Friday, July 29, 2011

Quick Update from Wednesday

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Whew! I’ve been busy, busy, busy. I am only projected to get any busier in the foreseeable future, but I will try to be better about writing.

Permaculture Weekend

We had a fantastic final weekend of the fundamentals class! I wish I could go into details about all that we learned, but if I got started I wouldn’t be able to stop and I just don’t have that kind of time.

Our “commencement” party Saturday night was incredible. We all went down to the swimming hole, and hung out around the fire (and by “fire,” I mean a couple of candles – most of the light, a fraction of the carbon emissions) and played fabulous music. Let’s just say permies know how to party. :)

On Sunday, we did a “wild design” for our neighbor Gaspar, who lives at Bellavia neighborhood. We had so much fun taking everything we learned - from the fundamental permaculture principles to mapping, relative location, and orcharding - and creating a “real” permaculture home system design.

I am scheduled to be part of the practicum in the fall, which will take a great deal of time and energy. I am really excited about continuing the learning process, going deeper into a lot of the topics, and doing a professional level design. However, I am also a little nervous about committing to 40-60 hours of work required for the design portion. I am already committed to 20 hours of work a week as a work exchanger and I will be taking a 4 credit-hour online class for UIS. I hope I am not overbooking myself.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday I got up early and spent five hours working on the fence. Lyndon and I started at 7am and we were in the shade, so it would not be sweltering. However, I had to wear long pants to protect me from mosquitoes and poison ivy and I was working hard, so I definitely got my cleansing sweat for the day! Between taking plenty of detoxifying herbs, eating well, and working hard, I am feeling really fantastic these days. Plus, I am amazed by how much I can accomplish. I feel really satisfied and fulfilled knowing that for that twenty-foot section of fence right there, I dug those post holes, stripped those posts, shlepped them across the orchard, and tamped them in good and tight… by myself! So even though it is hot and sweaty and exhausting, I enjoy the work because I feel really proud of my accomplishments.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I worked in the garden yesterday morning from 7-10:30am. Unfortunately, the garden has been rather neglected for a while. Between Firefly Gathering and the permaculture class, the last three weeks have been completely crazy. So the task now is simply to reclaim the jungle. I started the process by clearing pathways and weeding beds, which I did for three and a half hours and hardly made a dent. However, by 10:30 the sun is up from behind the trees and starting to evaporate the dew, which makes it hot and steamy and pretty miserable to be in the garden. Therefore, I am dedicating myself to be in the garden early every morning. If I am in the garden by 6:30 and I work until 10:30, that is a solid four hours of work every day, which might just be enough to whip the garden into shape.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Last night I decided to let myself sleep until I was ready to get up today, as I never really gave myself any downtime after this weekend. Still, I was in the garden by 8, and I spent a solid hour and a half clearing more pathways and weeding more beds. The garden is, at the very least, becoming more inviting. Complete jungle is a bit intimidating!

This afternoon, I walked in on the “core meeting,” where Lyndon and Patricia get on the same page about all things Medicine Wheel… or at least, they try to. Apparently, my timing was impeccable, because as I came into the room, Lyndon said, “Well, I guess we can ask her.” In short, I am Medicine Wheel’s new kitchen manager. About that whole overbooking thing…

Something that is currently amusing me: No one is exactly sure why, but suddenly the ring on the phone at Medicine Wheel sounds exactly like the Star Trek phaser gun sound effect. So now, every time someone calls one of the 11 current residents, it sounds like the aliens are attacking. I think it is hilarious and oddly fitting. One of the ongoing household jokes (perpetuated by our own dear Lyndon, whose strange, wonderful sense of humor cannot be adequately described, only experienced) is that Medicine Wheel is the world's first plywood spaceship. We take off about 11pm every night and journey through hyperspace, which accounts for all our strange dreams. It is also an incentive to be home and in bed at a reasonable hour, as you would not want to come home and find yourself stranded in the garden until morning.

Anyway, I am really excited, because Chynna is taking Klara and I out to dinner for her birthday tonight. I can’t wait!

However, this afternoon I am planning on getting some seedlings started in trays, since the seeds that we have been planting in the ground are either refusing to germinate or being eaten the moment that they spring forth from the ground. I had better go attend to that now!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Firefly Gathering

Firefly Gathering

Wednesday, July 13

So as it turned out, more than half of Medicine Wheel decided to go to Firefly, a gathering in Western North Carolina for sharing "rewilding, primitive, homesteading, and sustainability skills." (Read more about Firefly here... The final head count from MW was six – Joe, Nathaniel, Coleman, Chynna, Patricia, and myself. As an instructor, Patricia needed to be at Camp Pinnacle on Wednesday night, so the whole group was ready to leave by 4pm, which was a real accomplishment!

The only snag that we hit while leaving was fitting into two vehicles the sheer volume of stuff that we were taking. Six people’s camping gear (tents, tarps, sleeping bags, pillows, pads, packs, etc.) plus food (three meals for four days) plus cooking gear (cast iron pot and skillet, plates and utensils, mixing bowl, cutting board, etc. etc. etc.)… That stuff takes up some serious space! After some people (ahem, Joe) had a tense discussion with certain other people (ahem, Patricia) about bringing more stuff than was necessary, we found a way to pack everything in and off we went.

