loss:
an overtone
is forever added
to the skin
of the drum.

we seal hours
trying to dampen
the orphan harmonics
that trouble
the maker’s sound.

the hair we tear out
alone on a feast day
we tape to the drum head
muffling some, never all
of the raw ringing out.

I’ve been kin
to tundra swan shadows,
sorrow folded shoulders
that undress the heart,
neptune come to rest
in the marked palm
of grief’s chosen family

and i say
in ardent love
i will not mute
the drums I play
beneath your
corn-ripening sobs.

for you and our loss,
this scratched skin sings,
zero-bound infinity,
sings through the hole,
the hole in my voice.

Disappoint me tenderly,
catcher of sighs.
I have learned not to worry
about what I pray for.
Yes, it will all come true.
No, never how I think.
I cry, shower me in joy!
Let me wake up hummingbird,
my needlebeak already deep
in pooling essence.
Or, all the same,
toss me into your briars!
Let my restlessness bloom iron
to spill on newborn weeds
chosen to dance for the milky way.
Suffering and ease, a single weave,
a featherbeat, a pulsing loom,
Wineberries swell beneath the moon,
Recall, recall, recall, recall.

Questions Waking in the Sunwarmth

Holy compost, and holy makers of compost. Great billions unseen working with water and the broken. I know the broken open and the broken apart are the bells that call you to the table and the aromas that stir you to life.

I’ve got something for you. I’ve got something for you to worm into, wind into, water into; to grind, combust, exhale to the great catcher of sighs above; to excrete, purge, cast, and fix – fix it dark and humic, fix it grain and clump, and bond to the end of my mistakes countless ions of magnesium and calcium to be the distant cracked hickory meat for some hungry belly a hundred millenia from this very local ache.

Oh eyeless playmates of rupturing time, it isn’t like I didn’t try to break it down on my own. I’ve been digesting the wool and amethyst body of all this as long as I’ve kept cold lightning in these nerves. Blessed heap, it isn’t like I lack cunning. Artifice, I relinquish. Craft, I rush. It’s cunning now that calls me to call to you. This is the time to give over remains to origin and finish.

Take these mistakes and take the squirming veil. Take the distance between my eyes and the soul of the world. Take them and grind, combust, exhale, excrete, purge, cast, and fix – fix the exhausted rider and mare to the mother place where they wait the time it takes starlight to echo, to be born again by hydrothermal vent into some other epoch of the world.

Whatever grows from you in my own time, I will taste. May I be here to peel the rind of some of what grows from what you make of all these endless shuddering thoughts. May the holy wish to love that’s behind every fleeing thought be the sweetness in the fruit that finds my mouth – growing from you, wretched pure pile, mound I dorm with, kidney of my garden, decay midnight sage.


About is a magician; a hand moves and our eyes follow, forgetting anything else ever existed.

Here is the about of my offering.


In 2015, I took a Permaculture Design Class at Wild Abundance in the mountains. Near the end of it, a storyteller who would later break me open again four years after told us the story of the climate and the way it could alter even our sky’s eternal blue color to the impossible algae green I’d already been watching it turn in my dreams for years. He taught collapse to paradise gardeners as twilight meteorology in toppled marble and stormwater. That night in sacred fellowship like the builders of a Stonehenge the circle of us watched the last human habitable dusk come upon us with a spiteless whisper.

At the end of that story I sat between two great ceremonial tobacco plants with leaves like the faces of saints of compassion and tilted my head to the stars I’d somehow stopped looking at when I moved to North Carolina. And the stars looked at me.

This was the first time I ever felt stillness.


In early 2016, by the doors of friendship and incalculable synchronicity, I was found by a tradition where that stillness I’d felt was taught, not with hollow words nor reason, not from any guru nor decades spent sitting on a cushion. Stillness was taught here by the undeniable and generous immediacy of its music like breathing is taught by the mother and then air.

In the first flame of that still candle, the silhouettes of what lives in me were clear and traceable against the earth. They gathered around me, court and standing stones under starless sky waiting to hear a single true word; and I, no running water, canoe on still shaded lake, undegreed and freelance in garments perennially and maybe permanently unlaundered, began to become someone who could bless each weird inner branch as were and as is.


