Permaculture zen

After Land of Plenty left, as I mentioned, we had two huge piles of brush, taller than a person, in the yard.  The original plan was to rent a chipper to turn this material into wood chips for paths, figuring it would take one work-day with Ruby – Ruby is our wonderful live-in intern/woofer, who helps out two days a week in return for room and board.  Unfortunately, it turns out, you can’t rent chippers of a usable size for us.  So, what to do with two gargatuan piles of brush?

I have read a fair amount about permaculture, including how to create hugelkulturs and terraces and swales.  I spent a day in a class at my earlier permaculture course just on this stuff.  But none of this prepared me for the practical question of dealing with enormous piles of brush.  How do you turn it into something you can use?   I did not remember any information about this very practical, and sizable, problem.

Ruby and I discussed our options.  Get a company to come and chip it with a big machine.  Get a big machine to stomp the stuff down.  Start a long, manual process of cutting the branches – sorting them into 1/2 – 2″ straight sticks, and then a pile of very small branchlet-duff.  Sticks can be piled fairly densely so they can serve as further material for the hugels and the terraces/swales, while the duff can be used to fill in gaps.  In the end, we reasoned, this manual labor would be creating a useful material we would otherwise not have.  Plus, in the spirit of permaculture, we’d be re-using what is on-site with minimalist tools.  It would be zen.

And so we went at it.  Six hours of clip, clip, crunch, throw, clip.    We talked about life, work, society, permaculture.  The sun came and went.  The big messy brush piles got a bit smaller.  Our organized piles of sticks got a bit bigger.   We did not finish.  The next day, I did three more hours.  I did not finish.  I started to wonder whether this is a sustainable solution – really, who in the world would ever pay you to do this long, slow labor even if it is rather nice to do?     The next day, Charlotte and I did a few more hours and were joined by her lovely friend Dana.  The day after, I did four more hours.   We are really near the bottom of the piles, but still not done, and we are 24 person-hours in.  Then came another 20 inch snowstorm, burying the piles for a week.  True zen.

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Charlotte and Dana creating neat wood piles