Author Archives: Peter Cow

About Peter Cow

Permaculture teacher, mentor, designer and musician.

Don’t just do something, sit there… The power of the sit spot.

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I think i saw a hare today! It was jumping about under some trees, bigger than a rabbit, with big ears, and much more of a hopping gait. I got to watch it hop from one tree to the next. It did a few circles around the place i had recently walked through – i guess i had made it smell human and funny with my bare feet – and then it buzzed off. I don’t think it spotted me – I had been sitting very still, wearing earthy colours under a nearby oak tree for 45 minutes by that point… I had been sitting (and at one point snoozing)  listening to the daytime birds sing their evening songs and occasional alarm calls, in a world of falling acorns, rustling leaves, eternal branches and dappled shadows. At one particularly magical point I heard a night time bird start its weird hooting.

I’m having a rare few week where i have some unscheduled time – I’m not teaching, consulting, learning or moving between countries. So finally all the things i need to give some time to, have some time. I have a very full to do list, several actually, and despite that, for these 2 weeks I have committed to go out into the woods and sit still, observing the life around me for at least 30 minutes every day. Its one of the core nature connection routines that i use to keep me open, connected, and aware. Its called a sit spot, and I came across it in the 8 Shields/Nature Culture Network movement a few years ago.

If I sit down in a life-filled place, and stay quiet for about 20 minutes (less if i have walked in slowly and quietly), the birds stop fussing about me being there, and then the other animals stop worrying that the birds are fussing, and life in all its shapes and sizes and colours and patterns and gaits, goes back to baseline. It helps if I’m wearing broken pattern earthy coloured clothing too, but the time, silence and stillness are far more important. Then a fox may stroll in, sit for a while, licking itself in a sunbeam, and stroll away again. Or a hare (?) might lopingly bounce through the woods, with huge ears. Or an arrow like bird fly straight in front of me. More likely, i will simply hear the sounds of life all around me – the falling leaves and nuts and branches, the birds seeking insects in the leaf mulch, the alarm calls and joyous songs of the treetop birds, all the rich and deep aural tapestry of ancient English woodland. It doesn’t have to be about charismatic animals and birds – time spent looking at a half disintegrated holly leaf, or watching an ant on the ground can bring me so much.

I value and prioritise this ‘do nothing’ nature connection time because it does a lot for me (and even knowing that, i still need to set daily  commitments to make me do it…) It is a rich, connecting, heart opening, relaxing, learning experience that brings me closer to the more than human world, closer to the complex, interdependent, diverse,  beautiful systems dynamics that my work in regenerative design is based on. ‘Nature’ observation is the foundation of Permaculture design – using the patterns and principles and techniques of the inherently regenerative ecosystems around us to design systems for ourselves (hoses, gardens, communities, farms). And even if it wasn’t so fundamental to my conscious design work, spending time each day listening to bird song, leaves rustle, acorns fall, creeping out barefoot among the oak and holly trees, seeing the sky through the tree branches, sensing how it all changes slightly everyday, nourishes me in deep ways i deeply appreciate, do not fully understand, and love.

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Abundance springs from relationships

My life seems to be characterised by abundance at the moment. An abundance of places to be, people to be with, courses to teach, learning experiences to have, beautiful sights to see. The financial side still lags a little, probably because I have a pattern of not prioritising it enough…

I am on a cruise ship from Stockholm to Finland at the moment, passing tideless granite archipelagoes covered in fir trees. I am heading to Finland to teach a Permaculture Design Course near Turku. The midsummer is a time of abundance I suppose, made glorious by the long days and flourishing wildlife. Long and full days of carrying food to eager baby birds; of stretching up into the sunshine as the soil moisture levels slowly drop; of collecting the nectar from flowers to store in the hive…

How to catch and store this abundance? ( ‘Catch and tore energy’ is one of my favourite permaculture principles). On the last weekend of the excellent Facilitator Development Adventure (a course I took over the last 9 months with Chris Johnstone and Jenny Mackewn) I committed to several things as part of our ‘Going Forth’/ section. One of them is to spend an hour a week publishing myself digitally. This week, I do it through this blog post.

My life at present is a long journey through amazing and beautiful, regenerative places, and I hope some snapshots from it can inspire and interest you.

A few weeks ago I was at Tamera, a pioneering social and ecological community in South West Portugal. I was attending their Water Symposium, and listening to a speaker from Auroville in Southern India. He was talking about the community/city of 2,500 people that lived there, how the knowledge gained there over the 45 years of their existence has led them to be called upon to create wildlife wetland reserves in place of polluted waterways in other Indian cities; how they set up spirulina tanks in schools to help nourish the children; how they had reforested huge areas, and learnt from local healers; how they cook for over 800 people using solar ovens.

