September 28, 2010

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

Well, it's true that summer started a long time after my last post. But my mother passed away February 24, and after that I spent most of April rearranging my house making room for my new roommate who looks after things when I am gone.
I left in May to spend most of the summer near Eugene, Oregon, at Lost Valley Educational Center, taking their three key courses, Permaculture Design, Eco-Building, and Community/Eco-village Design. And to top it all off, I got to spend the summer living in community, sharing meals, etc., after 22 years of living alone. I had a wonderful time.
What did I learn about permaculture? First, permaculture isn't just about edible gardening, it's also about self-winding houses that blend into the local biology rather than contradicting it like a crewcut green lawn in California. Rainwater storage, graywater irrigation, composting privies, passive solar climate control, solar hot water, greenhouses, and food forests are key green technologies for sustainable housing.
At a deeper, more philosophical level, 12 permaculture principles have been formalized. They reflect the way biology operates, as opposed to the way engines and machines operate. The machine metaphor permeates our culture, and is reflected in unconscious assumptions. Contrasting the philosophies of life and mechanism makes old assumptions conscious and offers a basic way to understand a new way of thinking. Thinking like a tree, perhaps.
Eco-building methods are diverse, including post & beam and other timber framing, straw bale, adobe, and a few others. Local climate and materials determine what makes the most sense.
Typical eco-villages are also intentional communities of people who want to live an alternative lifestyle. Many villagers are interested in food security and relocalization. But when you didn't grow up together there's lots of potential for conflicting customs or expectations, so fair and effective self-governance processes are crucial, especially when you are starting from scratch.
So as you can imagine I learned a lot. I really had a wonderful summer out in the country - once it stopped raining, that is.

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