Wednesday, March 4, 2009

There and BACK AGAIN!

As I sit down to write this, it is raining in Duvall. I have a few videos to post from the trip, and some more pictures, and plenty of reflections to sort through in my mind and at my sit spot.

And now all of a sudden it is three days later - those videos have been posted (see the last post if you missed it), it is no longer raining in Duvall, and I am back in the middle of administrative work in the office, appreciating the view from my window across this green valley I love, where my roots go deep.

This morning I sat at the fire in Malalo Ya Chui ("Laire of the Leopard"), one of our classroom spaces at Wilderness Awareness School, in a circle of the people with whom I just spent 12 days on the road. As each person shared their voice and reflections, I closed my eyes and imagined the strands of who we are weaving in and out and amongst each other to create the basket of who we are together. We are not the same, and what each of us brings is exactly what is needed to make the whole. On this trip to California there were moments of beauty and hilarity and frustration and sadness - because all of those pieces were present and acknowledged and drawn out, we were able to be a beautiful basket. Sitting at the fire this morning and looking around at the faces, it was so apparent to me that our basket is woven more tightly now than it was when we left Duvall to head South 2 1/2 weeks ago.

The stories and reflections that were shared this morning showed the variation in who we all are. Many people talked about permaculture and chickens, the feel of getting their hands in the dirt. Others appreciated songs and community, connections strengthened and formed for the first time. And of course, many remember fondly the silly jokes and banter and the fun we had at gas stations along the way. Through all of those things - absurdity, community, and hard physical work - laughter and music were strands that tied it all together for me. I haven't laughed so hard, so much in a very long time, if ever, nor have I so enjoyed the spontaneous improvisation of music so fully.

The last epic layer of epicness from the trip was our stop in Portland on the way home. After leaving Bolinas at 6:00 am and pushing hard all day, we arrived at the home of Trackers NW at 8:45 pm. The images and feelings in my mind of tired people spilling out of vans and getting plates out of the trailer on a quiet Portland residential street, weaving amongst the cars and wandering across front lawns, to funnel through the gate of Tony and Molly's yard and stand dazed in a staring circle with strangers from this urban-dwelling primitive skills school... are indescribable. Describing what it was only captures the edge of it. Quick introductions, and then a funneling through yet another doorway into the downstairs basement apartment to descend on pots of chili. The meat version included meat from a bison the Trackers NW students butchered the week before, as well as a nutria trapped earlier in the week and collected via bicycle. A quick hour of connections and laughter, pool, and the first-ever video taped performance of the Winter Wren Rap. Our tour of schools complete it was on up the road and across the Columbia River back to Washington.

Check out this link for a VIDEO of the Winter Wren Rap performed by Alexia Stevens at our Trackers NW rendezvous..

On a personal level, the reintegration from this trip into my "real" life has been a really good experience. From on the road with such a large group of people 24/7, I have come back to what feels like a really solid, cohesive, supportive community. I am excited to plant strawberries and raspberries, to start some seeds inside for planting on the terraces I built before the trip,a nd to finish pruning the fruit trees in my yard. I am looking at what concrete steps I will take this evening and tomorrow and this weekend towards integrating some of the things that inspired me on this trip into my life here at home. At Sunol, at Quail Springs, and at Commonweal Garden I was in some of my favorite places and with some of my favorite people. And now, back in Duvall, it feels good to be here, now.

There is so much more I could say and reflect on, and part of me feels like I "should" try to get it all out here. And, I do believe it's good to leave a few things veiled and unsaid, allowing the mystery to remain.

So, signing off for now from Anake On The Road....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Some Videos from Quail Springs!

I thought would post some videos taken during the first half our trip, at Quail Springs.

In this first video, Ryan and I are explaining the food forest to Marcus. Do we seem a little tired and sun-dazed? We are! Happy too though... check it out. :)

In this next video, we are with roughly 1/2 the class, towards the end of a morning of tracking on the Cuyama River. We had set up tracking stations for the students - basically tracks or sets of tracks and/or sign with specific questions associated with them for the students to answer. After they had gone through all of the stations and written down their answers, we went back through as a group and talked about the questions, with Marcus and I sharing our knowledge and/or thoughts. The purpose of this exercise was for the students to evaluate their own tracking knowledge. Something about this setup also seems to be really effective for many people as a learning tool. The exercise was modeled after the CyberTracker Evaluations which were developed in Africa and brought to North America by Mark Elbroch.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wrapping the Journey

It is 8:40 pm at Commonweal Garden in Bolinas. The frog chorus is going strong and the skies are clear. After a night of heavy rain, which soaked tents and sleeping bags we are grateful to see the stars again. At sunset the ocean and sky turned deeper blue until just the thinnest band of pale was on the horizon, the Farallon Islands were silhouetted on the horizon, and the crescent moon was also low in the sky.