In 2012, I met Pickle. I fell all the way in abiding love. Two teeming bundles, leaves cast on a zephyr holding hands and soaring with immediate recognition. All the while, molting and leaving clumps of fur around us we packed into one den after another. Dreaming of the den that wouldn’t rush and the den that wouldn’t sink. We were like stoned beavers building dams out of saliva and vintage repair manuals. It is was worth every stab of pain as the stone now passes.


In mid 2016, I quit my weird fluke of a well-paying secure non-profit job and went to a commune in the mountains to learn to live on earth without constantly tearing up her face. In my first visit, it felt like I had found the planet I came from. So much about it didn’t make sense in exactly the way I never could. The sound of the frogs in the garden at dusk was blinding. When I went outside to pee each night I could overhear the stars. They were so close.

Pickle waited for me at home while I studied permaculture. I alternated between the animal ache of missing her and the laughing liberatory terror of my first time experience of people living together in a way that seemed to actually sort of really work. My bones remembered this: having and being had by a people and a home. I felt something else I’d wanted for most of my life: an existance finally free of that daily barb wire around the soul that is the constant peripheral awareness that meeting my daily needs was clear cutting forests and enslaving people I’d never have the chance to know the names of. Here, the stories of how I had food water joy and shelter were not greenwashed press releases but the unburdened poetry of a passerby’s face on a creek bent path.

So deep in love was I with the valley, the air, the scent, the lifeway and all its radiant messes, that I was afraid I’d never be able to come back to Pickle from this place where I’d gone to study for the dream we’d been entangling ourselves in already for two years. For weeks my heart wanted to part down the middle. In desperate heaviness and despair I for the first time brought my need to the base of a tree. The mother beech held me as I stumbled toward prayer and after a time told me to open my eyes. A few feet before me a coyote walked through my sight. I wept. I had tried talking to a tree and a tree heard my prayer. My life was changed.

After that small rite, my intolerable longing for home departed on the wind. I was whole, I didn’t need to decide between partnership or paradise. Pickle was my home again. Our patterns and our problems would be my belonging. I found the will to leave the mountains behind and dreamed daily of our tearful reunion. I promised to my loneliness and my village-struck vision of human beauty that I would make my own village in the Piedmont as if a village were just so many mud bricks to carry.

On the Summer Solstice I went home to Pickle and after a joyful reunion, I found myself unwittingly immersed in 6 months of stark, sick, social isolation. Unemployed and alone most hours of the day, my new village was inhabited by me, memories, ideals, and whatever lived in all those ubiquitous screens.

We were launching our dream to create a community on land into the unfeeling sea of utopian concepts and property listings. We had a big whiteboard of the ten thousand things we needed to do by when or else. We argued about whether to have an inverter for our solar power or whether to have fifty people or ten live with us. We ended up in therapy for the first time. We paid $800 to have someone show us how much better it was when we listened to our bodies instead of the screaming toddler dressed as a statue called reason, and we promptly and equally forgot the lesson completely.


In mid 2015, we got married. It was the best day of my life. The trembling of Pickle’s face danced every fiber of me. Blessings made a portal in the air and washed us and our people with laughter and tears. Our beloved community formed a little nomad yurt village together and we were sure this scene of firelit communal intimacy prefigured the life we would create together in the woods. Our people watched, our mothers and fathers watched, the ones behind us watched.

Holy compost, holy makers of compost. Let me not hold back a morsel. Eat this now crumb and course, and if when it’s my time to lay in your fragrant arms you choose to show me the perfect fullness of this ceremony just once more, I will look and be unmade.


In 2017 we moved into the 256 square foot Yome. Canvas riff on an arid steppes dwelling air dropped into a loud hot humid forest land, arena for our shadows, hastened prayer, end in the beginning.


The fissure beneath my heart began to open again. Magma came through, cauldron light, aqueous fire. As the underground river beneath us rose and fell I kept carrying my longing to the bases of other trees listening for coyote.

I was willing, am somewhere inside still willing, to sacrifice my longing before any god not yet tired of me. Look at the finer and finer blade I have honed; the rarer prayer that I speak; the more gravitationally true the tears that I water the roots with before asking them to shred this pleading for kin and a homeland into something others find workable.

