Stacking Functions: Trusses as Concrete Forms


As the house progresses steadily, it’s pretty amazing to realize that every step we’re taking is bringing us one step closer to realizing our dreams. It’s all of the little details which add up to become a house.

Yesterday and today we have been working steadily on building the parallel chord trusses, which will double as concrete forms.

Here is an example of the parallel chord truss we are building. This example is actually using pallet wood, but we are using dimensional pine lumber from our nearby sawmill. Image from Mother Earth News.

We’re at the beginning of getting our systems down and work site set up. We’ve chosen a spot with great morning-midday shade, but the afternoon can be brutal. Most days we are getting high humidity and 80-85 degree sunny weather. This means the sweat is dripping and the sawdust is sticking to our legs!

I’ve set up making the cuts for the diagonal pieces (“webs” in the diagram above) and 6 foot lengths and Ini is putting them together. Each truss takes 12 diagonal lengths and so I’ve taken to organizing my cuts into buckets for easy delivery.

Meanwhile, Ini has been hammering the trusses together. (Note my choked up hammer grip due to wrist fatigue, he says…)

This method of truss building is simple, albeit labor intensive and also uses small dimensional lumber (rough cut 1x4s in this case). As noted in the above diagram, this method can make great use of pallet wood, a ubiquitous offshoot of our consumptive culture. Furthermore, the style of truss will allow us to easily span 16 feet and maintain a cathedral ceiling while providing a 12″ deep cavity which will be filled with blown in cellulose for an R value of 36. Add some dead air space and radiant barrier and we should be achieving closer to R 50.

The simple geometry involved in truss building relies on the inherent strength of triangles. By using this simple principle, we can create a unit that is much stronger than the sum of its parts and efficiently utilize wood.

As always we are seeking to maximize outputs and minimize input. This is at the core of Permaculture. In this case we are stacking functions of using these trusses as concrete forms when we pour our stem wall. We’ll add plywood and then oil it so the concrete doesn’t stick. Once the concrete is set, we will remove formwork and install as roof assembly. It might seem weird that we’re building a roof before even starting on the wall, but there is a method to our madness…

Making Home


It has been quite a journey since we’ve moved onto the 18 acres we have been tending for the past three and half years. Some of the biggest changes are taking place as we’re endeavoring to build ourselves a home. It seems like every lesson, hardship and observation has led us to this point and we’re ready to dive in.

The phrase “building a house” does not begin to describe the extremely large undertaking involved in such a process. A house is not the sum of parts (lumber, stone, insulation etc..), but rather an extension of the humans that inhabit it. Many natural building enthusiasts refer to the house as a thirds skin (the second being our clothing). Making home does entail building a house, but extends beyond the physical details and includes how the building / inhabitant integrate into the landscape.

In line with our ethics, we have yet to take a drastic approach to changing the landscape. Small and slow has been our way.

For years we both envisioned building our own natural own, both independently and then in partnership. The dreaming, hands-on time, designing, scheming, considering, researching, sourcing, planning and sketching phases have brought us to a point where we are calling in BIG changes. With these changes also come tough decisions. In preparation for this we have walked throughout our land countless times at different seasons, observed the patterns of the sun and moon and taken notes on plant communities and soil conditions. Now that we’ve settled on a location, we are ready to break ground.

Inviting large equipment onto our land has been a difficult decision to make. We dig all the excavation for all prior buildings by hand, and value this low impact method. It is accessible, sustainable and free. In considering the scale and scope of this build and the importance of a solid foundation systems and proper drainage we called around and found the best heavy equipment operator in the area.

Neither of us have endeavored such an undertaking and it is a little nerve racking to see it beginning.

We both love to natural building; the materials, the process and of course the final result. Some of the most comfortable human spaces we’ve inhabited have been build in alignment with the Earth from site selection, materials used to the construction process. But what does it look like for us to be guiding a major building process?

