building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Archive for January, 2012

How Powerful Can Our Questions Become?

Questions are one of the most powerful tools we have available.  They orient us and direct the flow of the oceans of information that we live immersed in – an immersion that happens whether we spend any time online or not.  Questions help chart our course and light the paths we take.  I’ve learned that if I want good answers, if I want to get clear directions to where I hope to go, then I’ve got to ask good questions.

I was reminded of this while watching the movie Thrive this past week.  There is some valuable and important information in this film, yet I found myself groaning almost every time host and producer Foster Gamble asked a question because so many of his questions lead himself and the viewer away from the subject of thriving.

Imagine you are standing in a garden.  For the most part things look good, but you notice a rose nearby that is not thriving.  It’s leaves are sparse with black dots on them.  There are few flowers and some are misshapen.  If you stand there and ask the question, “What is wrong with this rose?”, the first things that will likely draw your attention is the black spot fungus on its leaves, the Japanese beetles nestled in its flowers, or the aphid colonies perched round the new stems and leaves.  It would be easy to decide that these are the problems causing this rose’s weakened state and then focus your actions on removing them.  Now you are in an antagonistic, battle mode against a problem.  Good luck with that.

What if – I love those words! – What if  you started with a different question.  What if you took the time to consider what you desire in the situation. Perhaps it’s to see a healthy, vibrant, thriving rose.  Keeping this awareness in focus might lead to: “What would help this rose to move toward health?  Can I help it to do that? How?”  These  are questions  that can lead to a broader perspective.  You might notice what condition the soil is in.  Is it allowing water to penetrate?  Are there earthworms?  How much sunlight does the rose get?  By the time you are done here the whole garden could be in a state of thriving with deep, rich, water-holding  soils, everything placed in a spot that allows for optimal sun or shade, and a feeling of joyful communion permeating the entire system.  Doesn’t that feel good?

In the fourth part of the Thrive movie, Gamble does start asking good questions – finally!- and delivering some excellent answers that include a vision of a world where the being of every individual is truly respected, education is completely voluntary (and therefore fun!), economics is people and planet friendly, and we are all growing and thriving.  Yes!  My advice, if you are going to see it,  is to watch the first part, skip over or through the middle two parts (world domination schemes are nothing more then black spot, Japanese beetles, and aphids – symptoms, not causes), and enjoy the fourth “Solutions” part.

At the heart of every garden or farm is a human being with a human heart – perhaps the single most powerful organ on the planet.  Each heart generates the torus-shaped, electro-magnetic field surrounding the body.  We, too, are wonders of the Universe.  The process of connecting our left brain to our right brain, our rational, conscious mind to our intuitive, other-than-conscious mind and all of these to our heart, this is the process of evolutionary creation that we are each engaged in.  This is the ground of soil and the atmosphere of light that we can nurture and tend, one powerful person at a time.  Yes, that means you.

My intention this year is to explore the question, “What is the potential ecological role of humans here on Earth?  What mutually beneficial, entangled interactions are we capable of ?”  Answering these questions leads in the direction of better understanding how our body-minds are designed and what the 95% of our brains that we apparently don’t use is for.  Next time I’ll talk about photoreading.  In the meantime, what is inspiring you this week?


A Gardener/Farmer in Everyone?

I attended the Nevada County Sustainable Food and Farm Conference over the weekend.  World-class farmer/speakers Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman were featured along with British agriculture luminary and dairy farmer Patrick Holden and vegetarian-lawyer-turned-beef-rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman.  It was a fun and stimulating conference which got me asking more questions and considering more possibilities.

Michael Ableman suggested that the task of growing the nation’s fruits and vegetables could fall on a lot more shoulders, including lots of city dwellers.  The extra productivity of small, intensively tended plots (including balconies) makes this completely possible.  The enhanced freshness and nutritional bonus from locally grown foods coupled with the reduction in the need for refrigerated transport and the widespread circulation of extra dollars in lots of pockets would also have a tremendously beneficial impact on local economies and lowered oil use.  It got me wondering:  If we did become a nation of part-time farmer/entrepreneurs, a nation where most of us spend roughly 5 to 10 hours a week working in and producing food from small areas, eating what we grow, selling some of what we grow, and sharing some of what we grow with family and friends, how would that change our health, our relationships, and our creativity?

According to Nicolette Niman, our consumption of fruits and vegetables is down from what it was 30 years ago (and it wasn’t very good 30 years ago).  Considering that this lower consumption includes the potato chips, french fries, and iceberg lettuce that Americans eat, expanding the numbers of people who are fruit and vegetable farmer/gardeners could have a tremendous impact on the nation’s health.