When we got there, it took a while to find a comfortable place to camp. We ended up at the entrance to “loud camping,” which I was a little nervous about. I need sleep to function. (But, as it turned out, “loud” was just a euphemism for “relaxed rules.” I ended up having a good ol’ time every day and sleeping soundly every night.)

As we were setting up camp, the sky clouded over and we could hear thunder in the not-so-distant distance. I picked up the pace and was able to get the tent set up and our junk crammed inside just as it started raining. As I sat in the tent that I was going to share with Chynna for the next four days, crammed among our sleeping bags, pads, pillows, and packs, I couldn’t help but shout out, “ ‘Two-man’ tent, my ass.” To which Nathaniel unhelpfully responded, “Yup! Those things are hardly big enough for one ass. I’m glad you and Chynna are so close.” Great.

As it turned out, I got the last laugh, as it was rainy and/or cold – yes, cold in July – all four nights. Nathaniel froze in his lonely little hammock while Chynna and I were cozy in our sleeping bags in our “two-man” tent. Yes, I definitely have to give thanks and praise for the rain fly on that little tent, as it kept us warm and dry even though it rained through those couple of nights and all day on Friday! Having a warm, dry place to sleep really takes the misery out of camping in the cold and wet.

When the rain eased up, we found our way to the “primitive kitchen,” a tarp-sheltered, outdoor communal kitchen with a stone oven in the fire pit. Nathaniel and I got a fire started, which was excellent for warming up and drying out, and Chynna cooked some dinner. Others began to join us, and we all shared our food and a guitar. The music and the chill, pleasant vibe made it a really relaxed and enjoyable evening.

Thursday, July 14

It rained all night that night, but I stayed cozy warm in my tent. The only problem was that it was a little difficult to get up, being so comfy. When I finally pried myself out of bed, I headed up to the communal kitchen (distinct from the primitive kitchen), a tarp-sheltered area with tables and several camp stoves for people to share, to make breakfast. We fixed grits and fried eggs, Joe’s preferred breakfast from home, which we ended up eating for breakfast all weekend because it’s fast and easy.

After breakfast, we went to Opening Circle. First, the event coordinators filled everyone in on details such as site rules, the location of the first aide tent, and protocol for class sign-up. Then, we all joined in creating and holding an energetic space for learning and sharing throughout the weekend, which was pretty powerful for me.

My first class was a mushroom identification walk with Alan Muskat entitled “What the Fungus That?” What was really interesting about the class was that he didn’t focus at all on the details of mushroom identification, which I believe was probably the best way to go. The details of identification are so incredibly vast and detailed that it is really impossible to cover them with any satisfaction in a two-hour class.

Instead, Alan gave us the big picture, discussing the incredible networks of mycelia that live in the soil and essentially make life possible. It is incredible to think that the largest living organisms on the planet are the enormous mycelial mats that stretch for hundreds, even thousands, of acres in old growth forests. Also, the connections among the mycelial networks bear a striking resemblance to the human brain, and studies have shown that trees can communicate via these networks. For example, sometimes when a pest or disease attacks one tree in a forest that is rich with mycelial connections, other trees begin to produce hormones that protect themselves from that blight before it ever reaches them! Awesome!

Alan also highlighted the importance of spending time developing a relationship with mushrooms. He pointed out that, as the fruiting body of a network of mycelia, a mushroom is essentially the reproductive organ or the genitals of that organism, “… and you don’t just go around grabbing people’s genitals without getting to know them first.” That really resonated with me because as I become more connected with the Earth that sustains me, I am really realizing the importance of sharing my energy with and having a profound respect for those plants, animals, and fungi that support my existence.

Alan also strongly suggested joining one of the many communities of mushroom-hunters in the area to learn the details of mushroom identification, as learning out of a book is both incredibly difficult and lacking the essential element of community. Coming from an area where finding and participating in such a community is much easier said than done, I find myself deeply appreciating that so many people in this area have that knowledge and are excited to share it with others.

About the only “practical” or “concrete” advice that Alan gave with regards to identification was the suggestion to learn the “top five” (or six or so, it’s flexible) most common edible and poisonous varieties. He then sent us out to meet and gather mushrooms. When we brought our new acquaintances back to the circle, Alan pointed out the most common edibles (and non-edibles) and their identifying features.

The second class I took was with Tod Kershaw, who was teaching us how to start a fire with an Egyptian bow drill.

Basically, there are four pieces to a bow drill: the bow, the spindle, the fireboard, and the handhold. The bow spins the spindle (a stick tapered at both ends) in a depression on the fireboard (a narrow strip of soft wood) creating the friction that creates an ember. Holding the bow in your dominant hand and using the handhold (a rock with a small depression that allows the spindle to spin) in the opposite hand to press the spindle as hard as possible into the fireboard, you run the bow back and forth until the friction creates and ember. When you get that ember, you can use home-burned charcoal or a tinder bundle to then light your fire.

