Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Then We Were Four

After waking up at the Oregon State Beach Campground South of Newport, and breaking camp,  the men had lunch--fish tacos all around--with a few hands of penny-ante poker at the Cafe' Mundo.  Paul and Jocelyn had found this place on a previous visit and Paul wanted me to see it. It's a wild little place decorated by local artists and long on funk but short on grokking Mexican food, in my humble opinion.  It made me long for Taco Del Sol on Higgins Avenue in Missoula.  They know how I like my fish tacos. 

Jimmy Pardo at the Cafe' Mundo
As soon as he walked in the door, Jimmy spotted the stage and a million open mike night posters.  He asked the server if it was OK for him to get on stage and play his Uke (through his amp, of course.). Whether it was the nature of the place or the fact that the lunch rush hadn't started, she said 'yes' and before anyone knew it, he was on stage zoned out in his own groove.  I don't know what to call Jimmy's music.  It's kind of a jazz-funk-rock fusion deal, I guess.  He uses feed back and looping to give his sound a greater dimension.  He has pick-ups on the body of his hollow body Uke to allow him to play percussion while he plays, too.  And when he plays, Jimmy goes someplace very spiritual.  I guess that is why Paul likes to use his music to back his videos.  Keep an eye on this guy--his music is going to take him as far as he wants it to.

After we left Newport, we headed south toward Creswell near Eugene.  Jeff Tunnell had invited Paul to make a presentation at the hall next to his daughter's establishment, Heidi Tunnell Catering and Event Center.  The Event Center is next to Heidi's restaurant where they make delicious pizza in a custom-made wood fired pizza oven.  Over 45 interested folks showed up to hear Paul hold forth on his thoughts on the relative aspects of urban versus rural lifestyles and each's affect on the planet.  Anyone who has listened to Paul's podcasts knows they were in for stuff that would challenge their world view, and he didn't let them down.

Afterwards we get the Land Whale all snuggled in behind Jeff's barn on his farm outside of town. Jeff came aboard the Land Whale and joined us in a glass of wine (except Paul who does not partake) and good conversation.  Jeff was gracious to invite Paul and super about publicizing and promoting his talk--the fact that he allowed our band of gypsies to camp out at his place was going the extra mile.

The sad event of the day was Jimmy's departure to return to Portland.  He took all his gear (including his amp and Uke) and hung out his thumb while we motored on.  Later today we got word from Jimmy that the Universe had bestowed him with a cool ride with someone who was interested in having Jimmy do some music for him. While he was with us, he added a unique dimension as musician, philosopher, person on a quest, and wonderful smile.  Now we are Four.

After leaving Creswell, we headed South on into California.  The Land Whale had a hiccup and wouldn't start last night but just why remains a mystery.  We have a full charge on the battery and had it checked. We ruled out the solonoid and unless the new fan belt is sli[ping (and there is no sound to indicate that) I am putting my bet on gremlins.  We got as far as Lake Siskiyou Camp ground based on their advertisement of laundry and showers. 

Now I have clean clothes.  I always say, a drawer full of clean underwear is like money in the bank. I have showered and shaved and realized we were exactly halfway through the journey.  Two more weeks to go, and thousands of miles.  Tomorrow we head to a farm in northern California to look at some exciting alternative approaches to agriculture.

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's a Family Affair

We were all set to leave Friendly Haven Rise Farm when the Land Whale curse struck again.  This time, a dead battery with no explanation that a layman could provide.  We decided to get a jump from Joseph and be on our way and see what happened.

Give me juice!!!
Paul had a presentation at Beaverton, Oregon so progress seemed to be something for which it was worth taking a risk.  As we cruised down the highway, Jocelyn, in another of her amazing pull-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat moments determined that a place for battery assessment and replacement existed only two blocks from Paul's engagement.  I dare say the woman is amazing as she finds these solutions to problems floating in the Universe and drops them into my lap.  Anyway, we found ourselves at the battery place and Pat, a harried and multitasking store manager, dropped us into the work queue after determining that the Land Whale's battery was not holding a charge.

Paul and Jocelyn and Eivind went to the speaking engagement and I dealt with the battery.  Given the location of Beaverton, I called my brother, Jim, who lives nearby.  Fortunately, he was only moments into making dinner and suggested he and his lovely wife, Sharon, would be swooping in to pick me up to take me to dinner to an Italian restaurant they had been wanting to try.  It is always great to spend time with Jim and Sharon because they are solid, caring people.  I admire Jim for the man he turned out to be.  Dinner was pleasant but way too short.

