schirin oeding

under a peregrine star


It’s too late to be a pessimist.

Or maybe I should say, “It’s never too late to be an optimist”? Or maybe, simply, “Count your blessings”? The week has been full of quotes, aphorisms, figures, facts, predictions, moments of reflection. Observation. Concentration. Tears. Laughter. Confusion grabbing clarity’s hand. I’m writing in the evening light of another long day. Three doors are wide open to the bird song outside, warm, humid air streams into the classroom, waning shadows play on the leaves. I can just barely see the lake water, blue-grey, from where I sit. It’s been driven home to me this week that if we intend to do the work of turning around this great ship we call Earth, we need to rest, breathe, fall silent. Put our ear to the ground and listen.

This week, our class was taught by a group of people from the fields of biomimicry (Julie Sammons and Mark Dorfman), ecological design (Nancy Jack Todd and John Todd), soil science (Dan Kittredge), and biodynamic farming (via the keepers of Hawthorne Valley Farm). None of them are pessimists, even though all of them work in direct contact with the destruction and degradation of land, and its people, be it urban, rural, wild, and everything in between. I’m not much of a pessimist myself. Especially not when it comes to the future of our planet. I can’t be: it’s not worth the energy, all that sadness. And what’s more, I can’t stop myself from being an optimist when the earth, as Emerson said, laughs in flowers. When pessimism, or his dour playfellow, hopelessness, come to visit, I do my best, with varying degrees of success, to stop them at the door. It’s too late, pessimism, old friend, we’re on a path of no return. Every one of us who has ever been shaken out of his or her drowsiness by the shriek of a killdeer, the prick of a thorny rose, or a breath of wind on a hot, still day (and that makes every single one of us, I reckon), has been committed to the planet, if only by being born here, now, alive today. Some of us are the lucky ones—I count myself among them—who cross paths with teachers, wayfinders, experiences, opportunities to learn, and are perhaps endowed, through all this, with a powerful  sense of responsibility. There are plenty of reasons I could find to be pessimistic about life. I could make a list, and I might be up all night. But I need a good night’s sleep. It matters more. So tonight, instead of counting sheep, I’ll count my blessings.



A balancing act.

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Let the beauty we love be what we do


Hiya friends,

It’s been a little while since my last post (all about student debt), and here’s why: since last Sunday, I have been sequestered away on the campus of a beautiful center for holistic learning with a group of twenty-eight brilliant minds, delving into a six-week course of study ranging from permaculture, agriculture, and resilient design all the way to biomimicry and forest mapping. Life on campus is slowly setting into a routine, which includes daily yoga classes, swimming, journalling, work, and maybe some ice cream, too—and our 9am-5pm class, of course! Our first days were spent working with architect-turned-green builder Bill Reed. With Bill, the over-used, misunderstood concept “sustainability” was on the chopping block. I’m still digesting many aspects of our examinations from those days, so I won’t say much here. Just a few tidbits I picked up, to jog the memory and maybe spark some ideas:

  • The major problems of the world are based on the difference between how nature works and how people think (or are taught to think).
  • Resilience is the threshold of sustainability.
  • When designing, remember: the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts.
  • All life can be seen as a balance of activating and restraining forces. When the two meet, we face an option: compromise (and loose something on both sides) or reconcile (and identify potential).
  • Life is exchange.
  • Become a tracker: look for patterns everywhere.

Bill’s time with us was brimming with information, stories, examples, and design guidelines. It was rich and nuanced and colourful. His classes left me exhausted and curious, inspired, and tired. 🙂

Ethan Roland, of Appleseed Permaculture in Stone Ridge, NY, was our next teacher. Ethan’s focus, of course, was permaculture design. The groundwork we had done with Bill suddenly gained dimensionality. With Ethan, we spent time outside (phew! finally!), sitting and walking in the woods, and examining the minutia of our classroom building, which is nested inside a living machine (check it out) that processes about 50,000 gallons of  wastewater per day—oh, and no, it doesn’t smell. Again, I’ll leave you with a few tidbits from my notebook:

  • “Permaculture emerged as an immune defense to the degradation of the land.” —Bill Mollison (one of the first permaculture designers and teacher in Australia)
  • (Bill Mollison also said, “Permaculture is the art of not shitting where we sleep.” So there.)
  • A simple exercise you can do: draw a map of your personal needs and yields. Remember that your yields include things like creativity, ideas, love, toenail clippings, manure, and carbon dioxide.
  • What you design and plant should yield more than it needs.
  • Remember: humans can be positive co-creators of their eco-systems!
  • Understand the patterns of place. (Aka. Become a tracker: look for patterns everywhere.)

All that is just a tiny glimpse I wanted to share. More will come! The title of the post is quoted from a poem by Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. One of the magical things about being here is the convergence of seemingly unrelated streams—becoming a tracker reveals worlds hiding in plain sight. Last night, for example, I attended a reading: Coleman Barks reading and reciting Rumi poems, accompanied by David Darling on cello and Glen Velez on hand drums. So many of the poems I heard last night struck me right at my core: design is just another word, but life, that process of becoming, has the potential to be a real masterpiece. So, let the beauty we love be what we do.

I want to leave you with a short video showing Bill Mollison in his Australian garden. Maybe you’ll be charmed, too.