So. We spent a wonderful afternoon on Sunday’s Earth Day weeding and mulching. Alexandra will write up a fuller post on it, but here’s a great shot of the workers working,
and another shot of strawberry/blackberry bed fully mulched.
But today I want to talk about fruit. FRUIT. We got some! Not just grapes and berries (which came on strong the second year, not so great the third year, and this fourth year, are again strong — thanks to addition of rock dust),
Grapes, so tiny! This cluster is about the size of one of the digits on my little finger.
Blackberry buds. Can you see 'em?
Strawberries, still whitish, but large! (Only the second year for the strawberries)
but peaches, apples and pears!
I had noticed that these little trees, after four years, finally had some flowers on them this spring, but not until today did I actually notice that they now have fruit!
On the other hand, the seedlings are still gathering sun, awaiting transplanting.
I’ve had to cover them one night in the last week, since temps dropped into the mid-30s. But since then they’ve been okay. However, the way they are situated now, they only get sun after 1 p.m. About six hours total a day. Barely enough. And they are pale, need more nitrogen.
So it goes, as the magical GANG garden ramps up its activity, freeing the abundance of Nature year after year, fuller and fuller, as permaculture gardens are designed to be. Eventually, this place should look like a jungle, with stacked stuff to eat everywhere, and a natural magnetic draw for gathering neighbors into community. Blessings!
Kim’s turn to whack the beloved cob oven, symbol of community.
Hold on to your horses. This is an epic post, divided into parts, each with lots of photos that you can scan through quickly just to give the flavor.
1. The cut in the wall
2. The Ceremony
3. The Blows
First, here’s some “before” pictures of the SW corner of the garden, containing a cob oven and ferrocement wall, all of which was constructed by volunteers over hundreds of hours.
Cob oven from inside the garden, wall behind. Notice the “yield” sign to the left. In order to transform an inherently destructive situation I (my combative personality) had to learn how to yield . . .
The side view of the beautiful oven, designed and constructed by SPEA students in a Sustainability Course at IU. BTW: it worked great the one and only time we fired it up for pizza.
The “Berlin Wall” from the outside, admittedly kind of ugly and forbidding, though plants were beginning to grow up enough to soften the effect.
The situation had been brewing for five months. See this and this for details. For the first three months I had been locked in an internal battle, trying to not only make sense of what was going on, but to come to terms with it and find a way through. At some point, it occurred to me that this situation was the most challenging I had ever encountered, in the sense that I had to integrate more dimensions than ever before in order to discover a way to creatively respond. I had to integrate 1) the neighbor who opposed the educational — and, it appeared to me, the community — function of the GANG garden, 2) the city Planning Department who had responded to her call and was making certain demands, some of which I preceived as a threat to the multi-purpose of the garden, 3) the near and far Green Acres neighborhood, with whom I have been working to help seed an authentic village culture for the past seven years, 4) the new and still very tender and rawecovillage hub of which I am a cofounder, 5) the Council of Neighborhood Associations, to which I belong, Transition Bloomington, of which I am one of the original organizers — and on and on, in widening circles of influence.
But beyond and within all these concentric zones, was what I call zone zero zero, the center of the self, which dissolves into no-self, Presence. Zone zero zero as the infinity that opens and enfolds in the embrace of the the Love that fuels the universe. And, right next to this sacred center, right on the other side of it, or at its edge, was/is my persona, or personality, the evolving form I have been conditioned into for this lifetime. And this form or persona is fiery, combative, arrogant, righteous, determined, like a combination of bulldog and banty rooster — all qualities that I like to see in my “opponent,” the neighbor who has been “giving me so much trouble.” My perception of her persona was and is my perfect mirror, the projection of all that I dislike about myself. (So perfect, an “opponent” who actually shows up! How else am I going to learn about my own shadow without an honorable opponent to illuminate it for me?) So, beyond any of these other zones of integration, I had to integrate this cocky persona into the higher self of detachment and compassion, that which sees the entire human drama as merely one more play of illusion within this three-dimension stage that we have all chosen to walk together.
