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Permaculture: A Designers' Manual - Chapter 2 CONCEPTS AND THEMES IN DESIGN  RSS feed

 
Burra Maluca
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Chapter 2 CONCEPTS AND THEMES IN DESIGN

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Science and the thousand names of God
2.3 Applying laws and principles to design
2.4 Resources
2.5 Yields
2.6 Cycles: a niche in time
2.7 Pyramids, food webs, growth and vegetarianism
2.8 Complexity and connections
2.9 Order or chaos
2.10 Permitted and forced functions
2.11 Diversity
2.12 Stability
2.13 Time and yield
2.14 Principle summary
2.15 References
 
Ann Torrence
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Three thoughts from chapter 2
-------
Mollison's woo-woo factor nearly gives me heartburn, and I'm already on the side of the converted. I just about threw the book across the room with the aside on training brain surgeons begets more brain surgery. I can't imagine how my friends coming from a more conservative perspective would read the first 15 pages. So many people come to permaculture looking for solutions to a myriad of problems, I wonder how many get so turned off at the Mollisonian philosophy that they throw out the baby with the bathwater. It would be an interesting exercise to do a version of Jefferson's Bible, editing out the amateur theology and tribal romanticism and see if the conceptual framework is still sound. I would be shocked if it weren't; the fact that permaculture solutions have a broad appeal to people who would violently disagree on most of their world view suggests it is a more universal approach than Mollison's philosopical underpinnings might first suggest. So I will read these first two chapters as a historical description of how Bill got to his framework, but not necessarily as a document of the true faith I must adopt to use the tools he is going to lay out eventually. Soon, I hope.


On page 15 we (finally) start to go beyond Bill's axioms and theory, "Although these principles are basic and inescapable, what we as designers have to deal with is survival on a particular site, here and now."
Here's a sign of hope on page 18, "Some biologists may define yield or production in more narrow terms, accepting that a forest, lake or crop has a finite upper limit of surplus due to substrate conditions and available energy. We do not have to accept this, as it is a passive approach, inapplicable to active and conscious design or active management." I'm ready to start on the here and now, any time.

-------
It might not be a crime to plant trees in rows.
"Order and harmony produce energy for other uses. Disorder consumes energy for no useful end." (page 31) Thoughtfully designed plantings to reduce wasted energy might mean some things should be planted in rows after all, if the scale of the project warrants. One measure by which I can assess my guild design is this criteria: is there more energy in maintaining the order, or harvesting the yields in a more "seemingly-wild" system? Maybe I put rows on contour, for example, concentrating my support species in between trees. "Order is found in things working beneficially together." [Mollison's emphasis]. One of the things working beneficially in the system is me and I should include access, comfort and safety in my design.

-------
Did you wonder who was Birch, referenced as the source of the "Six Principles of Natural Systems?" Professor Louis Charles Birch (19-18-2009), an Australian population geneticist and theologian. I found an interesting interview with him on the Australian Academia of Science website.

edited for punctuation
 
Cj Sloane
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It is alarming that in western society no popular body of directives has arisen to replace the injunctions of tribal taboo and myth.


The "popular body" handing out directives is apparently going to be the dreaded media.

Joseph Campbell said society was changing too quickly for new "directives" or taboos to be established. He gets into a lovely analysis of Stars Wars. My favorite lesson isn't in the clip below but it was about the danger of technology. When Darth Vader becomes more machine then man he stops becoming a man (and looks like a worm instead of a man when his helmet is removed).




The clip disappeared! Here's a Link
 
Cj Sloane
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Ann Torrence wrote: I just about threw the book across the room with the aside on training brain surgeons begets more brain surgery.


I wonder why that bothers you, it's just an observation?
To me permaculture is made up of equal parts:
Observation
Analysis
Directives to act

So perhaps the observation about more brain surgeons begetting more brain surgery could be yield an analysis like:
more permaculturalists begets more land healed (permified).

And then the directive becomes:
let's train more permaculturalists
or as Paul might say
lets infect more brains.
 
Eva Taylor
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I'm enjoying the woo. This was first published in 88 hot on the heels of free love and flower power, how could he keep out the woo? I hear the frustration but I think the more people get into observing and interacting with natural systems the more the woo transforms in to woohoo! Heh heh...


About 5 paragraphs into 2.2 he mentions the economy of wild animals vs domestic, which got me thinking about the amount of time that is spent in a tree stand hunting, and how it would force me to just sit for hours observing the wild parts of my property, and the habits of the wildlife in it. My wish is to have gardens with no fencing, to be able to harvest before the animals do or discover what time they are more likely to invade, and intervene somehow. I've noticed that deer don't bother with my flowers till mid summer if its dry or late summer if its wet. And the ground hogs don't invade if thier numbers are kept in check. Successful hunters get to know the habits of their prey, be it tomatoes or deer...



So often we reach out to help, intervening before the more natural and sometimes more efficient processes have a chance to jump in, or without looking to see what the cause is. I think this is his point with the brain surgeon thing. That and the whole give a man a fish,feed him for a day, teach him how and feed him for a lifetime...
Or maybe my mind wanders too much when I read....
 
