Commitment to the Earth Community

Sacred-Earth Land-Nurturing

Sacred-Earth Land-Nurturing, a book by Steven D Redman, has been compiled for farmers, homesteaders, land-carers, environmental educators, conservationists and more. It amalgamates the theories and ethics of Permaculture, Land Stewardship and Biodiversity Conservation practices, plus it provides useful templates to help assist with nurturing of the planet.

Each week on Permaculture News we will share with you a snippet from various chapters of the book which is available on Blurb

Todays snippet is a second extract from Chapter 4 – Commitment to the Earth Community




There is no shortage of glorious regionsNorway, Costa Rica, Australia, Quebec, Nepal, Hawaii, Oregon and the northern Great Lakesto encourage our adventures in the art of nurturing. Now, we just need more and more creative and driven people to include all community values in their work beyond just the profit-motive alone, to culture sublime, ecologically-sensitive endeavours around the globe.  Sublimity can be found and nurtured anywhere, it just takes commitment.

There are several ways in which I have sought to express my dedication to this sacred planet. I spoke of my caring for the Nessen Ridge Pines. Caring for people is also an expression of love. For many years, Ive cared for my step-son and my biological children. Ive been good to my nieces and nephews, even step-nieces. I have been helpful, and not a pain in the rear, to my parents since the time of my Pivotal Realisation 13.5.  I have made a point of pursuing beneficial and non-destructive employment for all of my working-years. Examples of that, include being a park ranger and public-school teacher. In those capacities, I have had the honour of serving thousands of people. Working in garden centre sales and landscaping, as well as, capturing and publishing nature photography are still more minimum-impact or beneficial ecological impact jobs and hobbies I have done and continue to do. A principle Ive practiced for over 30 years, is to always leave a place or residence-even if I am only renting- better than how I found it.

The Wild Edge is what we call our eco-garden in western Washington.  Its 2.6 acres, and very fortunately, surrounded by thousands of acres of land trust forest. A small stream runs through the northeast part of the land. The entire 1.5 acre of mature, second-growth forest near the creek is left untouched. The grand fir, red cedar and black cottonwood living there exceed 150 feet high.

The parcel is shaped like a slice of pie, with the wide part facing south and the pointed end to the north. That north point has a steep foothill ridge whose rock is a great spine of ancient, Puget Group Formation sandstone. The creek exits a gorge cut through the sandstone. West of that, there is a little sandstone cliff jutting out of the hill. We call it the Chartreuse Cliff because it is coloured light green with powdery lichen, mosses and maidenhair fern. The cliff face is studded with sharp inclusions of chert, and pitted with what seem to be ancient, birds nesting nooks.

The forest south of the Chartreuse Cliff is dense and tangled. In addition to the tree species mentioned above, there are vine maple, Douglas-fir, red alder, big-leaf maple, cascara buckthorn, western hemlock and even some willow. The soil is thick and spongey. There is a healthy amount of large, woody debris. Clumps of robust trillium flowers grow there. The Chartreuse Cliff, the creek and the adjacent forest stand is the wildest part of our land parcel. We consider it a sacred microhabitat, and treat it as such. The area is only seldom used as a nature-immersion-retreat-spot. In other words, it is basically a completely wild, natural shrine, a place for imbibing the astounding eternity and sanctity of the Living Earth. If one is lucky, and it is not uncommon to be so, a magic, tiny western winter wren might come to say hello as one dwells in contemplation near the Chartreuse Cliff.

About a hundred feet southwest of the above microhabitat, we have a wild-camp site just into the woods from the open, domestic part of the land. It is also seldom used, but I have smoothed a sandy pad there for a tent, and there is a large, rock campfire ring and a little, Earthy shrine of unique beach stones upon large boulders of sandstone nearby. These three features are within a stand of young, Douglas-fir planted by the previous land owner about 15 years-ago, and are just inside the big-leaf maple woods. The Wild Camp is about 75 feet from the creek. Forty feet northeast of the camp spot, stands a gigantic bigleaf maple. Its canopy is so broad and gnarled, that it catches large branches that attempt to fall. Its a venerable, old tree with a lush epiphyte community of liquorice fern, mosses and lichens perched in its canopy high above the forest floor.

