People and Place
One day all our communities will be rooted in a particular place.
We are in an age of extinction, with dozens of species going extinct every day from human impact.
We witness the ecological systems that support life on earth falling apart.
We see the empire grasp for power on the brink of yet another collapse of another hierarchy.
Living lives supported by the last breaths of a dying civilization, we look towards a time when we will all just have each other. By that I mean look out your window. Who is there? Your neighbor, the burrowing rodents, the insects, the coyotes, the juniper trees, the concrete of the sidewalk. At some point, again, these will be our friends, our resources. The people and wildlife and the more quiet, still aspects of our surroundings will comprise the environment that we care about- the only place that we have is the place where we are.
The importing of things from far away will be much more difficult. The movement of people will be greatly reduced, except those moving for survival.
Knowing this, do you wish to wait to learn how to take care of a place? Or will you listen now, listen to the land, the people and animals who know the land and it’s needs to stay healthy.
You have your own values and ways of thinking. They were likely given to you by the dominant culture that has also brought us ecological collapse. All this is inextricably linked. It takes a big, big pause to process the need to change one’s paradigm. It’s takes courage and patience to even see your own paradigm.
Will you wait for the “leaders” to change their paradigm so that they can save life on earth as we know it? What would it look like to change your own paradigm? I mean the kind of shift that results in a belief that humans are not more valuable than other beings. That people with more money are not more important than those with less. That white people are not above all other colors.
Let’s look at human communities. We’ve lost most of the ways we knew how be in healthy groups living together. We’ve been out of practice for generations, and knowledge has been lost. We have not needed to draw on what is outside the window. The fossil fuels that have given the oceans and atmosphere larger and larger doses of carbon also brought us the ability to order from Amazon. They gave us the ability to move across the world from our families but visit every year. They gave us the steady stream of power that we can plug into so that we can meet our social needs through digital devices. It’s been that way for a while. But not really that long. And it won’t be much longer.
There are folks who have been focused on learning how to create healthy human community. Look at Intentional Communities and Temporary Autonomous Zones, Nonviolent Communication and Consensus decision making. Notice indigenous communities focused on preserving and reviving their own cultural traditions. These all point towards trying to live in harmony, trying to build a life where humans support one another. But often these are practices in transient gatherings. Because for those of us with privilege, it’s so easy to move-join other circles, find another crew. It’s so easy to go somewhere else when things are difficult. And we do.
So we can keep doing this until we can’t any more.
Or we can dedicate ourselves to a place. This is the answer to so many things. The Earth needs our attention. The most direct and immediate way to give that attention is to look down at the land you stand on, the hills that surround you. Develop relationship there. Deepen it. Look around for who else is there. Be with those beings who are a part of that place. Even the humans, as awkward as they may be.
I’ve had my feet on this particular ground, my ear to this land around me for a while now. The following is what this place has told me about healthy community:
- Acknowledge the land you are on and a part of. Acknowledge the ancestors who lived on that land before. Learn from them. Be humble and try to live in a way that shows you do not value human life above other life, wealthy and white humans above others. Become a part of this land by giving her your sweat, your tears, your blood. Nourish yourself with what the place provides for you. Eat the weeds, heat with the sun, drink the rain.
- Reciprocity is essential in relationship with the land and with all other beings. It’s all about giving and receiving. Generosity is part of it. Consent is part of it. Listening is part of that. Learning to listen is a first step and goes hand in hand all along the way into weaving a life of reciprocity with all beings around you
- Accountability is key. Follow through to maintain trust in relationships. The accountability should be to your own agreements with yourself, and then naturally the accountability to others will follow. It’s about building trust. When you hold your own integrity as a priority, you remember what you agree to.
- Ritual Creates Relationship. Humans everywhere say hello and goodbye. Often this includes a physical interaction like a handshake or hug. Many of us gather our community to honor people for their birthdays. We sing and celebrate by presenting a sweet treat, adorned with small flames. Humans gather to mourn the loss of a loved one. Each relationship is it’s own sacred thing, and needs it’s own moment. There is a lot of room here for creativity as we become people of a place again.
- A Dedication to Repair is also imperative as we learn to be in community again. We have a lot of learning to do, with all that colonization has taken from our human cultures. We need the will and the ability to rebuild trust once it has been broken. What will help us repair? Acknowledgment, reciprocity, accountability and ritual. And other things.
If you are already a person who belongs to a place, I consider you one step ahead- leading the way. One step ahead in a civilization that is ten thousand steps behind.