Joel Salatin spoke fervently about the historical connection between agriculture and the existence of such a thing as civilization, as well as the original Jeffersonian idea that a strong democracy could only rest on the shoulders of a nation of intelligent, self-reliant farmers.  Right now only 1% of the population is comprised of farmers, and it is pretty clear that the democracy is in trouble.  While the recent influx of young people to agriculture is heartening, it is still tiny.  If we  implemented Michael Ableman’s idea and made growing the lion’s share of our vegetables and fruits a priority, how would that affect the responsiveness of our government to the 99% of its people?  What impacts might it have on the way power is distributed through communities?  How might is change the value we assign to ourselves and to each other?  Would it change the way we design our cities and neighborhoods?  How would the relationship between urban and rural change?

At the end of Patrick Holden’s talk, he mentioned that his most creative thinking often comes at the end of his two hours of milking chores.  He may have gotten out of bed at 5 am feeling down on himself and the state of the world, but by the time 7am rolls around and the cows are milked and heading back to pasture, he’s feeling like anything is possible.  If people did return en mass to agriculture, and especially on a part-time basis, what flowering of our creativity might take place?  What solutions might we find that we are now overlooking?  What ingenious ideas are waiting to be born at the end of weeding a patch of carrots or mulching a collection of blueberries?

Finally, Joel Salatin also spoke eloquently about the essential joy in farming, the joy in the simplest experiences, such as seeing the dew sparkling like shards of diamonds on the web of a spider in the early morning or smelling the sweet breath of a young calf.  And everyone spoke of the joy in producing something very tangible, in the flavors of a strawberry fresh from the garden or of the cheese in the pantry or of the poultry in the freezer.  If this type of joy and connection were present each day in each of our lives, would we make different choices throughout our day?  What would we prioritize?  What would we value most?

My own agricultural projects – gardens and goats and cows – nourish me in many of the ways described above.  They bring moments of intense joy, satisfaction in providing myself with food that cannot be equalled by what is available in any store, the economic security of simply needing less money, and an endless supply of creative ideas for how I might do things better, both on our land and in this blog and in every other part of my life.

What about you?  How do your garden/farm projects impact your life?  What ideas do you have for finding fun and creative ways to share the joy and spread the message that a little farming could go a long way?


A Taste of Wild Farming

Wild Farming.  That phrase is a perfect example of an oxymoron.  After all, agriculture is the practice of domesticating plants and animals.  Farming allowed the building of towns and cities.  It allowed us to move out of the wild and into domesticated environments.  It also allowed us to domesticate ourselves in the process.

This is why I find it so cheering to see the agriculture pendulum beginning to swing the other way.  Industrialized, monoculture, GM farming seems to be as far as we go in the direction of domestication.  Alternatives are beginning to blossom around us: natural farming, organic farming, permaculture, urban farming and the entire local food movement to name a few examples.  None of these are separate.  They are different iterations of the same fractal pattern exploding around us.  And now we can add the Wild Farm Alliance.

The farmers and ranchers of the Wild Farm Alliance “envision a world in which community-based, ecologically managed farms and ranches seamlessly integrate into landscapes that accommodate the full range of native species and ecological processes.”  Wild farmers design and manage their lands so that wild animals and whole ecosystems can thrive.  It starts with simple things.  Culverts can be sized and crafted to be a continuation of the stream they cross, making fish passage easy.  Cattle and sheep can be protected by guardian dogs, donkeys, or llamas.  They can be rotated according to the principles of Management Intensive Grazing, mimicking the effects of natural predators such as wolves, and enhancing the health and fertility of  the grasslands they depend upon while allowing room for elk or deer.  Hedgerows can be planted creating a haven for birds and beneficial insects, offering windbreak protection and trapping fertility.

These are farmers and ranchers at the cutting edge, struggling with everyday issues such as birds that eat blueberries and coyotes that like lamb, yet continuing in their commitment to find a different way to be a farmer or rancher.  They are prime examples of the potential we as humans hold to forge a very different relationship with this planet.

My own contribution to wild farming is as yet small but real.  My husband and I rotate our goats carefully across our oak forests.  We use the donkey manure (our guardian animal of choice) to build berms in areas of low fertility and then enjoy watching the wild turkeys harvest the bugs.  We eat salads of miner’s lettuce (a native), chickweed (naturalized from Europe), and dandelion (also from Europe, but welcomed by the natives who easily recognized its value in keeping bodies healthy), all of which grow wild on our property.  We remain on the lookout for more and better ways to become a part of the place we live.