For three years I faltered and prayed, ending at least a thousand of those days silently resolving to leave as soon as possible. There came to be a mineral pride in learning I could transform anything. I forged increasingly ornate black gates from the heart magma. At least once, I swam our underground river. I learned to let every suffering become a call to stranger kinds of wholeness.

Maybe most of all, I was shouting to some story I inherited about men, I don’t know from where, that I would not run, I would not give up, I would not look away. If there was any lesson to learn in staying, I would hollow out more and more of my ego to let it come through and water these poor tired seedlings.


In late 2019, this horse got involved. It didn’t have reigns or a saddle. There was the story about the hundreds of thousands of horses killed in Eastern Europe by the soviets. There was the horse-hide drum I’d begun playing at night. The need to be free was given a shape.

Around the same time, the stillness I’d been studying and that had been studying me decided to take up residence. Beyond words and from a candle I had learned something wholly new.

Friends said I seemed taller. There was this final wrought gate I stood by every night for months. When the sun wouldn’t set and the sounds wouldn’t stop, I learned to be the evening star so I could sleep. I didn’t move from the gate. It wasn’t even so great a struggle. Stillness was the only response to the moment. Clarity was the only word on my lips.

One day whatever was meant to happen beyond the gate I was tending happened and just like that, my post was over.


This is where I am. The virus, nucleation of ten thousand causes and conditions, spread and it all stopped.

I have just been shook loose from a tightrope a moment after being reminded how to fly. Yet in eternal mystery, a great palm rises before my face signaling: “Wait. Pause. Hold on.” I sit in my strange wizard hut thinking, “hold on to what?” My partnership is over. The thread of my purpose has gone underground. The land I live on will probably not hold me for much longer. Our world reconfigures itself. Every obvious move is sanctioned. My toolbag is full yet for the first time in my adult life, I have nothing to work on.

I have shards and ash tracing arrows and runes. Kin. Find kin. Mountains. Go be with them. Trees. Where you can plant trees. Body. A body that recognizes yours. Water. Enough to immerse in. Song. So less often sung alone.

Joy. Worth following. Worth changing for.

Where will I be next year? What will I be doing? How will I help?

This is the first time in so long that I do not know.

God is the tree in the forests that
allows itself to die and will not defend itself in front of those
with the ax, not wanting to cause them
shame.

And God is the earth that will allow itself to
be deformed by man’s tools, but he cries; yes, God cries,
but only in front of her closest ones.

And a beautiful animal is being beaten to death,
but nothing can make God break his silence
to the masses
and say,

“Stop, please stop, why are you doing this
to Me? “

How humble is God?
Kabir wept
when I
knew.

-Kabir

Under loss’s leaking roof

Under loss’s leaking roof,
Wildfire loss and dark matter loss keep 
a simple home. Most people
come there by answering

wildfire’s irrefusable invitation
in the dusty po box
next to the expiration notice
sooner or later.

Once there however the
umbrous displacement
rocking in the chair,
straightening a small
grey feather may begin
in the voice of all strangers
and all pavement 
to speak. You who are here

in our simple skin of all roofs
and leaks, hear if you’d like
that most loss never gets
named touched or seen.

It is just not is,
Kin if you blink
to never even was.

The two billion birds
in thirty years
whose hollow flute bones
finished their long 
lightening into 
lighter than whisper passage
can’t be missed.

As dark matter tells you this
Wildfire places an open palm
on the back of your neck
and helps you to bow
your head. You leave

eyes washing trails of
leaf litter cracking
until the city.

On the pavement
grey bird feather between
parked cars not now 
growling over all of
feather not dropped,
of can’t be missed.

“Sometimes you are blessed with the opportunity to do something directly to help the Amazon. More often, if you’re living in the United States or Germany or England or India, the opportunity may not be to stop the logging in the Amazon. The opportunity might be on a much deeper level, to contribute to a shift of consciousness — to perform acts of care and ecological healing. Or social healing. I mean, it’s all part of the same project, the healing of this Earth. But it could be ecological healing where you are that affirms that you care about life on Earth, that invites the planet to stay alive. 