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South of the little, Wild Camp, the land is open and mostly sunny. I am very glad the land has a sunny acre for domestic uses. Here is why. The chilly rainforests of western Washington are home to some of the worlds largest, tallest, and most long-lived trees. The forests are mesmerising, very mossy and dank. The number-one survival tool here is a good roof over your head! The wise landowner seeks a site with one, two or more, south-facing, open acres. Living with a large mountain immediately to your south, such that it shades your land in the winter, is a very bad location indeed! I intend no jest in this discussion. Western Washingtons climate is so challenging to human life, that its virtually impossible, and /or not at all wise, to attempt to live above 2,500 feet beyond sea level. The snow pack at 3,000 feet can reach eight feet deep and persist until June in harsh years. Thankfully, the Wild Edge Garden is at around 1,900-foot elevation. The micro-climate here is that of the Puget Lowlands mixed with the colder mountain foothills. Chilly rains persist and dominate until June or July in some years. The Wild Edge Garden is, in fact, the north part of an old, American pioneer homestead that once existed on over 40 acres here. In recent history, it has been uses for about 140 years. Apparently, the pioneer family once had barns and a farrier business here on the northeast part of their farm. Local history also records that the Native American trail ran through the land here (because it is located where the steep mountain ridge meets the swampy valley-a perfect spot for a trail), so the site has been used by people since ancient times.

In addition to the house and sheds, we have room in the open area for two, sizable orchard-gardens, some landscaping beds, a bit of lawn around the house, a driveway-parking area, and a diverse, and much appreciated, thicket or greenbelt out front by the public road. The South Thicket, lets call it, is excellent habitat for songbirds, raptors, small mammals, deer and elk. We have even seen bobcat twice walk through the thicket during daylight hours. South Thicket has one, big, bushy Douglas-fir in it. That Doug is about 45 years-old and nearly 100 feet tall. Mostly though, native and domestic trees and shrubs dwell there, including vine maple, hazelnut, cotoneaster, climbing rose, mock-orange, apple, plum, red-twig dogwood, blackberry, Indian plum, mulberry, golden-chain tree, rhododendron, elderberry, flowering quince, juniper, euonymous, black locust and Lombardi poplar.

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As you might suppose, the South Thicket is incredibly useful to people and wildlife. The wood of the hazel, for example, is so strong and lightweight, I regard it as practically magical. And the black locust wood is amazingly strong and rot-resistant. Black locust flowers are exquisitely fragrant, like bearded iris, and highly sought after by pollinators. (It is, in fact, the most rot-resistant of all temperate hardwoods. There is a very good reason why the pioneers planted it. Its status as a weed tree in many US and Canadian districts should be re-examined in terms of permaculture, sustainability and land regeneration. Is it a weed or a magical gift, or both? Perhaps, a very useful weed.) Although the thicket occupies only about a quarter-acre, the ecosystem services it provides annuallysoil, air, wildlife habitat, shade, privacy, fruit, flowers, wood– could realistically be valued at several thousand dollars. The naturalised plums, for instance, attract many birds, small mammals and insects each summer. The South Thicket didnt simply plant itself. Its a gift from a past gardener. A Mrs. Wheelock lived here back in the 1960s and 70s, and she planted the thicket. I think that such tough and tangled thickets, greenbelts, hedgerowswhatever you prefer to call themare one of the key features of sustainable domestic landscapes now and in the future.

Being in the Cascades Range foothills, the Wild Edge Garden is blessed with a stream which runs from the northeast to the east-central part of the roughly triangular parcel of land. The Wild Edge lives up to it name too! The riparian world of the stream corridor is a sacred, wild place. Even the short-lived trees are giants reaching over 120 feet tall. One red alder in the upper corridor has a two-foot dbh. There is an old black cottonwood with a three-foot-thick trunk, and whose height easily exceeds 150 feet. Many vine maple, Indian plum, some Pacific yew, ocean spray, and cascara buckthorn also live near the creek, as do the long-lived conifer species of grand fir, western hemlock, Douglas-fir and western red cedar. The largest of these conifers now grow over 150 feet tall and have three-foot dbhs. Bigleaf maple especially love it here. Thousands of their seedlings grow on the land, as well as, giants.