Now, the Egyptian bow drill differs from the conventional bow drill in the length of the cord and how that cord wraps around the spindle. Essentially, the Egyptian bow drill reduces strain on the cord and makes the movement of the bow smoother, keeping the spindle in the depression on the fireboard and getting your fire started more quickly and with less frustration (in theory).

Tod walked us through every step. He taught us how to make the bow and carve the spindle, fireboard, and handhold. He told us what wood makes a good spindle and fireboard – basswood is the most preferable, but most soft woods except pine will do. Then, as he was showing us the technique and posture that work well for him, Natalie Bogwalker dropped by. (Natalie, by the way, is the founder and general coordinator of Firefly Gathering, and one of the most awesome women that I have ever met.)

Natalie had some different, and in my experience more effective, advice on posture for the ladies. Whereas Tod encouraged keeping the back straight, Natalie reminded him that ladies have a much lower center of gravity and generally do not have the upper body strength that men have. Rather, a woman’s power lies in lower her body, and she showed us how to lean down and hold our bodies in such a way as to use that power most effectively. She was a really excellent teacher, asking if she could give me some advice rather than telling me what I was doing wrong. (In fact, I noticed that several people used that format for giving feedback, and I found that it made me much more receptive to what they had to say. I think I will try to incorporate that into how I relate with others.) So whereas I had been struggling to get an ember for a while using Tod’s method, very shortly after adopting Natalie’s stance and with a few minor adjustments, I made my first friction fire! What fun!

That night, after sharing dinner in the communal kitchen, I had an incredible, powerful experience dancing around the fire at the drum circle. Something about the thundering of the primal drumbeat transformed the dancers and the drummers from strangers into an intimately connected tribe and compelled me to join that magickal dance.

Friday, July 15

It poured down rain all day on Friday, and I must say that I was not prepared. It was just so hot and sunny when we left that I could not imagine needing a jacket… Fortunately for me, my tribe had my back and came up with a nice, heavy poncho that kept me warm and dry.

Friday morning, I took an introduction to beekeeping class. All I have to say about that (without rewriting several books on the amazing qualities of bees and their products) is that bees are astonishingly incredible critters and I am completely jazzed about sharing space and energy with them sometime in the very near future.

My highly attuned intuition had led me to sign up for a Dutch oven cooking class the previous evening, so in the afternoon I got to cozy up next to a campfire conveniently located right next to my camp and make peach cobbler. Although I wasn’t impressed with the recipe that the instructor used – canned and packaged junk food – I did learn tips on how to cook with a Dutch oven. For example, you generally want about one third of the heat on the bottom on the oven and two thirds on the lid. To get the oven to stay between 325 and 350 degrees, you take the diameter of the pot (usually 12 or 14 inches) and put that many plum-sized pieces of hot coals from the fire on the bottom and half again as many pieces on top of the lid. For even cooking, rotate the bottom a quarter-turn clockwise and the lid a quarter turn counter-clockwise every fifteen minutes. Overall, I got some good information and spent a nice comfy afternoon by the fire.

That night, Doug and Todd Elliott presented “Woodslore and Wildwoods Wisdom: Stories, Songs, and Lore,” which was hilariously entertaining. My favorite story was from Doug, about his experience raising a baby possum that that he had rescued… on his head. When he found her on the ground, he felt really bad for her and wanted to relieve her distress. As baby possums hold onto their mama’s backs until they are ready to strike out on their own, his first reaction was to put her on his head and let her nestle into his hair. She ended up staying there for another six weeks, he named her Blossom, and she became the family pet. The best quote from that story? “I won’t go into the details, but there is no limit to the things you can do with a possum on your head!”

Saturday, July 16

My morning class on Saturday was “WTSHTF: Disaster Planning” with Xavier Hawk, which just sounded interesting. (WTSHTF = when the shit hits the fan) I really enjoyed the lively discussion format (which, in Xavier’s words, “went all over the map”), and it made me think seriously about community resilience and planning for likely disaster scenarios.

I chose my afternoon class essentially because Natalie Bogwalker was teaching it, and she is awesome. The class was entitled, “Sewing Buckskin Skirts and Shirts,” which especially caught my attention because on the first day of the gathering, Natalie was wearing a buckskin dress, which honestly was quite possibly the sexiest garment I have ever seen.

However, circumstances surrounding the class made me really think about (and, honestly, I am still thinking about) my personal stance of the ethics of hide wearing. The class was located at the archery range, and I arrived early. Between classes, several people were participating in open target practice. However, the targets were not all the typical bull’s eye format; some of them were actually shaped like animals. For some reason, I just got a bad feeling about people shooting at things shaped like and representing living beings and trying for a “kill shot” when for most of them, it was for enjoyment, for sport.

As I analyzed that feeling, I wondered if I could personally take the life of another mammal. In The Fifth Sacred Thing, the main character talks about the hypocrisy of eating meat but being unable to stomach actually killing the animal that you are going to consume. I must admit that I whole-heartedly agree with that – if you are going to eat another being, whether it is plant or animal, you should have some sense of and respect for the sacrifice of that being for your own nourishment. I am not saying that one must necessarily harvest or kill everything that one eats, but I think it is a good practice to think about everything that it took, all the many energies and sacrifices that went into providing for your existence. Personally, I think for me to really experience that profound respect, I need to participate in that sacrifice at least once before I can consciously eat meat or wear hide. However, I am not sure I can handle that. Therefore, I am going to hold off on both of those counts until I figure out whether or not I can take the life of another animal to promote my existence.