This past week we’ve seen what 20 hours of heavy equipment can get done. We said goodbye to a beautiful red oak (while it was in decline, it’s still hard to kill such a large tree). We’re been sick to our stomachs at the destruction we’ve seen as the house site is being prepared. Overwhelmed, stressed, nervous… Yes and also elated and joyful. We are making the biggest changes to the landscape yet, and while we feel it’s warranted to ensure our house stands strong as long as possible (hopefully well over 100 years) it’s still a lot to be responsible for.

Items we put into the foundation: old boots to make the place feel like home immediately and quartz crystals wren dug in arkansas for a crystal grid to amplify intentions.

This is just the first step, and as the equipments operator mentioned as we rolled off site late last Friday evening, “Now the hard work begins”. In some ways I agree as from now on it will be almost exclusively hand labor, but there’s also a joy and connection to the place and materials that heavy equipment does not afford.

Roses at Mountain Jewel – Madame Isaac Pereire


The first year we were on the land, we held back from buying many plants. This, however, didn’t stop me from buying 13 heritage roses!

My grandmother had a rose garden at her place in Pasadena, California and I remember visiting it as a girl. As I grew older, I was intensely attracted to the divine smell of the many varieties of rose and I knew I wanted some on the homestead!

Luckily there is a longstanding tradition of selecting roses that are not only beautiful, but also are very delightfully fragrant! Though modern hybrid roses usually aren’t selected for scent, many of the heirloom roses are. It was these on which I focused my search.

Life is all about the connections & I find the history of plants very fascinating. Today I am starting a series as I research the history of each of the roses on our homestead (6 remain from the original 13 – I think in the first year I didn’t baby some of them enough and they didn’t make it through a harsh winter!)

Madame Isaac Pereire

Our search begins where my journey with this rose began, at Antique Rose Emporium. This is where I bought my plants. Of this rose they write,

Luscious, sumptuous, almost blousy beauty, runs one description of this well-known old rose. Named after the wife of a French banker, ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ has fat, cabbagey flowers of rich rose madder, with perhaps the strongest deep rose perfume extant. To see and smell a full blown bush on an early April morning is a heady experience. A smaller but even more lovely fall display and scattered roses throughout the summer are extra rewards that come as the plant gets established. ‘Mme. Isaac Pereire’ makes a handsome shrub specimen for pegging. 1881.

David Austin has this to say,

Huge, fuchsia, cup-shaped flowers; the petals eventually turning back prettily at the edges. Powerful and delicious fragrance. A large, vigorous shrub with open growth. Garcon, 1841.

Interesting to see that these two sources do not agree on the introduction date. Let’s see if we can learn more about this French banker and his wife!

Well that didn’t take long. Turns out these two were famous. According to Wikipedia,

The Pereire brothers were prominent 19th-century financiers in Paris, France, who were rivals of the Rothschilds. Like the Rothschilds, they were Jews, but the Pereire brothers were Sephardi Jews of Portuguese origin.


Émile (3 December 1800 – 5 January 1875) and his brother Isaac (25 November 1806 – 12 July 1880) founded a business conglomerate that included creating the Crédit Mobilier bank. It became a powerful and dynamic funding agency for major projects in France, Europe and the world at large. It specialized in mining developments; it funded other banks including the Imperial Ottoman Bank or the Austrian Mortgage Bank; it funded railway construction[ and insurance companies, as well as building contractors. Their bank had large investments in a transatlantic steamship lines, urban gas lighting, a newspaper and the Paris public transit system.

In 1866/7, the bank underwent a severe crisis, and the Pereires were forced to resign at the demand of the Banque de France; the bank never recovered.

Their grandfather, Jacob Rodrigues Pereira, was an “academic and the first teacher of deaf-mutes in France.” (source)

Very interesting! I assume that they did not win their rival with the Rothschilds otherwise we would know their names instead of the Rothschilds!

Looking further I find this,

‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ is a dark pink Bourbon rose bred in France in 1881 by Armand Garcon. 

The rose is named after Fanny Pereire, the wife of a prominent French banker, who used the inheritance after his death to honor his memory and simultaneously have this rose named after her. 

In a very Continental twist, Pink Ladies and Crimson Gents reveals that Isaac Pereire was Fanny’s uncle as well as her husband, a bit of salacious gossip that I somehow can’t resist keeping in memory.