Imagine that you’re on your sick bed and you’re really suffering, and you don’t really know: Do I want to live? Do I want to stay here? What gives you the will to live? It’s if people love you, if people need you, if you’re valued, if you have a community, if you’re not alone. Here we have Earth on a sick bed. Therefore, everything you do that affirms that you want a living Earth, not a dead Earth, everything you do that is of service to life, everything you do that comes from love of a place or a person or community — all of that is a message to Gaia, saying ‘We love you. We want you. We need you. You are not alone.'” 

– Charles Eisenstein, this video

dragonfly

This still shaded lake, sorrow
is not mine
anymore now than when
they were a river
eager to reach
any new curl
further down the face
which wept them cold and
clear into life.

In times of wet shadow
silent by the highway growl
the prayers of snapping turtles
in the shallow abyss
secret inside a script
only a few still read:
original darkness,
this still shaded lake, sorrow.

Dragonfly! In the shatter
and reconfiguration
and so
much
fucking
loss
please
light on me now.
Make these arms your branches
buoyant on sorrow while
my trunk falls into the muck.
Please
be the jewels
that are not mine
anymore now than when
the weather starts again
after centuries
and you begin to tumble out
these dark open eyes
wet with a lonely talent
to read the prayers
of snapping turtles
this still shaded lake, sorrow.

Shelter’s Soul

“When did we trade shelter for comfort? what was the cost of that trade?”

-Martin Shaw

We’d planned a firefly-lit party to celebrate Beltane and then watched the first great storms of May fly towards the tiny patches of shadow under our meagerness of off-grid roofs. As the storms grew closer, we thought twice about inviting dozens of folks to crowd under the shoutfall of rain on our little octagon of acryllic canvas and our one-and-a-half small squares of aluminum roof and cancelled the gathering in hopes of better weather the next weekend.

But then in the usual dandelion-seeds-in-a-zephyr nature of off-grid communications, some beloved friends didn’t get the message calling the party off; and others adamantly volunteered to brave it anyway for a stormy abbreviated Beltane. And so that night four friends gathered together with us three living out there now in the half-built breezy rib cage of our newest grasp at Shelter.

***

We’ve been building a new shelter since January. Built from a kit from Jamaica Cottage Shop and costing less than $4,000 for what we sincerely hope will be a 4-season habitable climate appropriate off-grid home, the little home has been my prayer for a sense of missing peace, privacy, and harmony in my life on our land.

Two Februarys ago, we started life in our extra small yurt / yome. I now carry an imaginary library card to palatial dream libraries filled only with the books of what we didn’t know. We were and still are beginners.

The unknowings that were hardest on me and nearly tore my life apart a basketfull of times were two: first, that in a canvas structure only an acre away from a bunch of neighbors, that neighborhood dogs barking all night in Winter and neighbors partying frequently with amplified music in Spring through Fall would drive my silence-loving auditorily oriented self out of my heirloom gourd; and second, that living in a small crowded canvas circle under a lot of stress and emergency with someone you dearly love is like an echo chamber for every last shred of childhood and ancient “stuff” you’ve been porting around and had previously been using netflix as expertly as possible to avoid having to look at.

Beyond that, there were really health and life giving acts that I knew how to do but just couldn’t figure out how to access in that tent. I finally realized I’m a deeply introverted person who cherishes a kind of soul privacy that I can now see was a painfully unanswered need for some of my family going way back that decided to find me too. There are weird wiggles we just need to get out when we need to get them out and to do them we need to be blessedly alone. Not the least for me was the healing way I used to use making music to center myself and soothe my heart; but in that crowded canvas octagon, so close to my neighbors who are always outdoors and, at least in my mind, always listening to the new weird drama of their backyard, I was afraid to make the melodic sneezes my guitar patiently suffers or the long cuckoo succession of rhythms my drums taunt me into lest I reveal the naked cave dwelling spirit under my urge to make music and, worse, lose from my own loud drumming the ability to ask them to kindly turn down their noise when it’s pounding through our dinner at the end of a long day. More and more unusual binds like this gave me the feeling of being a trapped animal, watched, even somehow attacked. And when I barked in the way a trapped animal sometimes does, Pickle was the one there to hear it and be hurt by it. In the nature of all real dreams, our life shared a boundary with nightmare that I sometimes found my heart smuggled across.