I got to Paul's presentation in time to see him working his magic before a crowd of engaged listeners who hung on his every word.  Well, maybe not every word, but certainly most of them.  He showed portions of a video of one of his heroes, Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer.  As we approached nine o'clock I started giving him the cut off signal but it is always hard to pull him away from people who are eager to learn what he has to teach.  Upon leaving at long last, we picked up the last member of the tour, Jimmy Pardo, the guy who makes the outstanding music for Paul's videos.  It has been great traveling with Paul and Jocelyn and Eivind, but adding Jimmy made our number five, and the dynamics changed in a perceptibly positive way.

Charging down I-5, our destination was to my sister, Jean's house.  Jean and I had our tonsils out together when we were very young and that experience of being in the hospital created a link that has always been there.  It was a time when our history was inextricably bound tighter than just being siblings.  Anyway, Jean exudes hospitality and caring and she took my band of fellow travelers in without a second's hesitation. That is one of the hallmarks of our family, I think; the price of admission and acceptance is simply being somehow tied to another member of the family.  Over the years I have seen the boyfriends and girlfriends (among these, some of them mine) introduced by siblings and my family has embraced each of them warmly and without reservation simply on the basis of a brother or a sister saying, "he/she is with me."  My band of Permie Tour 2012 folks  appeared with me and Jean said, "Welcome!"  We got dinner and breakfast and interesting conversation with Jean and her husband,  Lawrence, who always has something that adds to the discussion.

Jean learned much of this attitude of hospitality from our Mother and Father, who were always rounding up strays for a Sunday dinner or other festivity.  Looking at our schedule, I couldn't figure out how to get a visit to my Mom, who lives less than 30 miles from Jean.  I couldn't even imagine how the heck I would get the Land Whale to her door or even how to get it back on the road.  What a bad son!  I called Mom and, like so many times in my life, my dilemma was met with patience and forbearance.  No guilt trip, just love and best wishes for a fun and safe journey.

(l to r) Paul, Jocelyn, Geoff, Eivind, and Jimmy at Silver Falls
In the morning we headed up to Silver Park where Jean's son, Dylan (my nephew), is the Interpretive Ranger.  Dylan gave us the short loop tour of the Falls pointing out the interesting flora, fauna and geology.  Jimmy spotted a small snake by the trail and Dylan carefully picked it up to find it was a type of garter snake he had not seen before in the Park.
Dylan, Snake Handler

 I am as proud as an uncle can be of Dylan.  He is upstanding, committed to making the world a better place and just a joy to watch as he engages with people.  He is contemplating entering teaching as a career and nothing makes me want to be a first grader more than the thought of being one of his pupils.  After the tour we got the Land Whale back on the road and headed to Newport, Oregon, for one of our rare off-days.

Newport is an ocean-side town, obviously, and it gave us all a chance to walk on the beach in the fog. Newport is also a popular spot for tourists so there was some shopping (ho-hum) by some members of our party.  Our tour of Newport peaked at Nye Beach Sweets Shop because Paul needed ice cream.  When Paul needs ice cream, well...Anyway, this was kind of a funky place and Paul determined that it was the place to bring out "the Hat of Awesomeness."  This is a hat that was custom-made for Paul and his work promoting permaculture.  There was something about this sweet shop that demanded an appearance by the hat.  See if you can tell what it is.

This evening my dear friend, Heidi, called from Montana where she was waiting for "Shakespeare in the Park" to begin.  I don't know how many years I have gone to this event with her and her husband Mike, or her and other friends, on the Oval of The University of Montana.  I was touched that my absence prompted her call.  I knew when I agreed to pilot the Land Whale for Paul that there were going to be certain important things in my life I would be forgoing, and this was certainly one of them.  Shakespeare in the Park is one of those touchstones of tradition that binds us again and again to our friends so that no matter what happens in our lives, we always return to this stage and find familiarity, affection and understanding--those things which ground us when the planet and our daily lives would fling us into space.  As you finish reading this, think of someone you know--a friend or family member--who needs to hear from you.  Be that person who gives them grounding.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Two For One!

 We finally pulled out of Jocelyn's driveway at around 7:30 to begin the tour in earnest; granted, a half hour later than I wanted but this trip is not so much about schedules as it is getting where we are going to let Paul teach and learn.  I mean up to this point, it had been a matter of venturing out from the base camp of her home.  Now we were leaving the planet and going into space in our own self-contained Land Whale.  Eivind served as co-pilot and kept me posted on the GPS directions while Paul and Jocelyn sat at the dining room table and stayed connected to the world via our mobile hot spot.  Connectivity is one of the problems we had to solve before this journey could be undertaken and it seems to work amazingly well.

