Sunday, July 18, 2010

Certified: Sacred Geography

(One of my fellow students asked me to talk about sacred geography more, so of course I leapt at the chance. Here's what I wrote.)

Sacred geography is about seeing place as important, worthwhile, marvelous, on its own, without regard to what it might be worth in any monetary system.

Of course, some people regard certain lands and places as sacred because they've erected a church on that spot or because people have worshipped on that land for some time.

There are many definitions for sacred geography. But when I'm using it I'm talking about recognizing place as intrinsically holy and sacred (and not in religious terms).

The word "sacred" comes from the word "sak" which means to dedicate or make holy. The word "holy" comes from the word "kailo" which means "whole" and "uninjured." I love that! To be holy literally means to be hale, healthy, and whole—all those words have the same root. For a person like me who isn't religious, I love embracing these words as they were truly meant.

Westerners sometimes have trouble seeing place as it is as holy (or worthwhile.) For instance, I was speaking with a Hopi man at Taos Pueblo about Blue Lake. He said they went to court to protect it. The judge said, "You say this is sacred land, but where is your church?" The judge couldn't understand it. Fortunately, President Nixon intervened and protected the lake. To the Hopi, my friend said, Nixon was (and is) a hero.

You could argue that place is intrinsically sacred, or you could argue that place is made sacred by humans. The Greeks talked about creating "temenos" which meant a place cut off from other places, usually for kings or emperors, the rich and the privileged. Jung used the term more broadly to mean a kind of "magic circle." We create temenos, or sacred space, intentionally.

This is important for permaculture design. This exercise is something to do to visualize and trigger sense memories of place. Draw the space. Your yard and home; your apartment building, parking lot, and green spaces; your block; your town. Whatever. Color it. Then begin naming various place with your own geographic names.

All the names of streets and places anywhere had meaning at one time. Often as newcomers to a place, we have no idea who Jenny Lane was named after, for instance. For a while, we need to make our own meaning. Or maybe forever.

In my town, I often walk by a house where the chickens cluck as we go by. This is Noisy Chicken House. Or the empty lot next to the brewery and bar where bagpipers play. That's George's Bagpipe Stand. Or up by the school: Where the Raccoons Roam. You get the idea.

I'm from Michigan and every Michigander will show you where they're from by putting up their hand, with the thumb out to the right, and pointing to a spot on their hand. If they live up north, they hold up their left hand up with the right hand above it to indicate the upper peninsula. Anyway, I outlined my hands on a piece of paper with the left one for the lower peninsula and the right hand for the upper peninsula. I wrote in places: Lost My Shoe in the Lake. Where I Grew. Where I Met My Beloved. Etc.

I think when we're doing design for ourselves or others, it's important to walk the space and hear (or remember) the stories. "This is where the kids used to stare up at the sky and watch the clouds." "This is where Suzy fell and hurt her knee." "This is where I went with my boyfriend as a teen to make out." All of this can be part of the observation. Of the design interview. Because then when we design we can leave that space open for staring up at the sky. We can put a bench with sweet smelling flowers nearby to mark and accentuate the kissing place. Etc.

This is my long-winded way of saying place is sacred and our designs can accentuate meaning and holiness, i.e., health and wholeness.

Read more here...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mario's A Winner

Mario has won another award, this time for his story "Untied States of America." It's a fabulous story and Mario is a fabulous writer. Yay! I'm so happy for him—and for us. He's going to get a stipend. I might get dinner and a movie tonight. Score!

Read more here...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Certified: Science of Joy

I barely slept Friday night, and I had several nightmares. Someone was stalking people who were doing good works and trying to kill us.

Finally I got up and opened the blinds. No rat. Too bad. I'd been looking forward to seeing him again. The wren was there, though. Or another wren, inches from the window and looking straight at me, tail pointing straight up, looking like the half of a "W".

I had a frozen breakfast again. Something about microwaved food always tastes dead to me. We don't have a microwave at home, but I'm glad for them on the road. I figured a couple of days of microwaved food wasn't going to hurt me.

I took my sheets off the bed and cleaned up the room and bathroom. I had decided to leave a night early. After class I planned on driving home to see my sweetie.

I stepped out into another bright sunny day. It wasn't supposed to be as hot today as it had been yesterday. I looked at my google map and then I started on my journey to a park near the water where everyone from my integrative environmental science class was supposed to meet. After a couple of blocks, I couldn't follow the map any more: 45th street was closed. I was stumped. I had no idea which way to go. I pulled off the road and called Mario. He gave me instructions and off I went again.

The road that was supposed to take me through to the park turned into a different road. I drove around a neighborhood. Lost. I couldn't keep calling Mario. He didn't mind, but geez Louise, I felt like a big baby. I promised myself I would get a map of Seattle before the next residency.

Then I pulled off the side of the road, found my teacher's phone number, and I called her. She kept me on the phone and gave me instructions until I saw her in the near distance waving me toward them.

What a sweetie.