Desirea Holton
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Personally, I've come to view the "woo" as a critical thinking/ comprehension test. Am I really reading or just looking at the words in sequence? Is he talking about permaculture or waxing all hippie-philosophical? So far being able to parse what from what has helped keep me engaged. Books this info-rich tend to throw me off. If it wasn't for this set up online I never would have tried it. This foundational stuff is pretty widely applicable anyhow, so a little venture into the weeds is forgivable. That part about "beneficial authority" called out to me especially. I've been unschooling my kids for about a year now and creating the "self-managed system" is a big part of my personal rubric there. There are some other nice quote nuggets in the chapter, too. Like "the problem is the solution" or " when you throw nature out the window she comes back in the door with a pitchfork". And "everything gardens." I liked that one. Its practically tattoo worthy.
 
Eva Taylor
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Desirea Holton wrote: "everything gardens." I liked that one. Its practically tattoo worthy.


That's just so right on...
 
Peter Ellis
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(this is my third attempt to respond in this thread. Yesterday my iPad decided to ditch more than half my post as I was composing it, this morning my computer dumped the entire post as I was writing it. Hoping third time is the charm)

Ann, I think you and I use "woo-woo" in different ways. Would you mind explaining your usage, so I can better understand your point?

On the brain surgeons thing - it brings to mind a couple of things for me. The old adage "if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" and the example of for-profit prisons. They create a market for prison inmates. And a Pennsylvania judge was recently convicted on charges related to selling people to those prisons. That market, artificially created by the introduction of commercial prisons, is actually active.

I think it is entirely true that more brain surgeons leads to more brain surgery - although it does not inherently mean that unnecessary brain surgery is being done. As with all sorts of natural cycles, there's a boom and bust aspect to it. As long as there is demand for brain surgeons, they will keep training more, but when the market gets filled, the ecological niche is fully occupied, there's no room for more and they stop being trained. Further along, there will be a demand again, as many of those who were filling the niche fall out one way or another and the need for more arises.

On the pithy quotes element: I can see simple hand made wooden signs spread about a permaculture design with appropriate little Mollisonisms. Could be fun, and good for teaching/reminding people about what is happening at a spot.

 
Matu Collins
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"Everything gardens" really struck me too. A woodchuck moved in under my hugelbeet this summer. He really moved a lot of earth. As he was eating a lot of my growies, I imagine he was pooping quite a bit as well. Moving nutrients around... I was glad to have read the thread about the effects of gopher burrows in this fellow's garden before I saw the big hole that woodchuck dug under my big healthy squash.

I now have a really clear understanding of the concept of entropy and where it affects my life. It's the opposite of catch and store resources. The plastic packaging that food comes in bugs me to throw away, yet it's useless to me. It goes to the landfill. Incidentally, the highest point in Rhode Island is the landfill, not a hill or mountain- ew! I wonder if we will ever turn to the landfill as a source of energy. I know there is some methane caught and used in some places but I'm talking about even the plastic food packages. Until then- entropy.

Also, I am thinking of human ideas and cooperation as a really valuable resource. That last chapter's discussion of the mechanics of working together has me thinking. Good will is a resource to be caught and stored. Sort of like what they call a politician's "political capital" I don't bother with internet discussions anywhere but permies, pretty much, because the negativity and conflict drains away my interest. Entropy. That interest and enthusiasm disappears into the universe, never to be used again. One year after we had had a CSA for a couple of years we tried having a community garden instead. Our plan was to have it like a CSA, except folks would only put forth a small amount of cash for seeds/tools/etc and the work would be shared amongst us all. A shift in the social network caused a rift, and paired with the busyness that effects everyone through the summer more than they think it's going to in the spring when seed dreams are bright... the human capital dwindled. People didn't show up like they said they would, but here's the silly thing- they did show up a lot, and we had so much food, but guilt kept them from picking up the food. Guilt caused a social vacuum into which some community feelings disappeared. If people had paid more money in the upfront, we'd have had more participation! Well, there's also the idea that people value free things less, but that is another discussion. There are many factors that can suck the life out of things and there are some that can store it. Thinking of ways to keep people enthusiastic and involved, ways to get them to bring their friends and their kids, that is valuable.
 
Eva Taylor
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I think sometimes we don't relax enough, trust that what comes will be enough. That there will be a surplus- of whatever help that shows up being enough, that even if you only showed up to work the garden once it was plenty, that people's good will is not reliant upon your amount of participation. I find that the things that seem require the most attention to detail, and physical input in organizing aren't allways necessary with groups of people as long as you don't get attached to any particular process of how the particular thing gets done.
I did my wedding this way, it was the best I could have wished for! There was no stress partly because I kept slack in the reins from the start, friends showed up at seemingly perfect times to add something to the venue. This wedding was held pot luck with a pig roasted on scene.
I have learned that proper facilitation, with the right amount of expectation while having faith things will progress as they should pans out more often than not.
Sounds woopy I know but it does seem to work. I think it's a unwritten law of natural systems, no real organizer is necessary just a need presented and space to recieve the thing needed.
Woowooowooowooo....
 
Ann Torrence
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CJ Verde wrote:I wonder why that bothers you, it's just an observation?

I don't see that remark as simply an observation that can be taken at face value, but a judgement about cause and effect that must be evaluated by the reader. I don't believe it to be true or particularly relevant. Overall these first two chapters are a challenging read, as I stop and ask, "do I really believe that?" at regular intervals. For example, his argument against the scientific method in biology is simply wrong, in my view. The observer effect is well understood in both physics and biology, but that doesn't mean you can't use the scientific method to study biological systems, you just account for it, like in the Wikipedia example that you can't measure tire pressure without letting some air out. He's right in that there are other methods of learning and understanding, but he carries it to far into woowooland.
Desirea Holton wrote:Personally, I've come to view the "woo" as a critical thinking/ comprehension test. Am I really reading or just looking at the words in sequence? Is he talking about permaculture or waxing all hippie-philosophical? So far being able to parse what from what has helped keep me engaged.

