The title has a ring of 'What I Did in My Summer Holidays' - one of those first day back at school essays which my mother swore were just a not very subtle way of checking out your family circumstances, and spying on your parents. My sister once spent an entire summer doing the most exciting, stimulating things she could think of with her youngest daughter, to give her some real fuel for the fire, and come open evening, opened her book to find she had written 'we went down the pub and I played on the swings'. You can lead a horse to water, and all that.
This was no holiday. What I learned on site was one thing, and what I have learned, having sat back and thought about it over not quite a week, is another.
Ragmans Lane Farm is in Gloucestershire - I referred to it as the part of Gloucestershire that should be in Wales and nearly got shot for such a political statement - what I meant by 'should' was not in any sense meant to trigger a border conflict. I didn't mean politically. I meant logically - in other words, it's the far side of the Severn Estuary, where almost everything is Wales, but the Forest of Dean isn't. It's England. Which is OK. Breathe!
The Permaculture Design Certificate course I was attending was tutored by Patrick Whitefield with the assistance of Sarah Pugh. If you're asking, 'what is permaculture?' - well, that's a huge question, and you can find some answers here but the real answer is to go on an Introduction course, and find out for yourself, what permaculture is to you - because it's not a dogma. It's easy to condemn it out of hand as 'not for you' because it can appear to belong to a 'tribe' - a converstion I had with Ciara Cullen all too briefly as we were leaving Ragmans - but it doesn't. The more diverse the people who become engaged with permaculture, the more possible things become. If you think permaculture is not consistent with christianity, you and I will have to agree to differ. Unless perhaps by reading this you can see where I'm coming from?
So rather than the actual course material, I'm thinking about what I learned about myself, I suppose, and what I'm thinking now.
Firstly, living in community. This has been something of an obsession of mine since I spent the briefest time with Marthe Kiley Worthington probably 30 years ago on Mull. Although the experience of actually living in community at Ragmans was halved by the fact that in the end, Patrick asked me to take the caravan as extra accommodation for the first three weeks and my own for the last two, it was still a taste of what it is like to share all your meals, your bathroom, and all the living spaces.
I think, as I have said earlier, that the time has passed for me to do this - my community now, is my family, and living in it is at least as complex as an intentional community. I thought about how, when we are sharing our space with non-family, we consider at great length how we will get along together, how we will make decisions, how we will respect each other's differences, how we will capture a vision, come to concensus, solve disagreements, put plans into action (framework shamelessly nicked from the above-mentioned Sarah Pugh's communications session. Thanks, Sarah!) and yet, in our family home, we fail dismally to think these things through. We simply expect that because we are tied by blood, all will be well. Big food for thought.
I also learned, finally, how to make sourdough bread by the really wet method, with a long lived starter shared by Ciara and skills shared by the lovely Olivia Heal - which in turn I shared with my daughters, of an evening, upon my return. Again, we share skills consciously, and with care, among strangers, but as our children grow older, if we are not careful, we just expect them to absorb what we do, and we lose the pleasure of sharing, as much as they lose the joy of learning, traditionally, from mothers and fathers, the sustaining skills we value so highly.
We visited Royate Hill Community Orchard as well as St Werberghs, Eastside Roots and Easton Community Allotment on a day field trip to Bristol, and it got me to thinking - the city can be a vibrant and wonderful place. Towns can be good. We still live quite an isolated life, in the countryside, which, on balance we prefer. We have considered of late, moving into the small market town where we go to church - because of the ages of the chidlren, and because, you know, sometimes, a change is a challenge, and a challenge wakes you up and gets you going all over again. We've thought about it all quite long and hard, and it seems maybe we won't do that (always worry when I commit such things to black and white ...) but the experience of the hidden green spaces and brilliant community feel of Bristol, made me view the idea quite positively, rather than with fear and dread, as previously.
Well, this has lumbered on long enough, and has earned the extension 'Part One' to its title. I hope there will be a part two - I certainly feel like I learned a lot!
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