schirin oeding

under a peregrine star

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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.


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Urban Ecotones & Other Music

Yesterday I did my running along some old railway tracks in my neighbourhood. The tracks are old, older than most of the houses that line them, and are still in regular use. Trains, mostly freight trains, rumble their way over these tracks on a daily basis. Right next to the tracks are backyards, hugging each curve of the rail-line, like they’re trying to eek out some space for themselves. Between yards and tracks there is a narrow paved path—an urban success in our car-focused culture— a bike trail, or walking/running path. Some good souls (the city, perhaps?) have planted a foot-wide strip of earth with black-eyes susans and daylilies. The tracks are a place where two worlds meet. Studded among private homes are old industrial buildings that served the railroad at some point in the past. Most of them are still operating today, producing steel beams or street signs, but have been reduced to the status of mom-and-pop factories, the kind that have ten employees, and are housed in buildings from an era when industrial structures still has some beauty and human-scale to their design. I feel most at peace far from traffic and houses. In a meadow, or in the woods, or in the places where both meet, the ecotones, the in-between places that are hard to define and even harder to recreate, once lost to settlement. And still, as I try to make a study of this small city in which I find myself, the language of nature comes up again and again in my mental descriptions. Humans, I think, still have a deep-set tendency to imitate the patterns and rhythms of the natural world. That is, if they allow themselves freedom from preconceived notions of industrial efficiency and “modern” design. It’s special, too, to see the way people interact with their landscapes in an urban setting. Planting the tiniest gardens between tracks and fences, sunflowers that eventually tower over these fences start conversations between passers-by. Yesterday, my running route led me by several backyards where signs had been stuck into newly greening grass: Idle No More. Put there for who to see? Runners, bikers, walkers, train conductors. Thank you. When people take ownership of their homes and neighbourhoods, even in small ways, magic happens.


Last year’s pictures of the tracks. It’s not that green yet…