The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Druid Tree Workings: Holding Space and Helping Tree Spirits Pass August 24, 2015

In the last year, I’ve written much about druid tree workings, or the spiritual work one can do with trees and other plants. For more on this series, see these posts: the face of the tree, connecting with trees on the inner planes, connecting with trees on the outer planes. And there comes a time when one of your tree friends–or many–face cruel reality of the chainsaw. What then, does one do when one hears the cry of the forest? This, dear readers, is a very different kind of tree working, and one that I’ve been compelled to share.

 

The sound of the chainsaw and the cry of the forest…

I recently moved into a new rented house in the small town in Western PA where I’ll spend the next phase of my life.  In my tiny backyard and on the side of the house are several beautiful sugar maples. I met the new owners of the house next door (they also just moved in), and they mentioned to me how they were having a tree cut that was growing sort of close to the house. Deeply saddened, I told them it was a sugar maple, an if they just trimmed it back, it was no danger to their house, and if they’d like, I could show them how to tap it for maple sugar and make syrup in the late winter. They seemed interested, and I had hoped I had hoped that I’d convinced them that this life was worth saving…but alas, it was to no avail. Less than a week later, the tree men arrived. At first, it appeared that they were just carefully trimming it back, and I was joyous because I felt like I had saved the tree. But then, on the tree cutters’ break, I spoke with them, and they told me that they were bringing it down. They were sad to cut it too, cause they thought they could have just trimmed it and it was no danger to the house.

 

A few weeks after that, for whatever reason, my town decided to cut down a number of very old trees lining the sidewalks. Again the sound of the chainsaw reverberates through town.  I’ve always dreaded the sound of fossil fuel powered equipment–its the sound of humanity cutting back nature, and it brings tears to my eyes. From the lawnmower cutting back ecological succession and compressing the soil to the weed whacker cutting down (nearly always) medicinal herbs, to my least favorite, the buzz of the chainsaw.

 

And so, with unnerving frequency, I’ve had the sound of chainsaw reverberating in my small house, and I have watched as several beautiful beautiful beings have been taken down one limb at a time. It is such a heartbreaking thing, to be so powerless, to simply watch a life being ended, knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it. What a strange world we live in. To most people, they see a tree being cut. To me, I see a living and beautiful being, with a soul and a spirit. I see that being crying out in pain, I hear its sorrow, I feel its pain. I feel the mourning of the fellow sugar maples and others around–they have grown here as a community for years. And now, their friend is no more, removed unjustly and unnecessarily, the wood unused and carted away.

 

A way of seeing and feeling…

Peaceful co-existence - a path through the woods.

Peaceful co-existence – a path through the woods.

Of course, my druidic lens is not that of typical people these days living in an instrumental and disenchanted world. Plants and trees feel pain? The arguments I see against this idea is that plants have no central nervous system or brain, so they can’t feel pain, they can’t communicate, they aren’t intelligent. However, just because plants don’t have the same systems as humans doesn’t mean they can’t feel or communicate those feelings, in fact, plants have analogous systems that work differently from ours.

 

 

This instrumentalist thinking, that plants or trees are mere objects, and that nobody should care or object to having them taken down, closely aligns with a disenchanted, instrumental view of the world. As I’ve shared on this blog before, one of the great losses to the western world came as our worldview was “disenchanted” through the rise of industrialization, materialism and rationalist science (and oh the irony, that is now science that shows that the world is really more enchanted than we can imagine!) Looking to some of the newest science to help us understand, since that’s what convinces people when other ways of experiencing the world can’t, we see that plants are intelligent–they learn, much as humans do. Plants communicate, sometimes over great distances. And yes, they feel pain and know if they are being eaten.

 

And so, we use the knowledge of science to explain what millennia of humans instinctively knew: that our world is living, breathing, intelligent and alive and that trees and plants and animals are feeling, breathing, alive beings deserving of respect.Of course, spiritual traditions and cultures spanning back across most of time have known that plants are more than a collection of living cells.  Its not new knowledge–its simply misplaced knowledge, lost to time and greed. And perhaps its time that we find that knowledge again.

 

Holding Space & Remembering

The powerlessness over something like a tree in a neighbor’s yard being cut down can be crushing. In a situation where humans are logging or engaging in other destruction and its done legally or within privately owned lands, what’s one to do?

 

One of the best things you can do for a being–of any kind–who is suffering or passing on is to hold space for them. Whether or not you have a spiritual calling for deeper work in this area, I believe all of us can at least hold space for what is happening, see it for what it is, and energetically support those whose lives are being taken before our eyes. You might do this by treating the tree or forest no different than a friend who is passing on. The same powerlessness exists in that situation as well. You can’t do much except be there, listen, witness, and hold the space.

 

A hawthorn tree...

A hawthorn tree…

I could speak about this at length, but each person’s methods for doing this work are, in some ways, their own. They are methods that develop as the need arises, intuitive things that each person does that is to the best of his or her abilities and gifts.

 

I can share a few strategies that are within my abilities and gifts.  Its not so much important what you do but that you do something if you feel led to–but here are a few ideas. First, I play music, and I have particular songs (folk songs) that are quite effective at easing suffering and allowing a more peaceful passing. The music is really effective for another reason–it can be used almost anywhere, especially when more overt magical work cannot take place.  Second, I take the time to simply sit, witness, and watch what is happening unfold. This is important–bearing witness. Third, I raise positive energy for the tree’s passing (and there are many ways to do this, depending on one’s tradition). Fourth, I do positive energy work for the others who have passed in the coming weeks and months–many are still there, they may have witnessed the loss, and they need support. Fifth, I apologize to the tree as it is cut, especially when a tree appears to be cut down for no good reason (as in the case of my new neighbors). An apology does much in the way of healing, and as a species, there is much healing to be done between ourselves and the land.

 

And finally, I remember. There are so many ways that one can remember. As I am an artist, I often paint trees that have been cut as a way of remembering them and their lives. Some stumps I pass quite often, and, each time I pass, I say a little prayer, make a small offering of water, or leave a flower or stone to honor the tree. Or simply walk by and touch the stump, pausing and acknowledging the life that was once there. If I can, I like to save some of the tree’s seeds or nuts and plant them in a field somewhere–this is a wonderful thing to honor a tree who has passed. This isn’t always possible, but if nothing else, I take a few leaves or branches and leave them in a nearby forest so that at least some of that tree can go back to the land and enter the nutrient cycles once again–this too is important. If nothing else, I burn a candle and honor the life that was that tree or that forest.

 

Sometimes you come after the trees or trees have been cut, but an area is freshly logged. Nearly all of my suggestions above will still work well. I like to keep a small flute in my car and if I see such an area and feel compelled to stop, I will stop, play a tune, and then continue on my way. I find myself doing this often now that I’ve returned to Penn’s Woods, especially given the amount of logging that takes place here.

 

There is much more that I could write at this point, but I feel that, for now, this is enough. I hope you find it helpful. I will close by warning you that this work is not taken on lightly–and it can be very draining, even with proper preparation and protection. Even so, its important work, and work that some are called to do, just as I’m now called to write and share.

 

Healing Hands: Replanting and Regenerating the Land as a Spiritual and Sacred Practice August 14, 2015

Acorns

Acorns

A lone man walks through a field of brambles as the sun rises, a small pouch at his side.  This field was old-growth forest before being clear cut a century or more ago; it was then farmland for 50 years before becoming unfarmable wasteland; over the last 15 years, enough soil fertility has returned enough to support the brambles. As the man walks, every so often, he leans down, takes out a small trowel, and pops a nut in the ground–hickory and oak nuts, primarily, but others like butternut, chestnut, and walnut are also sometimes planted. He is a man on a very quiet and very personal mission–and his goal is simple: to return hardwoods to the cleared lands of Western Pennsylvania. Sometimes, he carries roots instead: the roots of goldenseal and ginseng, plants once common here and are now about impossible to find. This man plants trees that he will not likely ever harvest from, he walks lands that others have abandoned, and he donates his time to this simple, meditative practice. Who is this man? This man is my father, and his work is for generations–human and otherwise–beyond himself.

