Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Great Turning

Hollywood disaster hype aside - December 21, 2012 marks the end of the Mayan Long Count - the end of the 13th Bakun. A new era begins. Everyone I know is changing - I mean CHANGING. I would like to reprint here a message I just received from a good friend about this momentous change and how we might steer it in the right direction. Thank you, Eva.

Last week a small group  gathered in the Mayan forest in the Yucatan to explore what the ending of the 5,125-year “long count” on December 21 might mean to us.  We came from diverse contexts: education, medicine, governance, science, conservation, spirituality and business.  We were connected by our commitment to contribute to the evolution of our own consciousness and the transformation of institutions that shape our society.

We came knowing that December 21 and 22, 2012 represent not only the end of one cycle but the beginning of a new one - a “chance for humans to start again,” as one of us expressed it while in the Yucatan.

There is a Mayan myth, retold on many monuments in sacred Mayan sites, about day 1 of the just-ending long count cycle. Nine wisdom holders gathered, “had a cup of chocolate and a conversation”, and reflected on how to reestablish harmony after such a long period of chaos. In this conversation they identified seeds they wanted to plant for the new cycle. 

We are sending this message to friends around the world, each of whom is connected to networks of collaboration in their work. We are inviting each of you to consider the sacredness of this moment. On December 21st, starting at the international dateline in the central Pacific, people around the world will hold for 72 hours a space of love, respect and appreciation. Each in their own way, people will reflect on this new cycle through prayer, in silent contemplation and meditation, in dialogue, sitting and walking in nature, through ceremony and ritual. 
During our time together in the Yucatan, we discussed the impact we have on the natural world, how we bring respect, reverence and balance back into the communities we live in, and how, in concrete terms, we invest our own commitment in the institutions that matter to us - not just in this moment but ongoing. We also posed several questions upon which to reflect. We would like to share a few of them with you, to also reflect on in the coming days.
·      What am I committed to transforming in myself?·      What seeds do I, and we, want to plant and cultivate for the well being of people and all life on earth?·      What is the story that will be told in 100 years about what was transformed in this new beginning?

We offer a second invitation: to see the sacred places all around us as hubs of amplification for the collective practice of holding planetary well being.  The invitation is to go to a place that is sacred for you and to visualize planet earth and all living beings as an integrated living entity.

This is no political agenda for a new world order. Rather, this practice builds on what many older cultures have known for a very long time and brings it into this moment: to connect and integrate with the field of higher vibration that is created naturally when enough of us concentrate our intentions, prayers, meditations, chanting, rituals, and visualizations on the well being of the whole.

It is a time to feel fully integrated with oneself, the group that you may be with, and the larger wholes of which we are a part, including the human community and all our fellow travelers on this small microcosm of life in the universe.

We invite you to visualize and strengthen our radiating light as the aura of the planet. The potential of this collective practice is to create an internal experience that can free up blockages, individually and collectively, and liberate the life force and universal energy within.

Take this time to awaken the awareness of our capacity to regain the states of balance, harmony and integration, moment by moment, and the awareness that we have the capacity and the tools to transform,  the ability to shift:
·      From fragmentation to integration·      From aggression to kindness·      From being absent to being present·      From tension to relaxation·      From doubt to clarity·      From denial to commitment

On December 21-22, we will take a “pause” in our habitual activities for two days in support of the conditions for living that we would like to see, feel and manifest, as we start the first day of this new era.  Please consider yourself invited, together with others in your personal networks,  to join in this intention setting in whatever form feels best and most natural for you.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Desert Sponge

Today I made a  mini swale near one of my newly planted Screwbean Mesquite trees that hasn't been doing so well. I've been observing it all summer long and suspect that being at the lowest point on the property means that it's in deep sand that just drains water away. I read about mini swales for newly planted trees in Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond  by Brad Lancaster. Basically you make a big sponge on contour (level with the topography of the land) on the up hill side of and next to the tree well. Theoretically, this will catch and hold any water run off from the land. It's possible that once this sponge is thoroughly soaked, the tree will need no more watering for many months. Here's how I went about it.