So that’s the internal scene. In the external, the GANG garden is, and is viewed as, one possible alternative private/public template for the future as we learn how to relocalize our lives and, in particular, grow our own food, in a downshifting culture that will more and more need to be fueled by cooperation and sharing rather than competition and greed.
For more of the details, see this and this, the two emails I sent out to announce the Ceremony of Impermanence that would precede the destruction of our lovingly constructed cob oven at the SW corner of the GANG garden.
The Cut in the Wall
The city requires that we remove not only the cob oven, but the wall behind it, due to a law which outlaws “structures” 25 feet from any intersection (a law that is only enforced when brought to the city’s attention). So, we had to figure out how to remove that wall. Were we going to trash it? And if so, how? Or were we going to move it to another location, if so how and why, and where would a 20-foot long, right-angled, six foot high ferrocement wall fit? We thought about various places in the garden, but nothing seemed appropriate. It was just too damn big! Finally we decided to place it inside a copse of little trees in my back yard, clearing out a space to do so, turning the area in front of it into a hidden meditation spot.
Here we are, on the day of the Ceremony, traipsing to take a look at the newly cleared sanctuary for the wall.
Given the space available, we decided to cut about a five feet off one side of the wall to make it fit. My son Colin and Jim, the permaculture student that has been staying with me cleared the space. A few days before the Ceremony they made the cut, using a grinder purchased for the occasion. Here’s the process.
First, Colin measured the point in the wall where they would make the cut.
Next, Colin and Jim fastened and sretched string to indicate where the cut would go.
Next, Colin started the cut with the grinder (leaving a bit of the wall intact both at the top and the bottom, in case of wind. The final cuts to be made on the day the wall is actually removed).
Here’s what the cut looked like when done. Hardly visible. Very clean. I was amazed, thought it would be ragged and ugly.
The Ceremony of Impermanence
November 20, the long-awaited day for the Ceremony of Impermanence and destruction of wall and cob oven dawned warm, grey and rainy. Oops! Can’t use power tools in the rain. We’d have to postpone removing the wall, and concentrate on the Ceremony and cob oven. Okay. C’est la vie.
About 18 people straggled in throughout the morning and early afternoon, despite the rain. And we all agreed that the rain was perfect for the occasion. The sky was weeping, as these three drops on the pear tree attest.
We gathered beforehand in my house and I told them what would happen during the ceremony. First, I’d talk about the whole situation, and its history, why we had to remove the cob oven and wall, what they meant to us, and my own process of trying to come to terms with it, by utilizing ceremony to transform something terrible into the first step for renewal in the spring. Next, I would invite others to say whatever was in their hearts as well.
Then Anna Maria, another permaculture student who had been staying with me on weekends during the two month local permaculture weekend course, would read from the Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (Fall River Press, 2002), an appropriate verse for this ceremony. She chose verse #22, “Celebrating Paradox:”
No-thing remains itself.
Each prepares the path to its opposite.
To be ready for wholeness, first be fragmented. To be ready for rightness, first be wronged. To be ready for fullness, first be empty. To be ready for renewal, first fail. To be ready for doubt, first be certain . . .
Verily, fragmentation prepares the path to wholeness, the mother of all origins and realizations.
At this point, we would each take the little slips of paper on which we had written something from our lives that they were willing to give up and put it in the cob oven for one last tiny firing, as a symbol of the impermanence of all forms. So hard to give up what feels safe, secure, comfortable, what we love!
And so on.
We went out in the garden and stood in the rain in a semi-circle around the cob oven. I started to talk, at first coming close to tears, our mood somber, sodden.
Anna Maria read verse 22 . . . Here are a few more lines from that beautiful translation:
Because the wise observe the world through the Great Integrity, they know they are not knowledgeable. Because they do not perceive only through their perceptions, they do not judge this right and that wrong. . .
Then, we fired ‘er up one last time, letting go of our personal attachments.
Jim lights the match.
At this point something very funny happened. Anna Maria’s piece of paper had trouble burning. She started laughing. She was asking herself to finally let go of her mother, who died sixteen years ago! Our mood began to lighten as we watched that damn little piece of paper finally catch fire.
By the time we came to the finale of the ceremony, echoing the wonders of Celebrating Paradox with the song “We Shall Overcome” we had changed the lyrics to —
We are right and wrong. We are right and wrong. Right and wrong make us strong!