 

The question our role as humans is in the ecosystem and how spiritual practices and permaculture design allows us to better enact that role is an important one.  In this post, I’ll explore the idea of an earth care ethic through active regeneration of the land.

 

Pick up the Garbage and Get Out

I’ve heard many in the druid community say that the best thing you can do for any piece of land is to “pick up the garbage and get the hell out.” And there are certainly times and places where I think this approach is the wisest–the ecosystem is fragile and nature is doing her own healing. Or, this is a good approach if there are people already dedicated to the cause of healing particular parts of land, like state forests or conservation areas, and you haven’t been asked to help in that existing work. But what about everywhere else? What about the lands that aren’t under protected or conservation status? What about lands that lay fallow and are struggling to come back from a lot of abuse? I’m starting to disagree that this “pick up the garbage and get out” is the right approach in every case and in fact, in many cases.

 

"A Pennsylvania Desert" of the late 19th century

“A Pennsylvania Desert” of the late 19th century

I’ll use Western Pennsylvania as an example, and I’m sure readers in other places can think of their own local examples. At one point in Pennsylvania’s history, about 100 years ago, the forests were almost entirely gone (see photo, right). Today’s logging looks harmless by comparison (and is ecologically much more sound, but still extremely disruptive). Trees that were 15 and 20 feet across were cut down during this time, and other resources the land held were also sought, such as coal. Since that time, regrowth (ecological succession) has been successful in some places and the forests that have returned are now mostly protected by being a state forest, wild area, or game lands (although game lands still allow fracking and logging, so I’m skeptical about this “protection”). Other forests never returned, and instead went to farmland, subdivisions, cities, airports, or something else. Even for the forests that managed to return to forest, the logging and clearcutting significantly and permanently alters the what is growing there long-term. Hardwoods like hickory, walnut, chestnut, or oak, especially have had difficulty regrowing because they grow much slower than other trees like black cherry, beech, or birch. Forest herbs on the floor also have difficulty recovering or spreading quickly, especially those who spread slowly by root or rhizome. Much of the land no longer holds the fertility or nutrients needed to support a forest. Other land still hasn’t grown back, and was farmland till the fertility in the soil was removed to the point where little is growing there–only pioneer species working to bring nutrients back into the soil.

 

Ecological Succession is the process of nature regrowing from a damaged state. What it regrows into is largely a matter of the ecosystem and region–around here in Western Pennsylvania, the final state of succession is a forest. In the Great Plains states, it is, as you may suspect, grass plains and savanna. The damaged state could have been caused by a fire, flood or other natural occurrence, but in our era, its predominantly caused by human destruction, as in the case of the forests of Pennsylvania, or more recently, mountaintop removal in West Virginia, or boney dumps in Pennsylvania. Sometimes, ecological succession fails to happen almost entirely, even over a period of decades or centuries, because the land has been too damaged by human activity to begin that healing process (of which I’ll be speaking more about next week).

 

As an example of this can be seen through the chestnut tree. Prior to the chestnut blight of the early 20th century, chestnuts made up anywhere from 5-15% of most forests in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania decided to cut down *all* of the chestnuts (even non-blighted ones) to try to stop the spread of disease, essentially preventing evolution from happening–the chestnut trees could not evolve blight resistance if they weren’t given a chance to do so. The result is that very, very few chestnuts remain–hence why my father works to plant them.

 

Ecological succession well underway!

Ecological succession well underway!

Approaches to Human Intervention in Ecological Succession

The idea of human intervention on the landscape, in a positive direction, is not one well known in present culture. The conservationist approach, developed as a response to things like the clear-cutting that took place in Pennsylvania a 100 years ago, has done much to help re-introduce and protect forests and wildlife–and for the places that are protected, the protection generally works. I visited the Pennsylvania Wilds (a protected area spanning 1.5 million acres of forests in North-Central PA) two weeks ago and I was amazed to read of the story of conservation there on that land.

 

But I do think that the conservation mindset creates some challenges. The conservation mindset  is rooted in the idea that when white settlers arrived here, they found a pristine landscape, untouched by human hands. The goal of conservation, then, is to get the land back to that state and to not let anyone touch it again (because human touch is seen as problematic, and in most cases today, it is). Every day, I’m thankful that early conservations decided to set aside millions of acres of forests in my home state.  Some conservationist efforts do work towards restoring native ecosystems or at least creating balanced ones. And that’s all good work.

 

But at the same time, the situation is radically different now than in 1492–more species are here and are naturalized, animal species patterns are different (which is critical–see this video of the wolf changing rivers at Yellowstone), and I’m not sure that simple restoration to the way things were and then leaving it alone is always the best approach. I’m also not sure that leaving this regenerative work only in the hands of the “experts” is the best either because it disallows collective responsibility and action. But it certainly is an understandable response, given what has been going on for the last 150 or so years.

 

Another approach, one I have heard expressed in druid retreats and by various practitioners earth-based spiritual traditions is “letting the land alone to heal.” But I don’t think this approach is entirely ethical either. For one, leaving a forest to regrow on its own will never re-introduce species that have been largely lost to our forests, like chestnut, because there aren’t enough of them left to spread. It will never re-introduce ginseng, goldenseal, or ramps, all of which have been over-harvested to critically endangered stats–and all of which are slow-spreading root crops. It won’t address the damage caused by erosion or soil loss–eventually, given a long time, the earth can heal from these things. However, even while ecological succession is slowly occurring on nature’s own timeline, other damages and pressures may be happening, like acid rain, mine runoff, poaching, and more. The two real issues with the idea of “letting the land alone to heal” and that, first and foremost, is that it removes our personal and collective responsibility for the damage that was done. And second, just as humans caused quick destruction, we can also help jump start and guide the healing process more quickly. This kind of work tremendously deepens our spiritual and physical connection with those lands.

 

The Power of Human Touch: Positive Human Intervention, Spiritual Interaction, and Regeneration

White mythology suggests that when settlers came to what was to become the United States and Canada, they found pristine wilderness untouched by human hands. The truth is, the lands such as those that would later make up the USA were never “untouched by human hands” as is commonly thought.  Yet, the nature of the touch was much, much different. In fact, M. Kat Anderson, in a book called Tending the Wild provides a rich body of evidence that Native Americans tended the land extensively to maintain balance and abundance. Anderson learned from the Native elders she was interviewing in California that some native plants have literally evolved with human intervention and they need humans to survive and thrive—this puts an entirely new perspective on the idea of earth care and stewardship.

 

If you think this idea that the land evolved with human touch is a bit radical, consider domesticated vegetables or animals. This idea is really no different than farm animals or even annual vegetables you plant in your garden, who also have evolved with humans and depend on them for protection and nurturing. Anderson’s work breaks down the distinction between what is cultivated and what is wilderness–all lands were tended in some way.

 

One of the things I recently learned from Walker Kirby, a man teaching us at my Permaulculture Design Certificate who was coming out of the work of John Young’s Wilderness Awareness School, was the fact that “wilderness” as a term was quite negative in the native cultures of the northeast USA. Wilderness was it was land that had been abandoned or left untended by its people–and that was a tragic thing. This is such a different view that most humans have in industrialized nations–we have seen so much damage, we just want to leave nature alone and protect the wilderness.  But in creating “wilderness” we are, essentially, abandoning our responsibility to tend that land; its not really different than abandoning elderly relatives, children, or animals in our care.

Planting Hope

Planting Hope

 

The other piece to all of this is, of course, that this damage we currently have is largely human caused. Humans have some substantial Karmic debt that we can work to help payoff by directly taking action. Some humans are still causing active destruction; many more are complicit and passively supporting that destruction passively through their choices, purchases, and inaction. They turn their head and shut their eyes because they do not want to see.  But for those who walk an earth-based spiritual path focused on rebuilding a relationship with nature and those who are awake and alive–we are seeing. We can help make right what was damaged, and by doing so, we rekindle the ancient bond between humanity and the land. Many of our ancestors further participated in this destruction (as their livelihoods, but still, they were participating in it), and we carry the that karmic debt as well.  My grandfathers and great grandfathers worked in the coal mines and the steel mills because those were the jobs available here–and the environmental costs of those mines and mills are still very much present on the landscape of Western Pennsylvania today. Who better than their granddaughter or great granddaughter to go out and help regenerate the lands after the mills and mines closed down but their scars remain? All of us, in some way or another, are directly energetically connected to that damage which we see on the landscape–and all of us can do something, even something small, to work to heal.

