Living with Roses

I had the opportunity to write an article for Taproot Magazine, a beautiful, full color, ad-free, paper magazine put out by homesteaders living in the Northeast. This magazine has no significant on-line presence: they really want you to get the object, live with it, read it, love it.

I suggested one piece about water and one about “eco-somatics”, my personal blend of ecological and body-based consciousness (a favorite theme), and was surprised when they went for the latter.

Here’s how it starts:

Walking Up the Hill

Walking up my neighborhood hill this morning, it is brisk, nearly November. The trees are turning yellow and red. My hands are cold. It feels good. Footstep after footstep, I join in the ascent. I walk this hill to get my dose of daily perspective—as I turn and face the down slope I see my little city coming to life for the day. I am aware of all the activity in the valley below me, cars and people, houses, trees, the noise of the freeway, a red-tailed hawk circling overhead, how long it’s been since it last rained.

Burdened with a demonic and persistent awareness of the rapidly advancing depredations of climate change, questions run freely through my mind on my walks: How can we adapt to the changes of the 21st century? What’s a resilient response? What do I know that is relevant to the world that is coming into a being—a harsher, more dangerous world, a world with different opportunities and limits? What actions make a difference? Am I prepared? Will we survive?

That’s me, always sweating the small stuff.

On a bad morning, the broken world lies in front of me, unfixable. It’s too late, the damage is done, our goose is cooked. I count every tree that’s been cut down, every extra car in the fast lane, every corporate-sponsored attack on the earth: another Target! another CostCo! another outlet mall! I am so tiny in the face of this juggernaut. I forget my connection to everything, that how I think and feel and act matters. Crouched in this stance, I am a cog in the wheel of the culture of despair.

On a good morning, I remember the daily practices that connect me to the world. I remember that as an ordinary mom living a local life, I have some power, but not much, to affect the dominant cultural mudslide, i.e., “doing the best I can” really is doing the best I can. I know that the small acts we take toward the healing of the world are the only steps we can take, and that the way change happens in this country is from the grassroots, a rhizomatic, perpetual motion, like the beautiful, pernicious bindweed in the garden. And that I am part of that motion. In this stance, I am a solutionary dedicated to the culture of life.

That’s all I can give you because they want folks to buy the magazine. It’s bold to try to distribute cultural information without posting it on the web, and I support them. You can find the rest here:


Root Simple podcast

Also got the chance to talk with Erik Knutsen, co-author of The Urban Homestead and steward of the dynamic blog site Root Simple, about the work we’re up to with the 13Moon CoLab, Permaculture from the Inside Out. Erik and I have a lot of overlaps in our lives–from our commitment to urban homesteading, to our desire to spread the good word, and our constant inquiry into living the “good life” here at the end of the American empire. He’s funny and feeling-ful. We were joined by his partner Kelly Coyne, his partner in urban homesteading goodness, for a really nice talk about what we’re up to, what the movement’s up to, and how to get involved, wherever you are. Check it out.

Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

I got the opportunity to talk with Scott Mann, host of the Permaculture Podcast, about permaculture from the inside out, the connections between somatics and permaculture (inner repair, outer repair) and the work of accepting who we are and what our unique offering is in this time of the Great Turning. I am always psyched when a host says, “Wow, this conversation went in a direction I never would have expected for a conversation about permaculture.” Bringing together the realms of inner healing and outer land repair is territory ripe for exploration. Join us!

Sustainable World Radio podcast with Rachel Kaplan and Delia Carroll

Last week, my 13Moon CoLab collaborator Delia Carroll and I had the chance to talk with Jill Cloutier, sourthern California permaculturist and community organizer on the Sustainable World Radio show she has been hosting for some years.

Our conversation ranged from “permaculture from the inside out” to personal repair, to city repair, to urban and suburban permaculture strategies. Check it out!

City Repair in California

If you have not had the opportunity learn and play with Mark Lakeman of Portland’s City Repair, here’s an opportunity throughout California to learn from the City Repair instigator of wild goodness. Check it out and share it with your friends and neighbors. This is how streets and communities and cities get to change…

California Tour: March 15 – April 3, 2016!

This March and April, City Repair will hit the road for a three-week tour of California, spreading real world tools for building participatory culture and manifesting lasting change through physical interventions. Join us at one of our many events throughout the Golden State! Contact Kelley at for more information.