Speaking of connectivity, nearly everyone agrees that connectivity of tires to the road is a good idea so when we were near Fort Lewis, Washington, a passing motorist waved frantically at us pointing to the left rear tire, I pulled over.  Knowing the Land Whale, I knew this was probably extremely necessary.  When we pulled safely off the road, our inspection of the rig showed that the outer tire of the rear dual set was pretty much shredded. Since the inner tire was keeping us up, Paul suggested we limp along to the next exit which was about half a mile away and pull off and put the Good Sam Road side Service membership to good use.  In spite of taking an inordinate amount of time (a little staff development wouldn't hurt, Good Sam!) to get us located and our needs communicated, we finally got a visit from Bob of S and S Tires.  This is what he was faced with:     

Bob was one of those workman who doesn't sit around a chat--he had a job to do and he did it, quickly and efficiently.  I think the only sentence he uttered while he was working was when he looked at the condition of the inner tire and said, "I'm surprised that one didn't go, too." He put two new tires on the Land Whale faster than I could even figure out how to do it if it was only up to me.  He took a look at the rest of our rubber and pronounced it serviceable.  I hope Bob is appreciated by everyone he helps as much as I appreciated him.  Having cheated Death one more time, off we headed to Friendly Haven Rise Farm

Navigating the Land Whale to the farm took us over roads that reminded me of a roller coaster. The civil engineers who designed these roads never gave much thought to them EVER having ice on them.  I swear the vertical pitch to some of them seemed more than 25%. Like going over an asphalt waterfall.  Wheee.

That stopped mattering when we finally arrived at Friendly Haven Rise Farm and the home of Jacqueline and Joseph.  Their farm simply buzzes with activity--gardening, goats, chickens, cows, permaculture vegetable beds, cheese-making, and dozens of other farm-related activities.  When we got there, we got put right to work butchering recently slaughtered chickens to go in the freezer to be eaten over the winter.

 Starting with Big Paul (who was wielding a knife) and moving clockwise, we see Eivind (our fellow traveler) loading freezer bags with raw chicken leftovers for the energetic farm dog (Rousseau), neighbor Ray (who stopped by and is cutting chickens), Joseph (our host and head butcher) and Julie (a visitor who came by to learn permaculture methods to use in her own agricultural aspirations) all moving in good order to complete one of many necessary farm tasks.  I volunteered my impeccably neat hand-writing to label the freezer bags.

These chickens were all "meat birds" and a couple of older layers that were raised on the farm.  The chickens are farm workers, too.  Nobody lives on the farm without a purpose.  They help with pest control and can eat down a weed patch in short order.  Rousseau is both a companion and a deterrent.  He gets chicken bits in addition to a diet that includes goat milk whey left over from cheese making.  The diet agrees with him because his bright-eyed and boundlessly energetic, always ready to chase a stick.

But what about that other buzzing?  Why, those are the other several hundred thousand farm workers.  Jacqueline is a beekeeper extraordinaire.  Using Warre hives primarily, she keeps bees all over her property.  The bees are an essential element to pollenization that is the cornerstone to plant production. Without the bees, eating becomes an almost insurmountable problem.  Jacqueline, like a lot of beekeepers, has a special relationship with her bees that can best be described as wonder, reverence, fiercely protective and affectionate.  She does very little with her bees for the sake of honey, however.  That's their reward for the work they do.

Recently an old rotting tree was taken down in the neighborhood.  When it hit the ground, the sawyer realized it was full of bees and so Jacqueline was called.  Joseph and some friends went and got the portion of the trunk the bees were living in (an eleven foot section he says weighed a thousand pounds) and brought it back to Friendly Haven Rise Farm.  Since the space inside the trunk was very limited, after setting it upright, Joseph cut a pattern that matched the exact shape of the top of the trunk and used it to help make the base of a double height Warre hive Jacqueline fixed tot he top of the trunk. That gave the bees a spacious penthouse to move into and enjoy the spectacular views from above the rest of the farm.  Today the bees (feral bees of naturally occurring stock) are a prominent part of the Farm operation and are doing well.