The rest of the class, about fifteen of them, stood in the shade of some trees. I parked the car in the bright sun. No trees in the parking lot. It was going to be a very sunny hot day. No clouds in sight.

The park had been a naval base until the seventies. Now the land had many uses with different venues, including several athletic fields and a wetlands project. We were there to explore the wetlands.

A couple people from my permaculture class said hello to me. That was a good start. I looked around as we waited. Huge brick buildings to the north of us. (I think it was north.) Must have been barracks. I hangar to the east of us. To the west stretched the various ball fields.

A bunch of us went into the hangar to use their restrooms. We had to walk down a long ugly hallway. Judging from this hallway, it didn't look like the place was in very good shape. I felt like I was one of the Ghost Hunters come to explore a haunted insane asylum. Near the bathrooms, a flea market filled a hangar.

I went back outdoors. I still wasn't very grounded, so my observation skills were shot. A nice breeze cooled down the day a bit.

Before long, we started our hike. We went around soccer practice fields where the grass was fake and plastic. I hoped underneath the fake grass wasn't concrete. That would hurt like hell.

Eventually we left the soccer fields behind and went by swales, some with water in them, some nearly dry. Before the base was built, the area had been a peat bog. But the bog was long ago destroyed and thousands of years of nature building the peat bog couldn't be replicated. Instead, they tore up the concrete and were now trying to build new wetlands. To me, the whole place had an artificial feel to it. But then I grew up at the edge of a marsh in Michigan. This was a new project and it hadn't had time to fill out.

I admire people who can look at a building, room, or a piece of land and be able to imagine what it could be like. I've never been very good at that. I hoped to develop those skills as I worked on my own designs, starting with the one in my permaculture class.

We gathered under a small pavilion with bleachers. The gardener for the wetlands and the head of one of the volunteer organizations talked to us about the long process of creating the wetlands.

As they talked, young crows called out all around us from the cottonwoods that surrounded us. I loved cottonwood trees. When I was sick many years ago, I used to walk to a cottonwood on state property near our house. It was so big I couldn't put my arms all the way around it. I had many long conversations with that cottonwood about the state of the world.

Then the state rented the land out to a rancher, and his cattle trampled the ground all around the tree, muddying the earth and making it difficult to get to the tree. I always wondered if the tree minded. Even now when I go hiking in that area, I stop and say hello to the tree. It's like visiting an old friend.

I saw a hummingbird whizzing here and there beyond the pavilion. On the path to the pavilion from the trail, an adult crow walked, lurching back and forth, reminding me of a bow-legged sheriff. "Hey, pardner, new in town?"

The breeze through the trees felt nice. I didn't really care what the speakers were saying. I just wanted to listen to the trees and birds and watch the interaction of the wildlife around us.

At one point, one of the students (who lived on a reservation near Seattle) told us that to his people, the cottonwood tree "is the tree of life and it never dies."

"If it falls down," he said, "other trees grow up from it. It never dies."

I thought he was talking about a nurse log. When a tree falls and dies in the forest, the log acts as nourishment for saplings to grow up from it. It's remarkable to walk through an old forest and see fifty year old trees growing up from the decomposing body of another tree. A visible testament to the cycle of life.

We eventually went for a walk through the wetlands. The gardener talked. I couldn't hear what she said most of the time because I was far back. After a while, I didn't care what she was saying. It got hot, and she and the others stood out in the sun. I backed away and found shade whenever I could.

I kept wondering why we were out here on such a hot and sunny day. Shouldn't we have rescheduled this? Not be so tied to a timetable? Everyone was miserable.

We got off the trail and walked through tall grass. I kept hearing a red-winged blackbird. That sound always reminds me of home. The marsh started at the edge of our property out in the country near Brighton, Michigan. When you look out into a Michigan marsh, you typically see tall blond grasses and cattails, particularly near the transition between forest or field and marsh. And then like an amazingly beautiful black light with a spot of red are the red-winged blackbirds perched on the swaying cattails.

The gardener stopped to talk about something--I couldn't hear what--and someone asked about pesticides or "invasive" plants or something. I heard the gardener say they did sometimes use pesticides at the park. I thought, shit, have I been walking around somewhere they've used pesticides? (Later someone told me they'd seen signs warning of pesticide use. I had somehow missed them.)

Chemical pesticides are a line drawn in the sand for me. The amount of damage these chemicals do, along with chemical fertilizers, cannot be underestimated. Last time I checked 60% of the air in the United States was contaminated with pesticides. Up to 75% of homes may be permanently contaminated with pesticides (from termite treatments).

People and pets regularly bring pesticides into homes and buildings, even when the homeowner doesn't use pesticides, just from walking in the neighborhood past homes or lawns where these chemicals are used.

Many pesticides contain neurotoxins. This means it poisons the nervous system. Pesticides are most damaging to children and pets. (Because they are smaller and their systems run faster, so they get more into their systems quicker.)

In homes where chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used on the lawns, studies show that animals have dramatically higher incidences of cancer.

I could go on, but the research is so mindlessly depressing. Knowing what we know, why do people still use them? How did everyone get so sold on these harmful chemicals?

