Personal Reportage of 2017 at Laytonville Ecovillage—John-eriK
The seasons change again. The heat, sun and dryness of summer has morphed into the cool, wet rain and falling leaves of fall—and preparations for the coming rainy winter season. It’s nice, after a day’s work prepping for the rains, to sit around a fire and chase away the wet cold of this season for a while, connecting with that simple ancient phenomena of people gathering with a warm meal, enjoying the trance of the flames.
As we purposefully wander around the Laytonville Ecovillage property, covering this structure, finding that tool and staging firewood and humanure barrels (along zone 2 or 3 corridors), we encounter also memories of all the interesting people and projects from this year as well as imaging new projects and what is needed to add finishing touches to those that remain incomplete.
There are cycles in Nature. Indigenous people speak of East-Spring, South-Summer, West-Fall and North-Winter. Each has its own rhythms and moods. Life follows death. This season of change is transitioning into the shorter daylight days of winter, as we go more internal (winter, the North) and digest all that has happened this year and make important decisions about how our vision, intentions and custodial guidance of the property’s potential will change in the coming years.
Perhaps the front parcel and outdoor living hub of the property will attract a buyer next year—if so, there would be a migration of tools, equipment, and supplies to farther back on the property. This would change the feel and dynamic of Laytonville Ecovillage, and the intention would be to peacefully coexist with the new people in the front parcel. Much of the permaculture-styled infrastructure developed over the years would still be available, but obviously the feel and functioning of life at LEV would morph and adapt.
I was our compost “mad scientist” this year. Using Geoff Lawton’s method for producing high quality, usable compost in a month. From chicken coop scraps to piles of leaves to pine needles and acorns, several compost bins of fantastic compost-soil were made this year for future gardens. The classic 3-bin compost processing area allowed complete turning and rapid breakdown of the composted material. Feeling and seeing the heat rise from a fresh turn is a magical experience! It’s amazing to witness how micro-biology returns sunlight back into rich soil, through the mechanism of seeds becoming plants and flowers and fruits and eventually, dying plants, giving up their bodies to mama Nature; this so the new year’s cycle’s life can burst forth in the garden next year.
Let’s see how my experiments with biochar work next year. Biochar-infused compost soil is blanketing most beds in the garden, delivering nutrients and fresh fuel for next summer’s bounty.
One can make biochar by gathering a couple inches of burned charcoals from past fires into a wheel barrel and crushing them with a brick into corn kernel-size chunks and dust. Charcoal is a hotel for microbiology. There is as much surface area in a small chunk of charcoal as there is on the top surface of an acre or more of land. By sprinkling this biochar in with the brewing compost, the new soil amendment is activated and supercharged with additional good soil biology. Also, the charcoal helps turn the compost into a better sponge—a very useful characteristic for sunny, hot, dry summer gardens.
The large yurt, Ethel the chicken and the young family neighboring the commons area have all moved on, opening the constructed wetlands to new possibilities. The front and side food gardens are mostly harvested and prepped with home brew compost, covered in a blanket of straw and going dormant until awoken again next spring. What can be remembered about garden layout, usage, people’s likes and dislikes, production and maintenance that can inform next year’s crops? Each new year’s participants generate their own tribe and culture, preferences and ways of doing things.
Our “creative workhorse,” Christine, who had intended on staying on for some years, has also felt the winds of change and moved up into the Mendocino hills. The land remains and continues to reclaim what us mere mortals leave behind—from the blackberry brambles which she cut way back that will reemerge in the spring, to her excavations and constructions which mother nature will swallow in time. Blessings to her and her mom on the mountain.
Elaine has been raking up a storm trying to keep ahead of the falling leaves. Still the relative calm of just a couple of work-traders left on the land is in stark contrast to the activities and groups of people who called this place “Home” this summer.
We learned a lot about natural building with cob this year. We also learned how labor and material intensive it can be and how difficult it is to be a “pure cob builder” when local clay and human resources are not as abundant as the job requires. So how can we marry natural building with other traditional techniques that can help us “get the job done” while also respecting the aesthetic and romance of naturally built structures?