Kansas Garden Musings

Well then! Am I still glad that I did the research? Hah! That seems a bit inbred to me. Marrying an uncle 19 years older than you at the tender age of 16! For even more information regarding their union and the family history, see this informative post.

Perhaps I’ll start calling this rose by its direct name, Fanny! She certainly picked a great rose to name herself after.

As many online attest, this is one fragrant rose. Some even call it the most fragrant rose in the world! Just was I was looking for…

Other interesting snippets:

There is no availability problem with this rose  – almost all suppliers stock it! Produced in 1880 by Armond Garçon, a Normandy rose breeder, it was originally named ‘La Bien-heureux de la Salle’, but having found its way to Paris in 1881 it was renamed ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ in honour of Fanny Pereire, wife of a prominent banker. It would be interesting to discover the exact circumstances under which this name change took place.

Peter Scott in The Royal National Rose Society Historic Rose Journal No. 32 Autumn 2006

And furthermore from the same source,

Isaac’s first wife died in 1837 and in 1840, at the age of 34, Isaac became enamoured of Fanny Pereire, his brother Emile’s eldest daughter, who was then just 16 years old. Isaac and Fanny wished to marry and in due course Emile reluctantly agreed. Because of the close blood relationship, the marriage also required special consent from the State. After this was obtained however, Emile had a change of heart. Once again he eventually gave in to pleas from Isaac and Fanny but their affair created a rift between Emile and Isaac that was slow to heal. This was made all the more difficult by proximity, since not only did they occupy adjoining offices at the bank but they also shared the same large residence in Paris. Nevertheless, both saw the wisdom of ensuring that the rift was not allowed to jeopardise the banking business.

Fanny’s mother Rachel Rodriguez, Emile’s distant cousin, was of Iberian extraction, which may account for the dark good looks possessed by Fanny.  She bore Isaac three children. Evidence suggests she was a very effective manager of Isaac’s social affairs especially during the ill health he suffered in the last years of his life. With Emile’s death in 1875 and Isaac’s in 1880 – the year before the naming of this rose – Fanny assumed with no little skill the role of dowager of the two families. She became something of a matriarch and lived on to the age of 85, dying in 1910.

Now my curiosity is satisfied knowing more of the story behind this gorgeous rose.

Stay tuned as I look further into the roses of Mountain Jewel…

Keystone Species in Action: The Beaver


In college I remember learning about a very cool phenomenon called Keystone Species.

While all creatures have an impact on their environment, keystone species take this to the next level. If a keystone species is removed from their environment, the ecosystem would change drastically.

As we interact with our homestead ecosystem and the larger landscape, we undoubtedly see the ways in which we humans have the potential to be keystone species. We create and destroy habitat as a matter of course. However, today I want to talk about a real example of how the beaver has created and shaped an ecosystem in my neighbor’s landscape.

Beavers are notorious for felling trees and making dams.

Take a walk by your favorite creek or stream and you’ll undoubtedly see signs of the beaver, if they live in your area. The telltale sign of gnaw marks near the base of a tree. This can frustrate land owners who are trying to grow certain plants near streams, but the beaver serves an important function within the ecosystem. My neighbor’s experience is a perfect case.

My neighbor bought his land about 40 years ago. Though he hasn’t lived there continuously over the last 40 years, he has witnessed the changes in his landscape. We were taking a walk along one of his lower fields the other day and he showed me the beaver pond and he mentioned that when he moved here, it didn’t exist! He also mentioned that when he first saw the beavers moving in, he didn’t want them there because when creating dams they obviously have to cut down a lot of trees! They drastically change the landscape. Such is the level of transformation the beavers have on a piece of land.

My neighbor Gene by the beaver pond

To give you a palpable example, as we went toward the beaver pond, about 200 ft away I noticed that the plant habitat changed drastically. There were countless small Sycamore saplings and the understory was covered in ferns! It was lush, moist, and cool – a far cry from the field only a stone’s throw away.

The rest of the landscape surrounding this area was tall grasses and scrubby understory. There were no other areas with ferns.

