Soil. Sounds like such a simple thing. Yesterday it became abundantly clear to me that soil is the combination of minerals, biology, texture and structure that all life relies upon. Soil is the medium through which microbes and plants work to transform atmospheric and earthbound compounds into our nutrition. Without it, we would not survive.
How could I have missed this? How could we ever take this incredible thing for granted? I will never ever look down upon a worm again.
Never again can i therefore plant a seed and hope for the best it will grow without testing ph and checking the mineral and nutrient content of the medium. Never again can i just buy a bag of compost and hope for the best. From now on, I know too much.
So now, I am on a mission to find concentrated diffusion of resources - for example, find a pile of coffee grounds, a concentration of all the work and nutrient that has culminated through a coffee plantation, then harvest, then a process of making coffee into a whole pile of nutrient in one place. A chicken will do the same thing, concentrate all our scraps into eggs and piles of nutrient rich manure.
This is the key to our health, and our sustainable existence. This is the future.
Today I did this. Well, actually today I ‘finished’ this design, for the moment. It will always be changing, it will always be changing, and the design will evolve each day. For now though, this is the design. Our backyard will become a diverse and beautiful place. I can’t wait to implement it.
This morning I spoke to Isaac and bid my farewells to him as he goes on a week long adventure staying with all his awesome friends and family and basically does a community tour. He’s going to shine his little light on all these great supporters we have and go visiting as he stays at school (at his own request) whilst I am joined by our other clan, Rich and JJ. I’m pretty excited to see those two, and can’t wait to see Isaac in 9 days already.
Along with the excitement is slight trepidation to be leaving the Milkwood bubble for the first time in 6 days. It will be very strange to have a break from this crew and this process. Day off tomorrow, then back on Sunday to present the above design to the group.
It’s been a busy day today. Yesterday I had to have a day off from my design project and from chores and from blogging… I even skipped the jam session and singing Bob Marley to go to bed at 8:30pm.
Am I ok, you might well ask if you know me. Yes, I am, just exhausted from all the amazing information and thinking and talking and existing in a micro-community. Like a micro-climate, we have created our own mini social ecosystem, we have our own rules (the learning agreement we negotiated at the beginning of the course) and we have our own bizarre mix of temperatures (people who heat and people who cool the scenarios). The soil from which we grow would have to be Milkwood and the course and the teachers (who are also our sun in this microclimate). They have had a lot of good development and existed long before we arrived. Not sure how far I want to take this metaphor, but I think you get the idea.
Today I returned to the woolshed with my green thinking cap well and truly on, and it wasn’t until about 2pm that I noticed the big bags under my eyes reflected in the screen in front of me. Nonetheless, had a breakthrough in my personal project design and feel very excited to have now experienced the permaculture design process in action. So simple. Very cool.
Here are some interesting topics from today -
- Pattern design and how the Fibonacci numbers are in oh, wait let me think, almost everything.
- Tim Winton and his application of pattern language to social and corporate structures.
- Succession planning, but with weeds. I really didn’t know that grasses and other plants are slowly and gradually progressing towards forest, unless other disturbances manage/divert them.
- Niches and how plants we think of as weeds are just finding a niche, exploiting it and changing it in the process.
Having a mind-blowing experience up here in the remote north western hills of New South Wales. It’s remarkable what a dedicated group of people can achieve in such a small time.
Now, off to walk around outside before dinner and doing the dishes for 37 people. Will post more tomorrow.
What a wake up day today was - and it has really only just begun.
After an informative walk around the farm we settled down to an afternoon of design thinking. The farm tour took in the hill and the view of the valleys, ridges and keylines surrounding the farm. We then descended to see lambs and sheep that shed their wool, a swale this size of a road, a parabolic curved cut out in the land to maximise heat and water catchment for a pine forest in the making. We passed the humanure hacienda, and had a look at Nick and Kirsten’s house (Milkwood’s founders and directors). The house was exciting for me - I grilled Nick about R-ratings of the insulations, the reverse veneer structure and the thickness of the walls.
