building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

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Taking This Break

imageMy husband and farm partner broke his leg last week while chasing down an unoccupied 1995 Toyota Corolla wagon named Rosemary.  Rosemary was headed for a deep, cement-lined ditch.  She fared just fine as my husband redirected her by steering through the open window.  He’s the one who took the seven-foot cliff-fall onto cement, breaking his left tibia just below the knee.

I know on the outside this sounds like misfortune.  And certainly it’s not an easy situation for us.  But it is a gift that I feel deeply grateful for.

Our life has needed restructuring for several years now.  We were – and still are – overextended.  Way overextended.  We have taken on more than we can do well, but between dreams, passions, and the necessity of having an income, neither of us could figure out what to drop, what to keep, what to change.

We needed a break.  Not the kind where you walk away for a while and then come back and start again, but more the kind where you walk away and don’t return, or return but with a different intent and purpose.

The pattern of this broken leg is showing us the path to the restructuring that needs to happen in our lives.  It has created a template for where to start and what to focus on.

My husband is the one in bed, so his projects are first up for changing, downsizing, redirecting, completing. Our projects are very interwoven, however, like a cell and its mitochondria, so as he makes his choices and decisions, I too must look at where I will make shifts, what I will change.

We are early in this process, but as we have waited for the swelling to go down, for X-rays and CT scans to be taken so that the orthopedists have enough information to advise us on setting and casting the bone, I see the healing and restructuring beginning already.

We are on the path of good fortune.


Water Sense: Wisdom for Thriving During Drought

Nevada County residential treated water customers are being required by the state to reduce their water usage by a whopping 36% starting in June. That’s a figure that brings up images not just of brown lawns but of withering landscapes and shriveled vegetable gardens.

This was the vision in my head fifteen years ago when my husband and I drilled our first well.  The well drilller had gone as deep as we could afford, and I still remember the sense of loss and frustration I felt as he told me we had a gallon and a half per minute.  For a gardener-farmer with big dreams that was a devestatingly small amount. Yet that moment marked the beginning of my personal journey in understanding water.

This young mulberry tree thrives and bears fruit even though the pond behind it has dried up early for 3 years now.

This young mulberry tree thrives and bears fruit with almost no supplemental water, even though the pond behind it has dried up early for 3 years now.

As a certified permaculture designer with 25 years of ecological landscaping experience, I know that it is possible to make big cuts in our water usage while growing food and maintaining healthy landscapes. In fact, many drought-proofing strategies also act to improve soil quality, recharge groundwater, recycle nutrients, and enhance the health of the entire watershed.

But what strategies are right for your situation? Should you mulch or does that create too much fire danger? Do you need a new irrigation system or would investing in a greywater system serve you better, or are both essential? Are swales appropriate for your land or should you try hugelkultur? Are there other options to consider?

These are long-term decisions and investments. When made wisely, from a holistic perspective, they can increase your personal resilience and this community’s resilience not only to drought but to a changing climate as well.

This is why I have created a 2-day workshop designed to offer a comprehensive experience that will save you time and money by ensuring that you have the information you need to make the best choices for your property and for your future. In this workshop you will learn:

  • The 4 top techniques to make your property resilient to drought.
  • Tools for safely and efficiently recycling water from your home to your landscape.
  • How to grow an abundant vegetable garden with limited water.
  • Watering techniques that save water and your landscape.
  • What food and insectary plants are truly drought resistant.
  • How your daily food choices impact our water supply, and how you can improve your health while caring for water, restoring ecosystems, and increasing sustainability.

We will discuss the role of living organisms in the water cycle and what you can do to enhance the full cycle. We will also touch on the amazing nature of water and its role in creating and maintaining life.

You will come away from this workshop not only with practical knowledge and skills, but also feeling empowered, optimistic, and inspired to live sustainably with water.

Saturday and Sunday, June 27 & 28 from 10 am to 5:30 pm

Bluebird Farm, 11153 Cement Hill Road, Nevada City, CA 95959 Contact: Price: $180 per person early bird registration before June 22. ($210 per person at the door.) $150 per person when you register with a friend before June 22.

To register, please use the contact form on this website or the email listed above.  I will send you information on how to complete the process.