Anyway, it was still a very interesting class. I found that I really could appreciate the class and the clothing that Natalie showed us because she personally hunted, skinned, and tanned every hide that she wore. Furthermore, she expressed and demonstrated that profound respect for those cycles of life, which in turn gave me a profound respect for her. Also, I have to admit that buckskin is incredibly sexy. I can personally attest to the ancient, primal connections there, because the people in buckskin were really, really attractive.

That evening, the Medicine Wheel crew decided to eat in the primitive kitchen, and I had what I can almost say was my peak experience for the weekend. When we got to the primitive kitchen, several groups were already cooking there. When we joined them, not only did they make room for us but they also offered us some of their food. People had been contributing food all day – mushrooms foraged from the forest, fish caught in the lake, wild greens, even roadkill raccoon and groundhog (both of which I tried… they were very flavorful if a bit tough) left over from a class on “critter processing.” (Freshly hit roadkill is no less sanitary to eat than game, and it is quite possibly the most ethical meat. The animals were not raised in confinement or for the sole purpose of being dinner someday, their death was the accidental result of car culture, and instead of becoming an unsightly and distasteful waste product, the unfortunate animal is becoming nourishment for people.) Anyway, everyone contributed what they had, and there was plenty for all. For me, that shared meal was a really moving experience of the power and beauty of community and the economy of the gift.

After that, I wandered over to the gym where there was some awesome fiddling and waltzing going on. I was feeling tired and I preferred to relax and watch, but it was really, really, REALLY entertaining to watch a bunch of anarcho-primitivist forest-hippies in all manners of dress waltzing to the fiddle and djembe! :D !!!

Sunday, July 17

Sunday morning, I intended to go to a class called “The Origin of Disease & Medicine, and Other Native American Legends,” but apparently it was unexpectedly cancelled or moved (I never did find out which). I wandered around and sat in for a minute on “Primitive Tattoo,” which was interesting but didn’t call to me.

I wandered back toward the campsite with the intention to get a jumpstart on tearing down camp and hauling gear to the car when I was drawn into a discussion on nonviolent communication, which rocked my world. While I do not feel called to pick favorites among the classes that I took, I think I might have gotten more personal growth out of just the second half of this class than any of the others.

The best summary I could give is this short intro from The Center for Nonviolent Communication's website:

"Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is based on the principles of nonviolence-- the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart.

NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.

People who practice NVC have found greater authenticity in their communication, increased understanding, deepening connection and conflict resolution."

You can find more information about NVC at

What I like most about NVC is that it isn’t about just changing the way we speak to other people in order to resolve interpersonal conflict. Nonviolent communication extends to the way that we think, about each other, the world, and ourselves. It involves how individuals communicate with themselves, and I have realized that some of my internal communications (what I say to and believe about myself) have actually been pretty violent exchanges. NVC requires a paradigm shift from a culture of violence and domination to a culture of mutual respect and cooperation, and it manifests that shift through our thoughts, words, and relationships.

The basic “format” of NVC is: nonjudgmental observation, feeling, need, request. For example, if I were to have a problem with one of my housemates not cleaning up their breakfast dishes, I would say, “Coleman, when I observe you leaving your dirty dishes in the sink, I feel irritated and frustrated, because I have a need for cleanliness and order. Would you be willing to take a few minutes to wash your dishes today?” That would be a particularly formulaic way to say it, but as you get more acquainted with the idea, the style becomes more natural (“Hey Coleman, when you leave your dishes in the sink, I feel irritated ’cause I really need the house to stay clean. Would you mind washing them real quick?”)

NVC generally encourages the use of action verbs (feel, need, want, believe, experience, etc.) rather than verbs of being (am, is, are, was, were) whenever practicable. We could get very esoteric (Who am I to say what anything exists as in this clumsy and fallible representation that we know as language?), but more practically, being verbs tend to involve judgment, which NVC tries to avoid. Instead of judging whether something is “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad,” NVC looks at actions as meeting or not meeting certain needs. For example, when Steven talks loudly on the phone late at night, it does not meet (or “is not in harmony with” – another common phrasing) Joe’s need for quiet in order to sleep. Steven is not bad or wrong, he is just doing something that prevents Joe from meeting his need for sleep and Steven can change that action when Joe knocks on his door and politely requests that he do so.

In my experience, I am finding that distinguishing a person’s actions (which may not be in harmony with needs that are “up” for me at certain times) from that person’s existence fundamentally changes how I relate to others. While I did already have an idea of that distinction, I only implemented it when I stopped to think about it. However, by practicing thinking and speaking in this new way, which is really practicing living in this new reality, I am profoundly improving how I relate to everyone (including myself) all the time.