Over the last thirty years, I've heard every argument for using them. I don't buy any of them. If they worked so effectively, THEY WOULDN'T HAVE TO KEEP USING THEM.

So when I heard this park gardener used pesticides, I lost interest in her and in the park. I didn't want to be judgmental, but come on. Saying you use a little bit of pesticides is like saying you're a little bit pregnant. Or more accurately, it's like saying, "I'm only going to use a little neurotoxin."

We finally ended up at a small copse of trees. I could see inside darkness, coolness. The gardener let us go inside a few at a time. I was at the end of the group so I stepped into the shade and semidarkness and stayed for a bit with a couple of other people. A huge root grew above ground from one of the cottonwood tree. It lay on the ground like a downed tree. From this root grew several cottonwood saplings. Just like the man had said. I stood next to him and his friend and we marveled at the sight. The root was acting as a nurse tree. The cottonwood tree itself looked healthy, growing so close to another cottonwood that they looked like conjoined twins.

For the first time I felt connected to the place and to the few people who had stayed behind with me. I was sorry to leave this little nursery.

After a while, after hours of the heat and the sun and not being able to hear the speaker, I was ready to leave. I had to get my packing done and get out of my room during our hour lunch break.

I left the group a few minutes early and hurried back to the car. I got more directions from Mario. And I got lost several times. I finally ended up on the right track. I found a food co-op and went inside. I was wobbly from the sun and lack of food or water or something--hopefully not from pesticide poisoning--so I went back to my car and just drove to my room.

I got some food and took it into my room and stripped down again. I was so hot and sweaty. I felt depressed, tired, sad. Alone.

I put on clean clothes, loaded up my car, said goodbye to the place, and headed to school. I got lost. But instead of calling Mario, I just kept driving. Eventually I found the highway. It was packed with cars. It was Saturday. Where was everyone going? I made it to school. Parked in the shade and went into the building. It was hot and stuffy inside.

I asked someone at the desk if the AC was still broken. She said, "No, it's just a hot building."

I said, "I didn't sign up for that."

I was paying a lot of money for this experience. I expected the building to be in good working order.

I don't remember a lot of what we did that afternoon. It was hot. Everyone was uncomfortable. Was this how the world was going to end? Our brains fried from global warming?

We got into groups and talked about our experience at the park. I didn't want to start out this class or these relationships by being critical, and I told the teacher this. I hadn't been thrilled with our jaunt in the park. Since coming out West, my experience had been that people did not like hearing the truth if it sounded critical or what they called "negative." People generally wanted to pretend everything was great.

How could we make changes for the better if people didn't acknowledge the truth?

The teacher wanted me to tell my truth.

So when it came around for us to talk about our experiences, my group said that the park didn't seem like a true wetland. It was almost more like a tourist stop. A zoo for wetlands.

And then I mentioned the pesticides.

People around the room began defending the gardener. "She doesn't have enough help so she has to do that." "Maybe she's only using them for a little while." "She's regulated. She has to do it." "She only uses a little bit." On and on.

I was surprised. We were in a program to bring about change, creative change and to figure out sustainable ways to be in the world; yet most of them seemed to have swallowed the "we must use pesticides" mantra hook, line, and sinker.

The teacher said, "Look at it from the viewpoint of the people who go to this place. My child sees that sign and I have to explain what a pesticide is and then she wants to touch the plant or the place and I have to tell her she can't because that's a neurotoxin." And a neurotoxin could fry her little brain and nervous system.

I said, "And this isn't about this particular gardener. I've been doing this work for thirty years and I've heard all of this before. What we need to be doing is looking at things from a different perspective. Imagine you are running these wetlands and chemical pesticides didn't even exist, what would you do? Re-envision choices and methods."

The teacher backed me up. It was the first time in decades, maybe ever, that I felt like someone in the know was on my side about the pesticide issue (besides Mario). Most people react about pesticides the same way all the students in the class did. The teacher very adroitly pointed out that there was no "little bit" that rendered pesticides harmless. By their very nature, they are harmful.

We were all supposed to team up to do an environmental project together. Since I lived so far away, I decided to do it alone. That separated me from the group again, but trying to coordinate a project like this from two hundred miles away seemed like too much work at this point.

I was glad I'd come. I felt like I'd made an ally. But I was ready to go home. While the other students talked about their projects, I left.

I was soon in my car heading for home.

I reflected on the weekend as I drove.

I was surprised how hard it had been. How isolated I'd felt. How strange the city felt.

I was also surprised to find out how much I already knew. Because I've felt like I've failed at so many causes (because I hadn't made any big changes), I figured I must not know very much. Or not enough.

And yet I did know a great deal. I already instinctively tried to garden and live my life in a very permaculture way--trying to build relationships and guilds, trying not to cause harm, trying to create sustainable abundance.

I had been viewing myself as a failure for so long that I wasn't able to see what extraordinary things I have done.

