Oh that sounds crotchety. I apologize on behalf of the 10,000 species (or more) that went extinct last year (and, oh, why not the 22 percent of all species that may be extinct by 2022 if no action is taken).
Is there an angst gene that suddenly turns on as we approach 50? I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid, worrying every time I turned on the TV (everything in black & white back then), that this might be the moment, regular programming of The Partridge Family interrupted by a newsflash of the big flash: Nuclear war has broken out.
Now the world around me in this wet whimper of a winter seems not just ill, but carooming toward some bad end. So-called free markets enslaving the poor. People starving when there is more than enough food to feed everyone. A handful of corporations controlling food, drugs & education and therefore our very minds and bodies. Democracies throwing citizens under the corporate bus. And the economy just keeps unravelling at its plastic seams.
But there is one word that keeps me from despairing.
It captures one of those ideas that seems so obvious and and true and right when you hear it explained.
Permaculture — as in permanent human culture. It’s about designing human systems that work in harmony with nature rather than against nature because, obviously, we are a part of it. Screw nature and we screw ourselves, eventually.
Permaculture has been catching on with food growers since Aussies Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed the idea in the mid 1970s. They said, before designing a food system, study the master, as in the most productive innovative, self-renewing designer of all time, nature. Then mimic nature, which is complex, rather than design in our own image, which tends to the self serving and simplistic.
So what do we get with permaculture?
*Good healthy organic crops, obviously, because nature offers her bounty without the crutch of chemical pesticides or genetically modified seeds (and 99 studies say organic agriculture can feed the world versus 0 studies that say industrial chemical agriculture can).
*Crops that mimic what would grow naturally in a region (for example, a complex mix of perennial grains in the prairies versus monocultures of annuals).
*Local sustainable food systems and new care and respect for every inch of land we stand on and the human stewards who care for it.
*A waste-free system that sustains itself, by recycling waste and using available energy.
*A go-slow approach that values creativity, diversity, human and natural traditions and careful scientific observation.
And that’s just poking at the fecund edges of what permaculture means.
Permaculture is catching on in urban design and architecture (LEED-certified buildings being an example). It’s central in transition-times thinking, as in how to survive peak oil, peak food, peak economic meltdown.
But how do we “permaculture” the areas we work in — energy, natural resources, business, banking, online, retail, heath-care, education, travel, entertainment?
How do we think in permaculture?
Who do we create and live permaculture lives?
For more, check out this video.
Where were you in ’62? That tagline question of George Lucas’ rock-and-roll romp, American Graffiti, is easy to answer for those of us who popped out of the womb that year, blinking against the bright glare (America will put a man on the moon, declares JFK!), suckled by end-of-world despair (Russian missile buildup in Cuba threatens global nuclear war, warns JFK).
The tougher question — with no rhyming jingle to soften the blow — is where are you in 2012? That’s the big fat question facing the tail-end-of-the-baby-boomers generation that has been wagged by that beat-you-first-to-everything oppressive lot our whole lives.
Trying to answer it will be the likes of Jon Stewart, Jim Carrey, Jodie Foster, Steve Carell, Ralph Fiennes, Jann Arden, Sheryl Crow, The Breakfast Club (Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy), The Outsiders (Tom Cruise), and who the hell are you (which would include me), all turning 50 this year.
So ’62 seems like a vintage year for entertainers, not so good for us writers (perhaps the most notable, David Foster Wallace, checked out early).
Admittedly, I’ve experienced plenty of bright glare and despair — I was born into it, after all. But I’m hanging in there, a whole lot astonished that this moment rolled around so fast but eager to explore what it means (and feels like) to hit the half-century mark and get really serious about this business of living, when there is, undeniably, less than half of it left.
I can say now that I know exactly where I will be one week after I turn 50 this April (if all goes well, that is) — toeing the start line of the Boston marathon.
In the meantime, I guess you could say I’m in training to turn 50.
With some months of practice, perhaps I will get it right.
If you have suggestions, comments and thoughts for 50 Thoughts, please do share!
Sorry dear readers for the dreadful pun, but welcome to my new “Webb” site. I will be blogging regularly here in the new year, on my obsession to make 2012 stupendously super awesome.
I have already logged 80 kilometres towards that goal, leaving only 1,180 training kilometres to run until I cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon, April 16. My goal? To be in the best shape of my life, ever.
I’m also thrilled to say that I’m heading into the homestretch of my future-of-food novel, set in a green valley in the future & I will be chatting about that at the Guelph Organic Conference, January 27.
In the meantime, check out “Eating Canada“ to take an eating tour of Canada via my book, Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canada ( sample the first chapter for free!). There are also articles about local eating tours of Ontario and my Toronto Star series, “Crisis on the Farm,” in which your scribe cracked open a dastardly plot to make it nearly impossible to raise organic turkeys in Ontario. I believe my line — it may be easier to buy crack cocaine in Ontario than a drug-free bird — may have roused the ag minister to take action to save organic turkeys.
This January, I’m back at Ryerson University teaching Writing for Magazines and the Web in the Magazine Publishing program in Continuing Education. Please check it out if you want to polish your talents for blogging, writing short articles and features or bringing a reader-friendly glow to corporate, policy, grant or PR writing.
And I can’t help serving up some food for thought for the holidays: If every Canadian ate the recommended 5 to 10 servings of fruit and veggies a day, we could save the Canadian health care system more than $6 billion dollars. So eat your fruit and veggies, preferably grown sustainably and close to home.
And on that note, go for a walk or be in a big hurry to get healthy and run! It’s really good for you. After eating my way across Canada researching and promoting my book, I bumped up my old-lady, flat-footed shuffling and trained to run a marathon, fell in love with it, ran a second marathon, and qualified for the big kahuna of races, the Boston Marathon. Oh, and I lost 20 pounds in the process. Check out the picture up there. That’s me, scampering up Mt. Kilimanjaro this past June (more on that TK).
If you want to get in touch with me, it’s easy. Just point and click the “contact” button in the top right-hand side of the navigation bar. I’d love to hear from you.