As we approached the area, it was apparent that the beavers had drastically changed it. From small feeder springs, the beavers had slowly but surely damed them up, creating a pond. Where no pond existed before in a flat field, the beavers had successfully created one. Anyone who has ever tried to start a pond using nothing but what is naturally in the area knows how hard it can be to trap water. Water notoriously finds areas to escape and leak and unless one has very clay rich soil, it can be difficult to keep water in ponds. Yet the beavers did it!

Walking along the bank of the beaver pond, I was truly amazed. The water was about 2-3 ft deep and clear! An ecosystem had been created and life was thriving because of the work of the beaver’s hands, teeth and ingenuity. There were even fish in the pond, likely brought in as eggs from the feet of shore birds.

My neighbor mentioned that the beavers had long since left their creation because the trees they fell for their food source had become scarce. However, the legacy of habitat for many that they left behind exists long after their departure. It made me think about the effect that I have on a landscape and what will be left after I am gone. How will the efforts of my human hands carry on when I am no longer around to tend it? Is what I’m doing able to create habitat that will outlast me?

As I watched the bumble bees and other pollinators flying around our homestead yesterday, I was delighted to note that I am already creating habitat and food sources for many creatures to come live here. In the pond, there are hundreds of toadpoles and each day I notice new species of pollinators swooping in to dine. I even noticed a handful of Zebra Swallowtail butterfly larvae on the Paw Paws within our forest gardens (their young leaves are the only host plants for the young larvae to eat.)

Many of these cycles happen naturally and it is my goal to be a beneficial human within my environment, looking beyond the bounds of my flesh and needs to create habitat and provide ecosystem services for countless other creatures. At that point, I’ll consider my efforts a job well done.

If a keystone species can simply be defined as an organism that makes it possible for other species to live in the ecosystem, I have to think of all of the habitat destruction that humans are doing. Pesticides and herbicides released into the environment are killing off species, making water unclean and having untold effects for all organisms. This is short term thinking and while creating a healthy thriving ecosystem does take time and perhaps more effort and management up front, we can do this and set things in motion which can benefit future generations of not only humans, but other organisms as well.

Mountain Jewel Goes to Baker Creek


This past weekend was the annual Baker Creek spring planting festival and it happened to be our first outreach/vending event. We put a lot into it and wanted to share a little of our experience.

Baker Creek is a large heirloom seed company that began as a Jere Gettle’s passion for gardening and has since grown into a well-known company that ships rare and heirloom seeds worldwide.

Every year 10 000 people attend the festival in Mansfield MO (an hour away from us) to connect around all things gardening and Earth based. We were honored to have a booth as part of the Rural Renaissance tent, a group focused on local community and permaculture.

We both knew this was going to be a big event, and we did all we could to prepare for it.

Everything from preparing plants for sale, designing and printing business cards, making signs and informational material and getting ready for sales. We formed a of lot of new paths and our next event wont be quite so much ground work. This was the first time we’d show up in public sphere in a big way and we wanted to represent what we’re all about; a perennial Earth based lifestyle.

Plant rack of berries, lavender and goldenseal for sale.

More than selling items, this event was all about outreach.

We made some great connections and gained insights into where people’s interests lie and what direction to head. We were offering a number of Rubus species, goldenseal plants, tinctures, books, worm kits and germinated paw paw seeds. There was A LOT of talking and it took us a few days to recover.

Mountain Jewel has been waiting to be born in both of us for quite a while.

The past few years we have been focused on establishing our homestead infrastructure, but now another layer is unfolding. This represents a phase where we touch the lives of others through connection, inspiration and empowerment.

We believe in what we’re doing and we want to share that with others. The vision for a bioregional permaculture nursery is in the nascent stages and we are starting to gather interest for educational and community involvement opportunities for this year’s straw bale house build.

Ini giving a talk on Sprouting

What this event shows us is the importance of showing up. We were unsure weather we were prepared enough, but soon realized that we had been preparing for this for years. Every work exchange opportunity, workshop, book, experiment and curiosity led us to this place. We have a true passion and desire to share the benefits of permaculture and living in connection with the earth.

Rural Renaissance Community members placing their locations within the Ozark Bioregion map

We were well received and had some very supportive responses.