Tour Flyer web

Tue 3/15 – Davis, CA @ N Street Co-housing Common House - Fabulous Dinner and Mark Lakeman talk on Neighborhood Placemaking, 6:30pm-8:30pm

Wed 3/16 – San Francisco, CA @ Hayes Valley Art Works - Placemaking Storytelling: The Village Heart is Everywhere with Mark Lakeman, 1pm-5pm || Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainabie Living - PLACE Power, The Village Heart is Everywhere, evening storytelling and public presentation, 7pm-9:30pm

Thu 3/17 – Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainable Living - Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking ambassador training, 10am-5pm

Fri 3/18 – Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainable Living - Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking ambassador training, 10am-4pm || San Jose, CA @ Joyce Ellington Library - Creative Interventions in the Public Right-of-Way: A Workshop About Linking Art, Neighborhood Engagement & Traffic Calming Techniques, 7pm-9pm

Sat 3/19 – Bolinas, CA @ Regenerative Design Institute, Four Seasons Permaculture with Penny Livingston-Stark || Bolinas, CA @ Bolinas Commons - Placemaking Storytelling, 5pm-7pm

Sun 3/20 – Ojai, CA @ The Chaparral - Placemaking Storytelling, 6pm-9pm

Mon 3/21 – Ojai, CAPilot Program Intersection Repair, 10am-4pm

Tue 3/22 – Los Angeles, CA @ Holy Nativity Church, Placemaking with Mark Lakeman, 7pm-10pm

Wed 3/23 – Los Angeles, CA @ Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Intersection Repair and Dedication Ceremony, 10am-5pm

Thu 3/24 – San Diego, CA @ Emerald Village - An Evening with City Repair and Mark Lakeman: The Village Heart is Everywhere, 7pm-9:30pm

Fri 3/25 – Los Angeles, CA @ LA Ecovillage - Placemaking Storytelling, 7pm-9:30pm

Sat 3/26 – Los Angeles, CA @ LA Ecovillage - Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking training, 10am-5pm

Sun 3/27 – Los Angeles, CA @ LA Ecovillage Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking training, 10am-4pm

Mon 3/28 – Pasadena, CA @ The Shed - Placemaking Storytelling, 6:30pm-9:30pm

Tue 3/29 – Los Angeles, CA @ OTIS College of Design - Human Ecology class, 7pm-9:45pm

Wed 3/30 – Los Angeles, CA @ Full Circle Venice - The I.AM.LIFE Project hosts Mark Lakeman: An Evening of Connection and Community, 7pm-11pm

Thu 3/31 – San Luis Obispo, CA - Looking for collaborators!

Fri 4/1 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Downtown Santa Cruz - Village Building and Public Placemaking with Mark Lakeman, 1:00pm-6:00pm

Sat 4/2 – Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainable Living - Oakland Intersection Repair ceremony, 12pm

Sun 4/3 - Sebastopol, CA

A comfrey exchange

Had a nice visit from my fellow homesteader, Darshan Ahluwalla, yesterday morning. He was in search of comfrey to plant among his trees on his property in Butte County, CA. He wrote a nice blog post about our fruitful exchange.

Always feels good to have so much more than I need through no real work of my own, and to share it with others.  That’s one of the best things about the homesteading way — you plant a couple of plants, and years later, they make so many more plants that you can share them with your friends. Becoming a plant propagator is one of the surprising upsides of the homesteading way. Nature does its dance of fertility and when we participate in tending that cycle, everyone benefits.

Permaculture — Peace with Creation

An act of war brought me to permaculture. On September 11, 2001, I had been a mother for little more than three weeks. I was immersed in the care and feeding of my tiny, vulnerable, perfect baby girl. There was milk dripping from my breasts and I was tender in all ways.

As I sat and watched the towers fall, holding my baby in my arms, I knew that the world was going to change, and probably get worse. Motherhood being what it was, my central concern was with the health and safety of my baby, her care and feeding and continuity. What was it going to be?

The answer didn’t come immediately, but the war following the fall of the towers, and a move out of our city, led me circuitously back to the garden, back to re-skilling in the kitchen, back to worms and compost and the joy of co-creation with the earth.

A few years later, I trained in permaculture at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas. Penny Livingston-Stark, Lydia Neilsen and James Stark were my teachers. During the year I studied, the problems I saw all around me start shifting and morphing into solutions. Not enough water? Tap your greywater and divert it to the landscape. No food security? Grow it yourself. Fossil fuel energy ruining the globe? Tap into the power of the sun. And so many other practical, logical and accessible skills were revealed.