Thanks, Desirea, that helped a lot, as did reflecting on Peter's question and Eva's reminder that this is a document of its time. Many paths up the mountain, right? The adventures into New Earthyisms are part of the story of Mollison's trailblazing. I just am more interested in the trail markers he left than the philosophical ramblings of why he made the journey. Make no mistake, I want up the same mountain; but I don't have to follow his every footstep.
 
Matu Collins
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I'm finding it really readable, I wonder what's wrong with me!

These chapters at times do read a lot more like a personal manifesto or a sermon than a textbook.

That bit about women falling on him- did he mean women throwing themselves at him or women falling from the sky? I don't get it.

"The bishop and the goose" is a good name for a business, or an album.
 
benjamim fontes
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Eva Taylor wrote: I think the more people get into observing and interacting with natural systems the more the woo transforms in to woohoo! Heh heh...

We have to pay atention to what is "observing". In "observation" there are two things that go very quickly in our brain: perception and conceptualisation. That explains why we sometimes see what we want to see. Therefore some people see weeds as bad plants. Why are they bad plants? We have to see that sometimes there can be good, sometimes there can be nothing but weeds, bad plants. We have to see it in context and pay a lot of atention to our way of thinking.
North Portugal
Benjamim Fontes
 
benjamim fontes
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Matu Collins wrote:I'm finding it really readable, ...!

Me too. And I fint the book, the chapter two not woo.
North Portugal
Benjamim Fontes
 
Jami Gaither
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Eva Taylor wrote:I think sometimes we don't relax enough, trust that what comes will be enough. ...
I have learned that proper facilitation, with the right amount of expectation while having faith things will progress as they should pans out more often than not.
Sounds woopy I know but it does seem to work. I think it's a unwritten law of natural systems, no real organizer is necessary just a need presented and space to recieve the thing needed.
Woowooowooowooo....

I agree. I am learning to trust as more miracles happen to me. I believe the key is putting out the desire and doing what you can, sometimes in unexpected ways.

I had a plan to make my mother a T-shirt quilt for Xmas but hadn't enough time. When she visited Xmas week, she brought a bunch of cut-up T-shirts she had partially prepared at home but wasn't sure how to put them together. We finalized the preparation and sewed them together into a quilt top and partially finished quilt back... then she left for San Diego to visit her sister. With the snow storm this past weekend, I was able to finish the quilt back, bind and quilt the project and now it sits awaiting her return. I gave thanks up to the universe as I sat there sewing and realizing my wish had come true, just not as originally envisioned. It is woo woo indeed... and I love it, more every day.

My husband and I have done lots of small and large projects over the years to prepare to have a permaculture homestead in MN. This year looks like we will be able to move and start our gardens. I'm doing this work now, along with an online PDC course (he is already certified) and I can see this will help our success down the road. I keep telling the universe what I desire and, Mother Nature willing, it will come to me.
 
Emily Aaston
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I have really been appreciating all of the insight! This is my first time reading "The Big Black Book", and am grateful to be reading it with so many fine folks. I am having a hard time keeping up with all of the comments, but am thankful that I'll be able to access these threads into the future as well.

I have also felt that I've needed to wade through a little bit of the "woowoo" but have found a great deal of truth, and have been underlining a lot of sentences in this chapter.

At the very beginning of Chapter 2, Bill says:

"When we left tribal life we left with it all guides to sensible behaviour in the natural world, of which we are part and in which we live and die."

This reminded me of Paul's "HUSP" story, and the desire to return to a more natural, "closer to the earth", way of living. I feel much of permaculture is an archaeology of the ways things were done before the industrial revolution. A return to simplicity, of commonsense. His list in 2.2 tells us to take the time to be still, slow down, make observations, and use our critical thinking skills to come up with solutions.

I haven't finished the chapter yet, but have been encouraged by the possibilities as a "designer"
 
Peter Ellis
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Jami, if you are not familiar with Goethe, you might want to look at some of his writings. Very big on the idea that if you make the leap, the world will hold you up. And don't forget the saying "fortune vapors the bold". Lots of people have found that by making a strong effort, they attract support.

I do not think it is woo-woo at all.
 
Stuart Davis
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I appreciated the material related to the “Law of return”. This is the first law of an “agrarian” economic point of view proposed by Wendell Berry in an outstanding essay Money Versus Goods in the book What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth. This essay would be a good resource for an intentional community or any community to reference while working to establish a stable economic foundation.

In a related matter, Mollison suggests that well functioning living systems push against the law of entropy. I couldn’t help but think how that must be true in a respect to the mountains in California in which I live. The salmon runs that once existed here must have contributed immensely to the fertility and biomass of these mountains (i.e. bringing the fertility back from the sea where it was lost). Ignorance and bad practices resulted in a loss of this free service. I don’t usually focus on the past and what was lost but more of what we can do moving forward, the permaculture way, but could not help but make this observation. Perhaps the salmon will run again someday. People are helping it happen in other places by removal of dam obstructions, etc..

