Layers of Community-Fire

After- Fire Circle Close-upComing back to the Permablitz of June 24, another project that was completed that day was a fire circle.  As Lisa Fernandes said, every home needs a place to burn things.  So she was our team leader for the fire circle, and gathered in the layers of community for the element of fire.  With a community of workers!

Ground prep for Fire Circle Lisa & the boysFirst they had to remove big pile of bittersweet brush (that we will eventually burn) from the spot we had chosen.  Lisa and Kristen gathered together the stone blocks that would be used.  (But there could have been other helpers–at that moment I was over in the garden beds.)  Then they prepared the ground with a layer of sand. Our youngest permablitz members got into the sand-tamping process, as well as Lisa and Kristen.

I love the first layer of stones, and the circle that it creates on the sand. I heard that they found this method of creating a fire pit via a youtube video.  The second layer (in case anyone wants to copy) uses a staggered spacing on top of these, and includes four openings for air–which they positioned to the north, east, south, and west.  Then a third layer is placed on the top.  Somewhere in the process, for the middle layer, you have to knock off a little edge on the bricks.Fire Circle first layer on sand.jpgFinally, they brought a whole pile of pine mulch for the seating area around it, and then laid some bittersweet brush and pine cones for our first fire.  Permaculture is not just about a way of gardening but also about how communities care for each other.  Its three principles have been summed up as earth care, people care, and future care.  So having a place to gather with others is an integral part of our permaculture design.

By the way, if you want to see all the photos from the day, you can find them at the Meet-up site.

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The Layers of Community

Before-marked for fruit tree beds

[Before–Growing beds marked with flour and flags]

On Saturday, we hosted our Permablitz! (See “more before” photos here.)  Over 20 people came to our yard and worked together on projects such as installing rain barrels, building a composting system from pallets, building a fire circle, and creating five more  growing beds for future fruit trees, raspberry bushes, & hazelnut bushes, and one bed for flowers & herbs.  We also got the first shovelfulls dug for a pond.

Opening Circle-Sylvia, Cathleen, Ali

[Opening Circle]

At the end of the day, I got teary-eyed with the sense of Gift.  The generosity of so many individuals coming together and creating something so beautiful and full, helping us to realize our dreams for this piece of land was deeply moving.  There is something about this giving and receiving of human attention and wisdom and care, that feeds our hearts. Much of our lives are shaped by transactions—we pay a certain amount of money, and receive a product. Or, we put in so many hours and receive a paycheck.  But giving and receiving freely and generously touches something much deeper. Giving and receiving must trigger deep neurotransmitters in our internal chemistry, sparking a profound sense of well-being and belonging.

I also realized how many layers of community are involved in such a project.  One layer is this community of people who care about the earth, and who come together to give and receive, to learn, to share, to grow, to get to know each other.  People connections are made.

Another layer is the community of the soil.  During the blitz I was mostly working with several others on the project for creating new growing beds.  We were adding nutrients through sheet mulching so that the soil could create a thriving fertile community.  I have learned so much about the variations in soil communities from the book The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips.

What a food forest needs, what fruit trees need, is soil whose fungal community is stronger than its bacterial community.  In contrast, annual vegetables and flowers and grasses prefer soil with a stronger bacterial community.  A bacterial community is enhanced by tilling the soil and incorporating organic matter by turning it into the soil.  A fungal community is enhanced by no tilling, but rather adding organic matter on the top of the soil to decompose, as it happens in the forest. (Similarly, compost that is left unturned will generate a stronger fungal community.)

Forking the beds Cathleen

[Cathleen forking the soil]

We prepared the soil by aerating it with garden forks–since it had been rather compacted.  We added some granite dust for mineral enhancement, then put down a layer of cardboard to kill grasses and weeds.

Raspberry Bed-manure & chaff Mihku & Heather

[Mihku & Heather adding manure and chaff]

Then, we added chicken manure, coffee chaff, seaweed, leaves, grass clippings, composted manure, and a really thick layer of deciduous wood chips.  We were able to get a delivery of 8 yards of wonderful ramial deciduous wood chips–these are chips which include lots of thin branches, which have more lignin content that is not yet woody.  The wood chips are the most important part of enhancing the fungal community.

We also made several pathways with cardboard and wood chips, and I will complete those bit by bit in the next days.  Now, the process works on its own–I add some water or it gets rained on–and the microbes will work together over the next several months (and years) to create a thriving soil community.  We will plant trees and bushes next spring.  My friend Roger Paul said that the Wabanaki word for “soil” means giver of life.After-Fruit Tree & Flower/Herb Beds

Permablitz!