Overall the event was a success and after recovering we are looking forward to future events including workshops and work parties on our land! We’re all in it together and it’s at events like this where we can come together and really feel that. We extend our gratitude to all of the organizers who made this event possible 🙂

David Haenke talking about putting the eco back in economics.

Wider Circles – Community Connections & Remembering the Journey Here


Last night Ini and I walked around the homestead and I’m not sure what it was, but we started saying Remember when…

Prepping signage and plants to bring with us to the festival

Remember when..

This was just a scrubby field with a huge oak and hickory in it?
When our neighbor came up one time with his discer and we walked behind it picking up rocks (which did nothing…) When you got naked and started pulling out what we thought was poison ivy, but ended up being aromatic sumac and I screamed when it touched your butt.

Remember that winter we slept outside when we came back after traveling and our yurt was moldy.. How we started off without power and carried water up the hill from our spring…

When we were just talking about getting a high tunnel.. starting a pond.. building the solar shed. Remember year after year when we dug beds and half of the soil was rocks..

Remember when we met at OUR ecovillage and sat by a fire one night realizing how closely our dreams aligned and decided to try it together…

All of the hard work, literal blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this…

Wider Circles

It’s all coming together in another turning of the revolution as we reach out into the community to share ourselves and some of the fruitions of the homestead.

send ya straight to our instagram!
I got a stamp! Business cards

In making the final preparations to vend this weekend, we’re seeing just how much we’ve set into motion and how we can bridge with the community. It’s extraordinarily exciting!

Thanks for being a part of the journey!

Tragedy brings out the best in us: TSU Biweekly Question


Stories of earth’s collapse surround us. Hollywood increasingly brings apocalyptic visions to life and we see wastelands with turf wars waged as resource scarcity takes center stage. We often wonder, what would happen if an “end of times” narrative played out? In each generation the mythos continues that the ever-looming threat of apocalypse may happen in this lifetime or the next. It is a part of our collective consciousness and we wonder if people in cities would turn to rampant pillaging, the darkest parts of humanity rising to the surface in a free for all scavenging.

image source

Yet actual experiences of communities under drastic threat reveal that a different characteristic emerges in real-life catastrophes.

This week, @tribesteemup asks us,

“If you could teach/show everyone in the world one thing, (something that has a huge impact on humanity) what would it be?”

Currently I am reading a book by George Marshall called Don’t Even Think about it: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change. In it, he digs into extensive research he has done in an attempt to unravel & speak to the reasons humans have trouble taking climate change seriously. It’s a very interesting book and I’m reading it to help myself understand the evolutionary & survivalist psychological underpinnings of why we as a species find this hard to face.

Interestingly enough, he finds that people who have experienced extraordinary events of climate change like hurricanes, droughts, severe flooding or wildfires are less likely to “believe” in climate change. Oftentimes, in the wake of such disasters climate change isn’t even mentioned as people sort through the wreckage. Speaking to the town that endured a ferocious wildfire (30 mph winds empowered a fire that burned 54 sq miles of forest, destroyed 1,600 houses, and could be seen from outer space) in the town of Bastrop, Texas in October 2011, he writes,

“What was curious, though, was that, when I visited Bastrop a year later not one person, in a string of formal interviews, could recall for me a single conversation in which they had discussed climate change as a potential cause of the drought or fire.”

The same thing also happened in the Oceanside town of Sea Bright, New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy (damaged 350,000 homes and waylaid the town). It turns out that people most affected by climate change events usually don’t have mental space to attribute it as such. Instead, they’re working on banding together as communities.

Marshall writes about those who endured the fires in Bastrop,

“Above all though, what they wanted to share with me was their pride in their community and their capacity to overcome challenges. They spoke of the many acts of kindness, altruism, and generosity from strangers.” The same happened in the town of Sea Bright,

“The strong sense of local pride I found in Bastrop and Sea Bright is entirely consistent with that found in other areas after disasters. Contrary to expectations, people rarely respond to natural disasters with panic, and there is often a marked fall in crime and other forms of antisocial behavior. People consistently tend to pull together, displaying unusual generosity and a sense of purpose.”

