Scale of Permanence Revised

I’ve upgraded the scale of permanence diagram. It’s a little more readable and a little more interesting to look at. See the tiny cows?

You can check out my previous post on the scale of permanence here.

I continue to see folks start their designs somewhere in the middle of the scale, being concerned with soil, vegetation or even aesthetics before they’ve considered climate, landform, water, or access. Not only will they smack their foreheads when they’ve realized they put their trees in the perfect spot for a swale, they’re missing out on the transformative powers of working higher on the scale.

I’ve seen how changing the way water moves through the landscape powers the growth of plants. Or how just being able to access that far corner of your land begins the process of interaction that creates something entirely new. Not every situation is appropriate for earthworks to harvest water or a path to that far unreachable corner of the property, but even a change in the plants (for example changing a lawn into wildflowers or a food forest) can have big effects on down the line.

Even just the organization in peoples thinking changes things!

I’m also proud to say it’s been included in Midwest Permaculture’s Step by Step Site Data, a free document that shows you how to collect data for many of the steps on the scale. I highly recommend checking it out.

Advice for the New Permaculturist

I’ve herd people ask similar questions. Basically they amount to “I have dreams of permaculture, how do I pursue them?”

The perennial permaculture advice is “it depends”.

Every person’s journey is different.

Take a breath.

Then start looking around you. What is possible now? How can you start investing in yourself and your projects? What can you learn that will help you along the way? How can you connect with people around you? How can you increase the possibilities?

In what ways is your current thinking limited? What if it’s hiding possibilities from you?

For many years I lived in Chicago in apartments. There I foraged, explored, and learned as much as I could. Eventually I decided to move to Ann Arbor to give me more access to literal greener pastures. I helped form a cooperative to steward the unused portion of 64 acres at a residential addiction recovery facility. Now I’m mob grazing sheep there in the summers.

These types of “designs” take many years to observe, evaluate, make the necessary moves, and allow processes to play out. Sometimes there are false starts. I would plan on 10’s of years at the very least.

In the meantime, educate yourself, plant a garden, preserve and eat food. Make connections. Seek out situations that can lead to the next thing, the adjacent possible.

A Glimpse of the Future

What will life be like in the future?

We will mostly live by what is around us. Things that come from afar will be special. Tools, knives and raw materials. Probably some books and musical instruments.

Food, shelter, energy, waste, water, would all be taken care of locally.

That is my vision. One way or another it’s where we are going.

How impoverished we will be someday. If that is our destination how do we invest in it?


Hierarchy is a type of control. It disrupt the natural order of things, usually using large quantities of energy to do so, placing the beings that are the object of control in a state of stress, which denies one or more of their needs, products, behaviors, or intrinsic characteristics, so that their usual outcomes accrue to the controllers benefit.

The Big Fish Eat the Little Fish, c. 1619

Here I describe hierarchy as a clearly negative thing, I have heard some protest at it being used in a negative way. I would suggest that in those instances it would be better to use words like network, position, scale, or even relationship. Hierarchy is a mis-ordering of relationships in a way that rearranges benefit and stress.

So many questions! How do hierarchies exist in our own lives? There are many hidden in plain sight within our lives, the more we look the more we’ll find. What energy is used to maintain them? Could we use that energy in a higher leverage way? What stress is imposed on the controlled? How does that also affect the controller? What benefit is given to the controller? What happens to the controller if that benefit is removed?

I have been exploring this thought wave over at Glorious Debris. Through this process I am seeing permaculture as a removal of hierarchy.

8 Forms of Capital & Pollution

8 forms of capital, originally published on Appleseed Permaculture and written by Ethan Roland & Gregory Landua in 2011, has become a core permaculture methodology. As an analytical tool it can help us map flows and exchanges between ourselves and the rest of the world. It broadens our focus from money alone, helping us see the wealth of connections that exist around us. 

Briefly, the eight forms are:

  • Social capital, such as influence and connections. 
  • Material capital, non-living physical objects, both raw and processed 
  • Financial capital, currencies and other tools of the global financial system
  • Living capital, living beings including plants, animals, and soil
  • Intellectual capital, knowledge learned from a book or school
  • Experiential capital, knowledge gained by doing
  • Cultural capital, shared knowledge of a community
  • Spiritual capital, religion, spirituality, or other means of connection

In my own practice I’ve found it useful to consider an additional aspect of the 8 forms of capital. When too much capital accumulates and stagnates it becomes pollution. Identifying, remediating, and resolving this pollution becomes a source of leverage in our designs.

The kind of pollution we all know and love.

Ways pollution could manifest in the 8 forms of capital:

  • Spiritual pollution, cults, dead world, “hollow” churches, new age thinking
  • Social pollution, being totally dependant on others to the point of parasitism
  • Material pollution, pollution as we normally think of it, wasted resources
  • Financial pollution, paranoia, control, solitude, lack of community
  • Living pollution, invasive species, ecosystem out of balance
  • Cultural pollution, colonization, disconnection from one’s own culture
  • Experiential pollution, adrenaline junky, all action with no contemplation
  • Intellectual pollution, ivory tower, undisclosed conflicts of interest clouding interpretations, book knowledge only with no real world experience

Capital is best as a flow, not an accumulation. Our interactions with capital need to focus on that flow. When we do have accumulations it is our responsibility to find the root causes and transform them back into alignment with nature and to remediate the problems those accumulations have caused.

Rocket Stove Workshop 2021

Back when the pandemic was young I had planned to lead a rocket stove workshop at Symbiosis Ranch. Things being what they were it didn’t end up happening.

Fortunately, the workshop is back on the schedule, for the weekend of September 18th & 19th. We’ll be putting a batch box rocket stove mass heater in the Aircrete Dome. It will be held 9 am – 5 pm each day, is $198, limited to 15 students, with free camping on site, and will include a ranch dinner on Saturday night. Additional ranch operated accommodations are available onsite or in town. You can register by calling (989) 317-4787.

We’ll be using the Peterburg Batch Box Dimensions to make our stove. For the small space of the dome I’m modeling it on “the cyclone” built in 2017 at Wheaton Labs. Here are some videos:

The Sheeple

Cowboy is the daddy and one of the borrowed sheep.

Well, I’m a shepard now. My flock is small, just three ewes, but I’m also able to borrow three more to make it a larger flock. So far it’s been really satisfying. I head out to check on them once a day, making sure they have enough pasture, set up my next moves, check their water, and make sure they have enough salt.

My draft grazing plan.

I’ve got a draft plan to move them through the food forest at the cooperative. White is where they’ve been. Red is approximate future paddocks. Blue are the alleys that some of the other coop members will be growing in. Yellow arrows are the move paths. It’s not exact but I think I’ve got them covered till November 11.

They’ll be overwintering with Project Mow, then I’ll have them back out again next spring.

On the to do list is an improved shelter (I think I’m going to copy Justin Rhodes sheepshaw), and make sure they have all the free choice minerals they need.

Chickadees Sing Frank Black

I was out working at the coop and I was struck by the song of the chickadees. They would sing and then my head would fill in the Frank Black tune that I had just been listening to in the car ride over. If you’re impatient just skip ahead to about 4:00.

The chickadees in this video aren’t quite singing the same interval as they were that day at the coop, but I think it’s close enough that you’ll get the picture.

It’s fun when those little synchronicities lead you into nature. The chickadees sing Frank Black. Or, perhaps it is Frank Black playing the chickadees song…