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.
“The long, slow, creative hard slog always wins out in the end.”
Contrary to how ‘floaty’ such a statement may seem there’s a great deal of evidence to support it. It’s evident in everything from entire societies being built on earth stewardship, see Amazonian societies creation ofTerra Preta on otherwise relatively infertile tropical soil, to Van Gogh’s hard isolated life work which now occupies vast galleries created in his name, and the countless artists whom acknowledge his influence. I suppose we could analyse and attempt to interpret the rabbit hole that the last part of the above statement, ‘the end’, entails. Though this is far too open to interpretation and has overt metaphysical connotations. Therefore allow us to briefly examine the long, slow, creative, hard slog bit.
To begin with we must acknowledge the ninth Holmgren Permaculture principle; Small and Slow Solutions. As obvious as this principle may seem, within our current dominant paradigm applying such a thing within your daily routine is to run, or rather meander, directly against the conformity grain. Though the rewards are endless, in this life or the next, for ourselves and/or future generations. Be it in taking the time to study your local ecology which can reap untold benefits of higher yields, better return on your investments, be they in passive solar buildings or soil management, to embracing patience with yourself and others. The benefits of which seem unnecessary to state here.
Need we discuss the creative part? Yes. Perhaps we do. Djaning and all it entails has recently taken to realising itself as a Life as Art project. Which, for us, has untold benefits. To begin with, artists make mistakes, though instead of them being ‘mistakes’ as such, they can further become art. We recall a dear friend of ours smirking in wonderment whilst watching Jimmy Page playing another perfectly oulandish solo on Led Zepplin’s the Song Remains the Same film, and stating, “He hits bum notes, but then keeps hitting them! He’s making his initial errors intentional! And this makes them awesome!” We’d like to think we can do something similar, but on the land. (Duly noted, of course, that Jimmy is a master craftsman with decades of experience, and music is not geology. But I think you get what we’re trying to say). We make mistakes, though so long as we don’t throw down our instruments and sob, we can learn from it, and if it’s in time and in tune with gaia’s guidance, it can become a hallmark.
More on the Life as Art concept in later posts. Now for the hard slog part… Hmmm. Yes that. Well, no matter the creative process we must work. Andy Warhol knew this and was known to have instilled Lou Reed with the ethic, even resulting in the song Work. For us we’ve often been caught singing the Temptations Just My Imagination chorus in relation to the thought of being able to create our dream, without the hard slog; it’s just our imagination. It’s therefore beneficial to look to others who have achieved, or are well on their way to achieving their ideal situation through diligent, applied labour and effort. Some that come to mind are our teachers, Geoff & Nadia Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, Robyn Francis at Djanbung Gardens or Ben Law, woodsman extraordinaire. Others are our friends and colleagues, like Merav and Janta at Karuna Insight Design. While others again are those that just wholly blow our mind, like Ernst Gotsch and his Syntropic Agriculture.
Whatever or whoever it is, we feel we’re on the right track. That bendy, gravelly, wooded way with all it’s quirks, foibles and ‘perceived’ hiccups.
We find ourselves stepping back from the potentially overwhelming task of creating a new life at Djaning to visit our old friends and family on the other side of the planet. We’ve now been in the UK for a very eventful, packed full of learning 3 months. Here over a few posts I hope we can briefly surmise our findings, and perhaps offer some ponderings for future… pondering!
First off the bat is the all important nucleus; The core of everything and anything. As designers we constantly look at and implement zoning plans for landscapes and are enabling others to do the same, though it would appear we’re only just now seeing this as wholly applicable and even necessary to and for ourselves at a psychological and emotional level. And although we’ve read it, have been told it, and have instructed others to do the same, the importance of our Zoning is only now seeming to come home to roost.
For those who aren’t in the know of permaculture nomenclature, Zoning refers to the sphere of influence of the designer, homsteader. For example Zone 1 refers to the immediate surrounds of our home and dwelling, Zone 0 being the home itself, whereas Zone 5 is the outermost area, often being a wilderness area rarely visited, and very rarely, if ever, altered. The importance of these zones and what you do with them will naturally radiate outward. As if throwing a stone into calm waters, the more concentrated the effort and the size of the ‘stone’, zone 0, the easier it is to create ripples in the outermost areas of our pond of influence.
For us, being on the other side of the world, with a bit more space and time to observe what we’ve created thus far, we’ve noted that we’ve been creating aspects of almost all our zones in an attempt to see the bigger picture of our design take shape. This in part has been necessary to enable the framework of the larger design (dams, swales, access), though have found ourselves overextended in our attempts to develop all zones at once.
Although this is, in hindsight, painfully obvious, its taken us some time and space away to realise the importance of what it is that we’re creating for ourselves and our little family. Allowing the time to observe what we need to sustain our lifestyle in all its aspects has been of utmost importance.
It’s the marriage of theory and practice that hits you upside the head. This ‘praxis’ has for us manifested in witnessing our Zone 1 garden flourish because we’re there all the time (duh), while our plantings in our Zone 4, along our swale have seen some fairly drastic failures (close to 40% of trees planted died – this was however part of our larger strategy; applying S.T.U.N.). This is not only applicable for the health of our garden and food production but for ourselves mentally and physically through the creation of a ‘safe space’ for us to not only grow but to thrive in. With this safe space, or nucleus firmly grounded we’re better prepared and equipped to pulse out from this consciously designed space.
More mental meanderings from our trip away to soon follow. Stay tuned. x
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!