So it was in this confusion and misery that we kept building and building this little prayer of a home deeper in the woods. It would be soundproofed and finished with earthen walls that would reverberate like time and maybe even make my disregulated crow voice and squash-fingered plucking sound OK. It would also be private and a holder of Rumi’s kind of solitude. It would be an invitation for loving silence and loving aloneness to nest; and if they did, it would be those most tender of twins, now being chased from every imagined corner of our round world, that could call my own frightened rescue dog heart home again. And maybe I could start, after 2 years, to live where I live.

***

On Beltane evening, when the seven of us gathered in the little half-completed shelter I hoped could become my home, I got to witness something as numinous and additive as the birth of a lamb in the field. I got to watch my shelter gain a soul.

I didn’t know this was a thing that happened. I didn’t know to look for it. I don’t know if all the boxes built as our attempts to enclose some promised portion of comfort had anyone trying to call in a soul. Probably most of them didn’t, and the corners and doorways and attics sat wanting, their soul vacancy signs muted in the formaldehyde and amnesia walls that is the architectural vernacular of building code and capitalism.

Now I know and won’t forget: a soul can be invited into a building just as surely as some cultures believe it is invited into a body (it even seemed to be about the same number of days after the building’s “conception” as some traditions believe about people that it happened!). What this soul’s invitation looked like was seven friends laughing, speaking, singing, drumming, remembering; and the lightning in the sky outside the door frame and the belting frogs and my first sacred peeing off my own porch, ever; and the bizarre ecological drawing game we play called ‘weirdo forest’ with a song devoted to each imaginal being we placed into our index card ecosystem on the unfinished floor; and the oak-in-the-acorn, ending-in-the-beginning moment of having, in those three-and-a-half walls and that flickering candlelight illuminating the wrens who moved into the corners of the beams of our home months before I’d be ready to, when all of our effort and longing had already created this one absolutely perfect moment of profound love and beauty in this dear small little ensouled Shelter. Before it, it was a construction site. After it and forever until its end, it glows and will glow, for me or for someone else or maybe only for the wrens, of a Home.

thank you to my family and family of friends who called in the household spirits and all for all those who will be there some day with me feeding them with laughter and gnarl. love you

Durable as Breath

I am learning the dizzying trust the thread learns to feel when the needle leaps out from the cloth again and again.

Here two weeks away from two years of porous living, slowly learning to track the animating questions home to their weird heart, sometimes finding precious peace in the storm and other times senselessly jumping up and down in the rowboat because it’s so confusing to see the sea so calm when somewhere so many are sinking and somewhere so many are dragging their battered courage onto the soft breast of shore, I ride out this gnarled gift of a life in our weathered canvas home.

***

I started writing two years ago to leave a record of our journey to this life within the limits of earth. Along the way I’ve written about the connection between the land and myself. Just as I’ve been taught how to let the completion of an old oak grove show me my own completeness, the mothering patience of a beech tree welcome me as nourished and nourishing, or the blistery pokey teacher vines at our forest edges teach me about boundaries and skin, so is some great empathy working quietly behind each day to bind me to the whole of this place that has been plowed, logged, eroded, cut, hunted, trashed, and also loved, relied on, blessed, remembered, protected, and again regrown, all of it in cycles depositing strata of people and plants atop the grinding migrations of behemoth plates forever going home. I detect but don’t understand that in some important way what happens here happens to me. The more I learn to see that my home is alive and had a life long before we ever met, the more our relationship becomes as potent and vulnerable as a marriage.

In loud moments last year I’ve cursed my home for not being able to keep me safe and for echoing my every failure back so loudly and in quiet moments last year I’ve utterly relied on the patient exactness of our place and let myself sink free into its playful peace.

In both kinds of moment inner hands work silently braiding something durable inside while I get to work building another small shelter in the woods.

