observe and interact

Nearly a year ago, I said I was going to write about permaculture design principles on the farm and in my life. It’s taken me a while because life can eat us up. I’ve been continuing to think about it, though.

Let’s start with permaculture design principle one. Or better, here are all twelve principles:

Observe and interact; catch and store energy; obtain a yield; apply self-regulation and accept feedback; use and value renewable resources and services; produce no wastes; design from patterns to details; integrate rather than segregate; use small and slow solutions; use and value diversity; use edges and value the marginal; creatively use and respond to change.

These principles seem particularly useful in a situation where conditions are normally thought of as unproductive, difficult, and marginal.

Hmm. That sounds like parts of my life as well as this arid farm.

Well, here we go. Observe and interact.

This principle is simple and I can see why practitioners begin with it.

We begin with a simple garden, an herb bed, or even just a tree. We nurture and observe it through the seasons. We see what creatures come and visit it, when, and why. Everything animal, vegetable, mineral is nested in a local ecosystem.

RSF is in a Joshua Tree Woodland/Juniper Woodland ecotone — a place where two ecological communities intersect (or three, if you want to count the Creosote Bush Scrubland).

_rsf venn

That’s our Rainshadow Farm Venn diagram.


Maybe you’re looking at a garden space in rural acreage; maybe it’s in the city; maybe it’s suburban. Wherever you want to plant and grow, it’s wise to get to know your land. Sit with it and listen to it. This is the way that sustainable food systems have been developed for millennia.

How do the elements affect it?

In fact, what are the elements affecting it?

Watch, listen, learn.

What’s a weed and what’s a useful plant? The two can be one. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Learning to walk relationally in an environment, human and other than human, can be liberating.

So. Relationships. With plants. With animals. Landscapes. People.

My marriage had become unsustainable. The sense of relationship was broken beyond repair.

For years, I was like one of the last farmers in the dead part of the central valley. I’d begun with something barely sustainable and I poured on everything in the book for years to try to make things flourish. The ex had checked out years before I realized I was tilling, fertilizing, and watering a dead, used-up, and burnt out landscape.

west cajon 2010

Uh oh. Fire on the tracks.

I spent plenty of time observing and interacting but when I observed I didn’t allow the reality to sink in.

I used heavy machinery (Sometimes therapy. Sometimes Klonopin. Or both.). Which simply eroded the situation even more.

I observed but I didn’t see. In fact, I refused to see.

western central valley saline flats

In the central valley, observation without seeing has produced an agroecological disaster.

In my marriage, observation without seeing…well, you get the point.

Why go down this road?

I’m not the first person to reflect on this: there’s a relationship between the way our world system has treated women and how it treats the environment. In many family systems, there’s a relationship between how wives/partners/mothers are viewed and how the environment is viewed.

It’s not a far stretch to see the similarities between a worn-out, abused landscape and an exhausted, depleted, abandoned partner or mother.

“I don’t love your mother anymore but I still want to see you.”

“You’ve always been the adult here, so you do it.”

“One thing she did well was to be a mother.”

Land as resource pool; woman as resource pool.

Getting back on track. Why go here at all?


I have a farm plan. It contains my heart and soul. A wonderful woman who mentored me helped me design it.

Maybe I should have a relationship plan.

Observe and interact.

Does this sound silly or simple or even funny? Maybe it is. But for me there’s a struggle.

Here’s the problem: I have to make sure I observe and interact with what really is. I bet I’m not the only one.

About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in agroecology, gray divorce, Life changes, Nature, resilience, spiritual ecologies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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