In my novel Jigsaw Woman, the inquisitor says to Keelie at one point, "One day you will be on your knees before me!" She says, "Never!" even though she knows he is right. She keeps standing up. She keeps doing the work. She keeps doing what she thinks is right for the greater good.

I do that. That is my great strength.

I fail and I try again.

I fail and I try again.

Maybe I don't even fail. Maybe it just doesn't work out the way I think it should.

I am flawed, but I don't let it stop me. I am ridden by my fears, but I am trying to learn to ride them.

Mario once said to me, "You feel like you're a failure because you haven't won the Nobel peace prize or something." He was exactly right. He just shakes his head. It would never occur to him that he could change the world or do anything so meaningful that someone would give him a Nobel peace prize. Or something like that.

When I was nineteen, I was suicidal. In fact, I tried to kill myself. Took a blade and tried to slice into the veins on my arm. Fortunately it hurt, so I didn't get very deep or very far. The scar is gone now, and I can't remember which arm it was. But I did it because I felt that I hadn't achieved enough. I was nineteen and I hadn't won a Pulitzer.

Plus I was living in a house with several other women who barely spoke to me. It was quite isolating.

I felt like I hadn't achieved enough. I wasn't good enough. I let all these opportunities for greatness slip away.

Afterward, when I didn't die, I moved into a little attic apartment in Ypsilanti by myself. I went for weeks barely saying a word to anyone, even though I was going to school and working. One night I dreamed a watery nymph (who looked like Carol Kane) came and made love to me. When I woke up, I knew I had started to heal. (Maybe she was the first Old Mermaid.)

I have always had high expectations for myself. I think when you are given much, much is expected. If I am so lucky to have this amazing life, I want to do whatever I can to give back.

Now as I drove away from Seattle, I thought it was pretty good that I had completed my first two residencies, even though it had been extremely physically uncomfortable and emotionally isolating.

I called nearly everyone in my family from the car. I don't usually use the telephone while driving. I did so now with both hands on the wheel and a bud in my ear. I couldn't get a hold of anyone except one brother-in-law. My sister was sleeping, so he and I talked for a long time.

I told him about my permaculture class. We talked about gardening. When he lived in Michigan, he'd made part of his yard into a garden. He remembered years ago when someone in Michigan had made their whole yard into a garden and his neighbors took him to court because they didn't like it. They all wanted the manicured lawns (which are an English invention--a way for the poor person to emulate the lord's manor). Fortunately the man won the court case and kept his food garden yard.

I told my brother in law that if people turned their lawns into food gardens, we could probably end global warming over night. Do that and overthrow the corporatocracy and we'd be laughing.

I talked about all the social and environmental good a food garden instead of a lawn would do, and my brother in law said, "It's just a lot of fun."

I thought, oh yeah, I gotta remember the fun part.

By this time I was about an hour from home. The sun had started to set and the light was golden all around me. I breathed deeply as I looked at the sun on the trees. I was nearing home.

I told my brother in law that the battery was almost out on the phone. "I better get going," I said. "I love you."

"You, too, kiddo," he said.

I hung up and turned on the radio. I sang to some rock 'n roll song as I drove. I felt peaceful and happy.

Soon I was heading East down the gorge. I grinned when I saw Mount Hood. Home, home, home. The mountain was encircled by pink clouds. For some reason it reminded me of the rings of Saturn.

The road curved, the mountain disappeared from view, the trees grew up on either side of me. I felt joy rising in my bones. I was nearly home. I felt a lump in my throat. I loved the Columbia River Gorge. I loved the huge regal stone faces on the south side of the gorge. I loved Beacon Rock on the north side, the inner remnant of a long ago volcano. It felt like a beacon for home, every time I saw it, resting on the edge of the Columbia River. "This way home, Kim; this way home."

At Cape Horn, above the gorge, the river faded away into the east, with Beacon Rock, the trees, and rock faces all becoming almost blue, like silhouettes in a Japanese painting.

Coming down the hill, I was driving too fast. A sheriff's deputy stopped me. She must have seen I was tired. Or something. I apologized and said, "I'm just coming back from Seattle and trying to get home to my husband."

She let me go with a warning.

And then I was home. There was our little yellow rented house. The daisies were drooping from the heat. The poppies were all closed up. The white morning glories had started twisting up the poppies, choking them. The edges of some of the blue hydrangea blossoms were scorched brown from the heat and sun.

Mario came down the steps with his arms open. We hugged.

I was so glad and grateful to be home.

Late that night, my brother in law had a brain bleed. My sister rushed him to the hospital where they immediately did brain surgery.

After I got the news, I kept thinking of my last conversation with him and hoped it would not be my last conversation with him. All that I had endured that weekend--which was fairly minor compared to so many things--seemed trivial. All I cared about now was that my brother in law was all right. That my sister was all right.

And I wanted to remember to have fun, to be joyful.

That's what my brother in law had said about it all. "It's just fun."

Perhaps that was the best kind of environmental science: the science of joy.

I could learn to be a scientist for joy. And then when my brother was well, I'd show him what he had started. That would put a smile on his face.