***

I lost a forest canopy of a friend this Friday who had again and again taught me just by being himself how love can be easy, how a single smile can speak the whole book of life, and how touching the circle of a drum can build a nest in air for firebirds to roost. A week before losing my friend a candle and a sweetgum ball taught me how to mend a terrifying rift in my marriage. And a week before that, I dwelt in sudden startling ease with the afterimages of my lost biological father and all the deeply kind, lucid branches he left behind as I was welcomed mess and all by the missing lovable intensely recognizable other half of my life.

Somewhere in the days before and between each of these threshold gates, I wandered alone through the nights driven crazy by a neighbor’s new chained dog barking endlessly through the bitter cold nights, afraid like I get afraid and alone like I get alone cold down in by the creek bed at the end of the land. And approaching each gateway, I was sure again that I had to leave the land. And in between that, I was sure again that I am home, I am supported, and every grain of sandy soil I sleep above is the sand of the path I somehow chose to walk the day I was born.

***

The way I was taught to make cordage involves bringing together again and again the thumb and the finger. The hand encloses a precious portion of emptiness. The emptiness is mother to the durable. In braiding the durable, I sometimes need to spend months just holding that thumb and finger together having no idea what I’m doing. No new twine is made, nothing visible moves. All I can do is keep that pressure against the pulse in my thumb, exhaling. Other times, I move. The pliant inner skin of trees moves in my hands. Strands become rope. Rope becomes bridge. Where is there to go but across? What is there to say but thank you?

to my dear friend: I’ll watch for you across the bridge we were building together until it’s my time to cross. in the meantime across the way you’ll hear me playing the rhythms you taught me. thank you, thank you, thank you.

and to the parent who died before I could meet him: who knew what a familiar friend you could be to me without us having ever met. you’ve left me a life where I’m triply blessed. thank you for this wild chance to be.  i love you as you are.


from a visioning exercise at Dark Mountain

in the Piedmont in the early 2010s….

…  we were suddenly starting to see the cliff we were walking towards. We had been rushing around late for something with our heads looking down at our new screens, transfixed by the low-level panic of coffee, social media, and the background awareness of a deep hopelessness. Our attention spans were in tatters. Our hearts were tired. We knew it was bad but didn’t know how to change things. We still thought that probably, solar or wind or even nuclear power would somehow save us.

For many of us, a techno-fix was easier to believe in the early 2010s when people who seemed sure of themselves were still confidently publishing things from ivory towers or silicon valleys saying that something like the increase in driving route efficiency of people using smartphone mapping apps would be the kind of thing that reduced emissions enough that a lot of us could keep on going to jobs in air conditioned office buildings where we learned new productivity software to maximize some output. Whole Foods would ban plastic bags and somehow we’d be fine.

It was possible to think that Elon Musk or some other techno capitalist hero would create some kind of battery that defied the limits of growth and kept the show on the road. It was all really hard to think about for long and still easy enough to guess someone else, smarter than us, really rich, and with a lot more time than any of us seemed to have, knew what to do.

Some of us too had been sure there was going to be some kind of great shift in consciousness. We’d reassure each other at festivals that some great awakening was about to happen. The world would soon look like one big ecovillage.

Even the climate scientists collecting the data counseled each other not to say how bad it was in fear it would render people paralyzed, unable to take the very steps that those same climate scientists privately admitted probably wouldn’t matter anyway.

In the Piedmont in the late 2010s…

…many of us finally decided to stand up and look over the precipice. That election happened and many of us learned to loosen our grip on hope. We let ourselves learn in how many ways we were too late and we watched the world move further away from any kind of meaningful remedy. We learned more about methane under the permafrost and cascading runaway events we’d already set in motion. We started to see what would now almost certainly happen just in the lifetime of our children and the children of our friends. We became sick and dizzy. A great rift tore our hearts in two.

The reality of how we were too late for so much we’d already missed made many of us so dizzy that we started to trip and fall. Some of us didn’t get up. Just when we were about to make a home in despair, isolation, bitterness, addiction, medication, and digitally reinforced numbness, we found each other. We found each other and we took each others’ hands. We found a connection to something greater than hope or fear, success or failure, loss or gain. We learned to flower as the people who were already too late. We dedicated ourselves to all life.

