Monthly Archives: March 2018

Waiting for the bud break with every breath

Right now, almost a hundred new trees stand in our soil, the most vital parts of their bodies entirely out of sight, dreaming.

I fret over them wondering if any will live at all. Bare root, as inexpensive trees as we can get. Before this I’d only planted a handful. The number of things I don’t know are infinite, and the few kinds of care I do know how to give make me feel happy in a way that is new. This is care I can give.

I haven’t tested the soil, but I know it’s acidic and so a sprinkling (is it too much, too little?) of wood ash around most of my trees can help. Wood ash raises the pH and fills the soil with trace minerals. The Permaculture maxim “the problem is the solution” fits here, because the problem (acidity) is an opportunity for me to safely use greater quantities of the pH raising wood ash without causing the soil to get too alkaline; then the trees also get the benefits of an impressive range of nutrients that they’d otherwise struggle to find with new roots.

Of course I also added lots of biochar.

Meanwhile, the rain and clouds kept a rhythm that was just right. It stayed cool long enough that I think most of what I’m planting would stay dormant. We’re still water scarce, so watering in all those trees and shrubs wasn’t an option; yet the rain came as needed, soothing my worry. When the dance with the weather goes this well in the 21st century, it is a miracle too easy to miss.

For the simple joy of saying and writing the names of plants as if I were writing out my crush in a school notebook, I’ll list what I’ve planted this year:

  • Red Chokecherry – for us and for wildlife, grown in the understory
  • Spicebush – for medicine and wildlife and beauty
  • Black Willow – for infinite uses, but especially to stabilize a ridge from eroding
  • Hazelnut – most for the squirrels – but some for us, too
  • Tag Alder – for nitrogen fixation, trellising, tree hay
  • Black Locust – same, but a different family
  • Paw Paw – for food in the understory
  • Shangri-La Mulberry – for the yummyness
  • Shinko Pear – pears
  • Ayers Pear – pears
  • Ichi Ki Kei Jiro Persimmon – yum
  • Hachiya Persimmon – yum
  • Maekawa Persimmon – yum
  • Red Jostaberry – for diversity and food
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry – for blueberries
  • Forsythia – for Pickle’s heart & for powerful medicine
  • Chinese Chestnut – long term food crop
  • Blackberries – yum
  • Goumi – Food and nitrogen fixation in shrub form
  • Cornelian Cherry – edible dogwood for food diversity

Some experiments we’re trying with these plant allies:

  • Can we grow food in the understory here? I always hear mixed things. Many plants are an experiment in that. Especially curious about hazelnuts in a pine understory.
  • I planted tag alders (n-fixers, small tree) directly in the garden bed. How will they cooperate with the plants? Can I use them as living n-fixing squash trellises? Is it true that the part shade of a small tree can increase garden productivity in the Southeast?
  • We’re hoping for tree hay (i.e. – perennial fodder for animals that sequesters carbon) from the tag alders and black locusts. I know folks in the mountains know how to do this.
  • Can we grow an orchard between black locusts in the Milpa, and can those same locusts provide us building material via coppice?
  • I planted a pattern of tag alders above blackberries on an eroding slope in a loose terracing. The hope is that the tag alders’ shallow root systems and fast growth will stabilize the eroding ridge while giving nitrogen to the blackberries.
  • Can we start some fruit trees in the relative gentleness of a partially shaded area with plans to open it up as they mature, thus helping them grow in more moderated conditions until they’d reach a fruit-bearing age?
  • What magic will happen when we add so much diversity to the forest that wasn’t there? Do these plants want to be here? How will the forest community welcome them?
  • Is the way of planting trees I more or less made up going to actually work at all?

Tune in…

Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of


Vast as a Flower, Narrow as the Stars

… and so I find myself again, reading headlines that feel like re-reading; immediate like conflagrations an inch from my eyes, and at once also distant, aged, already rotting like a process whose residues I was birthed into and whose echoes I already know I’ll die amidst.

The news cycle is a cyclicality speeding up. A tightening spiral. Gasp at each weekly, daily, hourly horror and you’ll never again get to exhale.

