born to run
desert dance party pyramid setup
Jack Thrift and his gal Mel.
Jan “Runs with the Goats”
Andrew thumbs up on heavy machinery. Earth movers in the hands of a skilled operator can dramatically benefit the health of the landscape by terraforming the land to catch rain water and nutrients for plants to thrive.
Tea Party at Quail Springs.
Lindsay Allen fractal silhouette
Jack Thrift and Mel taking a stroll. The goats are able to convert the calories of the brittle brush into milk for the Quail Springs inhabitants.
Highway 33 snaked through crenulations on the Nordhoff Ridge. It was autumn and golden aspen dotted the evergreen landscape of the Sespe Wilderness.
”This place could easily pass for a canyon in the Eastern Sierra,” I said to Lex who was riding shotgun.
I met Lex on a Reef photo shoot in Tahiti a few months back. She’s a stylist and fashion blogger. A few weeks earlier we’d caught up at a coffee shop in LA and talked about our complicated relationship with social media. I suggested she come take a Permaculture Course with me to clear her head.
Permaculture was founded in the 70’s by Australians Bill Mollison and Dave Holmgren. Permaculture is one of those simple concepts that’s hard to explain simply. It’s basically a design science seeking to solve our current environmental and social problems by working with nature instead of against it. I was skeptical at first, the word “Permaculture” sounded esoteric and cultish. Last spring however I had the opportunity to interview Geoff Lawton in Australia, he trained under co-founder Mollison for decades and has become the foremost Permaculture teacher in the world. I was amazed by his ability to articulate an alternative view of the future which side-stepped much of the grim environmental prophecies cautioned by scientists and the mainstream media.
Permaculture is taught in two-week intensives called PDC’s (Permaculture Design Courses). I’d promised myself long ago I’d take one, and after three years of signing up and canceling, I was finally on my way.
We got our first glimpse of the dry Cuyama Valley nestled in a rain shadow behind Santa Barbara’s coastal mountain range. After a windy decent we were surrounded by tractor-groomed dirt. The landscape was brittle. Sparse patches of green offered the only evidence that the fields were still in production. A nearby Pistachio farm served as the rendezvous point for our group of drop-outs, documentarians, preppers, self-help gurus, retirees and students. Together we drove single file through a series of locked gates to a high desert valley. Beyond a kink in the canyon, the white canvas yurts of “Quail Springs Learning Oasis” were visible amongst the chaparral.
Lex (right) with Quail Springs matriarch Jan Smith
Filtering into the compound past a humble sunken garden, we congregated into a large circle of chairs. The compact sectors of gardens and communal spaces were a stark contrast to the endless dirt fields we first encountered on our drove. Everything seemed to have an immediate purpose that could be enjoyed with the hands. There were probably ten to fifteen people who worked here full time mixing with the forty of us who had come to learn how to live closer to the land.
The Quail Springs permaculture school was really a fledgling off-the-grid town. All of the dwellings were either yurt tents or earthen structures made of clay and straw. Mornings started early with a breakfast bell ringing across the canyon to my van and the frost covered student tents. Everyone wrestled into the layers of clothing they would shed as the temperature rose throughout the day. After breakfasts of eggs, potatoes and veggies some of us practiced handstands before entering the classroom yurt. The next 8 hours were spent listening to lectures and taking notes as teachers tried to explain a mix of anthropology, environmentalism, landscape design, agriculture and philosophy.
We learned about trees and how they act as ponds on the earth, pumping and catching water from above and below to hold at the surface for all of life to thrive. We learned about mushrooms and their ability to bio-remediate (or nullify) the nastiest of man’s pollution. We learned about soils and their bacteria’s ability to transform all death into life. We learned that our poop is actually valuable. We learned about weeds and their deep roots which pull nutrients from the depths to repair damaged landscapes.
It became painfully obvious that the very things which elegantly provide the miracles of life have systematically been villainized by our culture. Their bounty deemed dirty in the face of more civilized solutions. The flawless order forming out of what once seemed like chaos was overwhelming. Like a father and mother I’d never had holding my hand whispering “I’m here, I’ve always been here. You are not alone.”
Everything perplexing about life up until that point began to make sense. The trappings of our collective delusion became painfully obvious.
Author Don Miguel Ruiz likens our current state to a dream world adrift unconnected to our true reality. We’ve creating surrogate risks of failure and shame to replace the lions, tigers and bears we’ve long since hunted into submission. Where abundance is now paper instead of fertility, strength is now muscle instead of resiliency and power is now ownership instead of wisdom.
RV imitates life