Jacqueline needs a ladder to visit her "tree bees"
 Friendly Haven Rise Farm is a fully functioning farm.  Things grow here that feed people.  Good things, healthy things.  I know because I graced their table for lunch, dinner and pancakes for breakfast this morning.  Both Jacqueline and Joseph are thoughtful people who are mindful of what it means to be stewards of the energy that feeds people.  Their animals are well-treated, their plants, vegetables and fruits are healthy and wholesome without the application of pesticides or herbicides or fertilizers.  Pests are not eradicated so much as kept in balance with other natural forces made up of plants, insects, birds or animals.  Everything found on the farm is there for a purpose and the role of farmers like Jacquiline and Joseph is to find out what that purpose is, and keep its place in balance.  Voles?  When Jacqueline opens up on voles, it is with wonder and appreciation for all they do for her.  Snakes?  You bet--Friendly Haven Farm creates snake-friendly habitat so slither on in, there will be a place to stay and lots of slugs to eat!

I'm the driver.  I am not a permaculturalist, a farmer, or a proselytizer for farming techniques. As a gardener I am little better than a dilettante.  Seeing this operation is opening some doors in my mind about farming, though, and new ways of doing things.  Jacqueline and Joseph gave me the word on making and applying some stuff called "tree paste" that they say boosts apple tree health and will probably discourage beavers.  What's not to like about that?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tour Eve

We launch the formal Permie Tour 2012 "Symphony with Seeds and Soil" tomorrow, so today is sort of a kick back, pack, stow, complete checklists sort of day.  I have been living in the Land Whale for a week and have utilized some of that naval ship-shape-ness I have mentioned before.  My bunk is made and stashed away each morning; my clothes are neatly put away in the tiny cubby hole that is mine;  my bike tools, bike lights, spare flashlight, binoculars, etc. are stowed in what (in my mind) is called the "gear locker." The bikes are locked and loaded on the carrier, the gas tank is full, new wipers are on, I checked the oil--maybe I am finally becoming the neat-nik person my Mom was always looking for when I was a kid.   Jocelyn is a kindred soul in this--I can tell she has that organizing gene.  She is doing her part to see that things are being collected, organized and prepared for a final push to load out in the morning.  She no doubt recognizes that she will be living with three men in a tiny space for three weeks and is probably trying to instill a standard that will make it work for all of us.

Speaking of Jocelyn, she is attending to the needs of her clients and setting them up for her to work for the next three weeks "on the fly" from the Land Whale which is equipped with a mobile wi-fi hot spot.  All you readers who work at home, take heart.  Now "home" can be a Land Whale hurtling down the interstate at 60 miles an hour or so.  Or on some farm in California where interesting things are being grown in interesting ways.

Crane Girl Statue
Paul, who used to live in Seattle, felt we should take some "shore leave" this morning and go into Seattle. His sights to see were not the usual tourist fare, though.  He felt the statue of the "Girl of a Thousand Cranes" a 'must-see' so we went there first.  The story, he told me, was that a young girl who was a survivor of the atomic bombing of Japan became very ill due to radiation exposure.  She believed that if she made one thousand paper cranes in the name of Peace, she would get better.  He said she didn't make it to one thousand and she didn't live.  Her peaceful example, though, of avoiding self-pity and working on a task devoted to world peace inspired the creation of a statue to her memory.  Today the statue is continuously draped with the paper cranes folded by others who want to make sure the little girl always has thousands of paper cranes around her.

The next place we went was to the Ballard Locks (officially the "Hiram M. Chittenden Locks".  These are the locks that allow boats to pass from Lake Union to Puget Sound.  I have always been fascinated by boats and water and how humans have built things to take advantage of bodies of water.  Today, for example, I saw a yacht that had to be nearly 100 feet long ease up into the locks and drop down into the Sound for a day of motor sailing, or heading off somewhere exotic.  Right behind it were a couple of women in a small sailboat heading out for their own water borne day on the water.  The people running the locks seemed experienced and helpful as they filled and drained the locks over and over again assisting people get where they are going.  It looked like a job I would enjoy doing for a while, but only when the sun was shining which would probably mean Seattle would not be a good match. 

Boat in Ballard Locks
On the other side of the locks there is a fish ladder that allows salmon heading to the sea as smolt to leave and spawning salmon looking to return to their freshwater homes to get through the locks themselves.  There is a cool viewing window where the returning fish swim by and get a rest from climbing the ladder before moving on.  I saw a dozen children transfixed by the presence of living, wild fish right before their eyes.  As a bonus, there were enormous sea lions hanging around the fish ladder like it was buffet night at the local fish joint--quite a show to seem them flash through the water after the salmon.   If you are in Seattle with kids, its a winner of a stop, and I recommend it.(Ballard Locks) There is a lovely park right there and the Carl S. English Botanical Garden so you can also go see some lovely, albeit not quite permacultural, gardening.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Paul and Jocelyn and I took our tour North to the area around Bellingham, Washington.  We began with a visit to Delhi Wind Bamboo to see the bamboo nursery and ask questions of Jesse Copeland, an able hand in a bamboo grove or the deck of a ship.[ Full disclosure, Jesse is my nephew and Delhi Wind Bamboo is run by his Dad and Mom, who is my sister.] Delhi Bamboo supplies nurseries along the west coast states with decorative bamboo.  Bamboo, technically a grass, is an amazing plant with many uses.  There are thousands of varieties of bamboo and it can be found growing in almost every climate.

