4th of July Compost, Interdependence Day and Aquaponic Gardening musings…

Urban Permaculture Design students tour Levi’s homestead in progress

It’s been another incredible week examining and further considering my work/life/love of learning about system re-design, including a trip to one of our urban permaculture design sites at Levi’s place. Here’s a photo of a portion of the aquaponics system he’s designing and now building which includes a bin of composting red wigglers.
Aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soilless growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. The third participants are the microbes (nitrifying bacteria) and composting red worms that thrive in the growing media. They do the job of converting the ammonia from the fish waste first into nitrites, then into nitrates and the solids into vermi-compost that that are food for the plants.

July Full Moon over the Eco Learning Center vineyard.

This week also included a short distance pilgrimage and, a lovely, very brief, full-moon evening with a few friends with Jayne Walker at the Eco-Learning Center.   A group of ELC friends are beginning an a Adopt a Row of Grapes project. The vineyard at the ELC needs work…i.e. pruning, training, feeding, using organic methods to prevent mildew. One of the longtime friends of the ELC, Michelle, is developing the Adopt a Row project, and when the vineyard produces (not likely to happen this year…too overgrown), the resulting harvest is for the vineyard “parental units” to do with as they please. Carmine, Vignole or Pinot Gris are the grape varieties, with an invitation for folks to adopt more than one row and have a variety. Michelle told us if some interested parties aren’t familiar with viticulture, she’ll bring in those that are to provide some introductory instruction. Great idea, and a wonderful visit to a beautiful place in Leelanau County.

Today, after watering some of the O’k CSA urban gardens in Traverse City, considering it’s a national “day-off”, I take a break and stay in my home-place to digest the week of inner and the outer experiences, and have a little writing to my dear-self time. This taking pause time always brings the people in my life, near, far and departed into my thoughts and heart space, and so I’m wandering between fish, grapes, family, friends and 4th of July ponderings.

After reflections of the aquaponics and vitculture system re-designs, I’m taking a walk down memory lane into other “outer” experiences. Today’s summer holiday has always been special … 1.) Because my Mom’s birthday is July 3rd, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!

One blessed stalk of Blue Hopi Corn, not quite knee-high.

2.) My Dad would traditionally make the announcement that the corn in our garden was indeed knee high, and 3.) My Dad had time off from his 7-day a week  work, and would drive my family to St. Johns to the Clinton County 4-H Fairgrounds to lay on a blanket and watch fireworks overhead, while fireflies blinked all around us down below.

Forty years later, I live in the center of the “Mad Cherry Festia and 4th of July zone” in Traverse City, right near Grand Traverse Bay where hootin’, hollerin’, and a constant stream of motorized vehicles full of sweaty bodies intent on finding a parking place close to our beach at GT Bay roam through our usually, quiet little neighborhood. My longtime, downstairs neighbor, says he gave up several years ago and just joins in on the party, and pretty much advised me that since we have no choice, to go ahead and buy a six pack of beer.

This Bohemia neighborhood is also where good dogs, like Chai my neighbor dog, along with their humans have to survive weeks of back yard/front yard/side yard fireworks and as my son and I can attest to, earplugs do no good.

Neighbor Gary holding Rosalina, who was named after Rosa Parks, and, the Perseids meteor shower in August of 2005

Our lovely cat, Rosalina Falling Star,  takes it all in stride. After the heat of mid-day subsides, she heads outdoors and begins her usual neighborhood block route of visiting Gary, Glen, Martin and the girls at Salon Verve, as well as roaming and greeting the human strangers on the street or folks who park along the curb in front of our home.

Last year, during July festival time, Rosalina helped turn around some of my dread and “arrkks-like” attitude of having SO many people in my front and back yard spaces, when two huge Harley Davison motorcycles rumbled down the street and pulled up to the curb. She gracefully walked up to the edge of the curb, and stood patiently at their booted feet. It was a sight to see! A small, black furry critter, looking up at two very muscled-up, black-leathered dudes. Then, she walked over to one of the BIG guys, purring and rubbed up against his boot! Both of the Harley guys let out an exclamation of glee like a couple of school kids. It was bizarre and beautiful, witnessed also by neighbors, Gary and Glen.

Writing about the bizarre and beautiful, is what I’m trying to get to. The bizarre and beautiful paradox of celebrating or honoring independence and liberation, and the ways in which we humans do it, mixed in with a small suggestion of system re-design.