Read more here...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Certified: The Slacker, the Rat, & Other Friends

(Mario read this and said the experience sounded horrible. I hope everyone realizes upon reading this that I'm not criticizing anyone I met; I am writing about how I experienced the day. I'm sure as time goes on, my views will soften. I do not do well when I'm hot.

I actually believe this course will be amazing! For those of you who've regularly read my blog, you know that I'm sometimes very frank about what I'm feeling about myself and the situations I get myself into. I write about this because I'm interested in processes and how we get from here to there.)

I drove to Seattle for my first residency during a heat wave. A roadside sign in Vancouver flashed a smog alert. "Please reduce driving," it said. Damn. Here I was learning more about sustainability and permaculture, and I was driving during a smog alert.

I couldn't reasonably go back home. That would mean I'd have to quit my classes, so I kept driving. I sang out the Celtic fath fith, to protect me, the car, and everyone else and I headed north.

Like me, the AC in our car doesn't do well on really hot days, and today was no exception. It was a long four and a half hour drive. Traffic was slow off and on, and I was hot and sweaty and crossing my fingers the car didn't overheat.

I got to Seattle around 3:30. Headed into the university district. I was desperate to get inside someplace cool.

I parked the car in the sunny lot by the three story house. I had made arrangements to stay in the apartment of a religious organization. They kept reasonably priced rooms all over the country for travelers as part of their community service. I wasn't religious, and they didn't care.

I got out of my hot car and stepped into stifling heat. City heat is different from country heat, it seems to me. At least in the country you can find a tree or at least a spot of ground to cool your soles. Or so I romanticized as I hurried to the entrance to my new abode. I looked for the key where the hostess told me it would be.

It wasn't there.

I looked again even though I couldn't have missed it. I knocked on the door. No one answered.

What was I going to do now? I had food in the car that needed refrigeration. I needed refrigeration. Where could I go? I didn't know this city.

As I've said before, I have no real sense of Seattle. I had only been to the city a few times. Maybe ten times altogether? I never got a good sense of it. We didn't go more often because the traffic was notoriously awful. It could take four hours to go two hundred miles or it could take six, seven, eight.

Now I couldn't sit out here in the sun waiting to see if the hostess ever came home.

Then the door opened and a woman leaned out. I told her who I was, said the key wasn't there.

"It's been a crazy day," she said. "Come on in."


I stepped into cool darkness. Ahhh. She led me down a very short hall.

"Someone just left," she said. "I haven't had time to change the sheets or clean."

"No hurry," I said. "I can make my own bed."

The door was open to a tiny room. It looked more like a big closet than a room. She handed me the keys and then made my bed. I went out to the car and began bringing stuff in. A few minutes later, the hostess rushed out of the room and I was able to squeeze in.

I wasn't certain what I was expecting, but this wasn't it. I was thinking more apartment or more hotel room. This was like a kid's bedroom. A small kid's bedroom with two very small single beds arranged in a kind of "L" shape. In a couple of places near the window, the walls were streaked with something brown.

I sat on the bed and looked around. It wasn't so bad. If the room stayed cool and I was able to sleep, I could do this. I wished I could smell; the room was in the basement and I wondered if it was moldy or mildewy.

I took my cooler of food to the tiny fridge. I'd made a bunch of food for the potluck on Friday. I needed to store some and freeze some. I opened the door. The fridge didn't feel very cool, and there wasn't a freezer. I crossed my fingers the fridge worked, and I put my food away.

Then I went back to my room and tried the internet. It wasn't working. I wouldn't be able to get some of my work done.

I closed the door to the room, stripped down to my skivvies to cool down, and sat on the bed. I felt alone and isolated. I wanted to engage my beginner's mind about all of this but I just felt miserable and out of place. Why was I doing this? Where did I come up with these ideas, these hair-brained schemes? I felt so tense, teary- and bleary-eyed.

I finally opened up the computer and put in a disk. I'd brought a couple of movies and some comedy shows. I ate a little bit of Mario's steamed veggies and my quinoa.

After a while I got restless and decided to go to a vegetarian café which wasn't far away. I could sit in the air conditioning, order good food, and use their wi-fi.

I drove there without getting lost and found a parking spot, which was no easy feat in that area, and then I went into the cafe. They either had no AC or it was broken. It was stifling. I stood in the middle of the restaurant looking around. I couldn't stay there.

I took my computer and went back out and sat at one of the tables along the building. I opened my computer. I needed directions to a few places. I googled those and saved them. Then I sent a few emails.

Suddenly I heard a young man say, "I don't understand why people just can't be honest. I'm honest."

I looked up and saw a tall young man walking by. Next to him was a shorter blond girl clutching books to her chest.

I looked back down at my computer.

"Why can't people be honest?" he asked. He was talking loudly. "I've had really bad blow jobs. I have had some really bad blow jobs."

I think he said it three times. I laughed. Really, dude? You're about two years old. How many have you actually had?

I watched him and the young woman walk across the street. I wondered what she thought about their public conversation. I couldn't hear a word she was saying.

If she was saying anything at all.