Here's an interesting game to play:  The Use of Bamboo.  Any number of players can play.  The first player names a use for bamboo and then each player in turn names a use until every player has named a use and then the players start over naming a use in turn.  Any player who cannot name a use for bamboo is out.  The last player to name a use wins. The game goes on much longer than you think it can!

After leaving Delhi Wind Bamboo, we went to Inspiration Farms to visit Brian and Alexandra.   Inspiration Farms is a great example of what permaculture practices can yield.  Brian is a thoughtful, patient,  intuitive individual who has developed a sensitivity for the plants and animals on his place and how they interact.  Both he and Alexandra understand that their work is a knitting together of organisms in a way that forms a farm operation that produces abundant, healthy, tasty food.  The basic layout of their farm begins with consideration of the contours of the land which allows Brian to take advantage of natural drainage paths to manage water and run-off from the animal pens.  He also extolled the virtues of brush piles, pointing out that in early years the piles create habitat for birds, snakes and other critters who are part of his pest control strategy.  Over the years as the piles break down, he is left with rich soil and new places to plant.  After sitting down with Paul to record a podcast (go over to in a week or so to hear it) Brian and Alexandra hosted us with a lovely lunch (dining al fresco on the farmhouse's patio) featuring the delicious food grown on their farm. Over the past 18 years Inspiration Farms has gone from a tired old farmstead to a ten acre fountain of vitality. 

Alexandra and Brian podcasting with Paul
I  believe  in her book, On Revolution, Hannah Arendt made the distinction between labor and work where (paraphrasing here) 'labor' is effort spent for wages on someone else's behalf, and 'work' is something we all must do both to survive and because it edifies and sustains us.  Brian(who is also a recognized glass artist) and Alexandra embody this work spirit on Inspiration Farms and the joy and satisfaction that comes from their attachment to their land and all it brings forth beams from their faces.

After leaving Inspiration Farms, we headed over to visit Christy.  Her home is a great example of mindful farming in an urban context.  I say "farming" because what Christy has going is more than just gardening.  In addition to beautiful flowers and vegetables, she keeps an impressive flock of chickens of several varieties who come running when she whistles.  She also showed us her gardening hugelkultur berm (see that was not only covered with a variety of healthy squash plants, but had a variety of flowers and other plants including some "free range" potatoes.  Christy claims she cannot raise potatoes on purpose but they have appeared in her hugelculture berm as volunteers and are thriving!  She also pointed out this wasp nest high in a tree near her gooseberry plants.  After years of trying to cope with berry bush worms--a form of caterpillar--she found this year that they were drastically reduced in number and she suspects the wasps have joined her permaculture operation as pest control drones.
Wasp Nest
Christy's efforts demonstrate that permaculture principles and techniques can be successfully used in an urban setting. The animals, trees, vegetables, flowers and other plants all seem to work together to create an  oasis of beauty and bounty. Her "in-town" operation is healthy and thriving because of the joy and enthusiasm she brings to her projects and should give every urban dweller hope for what they might accomplish with less yard and more permaculture.

Our last stop of the day was to a place called Pragtree Farm and its residents, Paul and Kara.  Pragtree Farm is a piece of agricultural property owned by the Evergreen Land Trust (ELT).  It was started initially, I understand, some 40 years ago as kind of a rural laboratory for farmers and artists where different ideas about living on the land could be tried.  Over the years different groups and individuals have lived at Pragtree and tried to make a go of it.  As often happens, the land and the demands of agricultural stewardship in a context of group dynamics become so fractious and weighty, the human systems break down.  That is what has happened at Pragtree.  After frustrated worn out people left the place, the land and orchards have been neglected, the operational systems have broken down, the buildings need work and, most of all, the farm community and vision need to be re-established.  Enter Paul and Kara who applied and were selected by the ELT to make a proposal to turn Pragtree around and head it toward something resembling its founding vision.