Underneath the thrashing of dying industries and failing orders there are real faces, bones, acres, funerals, waste; but touching into the media, all there is to experience is that strange empty tentacled addictive pulsar of accumulating ungrieved loss. Even bones and funerals are made somehow unreal. The higher the resolution of the screen, the less reality there is. We consume new media like someone eating themselves into starvation.

I have most of my life been a seeker of perfect information; that is, I look to continually refine my decisions based upon the most comprehensive picture available. When I do Permaculture design, the temptation is to obsessively gather every kind of data available and synthesize it somewhere in my guts until a whole emerges; and then, to continually reassess this as new information inevitably arises. A Permaculture design feels consequential to me, and so I want it to be the best it can be. It tears at me when I make somewhat permanent decisions and can’t undo them as new information inevitably enters. I work with the discomfort of this experience as part of my healing and growth. I practice letting go.

I think when I read the news, I imagine I am getting new information that can shape my decisions. I’ve made what still feel like radical lifestyle choices, and it is hard for my personality type to not want to perpetually revisit them based on new information. For at least three years now, I don’t think consuming media has ever contributed anything useful to influence me. I have so much more to learn about my life path, but I know none of those learnings will come from the noise of mass media. Novel information isn’t media’s job. What seems like new information in the media is really just cycle, repetition; one tragedy published in the document template of the last;¬† a new research study showing that such and such is … or another hands-off nod to collapse, as if it were happening in a popular serial TV show and not to the families of the newscasters, producers, advertisers, social media personalities.

Maybe I am just part of the collective human immune system exploring this drug of horrible news and rapidly refreshing headlines, trying like so many of us to develop the antibodies so our children will know better. Maybe I am just susceptible because it media is unapologetically addictive by design. It has become so addictive by stepping between us and the reality we wander these halls crying for.

Reality is just beyond this strange invisible anxiety engine. Reality is our lost beloved. We can see them just through the headline. Even the great hollowing of loss, unmediated, would be real in a way that would be preferable to this half-life of headlines forever setting the terms for our conjugal visits with reality.

Today, I miss you reality. I miss truth. I remember that reality includes loss, violence, loneliness, confusion, discomfort. I remember that truth includes my own inevitable death and the impermanence of everything I love; and here, across the gulf of the great distraction, the yawning scream of perpetual media, I miss reality, I miss truth. I remember reality, in every one of their seasons and thorns, is my beloved. How can I come home to them again?

I love you, reality. I love you, whole and full world, wiggling emergent universe, richness of moment, preciousness of breath, dignity of decay, potent inevitability of teeming life. How can I be with you?

Here in my ignorance and longing is what I suggest for myself and for others who are trying to come back home:

Shed any last hope that anything important will ever come from the news. Let it go, once and for all. You already have accumulated reasons enough to live your fragile life to the absolute fullest in service of all life. You already have drunkenly tattooed on every square centimeter of flesh at some point the oath to give yourself to love. You already have converted, you already have been initiated, you already have been enlightened, you already are blazingly awake. It’s enough to just stop and look around.

The news isn’t your teacher; you are drowning in a wealth of teachers. Every plant, animal, breeze, raindrop, sun ray, memory, breath, human face carries an infinite library for your heart to apprentice to. The same teachers that have always taught compassion and wisdom through all time are around you in all directions. They are so excited to begin teaching you again. They won’t make you feel bad for even a moment about playing hooky for days or months or years.

… and so, I guess yet again I am committing to dropping the news addiction I’ve dropped before and to starting again the long beautiful practice of hearing the wild and my own heart, knowing that it is the best chance I have of helping anyone in this world. When you talk about the latest tragedy that we can’t do anything about except continue trying our absolute best to serve love and learn how to live a life that cares for the earth and each other, I might seem a little like an ignorant hermit, unaware of what happened twenty seconds ago as I keep trying to learn the long art of taking care of my community, living without oil and corporations, and planting the seeds for Fall, singing a song to myself that reveals to all: I am lost in my own little world as vast as a flower, and narrow as the stars.