Sunday, July 27, 2008

Permaculture is NOT about hairdos.

Last weekend, I spent 4 days in the Kickapoo Valley of southwest Wisconsin taking a 4-day intensive permaculture workshop. I had a fantastic time; the place where we "headquartered" was a group of buildings located on a 1,000-acre property owned by a fascinating couple. The wife, a dutch woman with a head of bright-red dyed hair and a deadpan sense of humor, explained how the main lodge was built: "We planned this very, very carefully. We used two whole napkins."

Attendees had the option to rent a room on the property or camp for free. To keep costs down, I packed my trusty Eureka Solitaire. The wraparound veranda of the lodge is a very wide concrete floor with a roof overhang; most of the campers simply set up tents on this. My tent needs to be staked to stand, so I set up under a tree next to the lodge, close to the side bathroom door (although rather than disturb people by walking past their tents at night, I simply peed in the grass. Ah, wilderness.

The Kickapoo Valley is in the Driftless area of Wisconsin, an area that was untouched by the glaciers that flattened a great deal of the state. As a result, there are hills and valleys, and it looks a lot like Vermont or New Hampshire. The property we were staying on was gorgeous; wildflowers everywhere. And my fellow attendees were wonderful. They were giving and kind and we helped each other. In the morning, after my shower in the regular shower, I'd see some diehards running back from the icy spring after their morning dip. One regular was a girl who had her Ph.D in Astrobiology. Yes, she studies life on other planets. She quit NASA after getting tired of living in D.D., and is back home in northern Wisconsin. Freelancing.

Yes, freelancing. I loved her. She was sweet and delightfully childlike.

We had lectures down the road at another building, which was also where we took our meals. Mark Shepard, who started a 100-acres permaculture farm (which is unheard of) gave the lectures while I was there, talking about guilds and plantings, and his theory of applying "sheer, total, and utter neglect." He and his wife are originally from Massachusetts, and had homesteaded in Alaska for 8 years before the current adventure, which they began over 13 years ago. We toured his farm, and it was daunting and amazing at the same time. I saw asparagus in the ground for the first time in my life, and the taste of a fresh stalk, picked right from the ground and eaten fresh, has ruined me for store-bought asparagus forever. their kitchen garden has blueberries, serviceberries, raspberries, apples, grapes, herbs. He's discovered that when his boys get cranky, they're usually hungry, so when they're acting up he tells them to go outside and eat.

Walking back from the class building to our sleeping area at night, we were surrounded by fireflies and once night, a big full moon. One night I walked back alone, determined to overcome my fear of the dark. I walked along, using my night vision, relaxing by watching the fireflies, my heart full with the beauty and the presence of Nature.

I turned up the dirt road that led to the Lodge, and just as I was enjoying my new bravery, I remembered the small family cemetery.

The cemetery on the hill right next to me.

By day, I'd had fun exploring the quaint, sparse gravestones. Now? Now my imagination, heretofore kept under control, went into overdrive.

I breathed, refused to believe that what I imagined was standing behind/around me, or that I would hear a raspy voice address me at any moment. Most importantly, I did not run.

That only makes them chase you.

Back at my tent, the murmur or voices around me, I settled in, thanked God (and e.e. cummings) for Most This Amazing Day, and fell fast asleep.

We also took a tour of a farm that had been started by a young couple seven years ago, They had gone through a farm program and decided to make it a go.

This was the unofficial Cautionary Tour. Basically, weather and circumstances, combined with pressure from inspectors trying to drive them away from competing with larger companies, had them deep in debt and turning to alternatives to farming as their main livelihood.

"I don't want to discourage you, " the young farmer said, "but you think, 'hey, I'm going have a farm, do it right, make soap, sell at farmers' markets.' That's cool, but you need to understand that this is hard stuff. We're in debt for three-hundred-thousand dollars, and that's nothing for a farmer."


I left reluctantly, wishing I could just get a shack up there. I was so happy. On my way back on Sunday, i stopped to take pictures of the wind farm I'd seen on the way up. these things are amazing, like spaceships in a field. I took photos, and yes, once I get my Flikr photos uploaded, I'll post them.

I also had a Dairy Queen sundae, and may I say how refreshing it is to be served by a high-school girl who isn't snapping gum and talking on her cell phone while serving you, and who actually says, "have a good rest of your day" and actually MEANS it?

The thing is, the people up there get as huge as houses, but they are NICE people.

So here I am back, classmates are exchanging emails, not wishing it to be over. I keep looking at my tan and thinking about that asparagus.


SP said...

YOU peed on the grass after yelling at ME for throwing cherry pits into the shrubs?

JC said...

Depends on where; depends on what.

Also depends on whether you ahve to walk in the dark through a road of mud to get to a door.

SP said...

That's ethical relativism.

JC said...

Thank you, Miranda.