 

Anderson’s Tending the Wild gives us a radically different model for what humanity’s relationship with nature can look like. It shows that humans have been active tenders of our landscapes, engaging in regeneration and healing, and co-evolving with nature. I believe it is this same mindset that my father has for bringing in more hardwoods–it is a desire to heal the land. Imagine if there millions and millions of us, all across the lands of this great planet, actively healing the land as part of our spiritual practice. What a difference we could make–in both inner and outer worlds.

 

Overcoming Fear

Many alternative communities, whether they are druids or other healers use some form of energy healing. In the druid traditions that I practice, our seasonal celebrations raise positive energy through ritual and song and send it into the land for a blessing. Energetically, we are doing the work of regeneration–but this invisible line exists that we don’t cross; we often don’t physically do much beyond that. Because we are afraid to do harm. Because we don’t feel we have the knowledge of how to do anything else. What exactly can we do? What exactly should we do?  How do we know we can do it better?  How do we know we won’t cause harm? Where should this work be done?  How should it be done?

 

Part of the fear of interacting with nature, especially in a physically regenerative capacity, I think stems from the fact that we want to do no more harm.  But I would argue that not doing anything is worse than the potential of doing harm in many cases. Anderson writes in her introduction to Tending the Wild, “The elders challenged the notion I had grown up with—that one should respect nature by leaving it alone—by showing me that we learn respect through the demands put on us by the great responsibility of using a plant or animal” (xvi).  The work of physical land healing can bring us the power to heal the land and the responsibility of doing so.

 

The Way Forward toward Land Healing as a Spiritual Practice

As my last few posts on the blog describe, this kind of work directly aligns with the tools and practices of  permauclture design.  Through permaculture, we have many examples of aiding in ecological succession faster and helping nature in this healing process. With careful observation, planning, and knowledge, we can actively help ecological succession along, actively help our lands heal.  This work takes a lot of knowledge, dedication, and commitment–but it is so worth doing and worth doing well.  Through many years of study and practice you’ll have more effective strategies to address larger problems, you can begin now, in this very moment.

 

Regenerate soil!

Regenerate soil!

For those interested in starting the work, perhaps start by enacting the principle of “observe and interact” from permaculture design. Go into the places that are in most need of healing that we can reach. The damaged lands, the degraded soils, those places abandoned by others. Lawns are a good place to start, as are abandoned fields, abandoned lots on your city streets, logged areas. Learn about that land, learn about the soil, look at what is already growing and learn about why it is growing there, don’t be immediately angry if you find out its “invasive” (many “invasive” plants are healers, in their own way) and think about how you might help ecological succession along. And more than anything else, listen and observe, with your inner and outer senses, and see what the land has to tell you.

 

I realize I’ve been doing this work for a very long time (as is evidenced by this early post), but the regenerative work I was doing was almost entirely focused on my homestead.  I knew I was regenerating the land there, doing good healing work. Selling my homestead and being “landless” during this transition to a new state has shifted my eyes to the broader landscape.  I realized that its not just about what I do on a small site, but what I do in many different places and spaces. I think that’s the work this post is trying to do–explore the broader call to heal the land beyond what we generally “own.” Its trying to cast a wide net, seeing the land differently, realizing that all of the land is ours to tend, if not legally so, than certainly, ethically so.

 

I’ll be spending more time in upcoming posts on different ways of approaching how physical land regeneration as a spiritual practice may happen. For now, I wanted to share my thoughts about why–as druids, as people who care, as whoever you are as you are reading this–we could consider this as part of our spiritual and ethical work in the world. Perhaps sit with the idea, like a hot cup of tea made from pioneer plants in a field in need of regeneration, and consider whether you are called to walk this particular path.

 

Making a Reishi/Ganoderma Mushroom Double-Extract Tincture August 8, 2015

Stump with reishi growing!

Stump with reishi growing!

Most plants are fairly easy to prepare in terms of medicine–you can either tincture them, use them fresh, or create a tea or something similar. Reishi, the most incredible healing mushroom, requires a bit more preparation than a standard tincture to extract all of the medicinal benefits.

 

This post will describe the method for getting the most out of the reishi mushroom commonly found on Eastern Hemlocks in forests in the midwest and eastern US.  This extraction method would work with any reishi mushroom, including those you would purchase or wildcraft.  To understand what we need to extract the mushroom’s healing properties, we have to understand where it derives its healing.

 

This link has a wonderful overview to the Reishi’s medicinal properties and the research that has been done (this link is on Ganoderma Lucidium, but research done on Ganoderma Tsugae suggets the same compounds are present). In a nutshell, Reishi is a mushroom that can aid in a long and healthy life for a number of reasons: it has anti-cancer/anti-tumor properties that essentially prevent the creation of cancerous cells and tag the existing cancerous cells to allow the body to combat them; it has anti-aging properties, is anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure, protects the liver, protects DNA, and so much more. Reishi basically heals through three kinds of known compounds:

Amazing reishi!  This is what I made the double-extraction from.

Amazing reishi! This is what I made the double-extraction from.

  • Polysaccharies, which are extracted by water.
  • Triterpenoids, which are extracted by glycerine or alcohol.
  • Unique antioxidant properties to the peptide protein, also extracted by alcohol (not sure about glycerine?).

So, looking at this list, we understand the nature of the problem: Reishi needs both a water and an alcohol extraction, and we also want to preserve it long term.  How do we manage that?  Using a double-extraction:

 

1.  If you are starting with fresh, wildharvested reishi, begin by cut your reishi into small pieces and drying it. Because the water content of the end double-extraction matters, starting with dried rather than fresh reishi allows you to easily know how much water is in the final product.  If you use fresh reishi, you won’t know the water content in the alcohol.

 

Obviously, if you have purchased reishi, you can skip this step, as its already dried and ready for you.  Make sure you cut it up though, if its whole.

Dried reishi in a jar

Dried reishi in a jar

 

2.  Tincture your reishi in high proof spirits (I use 190 proof, 95% alcohol, when I can).  The proof of the alcohol does matter (see my comments below)–get the highest you can.  Tincture your reishi for at least a month.  I usually don’t worry about ratios for this–I just fill the jar with reishi and then top it off with alcohol.  The reishi will expand, taking on the little bit of water content in the alchohol, so keep this in mind.

 

3.  After a month has passed, press your tincture out (there’s a LOT of alcohol held up in those mushroom bits!).  And yes, I just found this AMAZING small fruit press at a flea market that I’m using for my new tincture press!  I also have instructions on how to make a Under $30 tincture press on the blog.

Pressing the Reishi Tincture

Pressing the Reishi Tincture

Mushrooms ready to decoct!

Mushrooms pressed and ready to decoct!

4.  Now, you need to decoct (that is, make a very strong tea over a period of days) the reishi mushrooms that you just tinctured. To do this, after I press them, I add them to my crock pot with fresh spring water or distilled water and keep them on low for three days, checking the water level often.

Decoction happening!

Decoction happening!

5. I let them mixture cool, pour off most of the liquid, and then press the decoction so that I get every last drop.  This is also really important because you’ll lose a lot of the good medicine if you don’t press.  You will likely have more liquid than you need for the tincture–you can freeze this, add it to tea, etc.  Its going to be super concentrated!

 

6.  Finally, you need to combine your water and alcohol into one jar and complete the double-extraction.  This requires some math, but its not too hard once you wrap your head around it.  This home distillation calculator will be invaluable to you during this last step.

Mixing tincture and decoction- and using an online calculator to check my math!

Mixing tincture and decoction- and using an online calculator to check my math!