To hear the sound of a new family members’ pelvis being crushed under the wheel of your utility vehicle is something that is likely to disturb sleep. To have an official looking man in an official looking car, wearing an official looking suit arrive at your house and tell you you’re officially unofficial (living illegally), is also likely to create restless slumber…
These are certain experiences that have ‘touched’ our lives lately, so forgive us for not writing an update a little sooner. We’ve been somewhat preoccupied. Not to worry though, there has been some marvellous aspects, however we’ll get to those later in an attempt to leave you on a high note.
So the opening sentence may have some thinking we ran over our own or someone else’s new born child. Not so. It was our most recent addition, the first live-in domestic animal on the farm. 4 month old Blue Heeler cross, Thida. She was a trooper. A nipper, heel biter, hand shaker, back talking little wonder dog. At only 4 months old and only 2 of those with us on the farm it’s incredible just how much of an impact she’s made on us in her short time. We needn’t go into details, though we know there’s dog owners and lovers out there who feel our pain. So we’ll give you a shot of the little legend, and move on before we all well up and can’t read or write any longer.
Now onto that official looking man arriving at our caravan door. It was a man from the local council who had come to tell us that what we were doing didn’t fit the bill. We weren’t to be occupying our own land for more than 2 days a week, and 60 days in a year, we needed a more stable grey water system (one of their approved cement boxes to be precise), and that some of the holes we’d dug to support our yurt were not written down in his little book and therefor we had had to stop work and were lucky we were only getting a warning. There’s some fairly colourful language that we’d have liked to use, and there’s a great deal that could be said about the real crimes of humanity, though we’ll spare us all and allow your imagination to do all that for you.
One of the more interesting aspects of his arrival was that he inquired as to whether or not we were ‘doing permaculture’, and upon our muted nod and vague shrug, he added whether or not we knew Mr Lawton from down the road, less of a reaction from us proceeded. An eye brow raised and a sheepish smile perhaps. To which he informed us that Mr Lawton had had some trouble with the council in the past, though had now begun to tow the line, and had learned from his mistakes… It would seem someone at council has a bad impression of permaculture. What a shame. What a pity.
The most interesting of these events though seemed to come when we had to explain this to our three year friend and offspring. Questions as simple as “Why can’t we live here?” were unpacked and dismantled in the plainest of language that had us reeling at the madness of the world. “Because we don’t have a ‘proper’ toilet”. It also led to the consolidation of the idea of us not necessarily being ‘free’. We have our cage, albeit much larger than many, where by those who wield the power can enter at any time and coerce us to behave in the manner dictated by those who wield more power. A strong sense of being distrusted prevailed. As though if we were left to our own volition we’d somehow mess it all up. The irony of the fact that we’re here doing what we are because of the dominant paradigms inability to manage itself so far seemed to be lost on the Compliance Officer (official title on the card), who we’re guessing is yet to read into the non-fiction elements of any of the famous future distopian novels (1984, Brave New World, The Island).
The burning question remained; are we as a race so incapable, so lackluster that we need to be so closely monitored? Only to be answered by a resounding… Perhaps. Which in it’s own way has given us further impetus to push on and prove the point of permaculture, of a good life, of self sufficiency, that those with a basic foundation of a strong ethical and moral code can, will and do look after not only themselves but their community and in turn their bio-region, nation, and world.
We’ve reached a seemingly large, and potentially daunting milestone recently; We’ve altered this beautiful patch of land we call Djaning permanently. We’ve dug enormous holes in her. Ripped a large line through her middle following her beautiful contours. Turned up the earth, removed a ton or seven of her grass, sand and soil, and are now faced with the task and duty of completing this vast cosmetic realignment of her features.
When we look at it like this it certainly keeps us up in our little caravan, hoping we’ve done the right thing. Remembering that the sins of our father are visited unto the seventh generation… Reassuring ourselves through reading all the manuals, noting all previous experience from our elders, that show this type of restructuring of the landscape works. A seemingly extreme, though proven measure in trapping water and slowing it, thereby hydrating the landscape.
We know there’s other methods, and we will resort to these later. But this initial scarification is giving her a new skeleton. A new main frame. We now have two dams, one rather large, a valley dam, close to a million litres, and another, a ridge point, that’s around the two hundred thousand mark. Along with this a swale the length of two and half football fields reaches from the lowest point on the highest boundary through her newly acquired ridge point dam and out the other side. With our care and attention all will become bountiful habitats for micro and macro biology and everything in between, to grow, play and achieve their full potential.
We know all this, and are comfortable with our choices, and have had close to two years to really think it over. Though that doesn’t mean we’re not slightly daunted, even if it does seem we’re taking this rather large step in our stride. We’ve been stepping and running since we landed on this wondrous little piece of land. By any measure we have been small and slow, though by others it can certainly feel rather large and fast. It’s in this feeling that we can get lost and doubts and troubles can seep in. And questions, demands and expectations that have no real purpose being in your head or on your lips, except perhaps to perturb you further, also creep in. Questions that can’t, or needn’t be answered, and expectations and demands that will surely – in good time- be met.
We’ve found that it is in this phase that, most importantly, we must stop and breathe. Look to each other for a hug and a pat on the back. Not that we’re short of it, but a few kind words and a loving embrace goes a very long way to planting feet firmly on the ground.
We’ve recently heard on the wind that there should be an inclusion of a fourth principle to the three main ethical principles of permaculture, the central oft quoted three being, care of the earth, care of the people, and return of the surplus. The fourth to be considered is care of one’s self. This is hard not to agree with. It would appear it’s included in care of the people, but all too often we focus our energies on others and are left feeling drained without allocating sufficient time and energy for self soothing and reassurance.
It would seem in hindsight, if it weren’t so lovely and horrendously obvious, (and quite likely it is to many) that we must be gentle with ourselves, as we’re the only us we’ve got.
In the words of James Brown “Jump back, gonna kiss myself.”
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.