NVC also holds that no one “makes” you feel a certain way. Actions elicit emotions based on whether or not they are in harmony with certain needs at certain times, and every individual is responsible for making sure that their own needs are met. Therefore, if someone is saying or doing something and I feel (say) angry as a response, my anger is not that other person’s responsibility. Rather, it is my responsibility to make sure that whatever need is up for me, which is causing me to feel angry, is met.

I find this simultaneously difficult to accept and incredibly empowering. It is difficult to accept that I have to take responsibility when obviously that other person is out of line and being a complete jerk. But, ya know, when I think about it, I would actually really prefer to approach such a situation from a position in which I am empowered to meet my needs. That feels so much better to me than leaving my emotional well being to the mercy of someone else’s actions.

For example… ::tries to think of a completely non-offensive hypothetical example:: … say Jane Smith calls me stupid and I feel bad about myself in response. Instead of being angry and resenting Jane, it is my responsibility to communicate my feelings and needs with her and make a reasonable request that she change her actions. I may need to negotiate a compromise with her, and if we are not able to resolve our differences, I may even need to seek mediation. But (except for some extreme examples) with this approach, I am empowered to meet my needs – in this case, my emotional need to not be called stupid.

Something that I feel is really fantastic is that most of Earthaven seems to have already naturalized NVC as an “official language” of sorts. I had gotten a vague idea about NVC from my Earthaven orientation, but I am able to see it in action very clearly now that I have experienced a more formal class. Whenever conflict arises, people here already automatically think and speak in terms of nonjudgmental observations, feelings, and needs that are up for the different individuals involved. Instead of making angry demands, people tend to make polite, reasonable requests. Amazingly enough, people most often respect those requests or are willing negotiate for a mutually acceptable compromise. I have also noticed that many people here have gotten really efficient at observing, addressing, and diffusing situations that might cause conflict before the situation even develops into a problem. When I observe that taking place, I feel really impressed, because I have a need for peace and harmony that is being met.

Anyway, the class was fantastic in a paradigm-shifting sort of way.

That afternoon I made a rivercane flute with an instructor named White Eagle. It was an interesting class, and I can now play an instrument that I made myself. (Somewhere in there, I ended up buying a knife, thinking that I would need it for that class. I did not, but it has ended up being an incredibly useful thing to have around and I am making a habit of having it on me at all times. I also found a knife the second day of the gathering and turned it in to the lost and found. When it hadn’t been claimed two days later, after closing circle and when most people had left, I went ahead and claimed it for myself.)

I felt a little sad during closing circle. I wish that I could have gathered up that community and all the positive energy surrounding the gathering and brought it home with me. L

We got packed up and on the way without any trouble. Nathaniel decided to stay an extra day, because he had business in Asheville and could catch a ride with a friend, so having one less person and that much less gear (along with having eaten all the food) made it much easier to get everything to fit in the cars.

On the way home, we decided that since we were already out, we should stop at the grocery store to pick up some essentials. As we were going inside, Chynna and Patricia made some really amusing observations…

Chynna: Joe can’t find a shirt, Coleman is barefoot, Molly’s packing two knives, and I look like I just crawled out of a swamp.

Patricia: They go feral on ya so fast…

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All right, y'all. I'm going to be away at Firefly for the weekend, starting tonight. Camp Pinnacle, being even further up a mountain and in the woods, has no access to Net, so I will be taking a well-enjoy break from cyber space. But, here's one to tide ya over...


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yesterday was awesome!

I spent all morning in the garden. Patricia got me started, but she had to leave to lead a tour, so I took over on my own for a while.

I started by taking out morning glories. Good goddess! I am not exaggerating when I say that in four hours yesterday I pulled a couple hundred morning glory plants. Some were huge and already choking the life out of some poor, sad tomatoes; most were just little seedlings, some with no more than their characteristic cotyledons to give them away. As I’m weeding them out so that they don’t take over the world (or at least the garden), I could help but wish that the tomatoes would grow like the morning glories. But alas, having had their natural defenses bred out of them, the domesticated plants require a great deal of coddling to produce their heavy yields of food.

When I’d given the tomatoes some breathing room and some mulch (at MW, weeds become mulch, which is stacking functions, a permaculture principle!), I cleared the morning glories out the next bed and planted a bunch of okra. I got the seeds out of a dried okra from last year that was legit the size of a banana, so I’m hoping for an impressive crop. I know they taste best when you pick them young, but I’m hoping fruit size in an indicator of heartiness.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the rigors of vegetable gardening (and the especially perma-organic cultivation at MW), planting food involves more than just putting seeds in the dirt. It involves figuring out what to plant, what strategic micro climate to plant it in, where the seeds are, how viable the seeds are, how deep the bury the seeds, how far apart to space the plants, what to plant together (or what not to plant together), and what to weed out of the chosen bed verse what to leave as companions. Once you’ve figured all that out, you have to assemble appropriate digging tools, a bucket of egg and ash, a nice hunk of mulch, and the business end of the garden hose (which could conceivably be anywhere). Then and only then can you actually put the seeds in the ground. But the fun doesn’t stop there! After that, you have to mulch it well enough to protect the little patches of disturbed soil from erosion, but not so well that the seedling can’t get through it to get some light. Then, you water thoroughly enough to get through the mulch and dampen the soil, but not so thoroughly as to make the soil soggy, which can rot the seed. A few hours later, you come back and sprinkle well with egg and ash, a low-tech formula of ground up eggshells and wood ash, which keeps our most common garden pests, slugs and pill bugs, away from the delicate baby plants. It is quite the undertaking!

