three times woolly warm… winter permaculture hacks

When people ask “what is permaculture?”, it is tempting to regurgitate the beautiful and deep definitions of so many big thinkers.  Yet, I have the feeling that such depth brings with it the idea that permaculture—and sustainability, while we’re at it—has to be something large, a 100% perfect solution to our environmental and food problems.  Well, it isn’t.   And, chances are, you have been doing all sort of permaculture things unawares!  Just like this winter hack…

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A journey into Mindfulness, #1: Sleepiness

And that moment like a leaf on a stream unaware of the place behind that stone where the water suddenly speeds up. Like falling, gently and inevitably, on a cloud.

It’s been a while since I started a “formal” practice of Mindfulness. I remember those first weeks, those first meditations, as a time of awake exploration and mostly, well, thrill. Even in the midst of a stressful life and little time, I don’t recall feeling particularly sleepy while, for instance, going through a body scan, that very tough test for our alertedness. But that was soon to change. Read more


2018-07-18 14.05.29

I believe that most hindrances to the development of human society, to the functioning of relationships, to our happiness and fulfillment, and even to our survival in this world, stem from our poor communication.
And I’m not talking about how to say things, although that is also important. Our main issue is our difficulties with listening. As Tara Brach brilliantly puts it:
“More often than not, we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply. Our concern is what we want to say, how we want to appear, what’s going on inside of us.”
This gets in the way of listening, and, while the Other speaks, we start developing our story of what the Other is saying, and communication stops.  The Other, by the way, can be anyone or anything.  Not only a person “out there”, but even yourself.  Or a plant, an animal.  The weather.   Yeah, I know:  that sounds esoteric.  And yet, the world is constantly communicating with us, sending us signals (sometimes even signs!), telling us things.  But do we listen?  We can, for sure.  I do try.  I stop, breathe, and listen… and then the voice inside starts, interrupting the flow from the Other, while I think, analyse, interprete.  And most often, judge. It is as if we’re wired for judging.  I like this, I don’t like that, mmm that sounds good, I’m such an idiot…

How to listen?

It’s not that difficult to listen.  To listen deeply and honestly.  And yet it requires a lot of practice.  And a strong intention.  I am trying to learn how to listen deeply, from my heart, as they say.  And how do I go about it? Unsurprisingly, I go about it with the tools of Mindfulness.

The first step is to be in my body, feel my breath, that gate between my conscious and unconscious selves.  Perhaps this sounds counterintuitive:  aren’t we supposed to be listening?  Why then spend resources in feeling one’s breath?  Well, if I don’t, I’m simply less here, engaging with the Other.  And more in my mind, going through the judging, interpreting, preparing replies…  More importantly, feeling my breath and physical presence, I can more easily notice the arising of distractions.  I gain a tiny bit of space between whatever I might interprete as a trigger and what would result as a reaction.  Not to control it, just to observe it and be aware:  “ah, I see that their words flatter my ego” or “ups, that hurts”.  That tiny space and observation allows one to relax.  To stay, one word at a time, with the Other.  Whoever and whatever that might be.

When I listen deeply and from the heart, it is like walking through a rich and complex landscape.  It can even feel a bit like getting high, I guess.  How often then I realise that there is more wisdom in me, or, rather, the space in which the Other can find a response, when I truly listen, leaving my agendas and judging somewhere else.

And how does one practice listening through mindful awareness?

The way I know is through meditation.

Many people believe you need to sit for a long time in order to meditate.  At least half an hour, or perhaps a couple of hours.  And while that can in itself be rewarding, it is not what will get you started.  Or at least not most people.

It is as simple as stopping doing For a minute, or three, or five.  Feeling your breath, feeling your body on the Earth (even on a high rise! or on a plane!).  And listening.  There are always sounds, outside, inside…  Pick one up.  Listen and notice how quickly you start interpreting, analysing it… “is that grasshoppers or frogs?”,  “what an annoying sound!”,  “that reminds me of…”.  How does it feel when that happens?  Is there an associated response in your body?  Whenever you realise that you’re drifting away, remember that you can go back to feeling your breath.  That’s it.  Repeat.  As often as you can.

Importantly, there is no wrong way of meditating.  It is not wrong when you catch yourself thinking about shopping, or that itch on your foot.  That is mindfull awareness.  “Where am I?  I’m here, and my mind is thinking about going to the kitchen and making bread.”  Ok.  Noted.  Now I can get on with listening to the Earth.

There is a wealth of free resources in the form of guided meditations to develop our sense of listening.  I feel that they do help one develop one’s own practice.

Some do take half an hour, or even more.  This might all seem like a waste of our precious time…  Yet I think that it’s probably one of the best investments we can make.  We spend so much of our lives un-doing the consequences of misunderstandings, and unintentionally isolating ourselves from the rest of the world…  how much easier and joyfull it would be if we actually knew what the Other is actually trying to tell us.



Just one of many sites with useful resources…  her words got me started on this post!

on potting nettles

To the amazement of many a guest, one of my most exuberant potted plants was a beautiful and sometimes enormous nettle. The past tense is because I don’t have potted plants at the moment… what I do have is access to clean and organic nettle to harvest as much as I want.

a very permaculture plant in my former balcony… good for teas, to wake up, as greens, medicinal, and to fend off unwanted guests!

And there seems to be some chemistry explaining why I intuitively like my daily dose of this nutty-flavoured, filling and pleasant green:

“Both raw and cooked leaves of nettles were found to be rich sources of macronutrients and essential elements and may be used as alternatives to commercially available nutrient supplements.”