It was too hot to stay outside. I walked across the street to the Wal-Greens. It felt so nice and cool in there.

I couldn't believe I wanted to hang out in a Wal-Greens.

I drove to Whole Foods. I felt proud of myself that I found it. I still didn't have a sense of the city. When I was younger, I was able to find my way almost anywhere. I had an amazing sense of direction. I wondered if all my google.maping was helping to erode my sense of confidence, my sense of place. I needed to get a map of Seattle and figure it out.

Yep. That was the answer.


I returned to my little room. I turned the fan on. Ate some dinner. Talked to Mario. I still felt uncomfortable. I felt hot, fat, ugly. I had gotten my hair cut really short before I left home. I hated it. I looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom in my little religious house and I thought, "What a pig."

I was so shocked. How could I think such a thing? How could I say such a thing out loud?

I immediately apologized to myself and the woman in the mirror.

When I was a girl, my mother had told me that you should look in the mirror and tell yourself that you're beautiful because you can't count on anyone else to do it.

I had started out so cocky. Smart. Capable. Cute. Now I was unsure of myself, felt awkward and ugly, felt stupid and unaccomplished. Was I going through the teenage years again? Only I hadn't felt ugly then, or stupid or unaccomplished.

Too many years of intermittent depression had warped my brain?

I went back to my room and decided it was normal to feel like a stranger in a strange land. I was a stranger in a strange land.

I tried to sleep. Couldn't. Finally put the movie Pride and Prejudice in the computer and fell to sleep to that.

I dreamed I was in the bathroom hugging Anderson Cooper and telling him he needed to get some rest.

Dreamed some mad man was trying to kill me.

Woke up every half 'n hour or so to pee.

After a while I stopped getting dressed when I had to get up to pee. Figured if I ran into anyone on the way to the bathroom, I'd just tell them it was all a bad dream.

In the morning as I was talking to Mario on the phone, I raised my blinds and looked out the half window to the back of the house. Across the tiny alley was a fence. Various bushes or trees grew here and there amongst some rocks. That sweet light of early morning fell in the alley way. A tiny wren jumped from rock to rock. She stopped and looked at me.

Wrens always reminded me of my friend Linda. She told me she might come back as a wren.

I watched the wren until I saw a rat just under the fence. He walked from rock to rock, too.

I said to Mario, "There's a rat."

"In your room!"

"No," I said. "I'd already be packing my bags. No, it's about five feet away, outside the window. What's the difference between a rat and a mouse?"

"Pretty much size," he said.

"This is a rat then," I said. "Its tail is about a foot long. And you should see the balls on him. They're huge!"

"That's why there's so many of them," he said.

I laughed.

The rat went out of my sight.

I said good bye to my sweetie.

It was time to start this thing.

I drove downtown to the university campus. I parked in shade and hoped it would last. Then I hauled myself and my food inside the campus building and up the stairs. The building felt stuffy and hot.

I found a tiny student lounge with a refrigerator. A woman was in the lounge. She looked past me, like she didn't want to see me. I thought, well this is a good beginning. I put my food away and looked for the permaculture classroom.

It was hot and stuffy inside that room, too, and the woman I'd seen in the lounge was there. She didn't look up when I came in. The only other person in the room, another woman, looked up and we said hello to one another.

When the instructor came in, he rearranged the tables so we were sitting more in an octagon than in a large rectangle. People began arriving. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. It hadn't occurred to me that they were probably all going through the same program together, to get their Master's degrees. Since I already had two Master's degrees, I had decided to get a graduate certificate. No one else was doing that.

I was doing my own lonesome thing. A class of one.

He started the class with introductions. We went around the room and introduced ourselves. Everyone seemed so young. And bouncy. Or something. Excited about their schooling and potential new careers?

I had trouble settling down. I felt like such an outsider. They kept using all these acronyms. "I'm in the C3PO program." "I'm in the ED&X program." I'm making those up but what they were saying sounded just like that.

I remembered when I first started library school many years ago, and everyone talked in these acronyms or abbreviations. It drove me crazy. It felt like a way to keep outsiders from getting access to some kind of secret knowledge.

I wanted to set all the abbreviations free and let them live up to their full potential: by becoming whole words.

Anyway, part of the introductions I didn't understand because of this.

But then we started talking about permaculture.

I first heard about permaculture over a decade ago. The word means permanent agriculture and/or permanent culture. When I first looked over the information about it back then, I was intrigued by the idea of mimicking nature.

I was not so thrilled about the idea of having to use farm animals in order to make your gardens work. I was not interested in keeping rabbits in cages so I could use their poop. (How could anyone put a rabbit in a cage after seeing them run free in nature?) I had grown up a farmer's granddaughter and I knew how difficult farm work was—and how tedious the work and lousy the pay.

I loved gardening. But the part I loved was being with the plants and eating their bounty. I hated pulling weeds. It was like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill. And I never liked tilling. I worried about the damage I was doing to the soil and the creatures beneath.

I didn't like the constant, repetitive and back-breaking work of gardening.