Then I planted the spiral trellis bed (which I weeded out last time I was in the garden) with climbing (or trainable) vines – summer squash, pole beans, and cucumbers. The second planting was easier, mostly because I already had the figuring done and the equipment gathered but also because the late-sleepers finally began to trickle into the garden to help.

When I was done in our garden, I went over to Useful Plants Nursery to pitch in with their fig-potting party for Leaps. It was pretty nice because I got to work in the shade, Liz shared some ripe figs (YUM!!!), AND I earned Leaps! Hooray!

After that, I joined the Medicine Wheel (plus Marissa) soccer game for a roaring good time. I had so much fun! We ran and laughed and took turns rescuing the ball from blackberry brambles lined with poison ivy. I enjoyed watching the dynamics when I was in goal. When Chynna and Marissa were going head to head, they definitely tried to get the ball, but without hurting each other and apologizing if they step on each other’s toes. When Joe and Coleman vied for the ball, they went all out, knocking each other to the ground and falling all over themselves. They helped each other up, but the dynamics were very different. What was really interesting was when one of the ladies went after one of the guys. At that point, you can almost see the internal struggle on Coleman’s face as he tried to balance competitiveness with not hurting anybody. I also enjoyed when I rotated out and got to go for it. I even scored a few goals – more than I ever did when I played as a kid!

When we were done, we all booked it to the swimming hole for a refreshing dip before potluck, which was, as always, incredible! Since we went swimming, we were late to potluck, and we missed announcements. Apparently this should never be done, because during announcements Tara invited the community over to Medicine Wheel for music. Considering that Tara doesn’t live at MW, we were a little surprised when people began showing up later with instruments asking about the jam concert. It was fine, though, because we all love music. It was SUPER fun! We ended up with four guitars, a mandolin, the drum set, and a bunch of awesome music! I LOVE life at MW!!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I got up this morning around 7:30 and was outside and working on the fence by 8am. Today, I worked on weaving branches of mountain laurel onto the fence framework. Basically, the fence is constructed thusly: eight-foot locust posts are buried about seven feet apart and four feet deep and eight-foot locust boards are vertically screwed into those posts. Two eight-foot cross boards (not locust, but sealed well with paint) connect the vertical boards at three feet and ten feet from the ground. Chicken wire is buried a foot deep in the ground and comes up to be stapled to the lower horizontal board. Then, the rectangles between the horizontal and vertical boards are filled in with mountain laurel.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, mountain laurel is a beautiful, shrub-like, flowering tree that grows prolifically all over the mountains here. Its branches are almost vine-like in a way, twisting, turning, and spiraling in a very aesthetically pleasing manner.

Anyway, the task is to look at the mountain laurel, then look at the fence, and then weave together pieces of the mountain laurel such that it creates a barrier impermeable to deer. In general, you start with an A frame (ideally, but usually it turns out more like a triangle) made of larger branches, and then fill in with smaller and smaller branches until all the gaps are too small for deer to fit through. It is actually quite fun, a lot like a jigsaw puzzle but with even more critical thinking involved.

The key is placing the first three pieces; if you get a solid basis with those first pieces, the rest tend to fall into place. My problem today was that someone had started a bunch of the rectangles but hadn’t filled them in, and they hadn’t done a particularly admirable job with the two large pieces that they had screwed into every rectangle. So my job was to fill in, and it took quite a bit more creativity than if I had started with a blank slate. And a bit of regression, er, deconstruction, in the service of transcendence.

I’m SO glad that we have plenty of work exchangers, because the fence is a LOT of work. We have to dig the postholes, strip all the bark off of the posts, tamp the posts into the ground, screw the locust boards to the posts, paint the non-locust posts three times, screw in the horizontal boards, bury the chicken wire, staple it to the lower board, hike up into the forest and harvest mountain laurel, and then weave the mountain laurel onto the fence. Each individual step is like an entire project in and of itself! BUT, I think it’ll be done by the time we are ready to be planting fall crops! Hooray!

I nipped myself with the handsaw while trimming one of the branches. The saw popped up and got my thumb right at the nail bed. I was more surprised than hurt, and it stopped bleeding fairly quickly, but it reminded me to be a little more careful with tools that are meant to cut through things.

When I ran out of mountain laurel and decided to call it quits for the day, I went down to jump in the creek with Chynna. Oh, that icy cold creek feels SO GOOD when you are hot and sweaty and dirty. And I mean dirty, like in the very literal sense of “covered in dirt.” The bark from the mountain laurel tends to flake off and coat you in dirt and bark-sprinkles, and I put in a solid five hours. There really is nothing quite as cleansing as scrubbing down with creek silt.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Medicine Wheel Handbook

So. I have taken on an incredibly challenging (but much-needed) project. I am writing "The Medicine Wheel Handbook: Everything You Need to Know about Life at Medicine Wheel." There are so many people coming and going through Medicine Wheel that it is impossible for Lyndon and Patricia to make sure that they tell everyone everything, and some really important information sometimes slips through the cracks. Plus, there is just so much to know about living at Medicine Wheel that it will be helpful to have most of it in one place. Thus, I have taken on the challenge of compiling as much as knowledge as possible and forming it into a handbook. While I am nowhere near to finished, this is the introduction...