It was timely to read this chapter with the vegetarian vs. omnivore subject matter given the latest podcasts done by Paul W. and permie friends. For me, Michael Pollan does a great job of promoting the omnivore philosophy in chapter 17 of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Also, permies has done a great job of promoting humane animal processing methods (i.e. as an example, the respectful chicken harvest video).
 
wayne stephen
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I don't read any woo or woo-woo in this chapter . I have not finished yet so maybe I'll get to it . The opening paragraphs are an astute observation of the Western minds disconnect from nature . It's true that our "mythology" , science , is ethically neutral . We have learned to chemically grow corn in soilless clay but are dazzled by news reports of tylenol showing up in the tissues of fish . "How did that happen , Oh My God !" I don't hear Mollison telling us to adopt ancient belief systems or to create new animistic ones "Go and pray to the Bog Monster who dwells in your pond and your food forest will flourish !" I hear him saying that we are an inseperable part of the earth , we have positive and negative effects on our ecosystem , and that our science needs to integrate lessons learned into its mythology. "Whatever we take we must return" is very pragmatic.
The comment on brain surgeons can be backed by data . A fairly recent study revealed that to be true . Doctors from many specialty fields and also general practioners were given identical case studies of sick individuals . They were asked to prescribe a treatment for these individuals based on the data given . The general practioners overwhelmingly prescribed medication and the surgeons prescribed surgery as the only option. Same cases , biased opinions .
 
John Polk
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When I look at the 'woo-woo factor', I have to think of the era the 1st edition was published ('88) and Mollison's age/history.
The following year, he released a documentary film which doesn't have the woo-woo, but is extremely 'camp'.

Personally, I believe that before continuing any further into the book (or any permaculture project, for that matter), one should watch the video. It gives great insight to who Bill is, and to what he is trying to accomplish.

In Grave Danger Of Falling Food





 
wayne stephen
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The Bishop and the Goose . Here is a link that tells a folk tale which might be the literary root of that phrase . Includes a recipe [ for a hangover } :

http://soupsong.com/znov02.html

Chapter 2.6 Cycles : A Niche in Time - I think about ages when I read this , not just seasons . As in the " Age of the Dinosaur " . We are certainly in the "Age of Homosapien" . 100,000 years ? This age has had incrementally deleterious effects on the planet . So , we are in it for the long haul I hope .

It is quite common in the writings of ecologists and ethicists from the 1960s-1980s to quote Native Peoples and Taoists . I have a book on Arboriculture that quotes Chief Seattle . A quote I believe I have seen on a few signatures here . This probably is due to a lack of ethical philosophy in our own culture. So , when we want to change our ways we seek moral guidance elsewhere .

One more from Chief Seattle :

“When the Earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear, when that happens, The Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them.”
 
Jami Gaither
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John Polk wrote:When I look at the 'woo-woo factor', I have to think of the era the 1st edition was published ('88) and Mollison's age/history.
The following year, he released a documentary film which doesn't have the woo-woo, but is extremely 'camp'.

This was a good look at what can be done and an insight into Bill, I agree. His sense of humor comes through a bit and does so much more in the book, though at times I think it can be misread or missed. I especially likes the Permarap at ~37 min... pretty cutting edge for 1989!

Watching him in his relatively young forest garden reminded me so much of Keith Johnson's place in Bloomington. What he and Peter Bane are doing is amazing and seeing that example opens your eyes to what gardening should really be. I believe that was the day I decided this could work and I was ready to convert to the church of Permaculture.

I'm not sure where Bill's property is in Australia or whether it's still maintained as a permaculture site but, if so, I'd be interested in knowing how it's fared through the recent weather disruptions of the last few years. If anyone knows, please share.

Regarding my read of Chapter 2, I find it a bit wordy (part of the woo woo) with extra input that is sometimes useful to make the point but sometimes can be a bit over the top. The comment most disturbing so far was on the fear of women falling on him which can be funny if I don't take myself so seriously but can also create tension and distance if read with a sensitivity created by past sexual dysfunction (rape, harassment, discrimination). Wouldn't have been as funny if he'd said "people" falling on him but also wouldn't have created the discomfort around the sexual nature of the comment. I find that he rambles or uses long winded sentences at times, but this may be a part of the culture in which he was raised, thus not familiar to me. I also find the verbiage to be a bit jumpy in places ~ Bill seems to veer off topic quite a bit and then work back around to it. It makes the reading a bit cumbersome at times.

On the positive side, there is a lot of good information and I am glad to be picking up the pieces I like and feel are relevant to me. The information is presented simply and the Figures and examples are good supplements. My book if filling with tiny stickers on paragraphs or Figures that I want to highlight. I know I won't have a true understanding until I'm on my property experiencing my local flora and fauna and growing my plants in a food forest but I'm content knowing that this ground work is going to give a good foundation of understanding I can apply at that point. I can see the pieces falling together with each new section. I also have a copy of the slimmer "Introduction to Permaculture" which I will be comparing along the way to myself to see if this is a good alternative to the larger text of the Design Manual.