Oh deep in our hearts, we do realize
That right and wrong make us strong. . .
— and were in a trance of hilarity, ready for anything, even destruction.
As the “leader,” I had the dubious honor of taking the first whack, which I did sort of gingerly . . .
We all expected the wall to break up into fragments. Instead it disintegrated into the “true grit” of sand, clay and straw of which it was composed.
Rhonda’s turn to whack.
So we each took a tiny piece of this for our own gardens as a symbol of neighborhood renewal. Here’s Sandy, going to get hers.
We decided to create a wheel barrel brigade, and shovel the gritty remains of the cob oven onto the garden beds. It felt good to return the oven to the earth of which it was made.
The firebricks were the bottom two layers. Danny made sure we saved them for the new smokeless rocket stove we will design and construct in the spring in the dining area by the pond.
Okay, done! Time to eat. The process took longer than expected. We were kind of glad the rain had stopped us from doing the wall on the same day. Colin plans to round up a bunch of strapping male undergraduate students who live nearby after Thanksgiving vacation to manhandle the wall into its new location. He figures it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
Vera, at the kitchen table, grabbing a cracker.
Here we are, in my house, hanging out with quiche, fruit, bread, and other sundries.
Bre, another out-of-town permie who stayed with me during the course, and who took most of the photos here (thanks, Bre!) with Adam, who hails from Missouri and had asked to attend our “heartbreaking” ceremony. It’s true. It was heartbreaking. It was also — cerlebrating paradox! — heart-healing.
Rhonda, one of our permaculture teachers, with son Caden.
Rhonda’s daughter Maya, fixing strawberries for the fruit plate.
In one of my emails sent to announce the day’s events, I mentioned that for anyone who is interested, we would have a “metaphysical discussion” of the deeper meaning of the Ceremony of Impermanence after lunch. This we did, utilizing Anna Maria’s 20 years as a traditional Feng Shui practitioner . . .
Anna Maria’s wheel of finely calibrated directions, as used in traditional feng shui.
A bunch of us pored over the map of Green Acres, and the GANG garden’s location within it, to understand, through the symbolic language of Feng Shui, on an impersonal level, why this destruction/renewal process had been necessary.
After this, I told the group a story of what I had discovered upon awakening that very morning. . .
I had wondered why this whole five months process had felt so important, and so difficult, and all of a sudden it had occurred to me that it was a “replay,” though with new characters and plot, understanding and outcome, of a drama that I had been involved in nearly 40 years earlier, during which I had been scapegoated and fired from my job as a teacher at the experimental New College of California for “being too experimental.” It was only years later that I recognized the entire process had originated in my arrogance (that persona again!). Now this time, many decades later, I had attracted another opportunity to deal with a multidimensional situation that required great discernment in order to thread my way through and shift it from destruction to transformation.
And, I concluded, I checked it with the symbolic language of astrology and discovered this: the chief fuel that I am burning in this lifetime is a 90° frictional square between Venus (personal love, desire) and Neptune (impersonal love, compassion). When the New College fiasco happened, in 1974, the slow-moving planet Pluto, agent of death and rebirth, had conjuncted my Neptune. Now, during this time when my soul had constellated parallel situation as part of the lesson plan for this lifetime, Pluto had moved 90 degrees, to conjunct Venus!
Voila! Out of destruction, resurrection. Out of confusion, clarity. Out of pain, joy.
That evening, I was lying on the couch when Zilia (Vera’s daughter) called. Said she was standing in front of the IU auditorium, and there was a guy there who was selling his $85 ticket for $65. Would I like to get it for the sold-out Paul Simon concert. Yes. I would!
The evening began with an old favorite, “Days and Miracle and Wonders,” truly a harbinger of these days when we are learning to Occupy our hearts and celebrate paradox. And near the end of the concert, his song “Love is Eternal Sacred Light,” its refrain:
Love is eternal sacred light
Free from the shackles of time
Evil is darkness, sight without sight
A demon that feeds all the mind
Love is eternal sacred light
Love is eternal sacred light
Love is eternal sacred light
We are nearing the Ceremony of Impermanence on November 20th (rain date December 3rd), when we will once again transform the GANG. We, the community supporting GANG, will remove the structure in the SW corner of the garden in order to come into compliance with a city ordinance that requires structures to be more than 25 feet from an intersection. This structure includes a ferrocement wall, a cob oven, the table on which the oven sits and the roof over it.