If I could teach the world one thing it would be this aptitude toward kindness.

I was very fortunate in that I grew up in a household full of kindness and experienced much kindness from community and strangers alike as I grew up. This has continued into my adulthood and I make it a part of my ripple to extend kindness into my circles.

image source

Others aren’t so fortunate and have either never experienced kindness or have had a bad experience which closes them off to the potential to receive anything but pain from the outside world. I know some of these people myself, always having a tale of woe to share about how they have been wronged.

It is encouraging and heartening to hear that the apocalyptic narrative of cars on fire and houses looted isn’t indeed what actually pans out in times of severe communal struggle. Perhaps in the larger cities this would be different, but I believe that one of the strongest ways we can influence humanity in an impactful way is to keep the flame of kindness alive. It isn’t partisan and reaches beyond our differences to find the spot of shared humanity. In times of struggle, these communities have found this spot and acted from it.

In the worst and best of times, it is what sustains us. It is a free action that also feeds the one who gives it. This is my hope and prayer for humanity. Let’s change the narrative and keep kindness alive.

In the end, only kindness matters.

Helping Pollinators While Beautifying Your Landscape


Of late when we hear anything about bees, it’s usually scary press. We hear that their colonies are collapsing and that they’re feeling pressure from pesticides, diseases, habitat destruction and insects that attack their hives. When we hear about ways our world is changing, it can seem insurmountable. It can be hard to listen to the bad news because it keeps coming and we may feel that we can’t do anything about these large-scale shifts. In spite this, believe we can help through some simple key actions.

Snowberry Clearwing on the Anise Hyssop

When it comes to bees, especially honeybees, our wellbeing depends on their survival and indeed the ecosystem services they provide for us, pollination being chief. We have a long-term relationship with bees as they provide much of the pollination needed to get our food turned from a flower into a fruit, for example.  In fact, a study done in California found that “native bee species pollinate between 35 and 39 percent of California’s crops and contribute at least $1 billion to its agricultural economy.” For economic reasons alone this is certainly an issue important to humans! Regardless, we wont survive very long in a world without pollinators.

Bumble bee on Coneflower

To help suggests:

  1. Grow a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers (I’ll list some awesome options below.)
  2. Protect and provide bee nest sites and caterpillar host plants.
  3. Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides and
  4. Spread the word

Pesticides are one of the biggest threats facing bees (and insects) and they often live in the environment long after they’re sprayed, meaning that we aren’t even completely aware of the negative effects that continue to have ripples for years to come. In order to be an ally to our pollinators, stop using them! You can transition part of your yard to a pollinator habitat instead and you won’t have to worry about spraying.

Establishing a pollinator habitat

Studies have shown that wildflower or native plant “strips” planted at the edges of lawns or farm fields greatly benefit pollinators and they can increase pollination in nearby crops (a boon to farmers). This can be as easy as buying one or two plants a year at a native plant sale and putting them into your existing landscaping or you could dig up a portion of your yard and dedicate it to the pollinators. You’ll also find the added benefits of beauty and delight that come from watching bees and insects!

Butterfly enjoying Bee Balm

Some species that bees especially love that I love to witness around our homestead include:

Wild Oregano: aka Bee Balm, there are many native species of this plant and it also comes in a diverse array of bright flowers. It’s easy to grow and comes back year after year. The leaves and flowers are also a great medicinal tea.

Anise Hyssop: Neither a true anise or hyssop, this plant is a stunning plant in the garden that blooms nearly all season long. Out of all of the plants in my garden, this one had the most pollinators on it at all times. It is also easy to grow, comes back each year and produces a delicious medicinal tea from the leaves.

Purple Coneflower: another native that is very well known. Echinacea is a drought hardy, easy to grow (it spreads!) beautiful medicinal plant that is a boon to pollinators. Often I would spy bumble bees on our coneflower.

Butterfly eyeing me from the Echinacea

Mints: These are easy to grow useful plants that also spread (you can grow them in a pot by the house as well.) Pollinators love the mints and, again, they produce a wonderful tea for humans (a theme!).

