Patricia Allison said so many profound things, told so many stories, that changed my thinking and my homestead life over the time I was fortunate enough to have her in my world. All kinds of concepts that were new to me would come up in our conversations. One of her stories though, usually rises to the top for me. I was staying at PA’s house in Earthaven Eco-village to take my first formal permaculture class, it was August of 2015 and I had just met her that summer. Earthaven was in the middle of planning their 21st anniversary party of having broken ground on their acreage, the party was in the coming weeks. She spoke beautifully about Earthaven’s land and its founders turning 21 themselves. That they were all arriving at young adulthood together. As a community of folks learning to live with and grow with the land – they had been born, toddled into childhood, traversed being teenagers and now had survived into becoming a young adult. They were turning 21. Yet, she felt that they still had a long way to go to be the wise old woman they needed to be. I just stood there and drank that concept in. Let it settle down into my stomach as I applied it to my own self and our farm. I swallowed real hard as she continued on. About how when you are new to living and growing with the land, or are on a new piece of land, about when you are, conceptually, a baby in this new relationship…. but yet, you are still expecting a ton of yourself. You know, that you can make these huge decisions about how to set up your land to sustain you and have it work out well. She must have seen the look on my face (I was slightly green by this point I’m sure.), because she laughed, and then said it would likely be good to go ahead and expect that you are going to spend a lot of time with your diaper in the dirt. Because you’re going to fall down. A lot. Then, she continued on with that day’s class lesson – about observing and interacting. About setting up homestead/farm slowly and carefully. About taking your time.
At the time, Eight Owls (both us and our land) were about to turn three. Between renting a piece of land and then buying one of our own…we’d only been homesteading at all for a little less than five years. The whole ride homestead, it just kept repeating my head. Oh. My. God. We’re flipping toddlers. And we’d already tried to set up so much on our farm in our first few years…. you know, while we were still in diapers! In a frenzy of trying to build up the farm in a way that would turn a profit and replace our former day job’s income – we had done a lot already. We had decided where the gardens, barns, animals, and firewood should be. Built some of the structures, cut down a lot of trees for sunlight, set the fence posts, gotten our animals and had just started to feel like we had about worn ourselves out doing it. I mean, we lost a collective 225 pounds along the way, but I’d come to find out later that for me, losing a 150 pounds was not the magic trick or quick fix I wanted it to be…. even if it felt like a nice stacked function at the time. I’d come to find out that this concept of being a baby that PA talked about would apply to starting to learning to listen to and work on my health and body too. Well, that’s a whole other story regardless.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that we were already knee deep in our homestead set up when I took my first permaculture class and came to truly understand what it meant. We had no idea at the time just how deeply it would resonate with us both to practice forest gardening instead of organic farming. Since, you know, we hadn’t even known what the heck it was when we bought our farm. That to the two of us, forest gardening felt like the perfect balance between farm and forage. (my 2015 word of the year = balance.) By the time I got back home to relay all this to my wife, I’d vowed to at least try to slow down. To get my PDC. To grow some dang patience. (my 2016 word of the year = grow)
Mika and I with Patricia Allison, on our homestead when she taught a permaculture design series here in 2016. Like I have found with many of my relationships with mentors, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in our time together, we had our issues and it was complicated for sure. However, we learned a flipping ton from this lady and she was one of the top five most influential women I’ve met in my life thus far. I’ll never stop being grateful for having known her or loving her to absolute bits. Rest In Peace sweet lady, Rest In Peace.
Now fast forward almost 3.5 years, which is how long I’ve carried this story in my heart. I tote this concept around with me every day, everywhere I go. I hear her words echo in my mind. (my 2017 word of the year = listen.) It often can ground me when I have a tendency to rush. It helps me not have adult expectations of the permaculture farmer growing up inside me. I, as an eight owl, turned six last September. I continue to grow awareness of the world around me that is my land, and what my decisions on it can mean. I know now not to touch the wood stove, because it is hot. I know better than to run with garden shears. I still need someone older and wiser to hold my hand sometimes when I cross a new road sometimes. Because, I’m still six. And of course, I’d probably still bob my little head up and down in excitement over Sesame Street…. you know, when they say P is for patience.
I’m sharing this with you now for two reasons…. one, I totally get it. What it’s like, for those that feel a deep call to grow/homestead/farm, to be new to living this way or on a new piece of land. To be reborn out into nature and onto the land after stepping out from an office or cubicle or customer service desk. To be SO excited about a new lifestyle, new land, a new farm, or being a new farmer. To have the tendency to rush to get that homestead and farm set up. To get your butt handed to you by big mistakes… to spend a lot of time with your diaper in the dirt. I’ve been there. On one hand it felt simple, and on another, it felt complicated as all get out. It’s hard as hell. It’s easy as pie (side note… wait, who said that phrase first anyway? For me, making pie from scratch is not easy at all! Eating pie. That’s what is easy for me. And doing that so dang often was perhaps what got my old self into this mess! ;-P). It’s beautiful. It’s ugly. It’s good. It’s bad. It hurts. It heals. For me, it felt like a perfect storm of all those things. It felt like getting sucked out of one world and into a new one that I didn’t even know existed. Since we bought our land, the journey I’ve been on the last six years with my body has been such a wild and crazy ride. (my 2018 word of the year = heal.) And I personally feel like working with nature and growing into it has the potential to change simply everything in your life. Of course, if you want it to, if you feel called to live and work with the land or grow food… I also know it’s not for everyone! And in my personal opinion… it will go and grow much better with some patience for them really big crates of food to truly come in. Being willing to work with nature, instead of trying to force it to feed you and provide your paychecks… and fast. For me personally, I have found that I just have to breathe it in, slow down, and not full on panic over it. You know, like I used to… not so very many years ago in the grand scheme of things.