This workshop is taught by Renee Wade, with guest teachers Matt Berry and Tom Wade. imageRenee Wade is a Certified Permaculture Designer with 15 years experience living with low-flow (and sometimes no-flow!) wells. She understands intimately the tools, techniques, and possibilities of water conservation. She is dedicated to helping people live beautifully and abundantly through understanding and working with the natural world. imageMatt Berry is a Certified Professional Greywater Designer & Installer with a background in Ecology. Learn more at   imageTom Wade is a Certified Permaculture Designer, professional organic landscaper, and grazier. He is passionate about restoring the fertility and hydration of western lands through the intelligent use of ruminant animals.  He is also a professional storyteller known for his ability to captivate any audience.

Awakening to the Cosmic Heart

I loved the video clips in this post. It shows a powerful model for understanding ourselves, our solar system, and our universe as living beings all using the same energy – electricity – to interface our consciousness with our body-minds. What ever your take on Theosophy, do watch the videos!

Theosophy Watch

healing-mountains“THERE are no isolated islands in an electric universe, from the smallest particle to the largest galactic formation.

“A web of electrical circuitry connects and unifies all of nature, organizing galaxies, energizing stars, giving birth to planets.”

On our own world, agreeing with Theosophy, David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill assert”this electric web is controlling weather and animating biological organisms.” (Thunderbolts of the Gods)

Astronomers like to believe the Sun is a glowing nuclear furnace. And, “that galaxies are clouds of hydrogen gas and intergalactic dust,” Stephen Smith notes in his article The Filamentary Firmament, and they “were assembled by gravity until they coalesced into swarms of glowing thermonuclear fires.”

“The Electric Universe theory,” Smith says, “is opposed to the idea of galaxies condensed from cold, inert hydrogen.”

“Strands of magnetically confined plasma can be seen throughout the cosmos,” Smith argues: “In an Electric Universe, every body in…

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Striking Teachers, Plant-Eating Insects and the Movement Toward Collaboration

Rose and Insect Collaboratiom

I was listening to the radio this past week and heard a news segment interview with a striking teacher in Chicago.  When asked what the strike was about, the essence of his response was, “The administration thinks this is a hierarchy. We think it’s a collaborative.  That’s the issue.  They want to tell us what we do, while we want to work with them on that.”  These few words express so beautifully the heart of the paradigm shift that humanity is moving through.  I see signs of it everywhere, with pioneers in every field pushing the edges in all forms of relationship to evolve past hierarchical thinking and move into partnership and collaboration.  Buck Brannaman and Pat and Linda Parelli are at the forefront in natural horesmanship; Marshall Rosenberg has Non-Violent Communication; Cesear Milan’s concept of calm-assertive leadership is reprogramming the dog world.  There is also freeschooling, community supported agriculture, couch surfing, ecological forestry,… and plant spirit communication.  Collaboration is breaking out all around us.

Like most (all?) of us, I was raised by people who had themselves been indoctrinated with the thoughts and beliefs that create hierarchical structures and “power over” relationships in human societies.  Like many of us, I am on the path of rewiring my body-mind system and forging new perceptions and interpretations of who I am, who we are, and how I/We are connected to – really the same as – what seems to be “outside” our selves.  I am part of the whole that is carrying humanity past this 5,000-year-old infatuation with hierarchy.

The garden is a great place for me to become aware of and let go of the old wiring, while choosing and creating the new wiring. Plants, insects, microbes, soil, and water are all calmly persistent (or calm-assertive) when it comes to delivering the feedback, the messages, that can move me into collaboration. When the harlequin beetles get busy eating the broccoli, I can use a domination approach – a nice, organic neem oil spray, for example – or I can take the time to sit down and tune in and find out what message they carry.  I still sometimes use the former approach, but more and more and more often, I remember to slow down and take a breath and gently begin the process that moves me out of the back-of-the-mind-almost-invisible-thinking that causes the panic that leads in the direction of that magic bottle/pill/gun/stick/neem oil spray.  Now I can choose to sit down and listen.

There is a wonderful new book out called Building Soil Naturally, by Phil Nauta.  I highly recommend it because his main goal is to build soils that will vitalize plants to such a degree that they can take care of themselves when it comes to insects and diseases.  That’s right.  Plants can be empowered to take care of themselves.  We don’t have to think of them as helpless children or poor unfortunates that have no legs and can’t get up and run.  Healthy plants – truly vital, vibrant, balanced plants – create an internal chemistry that is insect proof because insects don’t have the enzymes necessary to digest healthy plant tissue. Insects are out there with their antenna, trolling for plants that emit the universal infrared signal for “I’m unhealthy, eat me!”

