My poor flaccid brain. Neglected after years of unstructured mental flitting, I needed to give it some work to do. And I needed to develop a way of thinking about the land. I’d been reading the Milkwood Permaculture blog for a while and liked their approach and so Briele and I thought doing a two-week intensive Permaculture Design Certificate with them would be a good idea (flying to Sydney to do it – an imperfect idea).
Immediately after completing the course people asked me what permaculture was and it would take me about half an hour to answer. My short version now is that it is about the earth, community and energy management. The relationships between the three and our conscious care for the system. It’s about thermodynamics and other things I ignored at school. About collecting water off a roof, composting toilets (more below) and eating really, really well. And ultimately it’s about living in a way that’s going to keep us comfortable in the future and surrounded by beauty too. The photo below is of a garden we visited in the inner city. Lush isn’t it?
B and I studied with a group of intellectually curious individuals, all committed to learning to do things differently. The sheer volume of information stupefied me but as I acclimatised to the routine I felt more mentally energetic than I had for ages, and yet more relaxed about everything in my life. Strong drugs in the tea made me join Facebook. Beards and ukuleles suddenly made sense. Thank you Milkwood! They made a sweet little three-minute photographic version of our journey (photos by Cathy Xiao Chen).
I’ve been slowly digesting the course ever since. My reading list is looking good – and I find my recipe books sit in amongst the ones on soil very nicely.
I was sitting in my office the other day
thinking about convention and I came across an oldie but a goodie from our esteemed mate Helen Keller (who would probably approve of permaculture). I know this quote has been done to death, but it’s pertinent to my recent learning: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” There’s more meatiness to the extended version, about the uselessness of avoiding danger as it’s no safer than exposure etc etc. And although I am perhaps overly partial to HK’s gems because I am very myopic, I think the sentiment is incredibly comforting, liberating and it makes me want to take slow and small risks and live differently.
So. New things are good things and the gradual development of routines inside the new things is good too. I’ve been contemplating instigating a lot of new routines recently. Like pooing in a bucket. I wondered whether I should write about this composting toilet business so early on as I fear alienating the single digit readership. But it was such a lightbulb concept for me during the course it needs sharing. Humanure is an interesting one to try to sell and there are lots of approaches – from the well delivered TEDx talk by Milkwood’s Nick Ritar (watch this, it’s truer than the evening news, and shorter) to the practical Humanure Handbook to the heavy metal (there’s a song!)
The upshot of it all is that it makes absolute sense to keep expelled nitrogen on the property for use again, rather than flushing it away with drinking water. A composting toilet system is simple – use the liquid gold immediately in a watered down solution on the garden. Collect the solid nitrogen (poo), add some carbon (sawdust, other goodies) and give it time. A year of maturation and you’ve got compost. It’s initially challenging to most of us, but the science is right and the only thing between disgust and rapture is a spot of education. There’s a huge conversation in and around how to make this work in high-rise apartments when you ain’t got a garden and I’m oversimplifying so that this post doesn’t entirely turn to shit (HAD to), but it’s very exciting nonetheless. Now I just need to come up with an attractive system for my very own composting toilet that won’t scare off visitors.
Still there? Happy Valentine’s.