On whether this information rings true today, I believe it has retained its relevance. There are some figures quoted ("$120 per stock" in section 2.5) that may be dated but his references are made in context that allows one to understand the concept even if specific figures are out=of-date. I believe that much of the concerns of his time are still happening today, in many cases to a greater degree, so in places he may seem less dramatic and extremist than he would have in the late 80's.
 
wayne stephen
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I understood Mollisons confession of "Gynekinetophobia" as absurdist humor . A Woody Allenish admission of a weird neurosis to counterpoint the more destructive neurotic tendencies of modern times . There are many more dry Billisms to come , I'm sure . I live in a very rural community and even here people are afraid of every harmless spider in their homes . I'm very happy to have found a community of people who actually contemplate realistically the possibilty of raising and eating guinea pigs . I thank the universe for you all .
What I am reading in this chapter is less woo than cutting edge ecology science . The part of biology that studies living systems as opposed to individual cells or single reaction / interactions under a microscope . This is why ecology is also considered woo by hard scientists too . In the early days of ecology they coined the term "balance of nature" to describe the food webs drive to maintain stability. { Fairfield ' Our Plundered Planet } . Later , Stephen Jay Gould and those doing computer modeling of food webs discovered the effects of chaos and catastrophic events had more of an effect on evolution than thought before . The language these folks use to describe ecological and evolutionary processes sounds pseudomystical at times :

" Ecosystems are in a constant state of turmoil , both in space and time , and at any point some populations will be in decline while others may booming . And constant change is vital as an engine of species diversity . Conservationists should spend less time worrying about the persistence of particular plant or animal species and begin to think instead about maintaining the nature and diversity of ecosystem processes ." - Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin " The Sixth Extiction "

A little of Mollisons bio from the Tagari web site :

"Bill joined the CSIRO (Wildlife Survey Section) in 1954 and for the next nine years worked in many remote locations in Australia as a biologist doing field work on rabbits, locusts, muttonbirds, and forest regeneration problems with marsupials. In 1963 he spent a year at the Tasmanian Museum in curatorial duties, then returned to field work with the Inland Fisheries Commission surveying the macrofauna of inland waters and estuaries, recording food chains and water conditions in all the rivers and lagoons of Tasmania.
Returning to studies in 1966, he lived on his wits running cattle, security bouncing at dances, shark fishing, and teaching part-time at an exclusive girls' school. Upon receiving his degree in bio-geography, he was appointed to the University of Tasmania where he later developed the unit of Environmental Psychology. During his university period (which lasted for 10 years), Bill independently researched and published a three-volume treatise on the history and genealogies of the descendants of the Tasmanian aborigines. "

So , I am hearing more of the lingo from these soft science fields in The Big Black Book than I am of any new age jibberish . Obviously Mollisons background in soft science and bouncing drunks prepared him to take on the corrupt military industrial complex . I also believe he tried to put this soft science knowledge into laymens terms . He mentions the works of Odum and Watts in chapter one . Going to go to the library after this book club feat and check them out .

 
Matu Collins
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His reverence for the elegance of systems is really compelling for me. I've been fantasizing about creating a religion with this at its foundation. Doesn't matter if God created or if it just happened that way, the cycles, the patterns, the microcosm, the macrocosm, ecology... it's worth reverence.

I wonder what tel jetson would think.

Imagine my delight when I saw the section header "the thousand names of God"! Not what I was expecting.

You could easily join this religion and be a member of another religion at the same time. I've been toying with all sorts of names for this for a while. Fun and funny. Compostist doesn't quite cover it. Ecologist is taken and doesn't quite cover it either. Hmm, it's a reverence for all of creation, but creationist isn't quite right either...

 
wayne stephen
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I am a Born Again Neo-Pagan Comedian !
 
Cj Sloane
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Matu Collins wrote: I've been toying with all sorts of names for this for a while.


Permaculturalist almost covers it for me.

A bigger umbrella would include:
Paleo diet
Prepping
Peak oil/money/resources
Critical thinking

Those ideas are almost, but not quite implied.
 
wayne stephen
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First Assembly of the Stardust Family Reunion - what a mouthful .
 
Matu Collins
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Permaculturist, like ecologist, sounds like a profession or hobby. It sounds like you do something, not like you believe something. If Bill Mollison really owned Permaculture and everyone who used the word or called themself a Permaculturist believed the PDM as gospel, it would be different but Permaculture is a much bigger umbrella and covers lots of people with varying types of beliefs. I'd love to imagine that we could agree enough...maybe the cider press will head us in that direction...
 
John Polk
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I understood Mollisons confession of "Gynekinetophobia" as absurdist humor . A Woody Allenish admission of a weird neurosis to counterpoint the more destructive neurotic tendencies of modern times.


I think that it is his round about way of saying "Don't waste your time worrying about what is not going to happen."
Just get out there and make happen what you want to happen.

 
Erica Wisner
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Emily Aaston wrote:I have really been appreciating all of the insight! This is my first time reading "The Big Black Book", and am grateful to be reading it with so many fine folks. I am having a hard time keeping up with all of the comments, but am thankful that I'll be able to access these threads into the future as well.

I have also felt that I've needed to wade through a little bit of the "woowoo" but have found a great deal of truth, and have been underlining a lot of sentences in this chapter.

At the very beginning of Chapter 2, Bill says:

"When we left tribal life we left with it all guides to sensible behaviour in the natural world, of which we are part and in which we live and die."

This reminded me of Paul's "HUSP" story, and the desire to return to a more natural, "closer to the earth", way of living. I feel much of permaculture is an archaeology of the ways things were done before the industrial revolution. A return to simplicity, of commonsense. His list in 2.2 tells us to take the time to be still, slow down, make observations, and use our critical thinking skills to come up with solutions.

I haven't finished the chapter yet, but have been encouraged by the possibilities as a "designer"


I too like the referral to tribal life as containing useful guides to sensible behavior in the natural world. But these are not entirely lost arts. There are still living hunter-gatherer tribes. And there are still hunter-gatherer ethics in families like Ernie's, who raise their children with intense awareness and respect for natural forces, extremely deep and lifelong-growing understanding of the nature and functional interactions between species, and who decry the abuses of industrial exploitation of their traditional natural harvesting grounds. Most of Ernie's life's work at this point involves trying to get back to sea, and to make sure there is a sea to get back to that resembles the one his ancestors have fished and sailed for centuries (more probably, thousands of years).