I stood with Marcus in the fields between Commonweal and the bluff that marks the beach watching the sky and water change, and the silhouettes of four deer move from North to South across the edge of the land. I was happy to stand with him at the edge of North America, on the trailing end of this trip, looking back on a job well done and feeling grateful for the lives we live, and the connections we have made and strengthened.

Although the trip is almost done, we haven't slowed down. This morning the students did a forest stewardship project at Commonweal Health and Environmental Research Institute with Penny Livingston-Stark. We separated from the Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness Students after the work project, singing our songs to each other once more and exchanging gifts of stepping stones and sage. In the afternoon, we toured the Permaculture Institute of Northern California site with James Stark.

One of my favorite big-picture parts of this trip is the opportunity to see different permaculture sites in action, in different climates and at different stages of the process. The Quail Springs site is relatively new, having been lived on in this way for about four years, and the climate is very dry - the flow of water through the landscape is a major factor in design. Commonweal Garden has been growing food and medicine for some time, but only for about seven years in it's current iteration. The PINC site is at yet another level of development or establishment; having been worked for over a decade it is much closer to a self-regenerating landscape of food and habitat.

Tomorrow we will rise in the dark and make the long push for home.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Connections at Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness

It's a long way from Quail Springs to Commomweal Garden - 12 hours and several ecosystems to journey from one family to another!

On our last night to the South we feasted on wild boar and venison hunted in Texas by one of the residents of Quail Springs and cooked in the cob ovens outside. We also had a spread of roasted chickens from Alexia's farm in Washington, roasted local vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes (with a whole pot of butter!), roasted squash and sweet potatoes, all cooked by the Quail Springs residents with some of our students and staff. Last Spring my daughter put her hands into the building of the first cob oven on the property, and it was a beautiful sequel to see the fires raging inside those ovens all afternoon, smell the smoke pouring out all afternoon.

From Thursday evening through Monday night, our friends at Quail Springs provided a beautiful, restful space for us to sink into and plenty of good work that was restful and rejuvenating in it's own way. Tuesday morning brought our moment of departure... it was not abrupt. We took our leave of the land slowly, sending blessings and thanks out to all that supports us and taking care to gather our spirits to ourselves so that we would leave behind nothing but footprints.

After warm goodbyes, free and clear, up the road we go....
to our sister program, Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness, in Point Reyes.

Up the road to Santa Cruz, for a quick shopping trip. I lunched with friend and mentor, Mark Tollefson of Wilderness Youth Project, who then joined us for a few minutes in the parking lot of Long's Drugs to share about the work he is doing in Belize with sustainable agriculture and cultural mentoring.

Up the road a little further, along the coastline between Santa Cruz and San Francisco (so many of my favorite places on this trip), with a 45 minute stop at a gas station with one bathroom (bad idea) and on to Pacifica Beach for sandwiches at sunset.

There is something about this trip that I have not yet mentioned. The Song. It is a relatively recent but already seemingly established tradition for each group to create a song to share with each other upon our arrival at Commonweal Garden. Now this is a musical group, and give us any old song to sing and we will change it and play with it on the fly. But to write a song, especially to write a song to be shared with another group, seems to be an entirely different thing. There was a song before the start of this trip, and it was quite a good song really, but for a number of reasons the process of everyone getting on board and enthusiastic about the song was like swimming through clay. The energy for it needed to come from the students in the group though, not the staff, and they were assured that if they wanted to make a song of armpit farts that would be okay. So, getting down to the wire we gathered on Pacifica Beach after sandwiches and sunset for a quick run through of the song, this time with the clear intention to just play with it and have fun. Guitars and voices, drums and a saxophone, we rocked out on the wall between the parking lot and the beach. A few strange looks from passersby along with the smiles, and that's all part of the fun of roadtripping. Seriously, the song was amazing.

And once again up the road, through San Francisco after dark and across the Golden Gate Bridge... and onto a different continent! It's true, tonight I am writing from Pt. Reyes, which is on the Pacific Plate. At least according to my friend Ned. So I'm wondering, is it the plates that determine the continents or is it the connection to the rest of the land mass? I also wonder how it feels to be a cricket.

I can't say very much about our arrival at Commonweal Garden and the sharing of the songs, other than that it was great, and the coming together with unity for the actual singing of our song was that much better for the challenges that went along with it - at least it felt that way in my body.

The combining of these two groups is a vibrant energy - not relaxing, like that of Quail Springs, but pumped. Today the students took off in small groups based on the Acorn directions held by the students (see previous blog post for explanation!) to explore the landscape. The staff and instructors sat on a log overlooking the ocean and watched the adventures unfold. We gathered together for dinner, sharing appreciations of each other and the day.

