Thoughts About North American Permaculture Convergence 2014
September 5, 2014
It was “a spur of the moment” kind of thing, the decision to attend this conference. I had only heard about it recently, and felt an immediate urgency to attend. It was definitely worth the 2+ day trip to Minnesota and a similar time in return. We arrived on Wednesday, one and a half days before the main event, and it gave us time to get acquainted with the organizers, and we helped to set up the outdoor kitchen. While pealing onions and garlic, we discussed the upcoming event with all its expectations. The people were real, worked hard, and were clever in solving problems. Two tents instead of one, made for a waterfall down the middle in event of rain, but they figured a way around it. The food was equally real; not the pristine fare of supermarkets—bumps and curves showing each apple, carrot or squash to be a unique creation.
On the first day of the convergence, we began the proceedings with the opening ceremonies, a circle of all in attendance led by master of ceremonies, Michael Pilarski.
Following these ceremonies was the Plenary Session offering a panel discussion on the State of Permaculture. There were celebrities in attendance and I was happy that I’d done enough homework on-line to be able to recognize their faces and contributions. Penny Livingston, Jude Hobbs, Pandora Thomas, Scott Pittman, Gerardo Gonzalez, Albert Bates, Jillian Hovey and Peter Bane each gave their perspectives on the history and future hopes that they have for Permaculture. Everyone talked of the illusive Bill Mollison, his brilliance and oft times impertinent manner. One of our present legends (Scott Pittman) had followed him around the world, trying to learn from him; putting up with unpleasant moods and unrealistic expectations. But, now he spoke of the heart and the higher levels of human ecology which naturally bring harmony to our surroundings.
These are people who can spend months in observations of a particular plot of land, and they can tell you in detail of the flora and fauna, the weather and wind currents, and how the rain will collect and disperse. And so, when they turn their attention to you, you’d better be prepared for some intense listening. Such patience! No need to try to hide. They draw you out and affirm you. Nothing said surprises them; they’ve been there and done that.
In going through the list of presenters, I sensed some synergy with Daniel Halsey, and so I set out to find him. Neither of us was busy at the moment and he invited me to sit down and chat. His drawings were posted behind him. Form followed function, but with such esthetic sensitivity. He also is a member of the Permaculture Research Institute in Minneapolis. I hope to continue our conversation.
In working groups, I met with people interested in promoting the Permaculture movement. We discussed the needs and possibilities before us. Having places to showcase the principles and practices of Permaculture is important. There are several such places, but perhaps we can create one that will bring the message a little closer to the main stream. And, while that publicity is helpful, it is also important to maintain the essence and ethics of our mission. Each time someone new finds insights, and engages the process to whatever degree, it is a victory.
In the evening Toby Hemenway gave a presentation on Urban Permaculture and then we heard a prerecorded Keynote address from David Holmgren. A great day, but being new to it all, I felt a bit overwhelmed.
Saturday morning brought a Women’s Leadership Roundtable discussion.
The women of permaculture were interesting. Some had sublimated their femininity for too many years, and were telling the young ones not to do it. There is a place of honor for both the masculine and feminine within this movement, a little awkward still, but making progress. My take away from it was that women could benefit both themselves and the social good by standing up to making a difference. The feminine qualities are as valuable as the masculine in bringing forth a healthier and restorative outlook to the planet. Sensitivity to other potentially divisive issues were also discussed, and some dedication to seeing all in terms of their humanity with synergistic gifts and talents. Being new, I found this awareness to be warm, inviting and inclusive. Most of all, I think that I realized that what I know intuitively about the healing nature of intimacy and affection has been affirmed. Our social structure creates too much separation and we have withheld love. Awkward, too, I suppose, but this group is healthier than most, and the natural rhythms of interacting with the Earth have broken down the barriers. Respect and reverence remain as they open arms to each other. They felt like family. Dance and music were abundant, and my heart still sings, though with a bit of sadness. I miss it all, already.
After lunch, I divided my time with several of the groups, trying to get a feel for the breadth of the material being offered. Not surprising were the young people who were drawn to this discipline. They will live in the world that we are abusing. But, what did surprise me was the gentleness of their manner, and tenderness of their hearts. These were “feet on the ground,” and “hands in the dirt,” kinds of folks, but they could quote Shakespeare and Chaucer. Even the older luminaries were extremely well read, and cut themselves no slack on rigor. I am still amazed at my good fortune. I know myself to be another kind of person now—fearless. There is something to be gained in stretching: four nights on the ground in a tent, three of them in the rain, with chigger bites that made big welts all over my legs and ankles, and a new appreciation for modern bathrooms. Oh, the ultimate of civilized luxury! Lessons learned: if you want more, give more; there are people who really, really care; and inspiration and intuition overcome discouragement and despair.
Sunday went too quickly with a “fishbowl” of the elders; it was wonderful to see the affection that they had for their students and followers. I sense that the movement is in good hands as we have a new generation of professionals and implementers. A huge “Thank You” to the organizers, Monica Ibacache, Michael Pilarski, Koreen Brennan, Adam Brock, Mario Yanez, Sarah Ashley Baxendell, Kimberly Daugherty and Bill Busse. You are to be congratulated on all that you have done to make this such a great event. And, to all the presenters and helpers and kitchen workers: you have my gratitude, and admiration. Most Sincerely, Colleen Dick