Using an A frame with a level I determined a contour line on the uphill side of the tree (flags mark the contour). Normally you would center the swale with the tree well but in this case I kicked the swale over to the left so it could catch an existing water run off course during a storm. I then marked out the dimensions of the swale (about 3' X 2') and saturated the ground with my water pic.

I dug out the swale to a depth of about 2 feet, piling the dirt on the downslope side. I then graded the uphill side so that it slopes gently into the swale to reduce turbulence once water is running down the land. I then put in a layer of old horse stall bedding and compost and dug it into the bottom of the swale. I wet that thoroughly.

I've been saving all mulchable paper goods and had a 32 gallon barrel full of junk mail, newspapers, old phone books, paper grocery bags. I put in a layer of this. I wet it throughly while stomping on it. When I was done with the swale, I'd used all contents of the 32 gallon barrel.

Next I sprinkled in a layer of horse stall bedding. Wet and stomp. I then continued alternating layers of paper stuff and horse stall bedding until I was a little below grade. Wet and stomp each layer.

For the next to last layer I put in this old bamboo fencing material. Wet and stomp. My thinking was that, no matter what, sand will start to fill in the surface of the swale and I want to be sure that there is lots of fluffy area for it to squeeze between to keep it sponge like.

I finished it off with another layer of horse bedding and then a thin layer of sand. Wet and stomp. Then rocks. Rocks are one of the great moisture holders of the desert. Notice the overflow trough in the middle of the top of the swale. VERY IMPORTANT when you are capturing water - always have an overflow route.

And last, I rebuilt the water well around the mesquite, packed it with lots of straw, then rocks. Notice the white capped tube in the water well just to the left of the tree. This is a deep watering tube that goes down 3'. Very important to get desert plant roots to dive deep as quickly as possible. It will speed up the time it takes for the tree to reach groundwater and be self-sustaining.

The method I read about in the book only used the above mentioned paper goods to fill the swale. I added horse bedding 1. because I had it and 2. because I wanted to see if it would speed up the composting process. As the tree grows, you can build a new swale outside the new water well. I figure that might be every 3 to 5 years. 

Since this swale is now thoroughly saturated, I'm going to stop watering this particular tree and see what happens. If this works, I'll do this with every tree I plant. I'll report back.

2 months later - reporting back. This one tree was so stressed that it's going to take me a season to see how it responds but so far, it's hanging in. Amazingly, the mini swale next to it still registers as WET with a water probe.

I've planted another Mesquite using this same method with one addition - a small amount of polymer water holding crystals mixed into the backfill. I researched these crystals quite a bit and so far they have proved to be completely non-toxic and biodegradable. I'm astonished at the water holding capacity. This newly planted tree needs watering about every 10 days (we're still fairly warm here in early November). The other Mesquites are needing to be watered twice a week. I'm hoping that once these new tree roots reach the mini swales, the irrigation need will even less.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Layer Cake Convection Composting

This is a composting method that uses convection by allowing the rising heat of the pile to draw air from underneath and send it up through the middle. This will greatly speed up the composting process. Make sure to keep the pile damp like a wrung out sponge.

1. Make a big, loose airy bed for the pile to sit on on. This can be made of sticks, palm leaf stalks (not the fronds), old barbecue grills. Make 2 more beds in a row next to the first one.

2. Next pile on a layer of brown material (carbon) in a wreath configuration. This can be dead leaves, cardboard, straw, dead palm leaves, newspaper. Keep an open hole in the middle. 

3. The next layer is green material (nitrogen). Maintain the wreath configuration. These can be cuttings from your garden, kitchen scraps (no meat or oil), garden clippings, aged manure. Always keep an open space in the middle of the wreath.