The next time you find an infestation of plant-eating insects in your garden, thank them.  They are doing you a favor by cleaning up the less vital plants, the imbalanced plants, the plants that can’t offer you, the human being, the high quality nutrition you need and deserve.  They are your wake up call to do whatever it takes to understand healthy soil and get busy building it  They are the equivalent of striking teachers, letting you know that it’s not a hierarchy, it’s a collaborative.

Inspiring Bloggers Unite!

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award nomination arrived last week, a wonderful gift from Gail Rehbein whose blog at worklearnlivewell I also admire.  Thank you, Gail, for including me in your nominations.

In the spirit of this award, each nominee is asked to:

  1. Thank the person who nominated them and include a link back to that person’s blog.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass the award to 7 nominees.

So, seven things about me:

  • Ice cream is my favorite comfort food, and mint chocolate chip has always been my favorite ice cream flavor.
  • My husband and I started weekly ballroom dance classes in November, and I especially enjoy the Cha-Cha-Cha.
  • I want to swim with wild dolphins.
  • I started blogging to help me organize my ideas for writing a book and discovered that I love blogging.
  • I spend an average of 3 to 4 hours on the internet each week.

Blogs that I have discovered and enjoy and would like to also nominate, or in some cases second and third their nominations for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

The Observer Effect by Kelly Neill

Cauldrons and Cupcakes by Nicole Cody

Flo’s Heart Opening Moments by Flo Li

LifeOS by jim cranford

Where the Dolphins Swim by Jo Anne Lowney

Live to Write – Write to Live, a collectively written blog by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network

Theosophy Watch by I don’t know who, but they do post really interesting stuff.

Thank you all.  I’m happy to have become a part of this wonderful blogging community.


Agriculture: Still a Powerful Change Agent

Agriculture is a powerful force.  I am reminded of this as I continue to read the Ringing Cedars book series by Vladimir Megre.  I just finished book 5, Who Are We?  (I am reading these, though I do photoread them first.)  At this point the series has morphed into the story of the Russian people, their agriculture, and the tremendous potential in their agricultural choices now.

In the last part of book 4, Co-Creation, Anastasia expressed her vision for the Russian people to transform themselves and their society into a vital and vibrant agrarian civilization through the simple process of establishing “family domains”.  These domains are one hectare (about 2 1/2 acres) parcels designed to provide food and shelter and productive, creative work for each family as well as ecosystem services for Russia as a whole.  They use living, hedgerow fences, for example, on their perimeters; remain at least half in forest; and are gardened using the excess fertility produced by the forest.  Gathered together into eco-village communities, these family domains become the backbone, actually the entire skeleton, the foundation for the new Russia.

The crux of this vision lies in the domains being given to any willing citizen by the Russian government.  They will be given in perpetuity so long as there is an heir willing to continue working them and will be completely tax-free.  Neither the land, nor the products of these domains will be subject to any form of taxation, allowing money to flow to and remain with individuals and families.

This last part may sound impossible to anyone with economic training, but by the time the books address the questions that come up, the whole scheme begins to look not only possible, but desirable.  Higher taxes on tourism combined with more private funding of the community and public projects that people desire (“put your money where your mouth is” sort of thing) are just two of the ways that the Russian government can do this and still function.

This book was originally published in Russian in 2001.  They have sold like hotcakes there and the ideas in them have apparently been embraced whole-heartedly by millions of Russians.  According to a footnote in my English edition, on July 7, 2003 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law the “Private Garden-plot Act”.  Russian citizens can now receive free of charge from the state plots of land in private, inheritable ownership.  The size of these plots varies by region, generally between 1 and 3 hectares.  Produce grown on these plots is not subject to taxation.  A second law strengthening the first was passed in June 2006.

Some basic data points regarding Russian agriculture are also discussed early in Book 5.  In 1997 Russian household gardens grew 90% of Russia’s potatoes, 77% of its berries and fruit, and 73% of its vegetables.  In 2004 these numbers were up to 93%, 80%, and 81% respectively.  Russian gardeners, working in their free time and using predominantly organic methods – and without benefit of heavy machinery, hired labor, or government subsidies – now outproduce the whole commercial agricultural sector of Russia with 51% of the country’s total ag output.  According to the book, the contribution of these gardeners to the Russian economy exceeds any one of the following industries: steel; electric power generation; chemical and pharmaceutical; forestry, timber, pulp and paper together; oil refining, natural gas, and coal together.