We just found out that we were chosen to be a Permablitz site this season, on June 24!  Permablitzes are organized by the Resilience Hub in Portland, and as described on their website:

Permablitzes are essentially the mother of all work parties, permaculture-style.  With permablitz events we tap into our own local “barn raising” ethos to help each other install edible landscapes, renewable energy, water collection systems and more all in one day.

Our hopes are to install several rain barrels, create a frog pond and a fire circle, maybe help with our bittersweet control, and do more soil enhancements and aeration.  We think of these as structural components of our garden, and it is also suggested by permaculture experts to do any earth shaping projects near the start of your work–the frog pond is in that category.   Also, depending on where we are in our planting process, we might get help with sheet mulching and plantings for our cherry tree guilds, and Sylvia’s herb garden.  Our friend Sylvia, who helped us plant our cherry trees, has studied herbal healing.  She doesn’t have land where she lives, so we invited her to create an herb garden here at our home.  We are so excited about this collaboration!

I have been to several Permablitz work parties over the last few years, and while there is a great benefit to hosting a Permablitz, there is also a lot of benefit to participating as a worker. Along with the joy of helping someone’s garden grow, I have learned a little more each time about the principles of permaculture, about strategies for water collection, about soil health, about growing gardens in general, about ideas for edible landscapes that I might never have heard about.  It is also a lovely way to meet folks who care about the earth, and our relationship to it.  So if you will be in Portland on June 24th, you are invited to come to our  Permablitz.  When the event is posted with all the details, I’ll share it.

Permaculture Design, Phase OneThis is a section of our evolving Permaculture Design for our yard.  (It didn’t really work to try to put the whole design into one photo, so this is of the half of the yard nearest the house.) I had started this design by measuring everything in our yard and putting them on grid paper–the grids equate to 3 feet square.  Then we had lots more input with our Intro to Permaculture Design class, and a conversation afterward with the leaders, Heather and Julie.

Last weekend, I went back to the original, and filled in some trees that were already on our land, and then began adding the design elements that are among our first steps in the plan.  I added color!  I haven’t drawn in all of our future ideas.  We are growing our garden slowly, so that we can learn what we need to learn as we go, and not take on more than we can handle right now.  (I am thinking of taking this design and making copies on which to draw our speculations for future ideas.)  I also haven’t yet drawn in Sylvia’ herb garden, which will be near the ornamental cherries, but she hasn’t determined the configuration yet.

I love the design part of the process, and while I sit in the back yard, I am always getting new ideas about where future plants might go.  Blueberries, hazelnuts, apple trees… and then I step back and breathe, and let myself go slow, and enjoy.  Because every step of this process has been such a joy!

Book Launch Party

book-2-send

[Photo by Rick Kimball]

On January 14, I had my first book reading and a wonderful book launch party for Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community.  It was organized by several members of Allen Avenue UU Church, and held at the church, but open to the public.  Thank you Mark, Cathy, Connie, Sally, Sonia, Tirrell, and Sharon, and everyone who brought food, and everyone who came.

Book Launch Party MD

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

I did a reading from the book, and sold and signed many copies. There was music by Dale Churchill and lovely refreshments, including a cake reproducing the cover of the book.  It was the perfect launch, since so many ideas and stories in the book were born in the context of my relationship with this community of people.  Thank you everyone!

Book Cake MD

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

Letting Go and Giving Away

Books on Shelf DSC00283Even when there are no new houses to look at, there is plenty to keep me busy. Another side of searching for greener housing is getting ready for the move into a smaller place. This means paring down what we have collected over the years in a space that has abundant room for keeping things.

First stop: Books. I have shelves full of books that I have read and loved for many years. But I also have developed an allergy to any book that is more than a few years old. If I want to read one of my older books, I have to put on a mask and gloves, and even then I might get a headache from it. So perhaps now is a good time to let go of most of these old friends, and to pass them along to others who can enjoy them.

I had to take a deep breath when I thought about actually giving away my books. I decided to take pictures of the books on the shelf, because it makes me happy to see the titles there. And I still have to keep a few of my long-time, life-changing favorites. Even with a mask, I might need to read them again. I will also keep the books I am currently using in my work. In other words–I will still have a lot of books, just not as many as before.

I learned that our local independent bookstore, Longfellow Books, will take used books in trade for store credit. You can only bring in one bag or box at a time. My first grocery-size brown bag netted about $14 in store credit. It’s not a way to get rich, or even get very many new books. But it is a way to re-use and re-cycle and get a few new books, and support a great local institution.

I also did some research to see if prisons would accept book donations for their libraries–but I learned that certain ingenious addicts had figured out a way to import drugs into the prisons through book donations from their friends–so no more donations are accepted from individuals. But then, I heard about a Native group collecting books by Native authors to donate to the prison for the benefit of American Indian prisoners in Maine. I can’t imagine a better home for these particular treasures. I gathered two boxes that I will drop off.