This is where the proof of the alcohol critically matters–you have to add the right amount of the reishi decoction to the reishi tincture to get 40% alcohol or above (it will be preserved at that ratio indefinitely).

 

The proof of the alcohol in the USA is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume.  This means that an 80 proof drink is 40% alcohol; a 100 proof spirit is 50% alcohol; a 150 is 75% alcohol, and a 190 is 95% alcohol.  Its critically important to know what the alcohol content is when you are doing the double extraction, because your goal is to end up with a 40%-50% alcohol tincture after you add your reishi decoction in water.

 

I recommend using a 190 proof alcohol to decoct your reishi, because this makes the math VERY easy.  When you add a mixture of half tincture and half decoction, you end up with 40% alcohol, exactly what you want for a long-lasting tincture.

 

Now, not everyone has access to such a strong proof alcohol depending on the state where you live.  Most people can get 150 proof, at least, however.  If that’s the case, you just need to get to 40%, which means less water and more alcohol.  For example, an alcoholic tincture at the 150 proof (75%) means you can add 40% water to the alcohol and still end up above proof.

 

So once you’ve done that–congratulations!  You now have one of the most healing substances!  It tastes just like reishi mushroom!  I take mine every day :).

 

Reishi harvest!

Reishi harvest!

 

Permaculture in Action – Five Year Regeneration Model Site (My 3 Acre Homestead) August 1, 2015

Last week, I shared some inspiring words about permaculture design, and how it can give us a path forward and an active, regenerative response to the many challenges we face. I wanted to take some time this week to share a more extended example that is near and dear to my heart—and this will likely be the last post on my Michigan homestead, a “celebratory” post of the good work that was able to be done there on the land in terms of regeneration.  I’ve already written about the energetic healing work on the land earlier–this is about the physical space. My homestead in Michigan was recently sold to an incredible human being who will continue her own regenerative work on the land—and for that I’m grateful!

When I came to my homestead, the need for regeneration of the landscape–and myself–was obvious to me in some ways, and not so obvious in others. So here’s a look at my homestead and the healing work through permaculture design that was done there.  So this post is an example of what one determined person (with help from dear friends and her community) can do over a five-year period to regenerate soil and bring abundance and fertility to the land.

 

Site Analysis and Assessment: The Challenges

Zones and Sectors, Analysis - 5 year mark

Zones and Sectors, Ongoing Challenges after 5 Years

When I purchased my homestead in Michigan in 2010, much healing and regeneration needed to be done. Its no surprise that permaculturists often select sites that are in the most need of healing—the tools work, and they work well, and we like a challenge. This land was no exception. The landscape was just covered in trash, chemicals, and more. Here’s what I found when I purchased the property:

 

The Lawn and Mowing: First, there was the typical damage of the lawn: no water retention, chemically poisoned, extremely compacted soil, very low-nutrient soil, shallow root mass, lack of biological diversity, no habitat or food in the grass for just about anything. A full 2 acres were being constantly mowed—pretty much anything that could be mowed was being mowed. The grass wasn’t healthy, the soil was so hard you couldn’t even get a shovel into it.

 

Burn piles, trash piles, and garbage everywhere. The previous owners had decided not to pay for garbage service but continued to produce a copious amounts of garbage, so their solution for years was to burn it each week, spread it in random places in the yard, and dump it in the back of the property. In these burn piles, I found everything from nail polish bottles exploded by the heat to lumps of melted plastic, metal coils, and chunks of rubber. The land beneath these piles, of course, had all the chemicals leeching in. All along the edges of the property was a ring of trash—from old bedsprings to plastic containers, for YEARS I found more and more trash along the edges where the trees stood! There was also a full metal bus, which my neighbor was willing to remove and scrap.

 

Scary fluids in metal bins. There were several scary metal drums, stored about 20 feet above the pond in the brush. I looked at them for a good month, trying to decide what to do about them. Finally, my neighbor helped me sort it out—it was hydraulic fluid, and he offered to take it from me since he could use it. Luckily there didn’t appear to be any leakage into the pond.

 

Deforestation. A one-acre section of cedar and white pine trees had been cut about two years prior to my moving in—the google map view still had the trees, but they were all found in the back of the property. A neighbor told me the owners “didn’t like the trees” so they had them cut and dumped. The wood was not used and the land still bore the scars of that event.

 

Ox-eye daisy my first year

Ox-eye daisy my first year at the homestead

Alkali and degraded soil. Early soil tests from around the property revealed soil somewhere between PH 8.1 – 8.3 with almost no potassium to speak of and little to no organic matter. This kind of soil is a challenge—the high PH means that iron, phosphorus, and manganese are less available and may get locked up. I was, like many in my area, living on what had been old potato fields and the soil had been abused quite a bit in those days. You can learn a lot from the soil by the plants that were growing there—one of the few plants I had in the back of the property growing was Ox-Eye daisy; these are indicator species that grows in very poor soil conditions when little else can grow.

 

Water runoff issues. Additionally, the water runoff issues, especially down the driveway, put all the driveway runoff into a shallow ditch that went across the road and into the wetland.

 

Buried shingles everywhere. Someone thought it was a good idea to suppress weeds with toxic asphalt shingles—I found great layers of them under pine trees, down a pathway, in the barn.

 

Massive Garbage/Wood piles in back of property. When the previous owners had cut down all of the cedars and pines in the center of the property, they dumped them in the back, in the woods, and piled garbage on top.

 

Energetic issues. I wrote pretty extensively about energetic healing in my “about the land” page—I’m not going to be talking much about this here, but this is also a critically important issue. When something is mistreated, it closes off and curls up in a ball—that’s essentially what was happening to this land.

 

Site Analysis and Assessment: The Opportunities

Salvaged Cedar Logs for garden beds

Salvaged Cedar Logs for garden beds

Despite the degradation present, the site presented a host of wonderful opportunities to enact permaculture design—“the problem is the solution” as Bill Mollison would say. The site included:

 

  • Nearly 1/3 acre of full sun, including a north-facing line of trees that created a heat trap
  • ¾ acre pond (not well placed from a permaculture standpoint for regeneration, but in healthy condition minus the garbage floating in it). Indicator species, like spotted leopard frog, suggested the pond was ecologically healthy.
  • A pole barn and detached garage
  • A variety of microclimates: full shade, full sun, part shade, protected, high ground, slopes, and so on.
  • A lot of established hardwood and nut trees: maples (for tapping, 3 tapable maples on property); several hickories, many oaks, wild cherry for medicine
  • Protective, biodiverse hedges of trees, shrubs, and berry bushes surrounding the property on three sides where neighbors and the road were (these helped deflect noise, protect from pollution, offer food and forage to all life, and provide privacy)
  • A big pile of logs dumped in the back of the property ready to be used
  • A bunch of other supplies, like posts and fencing, dumped into the sides of the property ready to be used
  • Land energetically ready for healing!

 

The Design and Restoration:

In the first year, I spent most of my time doing the physical clean up of the land and observing the site. The trash cleanup took up most of my time on the land: picking up the burn piles, picking up the trash, fishing more trash out of the pond, picking up pieces of glass, dealing with scary materials in metal bins, and so on. I also sheet mulched three 4’ x 20’ beds in the area that I had the most solar gain and sheet mulched a rocky, gravelly area to turn that into soil. The winter came, and I began researching plants and thinking about the overall site design.

Looking back, I think the project evolved as my knowledge of permauclture design and organic farming grew. I wanted to regenerate the soil, to grow a wide variety of annuals and perennials (with a special emphasis on fruit trees, herbs, and biodiversity), to encourage pollinators, and to create a sacred space. My goals evolved as I learned more!

 

Soil Regeneration. Because of the state of the soil, my big goals for the property was soil regeneration using multiple strategies. As I mentioned above, ox-eye daisy was growing abundantly all through the property, and I was told when speaking to some people from our state extension office that I needed to chemically manage it—advice I chose wisely to ignore.