As I have been typing this, I am sitting in a yurt with about 7- people, the sound of rain on the canvas roof. Stories of the day have been shared, including signtings of Turkey Vultures and Brown Pelicans, findings of skulls and skeletons, musings about Great White Sharks and Tule Elk.

My own story of the day, shared with a small number of other students and staff, was of seeing a bobcat. We watched it cross the road into the field towards the ocean, and pass a thicket of shrubs, from which a Spotted Towhee alarmed after the bobcat had passed by. It is a really different experience to be in a place where it is so easy to see predators and the ripples that they send out through the birds.

Images and sounds and smells from the day, some real and some imagined: the crash of waves on the ocean below the bluffs, the heat of sun and the chill of rain, the smile of my friend Connor - class mate from the 2004-2005 year of the Residential Program, Peregrine Falcons carrying Frigate Birds in their talons and Tule Elk attacking Great White Sharks, the sound of voices united in song and dancing feet pounding the floor in rhythm, laughter, crawling through wet grass on belly, the call of scrub jays in the tree, the smell of the greenhouse - which doubles as our dining room, concentrations of highly toxic plants, the hum of many quiet conversations, the astringent scent of crushed eucalyptus leaves, the company of friends.

Now I am tired and I want to join in on the singing. Our trip is almost over, but there will be a at least a few more posts before I am done... I have more pictures to share courtesy of Kristi D., and I'm sure that there will be stories remembered later and post-trip reflections to share. Until then, blessings from Anake On The Road.

Monday, February 23, 2009

There's What We Do And Then There's How We Do It

It's been a very, very full few days for us at Quail Springs. Full of work and play. And full of other things too. I've been thinking a lot about who we are, by which I mean how we are in the world, with each other, and in our approach to what we do. We track animals and each other and the cycles of the seasons. We make baskets. We learn about the plants around us - edible and medicinal. We watch the birds and the skies and the changing moon. We practice the art of mentoring, as opposed to teaching. Here at Quail Springs we have done quite a lot of tracking, exploring of the land and learning the birds, mammals, amphibians, and plants of this ecosystem. We've done some good hard work, and learned so much about the thoughtfulness that goes into the design of a beautiful, sustainable system. We've learned about the woody plants that are good for making fire in this region, and about the healing herbs that grow here. These are all fabulous things, I think, and also somewhat unique in the world... but they are only the surface level of this experience.
There is what we do, and then there's how we do it.

At Wilderness Awareness School we use a system of organization - for our days together and for the overall structure of holding a program - that we call an Acorn. An acorn, as a seed, contains all of the necessary components to make a full-grown oak tree. Well, almost all of the components. There is also sun and wind and rain and the minerals and nutrients from the soil. But so much of what is needed is right there in that acorn. Comprising our acorn are the eight directions - East, Southeast, South, Southwest, West, Northwest, North and Northeast. Each direction has multiple layers. One layer is the energy of the cycles of the seasons, a day, and a life. In the East, for instance, are the first green shoots of spring, sunrise, and birth. In the West is the harvest, sunset, and adulthood. At another layer are the logistics of running a program; in the South is focus and information, and in the West is the harvesting of what has been learned. Each person who is here with us is holding a direction both energetically and logistically. The students in the East wake us up each morning with song and the students in the South keep us on track with our time commitments. Interwoven with everything that we do is the natural world. The skies, the wind in the pines, the movement of animals across the landscape - these are our sun and rain, minerals and nutrients. The acorn becomes a mature oak, and drops more acorns... There is so much that goes into 40 people on the road for 12 days. It could be chaos. With the help of the acorn structure, it's not - most of the time.
There is what we do and then there is how we do it.

Last night we sat around a fire together, speaking difficult things. As happens with groups of humans, there are dynamics that happen that feel good and dynamics that don't. With such a large group in close quarters there are inevitable disagreements, frustrations, hurt feelings, and reactions. For most of my life I dealt with these things in myself not at all, or poorly. In this community I have found a place where these things are acknowledged as part of the process of internal and interpersonal growth. The process is beautiful. Beauty doesn't mean it's always nice, or pleasant, or perfect. But in striving to move through this process in a peaceful way that honors each other, we move closer together and closer to ourselves.
There is what we do and then there is how we do it.

These last few days, tracking down on the Cuyama River, digging holes for trees in the food forest, climbing the ridges and watching the birds has been inspiring, connecting, healing, enlivening. As I type this on our last night at Quail Springs, I am sitting on the loft platform in the main room of the big, straw-bale building. Underneath me is the kitchen, open to the sitting area where my friends and fellow staff are gathered, listening to Warren Brush tell stories that have layers and layers. Stories like acorns. Stories of bears and squirrels and an old man in New Zealand. Stories of healing and of following ones path. I feel myself drifting into a dreamland, wrapped in story and song and the voices of friends.

