Journal entry 2 – summer to autumn 2014

The change from Summer to Autumn has been much appreciated. We had rather a hot Summer; quite usual for South Africa, but living in an insufficiently insulated small wooden room intensifies the heat. We call our room ‘the shack’, though most visitors seemed relieved when they see that it’s more like a single-room cabin, bungalow or large shed. Since January, I have been working on academic work in it extensively, always during the heat of the day, when just 3 weeks ago the place had the atmosphere of a sauna at times. It was not uncommon to find me in ‘the shack’ drenched in sweat, literally dripping with it and sliding off an old plastic chair.

April has brought with it those beautiful, calm, moderate days that make this time of year in SA appreciated by so many people. (The temperature, it turns out, reached 31 degrees C today – typical! Still noticeably more comfortable than weeks ago.) I experience the mornings and evenings change, grow colder and shorter, become something that they were not a month ago. The plants and trees change, as do the sounds of insects and of the breeze moving gently through the trees. A gentleness seems to be settling.

I’m experiencing all of this with particular clarity this year. It is a landmark year for me; the permaculture homestead is at a point of comparative ease of functionality; nothing new needs to be built with any urgency, the only pressing digging that needs to be done is for bi-monthly compost builds and turns, and there are quite a few self-perpetuating vegetable and plant processes going on. There are still peppers, peppadews, chillis, tomatoes and egg a few plants on the go from the Summer crop, while sweet potatoes, potatoes, rocket and mustard leaves are popping up by themselves for the Autumn. There is no bare ground anywhere; raised beds covered in mulch are everywhere, and the spaces in between are grassy. The orchard trees are looking happy enough (no fruit for a few more years though). And the systems needed for cooking, hot water, cleaning, etc. are all in place, even if some of them are quite make-shifty.

There is still plenty more to be done at the homestead, but because nothing is flashing a panic button at me any longer, I have more of a tendency to notice the texture of the air, see the repeating patterns of the sky, feel the character of the whole thing change. It seems like I change along with it, and it along with; the I/it distinction doesn’t seem suitable.

This is part of the beauty of permaculture: whatever energy you put in to the place, it will return with interest. In quantity and quality. Dedicate a year to building healthy soil and promise to be kind to it, and you soon see the soil support all sorts of life. Plan for the life of the beds to be cooperative, and synergy will occur. Set up systems so that waste is minimised and then incorporated back into the systems, and watch how the systems strengthen.

Upon arriving to South Africa from the United Kingdom in mid-2012, the heavens burst and 4 months of flooding followed. Action had to be taken quickly lest tents flood, seedlings drown, spirits break. Things popped into position without too much time for observation. At time, thoughts have crossed the mind that ask, ‘is this the right place for that?’. Luckily, in many cases the positioning of system components, gardens, structures, etc. has not been too far from ideal. There is a natural flow of energy that developed with the movement of people in the area. Fortunately, the particular people involved did not level and cement the place when they arrived; instead, the natural features remained and they are incorporated into the homestead.

An example I am am grateful for is that ‘the shack’ door faces due east: I get to see the sun rise every morning. I see the darkness slowly reveal the glow in the distance and watch as the scene is revealed. I am part of that scene; I am making up for my lack of initial observation not only by observing as carefully as I can now, but also by being part of that which is observed. How things have changed on this part of the plot, and in me, in the previous year. Certainly, the aspects of my life now heavily infused with aspects of permaculture are not the exclusive forces driving such a transition of self, but they are central to the process. And the self I mention is, ironically, less of a self than it was; the essence unfolding is one whose borders have faded and instead started enmeshing with a myriad of forms of life, atmosphere, earth, and spirit.

This after after roughly 21 months since first arriving to an ’empty’ corner of a friend’s plot. I am curious about where the increasing synergy will lead in following years; but my heart and mind are uplifted by the sense that this physical permaculture base participates fully in the present tense; and furthermore that, ironically, such a characteristic ensures the flourishing of the future.