Monthly Archives: February 2017

Twenty Days



Almost twenty days, out in the forest. We had our first weekly meeting out here together to make decisions about how to guide our lives into enacting the values and dreams that led us to this beautiful place.

We’ve been using a tool called “Holistic Goal Setting” that comes out of the Permaculture world, initially via Alan Savory and then taught to me by Courtney Brooke, a Permaculture teacher at Earthaven. All this tool really does is give us a way to check whether or not our decisions are leading us closer to what we agree we’re working towards. We’re hopeful it will give us a way to be sure that the many really complicated choices we’ve been constantly having to make lead us towards what we want, and not away.

I’m not sure how I feel about this process yet. I’ve been through so many meetings that generate neat little diagrams on big white paper that lead nowhere. I’ve been responsible for a bunch of them. What makes me want to try a tool like this again is seeing how much we humans can be so bad at seeing past the short term, past our likes and dislikes, cravings and aversions; or, in seeing multidimensionally – looking not just at ecosystem health, for example, but also whether or not the choices will lead everyone to burn out and sell the land to a developer.

It’s nothing new: making skillful decisions and sharing power is complicated and often excruciating; yet, when the work is done, sometimes there is this little seed of peace that can be glimpsed. I think we’re meant to keep going with this. I think we all need to know how to live together and share complicated choices, even when it terrifies us.

Yesterday I had the gift of significant help from Pickle and a friend on the clearing of the big future garden to be. Then my Permaculture-wise friend helped me think through the experimental plan we’re starting with for our initial food growing in the forest. There is so much I don’t know. Mistakes seem so easy to make. I look for hints. In response to my idea about doing a no-tech charring of the cleared sweetgums, my friend wasn’t any more certain than I was that it would work, but she felt excited about it. Another friend talking about it the other day seemed to hear one of my hopes – that we could turn the process into a ritual that many could share in. Now, among all the potential mistakes I could make, there is this one that got these reactions from two people close to me. I think my reaction is the same. Sometimes we need complicated decision making tools, but sometimes we only need to ask: what makes me most come alive? In this case, I knew from the beginning that driving a skidsteer or bulldozer through the future garden would definitely not do that. Now, clarity emerges in each act and silence. I feel alive in this work.


We’ve been out here for fifteen days. I’m finally finding something like a rhythm. Work is dreamlike without bosses, deadlines, coworkers, beginnings or ends. I work by carving the infinity of each day, each hour, each space into choices. Little of it seems obvious to me, but after weighing it all there are choices that emerge as pretty good guesses. There are countless variables, and so it stops making sense to think of variables. What seems to work is to try to live with all of it at once – to move and see with a gestalt, a flow of flows. All along I’m trying my best to make space to hold a light awareness of everything all at once.

That there is any affect of the stroke of a pull saw through another soft adolescent sweetgum tree on each day’s new nightmare of news requires something like faith. It’s been helpful for me to say to people: what we’re doing is only our best guess. Living out here and holding our vision, as well as cutting down this tree and not that – it’s only a best guess, only for us.

The riddle I’m working on right now is how to ask for food from the forest while letting it continue to become the forest it’s urge is to be; and how, for the small patch disturbance clearing I’m creating to grow our small amount of precious sun-loving foods, to keep the vital gift of the forest floor’s fertility while still preparing the right tilth to grow our corn, beans, and squash.

So much intelligence exists for us to draw from to find a way forward, but no one can offer exactly the right answer for us. Most people still clear forests with skidsteers, bulldozers. I haven’t even brought and don’t intend to bring a chainsaw into the small field where we hope to grow our corn. In my mind, it seems like the birds would treat me differently if I was running a chainsaw. New to their home, cutting down the dense thicket of sweetgums and brambles that I know some of them live within; they’d remember the stories about the last times someone brought big loud machines to the land and reset it all to zero. The crows at least would remember, I am certain.

So now, I walk down to the small gap that started as a smaller gap where I’m making my best guess about growing the crops we’ll be extra reliant on until our perennial, more forest-adapted foods are ready. I bring a gigantic Japanese pull saw that I strap to my leg and draw to almost effortlessly cut trees in a bloodless echo of all my childhood samurai fantasies, as well as some loppers and pruners. In a day like today, I cut dozens of trees by hand. Going slow, I can see how each one is different. I can hesitate usefully, regard the tree’s beauty, and pray to it if I feel I should. It becomes safer to select trees to cut in the same run as cutting them, with no growling engine’s dissonance to hasten my hand.