We wandered back up to the woolshed - the main learning space - after that and started in earnest on our first of two design projects. I loved discussing the importance of context of the design (there are no absolute answers) and functional connections (the way that all eco-systems work). I will refrain from summarising it all here but our examination of the permcaulture design principles and looking at how they apply here, but suffice it to say they are enlightening in new ways each time we look at them.
The simplest thing to mention is the three permaculture ethics - people care, earth care and fair share. The speak for themselves really, but again so much to be learned from each one in application.
Today my biggest learning was around how surplus is not necessarily positive - in fact surplus often means waste. And one of the most confronting principles of permaculture design is ‘produce no waste’. This will no doubt be the largest of the challenges I leave here wanting to meet.
Fundamental to this kind of design process is the concept of functional connections, that all elements of a systems are connected and it is those connections that are meaningful in the system. Birds eat seeds, seeds dispersed by birds - and much more. The connections are always two way and sometimes more complex than we can even comprehend. Diversity is key. Connections are key. Much like the community we are creating here for the next two weeks - so many exchanges of information, caring and understanding.
More tomorrow, for now signing off to go sleep in my tent and enjoy the bleating of the little lambs as they wean all around me (how fitting!). Am missing my family terribly but sufficently immersed to be compensated for the separation with great inspiration. This is truly an amazing path to be on.
Day two of the Milkwood Permaculture Design Course and it’s getting pretty exciting. Well, it’s exciting in a nerdy permaculture kind of way anyhow. Actually, no, scrap that. It IS truly exciting. We have thirty amazing people from all over Australia and the world with a team of six or so staff that reside here at the farm, all talking, eating and sleeping permaculture for 14 days.
Photo Courtesy of Milkwood
The first thing I see here is a whole lot of passion and hope for the future of the world and us, its residents. Nick Ritar is a really fantastic teacher who brings a lot of experience and fantastic connections to leading permaculturists the world over. He and his partner Kirsten Bradley lead a dedicated crew to make our stay extremely comfortable and facilitate the learning.
The food is excellent - Danni Soper from Three Blue Ducks in Bronte is cooking us a tasty array of locally and farm grown produce (yes, this farm that we are on now). And all this is being produced out of a tiny caravan beside the woolshed.
The landscape here is smoky this morning from the fires down the road, but last night was warmer than the night before and the valley was not frosted at dawn. The scrubby dry gums and low creeks are asking for rain, which might come a little bit today.
The bell is ringing, it’s last drinks, we’re leaving England in a couple of days.
I’m feeling that mixture of ‘yay can’t wait to get home’ and ‘boo, the holiday is nearly over, all too soon’. It has been such an amazing time, and I’m not sure I’m ready to talk in the past tense just yet.
We are in Dartmouth, a very pretty holiday town with a beautiful picturesque harbour, along with steep hills either side, partially covered with colourful historic buildings all in uneven rows, and on a background of green Devon hillsides. Either side of the mouth of the bay there are castles. We are staying in a room right up in the third floor’s rafters in an Inn converted from an old Tudor mansion. And by ‘old’ I mean it was built in the 1300s. The room would originally have been quite dark and warm I imagine, though thanks to recent and very tasteful renovations it is now sunlit by a roof window that opens to let out the heat and give us welcome fresh air straight off the sea nearby.
Rich’s family have a holiday place here, and I can see why. It is a play-land of kids crabbing and small streets with few cars, plenty of lovely shopping and yummy cafes filled with local produce - fudge and cider and hams, cheeses and wines and fresh seafood. We all had a lovely dinner last night downstairs from our room in the restaurant here, all huddled around an old trunk for a table. Some wines and ciders later we were spilling home truths and getting along famously. It was fantastic to see all so relaxed and needing such a small amount of libation to come clean and get honest. It seems that it takes a week or two for us all to warm up to each other when we live so many miles apart and see each other quire rarely.
We have spent a lot of this week in our room and laying low, venturing only a few streets from our Inn, basically recuperating so we don’t go home feeling like we need a holiday to recover from our holiday.