I have received a number of emails and phone calls and visits from neighbors and others about this action that we are required to take. They all voice dismay and sadness, even incredulity; and they also support our decision to absorb and integrate this difficult situation in order to creatively transform it. Borne of conflict, the action is an opportunity for the individuals, the neighborhood, and the city to become more aware, more conscious about projects such as GANG that can bring us into greater health. Rhonda Baird explored the tension and the potential between individual and community in this blog post: vitalconnection.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/working-the-edges/
During the week a number of us have been talking about various ways to repurpose the ferrocement wall, and the final decision is to move it to the northeast corner of my back yard, where it will serve as the background for a community meditation area to be created in the spring. (How about that for fostering health!). My son Colin and my permaculture house guest Jim have already prepared the ground for the wall, leveling it and removing a number of small trees and bushes.
We have also talked about what we might do to replace the cob oven, so that we can still have the capacity to cook food, truly a foundational aspect of a magnetic neighborhood commons. We are looking into the idea of a rocket stove (see, for example:www.rootsimple.com/2007/11/our-rocket-stove.html), a nearly-smokeless structure which we would build during a workshop near the picnic table and pond.
Plans for the formal gate to replace the wall and cob oven are also starting to jell. A beautiful and more functional gate is planned which will welcome people and serve as a landmark within the neighborhood. We are currently envisioning an archway made of the stone for the gate. This would provide a feeling of weight and stability and serve as a dramatic and clear invitation to spend time in the garden.
Friend and permaculture teacherRhonda Baird and I met Friday over lunch to finalize the plans for the Ceremony. We talked about the juxtaposition of creating places of “permanent culture” and the need to do the Ceremony of Impermanance. Here’s the plan we came up with:
Meet in the garden at 9:45 AM.
Please bring with you something for the potluck, goggles, gloves if you have them, and a piece of paper on which you have written something about your own life that you thought was necessary, but turned out not to be a source of difficulty, and which you are now willing to sacrifice to the altar of impermanence.
We will begin with opening remarks, the story of the garden, fence and cob oven, why it must be removed, and welcome comments from each person present. Then we will do a few other brief ceremonial things, not yet decided, prior to the actual process of “destruction.”
We shall destroy the cob oven first, and dismantle the structures that support it. Each person shall be invited to take a piece of the cob oven to bury in their own garden, as a symbol of rekindling the living fire of community in all Bloomington neighborhoods.
Then we shall remove the wall. WE SHALL NEED AT LEAST EIGHT STRONG MEN TO DO THIS, PREFERABLY MORE. TWELVE WOULD BE BETTER, EVEN SIXTEEN!
And finally, we shall string up a temporary fence in the gap that we make, and anchor it with some kind of small item that symbolizes the rebirth of the transformed entrance to the garden in the spring of 2012.
Then, we’ll retire to my house for our potluck.
One final consideration: for those who are interested, after the potluck we will hold a discussion of the possible metaphysical, esoteric, “exopermacultural” meaning of both this garden and the process of transforming its SW corner.
So, if possible, plan on being here with us from 9:45 a.m. through about 1:45 p.m. — or any part thereof! The more people who participate in this wrenching process, the more we can transform loss into the living ground of creativity in spring 2012.
It was supposed to be centered around the cob oven.
We had already held one cob oven pizza party event, and the oven proved a very magnetic attractor. We were excited to show it off, and to eat from it, be warmed communally by it, for a second time. Two days prior to the event, however, the cob oven part of the party was nixed. All I can say now is that there is a neighborhood issue with smoke.
The neighborhood issue has, in turn, propelled the GANG garden itself into the limelight of both Planning Department and City Council. This is either fortunate or not, depending on your point of view. At the end of August, I will go before the Board of Zoning Appeals in an effort to render the garden, and as many of its current and future activities as possible, fully on board “legal” with the city of Bloomington. (BTW: the cob oven is legal, as are neighborhood gardens. As usual, the devil is in the details.)