I’m interested in the reasoning behind and how holidays morph and transform, becoming a part of our culture and way of life in our United States of America communities. And, honestly, in addition to honoring my Mom’s birthday with fond, family memories of fireworks, another interest is developing a serious plan for a holiday that celebrates interdependence and compost. The end result being that all Dads, Moms, grandparents, children and human beings get the day “off” from work to observe and celebrate. For the past many years, I’ve been envisioning such a mass gathering as an ecological, civic and social event… and conducting my own version of “research” since 1997 when I first met artists, poets and puppeteers in Minneapolis who successfully put on a massive May Day community celebration.

With little success, (compared to other concocted American holidays) , locally in Traverse City, I’ve been working, for 12 years, on the angle of “Earth Day” as community-wide, get in the streets and show your gratitude to our home-place and neighbor species.  TO some it may seem ridiculous to propose the whole interdependence “idea”, with aims for it to become an official, Traverse City day-off work/paid-holiday. I keep believing we could continue the festival mind-set and become true green/white and blue, trend-setters in our lovely, fresh-water lake Northern Michigan home-place!

The first item I found in my wikipedia search, in terms of observance of the signing of the declaration of independence is that it took approximately 151 years, to become a paid federal holiday. At that rate, with my 12 years of Earth Day parade and community celebrations, we have only 139 more years to go. At the very least, seeing these numbers I’m reminded that nature doesn’t hurry, that there is little true benefit to imposing even a compost holiday before it’s time, and maybe that the first thing to “observe” is the true nature of celebrating and honoring interdependence may have NOTHING to do with paid anything. So the question comes to my mind, why/how did we as a nation of seekers attach a freedom/liberation holiday to the being paid to do it celebration?

Perhaps I’m stepping onto risky ground with this writing to my dear self and then sending it out on this hot and sweaty, morning, but I’m feeling like the way we’ve chosen to take action to show our gratitude for self-independence or legal separation from a powering over “mother-land” while claiming our new home-place has a few, weird traditions, is exactly the right approach. Especially considering people who already considered this continent home, with strong ties and traditions and celebrations offered to their “grandmother-land”, and the unspoken for beings like worms, fish and corn.

To untangle and re-design, I’m not suggesting we not celebrate or party on July 4th, just change the subject line a bit, or go ahead and begin calling it The 4th of July Compost and Interdependence Day celebration. I’m SO moved by how everything is connected to everything! This WHOLE interdependence thing is AMAZING and also bizarre and beautiful!
Like the Aquaponics system briefly described above, where everything eats something….fish eating worms, producing waste which feeds microbes and plants, which filters the water, which returns to the fish, with both fish and plants feeding us.

Hence, the idea comes rolling into my head-space this early morning of some of my dearly departed friends and families that I’ve celebrated this day with over the last many years, and also of compost/morality, and O’k while I’m at it; the truth of natural law, or limit to growth.

A few dozen of the thousand of red wigglers from my O’k Art Farm

And in doing so, I’m going to follow the lead of Parker Palmer and Mary Oliver and share with you how compost, death and 4th of July/or some kind of observance of our interdependence/love of our planet home places and all species might continue to morph into our consciousness.

Parker says: “Every wisdom tradition I know urges us to cultivate active awareness of our mortality—because keeping that simple reality before our eyes enhances our appreciation of life, even when things get tough. It also increases the odds that we will come to some new resolve about how we want to live.

For example, how might things change if more of us regarded every person as “a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth”? Closer to home, what might happen for me and others if I myself held everyone I met in such respectful regard?

As you read this poem, ask yourself a simple question and take some time to ponder it: “How, then, shall I live?”

When Death Comes – A Poem by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

So from me and the ever friendly Second St. neighborhood cat, Rosalina Falling Star, we wish friends and strangers alike a Happy 4th of July Interdependence and Compost Day.

Tonight, before the fireworks start over the bay, I may submerge myself, just on the edge on the flow of people on the corner of Oak and Second Streets, and, along with some side-walk chalk art, set up a 5 gallon bucket Interdependent Worm Compost demonstration site, shared and used by Gail in her NYC apartment, offering a few of the red-wigglers, from my O’k CSA urban farm.

So if you are in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello to me and Rosa, make a little sidewalk art, and, Pack it in, pack it out People!!!