 

Red clover seeds

Red clover seeds

In my first year on the land, I sowed quite a bit of red and white clover in all the areas of the lawn that I knew I wasn’t going to do anything with for a period of time. Dandelion and burdock also popped up in those areas, breaking up compacted soil. I spread these as much as I could around the property (much to the dismay of my neighbors, I’m sure!) Dandelion and Burdock have deep tap roots and are dynamic accumulators of nutrients, so they are breaking up compacted soil and healing the land with their very presence.

 

Rather than mowing the whole thing and further compacting the soil, I chose to mow paths in the back 2/3 of the property and continued to mow the front lawn (especially after some legal troubles when I stopped one summer). The clover and dandelions (and other plants I later added, like boneset and new England aster) also provided valuable forage for pollinators. Looking back, being more intentional about this and sowing native grasses with deep root masses would have helped to build soil as well!

 

A second strategy for soil regeneration was bringing in chickens. A good number of permaculturists are using animals and specified grazing techniques to build better soil—my goal was similar. These grazing techniques basically suggest that we can sequester carbon by allowing grasses to get tall, then in allowing an intensive foraging by animals to reduce them to the roots. The roots get smaller when the leafy mass is gone, shedding carbon and building organic matter. As the plants regrow, new roots form and the cycle can begin again. My chickens ate bugs, pooped, and built nitrogen with their good work on the land. I also used them when they were in their run to compost materials rapidly and I was able to spread that compost into the soil. I spread manure from a friend’s alpaca farm, then let the chickens come in and scratch it up looking for bugs.

 

Chickens as regenerators of soil!

Chickens as regenerators of soil!

I also used soil amendments when I had the opportunity—I made compost teas and spread them in all perennial and annual beds as well as my field. Because of the high alkali soil, wood ash was out (which was a shame, since I had so much of it), but I did spread chicken compost as well as sourced some free seaweed and spread that. A friend had some leftover granite dust, so I used that as well as rock phosphate.

 

The field started out all in ox-eye daisy, heavily compacted soil. In a period of 5 years, few ox-eye daisies remain, and now there are a host of beneficial plants, berry bushes, and more. Where Autumn Olives grew up, I cut them back in the early spring before they leafed out, forcing them to deposit a lot of their nitrogen and carbon in the roots into the soil. This created a more fertile, less alkali soil, which eventually allowed me to create other things.

 

The last technique, one that I did only a little before moving, was to make and bury biochar to help fix carbon and build soil quality. My garden (covered below) received many more amendments (copious amounts of chicken-composted leaves, organic matter, etc).

 

Now a lot of these techniques were initially focused just in my garden—and that was a mistake. My garden was about people care—but the whole landscape needed to be cared for. Later in my time at the homestead, I started building soil not just for the garden and perennial gardens but throughout the whole property.

 

Serviceberry - first harvest!

Serviceberry – first harvest!

Biodiversity and Perennial Plants and Trees. I really wanted to showcase perennial fruit and nut crops as well as perennial herbs for medicine. To do this, I created different small perennial beds: an traditional medicine wheel herb bed in the front, a small orchard of fruit trees with mini-swales behind the barn, a second row of fruit trees with guilds of beneficial plants along the driveway, a butterfly garden, and a mini food forest (there weren’t trees, but there were trellises and large bushes). These spaces were designed and implemented individually.

 

In permaculture, we think about “stacking functions” where a single plant has many uses – the cover, for example, fixes nitrogen, provides good groundcover that doesn’t require mowing, and creates a fantastic nectar source for bees. Many herbs and perennials have these kinds of multiple functions.

 

Butterfly garden, year 2

Butterfly garden, year 2

Pollinator Haven. In my third year, I really focused on pollinators. I added many more milkweeds, spreading them throughout the property. I planted and managed two perennial pollenator gardens with long-blooming plants. I added other blooming plants, especially mid-to-late season blooming plants like oregano, bee balm, boneset, joe pye weed, New England aster, and goldenrod. The goal here was to provide nectar sources well beyond the spring flows. I had my property certified as a wildlife sanctuary and monarch waystation.

 

And, of course, I added the two beehives. I paid close attention to what the honeybees vs. bumble bees and other native bees liked, and I made sure that all of those things were present on the landscape. Clovers, ground ivy, brambles, so many things the bees like!

 

Certification and Signage

As I mentioned above, after some difficulty with my township about my rather wild front yard, I registered the site as a Certified Monarch Waystation and Certified Wildlife Habitat. I did this mainly for education of those driving by my house—the signage showed people that something different, something regenerative, was happening here.

 

Pond regrown - beneficial bushes and groundcover

Pond regrown – beneficial bushes and groundcover

 Education, Outreach, and Healing

A final piece of the design of this site was using the site as a place for others to come, to grow, to learn, and to heal. This took on a lot of different forms: I had 9 other people, at various times, with plots in my garden. Many others learned about various garden techniques like sheet mulching, front-lawn conversion, beekeeping, perennial plants, herbalism, and more. Throughout my time at the site, over 150 people, many through our Permaculture meetup, came through and saw what was going on, and learned about it. I hosted many monthly meetups as well as hosted three permablitzes so that people could come and learn.

 

Others came, when they were in need, to use the land as a quiet retreat for healing or integrative work.   Still others came to celebrate the wheel of the seasons in the druid tradition. These spiritual and healing aspects were as important to the regeneration of the land as the physical ones!

 

Here’s a final map of everything that was planted and where! Thanks for reading :).

 

Full Landscape Map when I left (click to see larger version)

Full Landscape Map when I left (click to see larger version)

 

The Power of Permaculture: Regenerating Landscapes and Human-Nature Connections July 24, 2015

Regenerating our lands for pollenators

Regenerating our lands for pollinators

As a species, we are facing a number of challenges that can be overwhelming—from global climate change to failing ecosystems, to mass deforestation and substantial water stress. Many who care deeply about the earth, who see the earth as sacred, finds themselves in a state of perpetual mourning and apparent powerlessness when reading the headlines or seeing destruction firsthand. The sense of being overwhelmed can be stifling, limiting, leaving you unsure as to how to do anything but strongly wanting to do something. It can leave you feeling that nothing that you do is good enough and nothing that you do as an individual matters.

 

The environmental movement doesn’t really seem to provide a meaningful way response because its largely based on assumptions that mitigate damage rather than actively regenerate. Environmentalism teaches us how to be “less bad” and do “less harm” by changing from plastic to cloth bags, using less energy, or driving a hybrid vs. a gasoline car. Environmentalism teaches us to enshrine forests; to admire them at a distance where we can’t learn about them or effectively caretake them (the importance of traditional caretaking roles for humans in ecosystems is well documented, as explored in Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson). Environmentalism gives us the ethic that “the earth should be protected” while not really teaching us how to engage in that protection.  I also think the environmental movement, at least as I have participated in it, is fairly reactive rather than proactive.  I think there’s a place for the kinds of work the environmental movement does, and I think they are helpful, but I don’t think they are “enough.”

 

Sustainability as a concept, I am realizing, is also problematic. (I’ve been using this word myself, but am now transitioning away from it in favor of regeneration for reasons described in this post). Sustainability, which means a “capacity to endure” essentially seeks ways of sustaining what is there.  This may mean to sustaining our current lifestyles and levels of consumption (or near similar lifestyles and levels of consumption) while also working to mitigate any further damage to the planet.   Yet, the current lifestyle got us into this mess. Why do we want to sustain that? What are we really protecting when we are “sustainable?” Furthermore, it has become another term commonly used by companies to sell their products and services, rather than an ethic or principle for many. I’m not sure of the ethics that fuel sustainability–desire to do less harm? desire to protect and preserve? They are often not very well articulated.

 

I’ve struggled with both environmentalism and sustainability as meaningful responses because they made me feel like something was missing. Being a better consumer of environmentally friendly goods, or my early attempts at sustainably, still made me feel not so great because I was mitigating problems. I’ve expressed that struggle quite a few times in posts over the years here, and I’m sure that so many of you share it—so the question is, what else is there?