I will need help. Help writing the proposal, help with statements of support, help from neighbors and others who love the GANG garden showing up at the meeting and speaking for it.
The head of the Planning Department told me, “What you’re doing will be commonplace in ten or fifteen years. You’re the pioneer. So you get the flack.”
“Yes,” I responded, “that’s the role I’m playing, and I understand yours as well. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes!”
This drama is one small local scenario that typifies the kinds of “conflicts” that arise during this, the final act of our post-industrial civilization that has, without anyone really understanding the consequences, put us on a me-first collision course and led us to forget about our heart and soul connections as neighbors on this one small planet in this one small solar system in this one small Milky Way galaxy — and so on, and on out to infinity. (See my exopermaculture site for more on exploring the larger context of our efforts here below . . .)
“Okay,” I told the planner, “So this meeting is to be the next educational activity of the GANG garden!”
Meanwhile, back to the party.
As usual, we had no idea how many people would actually show up. We had sent a notice to the neighborhood email list, and to those who’ve been students or teachers in garden workshops. We made up flyers for all three events (Children’s Workshop, Earthen Workshop) and my son Colin dropped placed them carefully in the doorways to every house on nearby streets (about 50 altogether). Click Garden Party flyer. But there were no guarantees.
Two years ago, we made up a flyer for a GANG Harvest Party in November and six neighbors fanned out to cover the entire neighborhood (ca. 440 homes) . . . and only one person came because he had seen the flyer.
My son Colin, who had just moved here from Massachusetts, was bitterly disappointed. Now he knows better. What’s important is the process, how we go about doing whatever we do. The results of our efforts vary over time. Let go of expectations, and you’ll not be disappointed!
I told him to view the flyers themselves as educational materials. Almost as if giving a flyer to someone is its own event. It puts the idea in the person’s mind of having a neighborhood gathering. Maybe they won’t come to our gathering, and they’ll most likely move away within a year or two from this highly transient university community. But someday, maybe years from now, something might joggle their minds — they won’t even remember what — and they will say, “Hey, how about having a neighborhood get-together”?
In fact, when we sent those flyers around, I had warned everybody, “This probably won’t get much of a response. Don’t worry about it. The flyer plants seeds.”
So, imagine my surprise when this time, at least 35 people showed up, with about 2/3 from the neighborhood itself. I was especially surprised to see two older people whom I’ve not met before, and a number of IU students new to me from streets in the hood that are not so nearby.
We spent less energy than two years ago, and we got more return. How’s that for evolution? Clearly, the seeds of community are sprouting.
I especially like this little photo series. First, neighbor Kathy walks up.
Then, her husband Al.
Then, their neighbor Abby from across the street joins them — Abby remembers Kathy and Al from when she was a little girl.
Now Abby’s back in the hood, and she and her partner Mary are making a beautiful little flower garden on the corner of their property that is also graced by a gorgeous, giant rock pulled up from underground and placed there by Vectren workers during street repairs.
Mary is one of the GANG garden regulars, and brings not only her labor, but her skill and certification as an organic gardener. Here she is, with two of “the cutters” (no, not of the movie “Breaking Away,” but of the pizzas, which, in lieu of the cob oven, were coming out of the oven in my house next door), my niece Megan’s boyfriend Brian and my son Colin.
Brian, my son Colin, with Mary
BTW: the young man below, whose name escapes me, but he is a single dad neighbor and a Tom Cruise lookalike! —
had no idea that twenty minutes later he would be sent back home to fetch his pizza cutter (the thingamajig that rolls).
Two days before the party, a neighbor whom I have not seen or heard from for at least a year, walked up onto my porch, where I was eating dinner, and asked me how she could help. I was both surprised and thrilled.
Valerie is one of my favorite people, ever since I asked her, when I found out that she lives with a husband and seven children in a house not much bigger than mine, how she does it, and she answered, simply, “We like each other”!
I did have something for her to do. I had promised to provide all the pizza dough, and the tomato sauce and the cheese, suggesting others bring pizza toppings as their contribution to the meal. Of course, I could always buy the dough, but my instinct was to make the pizza dough from scratch! However I had never done it.
