feel as though we may be on the right track. Resources of the non-biped variety have been pooling in dribs and drabs; friendly neighbours leaving us seeds, and tree guards on our doorstep, a few tarpaulins, a fuel canister, and several large bags of a variety of fresh, local veges. We’ve also been blessed with many visitors, hard working or otherwise who’ve all contributed to our little piece of land in their own unique way.
There’s another that’s really sinking in, and it’s something we’d talked about long before we arrived on our land, and that’s the often misunderstood or overused concept and term, ‘necessity’. You may not need to live ‘off-grid’ for 6 months to comprehend it, though it certainly seems to have helped us. Questions have pervaded our once common place assumptions about living and daily existence. A simple example is that we’ve begun adding a ‘Do we?’ to many statements. “We need to install a shower with hot running water… Do we?” If we go back to our permaculture principles and apply small and slow solutions we come to the realisation that we can have a hot shower but in a manner that addresses our ethics via closing loops and creating little to no waste. To some it has the potential to sound like a lengthy process, but to us we enjoy our bucket wash under a tree. It allows us the time to assess and evaluate, reconnect as well as water the tree and harvest any run-off.
On a final note, we’re learning to not take ourselves so seriously, acknowledging the fact that we have to be dreamers and doers, and that there’s no defined dead line for this life.
You get struck with the blues at times. We all do. However, it’s not the run of the mill, ‘Oh, my boss is a douche bag’ blues, or the ‘I had to work the late shift’ blues, it’s something more like the ‘is any of this really worth it?’ blues. Though even this brand of blues anyone with a half decent thinking mind gets from time to time. So perhaps it’s more like, ‘We’ve changed everything in an attempt to lead a better life, a life which we and our children’s children can be proud of, a life stepping toward a more realistic pattern of consumption, voluntary frugality, which we can and are doing and are generally very happy with, but in the scheme of things does it really matter?’ blues.
This thought, these blues, can be debilitating. Playing apocalyptic scenarios over in your head, and hearing an angry voice mumbling and at times shouting, “We’re all living as if there’s three planet Earths and most of us know this! Is there anyone willing to try and change?! Or is it all just going to be put in the Too Hard Basket?!” (or something to that effect). As though our lives are just another spectacle being played out on a big screen. A spectacle for others to watch but not participate in, one which they can change the channel on at anytime when they get bored.
Then you reluctantly accept the fact that everyone has their own idea of what’s going wrong and how they can change it. You also realise a lot of people just want to bury their head in the sand, look after themselves and are unwilling to come together and say “we can fix this!” You’ve probably met small pockets of people who are coming together, though we all know many who aren’t. And sadly, most likely, never will. And in this place we can get stuck.
Then you take a breath and you see your daughter running around outside in your newly planted garden shreiking with delight at the sight of new plants, and asking you, “Mummy, Daddy, can I water the plants? They’re little babies, and they’re so cute!” You load up the watering can and off she runs. Then a magpie lands on the newly and painstakingly built trellis with a grub from the garden in it’s mouth, the dappled light shines through the nearby trees, and your life partner grabs a hold of your hand.
It’s 6am and it’s 2 degrees inside our caravan. The frost has killed off what was looking like some promising Cucumbers and Zucchinis, along with about 30 Pigeon Pea saplings and a bunch of other stuff. We’re wearing multiple layers, under the covers, drinking some not-too-bad Chai, and laughing. Guttural laughing. It started as laughter due to our 2 year old friend and companion doing something hilarious, it then gradually built as we began making fun of ourselves and the situation we’ve not only find ourselves in, but knowingly, willingly put ourselves in. Then comes the question (or is it a statement?) “This is permaculture right?!”
For all our pondering, we guess it is. Well, sort of. As we’ve heard on more than one occasion “It depends”. This is our brand of permaculture. The one where you drop more or less everything and begin to reinvent yourself literally from the ground up. Now we suppose that if we were horticulturalists, engineers, or any brilliant combination of anything that may serve our new found direction well, this whole process would, or could possibly be a whole lot easier, or just different. But we’re not. We’re artists, and educators, and learners and lovers, with a few healthy streaks of farm and woodland through us.
One of the key tactics we’re learning is to drop our egos and ask questions. We always hear, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question”, but when you’re in ‘The Bolt Barn’ asking “Where do I put the bolt?” or in the local plumbing shop asking “Where does the water go?” you tend to feel you’re stretching the limit of that saying. But we’re learning. Every time we do ask an ‘interesting’ question we’re one more question away from complete ignorance and a little closer to implementing our permaculture dream.
So we boarded a ferry as excited as could be and rushed off into the blue aboard a giant ship, with hopes and expectations colliding with a calm trust. A trust of the sea, the road, and of each other. We’re not so sure we’d ever felt as alive as we had over the last few months. How were we going to top it? A zig-zagging trip through France, and Spain might do it? How about a trip to the desert? The desert, The Sahara? That certainly sounded like a great deal of fun.