The stream ranges from 2 to 10 feet wide, and can develop pools up to 3 feet deep. Its bed is rocky and gravelly with sandstone, granite, shale, breccia and andesite. A ten-foot-deep gorge containing huge sandstone boulders exists half way up the stream length crossing the land. Even when the stream might dry up in late August and September, water still runs under the sand and gravel, and the gorge will retain fresh surface pools. This is a refreshing sanctuary on an 85-degree-Fahrenheit summer day. Trout up to six inches long have been spotted in the creek, and the whole riparian zone is valuable to all the native wildlife. Pileated woodpecker and red-headed sapsucker live here, black bear was once spotted, deer and elk, raven and hawk are common. But the cougar almost never show themselves. Unfortunate too, is that, we have never observed the American dipper bird using the stream. The county allows no logging in a riparian zone such as this, and we have no interest in any significant disturbance of the area anyhow, so it is preserved as a private wild area.

Wild Edge is home to two orchard-gardens. The West Garden is about 60 by 50 feet, or 3,000 square feet, and the North Garden measures about 75 by 75 feet, giving about 5,600 square foot in that fenced area. Around half of each permaculture is devoted to vegetable-herb plots and the other half is for woody, fruiting-trees, shrubs and vines, and for flowering bulbs and perennials, herbs and native plants. Only two apple trees are mature and in full production, the other 15 varieties that I have planted are still young and struggling to grow beyond annual damage by deer and elk. I love deer and elk, but they are stinkers who very intelligently and deliberately target apple trees. They will stop at nothing to get to apple trees, their favourite food. I have now resorted to fencing every tree, in addition to, bolstering the main fences. But, it is pricey to buy so much fence, and so one must be patient. The trees will eventually outgrow the browsing damage. Weve also planted pear, sweet-fruited-Russian quince, plum, serviceberry, blueberry, grape, sweet cherry, rose, Oregon grape, and brambles. Ive ordered two varieties of medlar tree to plant this spring, and more plum, quince and grape. Chestnut and heartnut are also on order, but those will be planted not in the fenced gardens, but in other appropriate places on the land. There are plenty of places in the orchard-gardens, and around their fence-lines, for future plantings of still more fruiting species, such as, rugose rose, mulberry, persimmon, hazel, shipova, pawpaw, honeyberry, currant, elderberry, Cornelian cherry, seaberry, tea, native shrubs, bulbs, strawberry, herbs, small ornamentals conifers and more grapes.

Our main vegetable crops here in the chilly rainforest are kale, lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, turnip, kohlrabi, pea, green bean, potato, rhubarb, onion, garlic, leek, chives and zucchini. Tomato, pepper and most squash dont produce worth a darn here, whereas, kale naturalises and rhubarb becomes gigantic clumps 3 or 4 feet tall and wide, and with leaf stalks 2 feet long and an inch and half in diameter. I tend to plant vegetables in a patchwork of 4 by 4 foot, slightly raised plots. We interplant flowers like calendula, sunflower, and nasturtium, and herbs, such as, sage, chives and rosemary, with the vegetables. We fertilise with rabbit and cow manure, leaves and household compost.

Like vegetable gardening, tree planting is an annual tradition of devotion to the land. Besides the fruiting varieties just mentioned, I am again planting natives and ornamentals this spring, and will continue to do so for several more years until all the available sunlight is utilised. The spring weather has finally arrived now that its two weeks into March, so I planted ten Alaska yellow cedar seedlings, ten paper birch, ten Douglas maple and five bitter cherry this weekend. I have shade and mast-producing trees on order to, including sugar maple, oak, hickory and sweet gum. Once all the trees are in place and protected, then the permaculturalist can concentrate more on in-filling with shrubs, native bushes and ground-covers, vines, herbs, perennials and flowers.

