“We must dare to dream the impossible and romance the world, to feel and humour the kinship with all species and habitats and to shape ourselves into visionaries with the artistry to revitalise our enchanted and endangered world.” – Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind

I’ve traversed murky waters, high mountains and deep valleys in my internal landscape. I know master plans do not work. I’ve been dancing with emergence. And playing at the edges of permaculture theory, pushing a little, or maybe a lot, at the bounds. 

I’ve immersed my body in the sea as my mind tuned into the complex ecologies of the whole. I’ve come to know my being as a wave/particle form moving through liquid at the place where air and earth meet. I’ve come to know myself as an edge dweller and a swimmer of deep waters. 

I’ve visioned the future and probed the past, coming to rest well in each present moment as it emerges in the beautiful unfolding of this unfathomable mystery, life. I’ve met fox, unicorn, seagull and horse on my journey. I’ve met Dan1, and have taken his challenge to permaculture into my own hands, tentatively playing with the possibilities of generative transformation. 

I’ve come to know the land, the place in which I spend my days, in pattern and in detail. I’ve been intervening with small iterative projects that cumulatively, over time, create change. There has been resistance, and there has been letting go. I’ve sensed intuitively into the core model2, in the footsteps of the grand master. And I’ve searched out other stories, reaching for a more feminine way. 

I’ve come to delight in the tales Principles tell us of how the living world lives. I’ve come to know the joy in quiet work in the early hours when my mind is bright, fuelled by caffeine, my dear friend who I can not let go of, yet. 

I’ve come to find myself in deeper relationships with people and plants who live in my community. I’ve brought new plants to live here with me, in my urban forgers’ garden where I play with forest garden principles on home scale, and I’ve shared that learning, inspiring others through our tiny food forest at The Kymin, where we have come together to dream of being stewards of commonland, with our scythes in hand. 

I came to the path as a community grower with dreams held of sharing and solidarity, learnt through Transition. Along the path I’ve played with being educator, remembered my artist self, defined my practice, got discerning with food and experimented with being a performance poet. I’ve held and expressed the big emotions from climate conversations, and wondered about modernity, patriarchy and feminism, all the while resisting capitalism in the search for alternatives; new cultures of belonging to the earth, as we reconnect with ourselves, and each other, seeking out and finding what it feels like to be in interdependent community. 

I’ve met, and fallen in love with many book people.3 I’ll carry their gifts into my future writing as I begin to dive into Living Stories, Living Worlds4, as I know I need to write. I know I need to write so deeply, it almost hurts. Yearning, hungry for what that might bring. 

I’ve held onto how to make a good livelihood from all this work, and Wild Ceridwen5 has brought her cauldron of Awen for me to stir, as I weave the world with words. For two years I’ve questioned the tools, and then a tot of joy came to me and I let it go. Because the tools are toys, and I like to play. 

I’ve come into deep relationship with design process, learning much from outside permaculture, and from within. I’ve resisted linearity, except for in a temporal way, I’m caught up in a linear version of time, but dream so of turning to the cycles, to know the old ways of turning with the seasons. But in the city this is hard, with the clock of capitalism tick tick ticking away, pushing me this way and that. I resist. I desist and divest. I diverge and divulge my deepest secrets, bearing my wounds for all to see, in search of healing in community. 

Mostly, I have done it alone. But this is not wholly true. I have met, involved and been touched by so many wonderful, inspiring people who have uprooted my thinking and encouraged me on the way. 

I’ve learnt to design what you are doing6, and to just get on with it in the face of the critique, for there is critique. Of course there is, there has to be. A design science without its own theory of design needs to be questioned7, if only to bring more rigour and vitality. As each of us who engage and involve ourselves in permaculture design process push and shape and form it, for it is a vast complex ecology, it’s adaptable and fluid, it is changing. 

I’ve questioned the fundamental tenet of the movement ‘to mimic nature’, a double bind that turns out to be a fallacy. I’ve rooted my thinking in ‘being with the living world’ instead, and have seen what can grow from that, as I hold the question ‘what does it mean to become indigenous to place?’ I’ve held many other questions, but two stand strong: 

What does a good life look like? How do I want to spend my days? 

I’ve let go of a long held desire for recognition, almost… Letting go of long held cultural patterns is the hardest thing, and perhaps the biggest lesson for me. I’m just getting on with what it feels like I need to do, taking the next right step, as it emerges. I’m rewriting the culture around what measures of success look like, for myself, and trying to convince the world that money is not the be all we have been led to believe. 

I’m doing my thing, being too big and too much, as I break out of Plato’s cave and find myself in Haraway’s chthulucene8, with my tentacles sent out into the world to feel. To feel deeply, a sensorial engagement with the world, embodied, intuitive, as I take the red pill and become animal. Bravely daring to imagine the world we could have, if only we could change, as I live into the future, now. 

I’ve teased around with this idea of ‘decivilising’, then learnt that a whole movement of people on the Dark Mountain9 have been moving in those places for years as they become uncivilised. I’ve found myself with a seat at The Long Table10 with some of them. 

I’ve been reframing language, from mechanistic, to regenerative. Playing with living and healing as I explore the art of permaculture design in my creative design process, as I endeavour to create conditions conducive to life. 

I got clear on my permaculture niches around design process, permaculture in the city, food, community growing, social enterprise, reconnecting with the living world and ways of knowing, doing, and being. 

But more than that I finish with a sense of beginner’s mind. I’ve felt that as a human I am the fruiting body of universal energy. I have the gift of a life. And beyond all the troubles and trials it brings as I navigate the terrain I find myself in now, in a dying world, there is no doubt that I feel small gestures around me in the currents of the air in which I swim, of the possibility of a life well lived in harmony with the living world. 

This, and being an artist, are the two biggest gifts I have received from my long night sleeping with permaculture. As I wake now into the tomorrows ahead, as the year turns once more, it feels true to say I know something about permaculture design now, and how we might apply a permaculture design process. But I also know nothing. As each new moment arises I get to begin again, as I live into my inter-becoming. 

To begin as apprentice once more, but this time, to life. 

Sally Hughes 

December 2023

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1 Dan Palmer. See https://makingpermaculturestronger.net/

2 Bill Mollison’s Core Permaculture Process. See https://treeyopermacultureedu.wpcomstaging.com/chapter-4-pattern-understanding/core-model/

3 The people who have written the books, made podcasts and YouTube videos I have enjoyed have been a huge influence on my work. See Book People for more info. 

4I began writing a Substack in early January 2024. 

5 Wild Ceridwen CIC. See http://wildceridwen.co.uk/

6 Wisdom from Liz Postlethwaite. See https://lizpostlethwaite.co.uk/ 

7 See the conversation between Gordon White and Dan Palmer here: Making Permaculture Stronger with Dan Palmer – Permaculture Tasmania Winter Webinar Series

8 See Donna Haraway’s book Staying with the Trouble. Also see the Book on Fire podcast reading of Haraway, which begins here: https://thebookonfire.podbean.com/e/introductions-first-assignment/ 

9 See https://dark-mountain.net/ 

10 The online community of participants in Doughald Hine’s A School Called Home. I was invited to join after taking part in the Regrowing Living Cultures course. See https://aschoolcalledhome.org/ 

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