Part I: The Medicine Wheel Collective Mission and Vision


- To cooperatively own and steward the Medicine Wheel neighborhood – all sites and all buildings, and other agreed-upon assets – as a roadless human habitat for 20 - 40 people.

- To live as sustainably as possible – protecting the forest, water, and soil – while providing as much food for humans as possible.

- To design Medicine Wheel House as a neighborhood common house with living space for some members and as a major producer of water and electricity.

- To create very small, commonly owned and built “detached bedrooms” with no need of a summer solar envelope. This will allow members the privilege of living in whatever cabin or portion of the house seems most appropriate for each member in each season of their lives.


- Around 25 people live most of their days at Medicine Wheel. They are growing and preparing food, tending children and elders and animals, expanding plantings, chopping wood, building, repairing. At the same time, they are educating, learning, singing, gossiping, praying, exercising, discovering, playing, and participating in ecospiritual seasonal celebration and ritual.

- Some of the food, plantings, animals, child/eldercare, education, or music generate money income, and some is for trade, but most is for home use.

- Their food needs are simple – mostly grazing semi-constantly for most of the day, with usually a prepared meal in the early evening. They are lean, strong people. Their diet consists of vegetables, nuts, fruits, eggs, roots & herbs, with some pressed oils and occasional meat and dairy products bartered with neighbors.

Realized Vision:

- As of summer 2011, Medicine Wheel Collective (MWC) neighborhood consists of Medicine Wheel House, a large terraced garden, a developing orchard, one small cabin, and several acres of woods with spaces for camping.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trenches and Humanure

Monday, July 4, 2011

Today I got up around 7:30, ate breakfast, and went to help dig the trench. Steven and I were the first ones out there at 8:30, when we were scheduled to be there, but Lyndon, Chynna, and Nathaniel eventually joined us.

Essentially, the project is that we are burying the water lines below the frost line so that they won’t freeze in the winter. Freezing in the water lines make it very difficult or impossible to do dishes, take a shower, or even wash your hands. Thus, we are burying the pipes 20 inches in the ground in order to make winter a little easier.

We had two goals for the day. First, we had to get the first ten feet of the pipe actually buried. That particular section of pipe crossed the path up to where we dump the compost and humanure buckets. Unfortunately, the trench has been an ongoing project for more than six weeks (at least), and everyone was tired of having to climb over the trench with a bucket of rotting food or poop on a trail that is already on a steep incline.

It took several steps to get that section of pipe in the ground. First, we dug that section down to 20 inches, which involves breaking up the soil with a mattock, cutting out small roots with pruning shears and big roots with the handsaw, and shoveling out the soil with a sharp shooter or a trowel. Oddly enough, it was actually easier to get down in the dirt and scoop out the soil with a trowel than to try to shovel it out with a tool that is just barely narrower than the actual trench. Even the narrower of the sharp shooters got caught on roots, dumping the dirt back into the hole, which was maddening.

Then, we had to reroute the pipes, because the trench leads up the hill to the future (rather than the current) home of the cisterns. That involved turning off the water at the cistern, unhooking and rerouting the pipes, laying them into the trench, then hooking them back up, turning the water back on, and running some water in the house to get the air and dirt out of the line. I definitely learned the beauty of using “black pipe” rather than PVC. Not only are there fewer toxins in the manufacturing process, but also because you use metal clamps and joining pieces, there are no chemicals needed to install black pipe and you can take it apart and put it back together anytime you need to.

Anyway, after all that, we finally got to bury line, mounding up and stomping in the dirt, which was fun.

Our second job for the day was to dig out as much as possible of the rest of the trench down to 20 inches. The trench line had already been dug, but it was only about 6 inches deep, so we were there to deepen. The process was fairly methodical – break up dirt, cut roots, break up more dirt, dig it out, cut roots, break up, dig out... Nathaniel was really good at it and got a huge segment dug in no time. I, on the other hand, took a long time get everything dug out, but I kept at it long after everyone else moved on to other projects and commitments and ended up getting more done than anyone else. It was a lot of hard work, but I think it will be worth it come winter when I will be able to take a hot shower!

Something I really noticed while working on the trench is the power of teamwork. Steven has been working on that trench for six weeks. Not to take anything away from him, as he did get a lot accomplished, but in three hours five people fairly easily accomplished what would have taken him several more weeks of really hard work. Not only did I experience the truth of the phrase “Many hands make light work,” but I also believe that the work of the group is greater than the work of any of the individuals alone. In the group, you have an extra hand when you need it – even if it is just to hand you a tool or hold a root while you’re cutting it. You have people to trade jobs with if you get tired of what you’re doing, and you have people to take over if you need a break. You have people to talk to (or sing with, as our case was) which makes the work more enjoyable, and in my opinion, that improves that quality of the work. In short, group work is a Gestalt – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

When I was finished working on the trench I was so dirty that I has Chynna go grab my towel so that I could go straight to the solar shower. I was literally covered in dirt, and it was one of the best showers of my life! The water was a little cool, as it was still early in the day, but it was wonderful. It reminded me of when I was little and played in the hose in the back yard!

