Saturday, 6 October 2012

What is Permaculture (to me)? Part 1

To me Permaculture is all about respect, from bottom to top and back down again. Respect for the Earth, respect for those who come after you, respect to those sharing the space with you. And this respect envelops everything, there are no boundaries to it. Permaculture acknowledges that everything is interconnected and your actions can have a far larger effect than we can see, for good or ill. It's a respect based on knowledge and patience. To quote the founder of Permaculture Bill Mollison, “Rather protracted, thoughtful observation than protracted, thoughtless labour”

If respect can be seen as one pillar of Permaculture, then Observation is another. Observation is vital in Permaculture. No, to be accurate, without the power of observation, Permaculture would not exist. (There is an interesting story there that may make up part of another article) Knowledge is gained through clear observation of the place that you are looking at. By that I mean, noticing what's in front of you, really seeing what you're looking at. Watching how the water pools or runs, telling from the trees which way the winds blow, noticing how shadows from houses prevent certain plants from growing in certain places, these small facts can add up to a great database of knowledge that can be gleaned from any and every spot in the world simply by looking at it properly. Well, what's the point of looking at the world that way? For one, an extra bit of observation and thought can save you a great deal of grief and even money.

For example; Behind your house, there's a big tree and while it's alright looking, you really want to know what the view behind it looks like. Well, you finally manage to get back behind it and yeah, the view's pretty good, maybe that's what you prefer to see. But while back there you spot something. The tree on this side looks a lot more withered than the side facing your house. Well, what difference does that make? That withering is the sign of the harsh winter wind causing damage to the tree. So the tree is in fact sheltering your house from the coldest and most damaging winds and in so doing, saving you a lot of money in home heating. That's a pretty important fact to have as part of an informed decision.

Respect and Observation are all very well to say but it's like toothbrush and toothpaste. They're great additions to your bathroom, but if they just sit in the glass by the sink your teeth aren't going to get any better. If you don't notice what's in front of you, or don't treat your surroundings with respect, you're not going to see what's important.

So here's an exercise for you. On your normal days excursion, try to look at your surroundings with fresh eyes. Don't judge what you see, just observe the different elements and try to determine why it is the way it is. Spot where water running off roofs damages the ground below, or where it gathers on the edge of a road and supplies a mini-wetland. See where the grass has been cut too short, or where the birds love most to perch, or how a bush gives enough shelter at the right angle for a grove of wildflowers. Exercising your own skill at observation will make the world a lot more interesting because you will see the details that make up the whole picture. After a while, you'll even see how they interconnect and impact on each other.

However, to be fair I think I should warn you; once you open your eyes and start really looking at the world, it's really hard to close them again.


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