It is later now, and the people around me are asleep. We are fairly close to L.A., but we are in a wild place and the night sky is beautiful. These past few days we have followed the trails of bobcat and coyote, mountain lion and jackrabbit. There are smaller animals here too, and the sandy soil provides the perfect substrate for tracking them too. Twice we took groups of students tracking along the edge of the Cuyama river, where we ran them through tracking stations designed to offer them a chance to self-evaluate their tracking knowledge. We found the tracks of toads walking through silt, and the trails of harvest mice, deer mice, desert wood rat, ground squirrel, and more around the pillars of a bridge across the river. Bobcat trails wove through the willows, and the tracks of coyotes criss-crossed those of domestic dogs. We even tracked my coffee cup!

When not tracking or working in the garden or making bricks, we have explored this landscape with our feet and all our senses. Climbing the high ridges and the ones beyond those, we have felt the way the soil here changes after rain, and smelled the damp desert. On hands and feet up one hill and down the other side, stopping at the crest to feel the sun and harvest manzanita for making spoons, when we reach the the bottom we find the huge stick nest of a dusky-footed wood rat at the base of a scrub oak, well worn trails branching out in all directions.

Tonight the sky is clear and the stars are bright. Jupiter is in the west and the Milky Way straight overhead. In the morning we will rise before first light to leave this place. I am sad to leave and happy to go. Onward up the coast to Bolinas and our friends at the Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness program.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Work, Play, Connection - Quail Springs
Earlier today I sent an email back to our home office, with the following as the opening paragraph:
"I'm sitting on a comfy couch in the beautiful new office space at Quail Springs. The room on the western end of the big strawbale building, with sinuous, three-toned earthen walls, and a dark earth floor with little bits of straw in it. The students are outside singing "Let Your Little Light Shine". The sun is out, and there is snow on the hill across from me right above our tents. I think today will be hot. So much has grown since we were here a year ago and they have a lot of projects for us to work in."

Later, as I sat on a hill with sagebrush and juniper I watched the hum of the "village". That is what this place feels like to me. Open and warm. Restful and rejuvenating. A place to work hard with your hands doing things that are elementary, sustaining, and beautiful in the process and the product.

Even later in the day I spoke with Matt, one of the students. He shared that until this afternoon he didn't understand why we were doing this long road trip, or why we were traveling all this way to learn about permaculture. After all, what does permaculture have to do with naturalist studies and survival skills? This is a great question, and one that we don't always answer before the trip. In part perhaps because it's hard to really capture the feeling of it to those who haven't experienced at least a little of both, but also because it seems like you have to just experience it anyway in order to know at any level beyond the theoretical.. and we're all about hands on learning. But perhaps I jump ahead too far...
This morning (as I sent emails back and forth to Duvall) the students had an orientation with this place from Warren, one of our hosts here at Quail Springs. He shared stories of connection with this land and the people here, as well as the history of this land stretching back in time. He told of some of the wounds caused by overharvesting of trees and water in this region in the past and present, and showed us some of the ways the people here are learning again to live on this land in a careful way, both increasing the productivity for human use but just as importantly building the habitat of this land for all of the non-human beings that live here. One big web, all connected.

So much of the work here is about water. How water moves on the landscape. Why water tables fall and how they can be brought back up again. What leads to erosion and what can be done to remedy or prevent it. How to store water in the soil. From habitat creation at the edge of the pond, to stream restoration designed to raise the water levels, to the building of swales to utilize minimal water efficiently in the garden, so much of the work here centers around water.

This afternoon we went to work. Some of us helped with the fence that is being put up around the labrynthine garden below the main building. Others made bricks out of rammed earth for a natural building project (there are both cob and strawbale buildings on the property). Some dug a trench for irrigation, while others dug swales and planted fruit trees in the food forest. Apples, apricots, nectarines, pears, and mulberry.

So to revisit the question of permaculture, I'm not sure that I can explain why except to tell you what we did today. We looked at the land and visualized water - both the times of lack and the times of deluge. We got to know the earth by putting our hands in it, getting it all over our clothes and under our fingernails. We found bugs by accident, and made homes for the lizards and other creatures that make the garden their home and keep things in balance... things like bugs. We worked with each other (have you ever experienced a different level of conversation happening when you are doing hard work with other people?). We learned how to make things from the land right here that nourish us and house us. As a group, we are more connected to each other and to this land than we were this morning, and that's the point.

And now, it is late and I'm exhausted and sore in a really good way. It's good to be in this place called Quail Springs, built by hand. Ready to hold us as we sink into rest.