This past weekend, Paige and I drove up to Pennsylvania to help my family move my Grandma Bubby out of her house and into a new apartment. And, as a bonus, I was permitted to cherry-pick for the taking, all of the marvelous tools left in my late Pap-Pap’s workshop. It was a moving experience that brought to mind what my teachers Tao Orion and Abel Kloster explained to us as a strong underlying theme of the school of Permaculture, which is, in essence, “looking backward to move forward.”
The only way we learn is by trying, observing, and adapting. Permaculture draws many of its founding principles from the life ways of indigenous cultures and groups of people who live(d) with the land in such a way that integrates the humans into the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth. In these ways of life, there was usually an unspoken dedication to the long-term preservation, or better yet proliferation, of resources for the sake of future generations. The people belonging to the tribes all over the world that match this description, (and those which existed in this country until the intrusions of Europeans in the 15th Century) did not learn how to follow nature’s patterns, maximize yields, and sustain the richness of life overnight, it was of course a process of looking backward, of trying, observing, and adapting over the course of many, many years.
As one result of colonialism, imperialism, and many other Eurocentric-isms, we are here today with incredible accessibility to historical information regarding the life ways of these people. Had medieval Christianity prioritized Christ-like compassion over Manifest Destiny, we may have had actual populations of these folks still around today instead of museum exhibits of the black and white photos of their ancestors. Nonetheless, we as gardeners, caretakers, can seek out ethnographies, memoirs, and other documents which reveal the myriad lessons of ecological stewardship that were implicit in these life-ways, and we can do our best to learn passively from the remnants of history, and humbly attempt to see the world the way they saw it, without romanticizing or ignoring the context from which it came.
Similarly, we can find lessons in our own ancestry by asking our elders what life was like for them growing up, how they kept their soil fertile, how they made the most of what they had. This is what “appropriate technology” is all about. It was there long before Bill Mollison (the “initiator” of Permaculture) gave it a name, it was resourcefulness, and in many cases, survival tactics.
|The last photo taken of me with Pap-Pap, summer 2011.|
This past weekend, the looking backward to move forward came for me in the form of removing the wrenches that have hung on Pap-Pap’s pegboard for as long as I can remember, and packing away the well-organized coffee cans and margarine tubs of precisely labels nails and screws of every size that he had been accumulating since the time my Dad was in middle school. Each item I packed away emanated his spirit and the decades of intentionality, of acquiring, giving, and finding purpose for these things. Though he was not there in person to pass on his collection, I felt honored to be trusted by my family to continue his legacy, to take up this treasure that others may have put in the scrap metal pile.
By the time we left Pittsburgh, my little 92 Toyota was packed to the absolute max with tarps, folding aluminum lawn chairs, shovels, picks, iron bars and several of his old wooden boxes filled with a few of your common files, wrenches, and hammers (the screw drivers had all been scavenged by my father’s generation) but the majority of what filled the 5 old and new tool boxes I found were things that you need every once and a while but you always wish you had, specialty tools, soldering irons, glue guns, and plenty of his homemade inventions. He had saved nutpickers, Tic-Tac containers, hunks of lead, popsicle sticks, toothbrushes, bits of garden hose attached to old saw-zall blades and created tools. He had had specific purposes for these items, and use them to fix things that I can’t even imagine. It was great to have my dad there to reminisce and explain how and when Pap-Pap had used many of these self-creations, but there were other things that surly, only he could have explained (e.g. a drawer full of peanut can peel-back tin lids).
After seeing the sagging truck bed, Paige, I know, was a bit worried about starting my own trend of accumulating, but I defended the duality of utility and heirloom, but she says the former is subjective. But I also know that she is just as excited as me to have Pap Pap’s resourcefulness live on to inspire us as we begin our journey together.