The Wild Edge Garden gives tremendous privacy, as well as, useful food and fibre production. The deep connection with the Earth afforded here, and the freedom lived in the forest-garden, are invaluable. The view we have of 4,500-foot-high mountains is good too. Does the forest-garden supply most of the needs of our family of four? No. For that, I think we would need 10 to 15 acres. Ten would work, if a family only raised pigs and poultry for meat. Such an arrangement would allow for 5 acres of forest, 3 acres of permaculture and 2 of pasture. If sheep or cows are included, then a few more acres of pasture are needed. In a dry climate, dozens more acres of pasture would be required to support sheep or cattle. If one were so inclined toward self-sufficiency, to even want to raise their own grain crops, then I would recommend a total of about twenty acres, in a well-watered place like this. Around 4 acres would go to permaculture, 5 to pasture, 7 to forest and 4 to field crops. If one were nurturing an entirely vegan eco-farm, then they might want five or six acres of permaculture with as large a variety of nut trees and shrubs as possible, plus the 4 acres of field crop, and the 5 to 7 acres of forest. About 15 acres would probably work for them. A source of fertiliser becomes a bigger problem, though, without any animals on the land.

As it is, here on this 2.6 acres of the Wild Edge Garden, though, we have no room for cattle or grains, and Ive yet to convince my wife of the merits of keeping a few pigs on the land annually. My main issue with farm animals is that they tie you to the land. Plants are easier to care for, and can mostly take care of themselves. Keeping animals is a big responsibility. The process of putting them on the dinner table, is no fun either, and certainly has some bad karma attached to it. Its also quite costly to establish the predator-proof barns and pins. But in a pinch, we could certainly raise some pigs and poultry here.

What we do have at the Wild Edge, is a site so beautiful and generous, with such high ecological quality, that it is far better than what many a millionaire in Seattle and Tacoma enjoy. One really would have to be financially-wealthy to dwell in such an enthralling forest-garden in those expensive real estate markets. We, however, are a rather low-income family, and the Wild Edge Garden doesnt have hundreds of neighbours in every direction, nor the noise and air pollution of urban areas.

You dont have to be a land owner to be committed to caring for the Earth. Alternatively, you could be an environmental education teacher, a volunteer activist, a garden centre worker, a governmental water quality scientist, a game warden, a carpenter who uses only sustainably-sourced lumber, or any of a dozen other ways of being involved in your community of caring. But if your dream is to be an eco-farmer or forester, a landscape designer, a permaculturalist or something of the sort, then I want to encourage you to stubbornly pursue those dreams. Your place and community, your family, and your love of a sacred place is as vital as any other. You certainly can preserve and create your own paradise. It will require, at least, a couple hundred dollars per year in financial commitment to the land, and about 8 to 10 years to be more fully realised. I have been working at the Wild Edge for nine years, and at Nessen Ridge for 18 years, for instance. The deepest relationships will be lived by those who can dwell in the same place for 30 years or more. Like me, you could be devoted to two or more places. The more you own, however, the less intimate your relationship can be with each area or acre.

The next five chapters are about committing to a specific acre or more, and the community around it, through thick and thin times. To be an Earth Keeper is a reciprocal trust relationship. Life on Earth is the foundation of these beautiful stories, and so we must doggedly nurture a loyalty to Life. It all starts with honouring, preserving, and assessing the native ecosystem of a site, and forming an understanding of its present condition. The site itself guides what can and should be done with it.

Steven Redman

Land Keeper, Steve Redman, seeks to inspire all people in the practice and support of biodiversity conservation and ecologically sensitive land and water care. He has explored interests in gardening, landscaping, ecological philosophy, and forest ecology since his youth in northern Michigan. Steve has served as a park ranger, schoolteacher, garden centre salesperson and landscaper. He enjoys wilderness recreation with friends and family. Steve nurtures 10-acres of forest in Michigan and the 2.6-acre Wilderness Edge Garden in western Washington where he lives with his wife, daughter, and dog.

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