How agriculture is practiced ripples through a culture and society, shaping the people, the social institutions, and the land itself.  Big ag has helped shape big banks, big corporations, and big government in this country – and vice versa.  I am encouraged to hear that the Russian people are working on taking a different path.

Russia is a very different culture, but I wonder if there are parts of this vision that would be helpful in the quest for health and happiness here in the United States?  Can we develop more appreciation for the potential power in the growing-abilities of small-scale and homestead-scale gardeners, especially when multiplied by millions.  Michael Ableman’s proposal that fruit and veggie growing needs to be carried on a lot more shoulders here in North America falls in line with Anastasia’s vision of a path to a healthy and bright future.  Could the land-linking systems springing up around the country in response to an aging farmer population be expanded to include those wishing to produce on a smaller scale?  Could they become a means to magnify the power of the small?  Can we write a new business plan for our local, state, and/or national governments that would show them the enhanced potential for resilience, democracy, and overall well-being in adopting tax-free policies for this scale of agriculture?

That seems far off right now, but with enough inspired minds, it is not out of reach.

In one of the early books in this series, Anastasia emphasizes the importance of people touching the Earth with their hands.  In the same way that a horse can feel the presence of one fly on its coat or we can feel one mosquito land on our skin, the Earth is also sensitive and can feel how we handle her.  The energies of love and appreciation and joy that pour in through our hands is significant to the Earth’s health and well-being.

In a world acknowledged to be quantum and entangled at all scales, we can no longer dismiss such an idea as ludicrous.  We do hold the power of regeneration in our hearts and minds and hands.  Let’s use it!

Marrying Water to Earth

The rain has returned!  It came barreling in as part of a storm on Tuesday night, pounding and flowing and puddling in the low places.  On Thursday morning it fell softly and gently and steadily, soaking in where it fell.

Our last rain was sometime in June, making this a fairly short summer drought by California standards.  I do love that endless summer sun, partly because it makes the effect of rain so much more dramatic.  Overnight the mosses on the oak tree trunks have taken on giddy, vibrant greens.  With leaves newly cleaned, everything looks brighter, clearer, more alive.  The water drops sparkle as they hang at the very tips of pine needles or rest on the surface of kale and agave leaves.  The essence of Life is out and about and playing.

I spent the rainy morning making an end-of-summer soup: tomatoes, Lebanese green zucchini squash, Gypsy and Anaheim peppers, with onion and garlic and a handful of lentils.  It gets cold here when it rains.  From 90 degrees on Friday to 52 degrees on Wednesday, the rains have brought in the fall weather.

We catch some of our rainfall in cisterns, so it is time to sweep off the roofs.  We’ll be checking and repairing and expanding on the swales that slow down the fallen water and soak it into the soil and deep into the earth.  The best place to store water is in the earth, and the earth’s capacity for holding water is huge.  Water stored in the ground becomes the aquifer that waters the trees and keeps the streams and rivers flowing through a 4 month drought.  (An excellent resource on this is Brad Lancaster”s Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, volumes I and II.)

We have a place on our property on the North edge of a small meadow that always seemed a little greener – even on a hot September day, deep into a summer drought.  My husband was the one who realized we could plant a few fruit trees along that edge and take advantage of the extra moisture.  Four years later we have apples, pluots, and a mulberry growing there.  Not one of them received supplemental water this summer – we didn’t have any to spare for them this year – and while the apples and pluots are not big, they are tasty.

I have come to believe that water is the single most important and magickal substance on Earth, and quite possibly in the Universe.  I will write some more about its unique features another day because the starting place with water is in catching it and cycling it.  A water drop that falls from the sky and flows over land right back to a river and the ocean is living half a life.  It is the journey underground into the dark of the Earth that water seeks.  Victor Schauberger calls such water “wise water” as it emerges in a natural spring.  Just as relationships temper us, coaxing and stretching and pulling, until we become deeper, richer versions of our original selves, so too does the marriage of water into earth enliven the experience of a water molecule.

May we all become wise as we help the raindrops to slow down long enough to sink in and begin their own journey to wisdom.