After that, I came inside and did my house chore - cleaning both bathrooms. I scrubbed out the shower and both sinks, swept and mopped, and cleaned the mirrors. As I was working, I found a grimy bucket of almost-but-not-quite-empty bottles of old cleaning supplies that no one seems to have used in years. So, I decided to clean (ironically enough, the bottles of cleaning solution were covered in grime), compile, and reorganize the bathroom cleaning supplies. I ended up with one full bottle of shower cleaner (as opposed to six half empty bottles), and I threw out the old, gross stuff that no one would ever use. I even scrubbed out the grimy bucket that they were in. Ahhh! Cleanliness (and organization and simplification) are next to goddessliness.

Chynna rather commandeered my night to cook (because she loves to cook and didn't get a night to cook this week), which was absolutely fantastic with me. She made an excellent burrito bar, and I simply cleaned up as she cooked. We make a great team.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Interesting morning this morning! We had scheduled “garden time” for 8:30-10:30am, but what really happened was “recomposting the humanure time.”

CAUTION: In the following section, I will combat the fecaphobia of our culture and speak openly about humanure (that is “human-manure,” aka poop). If you are offended by the ecologically responsible stewarding of our own waste, please feel free to skip this entry.

So, there are many ways to compost humanure, and Medicine Wheel is currently in transition from the 55 gallon barrel method to the 5-gallon bucket method.

In the 5-gallon bucket method, a toilet seat is either attached to or positioned over a 5-gallon bucket lined with a brown paper bag. The bucket is used much the same way as one would use a regular toilet, except you have to remove the bucket lid before use and add a hearty scoop of sawdust to the bucket afterward, which adds carbon and allows the humanure to compost correctly. When the bucket is full, it is dumped into a humanure compost pile, much the same way as you empty your kitchen compost into the compost pile in the yard. When the compost pile bin is full, the humanure is left to compost for two years. After one year, almost all (if not all) fecal-borne pathogens are dead; after two years, you can be absolutely sure that there is nothing left in the poop that can make you sick.*

In the 55-gallon barrel method, on the other hand, outhouses are constructed to be over barrels such that the humanure drops straight into the 55-gallon drum and urine is diverted away into a separate bucket. Again, a scoop of sawdust is added to the barrel after each use. When the barrel is full, it is changed out for an empty barrel and the full barrel is lidded and placed in a dry place to compost for, again, two years.*

There are a few downsides to the 55-gallon barrel method. The barrels are extremely heavy and unwieldy. Since they can go so long without being changed, the composting toilets can get smelly if there is not enough added carbon or if the urine diverter doesn't function correctly. However, the main problem with this method for Medicine Wheel is that there is no place to put the barrels to keep them completely dry. When the barrels take on water, the decomposition goes from aerobic to anaerobic. After two years in the barrels, dry, aerobic composting yields rich, fluffy soil… wet, anaerobic composting yields, to put it in Patricia's very honest words, crumbly turds and shit sludge, minus the pathogens. Hence, the problem.

The solution was what we did today – recomposting. To recompost the crumbly-turd-shit-sludge, we started a new compost pile, layering sticks and brush, dried leaves, straw, and green mulch together with the two-year-old unsuccessful humanure compost and buckets of fresh pee. We started with a layer of dry sticks and brush on the bottom to allow for some air circulation, then a layer of leaves, and then… the poop.

To be completely honest, three of the four barrels weren’t all that bad. None of the ones that we dumped today actually had visible turds, but the humanure was definitely not rich, fluffy soil yet, either. On the other hand, one of them was really bad. It had gotten very wet… Let’s just say that was the barrel from which I derived the term shit-sludge. Dumping it onto the pile, it erupted and oozed out everywhere – kinda like a volcanic eruption, only it was shit. That was nasty, but it could have been worse, because at least it didn’t stink.

Like I said, an interesting morning! I am so very glad that we are done with the 55-gallon barrel method. The way that we have set up the 5-gallon bucket method, all of the infrastructure is correct to ensure proper composting the first time around. (No one can say MW doesn't learn from their mistakes!) The bucket is much easier (and thus safer!) to move and dump, and it is changed out for a fresh one often. When one humanure bin is full, we start using one of the other bins and the full bin can be simply be left alone for two years to make awesome soil. No more moving giant barrels of poop! (Except to deal with the barrels that are still composting. It takes a long time to completely switch methods when you have to wait two years for the old method to go away.)

*Note: These are just the broad strokes. There is a lot to know about how to safely and effectively turn shit into soil, and if you are interested, I recommend reading The Humanure Handbook by Jim Jenkins. Not that any of you would, but I feel it is necessary to include the disclaimer: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK. Period. You just don’t want to know…