Clovers: This is as easy as taking a trip to the local feedstore. We get bulk clover seeds and sow them all over the homestead. They not only provide a living mulch and attractive nitrogen-fixing groundcover, but bees, butterflies, beetles & flies love them. They’ll come back year after year and you can even substitute some of the grass in your yard with them. Their dried flowers provide a healthy nourishing tea.

An assortment of mints taken from around the homestead. Great for pollinators and tea.

These are some of our favorite and easiest to grow suggestions for starting off your pollinator habitat. To find out more, you can google “Beneficial Pollinator Plants” and find more suggestions! While beautifying your space, you’re also helping our bees and other winged ones! A win-win!


Living in Connection with Death


CDo I live a healthy life to avoid or postpone death?

Death is perhaps the harshest of inevitabilities we face on this Earth, one that we have little control over. We are incarnated in fleshy body suits with a given set of genetic coding. Born into a family (which “some” may say we choose) within a complex set of circumstances (the same “some” may say it’s due to past karma) that we must navigate.

I don’t see death as an end of life or as an opposing force to life, rather I see it as a unique (and maybe definitive) part of life. The interwoven nature of life and death could forever be pondered but never be fully understood…

Death is like gravity, thirst or  hunger; we all feel it eventually.

As a child death seemed like forever away, and now that I’m into my 30s, I’m seeing it more closely. It seems more real now, more visceral. The death of my Oma when I was 16 was the first close encounter with death I have been touched by it more and more each year.

Death isn’t in opposition to health

I see life as a gift, a rare opportunity to inhabit the Earthly sphere. We can respond to it in a myriad of ways. One major example is the style(s) of life we choose live out. No amount of “healthy lifestyle choices” can postpone death immediately, but I do believe they can improve the time between now and then. Even the most ardent followers of ANY regime succumb to the worldly experience of death, *so why live a healthy life?*

I’ve been chewing on and digesting (pun intended) the idea of health since some illuminating experiences when I was 18. It started with a radical departure from my comfort zone, was followed up by a potent dream that prompted a 8.5 year veganic experiment and has since morphed into an immersive permaculture lifestyle. Lately I’m more in touch with death than at any other time of my life and I feel all the more alive for it.

We were asked whether we live healthy live to avoid or postpone death. I see becoming more intimate and comfortable with death is one way I live a healthier life. Since committing 100% of myself to an Earth based lifestyle, I have become much closer to death in some ways. By that I mean it has touched my life more deeply and frequently.

We lost a dog last year. I killed my first deer to fill our larders. I’ve killed thousand of tiny plants while weeding. I’ve been responsible for the death of billions of microorganisms by digging garden beds. I’ve shot numerous wild animals for food. I’ve salvaged road kill and butchered chickens. On a daily basis I am in control of choosing what lives and what dies in the gardens.  

Homesteading in the healthiest lifestyle for me, and it means I am constantly reminded of death.

For me a healthy lifestyle is one which I can honor life to the fullest and this means being connected to sourcing my base needs. Water from a well or roof catchment. Food from the garden, forest and steams. Electricity from the sun. Heat from our woodland. Meeting these needs requires an intimacy with life cycles as well as death. All life relies on death and sustaining ours means we are simply more closely linked to this web.

While I do immensely enjoy learning about forest gardening, nutrition, herbalism, natural building and other health related topics, I do so mostly for the joy of it. I’m not thinking about pushing death away so much as welcoming vibrant life force in. Although there are some elements of the sustainable lifestyle that could perhaps postpone or avoid the death of our species and so many others. We won’t go down that rabbit hole though.

I’m not only conscious of what goes into and onto my body because I have a later death date in mind. I do so because it feels good. I choose a healthy life because I can enjoy so much more of what life has in store if I’m healthy.  I live this way because something deep and profound stirs me to do so.

I want to live well in the present while caring for a future self.

I suppose there is an element of what we’re planting on the homestead that is about extending life. We have selected nutrient dense and antioxidant rich crops to grow that we hope to enjoy and share to a ripe old age. We all know berries rate high on the list of antioxidant foods, but that’s not the only reason we’re growing so many of them. They happen to be delightful to grow and eat. What we’re really after it living a healthy life to enjoy it as much as possible, and as a bonus are accessing some of the nutriceutical properties of many of the plants we tend.