I now know that the Portland Public Library will take book donations, and that Preble Street accepts donations of books and magazines for its center for homeless youth and adults.

There is a kind of joy in simplifying one’s life, in having fewer possessions to haul around. But it is an even deeper joy to think that someone else might be inspired through these books, by insights and stories that were so important to me on my journey.

Avoid Spiritual Theft by Doing Our Own Spiritual Work

Indigenous spiritual traditions are inextricably woven into the network of relationships within an Indigenous community and in the particular land in which that community lives. They are a fundamental element of the Native struggle against the destruction of their cultures and homes. They are not meant to be exported piecemeal for some other purpose, however earnest it may be. If we seek to avoid spiritual theft, the best tool we can use is for us to do our own spiritual work. 

If we are seeking to reconnect to the earth, we must remind ourselves that non-Indian people are no less a part of the earth than Indians, even though we are not indigenous to this place. In reality, we all live here on this land and our lives are equally enmeshed with the fate of countless other beings around us. This land, broken as she is, is our only source of food and water. And this land is full of nourishment for us, both material and spiritual. We can love the earth, and be loved by the earth, even if she keeps some secrets from us. Step by step, we must rebuild our own culture’s relationship to the earth. Even though we might learn from the wisdom and experience of Indigenous peoples, no one else can do the work for us.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

One summer, I learned that by eating local honey, I could help the hay-fever I suffered from in summertime. By eating that local honey I could begin to make a relationship between my body and the plants which grow in that place. There has been a resurgence of interest in eating foods that are locally grown. Along with the environmental benefits, there are also these spiritual ones, this reweaving of a connection with our bodies to a place. It is our connection to a specific place, the place we live, which forms the doorway for us to hear the earth, to find her sacredness.

A sacred understanding of land is not entirely foreign to European culture. Until the advent of capitalism, land was seen in a more communal fashion. Europeans had their own indigenous traditions to connect them to their land, many of which survived even into Christian times. We see traces of this in our holidays even here in this country—the evergreen trees of the winter festival, the foods we prepare for special times of the year. Many people are seeking to relearn these old European earth traditions.

Othila DSC02547

Othila

There is a rune, part of the early Germanic ritual alphabet, called Othila, whose sacred meaning is “inherited land.” It describes the relationship between people and the land on which they live. In Germanic countries, there is still a legal right called the right of odal. It means that a person living on a particular estate has the right to stay and live on that estate after the owner has died.

In 17th century England, there was a movement of people called the Diggers, who were protesting the fencing off of common lands and believed that the land could not be owned by private individuals. A love for the earth has many roots in our European ancestors’ ways.

All the Water Is One Water

Earth_high_def_1024Earth is a water planet. …Between earth and earth’s atmosphere, the amount of water remains constant; there is never a drop more, never a drop less. This is a story of circular infinity, of a planet birthing itself.
                                                                                                   Linda Hogan

It is a tradition in my congregation that every September we gather ourselves together with a water ritual. We bring water from the places we love, the places we may have traveled, to pour into one container. At the end, each person takes some of the water, and we bring it home with us.

One summer, I attended a similar ritual with Starhawk, at the beginning of an Earth Activist Training. Starhawk began collecting water many years ago. She brought water back from her travels around the world, and asked her friends to bring back water when they went to far off places. They poured all these waters into one big container. Over time, people brought water from the sacred Ganges River in India, and from the great Nile River in Egypt; even melted ice from Antarctica. After a while, they had waters from every continent.

When you pour it in one container, all of the water mixes together, and every drop has some of the molecules of water from every place. So if you take a small bottle of water out, you have the waters from many places in one bottle. Each time you have a water ritual, you add some water from the bottle you saved from the previous ritual. In that way, each ritual, each small bottle, contain the waters from all over the world.

Why would we want to have a small bottle of waters from everywhere in the world? For me, it is a reminder that water is sacred–without water there would be no life at all. It is also a reminder that we need to take care of the waters of the world. All water is connected, and the same water recycles itself through the whole earth. All the waters on earth are really one water. So even if we get water from our kitchen tap, that water has been around the world on its journey

Linda Hogan reminds us,

It has lived beneath the lights of fireflies in bayous at night when mist laid itself around cypress trunks. It has held sea turtles in its rocking arms. …It reminds us that we are water people. Our salt bodies, like the great round of ocean, are pulled and held by the moon. We are creatures that belong here. This world is in our blood and bones, and our blood and bones are the earth.

Linda Hogan quotes are from Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living Worldpp. 99, 106, 108.