Permaculture principle 1: Observe and interact


Click to enlarge (photo source

Permaculture principles are a certain ways of thinking when developing a project or solving a problem, and they’re centered around three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. I’ll be writing about these principles in upcoming posts, starting with the first principle, ‘observe and interact’.* You can read more about permaculture here if you’re unfamiliar.

To observe within permaculture is to just let things be for a given period of time while noting patterns, changes over seasons, and the natural interactions that occur on a plot of land, for example. Observation also includes a designer’s behaviour and thought process while observing (watching the watcher).

To me, observation is important not only for the joy of just being in nature, but also because we learn how the environment is continually striving for homeostasis, or balance. Nature is always dynamic and always seems to correct itself (see George Carlin’s satirical view on this point). A forest may appear still, like it’s been that way forever, but there is so much really going on!  I was fascinated to learn that pioneer plants (what many people consider to be weeds), “initiate the process of ecological succession”; in other words swoop in to improve damaged or inferior soil. Our environment is in constant evolution. Within permaculture, watching this process helps us create projects or solve problems that fit with an already occurring natural flow.

I also can’t help but make a parellel with observation of the body, which is done in certain types of meditation like Vipassana. Like a forest, the body seems so still when perched on a pillow, but when I just observe what’s going on “in here”, I feel my heart surging energy and my muscles creating tiny spasms. I sense my mind doing back flips and cartwheels in one second then crouching in a corner the next.

Beyond these macro sensations, it’s amazing what the body does every millisecond to maintain balance and allow a person to function for years. How can there not be a divine designer? And it has a sense of humour…just look at this bird dance!

patterns overall

patterns of life: branching, honeycomb, wave, web, spiral

Random observations on patterns
The spirals we create when we stir a cup of coffee also make up hurricanes and the cosmos. Energy spirals from our hearts. The same branching of veins within a leaf are reflected in a tree’s branches and its roots, just like the blood vessels in our hands and feet. Our extremities are branches. Apparently the ocean’s salt water is similar enough to our blood to be used in extreme emergency transfusions, and our pineal gland is affected by the waxing and waning of the moon. Our brain functions in waves. Thoughts themselves are waves, and actually, everything is just ‘waves of potential’ until we collapse it with our consciousness. I’ve gone off on a tangent here, but I hope you get my point  – things are more similar and connected than I ever realised.

garden plan

My front garden design, rough sketch

Observation of my own tendencies in the design process
My first permaculture project is my own front and back gardens. I live in the middle of the city in a row house, so I have limited space and will be doing a lot of container gardening, particularly in the back garden where the entire thing is covered by a deck. I will post more about the design in a later post, but you can see a bit of what I’m doing by this picture.

I spent a lot of time learning about companion plants before creating a design for my front garden. I wanted to plant certain things together and nurture them, just to learn about consciously gardening in a permaculture way. What I observed is that I love to plan and think about things, but actually doing them is quite another story. I really dragged my feet to get out there, but once I did, I realized I really do love to garden. I’ve done it for a couple of years now, but this year I’m really getting my hands dirty. I sprouted some tiny wallflowers recently, and I was so gingerly planting the wee things around my apple tree that I forgot to breath. I think I’m into it.

I become easily overwhelmed by the plant world’s complexity. It’s like getting to know a community of people…a big community. Each of them have their own preferences, like to be with other types of people, and are particular about their homes. Some like sandy soil, some more clay. I recently met up with a plant breeder who has an exotic jungle in his house with about 500 different species, and the way he rattled off the Latin names of plants…much to learn still. He recommended that I choose a family and just start learning the different species. Then I looked at this site….eeeh that’s a lot of plant families!

Changing, changing everywhere
In conclusion, observation is a beautiful and practical thing to do when designing in permaculture and life in general. I remember reading a book by Eckhart Tolle called “The power of Now”, and like millions, it really struck me. When I’m feeling unbearably anxious, an emotion I’ve dabbled in the past few years, I’ll focus on what’s happening now. When I’m lying in bed at night, I’ll listen to the cars on the street, note the detail in my ceiling, and feel the presence of my body. Nothing special, just city life, but it calms me down immediately.

*I’ve already mentioned the first princple a bit in contemplation of my own lazinessmind during meditation, and creating a sit spot to observe nature

People and Permaculture, Looby Macnamara


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