Sitting around their cozy kitchen table sipping tea, they talked with Paul about the challenges they faced, getting the farm's productivity back and negotiating the social and political mine fields that attend their circumstances being chief among them.  It was refreshing to see the hope and determination to succeed break through again and again past the clouds of apprehension.  This couple and their young family are returning to the land--not for the hard work and the many mistakes they will surely make--but to do something noble and good. They will work hard and their reaching out for knowledge and advice shows me they have a quality of humility and patience that seems consistent in the kind of farmers I am meeting.  They are going to heal the land and bring forth good food in a way that is healthy, and I wish them the very best.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


This morning it was "out and down" at 4:15 a.m.  I was up and THEN I heard a rooster crowing.  The early call was made in order for us to scoop up Helen and Skip, two of Paul's Woodinville area fans, and head north to Anacortes to catch the early ferry to Orcas Island where a tour of the famous Bullock's Permaculture Homestead had been arranged.  If you have never done a ferry trip through Washington's inter-coastal islands, put it on your "bucket list."  The ride is smooth, the service is great and the views are spectacular.

On the Ferry

The Bullock Brothers brought an unusual approach to the property they farm on Orcas Island.  Like all permaculture approaches, they approach farming like Tai Chi Chu'an.  The purpose is not to work against Nature in farming but to observe, adapt and observe again using Nature as a partner more than an opponent to be subdued.  Everything about growing must be considered: climate, microclimate, companion planting, water source and water treatment, the farmer's own consumption and waste generation, non-farm animals like bullfrogs and songbirds.  It is this reflective engagement with farming that makes most people in the permaculture world consider the Bullock Brothers operation one of the most interesting examples of permaculture being employed, and one with obvious results.

A multiple-grafted apple tree or "Frankenfruit."
The Bullock's Permaculture Homestead is a living laboratory, too, where young people vie to be awarded a spot on the Homestead's roster of 12 "skill builders."  Skill builders are learning by doing as they implement the Bullock brothers' permaculture ideas on the farm.  They learn practical skills used on every farm but also those skills of patient observation and consideration of systems at work both in Nature and on the farm.  This learning aspect will prepare these young people to go out in the world not only with knowledge of farming but with a practiced eye to observe what is happening on the land.

One skill builder, Jane, conducted our group's tour today.   For three hours she walked us through the farm's kitchen, herb garden, tree forests, ponds, chicken pens, plant and flower nursery, water management system, living quarters and a host of other elements at work.  While we walked around the property she showed us example after example where the land had been healed, where innovative production methods were at work, where plants and soil and critters all seemed to buzz in a harmony that made me think, this is what farming ought to look like.

Jane explains the solar-powered water pump system
Now, among my readers there are doubtless those who are master gardeners or even permacultural enthusiasts.  Those readers may have their own thoughts and ideas about what farming or even gardening should be, and they may feel the Bullock's almost exclusively off-grid experimenting is not practical any more than their heavy reliance on re-used, recycled and re-purposed stuff. The fact remains, we only have so much stuff and so many ways to use it before it is used up or spoiled.

Presently the world relies on a global corporate system that uses chemical and petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and questionable land clearance practices to provide the world's food.  That approach has limits that seem more and more apparent every day. It seems to me that trying to be a partner in growing makes more sense than growing food in a global, highly mechanized and chemical basis in the long run as quality local food becomes more valued and appreciated.  Could it be that permaculture and examples like the Bullock's Permaculture Homestead are going to show the way to make agriculture a much more meaningful and proximate part of human life?  Do we have the time and means to fulfill the promise of permaculture?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Make and Mend

According to Patrick O'Brian in his wonderful novels about 19th Century British naval captain, Jack Aubrey, Thursdays are "make and mend days."  The day is set aside when the urgency of weather or warfare don't demand the sailor's time so the crew can focus on cleaning, mending, patching, re-stowing gear, etc.  It's a day of light duty and an opportunity to inflict a little British naval order on the ship.  Even though today is Saturday, we did a little make and mend around the Land Whale.

Land Whales (RV's) borrow a lot from maritime technology and small boat design.  There are clever, somewhat smaller systems, cubbyholes and storage places wherever one can be imagined and elements that can serve multiple purposes such as a kitchenette seating area that will convert each evening to become a future crew member's bunk. Figuring out how to make these Land Whale features work takes some practice and figuring out, and that is what I focused on today while Jocelyn and Paul got their professional lives in order to be on the road.  There are only the three of us at this time and we are still inventing this trip and what it will take to survive.  As a result, I figure it is wise to get ahead of the learning curve and find places for all the stuff we figured we need so far.  Stuff we urgently piled into the Land Whale when we picked it up, for example, has now been stowed in what I imagine is the best place and manner for it. 

