Tag Archives: Observe

Overland Travel Check-in

This week Nina and I completed our monthly travel check-in here in Astana. We departed England back in January and on the 23rd of each month we try to complete our check-in. An important part of permaculture design is to accept and respond to feedback. For a land-based design this involves observation of your garden or farm and making changes to things that can be improved to benefit the whole system. It’s no different with our travel design really, just that our tweaks may be behavioural or logistical…

We use the four questions taken from my diploma guild meetings and talk to one another for a short time whilst the listener scribes some notes to refer back to. It’s very important that the listener does not respond, we call this active listening, so that the talker gets the opportunity to voice all their thoughts. Here are the four questions;

What’s going well for you?

What are you finding challenging?

What are your next achievable steps?

What are your long term visions?

Answering these questions really helps to celebrate great times, grumble about what’s getting you down, understand some actions to get the next thing done and also dream about the future. It sounds a bit geeky but we find it’s been a very valuable part of our overland trip.

We also tagged on another element to our check-in which involves understanding whether one another’s needs are being met. We have a big list of our needs and ask each other if we feel they’re being fulfilled. If the answer is “no” then we may give a suggested tweak to make sure that need is met going forward. Some of our needs are… music, nature, solitude, spontaneity, warmth, community, intimacy and the list goes on….

So it’s 9 months since we left England. Geographically we are around half way to Australia. We have spent time in Morocco, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Georgia, Russia and now Kazakhstan. I feel it’s a good time to refer back to the goals we set out in our travel design. Are we walking the talk? Are we doing what we set out to do? This is another important part of permaculture design. Observe and interact. Accept and respond to feedback…

Our goals as set out in January…

  • to get to Australia in the most environmentally responsible way – well we could walk or cycle but we never really considered that option. So far we have taken buses, boats, trains and hitch-hiked along the way. On arrival in Australia we will calculate our carbon footprint and sequester it using new techniques we have learnt.
  • to have fun, enjoy the experience and remain healthy – there is absolutely no way that this journey cannot be an enjoyable one. There have been challenges but every day is a new and exciting experience.
  • to learn about other cultures and people’s way of life – living with families and working on farms in different countries is helping us gain a greater understanding of this.
  • to gain new practical skills and traditional understandings – building in Morocco and teaching on a PDC in Romania have been my practical highlights. Communicating with no local language is also a great new skill that I’m enjoying.
  • to use skills and resources as a gift or exchange – help in the gardens of our hosts and swapping seeds along the way is a great way to remember the people we have met so far.
  • to engineer opportunities to incorporate my diploma – this is certainly one of the more challenging goals but so far I have made designs in Spain and Italy with more work to follow in China
  • to express creativity – playing at the Beglika Festival in Bulgaria was fantastic and having the time to experiment with music and writing is a real privilege.
  • to Wwoof in each country we pass through – we didn’t manage it in the countries that we transited through but have in all the rest, learning new skills and making new friends.
  • to connect with wilderness and natural surroundings – Greece has certainly been my wilderness highlight – trekking through the Vikos Gorge was spectacular.
  • to inform and report on important and interesting topics – hopefully my blog is doing that and I also like to add useful info to the Lonely Planet travel forum to help others along the way.
  • to remain within our allocated funds – it’s a squeeze doing this journey on such a shoestring budget but we are just about on budget. Couch-surfing and hitch-hiking have been essential for that.
  • to spend some time with friends and family – one day with my parents in Venice, the PDC in Romania, travelling with Sam and meeting folk in China…
  • to support one another, honour ourselves and harmonise our needs – I feel this is the most important goal and one that so far is making the journey a full and rich experience.

I am thankful that I was introduced to these processes through my permaculture tutor, the PDC’s that I have attended and the co-creation of this life with Nina.

Mapping in Molise

Whilst in Rome, and aside from our memorable time exploring the city, a few other significant things happened.  I finished writing up the design for my fourth diploma project, I received a copy of Aranya’s new book – Permaculture Design and Nina and I got an invite from our host Angiola to spend some time at her place in the country.  She has a 12 hectare property that has until recently been managed by a caretaker.  It’s been owned by the family for over 100 years but sadly they are now selling it off, piece by piece, as the running costs and upkeep outweigh any income generated by it.

The idea of inviting us to stay is to provide some suggestions as to how Angiola and her siblings might use the land in the future with the focus being on how it might self sustain itself.  So whilst on the lookout for my next diploma project and equipped with my new book we left Rome on the bus for some time in the country.

One of the skills outlined in my learning pathway as needing improvement is mapping.  Aranya’s book is more of a technical guide to design than a permaculture overview so I decided I would systematically try the techniques suggested starting with surveying and assessing.  It’s helpful to try new theories and explanations and the more I try the closer I come to finding my own preferred combination.

As with any new permaculture design the first task is to observe.  Just to observe. To gather as much information together using all of our available senses.  Nina and I spent our first days walking the property and making notes of any observations.  We used two new tools taken straight from the book to make sure most areas are covered.  PASTE – Plants, Animals, Structures, Tools and Events. We Made note of these in relation to how often they appeared using another model, this time DAFOR – Dominant, Abundant, Frequent, Occasional and Rare. It was a great way to record a lot of information in a very visual and easy to understand way.

I’m enjoying drawing and colouring at the moment – it must be too long in my life since I really got involved in some arty hands on work.  The maps were the next task and one that I loved.  Using the rough field map created, some photocopies and a window I complied a base map of the whole site plus an enlargement of the built up area, a sector analysis for both areas to show energies that flow through the property and a zone map to show the current zones as they are used.  These maps provide me with an excellent visual representation of the property but there is more to every design than meets the eye.

Through more observation, some investigation and by interviewing Angiola herself I completed the next stage of the design cycle – understanding the boundaries.  These can be seen as physical constraints but also invisible limitations.  Some very interesting points were discovered including a no dig limit due to archeological findings and the fact that there was no budget.  None.

This brings us on to the final part of surveying a new project – the resources. Here we looked at every kind of available resource.  If there is no money available then what do we have by means of natural resources or knowledge for example?  These are often resources that a client will overlook but things that could prove invaluable to the overall design.

Before we continue with the design process we met with Angiola to discuss our findings so far and to make sure that our thoughts along with her ideas were on the same track.  At this stage we assess all of our information before we start with any actual design work.  It became clear that one of the focuses of this project was that of the financial aspect more than what they should grow.  Without full transparency of the income and outgoings it is very difficult to create a full design and so at this stage we have agreed to produce a video with some ideas of land use for Angiola to present to a meeting in September rather than a full permaculture design.

We have had a great two weeks here and learnt a great deal from observing the land and how Angiola and her family regard this asset.  Who knows, perhaps the opportunity for a full design project will come but for now it’s just at the ideas stage.

We did spend spent days at the local village, Montagano, to get supplies and have the odd coffee or glass or beer, we spent days in the garden helping Michael Angelo and Maria Pia plant the famous local tomatoes, we did an 18km walk to Limosano village which had a spooky abandoned feel, we made elderflower cordial to share and feel very grateful for the opportunity to stay for free in the Italian countryside and practice some permaculture surveying techniques.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.