The Vastest Year Yet

Each year has seemed to go by quicker than the last, but not this year. It has felt not just long but vast, if that makes sense. Perception of time has always intrigued me. I’d wondered why as a child everything takes forever yet as we age we arrive at Sunday evening and wonder where the rest of the week went.

After some research it appears that our perception of time is strongly influenced by novel experiences. And as a child pretty much everything is new. As we get older and fall into routines we see the same places, same people, do the same things.

We encounter very little that is new to us and our brain takes less notice and care to tuck any of that into memory since it’s already there. Thus when looking back at the day, the week, the month, the year, it felt like it flew by because we didn’t make as many new memories to look back on.

So back to this year and the nature of its immenseness. There are several things I can easily credit, but the big two were moving the store and my taking an interest in Permaculture.

Spring cleaning in the barn didn’t make for good photos, so here is something more pleasant.

The store move was pure chaos. For some time I’d known that I needed to get out of there to save on rent money and get away from having vendors, but it was a matter of getting everything else into place and being able to keep the lights on until then. It became a game of snatching up opportunities as they presented themselves, and going with the flow. Neither of which I’m good at, being a planner and all, but hello novel experiences!

One minute I was buying who knows what at Rogers Flea Market to flip at the shop in hopes I could pay the electric bill that month, the next I was shoveling chicken shit out of the basement of the barn to remove that “it’s seriously a barn” odor (in case we had to move in there earlier than planned).

Trying to plan a mere week in advance was hopeless as I never knew what kind of resources I’d have at my disposal. If sales were good I could go to the local building materials auction to look for windows for the barn, if they were bad I could pick up more hours at my online transcribing job but then have no time to do anything else.

In retrospect I can appreciate that navigating that messy maze was at least creating numerous novel experiences. (However I’ll go on the record as saying moving your shop into a barn under immense financial and time pressures is a questionable way to trick your brain into feeling like you’ve lived more days than you actually have!)

Really though, there is something to be said for that. Looking back over the past year I feel like it wasn’t just longer, it was richer. I learned more, I remembered more, I experienced more, I felt more, and I would say I lived more. Which brings into question how we currently live.

My garden was a jungle, mixed vegetables and herbs grew all together and thrived.

As if it isn’t already enough that we spend 40+ years working at a job to fulfill someone else’s dreams, we do so monotonously. And so not only are we selling off our years, we’re even selling off our perception of those years. We’re barely living them, and even less remembering them- which I could argue is the greater loss.

What is life if not being able to appreciate the memories you’ve made? People can say live in the moment all they want, but without being able to reflect on those past moments to learn from them, grow, find joy, relive the hard times to remind us what we can’t be kept down- what is the point?

And that brings me to Permaculture. An idea I’ve unknowingly arrived at via multiple unrelated paths throughout the years but never had a name for. One day I had the realization that we have to work to live, yet only because we want too much, and know too little. Surely there must be a way to put work directly into the things you actually need to survive, and have it be sustainable long term.

A few Google searches later and I arrived Permaculture. The word comes from the notion of permanent culture, which can only be achieved through sustainable measures. Living sustainably incorporates so many different fields that it’s really a whole new way of being.

The Katahdin lambs my cousin and I raised this year.

From literal fields of pasture on which livestock are rotationally grazed to improve the soil and provide food, to Aquaculture, Renewable Energy, Mycology, Architecture,  and oodles more. I could research various areas of permaculture from today till the day I die and I’ll not have learned it all.

Part of what made moving the shop to the barn a solid choice was my increasing need to get into the garden and utilize what I’ve been learning. I have plenty of down time on slow days at the shop and I hate to waste it doing nothing.

By moving to the barn I can be working on other projects between customers, and what really sealed the deal for me was happening upon the idea of a food forest. You plant a literal forest from creeping vines and shrubs to trees, all of which are edible, medicinal, or used for coppicing to fuel rocket stoves. Don’t get me wrong, perusing Reddit in my free time is fun and all, but there’s something alluring about crafting an entire living super market in my backyard instead.

A food forest seemed so obvious and yet people grow a bunch of inedible ornamentals and spray weed killer all over their yards, then go to the store and buy apples.

The more I learned about Permaculture the more it felt like we’ve been doing everything wrong. And it’s embarrassing too because it’s not even just a little bit wrong, it’s making far more work for ourselves than was ever necessary and paying for it out of our own pockets level wrong.

Candy Cane Red peppers growing in my Back to Eden Garden.

At a point I just sat in front of my computer while reading an article about mycelium and as the words started blurring as I drifted into my mind I realized I basically have to relearn everything I know. Want a novel experience? Try at 29 unlearning everything you’d been living by up until that point and beginning the process of relearning the most basic concepts from the ground up. Hey, at least I’m young enough to see the literal fruits of what will be a very laborious next decade!

To even begin to fit this amount or relearning into this lifetime I’ve watched Permaculture related videos almost daily during my lunch breaks. Listened to podcasts while working. Signed up and completed a free Permaculture MOOC through Oregon State University.

Suddenly I’m trying to figure out what temperature the ground is at my house 5 feet below the surface, sticking large boulders in my garden, collecting old windows, spreading mulch everywhere, and sourcing seeds few people have heard of. I am swimming in novel experiences and my year has felt doubled.

What does any of this have to do with working a 9-5? As much or as little as you want it to I guess. Permaculture opens up possibilities for providing you and others with healthy food, you’ll have reduced heating and cooling costs, reduced waste removal costs, and many other benefits that both save you money (even make you money) and are less harmful for the environment if not outright improving it. Much of the work shifts with the seasons so you aren’t faced with the same thing day in and day out, making room for (you guessed it) novel experiences!

So call me crazy, but in 2019 I plan to carve out an even vaster plane of perceived time through learning and implementing more Permaculture principals. I’ll do my best to document the journey as I go along.

Musquee Du Provence squash vines after a rain.

As it stands this year I put in a small Back to Eden Garden and have been slowly expanding it, went from having no mulch to work with to I couldn’t even tell you how many cubic yards of mulch, planted 20 Christmas trees, acquired Pawpaw trees and seeds, saved 30+ varieties of fruit and vegetable seeds, built a small greenhouse against my house to give peppers and tomatoes an earlier start, and started clearing space to grow shiitake mushrooms. This all cost me just $40. I’ve become hella resource savvy, as is the Permaculte way! Now with the shop at the barn I’ll be over there even more and will be able to do so much more! 2019 is looking good.

P.S. If you’re interested in Permaculture check out Permies.com, it’s a great resource with likeminded people!