I found myself easily able to learn, master and apply these skills in the place where I live. Now these many years later, the permaculture way is just how I live. I feel that permaculture is a beautiful, evolving design science that teaches us peace with creation. Rather than thinking of the world as a resource base for my use and deployment, I am a steward of the land where I live (rented), the waters that I use (diminishing), the food that I grow (abundant), and the connection to earth energy (all around me.)

My daughter is 13 now, and I work as a permaculture educator and advocate, as well as a somatic psychotherapist. I see these paths as being the same—healing the multiple traumas of our violent and disconnected culture, on both the inner and outer levels. Permaculture has brought us a way of living in place, sharing our values and dreams with the people we care about, and a way of educating our daughter into a life in the earth. This has brought us a delightful posse of earth-loving creators, artists, farmers, and free folk we now call friends. We consider ourselves blessed by the bees and beets and buckets of water that surround us.

Permaculture creates peace because it is a hands-on, appropriate technology; an adaptable and flexible way to live within the limits and opportunities of our place. It teaches us, through ecological principles, to observe and interact with our world, and to take actions rooted in reality, not in some fantasy of domination or control.

Permaculture creates peace because it teaches us that we are both small and powerful, that our daily actions make a difference in changing the world where we live. Permaculture creates peace because it gives us a template for living in respectful relationship, not only with the animals and plants the surround us, but with the people with whom we share our home place.

I have found, paradoxically, that it is simpler to grow carrots than it is to get along with my neighbors. I don’t think I am alone in practices of polarization and projection that make it hard for us to view one another as allies. Permaculture has taught me how to do the right thing—use less, share more, slow down and listen, design from patterns to details. If peace is the pattern, the details must rest in how we act every day—with an open heart, or a closed mind. When operating from within the permaculture ethos, where we hold earth care, people care, and fair share as our guiding ethics, the open heart leads the way.

Permaculture helps us cultivate abundance where we live. This makes it possible to extend into the world in a spirit of enough-ness, offering generously and with gratitude. This cultivates inner peace, and the ripple effects of peace with all creation.

While it is true that world continues to turn to war, no matter how many times I turn my compost bin, I’ve also learned from permaculture to get right-sized—some of what is happening in our world is in my hands, but mostly, it’s in bigger hands than mine. Knowing that, I embody the permaculture maxim: “If the world is going to end tomorrow, I am going to plant a tree today.” This helps me live through some of the hardest passages of human aggression and cruelty, while cultivating a soil where something else can grow.

This fall I am honored to be offering a year-long permaculture design course with three other women than we call Permaculture from the Inside Out. My co-teaching team is called the 13Moon Collaborative, and we are Kyra Auerbach, Rachel Kaplan, Delia Carroll, and Cassandra Ferrera. Our course is an offering of the classical permaculture curriculum with the addition of a deep focus on the inner environments we inhabit. It is time that we compost consciousness toward peace, as readily as we compost our kitchen scraps. It is the mission of the 13Moon Collaborative to bring the body back into the center of the conversation about sustainability and community resilience. It is our contention that tending to the inner garden, while we tend to the outer landscapes we inhabit, will help us make wiser, more grounded and more appropriate choices with positive and peaceful effects in our world.

English: Permaculture Course Welcome

Permaculture from the Inside Out, 13 Saturdays, once a month, starting October 2014 and running through October 2015. $1200 early bird registration fee through September 27 (mention the Shift Network when you register). For more information and to register, go to, or We welcome you in this co-creative journey of growing our sense of peace with creation.


Youth Sue Government Over Climate Inaction

Now this is what I’m talking about — the youngest among us speaking truth to power. I loved this article, and this action. Blessings on all of these wise young people, fighting for their future.

Youth Climate Movement


the Buyerarchy of Needs









Practice Makes Perfect.

Urban Homesteading Gets the Thumbs Up

Climate Change Needs the Politics of the Impossible

We keep learning more about the catastrophe in front of us, but it isn’t helping us solve the problem.

It’s starting to feel like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could keep issuing its reports from here to eternity. The Fifth Assessment Report, released just in time to avoid April Fool’s Day, continues a steady trend: our knowledge is increasing, just about everything that matters is getting worse, and all we can realistically hope to do is soften the edges of a slow-moving catastrophe.This pessimism may be the most realistic view of the climate crisis. Politics is the art of the possible, and climate change may be impossible to prevent or even shift. That leaves us trying to blunt its impacts with seawalls and mass relocations, which look more and more like the realistic way forward. But this realism is also a hasty and cheery despair. It gives up too much too quickly. Sometimes politics is the art of changing what is possible. That deeper realism is part of the answer that climate change needs.But first, back to the Report. Once again, deepening paleo-ecology research, ever-more refined computer modeling, and incremental gains in courage led the IPCC to say that “we”—the Global Community of Very Cautious Knowers—are a little more certain about trends in global warming, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification. The Report predicts more floods in temperate places like Europe and most of the U.S., more droughts near the Equator, with overall food production taking a nasty hit.

