003: Permaculture as part of a personal evolution
It’s a leap to shift from thinking that there must be one right thing to do, one correct way to see a landscape, or best practice for developing a sustainable food system, to the discovery that there are many mutually beneficial things to do, many useful ways to see a landscape, and many developmental paths which can be taken toward sustainability.
For a long time I sat in the backyard and tried to reason what the next step should be, what the right thing to do must be. If ever something stood out as a foolproof action to take, I took such action with trepidation, as there always seemed more variables involved than I could possibly consider, and the thought that I might regret the steps I take now haunted me, as I’ve never enjoyed back-tracking or undoing what’s been done. It’s no surprise that in the two years since my last post, change in the backyard has been rather slow!
It’s dawned on me though that there need not be a single right action to take, if one can recognise the cloud of possibilities that all point toward improvement. Nature seems geared toward development, balance and maximum efficiency anyway, and it’s likely that it would do just fine without me. And so my efforts have settled to a gentle encouragement of what’s already working, what nature and I agree on, and less of the forceful experimentation I’ve been used to.
It seems there’s a spectrum between two extremes; at one end – nature left to her own devices (Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘do-nothing’ farming), and at the other – commercial agriculture, where nature is exploited as much as possible, for maximum gain. Permaculture fits anywhere that a practice is sustainable, which I imagine would be closer to Fukuoka’s end of the spectrum. But any development of a landscape toward a regenerative food system, while in keeping with natural processes, is still a forceful process with human gain as the ultimate goal, and whether you’re growing salad greens in containers on a balcony, or casting seeds willy-nilly into a backyard jungle, you are always applying some force to a scenario that would play out quite differently if you weren’t there to influence it. In this compromise there will always be at least two perspectives to take into account – that which nature would do without you, and that which you would have nature do for you. Herein there can never be one ‘right’ thing to do, one ‘correct’ approach, but only guesswork – an intuition as to what might benefit both parties mutually.
So what I wait for now is not an intellectual lightbulb moment – a right thing to do – but an intuition that resonates; an idea that I love and which I feel invited to implement. Usually they are small motions, like scattering some legume seeds here and there, pruning a branch here and there, always with a view to increasing life and diversity, minimising effort and damage, so that the natural processes already occurring can continue uninhibited, and I can save my energy too. The result is a backyard that only half reflects my intention, and the rest is a magic show.
I still have a plan for how I’d like the backyard to be, with a tropical zone here, a citrus zone there, and a canopy to boot, but it’s all in pencil.
Developing the backyard has been as much an evolution of my own thinking, as it has an evolution of the soil and life emerging therein. I wonder what the next development will be…