Permaculture offered relief from that.

This time when I started exploring permaculture again, I saw that permaculture was not a dogmatic set of rules or ideas that I had to "obey" in order to be successful. If I didn't want to cage rabbits or use goat manure or whatever, I didn't need to.

The idea was to design with nature. Mimic nature. Design sustainable and efficient food systems and gardening systems that were beautiful and abundant.

Permaculture is all about relationships. It's about humans being part of the ecological landscapes. It's about our human landscapes being part of nature.

Permaculture is about social change. It's about visioning and envisioning. About observation. About joy.

I was thrilled when we started talking about permaculture. I was almost able to ignore the heat.

The instructor said every design has two clients: the people and the land itself. Permaculture is about turning bad news into good news. All permaculture is different. We learn from mistakes. It's about thinking about what you're doing. Showing up. "It's a reflective process born of observation," he said. "Remember this. Social change takes time. Social change takes no time. Social change is timeless."

We watched a movie with Bill Mollison, one of the fathers of permaculture. He showed his land where he'd practiced the principles of permaculture. It went from nearly hardpan to tropical forest. He said he worked 30 days over 3 years. After that he could leave for months or more and come back and everything would be fine.

You can't do that with a regular garden. That's one of the differences. The perma in permaculture doesn't mean permanent fields of corn or wheat or soybeans. It's about a permanent, edible forest, filled with perennials. We can eat from it the way animals eat from forests.

With permaculture, the gardens serve multifunctions: they're habitat, they're full of edibles for us and the other creatures, they're beautiful, serene, playful; they build the soil and clean the air.

In permaculture you can learn as much from your failures as your successes.

In the movie, Bill Mollison showed us a garden in India where it was hardpan. Within a couple of years, it was a tropical garden.

After the movie, we talked about relationships in the garden. In nature, plants don't do one thing. This plant fixes nitrogen and provides shade and is edible. This one is beautiful and draws insects to pollinate and make honey. This one provides ground cover, repels insects, and is medicinal.

These kind of partnerships where the plants provide mutual aid to each other and the "garden" are called plant guilds. Toby Hemenway describes these guilds as a "group of plants...harmoniously interwoven into a pattern of mutual support, often centered around one major species, that benefits humans while creating habitat."

The instructor told us how he used permaculture concepts to help a group in Jamaica learn to work together after a longstanding bitterness. I kept thinking about work situations where people held onto long-held beliefs. Could permaculture practices help loosen those kinds of damaging beliefs to reinvigorate work life?

At the lunch break, I offered to drive several people over to the apartment where we were meeting for lunch. As I drove, I looked around and wondered where the trees were. Things looked barren in spots, almost like California--as though we were in a hotter more desert-like climate.

My classmates in the car with me hadn't brought any food. We stopped at a Thai restaurant so they could get lunch. They went in and I stayed outside to watch the car.

I was hot and uncomfortable. The air was extremely polluted and I was coughing. I again wondered what the hell I was doing. We were supposed to spend the afternoon out of doors. I didn't think that was smart on 95 degree days when the air was brown.

Eventually we ended up at the place where we were all meeting for lunch. I was so uncomfortable. I didn't feel well. The heat often makes my heart race. I felt dizzy and a bit nauseated. I had gotten heat exhaustion once when I lived in Tucson and ever since then, my little body just screamed with horror when it got hot.

The lunch house in West Seattle was tiny with no air conditioning.

I wanted to leave. No one talked to me. I didn't talk to anyone. I had to haul all my food up and down stairs. It was all in glass jars so it was heavy. I couldn't keep it in the car because it was so hot and I needed it for the potluck.

We finally drove to the instructors house, a short distance away. It was 1:30. I had barely eaten or drank anything. I felt dizzy and sick. And freaking hot.

I opened the trunk of the car before we went into the house to get my inhaler. I dropped by keys in my purse in the trunk.

And then I shut the trunk.

I was four and a half hours from home and I had just locked my keys in the trunk of my car.

I couldn't believe it.

By now, the stress of the heat, of being away from home while I was hungry and dehydrated, took over. I went into the house--which was not air-conditioned--and I felt panicked. What was I going to do?

Fortunately the instructor's parents were visiting from Arizona. They gave me their triple A card. We called them and they promised to send out a locksmith in an hour or two.

I went out to the deck where everyone else sat listening to the instructor. I didn't have anything to write with. Everything was all in my trunk. I didn't have any water. It was in my trunk too.

Class started.

I don't remember anything.

I only remember when I got up someone had taken my seat. I didn't have anywhere to sit or stand. It was too hot and sunny.

I just wanted to go home.

We were instructed to break up into groups of four and look at the permaculture design and the various systems around the instructor's house. The three people in my group apparently knew one another. They huddled around one another and pointed out things to each other. When I drew near, they walked away. When I said something, they never acknowledged me.

Was this high school?

No, in high school, I was popular.

And not in a bad way. I was friendly with all the different groups.

As we wandered around for an hour, this ostracizing happened again and again.