Everything that is already hard is going to get harder. Ecological zones will be reshuffled. With many species already in danger of extinction and conservation efforts focused on preserving habitat, lots of that hard-won habitat is going to be irrelevant—too warm, too dry, too something—as suitable habitat shifts faster than species can travel. Fisheries, already stressed by pollution and over-harvesting, will now confront warming and acidification. Droughts and food shocks may intensify political and military conflict: more resource wars, more grain-price revolutions.

Being poor, in particular, gets worse as climate changes.  Nature has always been hardest on the poor, because infrastructure, transport, medicine, and the rest of our capital-intensive technologies are the key ways we tame her violence.  To be poor—for an individual, and even more for a country—is to be vulnerable to the whims of the natural world.  Recall the very worst of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the poorest parts of New Orleans in 2005 and then project those onto Bangladesh, a country of 155 million—almost half as large as the population of the US.

There’s lots of uncertainty about details—as the Report itself painstakingly documents; but most people not in denial have known the broad outlines of this picture for well over a decade.  It was 1989—when the Berlin Wall came down—writer Bill McKibben was already announcing “the end of nature” in the era of climate change.  But with every IPCC report, the optimistic scenario, where “the world” slashes greenhouse gases and stabilizes climate change, feels more like a weak deus ex machina.  Meanwhile, the drastic scenario—where everything accelerates, the Greenland ice cap melts sometime in the next century, sea levels rise 20 feet or more in our grandchildren’s lifetimes, and the Gulf Stream and the Amazonian forests both consider giving up the ghost—that scenario feels more and more like a weather forecast: unseasonably warm this weekend with a growing chance of apocalypse by Sunday evening.

But “apocalypse” is probably exactly wrong, even though floods, droughts, and storms are just the kind of thing that one might expect would presage an apocalypse.  Instead, living in a climate-changed world is becoming a post-normal normal, a chronic crisis.

The IPCC Report reflects this, spending four chapters on “adaptation” to climate change. Already, commentators are celebrating the move to adaptation as a win for gritty practicality over empty idealism, local and private efforts over “grand international declarations.”  Of course it’s true that we need adaptation, especially for the poor regions that are the most vulnerable and can’t wait while the waters rise.  But pretending that giving up on big climate action means a victory is nothing but rationalizing defeat.

This passivity is tempting because political action has done so little and doesn’t seem likely to do much about climate, and doesn’t exactly look poised to do more that is more than symbolic. Because climate change is distributed around the world and has a very long lag time, whatever we do about it here and now mostly helps faraway and future people. So it’s very tempting to come up with excuses for doing nothing, or just enough to feel righteous about what you’ve done.

Sure enough, in international negotiations, the U.S. has long refused to do anything meaningful until China and India “did their share,” while those countries answered that the U.S. had added more than its share to the problem and needed to lead in paying for the solution.  At all scales, down to the nation and even the individual, the same puffed-up hemming and hawing works out nicely for the living—who enjoy our energy-intensive lives now—and badly for the future.

Ordinary politics, with its self-interested deal-making just barely hidden under high talk, is a lousy tool for global problems that play out over centuries and would require the living generation to do something costly and inconvenient.  And there is not much that is more costly and inconvenient than retooling your infrastructure, from energy to transport to manufacturing, when that infrastructure is where we all live.

That leaves us with, basically, two ways out. One is extraordinary technology: either a silver bullet to produce cheap, renewable energy, or a reliable geo-engineering technique to adjust the global atmosphere-temperature-weather system directly. Either might happen—the first likely will, maybe too late to prevent permanent crisis; but waiting on clean energy is a very big risk, and geo-engineering brings huge risks of its own, from getting only half the problem to ending up making the system even more unstable. The “simplest” geo-engineering proposal is to bounce a bunch of earth-warming sunlight back into space by launching mirrors or particles into the upper atmosphere; but (1) it’s a half-measure, since the oceans would continue acidifying, stressing and maybe destroying many marine life forms and disrupting other global processes; and (2) if anything ever happened to the mirrors, sunlight would pour in and our carbon-enriched atmosphere would start to warm up like an oven.