And two, Patience. It’s my word for 2019. I picked it pretty early on compared to previous years I’ve done this word of the year thing. It started knocking on my noggin and suggesting itself in early fall of 2018. Yet, it was the first time since I’ve participated in this particular process that I didn’t throw my word all out there to the general public in the first week, heck the first day, of embracing it in a new year. Don’t get me wrong, I sure told my wife, family, and tribe. And actually – that’s where this blog post came from, it originated as a handwritten letter back in December 2018. However, I’ve learned via this particular self care practice that it’s much better for me personally to take some time with my word on my own first, before I share it in a big way. I know I sorely need to make patience the focus of my self work in the coming year for the sake of my body and continuing to try to improve my health issues. And that, of course, is why I choose these words in the first place – to help me grow into the kind of healthier human, the kind of woman, and the kind of farmer I want to be. I hope that allowing patience to grow in my spirit and my heart will help me in that department… As I continue to struggle with complex and frustrating health issues and try to heal, set up this forest garden to feed us for the long haul, and as I try to be a good and productive member of our homestead’s tiny little tribe. It feels like what God is asking of me right now, and I dang sure want to meet Him halfway. And of course, I am already seeing some benefits of letting it grow within me. Even now, as I realized I was ready to share this story and my word with all of you…. and it just so happens to be almost eight weeks into this new year. It makes me smile.
So, patience. I’m to find out what it means to me in 2019. Of what I am capable of within it. This one is going to be a big one for me, I can feel it. And I’m ready to grow into it. By the grace of God, I will.
“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there was only joy in the world.”
-rain (This was actually a letter to our apprentice from 12.18.2018 when we were asking her if she wanted to choose a word for 2019, and then I edited/added to it for online on 2.23.2019 after she said she was cool with me sharing it.)
- Word of the year practice = as a side note, obviously, I personally have been loving this self care practice since this is now the fifth time I’ve chosen a word of the year. We had met someone in 2014 that did this and I’d never heard of it before. Being a lover of trying new things, we had figured we would give it a shot in January of 2015. Five words later, it means a ton to me to participate in this particular practice. I don’t know how anyone else does it, but the way it goes for the ladies of eight owls is this. We often have a retreat on our farm at the end of each year, with friends, or just with ourselves depending on what all is going on – and words get chosen and discussed….then collaged onto new journals and written about. We pick something we want to work on about ourselves, or aspire to, or need in our lives. And then, for us, it kind of becomes the head of the personal growth snake for the upcoming year. Of course, it sure doesn’t mean I don’t have to work on anything else personal growth wise, but it seems to give it a focal point. I’ve chosen ones that went nothing like I thought they would (grow in 2017), I’ve chosen ones that totally kicked my butt (listen in 2016. and heal in 2018 is still kicking my butt in 2019!). My wife has chosen ones that went all wonky and were a totally different experience than what she had thought they would be. (It was the year she chose the word wild. It was a wild year for her, but not wild plants kind of wild like I think she thought it would be! She says I should add that being really specific about her word is now firmly on her radar! ;P ) Over the course of the year we have both found that the relationship between us and our words deepens and changes – but it stays in our focus. We check in with each other and our friends about it every month or so by saying something like, “how’s it going with your word?” and we get one another’s updates. And then we retreat again at the end of each year and share how it shook out over all. The rub, of course, is that for me – I find that it’s not like you have a word for the year and then it’s all fixed and you don’t have to think about that one again. I carry balance, listen, grow, heal, and now patience with me every day. I’ll be working on all of them for the rest of my days I think. But, honestly, that’s one of the things I’ve come to love the very best about this process…. the thought that it’s the journey and not the destination.
And of course, I’m finding that pictures can really help me see the physical results of what having patience can mean. The picture above was of the first three swales we ever put in on our farm in late April of 2016. Led by Patricia, during class, we found the contour lines and dug into some truly poor, rocky, and severely eroded red clay soil. As you can see in the picture, it couldn’t even grow grass or weeds on those front two and only a few tufts on the back one! After class was over, my wife and I installed swales in the remainder of our main garden space – it took a few months, since we started out doing it by hand. Then we dug the tiller out of storage to dig the remaining ditches (appropriate technology! saved time and our backs!). It was the last time we ever used that tiller on this farm, and will likely be the only thing we ever use it for again in the future – if we decide to open up a new space for swales again. Then we cover cropped, again and again. At first even the cover crop was tiny and sad! But each round of it, it got a little bit better looking. Grew some annuals here and there amidst the cover crop too, but mostly, we just built soil all through 2017 in whatever way we could…. and then….
This is what those same three swales looked like by late spring of 2018. I mostly just stuck annuals on them in 2018 in whatever way they would fit, and with whatever I had to see how the soil was doing so far. I was pretty happy with how it was shaking out. So I installed most of the trees, bushes, and other perennials that will reside in those three beds last fall – I’ll finish installing a couple more small trees in the coming weeks until they are complete. As much as I am excited to see what they look like when they turn 3 years old in late April – I’ll do my best to be patient until I get there! <3