4. Continue on like this keeping that same configuration alternating nitrogen and carbon. In between adding layers, you can cover with a weighted down cloth tarp (not plastic, you want the air circulation to be unimpeded). The height of the pile is up to you but it should be a height that you can manage to turn over by yourself. In about a month turn that pile onto the second stick bed. Turn again onto the third bed in another month. Let sit until fully composted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Grey Water Guardian

Today I put in a grey water line from my washing machine to the three very old grapevines out on the east side of the house. These grapes must have been planted by the original owner back in the 50's. The trunks are old knarled things about 8" in diameter. They put out the most delicious small purple grapes.

This year, for various reasons, I didn't water them at all and to my surprise in the spring, they burst forth and soon were covered with grape clusters. could this be? Did the roots hit the water table? Nah. As far as I know grapes don't have deep tap roots and the aquifer is down at least 200 feet. Then like a scene in a Polanski movie, my mind did a zoom into the bathroom on the east side of the house, then panned to my imagined best possible location of the septic tank, following on to the leach line and ending up with a hand held of the grapes. Now that's some permaculture thinking on the part of the first owner. And if that's the case, if they are drinking off of the leach line, then they are also simultaneously feeding off the nitrites in urine thereby mitigating the impact of nitrates on the aquifer! I'm loving it.

To give them a little more of a boost, I decided to send them some washing machine grey water as well. I use only biocompatible (forget biodegradable) detergent which actually gives plants some micro nutrients. Fortunately, like most places in Landers, there was already a grey water line in place but it just spilled onto empty ground. So, follow along with the pictures to see how I went about it (the only picture missing is the one of me in tears of frustration from heat exposure and dehydration).

Grey water line runs underground and emptied to the
left and downhill from the grapes. I cut the line so it spills
out to the right and next to the first vine. Then I dug an
8" deep trench from the grey water pipe
parallel to the vines.
Grey water line and the new trench.

I cut a matching size pipe to length of trench and drilled 
a single line of 1/4 inch holes every 6 inches. Would 
have preferred a larger capacity pipe but didn't want
to deal with the coupling issue.

With holes down, I covered pipe with sleeve
(you can get them at Home Depot)
to keep out sand and roots. Secured at both ends 
with a cinched wire collar. 

Laid pipe in a bed of gravel, leveled the pipe and attached
it to the existing grey water pipe. Gravel makes it easy to level
 and also helps with drainage. I will finish it off by completely 
burying the whole length in gravel. Make sure you have an 
overflow coupling that is a bit above ground at the end of 
the pipe and attached at a right angle to it. I'm also going to 
put in a sieve at the washing machine drain hose to keep 
debris out of the greywater line.

Final touch - the Grey Water Guardian.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Pomegranates wrapped in panty hose
Today, on my three year old tree, I wrapped all 15 pomegranates in knee high panty hose. This is yet one more attempt to keep the desert critters from plundering them  - always and without fail exactly 24 hours before I decide it's time to harvest. My friend Stacy suggested this method. Note - Stacy has a wicked sense of humor. Did she send me on a SNIPE HUNT? I'll report back in the Fall.

Reporting back - Bummer. It works to keep birds from eating the fruit but the fruit starts falling off the tree before ripening. Probably the stockings retain too much heat and interrupt the ripening process.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Three Things About This Picture

Cultural change, stacked functions and repeat functions

The picture above documents three important aspects of the transition to a permaculture based life: cultural change, stacked functions and repeating functions. Here in the desert, water is beyond precious. Our community gets its water from an ancient underground aquifer - an aquifer that stopped recharging thousands of years ago. Let's add to this fragile situation, waste disposal based on the septic system. Surely and steadily, the nitrates from our urine are making their way downward to the aquifer. The status quo solution to this is the very expensive installation of a centralized waste treatment plant. But what if we stepped back for a minute and thought outside the margins of our cultural training? One of the many principles of permaculture is "least change for maximum results". So...if urine in our septic systems is the problem, then it seems a no brainer to consider simply taking urine out of the loop by peeing in a bucket. This takes a cultural change.

