Please read that title with this tune in mind.
I can’t even begin to express how full my time in Portland thus far has been. The basic breakdown of each day has been something like this:
8:00 – Wake up, shower, and rush to village building class
8:40 – Arrive ten minutes late to class
9-11:30 – Learn about creating community
11:30-2 – Have ridiculous moments of synchronicity and serendipity (or lunch, depending on the day)
2-5 – Work on village building projects
5-8 – Attend village building evening sessions, with lectures, music and food
8-Late – Catch up with old friends in Portland
That’s been the basic sched. Here’s a few specifics:
Village Building Flier
As part of our class, we were instructed to develop a hypothetical flier to help bring together a hypothetical community for an initial potluck and discussion. Now, while this may seem like just any other assignment or classroom activity – and it was in some sense – having spent so much time this week focused on the union of process and intention, I found myself blown away at just how much this exercise truly came to embody the process of building community.
We knew we had certain goals and intentions, and we had a rough idea of the place we were heading (i.e. a flier), but how that flier would look, what it would say, how we would engage our neighborhood without being disingenuous – all of these things simply had to “emerge” as the four of us in our group collaborated and stumbled our way towards a final product.
What blew me away was, not only was the process in and of itself incredibly rewarding (it felt great to work on something organically with three other folks I had only just barely gotten to know), but the end product ended up being something that really went beyond my expectations, and certainly beyond anything I could have created by myself (especially in the 20 minutes or so that we had!). Wonderful word plays like “Cul de sack lunch” and “Bring your dishes, bring your wishes” emerged almost spontaneously, as did the overall design and layout.
We did that with crayons in 20 minutes. Imagine what a whole community could do with a couple weeks.
Permaculture Song Hits the VBC
Wouldn’t you know it – after making the rounds on YouTube, a number of folks who I’ve never met before have been coming up to me at the VBC to let me know that they “like my song“. Among them: Mark Lakeman, founder of City Repair (sweet!). Also among them: Andrew Millison, permaculture professor at Oregon State. Andrew and I had been coordinating by email after my permaculture design class back in December, and last night, he stopped by the VBC evening session to give a talk about bringing permaculture into government and universities. As I made my way towards the front row, we spotted each other, and after a jovial meeting, he exclaimed, “Dude! Is there a guitar here? You gotta play the song!” Me: “Uh, sure – mine’s in my car.” Andrew: “Go get it man!”.
And thus, at the end of Andrew’s presentation, he invited me up in front of the crowd to play the permaculture song. What a treat, and what a great response it got! The permaculture song lives on, and continues to bring wonderful connections and experiences into my life.
You may not have heard of Michael Becker, but my bet is that it won’t be long before you will. Oregon teacher of the year in 2007, Michael Becker has almost single-handedly worked to design a school curriculum designed according to permaculture principles, and completely changed the way middle schoolers in Hood River engage with their work, perform on standardized tests, and prepare for a healthy, happy and productive life.
The guy reminds me in many ways of Will Allen, the gentleman who started Growing Power out in Milwaukee. Both of them started small: bringing a food stand to a food desert in Milwaukee, growing a garden in the shady, blackberry wreathed periphery of a middle school; and both steadily, because of their commitment to community and clarity of intention, grew something that has completely changed the face of their community, and now, the industries they’re involved in.
Imagine: 8th grade students building an aquaponics system almost entirely by themselves. Or running a farmer’s market stand with food from a garden that they’ve grown, tended to, and used as a basis for lessons in math, science and social studies. Michael Becker is helping facilitate all this and much, much more. Hearing him made me realize the change that one person acting with clear intention can have, and how small projects can grow into big statements about how we might bring positive change to larger systems.
Good Friends, Good Family
One of the best parts of being back in Portland has just been the chance to reconnect with a community of folks I haven’t seen since October. From incredible existential conversations with my good friend and former Yale compatriot Amanda, to tasty brews with my firefighting buddy Carver, to dinner tonight with the Reiffs (who took me in on my way back from Driggs Idaho two years ago!), it’s been absolutely incredible spending time with fantastic folks, beloved buddies and the occasional serendipitous pilgrim.
A quick note from the Reiffs: a) they have an incredible garden built on a slope; and b) I learned that it’s best to cook salmon between barbecue coals so it doesn’t get overcooked, and that one can soak mesquite wood chips in water, to be tossed on the coals towards the end of the cooking process to sweeten the meat just a touch. Mmmmm… Copper River salmon + asparagus and pasta, with a little bit of Ben and Jerry’s over a brownie for dessert. Portland – you’ve got it going on!
Lastly, today, I got my hands dirty for the first time since arriving to Portland (I know, it’s terrible!) helping paint one of the most ridiculously awesome intersection murals I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen like, three. But seriously though, this thing was nuts! Just look!
The best part about the whole process though:
Everyone was getting involved. I don’t know how, but they managed to pull this off over the course of just a couple of days (after months of prep and design of course). While I gather the process wasn’t always hunky-dory, seeing members of the community of all ages working together and welcoming those from outside to help in the process was just what I had come to Portland to see: true village building in action.
Glad to have converged,