I define a healthy lifestyle as one that balances the love of life with the fear of death

I’m talking about a healthy fear of death, not simply shying away from looking at it. The kind of fear where you can meet death and not close your eyes. Greet death instead of fleeing. The level of fear that commands respect. I’m not interested in overly risky behaviors, because they may result in death. The other side of it is inviting it in too soon. Somewhere between these two extremes I find my place.

I’m still figuring out so many of the details for how to live the healthiest and happiest life. I’ve spend a lot of time considering what are the “healthiest” options, but I know simple let my body guide me and give my mind a little rest. Much remains to be explored and hopefully I’ll have many more years to explore the nature of healthy lifestyles and continue to experiment.I was moved by this week’s @naturalmedicine question of the week.

This is my response. Check out the post below and scope some of the other insightful answers.

Artificial “Asimina-lation”: Pollinating the Paw Paw, N. America’s Largest Fruit


As the redbud blossoms fade and dogwood flowers makes their appearance, the mighty paw paw flowers waltz their way to center stage in the Ozark woodlands.

These luscious drooping maroon blossoms are sultry in their demeanor, but yet perhaps a little shy…

The paw paw has fast become a very dear tree to us, and we’re excited to get a little more intimate with some specimens this spring.

Immature Paw Paw Flower on the left, Mature on the right

Almost all fruit needs to pollinated to set fruit.

There are a few exceptions such as certain persimmons, which can set fruit parthenocarpically which results in seedless fruit. The same can be said about seedless watermelons. All other fruit require male and female sex organs to intermingle in order to produce fruit. While some trees are self-fertile (meaning one tree can pollinate itself), others require cross-pollination.

Generally fruits are either wind or insect pollinated.

The scope of fruit pollination is far beyond this article. Paw paws (Asimina triloba) are pollinated by insects and often need a little help with setting fruit. Being pollinated by flies and carrion beetles and having female organs that are receptive before the male organs shed pollen, proper pollination (and therefore fruit set) can be tricky.

Some old timers swear by hanging rotting meat to attract pollinators, but hand pollination seems like a more savory choice for most.

The paw paw flowers are known as perfect; meaning they contain both male and female reproductive parts.

The stigma (receptive female part) matures before the male anthers shed its pollen. Here lies the conundrum. To make things even more nuanced, the pollen must almost always (there are some exceptions) come from a different genetic source to ensure proper pollination. This is where is gets a bit frisky.

Today we are harvesting some paw paw pollen from the flowers of several different trees. Paw paws fruit best if cross-pollinated, that is by receiving pollen from another tree. It is recommended to plant at least 3 varieties for proper pollination, so we will be roaming the woods near us and collecting pollen in hopes of increasing fruit set on wild paw paws on our land. Our cultivated varieties have only 1 or two flowers so far.

Our goal is to transfer the male pollen to a clean and dry container and then transfer it to the female stigma. The pollen is ripe when the ball of anthers is brownish and sheds readily. The stigma is ready when the tips of the pistil are green, sticky and glossy. At this time the anthers ball is firm and light yellow to greenish in color.

Once we have collected enough pollen we will use a delicate brush and simply apply pollen to receptive stigmas.

This is a delicate task, but one that we feel is well worth the effort. For a tree that has few to no pests, does not require pruning in almost all cases and produces such a wonderful fruit, hand pollination seems a small price to pay.

Many of the larger scale growers, including the Kentucky State research facility report that pollination isn’t a problem.

Perhaps this is due to the large volume of flowers that creates a habitat for pollinators. The head of the KSU paw paw research team Sheri Crabtree, says that while hand pollination is the best option for optimum fruit set (as opposed to hanging rotting meat), she and her team say it isn’t needed in their paw paw test plots and orchards.

Playing sexy time with trees is fun, and hopefully will pay off in the form of scrumptious fruits in late summer. Artificial “asimina-lation” is a great way to connect with nature in a productive and intimate way.


Paw Paw Fruit Facts