Over the past nine weeks I’ve participated in the construction of an agricultural dam, a swale, a couple of terraces, a large urban garden, several compost piles, 1000 liters of compost tea, an aid proposal to a Nepalese orphanage, and 600 square meters of food forest. Aside from exploring a nearby rainforest, swimming in the ocean and the occasional night at the local pub… it’s been a non-stop permaculture marathon!
My mornings generally start around 5:30 am. I have no alarm clock… in fact, my means of telling time here are incredibly limited. Nature tells me when to rise, a bell rings when its time to eat or take a break and the end of the day comes when my eyelids are too heavy to stay open (usually fairly early… depending on how my day has been spent).
The mornings here are quite stunning and by far the favorite part of the day. Just before the sun rises and the first vestiges of light begin to peer over the rolling hills to the east, the most amazing sounds erupt from within the twilight. Sounds of some spectacular science fiction space odyssey, complete with lasers, androids, and strange aliens all battling over the airwaves, ring through the forest gully just below my camp. Of course, what I’m talking about is not really other worldly… even though I swear sometimes that George Lucas is outside my tent filming another addition to the Star Wars saga. These are the sounds of the Australian avifauna, the laughing Kookaburra
, the Eastern Whipbird
, and the Australian Magpie
just to name a few.
A light fog settles in the valleys as the sun begins to crest over the mountains. The roosters are signaling that the farm is waking up. The cows are reminding us that its time for their morning milking. Ducks waddle and quack impatiently for their daily treat of seed mix.
The Day Begins
After a quick chat, stories of past triumphs and great adventures, some preludes to what the day ahead might hold, we swing into action. Each morning varies in regard to what activities I might find myself engaging in. Cattle may need a new paddock to graze, compost may need to be turned, previous day’s projects may need completing. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time meditating along the many kilometers of swale, chopping support trees and mulch plants as the wet season swings into action and growth rates begin to accelerate.
My experience on the swales has lead me into a deeper understanding of the systems on the farm. How water flows through and permeates the landscape… and even more fascinating, how the landscape responds. To observe the very subtle ebbs and flows of the farm goes beyond my ability to communicate. Observing how things react to my influence gives me the sense of what it truly means to be human.
The Human Experience
Throughout most our lives, disturbance of the environment has had a net-negative result. We’ve largely polluted our rivers and lakes, eroded our soils and destroyed the very foundations that our livelihood rests upon. Our quality of life, like the soils we depend upon, continues to erode away as we seek new ways to understand our place in the world.
Many of us are seeking ways to minimize our impact on the environment. “The only way we are going to survive…” we say, “is to stop consuming.” “Leave no trace!” is the new mantra. Well, whether we like it or not, we are going to leave one heck of a trace on this world. In fact, our impact today far out strips even the imaginations of our ancestors.
But the impact we have on our environment is part of what makes us human. We are terra formers, fire starters, farmers, builders, herders and hunters… there is no avoiding our impact. We can, however, have an impact that is one of regeneration to our environment rather than destruction.
What if we flipped this mantra on it’s head and declared… “leave a forest!” instead? That would certainly give us a different perspective on our place in the world!
A trace of the positive
With my riceknife, I create great disturbances in my environment. In the morning mist, I cut down forests of ginger and clumping grasses, I dismember trees and bushes and chop up their branches as they hit the ground… knowing that this action also results in a killing off of an equivalent portion of their root systems. And through this destruction… a vast forest of fruits grows in the wake of me and my riceknife.
A New Paradigm
Through permaculture we learn to observe the natural habits of the flora and fauna that populate our systems. This helps us design systems that allow each element to express its most natural inclinations while benefiting the elements around it, thus decreasing the need for external input and increasing the benefit and abundance of outputs. These simple observations allow us to improve the quality of life of all the participants of the system, not the least of which ourselves. So why should our eye for observation not turn inward and really begin to examine what our natural habits are and thereby create patterns that allow us to express our innate function within the ecosystem while leaving a trace that we can truly be proud of?
With the afternoon sun now hot on my back… I turn to observe the trace of debris I’ve left in my wake. For once in my life, it’s not just a tattered and spoilt landscape that I see. I see the ripening of a new paradigm for the disturbances I will create in this lifetime. I am man… watch me grow!