Wouldn’t you know! Valerie used to make all her pizza dough from scratch. She would help me. I would get the flour and oil and sugar and salt and yeast, and she would come over Friday at 2 p.m., and stay for two hours. We would make it together then.
So, what had been causing me stress, the anticipation of having to make the pizza dough, turned into its own kind of fun as the two of us, plus one of her daughters, Noura, sat and stood around the kitchen table kneading and punching dough for the next day’s party.
At the party, Valerie turned out to be the chief dough roller as well. I doubt she had planned on that.
Valerie, with Todd in the background, and the "cutters" beyond
We ended up making about twelve pizzas. This size:
Lots of toppings, e.g.
And even one vegetarian, after student Katrina (on the right) shyly asked if that was possible . . .
At different points in the evening — it went on for four hours— people were lined up for another piece of pizza. So glad it was not one of our hot days . . .
People sat on my porch to eat.
Or, they wandered out to the garden, passing the day lilies . . .
and entering the gate to the wonderful mellow music by neighbor Jelene and her partner David (who, BTW, will be playing at the Farmers’ Market with their band tomorrow morning!).
Jessica and John, who until very recently, walked the neighborhood together every single day, sat in the garden with John and Susan, a workshop student, and Mary. Some took an opportunity to wander the garden with their children (notice cob oven in background) . . .
And I, of course, took the opportunity, whenever possible, to recruit new student blood into the garden . .
Wish I could remember this beautiful young man’s name! And I forgot to get his email. But I did get Taylor’s email (the guy with the hat below). When I got it wrong, he corrected it at the party . . .
There’s Valerie, rolling yet another one . . .
Lots more pictures, lots more people, don’t have them all here; a few, including Stephanie from the Children’s Workshop, arrived too late for pizzas! The party finally wound down to about ten of us sitting around the table in the garden until the sun went down and I announced it was my bedtime.
Looking back, I think that what made this evening’s event so easy and comfortable, even among people of widely differing ages and interests, was the atmosphere set by the music; Jelene and David’s sweet, slow harmonies harmonized us, made it fun and simple just to be sharing food and talk on an absolutely gorgeous summer evening in and around the GANG garden.
We didn’t forget about the cob oven. My son Colin said that a number of people looked crestfallen when they walked up and he told them we were not going to be cooking the pizza there.
But we did fine without it. In the end it’s we, the people, who count, not our various props.
We’re going overboard at the GANG garden on June 25th — hosting three events, and all on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice. First, two workshops, one all day, the other for two hours in the afternoon.
Earth Building Workshop: 9-5, with architect Scott Routen. We will build an earthen bench and learn techniques of building with earthen materials. Click on this link for the flyer, and further details:
Children’s Workshop: Inviting the Little People into the Garden: 2-4 p.m., with IU students Stephanie Partridge and Emily Ginzberg. We will introduce the children to fairies and elves, and encourage the fairies to come into the garden by gathering little sticks, stones, and leaves, painting them, and make little altars. Again, click on this link for the flyer, and further details:
Then, in the evening, we will gather folks from the neighborhood and their friends for our second Summer Solstice Celebration. The first one was a few years ago, held at the end of East 7th Street, formerly an empty lot, and now filled with bulldozers for the Bypass. . . This year, we will hold the event in the GANG garden.
Summer Solstice Celebration: Cob Oven Pizza Party — with Music: 6-9 p.m. Neighbor Jelene Campbell and David of the David Gohn Band will play for 45 minutes. We welcome other musicians — and children! Come join your neighbors and friends for a fun time. Again, click on flyer for details.
Hope to see you in the GANG garden for at least one of these events!
For the workshops: it helps us plan in advance if you pre-register; also, donations for the teachers are appreciated. Bring lunch, if you are participating in the all-day Earthwork workshop.
For the Solstice Celebration and pizza party: bring your lawn chair, one ingredient for the pizza, and your beverage. And a musical instrument, if you wish to play. And children, if you have them! We will supply pizza dough, sauce and cheese. The GANG will supply the wonderful cob oven, thanks to Nathan, Colin, and Melissa’s SPEA class!
Questions, call Ann at 334-1987 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.