My dream is for all earthlings to become a beautiful faunic community as an interdependent aspect of place. I dream for the Earth to speak through each of us as one of zillions of expressions of life bursting from this moment, reweaving the connections of people and place. I dream for our collective expressions within community to do so as well.
It will take practice.
Written by Amanda Bramble
My Whole Self
I’ve known my purpose as long as I can remember. It is to heal the earth and humanity’s relationship with the Earth. That may seem like a lofty goal. But what it looks like for me is very life-sized. One day it can be a water harvesting perennial bed that processes greywater. Another time it can look like a vision for a tribe of people working to create equitable solutions for thriving along with the land they live on.
How I express my purpose has looked different as my life has unfolded. While I haven’t written a blog post in quite a while, writing has been one way I teach and share my purpose. For the past several months my weekly radio show has been my immediate avenue for expression. And of course I’ve been teaching groups of people in person through classes, hikes and workshops for decades.
As a teacher, and one with a vision for the world, my avenues for expression have been very important. I have things to say. I imagine they might benefit the world, so they must be expressed.
I’ve always felt I am an expression of the healing instinct of the Earth. Speaking and imagining for the Earth has always been my instinct. That pretty much explains me. It’s not always easy to share this particular experience of myself. I’ve noticed a big contrast with what other people’s central motivations are. That’s not a judgment, but an observation. I’m just wired this way. Other people are wired other ways. When we are all obviously of this Earth, completely dependent on the Earth, and owe everything we have to Her, why doesn’t everyone prioritize the health of the Earth in their lives? That is a conundrum I will never understand. That mystery is part of what motivates me.
The place where everything is sacred is the place I like best. Visitors to Ampersand can sense this in the built environment. I hope to honor and merge with this beautiful canyon by adding to the beauty and functional interconnection that is possible for a human habitat.
Sometimes it takes work to create sacred space. I don’t know anything more worth working for. It’s a place where I belong, and where everyone and everything belongs. It’s not all perfect, but in sacred space we are in a perfect process of becoming who we are. Perhaps the Earth is in a (very uncomfortable) process of finding a new state of health and wholeness. I get to be a part of that. We all get to be a part of that. It involves real sadness to look at all the suffering of beings on this planet right now. That reality makes people turn away. Our culture supports this kind of denial. Some people jump into hopelessness, and our culture supports this too. We are urged to be good consumers and keep up with the trends so that we can belong to our human culture. We are just like all the other gregarious creatures. We want to be accepted as part of the pack/flock/tribe.
It’s important to me too. But I want to be a part of a tribe that revolves around the sacredness of the Earth, and all her inhabitants. Even with all the suffering, the amazingness of life on Earth is overwhelming too. How do we create that tribe? Well that’s what I’ve been working towards, starting with myself. I want my lifestyle and my community to be shaped around the sacred places where we live and get to care for.
That’s why I’ve designed Ampersand around harvesting the sun and the rain. Living that way reinforces their sacredness. That’s one entry point to sacred space. Along with restoring the land, building with earth, growing food, composting, and many other practices. I’ve been working that physical environment angle for many years with my teaching.
But there’s another way that might be a more direct path to creating a tribe that revolves around the sacredness of the Earth. That’s ceremony. Ceremony is a tool and form of expression that I have so far kept separate from my more technical teachings. Elements of ceremony have crept into my classes and public events ever so sightly just in the past year. But after this recent visit from James Skeet when he came to teach the Decolonization and ReIndigenization Workshop I realize that ceremony is a part of my job that I can no longer keep private.
Here’s the truth: when I integrate new design elements within Ampersand’s site, I don’t only use the permaculture design that is second nature to me. Or maybe it’s more correct to say that the observation part of my permaculture design goes not only outward, but deeply inward. I know the feeling in my gut when a design element is right. If everything logically lines up, but the inner knowing is not there, it’s not finished.
There’s that guidance from within that must be acknowledged, but there’s something else too. I experience my inner knowing to be a place of connection with the larger world around me. I usually call it the Earth, but many refer to this connection as being with the universe, or with spirit. And my experience shows that it is facilitated with ceremony.