This dedication to life meant every day we would weep and bleed with the wounds of the land, we would suffocate with the dying coral reefs, and we would suffer with the billions of people yet to be born; it also meant we would become woven inseparably into the life of all of it. Because we would let ourselves feel the wasteland of a tilled up field and the anger and sorrow of our great grand children, we could also feel the yearning of a spring shoot and be held by the vast open palm of space, familiar and kind. We could know the love that births stars and our hearts would be the wholeness of a forest. We could come to love ourselves and each other with no hesitation remaining.

Nothing had forced us to change yet, but our awakening to the life of mother earth made it harder and harder to keep doing the things that hurt her. We shed international vacations, went through the awkward miracle of getting to know our neighbors and letting them know us, and created ecstatic local community celebrations that could wake the dead and left us with far more than travel photos and debt; we slowly with the support of each other and the living earth got off our medications and learned the art of following the feelings we’d criminalized to the grove of mystery in our heart they had always been beckoning us to; we gave up screens and learned to be musicians, poets, dancers, storytellers; we stopped buying shit and our hands came alive with making; we stopped always looking for a cooler town so that the patient ground beneath us could finally wind its tendrils into our veins and claim us jealously; we canceled all subscriptions, traded air conditioning for earth walls and swimming holes, careers for livelihoods, and we accepted hopelessness as the complement to a newfound fearlessness. We did this all kindly together non-judgementally and piece-by-piece simple as leaves shedding water because we were in love and we wanted nothing more than to give gifts to all the forms of our true and one wild love.

In the Piedmont in the 2020s….

… knowing hopelessness and knowing we had no chance of succeeding, a wild idea began to root in us: what if we approached the ending of all life as we know it with style? Like the flowering of generosity we sometimes create in the face of a terminal illness: what if we came together to give, regardless of outcomes and with hands empty of hope, the most beautiful gift we can imagine to the future?

We came together. We decided to focus on land because it could connect so many needs and create the greatest reduction of atmospheric carbon and the greatest health for people and the wild. To do it, we wouldn’t have to wait for politicians or corporations to get it. We could act and so we did.

We were activists, novice and storied farmers, immigrants, scientists, unkillable ancient locals, people of faith, high schoolers, oil war veterans, concerned good hearted humans, and a lot of permaculturists. Somehow – maybe because we all knew the hour was so late – we managed to agree on something like a plan.

Economic shocks in the 2020s meant a lot of small- and mid-scale farmers were having to sell their land. The kind of farming that had gone on and long been unsustainable ecologically was now unsustainable economically too. Big developers and automated mega-scale industrial agriculture corporations were going to buy all this Piedmont land by the thousands of acres for almost nothing. California’s droughts had made it less arable and with lands at these prices and subsidies coming from an even more corporate corrupted government, automated big-ag could make a profit by selling the last of our area’s fertility as exported pork and soy. Wastes would run into the river and new chemicals into the bodies of the rural poor and big-ag had been permanently protected from lawsuits by the corporate state.

It was hard to begin, but the rapid threat of seeing all this already abused farmland right in our backyards become further destroyed pushed us to leap. We decided to stand up exactly where we were. We used all the decision-making and cooperation tools we knew to bring people together to use the lie that is land ownership and the poison that is money to buy thousands of acres of Piedmont land. We hoped this would be the last time the land would ever be bought and sold. We covered the land in covenants, agreements, and prayers. This land became the ground for our beautiful gift as the people of the Piedmont living in the time of too late.

We spent the 2020s learning to cooperate, planning, researching, acquiring land, finding allies, developing our permaculture skills, and laying the groundwork and agreements for the plan.

In the Piedmont in the 2030s…

… We had reached fifty thousand acres to be collectively managed as a heavily carbon sequestering air and water cleaning wildlife sheltering cooperatively controlled commons to serve life in this region.

The biggest difference between our collective land and existing conservation projects was that we would work with land intensively to also meet human needs as part of restoring the ecosystems so that those needs didn’t have to be met through degrading other land or participating in the industrial growth economy. We wanted skilled humans everywhere in the fields and forests helping all life to thrive including themselves and their neighbors.