What are your wild farming/ranching stories?  What experiments do you dream of living?  As mentioned in my last blog, my theme for this year is the exploration of the full potential of the ecological role of humans here on Earth.  What relationships are we capable of forging with this planet, her ecosystems, and the Life we share this planet with?  Your ideas are welcome.

Further info at: and this Yes magazine article.

Connecting Herons to Human Questions

I had a conversation with a Great Blue Heron the other morning.  It had circled in over the lower pond and then lifted up to land at the top of a tall pine tree.  I used to see these herons often when I lived in western Washington, but they are infrequent visitors in this area of the Sierra foothills, so it was a thrill to have this one stop by to visit.  My side of the conversation went something like, “Good morning!  So lovely to see you.  Thank you for visiting.  I love you.”  The heron’s side of the conversation went something like, ” Ahwergg.  Gergg.  Rahwagg.  Gergg.”

It was a conversation.  I said one of my lines.  The heron responded.  I said my next line.  The heron responded again.  I believe the translation of heron-speak would be something along the lines of, “Thank you for the welcome.  I am looking for some breakfast.  Yes, I appreciate seeing you too.  I am interested in the fish there in the pond.”  I had a feeling of joy and camaraderie as I bid goodbye and got out of the way of the heron’s fishing.

Entanglement is thought to lie at the heart of quantum physics – and hence the entire universe.  Connections and relationships lie at the heart of any form of ecological gardening or farming or living.  This is the key insight that fuels the entire permaculture design system.  The more cooperative connections in a garden (or neighborhood/farm/town/ranch/nation), the more productive and resilient it will be. Connections and relationships are what create any and all ecologies.

Bonnie Basler has a marvelous TED talk describing her discoveries of the language used by bacteria to communicate with each other.  Along the way she mentions that there are ten times as many bacteria living in and on our bodies as there are human cells.  If you compare the number of strands of DNA, there is one hundred times more bacterial DNA than human DNA in and on a human body.  Bacteria cover our skin giving us important additional protection from the outside world.  Bacteria digest a good portion of the food we ingest, making its nutrients  more available to us.  Bacteria train our immune system to properly do its job.  In short, without the relationship to bacteria, humans could not exist.

Fungi play a similarly important role in the soil.  They form a protective layer that helps to retain moisture.  They digest carbon materials like wood and leaves, releasing a host of nutrients in the process.  They connect the tree roots in a forest into one network that shares water, food, and information.  Without fungi, trees and forests could not exist.

These are just two examples of the utterly connected nature of this planet.  Two examples that demonstrate how irrational any view of “separate” is.  Individual humans, bacteria, and fungi are “relatively independent subtotalities”  to borrow a phrase coined by David Bohm, one of quantum physics’ finest.  To imagine ourselves or any other thing as actually separate is sheer lunacy.

These are exciting times at so many levels.  Science, much to the horror of many scientists, teeters at the gates of spirituality.  As holes in the Big Bang theory gape open, some of the proposed repairs sound strangely similar to the Hindu concept of the universe as the breathing of Brahma.  Quantum physics has demonstrated that consciousness, that fundamental constituent of spirit, is essential to the formation of matter and to the existence of outcomes.  And all the while, this beautiful blue-green planet spins and revolves and travels through spacetime, changing in ways we are encouraged to fear, but do not truly understand.

Humans have two sides to their brains, left and right.  Two sides to their minds, conscious and subconscious.  (There is likely more to both brains and minds, but for now two parts works.)  I thoroughly enjoy the rational, analytical, linear capabilities of my left brain and conscious mind.  I also thoroughly enjoy the intuitive, symbolic, wholistic functioning of my right brain and subconscious mind.  Each on its own feels incomplete.  Together, working in tandem, connected and relating, that is an experience that makes for a magnificent day.  The kind of day when you get to talk to a Great Blue Heron.

I have a question for 2012.  What is the full potential of the ecological role of human beings here on Earth?

I know that for the past several thousand years, and with tremendous escalation in the past few hundred, we have often been a destructive force in this planet’s ecologies.  Okay.  That is not the totality of who we are or what we are capable of being.  We are incredibly well designed.  What are we capable of?  What pathways lie open to us beyond the technocratic and domineering?  What connections can we build?  What relationships can we catalyze and nurture?  What can we contribute to furthering the evolution of this Life-system we call Earth?

I welcome reader comments on this question as the year goes along.  What are your experiences?  What are your hunches?  What connections are you creating in your gardens or in the wilds or in the cities?  What potentials are searching for expression through you?  What are your dreams of entanglement here on Earth?