More thoughts as we work to ‘reconnect’, build ‘imagination infrastructure’, and celebrate the possible…

Our 6-month Permaculture Design Courses run twice a year. This spring/summer, we are joined by Gail McNulty, a student in one of our courses. Gail is new to permaculture and after each of the 6 course weekends, she’ll be sharing a blog post about the weekend – what she learned, what inspired her, what connections she made and reflections from some of her fellow students. We are very happy and honored to be able to share her experiences with you all and hope you enjoy hearing some student perspectives.

A reflection on weekend two of the Permaculture Design Course

by Gail McNulty

I feel like we need to be a movement that is able to talk about the futures that we are already seeing if climate change and social justice go unaddressed (runaway climate change, collapse, fascism etc.) as it is our inability to imagine that scenario that has got us into this situation. But we also need to become an awful lot better at imagining the world we could still create if we were able to mobilize at scale and do everything we possibly could do. …Building an imagination infrastructure feels to me absolutely essential in being able to address the enormity of the climate emergency.
—Rob Hopkins (Founder of the Transition Movement), Summer 2022 Permaculture Magazine

Permaculture Design Course students work together to dig water-retentive earthworks.

Getting myself to sit down and write about our last beautiful weekend together has been a struggle. Against the backdrop of the horrible things that seem to be playing out faster and faster in the ‘real world,’ our permaculture weekends and the wonderful group that has assembled to work on The Ahimsa Collective project can feel more like an escape than a viable bridge to a regenerated future. As my bank account sits empty and I begrudgingly apply for jobs within the capitalist paradigm that perpetuates abuse and destruction, I find solace letting my bare feet sink into the earth—sensing gratitude for the new growth on the charred redwoods surrounding my little mountain cottage. The hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies visiting my garden remind me there is magic all around and we are all part of something much more real than any of the systems that seem to trap us. With that in mind, I love Hopkins’ idea about building an imagination infrastructure and I hope we can weave that into the collective thinking we all bring to PDC16.

Permaculture instructor Dave Shaw explains the purpose of cover crops growing around an avocado tree.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the first permaculture weekend led by John and Christine while Dave was recovering from COVID, hearing Dave mention The Great Turning, a reference to JoAnn Macy’s Work That Reconnects, on our second Saturday morning, reaffirmed that I had found a tribe that resonates with my thinking. I love that Dave’s PhD is focused on telling the story of The Great Turning because I believe creating a story of tomorrow that people actually want to wake up to—what Hopkins calls imagination infrastructure—is key to transforming our future.

Dave’s mention of The Great Turning also resonated with Jillian who hopes to use her background in public relations to undo some of the harm that has been done through PR since Eddie Bernays, grandson of Sigmund Freud, first staged a photo op of socialites lighting up at the 1929 New York City Easter Parade to help Big Tobacco increase their sales. Bernays and countless PR and advertising execs who have followed his lead used psychology to sell people things they didn’t need—in many cases things like cigarettes that would actually harm them. To counter the harm that has been done by predecessors in her field, Jillian wants to learn about permaculture so that she can help popularize a story of “people who are living off of the land, in harmony with Mother Nature”.

The hands-on work of our second weekend offered a hint of how we might all play a role in The Great Turning now, as part of building and amplifying the larger vision. Working together on “soils day” to chop down the cover crops and use them to protect and nourish the trees in the orchard, and then dig swales and create berms on “water day” to keep rainwater on the land, offered a glimpse of how powerful a team of people working in unison can be and how much power individuals and groups have to create more resilient local ecosystems as we face more extreme droughts, harsher storms, and other impacts of a heating climate. Working collaboratively in Nature with a shared goal of learning how to take better care of our surroundings and each other also felt incredibly healthy. So it’s not surprising that everyone who shared insights for this month’s blog post alluded to the healing potential of permaculture.

Hands-on work included chopping and dropping the cover crop to help nourish the soil and trees.

Marie lives in San Francisco and dreams of homesteading in the future near agro-intentional communities. A nature lover deeply connected to nature and always deepening that connection over time, she longs for “freedom, integrity, dignity, community, a world not worsening in toxicity” and “for people to get more connected to their own nature and nature as One (spiritual relationship).” Her favorite take away from the weekend was “discovering and learning new ways of harvesting rain.” 

Gregor shared that he came to PDC16 expecting to, “work hard, make mistakes, get direction and inspiration from everyone, and with that knowledge go further to make my small piece of the world a little more regenerative, restorative, and reciprocal.” A UCSC Alum who now lives in Pacifica, Gregor felt nostalgic as he “returned to his roots,” gathering under the oaks. Having retired from 30 years in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responding to disasters and working to mitigate future risks, he brings a keenly focused lens of the potential for permaculture to help us “work with nature, to recognize and respect her awesome power to nurture us in our good works or negate us from our less-than-good work.” Despite the many disasters he witnessed throughout his career, he knows, “We can work in, and walk in balance with the Earth,” and he wants to learn how.  On a personal note, since starting a vegetable garden he has found it to be “stress detox therapy” that benefits his overall health.

Kruti, who lives in Mountain View, said that her search for being healthy and happy led her to permaculture:

I am a nature lover, I truly believe that if there is a God then it has to be mother nature as she gives us everything that we need. I long for feeling one with nature, connecting with the cosmos with every creature that we share this beautiful planet with. I love the idea of taking back control over my impact, being in charge of what I eat and what goes into making it. It is inspiring to try to mimic nature’s ways in our lives. It’s quite unfortunate that humans have lost their way and created cities in forests as two separate entities. How beautiful would it be if forests and cities were the same thing? How much happier would humans be if their homes were surrounded by nature?

Kruti’s questions bring us back to the quest to build the imagination infrastructure that can bring The Great Turning to life. We need a vision for a future that transcends the limits of our current systems, ensuring that instead of having the “right to pursue happiness,” people everywhere have enough and live happily. One of the biggest barriers to this vision is the need to fit in and be ‘normal’ that pervades our capitalist culture keeping us tied to creature comforts, destructive systems, and the hedonic treadmill. On Sunday morning, Lydia (our water day instructor) encouraged us to sing and mingle like kindergarteners learning about the water system. This unexpected start to the day tested the limits of our vulnerability, inviting us to let go of ‘normal’ and embrace a playful spirit. To dream our way forward, we may all need to relearn how to let go and play with childlike abandon celebrating the possible with new eyes. I look forward to more playful days reveling in Nature and reimagining tomorrow with my PDC16 colleagues.

Along with his reflections on why he decided to take the Permaculture Design Course, Gregor offered this quote from Rabbi Tarfon (1st-2nd centuries CE, Palestine):
“It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world,
but you are not free to desist from it either.”

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