Now we come to the second aspect of the picture above - stacked functions. Another permaculture principle - have every action serve as many purposes as possible. We start peeing in buckets - absolutely no more urine going into our toilets. We start growing desert-happy fruit trees, like pomegranates.  Fruit trees need good organic compost and here in the desert they need wind protection. Upended straw bales will protect from wind and cold. You can help clean up the desert by using old tires to add to that protection and bolster up the bales. The main ingredients needed to make compost are nitrogen and carbon. Human urine is sterile and nitrogen rich. Straw bales are carbon rich. If you cut a cuplike depression in the top of each bale and pour in your urine diluted 1 to 10 with water, you will initiate the composting process. If the bales are placed inside the watering well of the trees, you will have created the perfect compost fertilizer at the bottom of the bale. If you water intelligently, the tree will take up all the nutrients leaving no organic compounds migrating down to the aquifer.

You can also pour the urine directly onto your compost pile or dilute it 1 part urine to 10 parts water and pour it at the base of your fruit trees as fertilizer. If you fertilize your trees this way, let the urine sit for about 3 days first as it's a "hot" nitrogen like chicken manure.

A cut in the water well berm captures rain fun off from the up hill slope.

The third aspect of this picture demonstrates a "repeat function". In permaculture, you always try to meet every need in multiple ways. My pomegranate tree needs water. I irrigate with city water but I've also opened one end of the water well around the tree in alignment with a small water run off course that comes down the slope of the property. In a strong rain, I'm able to capture quite a bit of run off into the water well. I keep a thick layer of mulch (straw and palm leaves) around the tree to keep down evaporation. The next step will be rain catchment off the roof of my studio for back up watering during the summer. I already use bathtub water to irrigate other plants on the property.

Permaculture offers an elegant wake up call from our ecological bad dream. As we make the transition to a more grounded and resilient life, a life in tune with the patterns of nature, the beauty of this system will become more and more apparent.

For more detailed information on the uses of Liquid Gold (aka your pee) go here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I love to make fires. It's strange how good I am at it. Not a pyromaniac. Just a lover of the craft of making the hearth sing. I also like to think about fire in a permaculture way - as in, nothing is isolated, everything is in relationship. So if I were to build a campfire on my land here is how I'd do it as a permaculturalist:

1. I'd copice the wood from the tree windbreak on my property - mesquite and black locust, trees selected for their high fuel efficiency.
2. I'd build the fire ring with rocks from my land with the high side against the SW prevailing winds.
3. The ring would be built high enough to reflect the fire's heat so I can build a modest fire and still have lots of warmth.
4. I'd leave the access side rockless making it easier to manipulate the fire.
5. I'd nestle the fire between 2 rocks that hold a cook grill thereby stacking the functions of the fire.
6. I'd stand back and admire my work.
6. I'd respect the fire and never leave it unattended. I'd have a bucket of grey water nearby...just incase.
7. Then my mate and I would drink a glass of wine, sit around the fire and fall in love all over again. Another stacked function.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Borage Says It's Spring

Happening now
warm soil nose

Turn the spade
bees in my hair

Lizard eyes,
later my dear

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Smoking Mirror

Tezcatlipoca (the Smoking Mirror)
The embodiment of change through conflict. 

The buddhists say "thou are that". Your external reality is a reflection of your internal reality and visa versa. I see this very clearly as I get deeper into the hard internal work of being an activist member of my community. I come up against painful, difficult problems between myself and others: ego conflicts, angry and hurt feelings, past projections on present conditions, etc. and I begin to see that it only increases conflict if I act out of a belief that those issues are "out there". I'm an artist and am use to the isolated life of the mind in my studio where I play my own game without the annoying interference of other people. I'm trying to learn a new way now; to halt the rote response, take a deep breath and see how my inner conflicts are being mirrored around me.  I can talk about inclusiveness, compassion, sustainability, transition but if I am not actively practicing these disciplines every day then what hope do I really have to help make the external changes that need to be made? Working with others brings me up hard against myself. The problem is the solution.