I make a lot of my living as a 'designer.' But I don't consider creative experiments to be the ultimate form of human expression - they are a part of a culture, and the maintenance of working traditions is a very important counter-part. Sometimes it seems like encouraging everyone to think of themselves as designers (of complex systems) fails to respect the complexity of those systems. Permaculture has a lot of abstract design "rules," and while it points toward observation, it seems a bit scant on in-depth exploration of working, proven systems. Maybe there'll be more as we go along. (I suspect that you, Emily, have a lot more in-person observation time logged in the forestry biomes, that I am lacking from a more academic background and career to date.)

While I'm reminding myself not to waste opportunities to talk to 90-year-old eco-farmers, or longstanding locals, I might as well remind y'all too. I would love to hear personal anecdotes when they reflect the accuracy, or otherwise, of various interpretations of these design principles. I'd love to borrow from your firsthand or family experience.

I do find that there's a nice synergy in undertaking small experiments in my own garden, while trying to soak up as much info as I can from elders, locals, peers, and historic documents. And from reports on ancient, distant, or still-living traditions that might offer applicable perspectives.

...

As I read the first sections of Ch. 2, I'm wishing I had more background in Australian ecology to appreciate some of his analogies, and wanting to develop my own sense of the Pacific Northwest region to a similar level, where I can understand the functions and relationships between all the players and have a better chance of beneficial intervention.

....
Am I the only one bothered by the syntax of the Prime Directive "to take responsibility for our own existence, and that of our children's."
That clause makes no sense. I've seen more recent quotations that make it "children" plural but not possessive, which makes more sense.

...
In general I find the principles useful and applicable. Dense summaries here; hopefully specifics to follow.

One objection I had was the "ethics on natural systems" part. While none of the four statements are wrong as such, together they seem to omit an important element of survivability. We need to share overlapping territories with animals. This point is covered at length in the time niche / schedules discussion, but the ethical summary seems to focus on minimizing our impact rather than sharing space with other species. I think lightening our footprint, and spreading it out, may be more viable than limiting it to the smallest possible space. Because when we withdraw into a tiny space and leave the 'wilderness to heal itself,' often the wilderness does not heal itself, or is abused by less-conscientious people, or a problem builds up which humans may be the only animal willing to intervene. We might need to light small fire-patches in the wilderness to provide patchy habitat and refuges from catastrophic wildfire, for example.

I think a world in which almost every corner enjoys the occasional, careful human touch is both more plausible, and may be more lively, than one in which people fight over the right to exclude other people from wilderness reserves. To leave the wilderness alone and live on smaller and smaller territories tends to lead to a denser quilt of adjoining groups of people. This way lies cities - the smallest footprint per person, but also some of the shallowest sharing and most devastating interruption of other creatures' habitats.

...
Another minor objection I had was to the idea of every system returning what it uses.
This is a laudable goal, and systems that approach it more closely are more sustainable - they can last longer. But as Mollison points out elsewhere in the chapter, there is no such thing as a "climax" forest. Every system leaks a little bit. Over time the mature systems gradually diminish due to those little mineral or nutrient leaks. For most systems at a scale I can manage, there will not just be leaks, but big open gaps where inputs are coming through (rainwater, airborne O2 and CO2, etc) and outputs / yields are being offered back.
I was trying to imagine how a rocket mass heater, for example, could possibly 'give back' what it uses. It can give back CO2, water, and minerals, but not wood. It can give back stable soils due to less deforestation, but it can't give back steel or clay - it simply doesn't produce the same things it is made of.
You could say that a rocket mass heater is not a system, but only part of a system.
You could say that it takes mostly energy (the clay and stone are not removed from the site, just re-shaped), and it gives back a very useful sort of energy, and it enables that energy to be conserved and stored in a way that's hard to beat with a substitute piece of the system. You could even make a case that the metals it uses represent mostly energy invested, and that it is one of the more beneficial ways to use and regain that energy through reducing energy drain.
But in the end, it's a heavy object whose job is to consume wood. The only way it's carbon-neutral is if it's part of a larger system, where the wood is growing faster than it's consumed (and where accumulated biomass compensates for the initial energy invested in the heater's parts and construction).

...
I felt that the discussion of 'mature' systems being less productive could have been worded better. Or perhaps I disagreed.
I think that it's important to note that mature systems don't use as much energy as growing, young ones; like the distinction between perennials and annuals. It's not that perrenials trap energy in root growth - they also benefit from all the prior energy invested in root growth, and may have more energy available for setting seed.
The young strawberry may be more productive of leaves; the mid-cycle one of fruit; the older ones may have more of the tougher fibers that are useful for soil stability. Of course in one sense, super-maturity or senescence is defined by the point where growth becomes decline. Whether you consider a young pig more productive because it converts forage to meat faster, or an older pig more productive because it can find truffles and doesn't hog them all, depends on what type of productivity you are trying to measure.