During dinner the night before his workshop, James spoke of the purpose of ceremony in a very succinct way. He said some things should not be spoken of without the safety of sacred space. That is what ceremony brings. Issues around decolonization can be very sensitive, and colonization itself is what makes us separate parts of ourselves, like logic and intuition. In the workshop someone asked, How do you sense spirit? Joyce, James’s partner offered that everything is spirit. I have to agree. Everything is clearly Earth, and Earth is intelligent and sensitive and sacred. When I am in sacred space, spirit is clearly saturated through everything.
We are conditioned to ignore our own sensations. There are quiet voices within as well as things we see and hear outside of us that we designate to be separate from what else it happening in that moment. Our colonized and conditioned mind tells us that some things don’t matter, that there is no connection between the physical world and our emotions and our spirituality.
In ceremony, everything becomes sacred, everything in that moment is filled with significance. Sacred space can heal these divisions. I know the more I am in ceremony, the more the time in my life between ceremony feels sacred too. It allows me to notice the messages and patterns that weave through my life. Encounters with wildlife become not just photo opportunities, but communion experiences. Losing one’s way on a trail is no longer a silly mistake, but a reflection that invites a deeper engagement with one’s life path.
These are important times! We are the humans on the Earth right now, during this window where we can respond to the climate crisis and this mass extinction event. Or we can be in denial or hopeless, turning away from the task at hand. All hands on deck, my friends! It’s time to offer what you’ve got. Hence, the last workshop in our Social Permaculture series, that I will be offering with Navona Gallegos. James Skeet had a plan to end the Decolonization and Reindigenization workshop with a ceremony to honor our relationships and agreements with the land. Time got away from us and that didn’t happen. But I can see now it’s time to bring my whole self to my teachings and share the teachings of this magical canyon in a deeper way. For the last workshop in this series, Practicing Reindigenization, we will weave a sacred space by being on the land, deepening our relationships, and merging with the patterns of wildness. I can feel the land’s invitation.
Written by Amanda Bramble
By the way, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to join Ampersand’s newsletter, and access our radio show archives here. Just in case you want to keep in touch with my work in the lengthening spaces between blog posts!
I have to admit, I needed a bit of a revival. I read the New York Times Magazine article by Nathaniel Rich on climate change and it left me deflated. The story is important (called Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change), but it doesn’t offer any reason for hope. It completely convinced me that politics will never address this issue.
My take-away is that we need to identify and follow the leaders who are pointing in the right direction. It’s up to us. And it’s easy to feel surrounded by folks who just don’t care about reducing their contribution to this time of mass extinction on our planet. At this point, making decisions based on environmental impact in one’s life and business is swimming up stream. Our western culture still has the backwards notion that money and status is more important than addressing the most pressing issues for our environment that we live within and that our future generations will inhabit.
So I was sort of wallowing in a depression around the inability of humans to adapt. But the mushrooms can! I’ve just returned from the Telluride Mushroom Festival. What the mushrooms can do is amazing.
Perhaps you have heard some of this before. The restorative aspects of fungi began to be revealed to the modern world decades ago. But doesn’t all that sound so promising? Isn’t that just the kind of research that need to be seriously developed?
That New York Times article gave me a new window into the incompetence of politics. Not just right now, but over the last few decades. For those of us who really care about our planet, enough to change our lives and our habits, the atmosphere of apathy, hypocrisy, and inaction is painfully obvious all around us.
And that is why I was inspired at the Telluride Mushroom Festival. It wasn’t just the mushrooms, but the mushroom people. The research on the healing properties of fungi is being done! Citizen scientists are taking up this task and sharing their methodology and encouraging others to join their ranks. Why are the mushroom people so advanced with initiating the collaboration that we so desperately need to evolve humanity and heal our planet? Maybe it’s because of the nature of fungi. The mycelium, the roots of the mushrooms, infiltrate everything. They share information and resources between plants to keep different parts of the forest healthy. Our biological role models show us how to share, how to courageously go forward and keep making new connections and alternate pathways.
I’ve learned that for me it’s imperative to take part in the human communities that gather around these important areas of learning. We must treat our water like the sacred element it is, and gathering with the water people to share methods and experiences is necessary. We must find ways to break our addiction to petroleum fuels for our climate. Here in the Southwest US, harvesting the sun is the low hanging fruit. I enjoy sharing techniques and inspiration with the solar community. But right now, for me, it’s the camaraderie of the mushroom people who feed my need to keep growing.
