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"It is as if we are wandering about a landscape littered with the pieces of many different jigsaw puzzles. Our task is to pick up as many pieces as seem possibly useful, limited in the end by how many we can recognise, and carry them to a place we don't yet know, where we must construct a new jigsaw puzle from what we have. Good observation and design skills will be the key to our success." - David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

According to David Holmgren, the co-originator of the Permaculture concept, first principle of Permaculture is to Observe and Interact. "Good design," he says, "depends on a free and harmonious relationship to nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration, repertoire and patterns. It is not something that is generated in isolation, but through continuous and reciprocal interaction with the subject."

The Transition movement is rooted in Permaculture principles, which some people call "social Permaculture," and which Permaculturalists call "invisible structures." Applied on a social level, the principle of observation and interaction lead to some important foundational questions. Where are we? What's going on? Who's involved? Where are we going? How are we getting there? How do we work together?

I celebrated a birthday yesterday on April 4th, and the celebration strategy I chose was to attend just a few of the many sustainability events going on in our community on this day. After being "on the stage" earlier in the week as part of a panel discussion at the Tar Sands event, I wanted to just relax and enjoy the day with the intention of applying this first principle of observation and interaction. Fortunately, I had the trusty Sustainable Bellingham Community Newsletter as my guide to the many event options! If you're not yet a subsciber to this email list for sustainability events, let me know ( and I'll rectify that immediately!

The first event required VERY little in the way of energy outputs to get to. Being a resident at Inspiration Farm, I just had to walk out my front door at 10am to partake of the opening section of the Broadfork Building Workshop that happened here. I observed Brian Kerkvliet demonstrate the splendiforous wonders of the broadfork, and how superior it is to spading forks for loosening soil - "a spading fork on steroids!" This tool, otherwise known as a "U-Bar," is a tool built for standing on, as the tines sink into the soil. You lean back and pull the handles toward you to leverage up the soil in a fairly effortless manner with no strain on your back. According to Brian, "Once you get a rhythm you can loosen a 100 square feet of garden bed in a matter of ten to fifteen minutes, all with low stress!" A very cool feature of this workshop, was that all the materials used for constructing these U-Bars came from Z's Recyclers or other similar sources - all repurposed materials. Nothing new required, and more products saved from the landfill. ! Finding a powerfully effective tool not requiring fossil fuels was another big bonus!

This was a hands-on workshop, so the participants were excited to move beyond demonstration and discover the empowerment that comes from building your own tools. I had to remind myself, however, that I was in strictly observation mode, so it was time for me to move on to my next event.

Not all of the tools needed for sustainability are physical ones. Some of you dear readers know that one of the hats I wear is working on the workshop production team for Cascadia Training and Mediation. One of the workshop subjects that we feature regularly is Nonviolent Communication, taught by Alan Seid. I arrived this time just as the class was concluding, but in time to help Alan tear down and clean up. I was happy to step out of my "observation" mode for a bit, because I enjoy contributing support for what I believe is an extremely important tool for sustainability. It's all about making genuine connection with ourself and others, and developing the skills to communicate effectively and to resolve and dissolve conflicts. For positive social change to occur, people need to come together and work cooperatively toward a common purpose. When people come together to work cooperatively, they need skills for doing this effectively. NVC is POWERFUL in this regard, and I can't recommend it highly enough! We like to call it Empowered Communication, and it truly does embody the principle of Observe and Interact on the interpersonal (and intra-personal) level.
Our next introductory class will occur on May 2nd - maybe I'll see you there!

I was really looking forward to the next event, and I was not dissapointed! Shannon Maris, Alain VanLanan, and Heather K did a great job putting together a networking opportunity they called "Getting Gardens Into the Hands of the People: Help Grow Food and Community" - great title, and an inspiring example of people working cooperatively together toward a common purpose. Maps of all the different neighborhoods were laid out on tables, and people wrote wrote down gardening opportunities they had to offer, or needs they were wanting fulfilled. Eventually we all sat down and shared who we were, what we were up to, what we were wanting, and what we had to offer. Then it was back to the informal networking and conversations. I had a great time talking to people working on cool things, and in some cases meeting face to face for the first time people I'd only had contact with via email.

I had planned to leave the Gardening event early and move on to the Plant Walk Skill Share being offered by the Sushi Tree Collective, but the conversations were too rich, and I could not pull myself away. I really enjoyed being able to not only Observe, but also Interact.

"The interpretation of traditional systems of knowledge and the great thinkers of the modern world provide a wealth of ideas that can help us make sense of observation and experience. But unless we get out there, and open our eyes and use our hands and our hearts, all the ideas in the world will not save us. Thus the thinking and design revolution, of which permaculture is a part, only makes sense when it reconnects us to the wonder and mystery of life through practical interaction." - David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

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Comment by Heartsong Garden on May 4, 2009 at 10:01am
Wow! What a great well written article Dave! I especially like the Holmgren quotes and his words: "..revolution...only makes sense when it reconnects us to the woder & mystery of life through practical interaction.
I'm now off to stir the BD compost tea and then strain and spray over at least 2 acres. Another day I'll bring some out to the Cordatta community garden to liven up their soil!
I am so thrilled to be connecting to Inspiration Farm and helping out in the community when I can!
Yea for transtions!

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