We trained each other. We did everything possible to make sure that the small farmers and people of the rural Piedmont, as well as anyone in a disadvantaged situation who wanted an opportunity to live this way was invited to learn. In some ways, people who knew little were a blessing. They didn’t have to unlearn anything. In other ways, we benefitted immeasurably from the wisdom of farmers who had been here for generations.

We studied soil health, no-till, silvopasture, watershed regeneration, coppice agroforestry, natural building, regenerative grazing, seed and animal breeding, fire management, appropriate technology – as well as racial equity, anti-oppression work, consensus and sociocratic decision making, non-violent communication, emotional intelligence, cooperative living.

We made our projects economically viable, knowing we lived in the time of transition. The pastures we converted to silvopasture were more productive than they had been and needed fewer of the inputs which were quickly rising in cost. The permaculture orchards took a while to be productive but eventually became overyielding polycultures. We made medicines out of medicinal mushrooms and plants. We created fast-rotation bamboo biochar for ourselves and other farmers.

Importantly, we secured public and private funding for carbon sequestration. Lots of money was being thrown internationally at climate change and while most of it was going to corrupt contractors on pie-in-the-sky techno fixes, the amount our farmers needed to be viable was a drop-in-the-bucket compared to that. We could prove that we were sucking in thousands of tons of carbon with our land management approaches and we got paid for it.

We also cut our costs of living down to almost nothing. Being part of this collective, now hundreds strong, meant almost total autonomy but also required keeping certain agreements. Among them –  we would help each other. Since we created our own food, fuel, fodder, fertility, fun, medicine & building materials, we ran collective schools, we lived in small collectively built and intelligently designed passive home, we shared tools and cars, and we shared elder and child care, the cost of living became less and less each year. Meanwhile, our skills kept increasing and the yields of our perennial crop systems did too.

This was more important every year as automation of jobs increased and corporations consolidated control. We recruited a lot of our next wave of forest tenders from the vast swaths of unemployed and from those whose corporate employers seemed daily to engineer graver and graver insults to human dignity for less and less pay. The life we offered was sometimes a terrifying leap even for the most renegade of us; but the life the industrial growth system offered was becoming worse by the minute. The spread of  private debtors prisons sent a lot of would-be college students to learn tuition-free from our flowering fruiting wilds instead of risking lifetime corporate servitude.

We had a health care plan and maternity leave, too, when almost no one else seemed to anymore. Being part of the collective meant that we would take care of each other. If someone was sick or a new parent, we worked their part of their project. If someone was going through a crisis and just needed to fall apart safely, we helped them do it and welcomed them back when they were ready. We were a village for each other.

Because we were a collective and managed so much land with so many different strategies, it was always possible to connect any land’s “waste” to another part’s need. It was possible to raise water tables and heal whole watersheds. Because we were so many people, we soon had an expert on everything who could teach everyone else.

We gave tours and taught workshops. As climate change ravaged our area, our recharged water tables, heirloom seeds, irrigation-free growing, windbreaks, perennial crops, and fungal no till soils meant we sometimes had crops that were the only survivors of the kind in the region; and when the staple foods traditionally grown could no longer withstand the extreme weather and unpredictable dance of insects and diseases, our diversified forest farms and silvopasture polycultures backed us up each year with something nourishing that could carry on. As oil costs went up, we were the ones who could show how to grow copious food without plastic, industrial products, or mined inputs. When peak phosphorous finally drove the price of phosophorous inputs inaccessibly high, our diligent mineral cycling saved us. We shared everything we knew with an increasingly interested populace. Some of the farmers who originally thought we were crazy had started to hang around at our barbecues and we were everyone of us the richer for it.

In the Piedmont of deep time…

… I don’t know if we saved anything. What was going to happen happened; but along the way, more and more of us started to be claimed by this great flowering being beneath us, the foothills of the Appalachians, the oaks and hickories, the gentle roadside weeds. Our effort was the prayer that Something old and kind had been longing to hear again and that was Enough.

Acting so strongly like we did without any real hope of success never really made sense. We gave and gave knowing that some day we would have to lose it all. In this way, it was exactly like falling in love.