The rebuilt rocket stove heater works like a charm, but one has to pay attention to it, learn its moods and find the right rhythm of starting and feeding the fire to get that distinctive rocket stove roar of flames from which the name “rocket stove” comes. This roaring fire creates the intense burn that makes the heat transfer tank hot enough to handle the inflow of cold water coming in to the submerged copper tubing coil. We heat a holding tank of water with the stove which transfers its heat to the coil. The coil receives cold water coming in and delivers hot water going out. When you dial in just the right mix of air, fuel and heat into the burn, you get a nice stream of hot water, even in winter. The wonderful flow of hot water available from the solar thermal heater in summer spoils one regarding how marvelous outdoor showers are. In winter the sensitive solar plumbing must be drained and the shower switched to the rocket stove to prevent freezing damage. If you learn how to dance with the rocket stove, you get hot showers during cold seasons. There is an attitude adjustment required in order to prepare, start and maintain the fire long enough for the right temperature to be achieved before multiple people can enjoy the shower. This is quite a different mindset from just “hopping in the shower,” turning on the hot and getting a nice shower whenever we choose.
The apples are coming back. After the summer fruit tree pruning workshop, we got to work trimming most of the trees and the results were quite noticeable. The old apple tree back by the outdoor shower gave delicious fruit this year! The overabundant, fruit laden plumb tree cracked one of her branches, just about where one could predict a break would happen, so we trimmed the tree back with some surgical cuts. Can’t wait to see how the trees respond next year. It was quite a revelation to learn the difference between “winter pruning” and “summer pruning” and how the trees (and fruit) will respond to each.
As the season winds down, the somewhat invisible Air BnB guests become more a part of the scene. With less people around, there is more opportunity to share stories of life “back home,” to share some instruction on how to make compost or some favorite recipes.
We had wildfires come close this year. Sonoma/Napa was burning. The city of Santa Rosa had neighborhoods wiped out. Wineries, pot farms, livestock, and all of nature were affected by fire burning or being put out. The flush of new life next year, after a season of rain will be spectacular—all that nutrients from burned vegetation going back into the ground. Let’s hope the lives of the people directly affected by losing homes and employment will also take root after the tears and shock of the disaster are processed and practical matters dealt with.
Now months later, LA is burning. Atmospheric conditions can create special Venturi effects that can speed up wind. Fast, dry winds from the NE, inland coming at you spell disaster for lands and homes on fire. Beneficial winds come from the west and are cooler and moister from the ocean’s influence. What “space weapons,” meteors or natural circumstances could create such utter, yet selective, destruction? How will such historical California fires and a heightened awareness of the destructive power of wildfire affect life in the Golden State?
This opens the Pandora’s box of investigation into private timber industry slash and poison campaigns on chaparral oaks to favor more profitable ponderosa pine. What happens to the standing dead oaks that result? The runoff from the poisons can affect downstream animals, plants and people as can the fire retardant dumped on fires. Do first responders face extra physiological burdens from inhaling fire retardant and burnt slash chemicals? What is Agenda-21 and why does one of its maps coincide well with the urban Northern Cal burn areas?
So, I’m back east now, over-wintering in the Northern Catskills of New York. Already the snows are starting a couple of weeks before Christmas and there are predictions it will be a cold and snowy winter. Great opportunity to snuggle in and reflect on the many blessings, challenges, laughter and learning opportunities this amazing summer and fall at Laytonville Ecovillage and in California have offered. Winter hibernation, interspersed with long walks, shoveling and snowshoeing, will provide the time and opportunity to deeply digest all that 2017 has been and will allow the good composted nutrients to regenerate for the next cycle of growth and adventure this spring!
My personal mantra continues to be “What does Personal Sustainability mean to me and how do I choose to manifest that in this world?” Good food for thought, as I watch the snow falling outside.
Season’s Greetings to all and may your holidays be warm and loving and your new year bright and fulfilling!