Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Fergus the Permaculture Prince

Wyatt and I are looking for a house. But we don’t want to pay a whole lot for it because we want to pay it off quickly, and we need it to be in a safe neighborhood because we like to walk a lot, and it would be great if there were some cool restaurants or a coffee shop we could walk to from our home, and it needs to be on a fairly large lot so we can grow some of our own food, and IT’S JUST FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE!

But I have hope.

We’re trying to reevaluate our methods of managing life in an effort to make said life more stable and satisfying. As a general guideline, we’re using Permaculture philosophies to streamline our use of time, space, and wealth.

Both Wyatt and I have college educations. I have a Master’s degree I haven’t finished paying for yet. Both of us have always driven at least 20 minutes to get to work, and much of the time we’ve had jobs we didn’t like. We’ve spent a lot of time fretting about auto repair and gas expenses. We’re frequently overextended, temporally and financially. We don’t feel like we have enough time/money/whatever to do the things we love, and we wonder what we’ve been working so hard for since college.

Let’s look at Fergus McFaydden. Fergus is a resident of my former neighborhood, an author and artist with probably the best movie collection on the east coast. I haven’t talked to him much in a while, and I’ll bet he’s spent zero minutes studying Permaculture principles. But in my mind, Fergus is the king of sustainability.

I met Fergus in the late 1980s when I was a punkass kid hanging out and trying to make friends with people old enough to buy me alcohol. At 19, I got thrown out of an MD 20/20 party at his apartment. I remember thinking he was really cool because he knew Harlan Ellison. At that time he walked to work at the Kinko’s copy place a couple of blocks away. Did he need his MFA in creative writing to have that job at Kinko’s? No. But he did need to be enrolled in school for as long as possible to have access to the nearby campus fitness facilities, and of course since he’s a writer it didn’t exactly waste his time. All of the elements of Fergus’s life seem to support each other – that’s the key.

Fergus still walks to work at Kinko’s, still lives in the neighborhood, and does not own a car. I don’t think he drives at all. That’s okay because there are convenience stores nearby and he has plenty of friends who will give him the occasional trip to the grocery store or to the movies. He’s quirky and interesting and cultivates relationships with others like himself, so parties at Fergus’s are really outstanding and everyone goes home with stories to tell. Except for Fergus. He stays home with stories to tell. It all comes to him, and he doesn’t have a car payment or the insurance and other (speeding and parking tickets) expenses involved with car ownership.

Another way Fergus saves his own energy by drawing social contacts to himself is with his reptiles, and this is also another example of multiple elements supporting each other within his life. Fergus loves the lizards, and it just so happens others do too. Many’s the time I’ve seen Fergus out for a stroll with one of his gargantuan iguanas. Fergus is not an extrovert, but a big lizard on your back will make people come up and start talking to you. Especially if you’ve put a funny custom-made hat on it. Even though he’s not an extrovert, Fergus knows a shitload of people. People with stories to tell, people who like to hear his stories, people he can tell stories about.

According to Permaculture principles, the things you rely on most need to be closest to you in what’s called Zone 1. A Permaculture practitioner will plant the plants which need the most care and are often needed in the kitchen close to the house, like right outside the door. Having the things you need most in a handy spot saves you a lot of travel and frustration. Fergus has work, a coffee shop, several good restaurants, and a broad social circle in what I consider an urban Zone 1.

Fergus has always had his priorities straight, so he’s been able to focus on what’s important to him and obtain a yield from it. He’s published two novels and some short fiction, and a scandalous magazine cover he did the art for got banned in Canada. I never did anything I wanted to like that because I lacked focus – I was always too busy fretting about some crisis or other related to being spread too thin and dedicated to things that weren’t going to give back to me in the long run.

I never would have left that neighborhood, but I couldn’t afford to buy property there, and I was tired of renting. I figured that if I owned my own place and the ceiling started leaking, at least I would know why it’s not getting fixed. I had to look a long time to find a place I could afford in a neighborhood I could walk in, or leave home without worrying that the back door would be kicked in while I was gone. And I love it here – I met Wyatt in the laundry room. I have great friends in this building. I can walk to Fisher’s Grille or bike downtown.

But I am absolutely going nuts to harvest rainwater and grow perennials. You can’t do that with a condo.

The picture posted up top is what I’ve managed to do on my balcony. The bigger leaves of the chard you see were pretty good in a salad we had for dinner Sunday.

I’ve got big ambitions to sow Austrian Winter Pea and greens this fall in a yard somewhere in a neighborhood where I can walk to work and socialize with cool neighbors. My fingers are crossed! Wish me luck!

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