We still have room for some more stuff if it comes to that but we are definitely going to go on this voyage in ship shape.  All the lessons our mothers tried to teach us about immediately picking up after ourselves, cleaning up our messes and putting things away now make so much more sense than when I was a teenager.  And those lessons will now be our practice.

One alert reader commented to me about the "whole earth" angle of riding in a Land Whale while promoting permaculture, and wondered how the approach to this venture squares with planetary stewardship.  Given all the many variables in Paul and Jocelyn's lives, given the places we need to go for Paul to do his lectures, etc. it all fit an ethical calculation that worked for Paul.  And it only works if a would-be sailor comes along as a pilot and recorder of the tale. Voila! C'est moi.  

For the next several days we are going to do some day trips to sites Paul and Jocelyn are interested in checking out.  I will post pictures of the places we see.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Golden Cord

Day 2.  Yesterday Paul realized he had forgotten to bring his laptop's power cord and we sorted through all the possible solutions and finally settled on his taking an early morning trip to Staples to see if they had one that would fit.  No luck.  That meant heading to an electronics superstore called Fry's that was sure to have it.  Given the thrills of guiding the Land Whale through urban traffic, I had hoped there was a different way to get there, but we couldn't come up with it so off we went. The Land Whale's finer points do not include economical gas mileage, either, but the cord was a necessity if Paul was to deliver his presentation to his first scheduled group of fans and interested permaculturalists.

We had finished at Frys and were back on I-405 N when a huge racket started under the engine cowling between Paul's seat and mind.  I suspected we had lost a belt and made a bee-line for the nearest exit which, as luck would have it, was right there.  I cruised us into an ARCO gas station right off the exit and commanded only four or five parking spaces.  Since Paul and my combined automotive knowledge and skill amounted to being able to locate the front and rear end of a vehicle 99 times out of 100, we knew we needed help.  Paul called everyone he knew in the area to see if they could come help.  After a couple of hours trying to see if my AAA would help (it wouldn't), and Paul's friends drawing a blank, we finally settled on calling a wrecker.  In the mean time, Paul had a presentation to tweak and headed home to Jocelyn's to work on it, leaving me in the 95 degree parking lot to get the Land Whale road worthy once more. [To acknowledge that we had learned our lesson about planning for emergencies, Paul had me join the "Good Sam" roadside rescue and repair service so that the Land Whale would be covered where my AAA would not.].

Steve from Quality Towing showed up in his primary blue monster tow truck.  He sized up the situation and began to go to work.  I looked at the Land Whale and its weird wheel base and enormous length and began to worry that he was going to tell me rigs like ours couldn't be towed, that they had to be hauled out by Chinook helicopters.  Instead, he got to work changing out his tow bits and making all fast.  It was hot work on hot asphalt and it reminded me once again how many people in the world do tough work to make the rest of our lives function.  [Thanks, you guys.  You know who you are.]  At long last after a thorough and careful job of getting the Land Whale up on the hoist, Steve looked at our exit route and saw it plugged with selfish drivers who lives required getting themselves someplace more urgently than allowing the half a minute it would take to get us out into traffic.  I was about to offer to go stand in traffic to create the gap we needed when Steve put the whole shooting match into reverse and backed up about the length of the Land Whale and turned in the lot and exited out the other side.  You won't hear me bragging about what a skillful driver I am after seeing that demonstration.  As we pulled out into traffic, Steve remarked, "I'm taking you to Moe's. We do a lot of business with Moe's and I trust them."

Once at Moe's Steve got the rig parked on the street and proceeded to unhook it and put everything back the way it was when he picked me up at ARCO,  The bill for hauling Land Whale to get fixed: $335.  The value of seeing a good-natured, hard-working man do his job well in the blazing hot sun: Priceless.  Well done, Steve.  You are the man.

It was 4:00 and I found out the people at Moe's carried that same theme.  Scott Moe, the owner, is a man who has exemplified what America is known for: one guy who started out with his skill and some tools who used hard work, competence and fair dealing and parlayed it into a successful small business with a good reputation.   Scott and his people had plenty to deal with before the Land Whale landed in his lap and, yet, he put a couple of guys to work on getting me back on the road.  John and Jered took a look and confirmed my diagnosis of blown belt and tried to match the remnants with a belt that would get the Land Whale's 1990 454 cu. inch Chevy heart beating again. 