Yesterday I was in Stockholm, being shown around a permaculture holding on the island of Drottningholm. My overnight sleeper train from Koln to Copenhagen was delayed and my Finnish host rescheduled my Stockholm-Turku ferry until the following morning and arranged for me to stay with one of her friends in Stockholm, a permaculturalist called Noa. He proudly showed me his wooden family house that he and his family had renovated – a real fairytale gem of a building built as the summer residence for a Count in times past. I swam in the river (Fjord? Sea? Estuary?… there’s a lot of waterscape in Stockholm) and ate a lovely meal with him and his partner.Image

I think we both gained a lot from the meeting – I know I did, and it reminds me of the quote I have heard from Starhawk (author of what I realised last week is my favourite book – The Fifth Sacred Thing) – that abundance springs from relationships. I could have gone to a youth hostel, paid someone I hardly spoke to for a bed for the night, then travelled on, getting some take out food from somewhere on a city street. That would have been a more consumer evening, and much better for the GDP aand economic growth, and for the large corporations that have their ways of benefiting from all our small and large financial transactional relationships (the abundance in those relationships inexorably flows towards the top of the financial food chain, mitigated to some extent if you are careful and seek out the smaller businesses and use them).

Noa and I, and hopefully his family, had a great evening of connecting, sharing ideas and inspirations, and I had a lovely swim and a nourishing meal, some of which was vibrant ‘weeds’ from his garden. The relationship brought us both abundance, because we were given a container of trust for each other by my Finnish host, and the Permaculture networks we both move within. How much more abundance is possible when these containers of trust allow the resources and energy to flow between people. From love to food to ‘work’ to entertainment, we all need things from other people and other systems every day. How can we facilitate abundance to flow to and from us by building appropriate trust and connections around us and other people? How can we learn to share more, and receive more?

There are many web based systems that enable sharing of spaces (sofasurfing), unwanted resources (freegle), community action (Transition groups) and more. How can we build trust amongst ourselves in the many communities that we are engaged in, trust that we will receive what we need as we give what we can to the wider systems?

I have a notion that the financial economic system is one pretty dysfunctional way of building this trust – that we will receive what we need in return for the time we spend helping others, and I also suspect there are many other less tangible, more functional systems that also meet our needs, like intimate relationships, family groupings, friendship circles, sports teams, carers… How can we meet more of our needs outside the dysfunctional economic system that funnels away the abundance, or change it so that the abundance can flow around us rather than away to those who have a lot of it already?

Abundance springs from relationships. Permaculture is the study of relationships, and how to make decisions, tweaks and systems designs that make the relationships more and more regenerative – so they regenerate the people, wildlife and landscapes around them.

How can you build more trust, place more trust in your relationships, to allow them to bring you more abundance? What can you do today and tomorrow towards that?

My ferry nears Turku, through the abundance of fir trees, wooden houses and granite islands.

Food Forest

I have been busy these last months designing, teaching and learning, using the principles of permaculture and regenerative design to help people and places transform towards more regenerative, positive patterns of resilient abundance.

I made a website to record and promote one of the projects i am involved in  -a Food Forest near Lewes in the South of England. You can see photos and the start of a design story at – http://rodmellfoodforest.wordpress.com/

The Permaculture Jigsaw

Last week I cycled from the Meadow Orchard project in Crouch End, London, to OrganicLeas’s Hawkwood plant nursery, where I was guest teaching some sessions on people-based permaculture for a Design Course.

I mixed cob with my bare feet at Meadow Orchard for their new eco building – a straw bale, cob and wooden circular structure to enable the site to host events and courses. In the fading sunshine others were rendering the strawbale wall with lime, while my companions and I mixed the clay, sand and straw to make the pile of homogenous, sticky cob a little bit bigger, to be added to the wall the following day by someone who knew how to do that.

As I cycled along the Lea valley towpath I had a vision of the pieces of the jigsaw fitting together, networks of regenerative Permaculture projects taking root, spreading skills and information, creating places where people can meet and learn and celebrate and heal, and springboard onto setting up other projects. Down the road from Meadow Orchard there is a supermarket growing food and running food growing and Permaculture courses on its roof (Food from the Sky), and there is a forest garden up the road at Crouch Hill run by other London Permaculturalists… they also run courses there…

This jigsaw is already starting to fit together, and I am proud to be a part of this work/play/evolution at this time, while our mega systems all around creak and crack, and a lot of humans and other animals walk knee deep in their effluent and ruins.

Arriving at the Hawkwood nursery was even a shift up a gear – Permaculture on a larger scale. OrganicLea run various community growing projects around the Lea valley, and in 2007 they asked the council if they could take on the council run plant nursery, which was being closed down and they arranged a 10 year lease for their worker’s co=operative to use the glass houses, building and surrounding land to grow food for local people. They run courses, apprenticeships, open days and people can go along and volunteer. A lot of the produce is sold and distributed through the co=operative’s Hornbeam Cafe in nearby Walthamstow. who also provided delicious food for us on the course.

Its great to see people in London getting such quality access to land and growing space – on their roofs, on disused sites, on spare pieces of land. People are joining together to work and learn and educate others, whilst creating community, shared spaces and great, local food. The British Empire’s first colony was England itself – most people here were dispossessed of their land long ago in the enclosures.