OK. So I was the new kid. Why try to include me? Why try to make a relationship with me? But wasn't the entire philosophy of this university to build relationships?

Maybe it was me. Maybe I stank. Maybe I seemed aloof.

Maybe they didn't want to be around someone who had so foolishly locked her keys in the trunk.

Maybe they were hot and miserable and only wanted to talk to each other.

Eventually someone came and got me and said the locksmith had arrived. By the time I got up to where the car was, I saw a young man standing next to my car with the trunk open.

I laughed and shouted, "You are my hero!"

He grinned.

He asked for my keys. I fetched them from the trunk and gave them to him. Then he leaned over and did some more fiddling. I saw part of a tattoo on his back, near his waist. I was so tempted to lift up his shirt so I could see the rest of it.

"Yep," he said. "When it comes to locks, I'm the magic man. I know I may look like a slacker, but I can do the work."

I said, "Honey, I don't judge people that way. Look at me, I've got white hair and everyone thinks I'm seventy."

He laughed. "Yeah, everyone thinks I'm fifteen but I'm thirty-two."

He stood up. I smiled and held out my hand. He shook it, firmly.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Mike," he said.

"Thanks a lot, Mike," I said.

We let go of each other's hands, and he went back to his truck. I waved.

Then I went into the house and hugged the parents of the instructor. What a kind thing they had done for me.

I went back down to the bottom of the property to where everyone else was. I had forgotten to get my notebook, so I still couldn't take notes. It was too hot to climb the four stories back to the car. I sat on the grass and tried to listen.

I just wanted to get out of the heat.

Went inside and watched a movie about permaculture in California.

I slipped on the stairs and nearly fell but I saved myself.


We all ate potluck.

I put out my quinoa and black beans.

There was plenty of food. I shouldn't have hauled all that food all the way from home. Why had I done it? Was I trying to impress them? Make friends? Be part of the group?

No one cared one way or another.

None of the students talked to me. The instructor asked me a question or two, probably out of politeness.

I talked to his parents.

I've always gotten along with people older than I am.

I wondered if no one wanted to talk to me because they thought I was old.

But old people are the most interesting!

I've always thought so.

Probably their not talking to me didn't have anything to do with me.

They just wanted to talk to each other.

See, I was always the one at any party or gathering who made sure no one felt left out.

Right then, I was too tired to take care of myself or make friends or do anything.

I just wanted to go home.

Right now my home was on the other side of the bridge on the other side of the freeway in the basement of an old house, a few feet from a rat with huge testicles.

I asked someone for directions to get back. I listened vaguely. I didn't really care.

I grabbed my stuff, said good bye to the parents, and left. Got in the car and drove. Figured out a way to get out of this part of town and get onto that free way.

Was relieved to be on my own.

Glad to get home to my little basement room.

But first I drove to Whole Foods. I got a couple of frozen dinners and a box of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

Went back to the room. Microwaved the dinner. Went into my room and closed the door. Sat in my skivvies cooling off again and eating.

I watched the part of Pride and Prejudice I hadn't seen last night. The part where he is walking across the field at sunrise toward her. I love that scene. He's beautiful and vulnerable. It feels so romantic.

I thought about why I liked this movie. It always perplexed me. And I suddenly knew why.

I liked it because the man showed up. When he figured out the problem and what he could do about it, he just did it.

That's always been my definition of romantic. I've never liked presents or flowers or candies or any of that stuff. I liked men who truly showed up.

That's what my dad did. He worked at his job and when he was home, he was home for us. He helped us with our homework. He taught us how to do things. He took us places. He was there with us. He showed up.

My husband is the same way. Whenever I see this movie, I think of Mario. Think of how he has shown up every day of our marriage. He isn't a juvenile kind of man and neither is my father. They don't sit around drinking with their friends and whining about their wives like all the men in movies do. Or they don't sit around watching TV and not participating in the functioning of the household like so many men in real life do.

Mario shows up. After thirty years, his eyes still light up when he sees me. He still laughs the hardest when I'm funny. And he thinks I'm hysterical. His breath still catches in his throat when he sees me naked. He makes spring rolls for me when I've been away. Once when I was gone for a week, he left a half-eaten apple on the table because it reminded him of me (because I was on the one who had eaten it). He even wrote a poem about it!

I love people who show up. I'm tired of people who have dropped out. Tired of people who want to stay in adolescence.

That was why I liked that movie. They remained true to who they were and they showed up for one another.

I watched the movie to the end and thought of my husband so far away.

I wondered why I was here, alone, instead of at home in bed with him.

Because I was trying to learn to show up better.

To be more effective.

To build better relationships.

Some thing.

It's tough being around other people and feeling alone.

I had trouble sleeping.

I ate the box of cookies.

Yep, I truly showed up for those cookies. They were my best friends in the world.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I have been busy getting ready for school and writing Jewelweed Station. I hope to write more here later in the week. In any case, enjoy the sunshine. Stay cool. If you want something longer to read, here's my essay "Healing the Wound Wild" that was published in the Journal of Mythic Arts a few years ago.

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.