 

What it seems we really need—as a society and as individuals—are tools for being proactive and directly engaging in long-term regeneration: healing the land, healing the planet, healing ourselves, and rebuilding the sacred relationship between humans and nature. We need tools that go beyond the above approaches and into envisioning “what’s next?” or “what’s better?” So many of the structures of our daily lives don’t work: our homes require too much energy for heating and cooling; our waste is treated as waste; our landfills fill up with things that still have value; fresh water runs from the streets of our cities and into the sewer system; our bodies are pumped with poison and chemicals; and our landscapes are barren and toxic. We need tools that help us facilitate the deep work of healing our damaged lands, to re-evaluate and develop better ways of living, and in directly rectifying the damaged relationship we have with nature.  We need an ethical system that is simple to teach and yet profound. We need tools to help us envision the future today–what will our next iteration of lower-to-no fossil fuel living look like? What if we could design for that now? What if we are the ones building what the next iteration of human living could look like?

Hand-built greenhouse and gardens at Sirius Ecovillage

Hand-built greenhouse and gardens at Sirius Ecovillage

 

One set of tools to help us do this is permaculture design. Two Australian designers, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, developed permaculture, or “permanent agriculture” in the height of the sustainable living movements of the 1970’s. Permaculture was developed in response to the growing awareness of the damage humans were causing and the dwindling resources of our planet. Permaculture is a design theory using a whole systems approach modeled in natural patterns; it is a set of ethics and principles that we can use to help us design anything from an outdoor landscape or organic garden to a workplace or a community of people. Millions of people around the world are using permaculture design to revitalize their relationship to the land, enrich their lives, and enhance their communities. To design effectively using permaculture ethics and principles, we must carefully asses, observe, interact, measure, study, and analyze the existing site before we can begin to consider change. The act of interaction, analysis, and observation prior to making change is in itself a powerful tool—it asks us to go from reaction to mindful and directed thought and action.

 

What makes permaculture different than other things, like environmentalism?  For two, permaculture gives a clear ethical system that actually makes a great deal of sense, and that can be directly applied to any design. Permaculture rests upon three primary ethical principles: people care, earth care, and fair share (which I covered in more detail earlier). A goal of any design is to address them all at the same time. We, therefore, design with the understanding that caring for the earth and caring for people are one in the same. Stop and think about that for a minute. The earth’s needs are equal with our own, and both can be satisfied with careful planning and analysis. Furthermore, also a matter of ethics, one of the things permaculture design can do—and do well—is to help us regenerate even the most damaged and poisoned of lands. In fact, many permaculture designers purposely select abused lands as these are the lands that can benefit the most and this is where they can do the most good.

 

Permaculture can be learned by anyone (most of what you need is freely available online) or through books or courses.  Despite its straightforward principles, yet it allows for a lifetime of study and practice. It can be applied to any site or community–from apartment living to rural farmlands.  It puts the power into the hands of the individual and the community, rather in the hands of others.   It also considers the role of the design in the larger ecosystem and community.  Bill Mollison, one of the co-founders of permaculture, described four goals for landscape design: ecological as well as economic; repair and conserve all systems; provide a unique and essential service for the bioregion; and creating something inter-generational (considering current generations as well as future).  So while economics is there, for something like the farm; so is repair of land, conservation, and considering the future.

 

A variety of permaculture books

A variety of permaculture books

The actual design principles  from permaculture are all rooted in nature (and some will be quite familiar to my readers, as I integrate them often into these posts). I have found these principles to be so useful that not only have I integrated them into my life in terms of my living and landscape, but I have used them extensively as themes for meditation and personal growth.

 

Furthermore, the act of any designing work involves intentionality—something sorely lacking today. Many of permaculture design’s principles used in the natural landscape work to improve existing conditions: keyline design, for example, uses water catchment and keyline “plowing” to quickly build soil, sequester carbon, and effectively manage water. A multitude of techniques unfold from the principles and ethics.

 

Does permaculture actually work? Yes, it really appears it does! Sites around the world demonstrate just how powerful this approach can be in multiple settings. I’ll share a few examples here from across the spectrum: from large-scale farming to community design to urban settings: permaculture can be applied effectively.

 

Permaculture’s answer to traditional, large scale farming. Just over 40% of the available land in the USA is used for farming, over 95% using conventional agricultural methods (read: fossil fuels, GMOs, and poisons). Current industrial farming practices emphasize only thing: the amount of food grown for the plate (and hence, the profit of the farmer). The food is grown with absolutely no sense of earth share or fair share, and these practices essentially chemically shut down any natural processes that don’t immediately contribute to the crops and kill the life in the soil. US farms are currently losing topsoil at a rate of 3 cm per year (and topsoil is where life grows; where the nutrients are concentrated).

 

As a comparison, permaculture thinks about the yields not only to ourselves but also to the land, how farmlands managed differently can also provide: pollen, nectar, and habitat are yields for pollinators, build rather than lose soil, and so on. A farm of this nature would still have plenty of growing capacity for human food production—but it would yield much more. A good example of a larger permaculture farm doing industrial-scale production is Mark Sheppard’s New Forest farm. Not only is Mark regenerating the land and creating soil, habitat, and encouraging biological diversity, he’s out-growing other industrial farms of his size (see his fascinating analysis in Restoration Agriculture). And the yields benefiting people from his farm include honey, wax, propolis, pastured pork, pastured beef, free range chicken, free range turkey, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and more. He shows how perennial treecrops can provide for many of the same caloric needs currently being filled by soy and corn—and they need to only be planted once, as opposed to every year. And, as he writes in his book, he could literally walk away from his farm today and it would still be producing a variety of crops in 1000 years. Now that’s regeneration!

 

Design of Nature's Harvest Permaculture Farm

Design of Nature’s Harvest Permaculture Farm

Urban backyard. On the other end of the spectrum from large-scale farming, so many examples exist of urban front and backyard designs using permaculture.  One example is Paradise Lot, developed by two permaculture designers, Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates.  They regenerated a small urban area and actively worked to sequester carbon. Eric and Jonathan bought a tiny duplex on 1/10th of an acre in an urban setting in Massachusetts. Initially, their site was bare, dry and contaminated. Using regenerative permaculture techniques and soil building, the site is now now extremely abundant and fertile. They managed to sequester over 5 tons of carbon over a period of five years (Imagine if everyone sequestered 5 tons of carbon in their back yard rather than produce more from mowing!). They are producing a variety of yields: food, forage, nectar, good soil, beauty, shade, and more. This was all done using the same principles and ethics of New Forest Farm. Like New Forest Farm, if Eric and Jonathan walked away from Paradise Lot, it would continue to be abundant indefinitely.  There are a lot of other sites like Paradise Lot, including one I recently visited as part of my PDC and will be sharing with you in an upcoming post, and my friend Linda’s site in Oxford, MI that I blogged about earlier this year. This is a really empowering and wonderful way to integrate permaculture!

 

Shanti garden at Sirius Ecovillage

Shanti garden at Sirius Ecovillage

Community-level design. A final example incorporating permaculture principles on a community-wide level was the site of my permaculture design certification course (PDC), Sirius Community near Amherst, Massachusetts. One of the oldest ecovillages in the world, it was modeled after Findhorn in Scotland. Sirius uses permaculture design in every aspect of their living: earth care, people care, and fair share are woven into daily life almost as much as breathing. They mill their own lumber and use it to build structures that are ecologically sound and innovative: greenhouses, a community center, various residences, and more. They use extensive passive solar and heating designs in these structures—when I was at Sirius, several days were 95 degrees, and while it was sweltering outside, it was quite cool in the buildings due to these smart uses of heat and cool (compare this to my townhouse in PA, where anything about 80 degrees inside is completely insufferable). Acres and acres of gardens, including food forests, perennial herbs, and annual vegetables provide a significant amount of the food not only to Sirius’s permanent residents but also to the many guests and visitors (we were fed for two solid weeks from these gardens—a delight!). All waste (including human) is fully incorporated back into the land in some way. Solar, wind, and wood generate much of the power and heating.…I will stop here, as I’m planning a full blog post sharing more about Sirius and detailing more of the incredible things they are doing. But suffice to say, this can be done at a community level, especially from the ground up.