I was reminded last week how every land based permaculture project has a people based design holding it up – whether its a local community group, an individual living by themselves, a workers cooperative or an intentional residential community – people need to find ways to meet their needs and work together before the land based stuff can begin. And this is the area of Permaculture I am most drawn to at the moment –people based designing – how people can communicate better together, vision together, trust each other, improve their self-understanding – increasing their own ability to create and lead and look after themselves and therefore others. How to create a culture of fulfilled, creative people mentoring each other and learning and expanding.

Its not as clear or as tangible as designing land based systems, but the principles are the same, the same wise learnings from the non-human world apply; ie. Catch and store energy – in healing and improving yourself, in gathering resources visible and invisible in your community. Stacking – what can you get out of coming to london to do an intro talk in Ealing, what extra yields can I imaginatively create by thinking like an ecosystem (selling books, meeting up with my sister, connecting with another transition group, emcouraging people to connect with each other during and after the talk, promoting my upcoming courses…)

I have been hugely enriched this year by getting involved with the ‘8 Shields‘ work on nature connection and culture repair. This synthesises so well with Permaculture – it is about connecting to and learning from the ‘more than human’ world (or ‘natural’ world – but I believe we need to realise we are a part of nature and not separate from it), and learning from intact indigenous cultures. Our western web of culture is as damaged and as reliant on fossil fuels as our agriculture is, and we need to rediscover and design ways to improve it. Ways to give our children multiple contact with wise attentive adults, ways to bring out the best in each other and ourselves, ways to ensure that those entrusted with leadership are making the most beneficient choices, ways to heal and grieve and dance with joy, ways to healthily support each other in the deep experiences that help us grow.

I went on the UK Art of Mentoring course this Summer, and started to see ways of doing all these things, and it has brought a lot to me as a person and to what I have to offer to the world. The course happens once a year, and models a holistic, nurturing, nature connected culture for a week, and gives participants tools to bring this web of culture into their everyday lives – I learnt the importance of eldership, singing, gratitude, griefwork, happiness, creativity, processing thoughts and feelings, curiosity, questioning and mentoring. They will run another course next year 3rd -9th June in E. Sussex.

And on another positive note, my Permaculture intro talk in Ealing a few days ago had about 40 people at it, having given the transition group about 2 weeks notice to promote it. People are eager and hungry for this regenerative culture.

Contacts –

Meadow Orchard

Food from the Sky

Naturewise Forest Garden at Crouch Hill

Organiclea – Hawkwood Plant Nursery

Hornbeam Cafe, Walthamstow

Art of Mentoring UK

8 Shields Institute

Thank you world.

Hello, welcome to my first blog post. I start by giving thanks, a cultural tool for grounding and gaining perspective.

I thank the earth for providing us with so much i cannot hope to list it all – material support, food, beauty, homes, nourishment.

I thank the sky for the gifts of sun to inspire and feed us, rain to cleanse and nourish us, wind to breath freshness into us.

I thank the soil and the funghi for their wealth, for their store of precious life and nutrients, recycling the dead that the living may feed.

I thank the water for its teachings of flow, for its constant cycling of resources and cleansing; washing us and the land down, quenching our thirst and that of all the animals and plants, creating the conditions inside us for all our chemical and biological interactions – cells, bacteria, digestion, blood, for all the beings that require fresh clean water to continue.

I thank all the beings that help to cleanse the water, to clear the imbalances from our water courses and rivers, from the dancing streams to the rivers, to the lake, to the deltas and bays to the seas and ocean.

I thank the plants for bringing us food and beauty, for protecting the precious soils and transforming sunlight and soil and water into such exquisite shapes and tastes.

I thank the trees for their strength and grandeur, their gifts of fruits, nuts, shelter, homes and versatile wood we can use in so many ways, to protect our vulnerable bodies in the cold and wet times.

I thank the animals, from the tiny unseen creatures of the soil who do so much to start our food web, to the large animals that teach and inspire us, the wolf, the deer, the elephant. They also often lose their lives for us, that we may feed and clothe ourselves.

I thank the human family for having so much love and potential, for wanting to learn and experience, for our beauty and bravery and creativity. I bring to mind the future generations of humans and other species, and dedicate this blog to them, to let them know we are thinking of them and exploring ways to leave them a wiser and more nourishing world.

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Some indigenous cultures give a thanksgiving address before each gathering, to ground themselves in their place in the natural world, in the passage of history and remind them of the larger perspective and their responsibilities and interconnection with everything, and probably lots of other more subtle reasons i don’t yet comprehend. Its a cultural tool we couldreally do with in the West. Our daily information is more usually about the problems and darkness of our human sphere, which is a part of the picture, but the picture is much larger than that.

I feel a sense of peace, expansiveness and awe having written this, and a desire to bring what is best for all beings into the world.

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Looking at my notebook I see I forgot to mention birds, spirit, stars and a few other things, but it is all a learning path : )

I will end by thanking my human mentors who have helped me along this journey as well, to my ever loving parents, to Aranya my deeply abundant Permaculture teaching mentor, to Jillian my incisive, wise life mentor, to the UK Permaculture Association for all their support in my lifework of connected sustainable living, and Jon Young and all involved in the Art of Mentoring for a rich work of cultural regeneration (including this thanksgiving tool). And i thank and appreciate myself also, for finally starting a blog and spending some time on my edge tonight.