I don’t seem to get all that much done in the hours I work out there, but my goal is only somewhere between an eighth and a quarter of an acre. Today I stopped to watch two vultures tracing infinity in the sky. The lowliness of this work is the door to magic. I resist it, longing for the bliss of gardening with beloved friends at Earthaven last Spring, singing together and talking about Spirit as the hours melted into impossible sweetness. Here I am alone with the forest and the weather and the songs I know and all the experiences I’ve ever had for most of the day.

The little field is taking shape out of the sweetgums. An ephemeral streambed becomes the border on the North, where I imagine I may try to dig out a small pond to catch water for the crops. The ghosts of raised beds or at the very least channels and mounds seem on contour enough to hint at a garden layout. The odd few tall trees by the gap form a Southwest corner, and the walking path I’ve been using makes an Eastern edge.

What I’ll do next is a thought spiral I go around continuously. The ground is full of the stumps of the small sweetgums. Can I remove them without mechanization? Pry them out, innoculate them, leave them in? And what do I do with all the downed wood? Large trench biocharing in a ceremonial fashion, or put them through a woodchipper for ramial wood chips, hugulkultur them, something else? It’s the first that really calls to me, but I don’t know how I can charge the charcoal quickly enough for summer crops. How did people in the rainforest do this?

Sun goes down outside the yome and these guesses and questions are my company, my friends – joined, thankfully, by our two rabbits and our newly adventurous and rewilded cat, and most of all the love of my life, who is beautifully alive with her own luminous guesses and questions, and who has leapt with me into the impossible gift of this life I am with each day slowly learning to inhabit.

Day Six

rattlesnake plantain helps us find home

rattlesnake plantain helps us find home

We’ve followed our questions, our delights and our fears, our longings and our best guesses to this small octagonal canvas home in this infinite and knowable young and old forest.

We’ve been here five nights now. A surprise: each night is as alive and varied, as rich with texture and experience as the days. We lay down to sleep herded ever inward to bed and to stillness by the cavernous forest dark, the same dark inside our home as out, just in time for something to begin. Rain sounds on the thin stretched roof above us, around us, on us like we’re sleeping in a wandering cloud. The pine trees around us bend and crack and we stay awake all night expecting to be flattened. Desperate sounding fox barks trace an invisible parade just outside then suddenly stop. Distant cows moo with weary midnight frustration. Neighborhood dogs engage in a scheduled debate, repeating themselves mindlessly until dawn. Some small animal makes a sound that may mark its end. Two coyotes sing like twenty, a song I cannot follow but recognize is perfect. In the triangles of moonlight our bunnies are destroying something irreplaceable I’ve long forgotten I owned. And then – there was the night with no sound where we couldn’t sleep for lack of wondering where it all went.

Many nights I step out to pee and the stars and the moon devour me.

Today it is so cold and the firewood we bought doesn’t fit in our tiny house wood stove. I got something small going with pallet wood to cheer up and get the energy to begin my work. Today I’m going without time, transportation, phone, or electricity. It’s not just the cold that makes me hesitate to pick up my tools and step outside. The vastness of the work and the intimacy, the distance between this moment and a corn sprout, and the unique confusion of suddenly being given exactly the work you want; all this almost keeps me huddled under blankets back in the elsewhere where I was only dreaming of today .

Yesterday we met with so many warm-hearted people sharing like oxygen the simple understanding that we need to find a way to live together with earth and each other. We shared our story again and again and at times I felt embarrassed to know a life this good; other times I felt embarrassed to ask to fill up our 6 gallon water jugs that we use for washing dishes. All these people committed to justice reminded me again of all the ways I don’t know how to support the struggles of everyone in our communities suffering the consequences right now. We’re making our best guess in the forest, alone in some ways, hidden in some ways. Sometimes I feel far too far from Standing Rock, even as I know our life is precisely a response to their call.

What helps so much: having each other; seeing our friends; connecting our best guess to others’ different, also right best guesses; having fire, watching fire, thanking fire; the moonlight and stars; and the animals and plants around us always.

Two nights ago just as I was experimentally letting our cat out into the woods, I had to quickly lift her back into the yome as the largest fox I ever saw trotted into the pines near our home. Dog-sized, grey but for its orange face, heedless of us thirty feet away. It walked a path as sure as the sunset. Another fox appeared behind minutes later. We watched them wander off into the brush out of sight.

Before that: a neon green tree frog on the ground. Coyote tracks in the creek bed. The first insects. A full moon like a spotlight on our deck. Spring is beginning and in many ways it is the first Spring of my life.