The old song, ’round and round keeps turning,’ keeps a rhythm in my mind as I stomp chicken compost with a broken toenail and scoff at my soiled feed badly in need of a pedicure.
Life’s always changing, moving forward, circles, yurts, mud huts, houses of bamboo, rock gardens, pools of sunlit water and dreams. My eyes finally rest upon a gigantic crater rock as large as a small house nestled halfway between me and the group of my very young classmates. We all eye the sunken mass as our amicable Irish permaculture instructor from Atitlan Organics Farm in Tzunana on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala opens our minds to a forward way of thinking about our beloved Mother Earth.
I glance around at the varied expressions which play on the faces of the many students clad in ripped jeans, boots, straw hats, mouths agape at the potential just one huge rock on an acre of land can do in a natural, oh so cool way,
My trendy, bohemian classmates range in ages from 19-35, and as I scrape more goat poop out of my fingernails, suddenly at age 63 I feel old and smelly … ouch! But what the heck, this is what I wanted to learn about, right?
After many years spent traveling and searching for my own ‘lil slice of heaven,’ I needed to get over myself and set my groove on my future casa in Guate. Leaving the U.S. with no tears shed, I knew I wanted to build simple, small, using natural materials with gardens, a few chickens, and now after an hour of goat milking up at the farm, definitely, no goats!
Hiking back to the Bamboo Guest House my butt got a workout of a lifetime. I watched in utter amazement as the trendy hipsters ran up the high rocky roads in front of me, full of that young, sprite energy and 19-year-old legs. A big smile played upon my face thinking about how very wise I was to book my privado room, mo bunk beds for ‘lil old me.’ I so humbly thank you, muchas gracias, mature age.
Sitting in the bamboo outdoor classroom at 8:30 a.m. sipping cafe and juices, throwing tidbits of eggs to a small pregnant cat and a couple of neighbor dogs we all sat, eyes focused on Shad Qudsi, owner of the famed farm and instructor with the best hair and witty mind. He quizzed us on nothing we knew about. “What is permaculture and just why is it so important,” he asked, writing it boldly on a whiteboard giving us all the once over. We sat blank-faced, not a poop, not one from Miss Baltimore, no French utterance from Paris, no whatever from handsome via Vermont, not a sound from anywhere around the world. I decided to throw caution to the wind and yelled, “flowers?”
“Well, uh, no Heidi, kind of, but come on people, think,” stated Shad. Geez, I thought, I am thinking but let’s see, hmmm, dang, we all had no idea. Shad clears his throat, kicks at a lone stone, runs his fingers through his wavy hair and winks, “Permaculture is a framework for ethical, ecological decisions, the design implementation and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems that have stability, resiliency, and diversity.” “Wowie, sounds super cool,” shouts pretty Miss California, not a day over 25, “How do we implement this in our own gardens?” she asks. I sign and put my feet up on a handmade bamboo stool, grab my cup of cafe; I’m her for six more days and I’m excited!
As the workshop convenes, we learn that being conscious with designs and maintenance is that we are nature working in ways of being more intentional, observing earthworks and contouring, design methodology, pattern recognition using sectors so energy flows through a site.
I take tons of notes and we hike to numerous house locations including the gardens of a young couple from the States who have intentions of raising a family on their new acre of land, set on a slope within a mirage of green, numerous workers plant and form rock gardens of herbs and flowers. Shad then explains slopes, swains, and angles, the whys, and hows.
I take more photos and make a mental note to add a few flowers to my web page. Working as a fashion and wedding photographer worldwide for years well, I can make a rock look good.
Neal, our Irish instructor, adds how intrinsic needs make or break a henhouse where composting ecologically helps the earth and how this creates a garden of wonders for yourself on your site.
We also find out that random assembly to a more formal design process is important to a plan using goal articulation. Also, site analysis, your own aha moment, a schematic design, detailed garden design, the implementation, applying self-regulation and most important, to accept feedback. This means some things you choose to do, just might not work.
Trudging back up the mountain road we all chat about permaculture being such a personal path, too. From composting correctly to mulching, or even the decision to construct a simple compost toilet, they are all personal decisions. “Every choice made impacts the earth now and in the future,” says Neal, with a smile.
Shad explains how mixing soil, sand, and hay from the henhouse all lean towards a beer understanding of why banana trees should be placed on your land with a huge compost pile in the center. Plant propagation, pruning up leaves and roots, with all this said, suddenly I feel more grounded.
After a long hot shower washing away mud and muck, I smile and know the decision to attend this permaculture workshop was the right choice for me on my new path.
I silently give thanks for the beauty of nitrogen and carbon, for beans, roots, and trees, for the chickens, goats, and bees. For flowers, soil, water and mostly, not the ‘soul of the soil.’
I look around at my cooler than cool, smarter than smart classmates, as young as they all are, and give them mucho kudos for choosing to be so conscious on their future paths. The impact they choose to make is extraordinary and my respect for everyone here is immense. They chatted excitedly about their future permaculture ideas, plans in Egypt, Belgium, and Baltimore.
I have a few more classes left on permaculture and then six days of natural building, yeah!
I’ve learned so much and am grateful to be a part of this lovely group.
Tucking my feet under my poncho, listening to the rain, high up in the mountains of Tzunana, on Lake Atitlan, I start to hum a favorite tune of mine, the lyrics go like this ~
“I see trees of green, red roses, too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world”
– Louis Armstrong