Of sinking ships….

I had a dream this morning right before waking that I was on a sinking ship in a violent storm. Another ship was nearby and friends both on my ship and the other one were trying to get me off the ship—everyone off the ship. They explained that there would be a moment when the ship was underwater enough that a great surge would come and flood everything enough that I wouldn’t be able to get out. The forces would just be too strong. One man stayed with me as long as possible, but then he was gone. I started to see the sea level rise nearer the threshold of the doorway I was in. Then the door shut. In a last, desperate attempt I shoved the door open and jumped into the waves of the storm hoping to surface and find the other ship. 


Navigating collapse

I don’t think it would be hard to “interpret” this dream in the context of our world today. It raises a lot of questions, though. Why didn’t I leave the sinking ship when the new ship first showed up? Why did two people work to get everyone off the ship and spend so much time allowing me the choice to stay on? Would I have chosen to go down with the ship? What was holding me back? I remember in the dream the light from the hallway and the comfort of the paneling and the “known” feel of the ship. Was it fear of not making it to the new ship? The storm? Was it just the panic of BEING on a sinking ship that froze me? Where did I find the strength to shove open a door shut by a surging sea? Instinct drove me into action, and I found myself leaping into the waves filled with regret that I hadn’t acted sooner.


If we put the dream into the context of our lives and use it as a metaphor, how does it resonate? What is your “sinking ship”? What choices are you being asked to make? What strength and resolve are needed for action? 

What is the path forward? 

Sunday, 13 October 2019, Revised, 30 September 2020


John Michael Greer in The Archdruid Report uses the tagline: Collapse now and avoid the rush. 

With permaculture, David Holmgren, Albert Bates, George Monbiot, and many others have outlined the likelihood of collapse in different forms and the hope of a gentle transition to a regenerative future (using permaculture design, Transition Towns and Streets, etc….). 

James Howard Kunstler has written of a dark and challenged future with A World Made by Hand. Starhawk also ventures into social and technological transitions with her series of novels based in California. 

We don’t know the future. We are gathering information on possible futures—many of which are very grim. 

“I see our civilization, based on extraction and dominance, as a fundamental failure.”

Weighing all of this out, I am certain that we are on the short path to painful challenges. I see our civilization, based on extraction and dominance, as a fundamental failure. We’ve used it to bring a lot of people onto the planet and wreak a lot of havoc on other species and our Earth Mother. We have a lot of work to do if we are going to make Earth Repair and People Care and Future Care our ethical basis. 

In the past five years, I put myself on a journey: support those who support change. In that regard, I worked to support the endeavors of the 2016 North American Permaculture Convergence, the development and growth of the Permaculture Institute of North America’s diploma program, a local permaculture initiative, a regional permaculture institute (Great Rivers and Lakes Permaculture Institute, or GRLPI), Permaculture Design magazine, and my own design and teaching work outside of this. 

“Can we embrace letting go of the things that don’t matter, or are we holding on to security and the safety of familiar routines”?

That mission was personal—and it was shared with others who value similar networking and professional development. While I appreciate the move toward professional recognition for the work (hard work) it takes to integrate various disciplines into an understanding of permaculture design and the efforts it takes to teach it well, I wasn’t really doing it for the egotistical effort of creating a institution. I wanted to see permaculture design valued by other members of our society so that the extraction and exploitation of our earth and her peoples would halt and the store of value bound up in excessive bank accounts would return to the soils and waters and peoples from which that value was extracted.

What is your mission?

At this point, I believe that even fewer people see the path forward through the collapse of industrial civilization. Many permaculture students and teachers, despite their good intentions, are bound up in their own lives in a way that prevents them from making radical changes. The pandemic has begun to jumpstart this process for us. It’s required shaking up our ruts and routines. Can we embrace letting go of the things that don’t matter, or are we holding on to security and the safety of familiar routines? I’m not trying to be hypocritical here. Some days I cling to comfort, too. In my heart, I know that I have to let go of things that don’t serve the Earth or myself any longer. 

We need to recognize that we are in collapse. Some of us are well into it. We have some hopeful tools in permaculture design and navigating collapse. 

What is your commitment from the heart?

I believe some of the needed changes can be shared in a set of commitments. Here are some commitments I’ve made in the past:

  • Practicing permaculture design in my own life, plus teaching and practicing design
  • Homeschooling my children until at least middle school-aged
  • Nature connection education and practice (including Tracker School for our adult family members)
  • Engaging deeply within my spiritual practice
  • Researching and honoring my ancestors and praying for my descendents (biological or otherwise)
  • Removing plastic from my life wherever practical
  • Understanding history and cultural adaptation
  • Challenging patriarchy and misogyny as well as racism
  • Listening deeply to others when they talk to me
  • Growing, collecting, or hunting an increasing portion of our household foods
  • Considering needs vs. wants and investing in what I believe contributes to a better future (not chasing trends)
  • Observing carefully the “new” weeds in my garden and understanding their value before removing them
  • Minimizing energy use

Here are some new commitments I’ve begun making:  

  • Taking responsibility for myself, but also not taking responsibility for others’ emotions, beliefs, or words and deeds (this is something I’ve been working on as I heal from childhood and repeated trauma). Boundaries.
  • Letting go of sentimental items and materials that “might” be useful someday. Rather than hoard materials and tools, I invest in just what is needed.
  • This leads me to finishing old projects
  • Making more of my clothing and household items by hand, instead of relying on the store
  • Feeding birds year-round because the garden didn’t provide enough this year.
  • Taking better care of my physical health and stress levels. 
  • Working to remove harmful labels from my internal language when I encounter others

Permaculture design and navigating using aspects of our selves

Some of the changes we are considering require us to change our perspectives. What if we sought only to engage in conversation with people ready to listen and EXCHANGE ideas? For example, we are not just physical beings, but spiritual ones. (This has lots of different aspects for people and I don’t find it helpful to expound at this point. Just know that I respect people’s ability to make their own choices.)

Our physical beings are supported by the quality and appropriate quantity of needs being met. This includes banning and purging plastic from our lives wherever we can. Limiting fossil fuel and fossil water and fossil mineral use (and educating ourselves about how we ARE using those). Our personal use of energy in resources in most aspects of the privileged world need to be radically curtailed. 

We are social beings. Christopher Alexander shared that the basis for much of his life’s work was the underlying belief that 90% of our humanity is common and we are divided only on 10% of our human experience and difference. That 90% means the vast majority of our experience, desires, understandings are common. Let’s reclaim that. 

“There is hope in our actions. It may not be perfect hope, but centering ourselves in these commitments will help us to weather the storms ahead.”

There is hope in our actions. It may not be perfect hope, but centering ourselves in these commitments will help us to weather the storms ahead. We will have time and energy to do so as we re-prioritize what’s really important to us. We have the opportunity to subtract what is not serving our best versions of our lives at this point and going forward. This is the invitation of this year—and the coming one. Will you accept?

What does your list of commitments look like? How is the design of your life changing? What are you valuing more these days? Let us know.

Touch the Earth 

Rhonda Baird