Next we are off to London for a day or so, via Stonehenge, then home. I’m already feeling pangs about returning to day to day life in Sydney, even though I love it. This holiday has been a wonderfully welding experience for our family that only recently went from three to four. It has been great to have an opportunity to enjoy each other in our new balance, with our one extra person. Jemima certainly is a wonderful fourth member - at only five months of age she is already chaming us all and exponentially increasing the love factor. Isaac too is rising to the occasion of being big brother and maturing rapidly. I feel proud of our brood, and excited at the thought of what’s to come.
It has come to my attention that since I came to England, every single meal I have had has included some kind of bread. I’m not overtly opposed to bread per say, however it is not something I require several times a day. So I’m starting to say not to bread, which is actually proving quite challenging, as sandwiches and ‘panninis’ (fancy Italian sandwiches) are actually quite big over here. It kind of reminds of the 90s in Sydney when every cafe served focaccia. Anyway, it’s all just bread to me.
Digressions aside, we went to Bath to say goodbye to Rich’s grandma and attend the internment of her ashes into the plot she chose on an absolutely beautiful hillside overlooking evergreen fields interspersed with yellow splashes of rapeseed crops. We stood around in the rain and the unseasonally cold temperatures to a soundtrack of tinkling wind chimes thoughtfully left on nearby headstones and with the peripheral vision of endlessly fluttering fake butterflies left on other ones.
After some soulful moments and teary eyes, we said goodbye to the lady whom I had never met, but whose voice instantly brought tears to my eyes and a welling in my throat the first time I talked to her on the phone. She left us 8 days before the birth of our Jemima, her first great grandchild. Her words to us with remain with me, ‘look after each other’ she would say across fuzzy computer calls and from her little flat.
We went there after visiting a gorgeous garden centre for lunch next door to the crematorium. We poached her possessions for keep sakes, and respectfully chose a few things for Jemima and Rich to remember her by. A figurine, the scarf he sent her from Argentina, the stuffed teddy dog for JJ to treasure. I felt my connection with her still, even 5 months after she had gone. It was a little sad that she didn’t get to meet JJ, but I feel somehow that they may have passed each other in the halls, Jemima coming into the world, Phyllis leaving it. No idea how. It just seems possible to me.
We go to the Roman Baths. I realise Bath is a place of healing, something I never knew before. I marvel at the room in which treatments took place which affected me viscerally when I walked into it, before I read the plaque on the wall telling me so.
I love it - warm and mineral-filled waters straight from deep in the earth, revered and respected for the amazing thing that they are. Venerated with a temple and a bathhouse attended by people all over the vast empire. Amazing. Why aren’t we bathing in them, I think. How is it a museum? When did we label it history and stop blessing ourselves with it?
Bristol - a place that has appeared on my cultural compass countless times. It is a brassy place, graced with public art scaling the sides of high rise buildings, as well as covering building sites, shopfronts, basically any vacant wall in Stokes Croft. I love it!
There is also a familiar edginess to it, the kind that often accompanies any place I find interesting. This is epitomised to me by one of the artworks I saw subtly etched into the grime and dirt that covers a local building. A flock of birds flying lightness through filth.
And then there’s the pop up shop that sold me the best coffee I’ve had since getting here, and where the young man talking to his mates swore and then apologised to me leaving me feeling like a mum, like an older lady. I asked him sternly if he’d just sworn and told him not to hold back with a big grin. On the wall of the shop was a beautiful butterfly lady. She looked prettily over us as we perused the craftiness.
Time to get back to the source, back to where it all began - my fiance’s home town of Stafford.
It’s a really interesting thing seeing the house in which he grew up, the place so much of this person came into being and evolved into a grown up human being. So much goes into who we are - so many decisions, so many experiences, so many things we don’t even remember.
Funny thing, the house he lived in as a young man is on the edge of a place locally known as Wildwood. So one might say he grew up on the edge of Wildwood, which sounds probably a lot more exciting than it really was.
The town of Stafford is a pretty place with lovely, friendly people (those I’ve met so far) and a proper English feel about it (whatever that means). It is however suffering a little from the regional English town problems of a potential hospital shutdown, an accident and emergency centre that closes at 10pm and no local police station. I’ve been told there are a few empty shopfronts in town as well. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Stafford and imagining more of his upbringing here, something that will always be as elusive as someone else’s memories must, by nature, remain.