There you have it. Instead of paying good money for some highly-processed, who-knows-how-polluting, dietary scam, you can simply get out, harvest some leaves of this very abundant plant (or some of its relatives, if outside of Europe, Asia, or North America), and get your health-booster. After some training, it is very easy to harvest and eat your nettle leaves as you go. They’ve been indeed incredibly nourishing for me on trips where I ran out of bourbon biscuits.  Of course, scissors and gloves are a perfectly good option (for the harvesting, not as a biscuit substitute).

I like them raw the best—mmm nettle pesto!—, but they’re also delicious cooked—stir-fried, added last-minute to rice or pasta, in soups, stews…  Mature nettle leaves have up to 25% protein, which is very high for a leaf, hence their hunger-stilling properties. They are also very rich in iron, making them all the better for those with low or no intake of animal-based foods. However, most sources warn that only young leaves—that is, of plants that are not yet flowering or setting seed—should be used because older leaves develop cystoliths which act as an irritant to the kidneys. In my experience, if you frequently harvest the tops, you can keep the plants—or at least the stems that are being harvested—producing young leaves. You can see this in the picture above, which was taken late September.

And beside being simply good food, they have a very long history as a medicinal herb. I mainly use the leaf tea—fresh or dried—as a general tonic and blood purifier, and to counter chronic anemia. It stimulates the metabolism, and has been extensively used as an antiasthmatic and to strengthen the respiratory system. Also very soothing for the stomach and gut, delicious first thing in the morning. It’s one of the favoured plants for de-toxifying, and it’s believed to improve the function of the liver, the gallbladder and the pancreas. Likewise, it’s good against mouth- and throat infections, for which one can simply use the tea as a mouthwash.

free nettle in the wild… at Leewood Gardens

It also makes a superb hair tonic—it’s recommended to apply it several times per week, masage it deep into the scalp and leave it unrinsed, at least for a few hours. It’s even said it prevents hair loss!

Of course, nettle is a powerful anti-oxidant. But hey, most things nowadays seem to be. In that vein—ha!—, it’s been suggested that it lowers blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and may help prevent and treat diabetes.

All in all—the list goes on—a powerful all-rounder. I carry a bag of dried leaves with me, especially in my nomadic forays into cities, where one is never sure if there is going to be any wild nettle. Or any potted one, for that matter. And why, you may ask, did I pot a nettle? Well, the closest place to harvest was a park, criss-crossed by train- and highway-bridges. And teeming with dog-owners. To be sure that I wasn’t taking an extra dose of heavy metals from the vehicles, or pharmaceuticals from the dogs—or from any human pisser—I transplanted a good-looking plant to a pot, and kept it with me for almost a decade. We had a great relationship, and it was a fabulous conversation piece.

And, again, this is only pertaining the leaves! I only recently discovered the amazing properties of seeds and roots. But that’ll be in the nextle installement…

A very extensive resource on nettle.

PFAF‘s nettle page.

Another nettle resource with lots of studies, some of which confirm some of the benefits listed above.

And another very informative nettle page—with even more studies—from the very nicely named UMM.

And my beloved small herbals:

Unsere Heilkräuter, by Ursula Stump

Hausapotheke, by Pater Simon

docking the burrs

Ah, thistles…  such beautiful plants.  Stubborn, humble and loud.  Their punk-like flowers come in all sizes, and remind me of that most coveted of lands…

I came across burdock—specifically the “Greater Burdock”, Arctium lappa—very soon after arriving in Europe, when I looked into my first european herbal in search of a natural hair tonic.  Unfortunately, the book had a very poor picture, and it took me a long time to recognise it live.  This is also due to its ability to change quite drastically from teenage- to adulthood.

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from the wood to the moors and back again…

After a convolutedly wonderful, if unfinished and rather exhausting, walk from one corner of Dartmoor to the other, and quite a number of weeks spent immersed in an amazing garden, in grounding myself and finding a path forward, we found out that the straight way between Leewood and High Heathercombe is actually quite beautiful and much easier. Especially since a bus runs from Yelverton–a mere half hour walk away–to Postbridge, shortening the way to roughly half. That still leaves around three hours of walking through moors and forests. The overall trip only takes about half a day, so it has already happened twice in a bit more than a fortnight.

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Leewood, a paradise built on details.

Some people go diving to see sharks, turtles, barracudas, dolphins… In short, big fish. Well, probably the majority of people. Me, I like the little gems, shining all around, making every corner a treasure cove. Those small crabs, the tiny blennies, brittle stars… The “details”, so to speak.

Same with a story. Who cares about the plot (especially since, apparently, most stories follow the same plot), when there are all those interesting scenes, thoughts, twists and turns? I guess it is like with life itself. One wants to see the bigger picture–and that’s certainly something good–but lives are lived on the moment. In any instant there is no future, and the past is just a memory. Of course, a lot of details together make a big picture, just like a lot of scenes make a plot. And it is that lot of little sea critters what makes a reef. And individuals, their own selves, can produce a supra-organism, with superpowers beyond each one’s capabilities. But that is certainly food for another post.

Leewood is like a coral reef. Magnificent, yes, impressive in its size and splendour. But, just like a reef, it is made of a miriad of details. And, just like for a good story, the details have been thought- and heartfully put together, so that they are in their natural place. In every corner there is something to find, which, after a smile of surprise, simply makes sense. As if it could not live anywhere else but there. I like to get lost in the details (self-irony intended), so what better place to be?

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before the jump…

When does a dream start? Do we need to be asleep, far away from our life? Or at least wishing to be so? Do we need to float in that space, akin to limbo, where we melt into our surroundings, eyes glassy and absent, experiencing some unmade future?

How do we become aware that our life needs a profound change? I guess for some it is a lightning moment, a flash of recognition, a sudden vision. Perhaps fueled by dramatic circumstances, such as the birth or the death of a loved one, being witness of a striking event, a tragedy or a moment of extreme joy. Or so we are often told…

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