Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stacking Functions

One of the important ideas in permaculture is to "stack the functions". Permaculture vernacular has a lot of strangely evocative phrases. When I first heard this, a picture immediately formed in my mind of the human body with the ankle bone connected to the knee bone...and the knee bone connected to the thigh bone; a big bony structural stack where every part depends on every other part for stability. And in fact, that IS what it's all about; interconnection and making sure that everything serves at least 3 purposes.

I'm a permaculture novice but the elegance of the idea appeals deeply to me as an artist. As a matter of fact, I've come across little else in my life that can hold my attention as fully as permaculture - only art making has done that up until now. Oh, and fire making. Oh, and greek mythology....and my dog. There's nothing quite so mesmerizing as an idea whose time has come. Maybe that's the main ingredient for a great work of art too - the mastery of a form synched with a tremendously timely idea. And a great work of art also stacks functions in the sense that nothing can be parsed out separately in the apprehension of it. It's seamless. It's full, complete, and self sustaining.

An example of a permaculture stacked function would be living with chickens. Chickens are a big item in permaculture for this very reason. They produce great manure for fertilizer, you can feed them the vegetable garden scraps that they helped to grow with their manure, you can eat their eggs (and them if you're so inclined), you can corral them temporarily in your garden bed where they will happily scratch around thus aerating your soil and pulling up weeds, you can build a winter coop that's attached to the south side of your home and their bodies will help passively warm the house. Like that. No waste. A closed loop system.

But that's all down the road for me. My mate and I have just bought a house in the desert. A permaculture paradise is the goal. You start at the hearth and build outward. That's where I am - in the center of the newly gutted house. We tore out all the walls to start anew, to clear the road for passive solar heating, grey water, etc. Two days ago, I was standing in that exact center of the house feeling maxed-out and overwhelmed thinking about the years ahead and the work it will take to manifest this dream. For a few minutes, I stepped onto the Dark Road - I'm too old, it's too late, there'll be an earthquake and the San Onofre nuclear plant will explode, the winds will bring the radiation RIGHT HERE, we'll have to flee, where will we go? Is my passport up to date? Where the hell IS my passport??? ...Ohhhh, I can slide onto that road in a heartbeat. It's delicious.

So, I was flying down that road when I suddenly heard the sound of a water drip close by. A leak?? In the house?? Oh my god!! (The Dark Road). I looked around and noticed for the first time that my dog's water bowl was in the center of the room at my feet. Hmm...that's a strange place for it to be. Then I saw a water droplet hit the center of the bowl. I looked up and saw that it was directly below a newly exposed copper water pipe with an apparent leak. Like the way a really good joke works via a series of quick revelations, I understood that my mate had whimsically created our first STACKED FUNCTION. And the best part was that over the next few days I saw that the interval of the drips corresponded perfectly to the amount of water consumed by my dog so that the bowl was always full of fresh water and never overflowed. Now a stacked function ideally should have at least 3 purposes. The bowl caught the leak, and provided water to my dog. Where's the third function? As my permaculture friend, Daniel Francis, says "beauty is a function".  I consider humble revelations to be beautiful. So there you go.

Ace builder, Sequoia Smith, in center with friends. His first 
stacked function underlined in yellow.

Our second temporary stacked function.
Washing machine drains into barrel on
top which uses gravity to send the
grey water to select trees.

A great, literally stacked function
invented by Transition Food Group
member, Janet Tucker. She cleaned up
the desert of 3 abandoned tires (function1),
put a cage of rat wire on top to protect
the plants, plastic around the sides for wind
 and cold and grew broccoli (function 2).
Huge, vibrant broccoli I might add.
Function 3 - a great invention for people who
can't afford the expense of a green house.

Instructions for building the Goodyear Greenhouse.

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