INTERPERSONAL PERMACULTURE

9 04 2014

written by Martin

Twenty years ago, when I was living in Vermont, a friend of mine moved from there down to middle Tennessee to join a startup permaculture community that was going to be centered around one of the big names in permaculture–honestly, I forget just who.  She returned to Vermont a few months later, saying she had been unable to get along with the guy well enough to stay.  We’re not talking boyfriend/girlfriend here, just being members of the same team/community.  Apparently, she was not the only person who couldn’t make it work with this particular guy, whoever he was, because he is no longer here in middle Tennessee, nor is there a twenty-year old, permaculture-based community in this area, to the best of my knowledge.

While I would love to be proved wrong about this and have members of this community emerge from obscurity and say, “We are here, we have been here, and here are at all the amazing things we’ve done in 20 years,” this apparently failed community is only one of a number of examples I could cite.  It seems that the tricky part of manifesting the long-term vision that permaculture demands isn’t molding the landscape, but forming and keeping together a community of people who can forge a common vision and implement it.  The same holds true for the whole spectrum of groups committed to “paradigm shift,” including, to name the first few that come to mind, political/environmental activism, the Transition Town movement, and healing centers and intentional communities. I have seen such difficulties arise, and disrupt communities and movements, numerous times over the course of my life.  That’s what I’m going to be discussing in this blog post:  what I have learned from my 40+ year involvement with intentional communities.

In college, I joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and was one of those who burned his draft card in Central Park in the late 60’s.  I attended enough SDS meetings to become discouraged by its failure to address the egos and emotions of those with a neurotic urge towards leadership and/or martyrdom, and its failure to “be the change it wanted to see.”ghandi Later I moved to San Francisco and witnessed the unravelling of the Haight-Ashbury as a viable community.  (In retrospect, my own neediness and lack of social and material skills probably helped propel that downfall, although I’m sure it all would have come apart just fine without me!)  I joined a small group that aspired to the model Robert Heinlein created in the science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land,” but that succumbed to the neuroses of its founders within a month.  I slept for one night and one night only at a Digger crash pad that had slid so far down the tubes that people were peeing in a sink full of dirty dishes, because the toilets had long ago stopped working.  (OK, that was actually on the Lower East Side of New York, but it was The Diggers.)  I attended what turned to be the last meeting of the San Francisco Diggers, where those who had been in the movement for a while bemoaned the fact that they didn’t own the buildings that they were trying to maintain as The Free Store and the Community Kitchen.  I met several times with a group of people who were getting together to buy land in southern Oregon. That disintegrated in the face of actually coming up with the cash necessary for the deal.  I hung out with the folks from the Harbinger Community, who had the use of a hot spring/resort hotel north of San Francisco.  They lasted a few months before dissolving in a cloud of bad drugs and irresponsible people. Read the rest of this entry »





GATHERING OF THE TRIBES

13 01 2008

In the heady days of the 1960’s and 70’s, when it seemed like our time was coming any day, we began to re-imagine the world. It was, and is, easy enough to point out how crazy things are–but what would “better,” radically better, look like?

By “we,” I mean those of us who were hippies not for the sex, drugs, and rock n’roll, (although, to be sure, we appreciated them!) but because we were (and in many cases still are) visionaries who could not sit down, shut up, and work like normal ants–I mean, people. We saw the artificiality of political boundaries, and the reality of natural ones, like watersheds and biological communities. We saw the futility of trying to make ignorant people change their ways through legislation, and found the satisfaction that comes from walking our talk and teaching by example. We founded magazines and movements like Co-evolution Quarterly, The New Alchemy Institute, Esalen Institute, and the Farm, and, for a while, seemed poised to turn the entire state of Vermont into a countercultural domain.

Two visionaries in particular found their tongues and began to frame a movement with a name. The name was “Bioregionalism,” and the visionaries were Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann; and true to the bioregional ideal, they were very different, but very complimentary.

Dasmann was the older of the two by a generation, and perhaps not ever technically a “hippie,” but certainly a visionary. He did study at UC Berkley as an undergraduate, but that was before World War II, which turned him into a soldier and sent him to New Guinea. By 1970, he was travelling the world for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and thus became one of the first scientists to get a global view of the ecological situation. His globetrotting brought him to the first UN environmental conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, which is where he met Peter Berg, who, while also a Californian, had been treading a very different path.

Peter Berg had been a member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the mid-sixties. The Mime Troupe, which still exists, specializes in radical street theater. Berg, in 1966, had the inspiration to take it one step further. That further step has come down to us as “The Diggers,” a group that tried to radically alter human relationships by making everything a free work of art–food, clothing, shelter, medical care. They were in effect the backbone of the seminal Haight-Ashbury counterculture community, and when it was ultimately overwhelmed, Berg found his way to a small commune way, way up in the Sierras. It was from there, as a self-appointed representative of the North American counterculture, that he went to the UN conference in Stockholm.

Berg’s meeting with Dasmann resulted in the creation of Planet Drum Foundation, an organization which to this day promotes a wholistic view of this world we live in. Berg used Planet Drum as a platform from which to convoke a “North American Bioregional Congress,” which he saw as parallel to the convocation of the first Continental Congress. His hopes that it would result in a radical reorganization of North American politics have not yet been realized, but the first North American Bioregional Congress is the point at which this story starts to become locally relevant.

Milo Guthrie, an herbalist and activist from the Nashville area, wanted to go to the bioregional congress–but only delegates from bioregional councils were entitled to attend. So he formed one–the Cumberland and Green River Basin Bioregional Council, named for the two major river systems (besides the vast Tennessee River basin itself) that define our area. The group’s name has conventionally been shortened to “The Cumberland Greens” and confused with the Green Party, which is inaccurate, although there is a relationship–the “Comittees of Correspondence” (another borrowing from the first American Revolution) that were formed out of the NABC did in fact form the nucleus of the Green Party of the United States.

“The Cumberland Greens” are not a political party, but a bioregional council—a group of people from around the bioregion who do our best to fully inhabit the places we live, to eat locally and dream globally. We meet to share our strengths and visions and take what action we can, and yes we know we are carrying a banner that was passed down to us from the hippies of San Francisco. We will be meeting January 19th at Brookmeade Congregational Church here in Nashville, and you and your visions are welcome to come. Contact Eric at islandspring@cafes.net for further details.

music: Incredible String Band, “Douglas Traherne Harding”

 








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