While waiting for NAPA to deliver the part, I asked Jered to take a look at the power steering fluid levels and to top it off it was low.  Later he mentioned that it was below the minimum fill line.  So now maybe a little more response?  Meanwhile,  NAPA had hard time confirming a delivery that late in the day so Scott sent Jered after it in the company truck.  When he got back with the belt, it was the wrong size, so he had to go back.  Because it was the end of the day, Scott took off and assured me John and Jered would get the belt "slapped on" as soon as it arrived.  Sure enough, around 6:00 the belt was on and the Land Whale roared to life. Again, two guys doing their job to get somebody's life back on track.  Not complaining, not flinging insults at the Land Whale--just getting it done.  Taking my cue from Steve of Quality Towing, I trusted Moe's Truck Repair--I gave Connie, the accounts manager, my credit card and told her to charge us whatever it cost.

Paul got to his lecture and delivered his suitably tweaked presentation.  On balance, it was probably best that the belt failed when it did rather than somewhere desolate and remote. Yes, it was an errand that ended up costing several hundred dollars, and, yes, it would have been better if Paul hadn't forgotten his cord, but the hassle was not nearly as bad as it might have been.

I hung out at the Land Whale until they picked me up around ten.  On the drive back to Jocelyn's, I was astonished at the responsiveness of the Land Whale and felt some comfort in the fact that the beast was now better-mannered and sounder in it's operation.  As I pulled in and shut down the rig, I noticed that the fuel gauge, full just yesterday in Spokane, was almost to E.  To quote Firesign Theatre "While E has always stood for Excellence in my life, I guess it mean that little red needle is pointing to "empty."  We haven't solved that problem in the Land Whale yet.     

Call Me Ishmael

August 15.  [Paul Wheaton is passionate about permaculture as way to feed the planet.  He thinks and researches and talks about it all the time.  This tour of the Western United States was Paul's opportunity to tell more people about permaculture, its benefits for human health and the health of the planet.  I can't speak to permaculture like Paul can so to learn more about it, head on over to  This blog is simply about my experiences as the tour driver.]

After sorting a number of packing and logistical challenges, Paul Wheaton and I set off from Missoula, Montana, for his brother Tim's place north of Spokane, Washington to pick up the RV we refer to as "The Land Whale."  On the way we stopped at the Long Lake Dam where we encountered an osprey nest filled with a mama and two youngsters.  It's always nice to see the raptors doing well.  At Tim's place, we got a cursory tour of the Land Whale, its features and its systems and tossed our stuff in it and headed out.  Call me Ishmael. Or maybe Captain Boomer.

Tim and his wife, Kristie, told us it was going to be a different kind of driving than I was used to.  They attributed it to sitting in a driver's seat that was positioned forward of the wheels, but offered that I would get used to it by the time we reached San Diego.  As soon as we set out, [Odometer: 63,395.7    Mileage: 0] I knew the Land Whale would handle in a way that was different than my 12-year old PT Cruiser.  First, it is more than twice as long so there is much more to keep track of.  Second, the 1990 Land Whale (a "Sprint" by Mallard Recreational Vehicles) has air shocks that rode us down Tim's dirt driveway in a pitching roll that reminded me of a bear juggling feathers while riding a unicycle. The steering was mushy and not terribly responsive with a slight hesitation after every slight turn of the wheel as if the rig was thinking about what I asked it to do before it did it.  No racing at LeMans for us! It led to a day of constant steering/counter steering all the way to Woodenville near Seattle and harkening back to Procul Harem, my knuckles were a whiter shade of pale as I attempted to negotiate our behemoth in big city traffic. (More about that later.).

Shortly after passing an out-of-control wildfire near Cle Elum, we found ourselves in a forced time-out as road crews undertook seasonal blasting chores on Snoqualimie Pass. It was probably a good thing I got a bit of a rest because the next hour or so of driving was a lot of  high speed, bumper to bumper stuff and, although I had the height advantage, 'nimble' was not a quality on my side.  It was all I could do to keep between the lines and make my lane changes in a timely and safe manner.  It wasn't as if it was simply me versus the road elements and traffic.  Once, as I was turning left at an intersection, a guy in sports car in the lane to my right decided to perform a U-turn by crossing in front of me.  Probably a death wish.

We did arrive at our destination, the home of Jocelyn, the gal Paul says he is keeping time with.  I guess she is a clock or watch to him, but she is a very nice woman with a grand heart. I am pretty sure he agrees with me about that.  We got the Land Whale parked and I chose to sleep in it, and too my surprise, it was a comfortable, restful place.  In the future, I will be trying to sleep in it with three or four other people for a three weeks or so; it remains to be seen whether murder, mayhem or nightmares ensue.