In this episode we explore part of what it means, or might mean, to bring indigenous perspectives to permaculture design with Laura Adams from Seven Winds LLC in Maryland, USA. This episode started with an email from Laura sharing some thoughts on the last episode:
Greetings Dan,I have been listening to your podcast with great interest over the last several months whilst taking part in Geoff Lawton’s online PDC. (Although I have been exploring permaculture for many years) I am also a supporter of and very excited about the Reading Landscape Film, congratulations on making the goal. I was prompted to send this note when I heard the most recent podcast you released regarding a conversation with your core group about systems thinking and more. In that podcast you encouraged your listeners to hit pause and answer the question(s) themselves prior to continuing to passively listen which led me to engage with the conversation more actively and I thought there may be a value in sharing a perspective.
I agree with you that when you prod systems thinking, it quickly dissolves back to parts, and I believe this is because it evolved from parts thinking (or mechanistic thinking) in the first place. However generative or regenerative thinking is totally different (until the word gets co-opted). I come at permaculture from the perspective of a cultural and spiritual root which is Kongo-Taino out of the Caribbean. When we look at something (be it a person, place, river, mountain, event), the first thing we acknowledge is that it is “Un Misterios” (effectively a spirit) and we know that we cannot possibly understand it fully and if we pull it into its parts, the essence of it (the spirit) will disappear on us. The mode of approach is one of listening and sensing and letting it tell us about itself, knowing that this process could be indefinite. Over time that place (or person, animal, what have you) slowly reveals different aspects or understandings of itself to us, if we continue to pay attention (or “follow the trail”).
For sake of illustration, let’s say we are talking about a particular land, it could be a “property” a landowner has purchased. Your typical permaculture designer is going to go in and analyze it for water, access, structures and the various desires the landowner expresses interest in. This is a big improvement on blindly going in a throwing structures and access wherever. However, the land itself has its own spirit, as does everyone who lives on it. I really do not see that permaculture as taught even tries to understand this. The reason is simple, it cannot be measured, easily seen, or “proven”. This is where Indigenous or Re-indigenized culture clashes with Permaculture. I understand that people want to shy away from terms that cannot fully be defined such as “spirit” (or even essence). However geometry is built upon three undefined terms- a point, line and plane. I do understand why permaculture teachers do not want to get into these waters, (there would be a big backlash and accusations of pseudoscience). Yet, permaculture wants to cosy up with Indigenous cultures (and it should do this to reach its potential). However, if you do want to cosy up with Indigenous cultures, then you have to be ready to see life as infinite worlds within worlds, each one essentially Un Misterios.
Keep up the good work!
Seven Winds LLC
To which I replied:
Laura thank you so much for your beautiful email where everything you share resonates with and inspires me deeply. Isn’t it such a muddle how we find ourselves trying to force the deep beautiful mysterious and sacred essence-spirit of a place into our puny little mechanical containers and how in doing so we cut ourselves off from perhaps the most deeply nourishing and soul-warming energies there are to access as a human being (namely relaxing back into the larger pattern of life).
Un Misterios. Love it.
Two questions. First, would you consider sharing your words as a comment on the shownotes – I want to welcome reflections such as these (which in part help me feel less alone and crazy) on the site, and hope they will in turn prompt related reflections from others. Second, would you be up for getting on a call about this stuff some time that we record toward the possibility of feeding into a future episode?
Warmly, to stay in touch, and thank you again for reaching out and for supporting the Reading Landscape film!
Luckily for me Laura agreed to a chat and so we booked in and recorded what became this episode. Afterward Laura then followed up with this comment:
Dan, It was lovely chatting with you earlier this week. Our conversation sparked some further pondering on the essence of design not just for utilitarian purposes but as a pathway to deeper connection to the heart of life. I respect that you have the courage to put yourself out there as a professional in this regard, as to an extent it is a lot easier to keep one’s profession and one’s personal design practice separate out of concern that one’s personal design practice will not be accepted professionally. My personal design practice is significantly different from my professional one, as I prefer allowing the design to evolve spontaneously within the natural rhythm of action- contemplation (reflection)-action… rather than plan it out on paper.
Attached you will see two photos. The first is a African American cemetery circa 1850 on our lane. The spiky plant around the grave markers is Yucca filamentosa (Spanish Bayonet). It was planted for protection and connects to Bantu use of Draceana spp -used for the same purposes of protection and marking entrances and boundaries. The cemetery is the boundary between life and death and the Yucca simultaneously marks this important boundary.
The second photo is of my husband’s [Jose Running Water Centeno] burial mound. Its design began on the day he placed a very large boulder to mark a place he called “Mundo sobre Mundo” (World within Worlds). There is now a small hut right in front of that boulder. Once he was buried, I placed other large boulders which were already in proximity to create the mound itself. The design itself is ever evolving, as elements continue to gather to his mound. Four Yucca (these ones are variegated) plants surround the mound, serving the same purpose as in the old cemetery.
I believe you are on a wonderful path by choosing to forgo the idea of a “master plan” and embrace an ongoing relationship with your clients and their land. This approach feels a lot more genuine to what I think people want permaculture to be, a pathway back to connection with land and self. I am also well aware that it takes much more creative effort to have an ongoing relationship with clients than a quick in and out. I wanted to share these visuals, as a small contribution to your process and a thank you.
Be well, Laura