The other way out is extraordinary politics: politics that goes beyond the usual interest-swapping and sets new commitments for the country and the world.  This, admittedly, is a desperate measure.  It is the last thing you want to rely on—other than, possibly, launching mirrors into space to adjust the planet’s atmosphere.  These, however, are desperate times, at least where the global climate is concerned.

One reason for hopefulness, even for measured optimism, is something our hyper-knowing, reflexively cynical political culture trains us to forget: extraordinary politics is a real thing, not just an idle wish.

Consider the end of slavery—not in the U.S., but in the British Empire, which abolished the practice thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation, by an act of Parliament, with compensation to slaveholders.  The economic cost was huge.  For decades, historians assumed it must have been a subterfuge for someone’s economic benefit—otherwise, how would such a thing be possible?  But the historians’ view these days is that British emancipation was, in fact, a wildly expensive and disruptive moral commitment, executed through extraordinary politics.  The powerful thing about this example is its scale: the global economy of the British Empire was nearly as entwined with slavery as ours is with the fossil-fuel economy.  The change wasn’t just costly: it pulled some institutions up by their roots.  If that never happened, we’d really be out of reasons for hope on climate change.  But sometimes it does.

We should learn to look at climate change simultaneously through two very different lenses.  Keep one eye on the scientists’ reports, with their steady accumulation of reasons to worry, and the Silicon Valley technologists’ innovations, with their promise of landing on an extraordinary technology.  But cast the other on the activist kids who don’t know enough to realize they can’t win—the ones getting arrested outside the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and pressing universities and pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, as if Exxon were R.J. Reynolds, or Apartheid South Africa.  And don’t forget the people who are experimenting with low-carbon living in their “transition town” projects, trying to recast energy sources and other infrastructure in a less carbon-intensive form.

It’s easy—ridiculously easy—to show that the activists shouldn’t expect to win, and that whatever they did succeed in doing wouldn’t be enough to stop this massive global problem.  But that is true at the beginning of every episode of extraordinary politics.  That why histories of abolition, the civil rights movement, even environmentalism, don’t begin with people who are powerful, realistic, or even normal.  They begin with people who don’t know better, and who find the world they are born into intolerable.

That is key, because if we end up tolerating a climate-changed world as the new normal, then it probably will last forever—or as long as anyone is around to care about it.

Our current normal is built out of principles that used to be considered impossible—gender equality, racial equality, democracy—and became common sense long after some people were too unrealistic to give up on them.  Once they win, these principles get absorbed into common sense—and, of course, get betrayed left and right, like any civic piety.  But a world where they are elements of common sense is still vastly different from one where most people accept that they are impossible.

We sort of know this about human freedom and equality, even if we tend to forget it in practice.  But environmental issues tend to get cast as technical problems for scientists and bureaucrats, or as hopelessly politically divided between liberal greens and conservative climate-skeptics.  But that is only half the picture.  Historically, environmental attitudes have changed almost as dramatically as attitudes around gender and sexuality: Americans used to hate wilderness, love to see a forest burn, and wage war on wolves and other large predators.  Even more basically, they had no conception of the global web of life that we call ecology, or just “the environment,.”  A series of political movements and cultural revolutions changed this, beginning as far back as the nineteenth century.  Today’s climate activists are aiming at the same kind of change: to help see, and feel, a disrupted and dangerous world as their problem, their responsibility, something they love enough not to give up on it.

So the age of climate change doesn’t just need climate scientists, or even technologists, and adaptation engineers.  They are essential, but if we just rely on them, we’re likely to drift further into passivity and pessimism.  We also need, in incremental and experimental ways, to keep building up a real politics of climate change.  That politics will be both environmentalist and human-oriented, because there’s no separating the two in the age of climate change.  It will have to ask how the peoples of the world are going to live together and share its benefits and dangers, and also how we are going to use, preserve, and transform the world itself.  Braiding together human rights and distributive justice with environmental ethics and the human relation to the natural world isn’t just a nice-sounding, if daunting idea.  It’s quite simply the only way forward.

Any answers that we succeed in giving these questions will transform us as earlier extraordinary politics changed people: those who ask the question are no longer the same once they givereach an answer. That transformation, to a culture and economy that could change the trajectory of climate change, is exactly what seems impossible now. And that is why everyone should be paying respectful attention to the activists who refuse to believe in impossibility, and even more to the parts of ourselves that refuse to believe it, too. This isn’t idealism. It’s a higher realism, and should be scheming a little impossibility of our own.

reposted from the Daily Beast: 4/6/14 Jedediah Purdy: