Permaculture is the idea that nothing’s waste. The label came about in 1970 when research was done on a group of Australians who lived sustainably in one place. Permaculture’s therefore a design system for sustainable human habitats where “waste” is a verb, not a noun. Everything’s recycled. It’s examining the natural workings and rhythms of the Earth and making it your life practice to learn from and work with them.
Last summer I got to experience one day of the SouthEastern Permaculture Gathering in Cielo, North Carolina. Two other wwoofers and I took some twisty turns on a few mountain roads, parked in a field, made our name tags out of fabric at the sign-in table, and went to a few sessions. The gathering group was pretty diverse, but some looked probably just how you’d imagine—pretty positive a decent amount of gonga was shared at the drum circle I missed the night before, and a few of the women definitely didn’t wear bras or shave. Most folks had camped out in the field where we parked. The Gathering was mostly held outdoors in the large garden beside the kitchen building, on the kitchen porch, under different trees on the property (one that had an amazing tire swing), and in this raised building where a seed exchange was ongoing at the table in the back.
I loved how the weekend was organized. There was no schedule at first–We gathered together and one of the main organizers wrote some times down on a few pieces of paper he taped to the wall. We went around the room and anyone could tape a topic they wanted to have a session on to the wall under their desired time slot. The final schedule included sessions ranging from compost toilets, beekeeping, community gardening, yoga, a mushroom walk, a poem session, inner city recycling projects, pastured poultry, heirloom seeds, permaculture rapid response teams, irrigation-free gardening, alternative currency, local Transition, plus more.
Permaculture 101: The Language of Seeds session was first on my itinerary. We learned about the basics of Permaculture and had to introduce ourselves by what water basin we hailed from. (Most of us didn’t know.) The dude leading the session sat on a small boulder and taught us the basics of Permaculture and how to utilize a “sit spot”. Basically with a “sit spot” you go out every day or at least once a week to the same outdoor spot, be still, and observe what’s going on around you. It causes you to pause, meditate, and learn from the rhythms of nature around you. (One thing I learned last year was that meditation is healthy. Not meditation where you are encouraged to ’empty your mind’ like many yoga instructors encourage. Nor meditation that focuses on the depths and intricacies of nature from which we can model and learn so much. But meditation that focuses on the Creator who made it all. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”-Rom 1:20 “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”-Psalm 19) He ended with a story about a monk. The gist of the story was there was this monk pointing to the moon. Everyone around the monk kept focusing on his hand and looking at his hand. The monk was like “Stop it you idiots—you’re missing the point! I’m trying to show you the moon, which is way more fascinating than my hand. Stop looking at my hand and look at the moon!”
His point was that nature has so much to teach us and we miss it because we don’t stop to meditate and appreciate it. Sitting there was so crazy because in my mind the moon in the story is God and the monk’s hand is nature, pointing to a Creator who loves us so much. Making time to rest/chill/meditate/have a sit spot/etc when focused on the Creator is so important because it makes us stop being so busy and preoccupied with life and focus on the Life Giver. Luke 17:26 says that people in Noah’s day pre-flood were just “eating, drinking, getting married”. Seems like normal life right? What’s wrong with any of that?? Their lives were preoccupied with life—letting life get in the way and missing the Creator for the created things. So easily we turn great things, good things, joyful things like nature into the “main thing”. Anything can easily be an “idol”—good things, bad things, work, farming, consumerism, food, your body, your mind, friends, independence, wealth, poverty, selfishness, service, whatevs.
The second session I went to was about transitioning cities down to be more sustainable and resilient. Much of the conversation focused on branding and the challenges of spreading the ideas of Permaculture in the Southeast. The lead guy talked about how the U.S. is outsourcing the consequences of our lifestyles, the consequences of our human industrial supply chain system, how most of the old/”sustainable” ways of living are mostly gone (maybe we should all just be Amish), the cultural clear-cut, and how to reclaim how to be “from a place”. It was great.
Eventually talk strayed to how “Christians don’t care about the Earth” and someone raised the question “How will we every bring white Republican Christians on-board?” (Seriously–if I’d shown up with a Romney sticker on the Saturn as opposed to my AppalachianGrown.org sticker….it would have not been cool. The Saturn itself probably wasn’t actually kosher w/ this crowd ha.)
Had to raise my hand and out myself–which lead to a decent convo about branding, not making polarizing assumptions about others backgrounds, the fact that avid viewers of the fair and balanced Fox News Network already have opinions of most things labeled “Green”, and how even using words like “community” ain’t gonna fly with lots of folks in my category. The low hanging fruit might be the dooms day prepper Glenn Beck crowd who’ve stocked their basements with freeze-dried space food, guns, and seeds by using the word “resilient” instead of “sustainable” to bring them on board. Also with bringing Christians and “christians” on-board when it comes to caring about the Earth (please avoid using cheesy phrases like “Creation Care”) the sell should be on how God does actually care about what He has made. Christianity is about restoration—nature, relationships, your body, your soul, your entire life and being, the Earth and everything in it—He makes All things new!
*Life has been CRAZY. I’m just now posting this unfinished post from August 2012. Looking back–some of what I learned at the Gathering’s stuck with me, especially the part about being still. Or maybe I should say ‘being more still’ since current life in Shanghai is everything but still.
**Random Fact: I don’t have a bucket list. But if I did—going to at least one Rainbow Gathering would be up there.