As a picture says a thousand words, we’ve decided to let them do the talking:
As we’ve written and posted this almost 6 months after the fact, now working our little piece of land (little is certainly subjective), and taking each day as it comes and riding the roller coaster of learning, there’s a glimmer there that wasn’t there at the time. Something that can only be understood with retrospect. It certainly was fun, though it’s still close enough to remember the bumpy times. Those infinitesimally small moments that seemed so big. Something to keep with us as we venture into our new lives. Be here now.
After our volunteering in Cornwall we moseyed through some national parks, namely Dartmoor, Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons. Upon visiting these national parks we were naturally impressed with the landscape, they were beautiful, and still are. Yet a recent comprehension of ecological succession and land use practices throughout the UK, helped along by one George Monbiot and his poignant and revealing book, Feral, it was difficult at times for us not to dream of what these landscapes could be if managed more effectively, be they left to re-wild completely or otherwise.
After all this time in the greenery it was time to take on another of our little plans; a family pass to the Green Gathering festival. We’d organised this one once we’d came out the other side of our ‘Trouble in Paradise’. This is a festival with the tag line, ‘a sustainable festival for all our futures’. Every festival since it’s inception has been powered by wind, sun and people, and this year the festival was branded as ‘Performance Meets Permaculture’.
As with so many festivals of this nature, where we’re attempting to re-imagine the future, and are surrounded by strong, intelligent and active people, there’s such a strong sense of what could be if only we’d all be open and willing enough to completely reassess, acknowledge and act upon all the mistakes we’ve made. In short, along with Laura’s brother and family from Hedgehog Hill Farm, this experience felt like the breaking of a dam wall of inspiration.
The highlight of the festival, besides meeting the ever charismatic Charlie Mcgee of Formidable Vegetable Soundsystem, whilst engaged in a Children & Permaculture workshop fronted by Robina McCurdy, was getting to watch Seize The Day. This band is the musical actualisation of what you wished Bob Dylan would have done, could have done, if he’d maintained his protest edge. They’re like a combination of the political side of Billy Bragg (on fire), the spirit and get up of Fela Kuti in his Afrikan Shrine, mixed with the truth, honesty and folk of an old weathered, leather-faced, drunken Scotsman playing his heart out for just one more glass of whiskey all the while revealing the harsh brutality of our world with a smile.
Now that we had a soundtrack it was time to ready ourselves for a trip across a continent.
Our first stop in our green beast, (aptly and fairly named Arvan “our van” by our two year old) was Carmathenshire in South West Wales for a stay with Laura’s brother, his wife and their two boys on their recently purchased 16 acre small-holding, Rhiw Draenog or Hedgehog Hill Farm.
They had also experienced a similar disillusionment with our human predicament and had been looking into permaculture as a positive solution. They had sold their house in the suburbs of southern England and found a gem of a property in Wales. They were a few steps further along the path than us and were equally nervous/excited/daunted by the prospect of building and creating a life with positive repercussions for the future. We were lucky enough to camp in their garden (house paddock) for a month and get used to our new living conditions.
This initial part was particularly hard due to the fact it was such a large change, Fionn was in Herefordshire for the first 10 days, and our little girl making regular complaints along the lines of “Tweety birds, no! Where are the Nee-Nors?!” making things rather challenging for Laura. But gradually as we began seeing the direct results of working together as an extended family the initial awkwardness faded.
This short period became a great learning experience for all involved, as Laura’s brother’s family had only recently moved into their current house (with no windows!), we had the fortuitous opportunity of learning some of the baby steps phase together. Once Laura’s brother’s two boys took our little lady under their wing, showed her the best hiding places in the long grass, got stuck into some of the hard graft, gave her ride-arounds on their toy tractors and most importantly showed her where to source the blackberrys, things became a great deal easier, and the familial re-wilding came into it’s own.
In the process of building a cob oven, coppicing a great deal of Hazel, mulching even more Monkey Puzzles, swimming in their little stream umpteen times among many other things, we would often get far too excited about how things should be implemented and slowly came to understand that everyone needs to make their own decisions and their own mistakes in their own time. Since leaving we’ve been able to see and have begun to comprehend how ideas, like those at Hedgehog Hill Farm, can develop into future masterpieces regardless of what anyone else says, against the current, against all nay sayers. With this seed of inspiration and optimism we set off for Cornwall.
We had volunteered to help out at on an organic farm whilst they ran a Permaculture Design Course. This experience couldn’t have been richer and more engaging. The venue – Keveral Organic Farming Community, the people – beautiful, intelligent, open, endlessly inquisitive, and the subject matter were everything we were hoping for and more. We felt we had found our tribe.
This experience took us to some places that were on our lengthy list of ‘places to see that inspire’, including Martin Crawford’s forest garden at the Schumacher College and the Land Matters Cooperative. It also gave us direct experience in foraging (not just for a few bits but near on entire meals), woodcraft, mushroom cultivation, and other basic survival skills that have left an indelible mark. We also had the great pleasure of being able to sit in on lessons, when not preparing food, from some of the best teachers the UK has to offer.
We’ve been able to keep in touch with many of these beautiful people since this time and we’re not surprised but are very pleased to see and know that we’re all applying ourselves as best we can to various projects all over the world. Such a special moment in time for us and our little family, one not soon to be forgot.