-Erica W
 
benjamim fontes
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Erica Wisner wrote:
Emily Aaston wrote:
At the very beginning of Chapter 2, Bill says:
"When we left tribal life we left with it all guides to sensible behaviour in the natural world, of which we are part and in which we live and die."
-Erica W

Let me tell again the sentence from Bill Mollinson: "When we left the tribal life with all guides to sensible behaviour in the natural world, of which we are part and in which we live and die."
Someone has a book entitled Becoming animal.
http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/10865575-becoming-animal-an-earthly-cosmology
Maybe that is in the same sense of the Bill Mollinson sentence.
North Portugal
Benjamim Fontes
 
wayne stephen
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I think a world in which almost every corner enjoys the occasional, careful human touch is both more plausible, and may be more lively, than one in which people fight over the right to exclude other people from wilderness reserves. To leave the wilderness alone and live on smaller and smaller territories tends to lead to a denser quilt of adjoining groups of people. This way lies cities - the smallest footprint per person, but also some of the shallowest sharing and most devastating interruption of other creatures' habitats


Maybe we need to distinguish historically untouched wilderness and that which even though wild has still been "managed " by humans . Much of what we call wilderness may have been clear cut in the past and has been forever altered . Even our hunter gatherer forebearers forever altered the ecosystem . Very little of that left - the untouched . If Mollison is saying that once we are integrated by our footprint into an ecosystem we are ethically held to steward it , I would say all of North America and Europe fall under our charge . Most of the planet actually .
 
Matu Collins
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We need to share overlapping territories with animals. This point is covered at length in the time niche / schedules discussion, but the ethical summary seems to focus on minimizing our impact rather than sharing space with other species. I think lightening our footprint, and spreading it out, may be more viable than limiting it to the smallest possible space.


Erica, I'm really appreciating your thoughts. You articulate the thoughts I'm having as I read better than I can!

Bill Mc Kibben writes a lot about the idea of shifting our"wilderness" mindset. Instead of having nature be something that is far away, and they place where we live is yucky and unnatural, and we visit nature on occasion to look at it and ponder its loveliness and mystery...how about we observe observe observe and interact when necessary so we can live near to and in harmony with nature? Small, clean, low waste, fertile homesteads and communal living centers bordering on lush diverse forests is my fantasy.

This cold snap really got me thinking about the wild/domestic animal question. Keeping captive animals alive and thriving is hard when weather is extreme! And we can expect weather to become more extreme. My poor chickens are not impressed with the cold and dark. Talk about seasonal depression! And I don't have rabbits right now, the last litter has been consumed at the fine dining establishments of New England, but if I were to be breeding them myself I'd have to overwinter enough genetic diversity, I am glad I decided not to. The wild rabbits are snug in their burrows. The fine dining establishments might not prefer tough gamy wild rabbit, but in the long run I think that is vastly more sustainable meat for my table. I'd rather provide habitat and hunt, I think, than have a huge animal operation. Ask me again in spring though.
 
Jessica Gorton
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Let me second that I appreciate Erica's input (and all of yours, but she's very good at putting my own thoughts into words, sometimes before I think them!) here, and all over permies.com. As to your question on whether, say, a rocket stove gives back what it uses, I think that's the whole point. Within systems that connect and support, no one piece is going to give back what it takes - it's going to give back something that can be used by another part of the system. A chicken doesn't give back veggie scraps and bugs, it gives back eggs and feathers and poop, which are used by people and gardens. An RMH doesn't keep the wood it consumes - it gives it back as heat (used by humans) and CO2 (used to make more trees), and the technology is beautiful in that it gives back much less of what we consider to be "bad" byproducts like air pollution and heat that is wasted up a chimney.

On the "woo" factor, I think those who came before me said it better than I could, but I wanted to share a quote that sums up for me how Mollison can both write in a way that is metaphysical and simultaneously very practical: "Just by living we have achieved immortality - as grass, grasshoppers, gulls, geese, and other people. We are of the diversity we experience in every real sense." What a beautiful thought, and also scientifically true, that we are made up of what came before us, and we leave ourselves to rejoin the web of life.

I also see him as organizing this info coming from very broad principles down to specifics, which to me makes sense. So the early chapters are coming from a wide view, trying to show the whole web of possibilities in general, and that's going to necessitate some vast words to convey vast concepts.

I do keep finding myself wishing he had better proofreaders, but I think the possessive in the prime directive does make sense. We take responsibility for our own existence, and our children's existence, to reword it. I actually didn't like that one so much at first, but I think I'm beginning to understand his meaning, that every decision we make must take into account our own place in this web, and our responsibility is to make those decisions that follow the 3 ethics, for ourselves and for our children, and also to teach our children to make those same kinds of ethical decisions as they come of age.

I also agree that there should be more to the conversation on maturity - a very old person has much to share in knowledge and perspective, and we need mature plants to produce seed for the next generation.
 
Linda Ford
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Matu Collins wrote:I'd love to imagine that we could agree enough...maybe the cider press will head us in that direction...


There is a theory of the development of civilization as a coming together to manufacture Beer. It actually makes more sense as a starting point than a need to move to agriculture for food. Thus, I like the idea of the change in thinking from "reductionist" to permaculture as coming together over cider.
 
Peter Ellis
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I have a different interpretation of bill's exhortation for us to minimize our footprint than I am seeing expressed by most. I do not think he intends us to feed our families on a postage stamp and abandon the rest to nature. I rather think he is telling us to manage our property such that our actively managed area is minimized, and more of our area is "zone 5".

Obviously not even Earth is a closed system, and no ecosystem on earth is closed, either. But there is a spectrum. At one end you may have BigAg monocropping with huge external inputs, at the other end a completely natural ecosystem where the vast majority of biomass is returned into the system and external inputs are largely things like sunlight, rain and atmosphere.