 

If you are interested in seeing more examples of successful sites, the film Inhabit profiles a number of different permaculture sites across the US and the great work so many are doing.

 

A ray of hope….

One of the greatest challenges we face in the western world is responding to what is happening globally. A lot choose to ignore it, and go on living as though nothing were happening. Others weep and lament, and feel disempowered to change anything—and so they mourn but do little else. Still others try, but feel that what they are doing can’t make a difference. Even if everyone today started practicing permaculture, we are still paying the hefty tolls of over a century of industrialization and those tolls are irrevocably changing our culture and our world. Yet some of those changes, if we design carefully enough, can be very positive—the problem is the solution, as a permaculture principle suggests.

 

Sheet mulching at Sirius Ecovillage

Sheet mulching at Sirius Ecovillage using repurposed materials

At this point, as the earth’s atmosphere has just gone over 400 parts per million of carbon, every ton of carbon that we can put back into the ground matters. Imagine if everyone started sequestering carbon as part of their “lawn care” like Paradise Lot! Every response we can have is a response.  And its not just individual—when we engage in actions that show a different path, they are like wildfire—spreading further than we can even imagine. I don’t think anyone knows what the future will bring—but permaculture, for me, helps light my way on that path. It gives me tools and ethics of empowerment to teach the next generation. What it does is give me the power of hope.

 

PS: Look for my post next week, where I show these principles in action on my 5-year homestead project—another success story of a regenerated landscape!

 

Lines Upon the Landscape: Spiritual and Energetic Ramifications of Oil Pipelines and Fracking July 17, 2015

Sacred Circle in Michigan

Sacred Circle in Michigan

I’ll never forget May 1st, 2014. I came down to the sacred circle at my homestead in Michigan and with the intention of performing a private Beltane celebration ritual I had prepared. As I began the ritual, something felt very, very wrong. Wrong in the deep, gut sense. Behind the circle was a ley line (in an energetic sense) held by a number of hawthorn trees in a growing in a straight line. I had built the circle before I had found this line, and was delighted when I found it years later. This pathway created an abundance of positive energy upon the land. This ley line ran a good ½ mile or more.   But on Beltane over a year ago, the energies of the line had substantially diminished from even the day before when I had visited the circle. On Beltane, line felt stifled or dampened, and was weakening by the minute. This change had been going on slowly for some time, but this new development was immediate and intense. I knew that a company called Enbridge was putting in an oil pipeline and a compressor station; the pipeline ran less than half a mile from my land and the compressor station was about 3 miles north of my home. I knew that this was the worst kind of oil with a horrific environmental toll—the tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada. But what I didn’t know was that that pipeline was turned on that exact day–Beltane of 2014. Instead of performing my planned ritual, I investigated the energetics further, and I found that where the now-active pipeline crossed the ley line, the line’s energy just stopped, cut off, and that the pipeline was corrupting and weakening the line tremendously. As I observed in the time since, the line literally became non-existent. This isn’t to say the magic of the land was gone, but the magic of that sacred place that I had created was different and altered. The line had shifted the energies, and they are still shifting in the time since. I think its significant that Enbridge (likely unknowingly) chose the day celebrated in my tradition, and in many others, as the day when blessings, abundance, and fertility were returned to the land.

 

In many places and across many time periods, ancient humans created a sacred network across the land*. Lines of stones, sacred roads, stone circles, wood circles, cursuses, ancient old straight paths provided networks are all examples of these lines. From the Incan lines radiating outward from their greatest city, to the spirit roads of the Chinese, to the henges, trilithons, hills and old straight tracks in Great Britain, humans developed physical energetic pathways for specific purposes along the landscape. Using mathematical principles from sacred geometry and the sweat equity of countless humans, some of the lines, curses, mounds, stone circles, and even groves of sacred trees were local occurrences, and yet others went for hundreds of miles and even today can still be viewed from space. Whole cities were built with their holy sites in alignment with the stars, the city and travel ways aligning to sacred wells, stones, and hills. This weaving and creating of a sacred landscape was a defining feature of so many ancient cultures—from South America to North, from the British Isles to China. Most theories suggest that these lines had numerous cultural functions, including emphasizing channeling down the sun into the land to bring abundance, communicating with spirits or ancestors, and in overall blessing the land. The lines upon the landscape, the old straight paths, were a consistent feature upon the landscape for well over a millennium or more. Humans lived, played, ate, loved, breathed, slept, and eventually died on landscapes where the sacredness was set into the very stones.

 

But over time and in many places, the old knowledge of sacred geometry and the power of the straight line, of setting of stones, were lost.  Eventually, the sacred worldview under which these lines were created and maintained was replaced**.

A very different pattern upon the landscape

A very different pattern upon the landscape

 

As time passed, and the world became disenchanted. With the industrialization, mechanized processes, and rationality, the lines that had held the enchantment of the world slowly began to be replaced with modern highways, rails, and subdivisions, who by their very nature are the antithesis of sacred geometry. The ancient henges were dug up in the name of science, the ancient curses and old straight roads were plowed over to make room for “development.” People like “Rock Breaker” farmer discussed in Alfred Watkins’ Old Straight Track purposefully destroyed the stones that had stood for thousands of years because they were inconvenient for his fields. The idea that the land could hold magic was abandoned; the land was physically, mentally, and spiritually disenchanted.   New energy lines, very different from the sacred ones of the distant past, are now a permanent part of our landscape.

 

Like the lines our ancestors once set, these profane oil and gas energy lines are the legacy we leave our ancestors. What energetic pattern do these lines create? What will this new energy line system to do our lands long-term? If our ancient ancestors spent generations upon generations building sacred lines to ensure the peace and prosperity of our lands, what legacy do these new lines leave behind. The disenchanted worldview doesn’t even acknowledge, much less understand, the ramifications of what I write. The photo below shows these new energy lines weaving across the landscape.  For anyone that doesn’t think this affects you or for anyone who thinks that if you just move, you can somehow avoid this….I think this map tells a different story.  When you combine this with mountain top removal, fracking wells, refineries, and more–its pretty much impossible to avoid.

Pipelines across the USA - 2.8 million miles of them (map from Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration)

Pipelines across the USA – 2.8 million miles of them (map from Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration)

As I read a story after story about people fighting to stop yet another pipeline through their backyards, I think about how these pipelines and wells are built manipulation and misinformation perpetuated in communities. I never even knew about that pipeline or new compressor station in Michigan until well after my township had already given them their rubber stamp of approval without any real public notice or opportunity for response. I think about what that pipeline in Michigan did to the landscape, I attempt to understand the deep ramifications of the loss.

 

Machinery preparing for pipeline in Michigan

Machinery cutting down trees and preparing for pipeline in South-East Michigan

If nothing is sacred, then nothing is sacred. Profit becomes the driving motivator of all change, to the short-term profit of few and to the long-term detriment of all. While the world has been largely disenchanted for well over a century or more in most industrialized areas, at least, we are now in a time period where the toll of the profane actions upon landscape is coming due. Among the many other challenges, the drive to put in more and more pipelines, frack anywhere that holds a bit of gas or oil, and continue to consume fossil fuels has led us down such a dark path. I read a few days ago how fracking companies have been spreading their toxic wastewater upon almond and pistachio fields in California, and I think about the long-term ramifications of the disenchantment of the world. Even the way the article reporting on the new practice for fracking wastewater and farmer’s fields is written is disturbing and disenchanted. It speaks of “conservation” and “recycling” in an industry that is literally poisoning our lands and water on a massive scale, and now, apparently, dumping even more poison (likely radioactive and certainly carcinogenic) on our food system. Of course, an 8 million dollar pipeline for the fracking wastewater was just approved to ensure the quick passage of their toxic slurry to your dinner table.

 

In the last week, I helped a friend who is fighting a natural gas compressor station and gas pipeline revise a survey and flyer that will help alert people locally to what is happening. I read stories from all over the country about other groups doing the same—and I pray for their success (I may blog about this group soon–they are using impressive resistance tactics!)  I think about my own experiences in Michigan. I think about my experiences in going hiking after returning to my beloved mountains in Western Pennsylvania, now deep in the heart of fracking country. Fracking didn’t exist when I moved away in my early 20’s after graduating with my BA, but now, it is a permanent feature upon the land, a feature I’m still trying to grasp, understand, and personally respond to.

