Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Revolution in Fence Design

Something I do read when I read my books is to turn the page corners over on pages where I find interesting passages or thoughts. Then, when I reread the book, it amuses me to try and re-find what had previously resonated with me. The other day I was once again reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I came across not only a bent corner, but an underlined sentence, “ When you live in the shadow of insanity, the appearance of another mind that thinks and talks as yours does is something close to a blessed event. Like Robinson Crusoe's discovery of footprints on the sand." I can't say if this is true or not. I was likely just being hopeful. In reflection though, I think I felt a bit like this when I first found the permaculture design manual while browsing the stacks at the London Public Library. Before you start lowering my coolness factor by a few notches, I'll have you know that I am permanently banned from this library, as I believe is my brother. In any case, the information and philosophy of the book seemed to make so much sense to me; it was like I found something that I didn't even know I was looking for. So they live happily ever after right? Not really. I think that being a permaculturalist in our type of society and civilization can make you feel isolated from the masses. It is probably the same in any type of movement that wants to totally reconstruct society along different principles than it is currently following. And the further down the path you go, the more estranged you will feel. Of course you are regarded as the crazy one for wanting to design something along sustainable ecological principles instead of living as if we have unlimited renewable earths (which is totally insane). Ah, to be able to take the blue pill of the Matrix… T’would be so much easier. Once you know though…

Alrighty, this blog was supposed to be about building a fence. Hopefully it will tie back together with my rambling introduction in the end, if not oh well. In permaculture, a fence is not, CANNOT simply be a fence, as that would mean no stacking of functions. Let’s backtrack a bit so I can explain a bit more about what I mean and give you a glimpse of the permaculture design process. First the problem: the western edge of our property faces a road and offers a perfect view of our yard to anyone passing by and to our neighbors across the street. Don't get me wrong I like my neighbors, but I also like to do tai chi and yoga in the backyard and it can be a bit unnerving when there is an audience. So the main function of the fence, as defined by the problem, would be to block the view to give us some privacy. I could of course buy some lumber to make it but then that brings in the problems of cost, chemicals in pressure-treated lumber, and the destruction of forests, etc. Luckily, because of my policy to try to not export nutrients and material from the property, I still had a huge pile of branches from two trees that took down this winter to make room for some full sun garden beds, as well as some fruit trees (you have to break some eggs to make an omelet). Free indigenously grown building materials! Furthermore, instead of a single function fence, why not use the branches to make a trellis for the vertical gardening of beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, morning glories, et cetera. As a bonus, the wall would be situated behind the kids’ “restaurant” that is located under a weeping mulberry, which I have previously written about. It will further define their restaurant area and give them something to munch on as well. Nothing like a living living space for the kids to play in. So, instead of a consumptive single observation barrier, we would have a multi-purpose observation barrier/trellis/wall/food system. That is what I mean by a stacking of functions.

Many hands make light work so I asked my son if he wanted to build a garden fence with me. He said, “I'll help you with anything you want in the garden Daddy.” Music to my ears. He asked what we were going to make the fence out of and I pointed at the massive, inter-tangled branch pile and said, “Some assembly required,” which he found pretty funny. There was nothing really difficult about making it. We dug holes and placed upright delimbed branches them with a bit of cement to make them more stable and then affixed horizontal branches using rope and square lashing. I found the instructions for the lashing I on the internet. The bed around the trellis still has to be dug and/or mulched, but that can wait until next weekend.

Most of the reactions the fence have been positive. My kids like it, my wife likes it, even my sister-in-law likes it. I even had a couple stop along the street while I was making it to tell me that they liked it and that I should check out their parent’s garden. However, a friend of mine commented on a picture of the fence I posted elsewhere, “Is that to keep the neighbours’ kids out of your pumpkin patch??....I’m scared just looking at pics of it....oopppsssss.....sorry Deb...I wasn't supposed to say anything about Paul's garden....” (Deb is my wife and he was referring to how she often doesn’t like my ideas I imagine). Of course he was just teasing; we are always ribbing each other. I do think though that even though he was joking, it does highlight some of the underlying views that people have about my style of gardening and ecological landscaping design, i.e., it is off-the-wall, so to speak. Thus the tie in to the beginning of this blog, something that can make me feel more at one and inline with nature can at the same time make me feel estranged from society. As for being scared, I agree with them. The fence/observation barrier/trellis/living wall/vertical garden is only the TIP of the iceberg of what I have planned. And the plan calls for a COMPLETE restructuring of civilization, if it is enough to only restructure it, and that IS scary. One way to pull it all down is to start growin’ your own. Why would growing your own food be a threat to society? Because it is free, for, as Daniel Quinn says, our civilization cannot have free food, if it were free, who would want to work?