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

“When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.” Henry David Thoreau

Targeting best in class and possibly build ROI. Funneling user stories so that as an end result, we create a better customer experience.

Communities change by recognizing and adopting new norms. What was once unorthodox and strange, becomes common and accepted. Language changes rapidly—just look at the evolution of the Urban Dictionary. Styles in modern clothing can change very rapidly—new colors or design lines shift every season. Similarly, colors and styles of flooring, cabinetry, furniture, paint colors, and throw pillows are designed to shift in order to drive markets and spending. We’ve been told that doing these things brings us approval from our knowing peers. We know that game is up. 

As permaculture people, we know that the old games are shifting. We can’t keep on keepin’ on. But can we really envision that gradual shift from where we are to where we want to go? Can we recognize the progress we are making and still push for the next step? When we are faced with opportunity in the guise of crisis, can we look at the systems that are disrupted and use that as feedback to create something more stable? 


One of the remarkable things about mainstream, modern society (MaMo Society) is how much it seems to adopt innovation and new norms. I am sometimes surprised, but also pleased to find that solar panels and passive solar construction are more common than they were 15 years ago when I began teaching permaculture. Recently, while supporting a community-led process, I was talking to a community leader and complaining about how radical I felt advocating for something five years ago. She pointed out that many of the things I mentioned were now codified in the city’s development ordinance. My internal response was to find out where the new edge is and begin advocating for the next evolution in order to keep us moving toward sustainable.  

What allows us to do this is vision and our commitment to the life and people affirming ethics we’ve embraced. Taking the time to discern our vision of how life can be for us, and what we have to offer our communities by way of that vision is essential to our health and the well-being of those around us. 


What is your vision?

I was on the website for a group today which promotes resilience using permaculture and Transition Town concepts among other things. I respect them a lot, and appreciate their capacity to foster amazing connections and projects. One of their declarations stated that they use ecological solutions, honoring indigenous practice roots, and supporting more resilient communities because of this. 

This argument that we can use ecological solutions to become more resilient has long bothered me—despite the fact that I promote the approach in permaculture design courses. Yes, using ecological solutions to work with nature instead of the extract and burn approach of modern society is an improvement. Yes, it is living more lightly on the Earth—maybe even regeneratively. 


But here’s the problem: using nature to meet your ends does not go far enough. It doesn’t admit the real locus of power. It is still an ego-centric approach. 

Humans are out of right relationship with the earth, and we have been for a long time. Hence the imbalances of power and impact between humans and Nature and among humans within mainstream societies. Permaculture design is a bridge to a closer connection to our homes, our energy and water sources, to our food. It is not the end of the road for our development as human beings. 

I believe our aim is to bring ourselves into right relationship with the Earth and the mystery of life by serving it—by listening. This is a spiritual revolution in our own being. 

Among the waves of viral infection moving across our communities, among people sick and dying, among those who are weary and fighting to keep on—whether they are homeless people or nurses or those scared where their next paycheck will come from—I have hope that we will wake up to our own spirit. That we will rediscover what is really important in our relationships with other people AND with the Earth. 

It’s not right to “use ecological solutions to meet our ends.” It’s time, and past time, as Bill Plotkin says to move beyond the ego-centric societies to the soul-centric/eco-centric self which is both our selves and larger than our selves. We aren’t working with nature: we are truly nature. 

This novel virus is a wake up call and an initiation. Our mainstream civilization has lost the art and understanding of rites of passage. So, the Earth has brought us one—however unwelcome that dance with the unknown is. 

In rites of passage, we are separated from our normal communities. There is loss of the normal, grief, and new capacities granted and fostered. At some point, there is an emergence into a new self which has grown from the struggle we faced. We are then welcomed back into our communities and can share our story. Our story is our opportunity to reframe ourselves. We articulate and incorporate the new self in a way that our community can recognize and honor.  

In this moment, we have the opportunity to go with the flow of this civilizational rite of passage. We can creatively honor our journeys. Bill Plotkin’s Soul Craft book is a wonderful resource for this. 


Why “Touch the Earth”? 


This place we are beginning to create together is a means of gathering in people with whom we’ve (Corbin and I) have had connection with through permaculture, nature connection, and similar pathways. There are so many people in so many communities over so many years to connect. We all have questions, quests, visions, knowledge-turned-to-wisdom, and more to share. Given the contexts we find ourselves in today, we hope to inspire each other into practical action and joyful living. 



Touch the Earth, as a project of ours, started out as a dream of hosting workshop weekends which bridge between many of these skills and seek to strengthen each of us in our vision of healing the Earth and tending to our families and communities. But why wait until we can get together? Why not tend to each other now? So, that’s what we’re doing. 

Look for this community to grow slowly and steadily over the coming weeks and months. Anyone can participate in the General Discussion, and some people are involved in specific groups, like the Current PDC group or the Former PDC group. Ask questions, share successes, and let us know what you need.

Occassionally, we will share online and in-person events and projects we’re involved in. If they are right for you, great–if they could help someone else, please share.

This is a place of creativity, hope, vision, and purpose. We look forward to knowing you better.  

It is late January. While walking around a consulting client’s property yesterday, I saw the early bulbs just beginning to peek up above the soil. In my own garden, spring herbs are already beginning to conservatively creep across the ground in the warmer, protected spots. Spring seeding is beginning to happen, and I know that the buds on the trees are beginning to change in the warmer periods. 

Nature doesn’t have an on/off switch like our mechanical systems. There is resilience built in to the constant use of energy. Just so, I believe that most people have in the back of their minds and the depths of their heart a desire and a commitment to a beautiful, healthy, just world. The rush and stress are there—but beneath them is the courage and imagination to see a better world. 

At the Global Earth Repair Conference in Port Townsend, Washington last May, Precious Phiri gave a powerful keynote. Behind her, on a large screen was a hand-drawn image of an adult sharing with a child—and noting that in 2019, the world woke up and it all changed for the better. Until that moment, I was sensitive to the collective grief and worry and persistence of the 500 people gathered. That simple drawing raised the question: how did the world get better? How did we come together and heal the Earth? Each other? 

Seven months later, with Rob Hopkins’ book From What Is…to What If? in front of me, I recognize the same question and the same feeling of possibility. What if? 

I am exploring this question for myself…and I am very curious to hear what you are imagining, too. Write me and let me know. Or come to a workshop or course with me—we can imagine together. I look forward to the changes.