 

When we hear the news of yet another species extinction, or the poisoning of yet another waterway, or the spill of yet more oil in another ocean, or the release of yet another set of toxins, culturally there is no real response on a widescale level. The industrial machine plows forward with reckless abandon. There seems to be no limit—or care—about how things like fracking, oil pipelines, chemicals, and toxins are changing our landscape. This is because, culturally, we would need radical shifts towards more sustainable living and with a lot less stuff or fossil fuel to make a real difference, and that is something that many modern disenchanted minds cannot currently conceive.

 

Even given this, I believe there is hope. The gas lines and oil pipelines and fracking wells exist upon our landscape now because there was demand and need for them.  By transitioning our own daily living, the demand for such things diminishes. As much as seeing the alternations upon my homelands have saddened me, I know there is hope, both for our physical lands and for the re-enchantment of those lands. We have tools, already in existence, that can help us transition to lower or no fossil fuel living and ways of regenerating our landscapes and lives.  There is also spiritual work we can do to help, at least energetically, engage in the start of healing.  Given these possible tools of response,  I’ll be posting regularly on both the physical and the energetic responses that we can have.  The important thing, I think, it to feel empowered and to do something.  We never truly know how far we can go, and what we can achieve, until we try.   *For readers wanting to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend Lines Upon the Landscape by Paul Devereux and Nigel Pennick. **For readers wanting to understand the shifts in worldview, the first chapter of The Druid Magic Handbook by John Michael Greer serves as an excellent introduction.

 

Celebrating 200 Posts and Five Years on the Druid’s Garden Blog! July 12, 2015

200 posts!  Here's the screenshot! :)

200 posts! Here’s the screenshot! :)

In permaculture design, we talk about the edges and the margins being the most abundant, diverse, and critical places in any ecosystem.  This is where we find the epic brambles and berries, with their thorns that snag and catch, yet bear fruit.  This is where we find the rose, which produces amazing medicine and will grab and tangle. Jewelweed, stinging nettle, wild yam, sweet violet, so many of the best medicinal plants can be found on the edges. Most plants on the edges and margins are thick, lush, and hard to get through.

 

In our own lives, the edges and margins often create discomfort and confusion, but also abundance. I’m certainly on the margin myself at the moment–I’ve recently left Michigan, sold my homestead to a most capable and incredible herbalist who will carry on my work on the land and do much more of her own (that’s how magic works, folks!), and I now find myself exploring a new town in the region where I was born. This week, I’m leaving for a two-week intensive permaculture design class, starting or continuing a few other major projects, and just really looking forward to my new life here in Western PA.

 

So perhaps its fitting, in the midst of all this change, that this post marks nearly five years with the Druid’s Garden blog and is my 200th post!  I’m so honored that you, dear readers, have continued to follow this blog and learn and share. In some ways, this blog has evolved quite a bit. But in some ways, this blog continues to accomplish exactly what I hoped it would from the very beginning, that is, to engage in conversations about druidry, permaculture, sustainable living, and all of the things in between. So I thought I’d step back from my regular posting and think about what this blog has accomplished–and where its going next!

Me in my Michigan grove with my panflute

Me in my Michigan grove with my panflute

The history of this blog….

Five years ago, I started this blog to help track my progress on my advanced druid studies, where I had self-designed a 3rd degree project focusing on sustainability and druidry for the Ancient Order of Druids in America. I finished that work in 2013, but decided to keep blogging. First, while I am writing professor by profession (meaning I teach writing, research writing, read others’ writing, publish articles, assess writing, and so on all day), I wasn’t spending any time on my own personal writing, and the blog was a wonderful way for me to do some writing on a subject that I’m knowledgeable and passionate about. Second, this blog sought to address what I perceived to be a large gap in discussions within the druid and earth-centered spiritual communities and druid community about real earth-centered and sustainable practices. I had hoped to engage in discussions about how to develop sustainable, spiritual practices to address the predicament we face as a species.  So I drew on permaculture design, traditional western herbalism, wild food foraging, the reskilling movement, natural building, organic farming, and more to try to do this. I’ve been so excited to see how far this blog has gone, how many people are reading and sharing, and I’m honored that all of you visit my little corner of the web.

 

Some of my favorite posts…

I wanted to direct your attention to some of my posts that aren’t as visited as my more popular posts, but are some of my favorites:

Trio of Sacred Manure Balls with an Oak Leaf

Trio of Sacred Manure Balls with an Oak Leaf from “Holy Shit” – Sometimes I crack myself up!

 

Holy shit. This was my very first post on the blog, where I spent time reminiscing on the importance of compost and my experiences in spreading it over my new garden.  Ah, the good old days!

 

Mystery of the Stumps, Revisited: One of the most important lessons I ever learned was described in this post–the incredible healing power of the forest. This is also, consequently, when I really got into mushroom hunting.  The forest has always been my best teacher.

 

Ode to the Dandelion. I just love the dandelions, and I think they hold some of the keys to rekindling our relationship with nature.  After posting this on Facebook and sharing it with some friends, it was amazing to see people’s reactions. I have some exciting news about the dandelion coming up soon, in fact!

 

Sacred Sites in the Americas (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6): I did a whole series of posts on sacred sites in the Americas, which I feel was critically important work. Part of this was because in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (of which I am a druid grade member), sacred sites comprise some of the curriculum–and we just don’t have them in the USA like in the UK.  And when we do have them, there are serious ethical issues of cultural appropriation and such. So this series of posts represented my own solution to a very “American” druid problem. I had originally three posts, but then I felt the need to keep writing, so now there are essentially six parts in this series.
Druid Tree Workings (part 1, part 2, and part 3): Another recent series of posts I really love is the Druid Tree Workings series.  These posts came from my very long work with the land and the trees.

 

Sound of Silence: Mass Extinction and the Music of the World: This was one of my more recent posts and definitely one of my favorites. I think a lot of us following druid or other earth-based paths really struggle to effectively accept and respond to everything that is occurring, especially to events beyond our control.

 

Druid’s Crane Bag:  This is another older post examining the druid’s crane bag, and what is in this druid’s bag :).

 

Where do we go from here?

Even though I’m still very much in the discovery mode of what this new life will be–and eventually, what kind of land I’ll end up on (urban farm, intentional community, another small homestead? who knows?), I’ll still have plenty to cover in the upcoming year on this blog:

  • Continuing my work on Sacred trees in the Americas (these posts come slowly, because each post takes about 20 hours of research and meditation to complete).  Some examples are maple, hemlock, and eastern white cedar and my most recent post on American beech.  Next on the list include black birch, white pine, chestnut, ash, elder, and hawthorn! :)
  • Continuing to present recipes, harvesting information, and medicinal information on wild plants, mushrooms, and herbs, similar to these posts: candied violets, chicken of the woods mushrooms, and jewelweed salve.
  • A longer series on Permaculture Design and its connection to earth-centered practices like druidry. I’m doing my Permaculture Design Certificate at Sirius Ecovillage in Massachusetts–I’ll be posting about their village and some of the material that I learn.
  • A series of posts on urban gardening and other sustainable solutions for those renting and those living in a town or city (both of which conditions I find myself in for the next year or two till I’m ready to buy again).  This will include visiting a few urban garden sites, urban composting, container gardening, solar ovens, and more!
  • Spiritual insights and suggestions to handle energy-based disruptions to our land. In Michigan, it was oil pipelines and more oil pipelines.  In Pennsylvania, it is fracking.  So many earth-based, awake, and alive people I know are dealing with these all over the world–so I’ll be sharing some of my experiences in energy-based work here.

Ultimately, this blog is a joint project–I consider my readers just as critical to the success of this blog as I am.  So what would you like to see? What would you like to see more of?  I’m all ears!

Joyful tree in Spring (by Artist Dana Driscoll)

Joyful tree in Spring (by Artist Dana Driscoll)

 

 
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