The mushroom community is a living and growing web of connection with a heart grounded in the healing of our planet. The ability of the mushrooms to do this work is astounding. That must be what keeps the mushroom people so uplifted and hopeful. Like the mycelium, we seek ways to help and connect. The fungus has shown us that constant adaptation and innovation keeps our environment thriving. If the mushrooms can do all that, it’s easy to be convinced that with their partnership, we can too.Written by Amanda Bramble
Look out for Ampersand’s Mushroom Inspiration event at the end of September where we will share more information from the Telluride Mushroom Festival and network between mushroom cultivators in New Mexico. If you are not on Ampersand’s newsletter list, email me at email@example.com to learn more.
Or check in at our website: www.ampersandproject.org
Finding Our Way
The dedication of holding this place that is Ampersand, is to be actively engaged in being what this world needs. Our planet needs us to use our curiosity and creativity to live in a way that is respectful to our place and intricately linked to our lands and waters.
Those drawn here, hear this call too – in different ways. My job as a steward and teacher is to welcome that instinct and point down hallways and offer tools. I cradle my fingers to provide a step along the route to discovering a healthy humanity. As I discover it too.
We humans tend to be gregarious creatures. We certainly need each other. The economics of that are clear. If we are to wholly connect to a place, to our beautiful Earth, we must embrace the needs and gifts of our hearts and souls. When we see ourselves as part of an ecosystem, there is a niche for each need and each gift. Like water, abundance cycles through space and time. Your gift is needed. Give it. And more challenging, your need is a gift as well. It’s an opportunity for someone else to give. To weave an economy that primarily resides within the realm of our daily circles. We must reclaim the ability to provide for ourselves within the contours of our own landscapes and watersheds. It can begin with friendship.
And not just between people. Making friends with a place. Making friends with the plants and birds and soil. A well-timed quote, a lost button on the sidewalk, the wind’s way of answering questions: these are all the reciprocity of living within an ecosystem.
I enjoy sharing about how to harvest the sun and how to restore the land. But anytime I feel like I’ve got something really important to say lately, it’s about this: taking the risk. Risk scarcity, risk vulnerability – to be humbly present, to be fully connected. To really live as an active expression of your caring and your curiosity. I think that’s an avenue for humanity to find our way.
Written by Amanda Bramble
Blooming in Drought
A flower, she spoke to me. Blooming from a rock crevice.
We’ve only had an inch of rain since the beginning of December. The level in our supply tanks is lowering every day. Since we want to have gardens, guests, and community, this just might have to be a year that we haul it in. It’s been seven hears since we have done that. The last time, we only got four inches the whole year.
It’s ridiculously inexpensive to truck water in. But that’s not the point. When you live off the rain, that relationship of dependence and connection with your environment is precious. Also, with just the rain, we have the best water.
What the flower said to me is, “Even now, I can bloom.” The brilliant golden petals glow against a bubble of dark sandstone. In these conditions, this ordinary blossom has more power, more influence. I can certainly feel it. And by witnessing this strength, I share in it.
Looking up, I scan the desert hills. They glow a tinge of green. No one can stop the Earth from waking in the Spring. She will use whatever water she has to grow, to clothe the land in tiny blades of grass. We can all be so resourceful. So resilient. To just go ahead and bloom anyway.
When I open my attention to the news that concerns our lands, the lands and waters of this beautiful continent, I see another kind of drought. An absence of concern from those who have the power to set policy. This absence of care for the health of our lands and waters is paired with a concern for short term gain- for what can translate to money, right now.
Yet the power each of us has to enlist a leadership of care, includes our decisions of who we choose to follow. This land is also filled with creatures who share their messages and wise ways with each other. The coyote, the cottontail, the tarantula, the saltbush, and sage. They are all one. And we are all one. Can we see that? Can we act like it?
Perhaps we can even bloom in the midst of our drought. And have more power for it.
I kissed the flower and we walked on, to find the place of the tall grasses, where the deer bed down. This is a place made by humans. An earthen dam allows the water to pool and the grasses to create a dense thatch. The vegetation tells us it was constructed long ago. We don’t know more than that, and that the dry hollowed stems pile up to provide a warm mat for the deer to cluster their bodies together on a winter day, sharing warmth in a valley rarely visited by humans anymore.
On the way back home, Andy and I decide that it’s best to act like this awkward adolescence of humanity can be grown through. Because it’s more fun that way. And to act otherwise would be to prevent it. We dedicate ourselves to blooming despite it all.
Our golden petals glowing against the sandstone cliffs might have their own power.
Written by Amanda Bramble
Check out our Spring Events and Plant Sale at ampersandproject.org