By Mike Graeme
I step into my new bedroom for the week at Linnaea Farm on Cortes Island. I’ve been assigned “The Loft,” as our professor Mike Simpson recalls his old bed from when he was training here during a Garden Apprenticeship Program eight years ago. The permaculture principles already start sprouting out of the woodwork: Permaculture principle Choose & Stack Elements for Multiple Functions… Check! (I stretch out my mat and bedside table becomes yoga studio, both saving space and allowing me to pull off a Supta Virasana Anantasana Side-Reclining Hero Leg Lift Pose in Zone 0.5). What else… Aha! Principle Obtain a Yield… Check. (I stretch out my legs and begin picking the figs just outside the bedroom window). No need to even jog outside for a midnight snack (track)! Wait, something smells a bit figgy; I’m not even a designer yet, how do I already get to play the recliner? Linnaea, you’re too good to us.
Alright, alright, I admit the figs aren’t quite ripe, but hey, check it out, is Choosing & Stacking Elements that have Multiple Principles a principle itself? Ok, this is getting deep. Nonetheless, an old piece of steel wool hanging above The Loft is ‘feeding two birds with one scone’: Mimicking Nature AND Cycling & Recycling Energy. The steel wool, which has long seen its dish-washing days, now hangs beside the bedroom window mimicking a beehive and effectively fending off other house wasp colonies, an occurrence found in nature by which wasp colonies keep sufficiently spaced apart. As our Permaculture textbook authors Bloom and Boehnlein write, “Electricity, money, time, steel, potatoes, and potentially love are all just different forms of energy from which we can benefit.” Forms of energy tend to be seen through our ‘norms of society’ lens, meaning that our dispensable commodity culture far underestimates the multi-lifespan of a given energy—we throw things in abandon when they’re still rendering services! (e.g., as a pesky wasp deterrer). Time to pin up that steel wool, tie up that loose end, close the loop, and keep the energy in the dance(!), and damn Linnaea seems to be a mad good dancer so far. We haven’t even stepped into the realm of Linnaea’s food production, yet I can already feel the permaculture permeating!
Before bed, professors Hannah and Mike lead the class through some icebreaker exercises. In one of them we have to choose two other students in the room and attempt to occupy the space directly between them at all times. We become like elements in a system working towards our most appropriate spots. When we finally approach equilibrium, Mike tells one of us to move position. By one slight move, everyone is directly or indirectly affected and the equalizing process begins again. Not only was this a belly-laugh of a group-building exercise, but it also alludes to the principle Bloom and Boehnlein term Locating Elements for Functional Interconnection. Everyone and every element is interconnected and therefore as “permies” we aspire to learn how to ease each element of a given system into its most functional, mutually beneficial position amongst the whole, while remembering that it is a dance: the most ideal structure of plants in a garden, or people in a room, is never set in scone.