We need to look at our system designs (and I tend to agree with Erica, that designing these systems is really quite difficult - but there is such a wide margin for error in many areas that we can't have good outcomes from mediocre designs) as systems, to evaluate their input/output efficiency and how well they return to the system. Individual elements can be quite costly, but mesh into the system overall in a way that mitigates the expense. consider large scale earthworks as an obvious example. they take a tremendous amount of energy to create, but then have a very long period over which they provide a substantial return.

Sure, a RMH isn't returning to the system the same things it takes out - in a short term at least. But it provides an efficient way of utilizing wood for heating, so short term it uses less wood than other options, saving resources. It puts out minimal waste products and much of its waste products are usable to plants. As part of a system, it takes less than other options for its role and returns less negative materials.

All living things have impacts. We should not feel guilty that we do. We should be responsible about our impacts and understand how severe they can be when we are careless, but we do not have to seek a zero impact. No living thing has zero impact. Ecosystems are the network of impacts of organisms in an environment.

We should seek to rationalize our impact, not absolutely minimize it, and we should also strive to protect land that is allowed to return to as wild a state as reasonably practical.
 
Jami Gaither
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John Polk wrote:
I understood Mollisons confession of "Gynekinetophobia" as absurdist humor . A Woody Allenish admission of a weird neurosis to counterpoint the more destructive neurotic tendencies of modern times.

I think that it is his round about way of saying "Don't waste your time worrying about what is not going to happen."
Just get out there and make happen what you want to happen.

OMG! Thank you! This comment is MUCH funnier in this context.
 
wayne stephen
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2.9 through 2.13 : These ideas had me thinking about the term Salatin uses - disturbance . [ As in the skillfull use of the destructive element , not creating a public nuisance ]. For example : clear cutting an acre of woodlot for use in firewood , using pigs to convert this acre to ground for pasture , and then allowing an acre of older pasture to succeed back to forest for more firewood or food forest . A period of small grain production to help kickstart the conversion back to pasture may be an opportune niche for that crop cycle. The use of these long term cycles - the rise to peak production and then the disturbance period are prime opportunities for the past and future generations to cooperate . Also opportunities for neighbors and communities to plan together . " I have been buying beef and chicken from you , You've been buying lumber and firewood from me - Care to switch ? "
 
Brad Vietje
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Hi Folks,

Just getting caught up after having the "creeping crud" a.k.a. bronchitis for ~10 days, and not much energy for reading and discussion.

I must say, I'm getting really frustrated with this web site... I find it very cumbersome. I can't seem to use the quote function -- I'm not getting hi-lighted text, but the entire post (?) -- though a few weeks ago, it seemed to work fine, as in very differently. Am I supposed to click Reply, (reply to exactly whom, one might ask?, which is not the same as "Discuss") and then scroll back 2-3 pages and try to pull out a quote from someone's post, or start with the quote part and then write a response.? Neither method is working for me today :~(

I'm also finding that when there are multiple pages in a discussion, I scroll down to the bottom of each page, and there is no provision to just jump to the next page without scrolling all the way back up to the top, and then clicking on the next page # or the little arrowhead... I'd also like to be able to post a reply to a particular post, which can sorta be done via the quote function, but that's just not working for me.

I've had fun looking at other people's projects, because there are little links like "see my project page here", but I have not found how to have a project page of my own, and have wondered how people do that? Is there a guide somewhere as to how all these functions are supposed to work?

I know, I know -- some people have real problems, and here I am whining about little buttons! Maybe I'm getting a little less tolerant, or more edgy, having been sick and sore for days, but I sincerely do wish this site were a little easier to use.

If I were able to quote Ann's thoughts about B.M.'s distrust of science in Ch 2, I would have done so -- he's perfectly wrong about this -- but most of the time specialists are observing tiny subsets of a system -- sometimes a single species, more often a single molecule. Ecologists, or population biologists have a very different task, and these system-level scientists do have to incorporate their own presence in and interference of the system as well as their biases and any possible sources of error in measurement. Not all scientists do this, perhaps, but all good scientists do.

I'll continue reading with great respect for Mollison's brilliant ideas and insights, but hey -- he was a mortal man, after all, and can be allowed a few imperfections.
 
Burra Maluca
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Brad Vietje wrote:

I must say, I'm getting really frustrated with this web site... I find it very cumbersome. I can't seem to use the quote function -- I'm not getting hi-lighted text, but the entire post (?) -- though a few weeks ago, it seemed to work fine, as in very differently. Am I supposed to click Reply, (reply to exactly whom, one might ask?, which is not the same as "Discuss") and then scroll back 2-3 pages and try to pull out a quote from someone's post, or start with the quote part and then write a response.? Neither method is working for me today :~(


'Reply' is a general reply to the original post in the thread.

There are two ways to use the quote function. If you are reading a post and want to reply quoting that person directly, hit the quote button in that post and the reply screen will open with the entire post you wanted to quote from. Just edit out the bits you don't want.

For a smaller quote without the OPs name in it, copy the bit you want, hit 'reply', hit the quote button that's above the text box, and paste the bit you want to quote between the bits of code that pop up on screen.

There's a preview button so you can see what it comes out like, so you can practice a bit.



I'm also finding that when there are multiple pages in a discussion, I scroll down to the bottom of each page, and there is no provision to just jump to the next page without scrolling all the way back up to the top, and then clicking on the next page # or the little arrowhead... I'd also like to be able to post a reply to a particular post, which can sorta be done via the quote function, but that's just not working for me.


If you are logged on, there is a provision at the bottom of the page to choose which page you want to go to next.

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