“In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.” (J.S. Mill, “On Liberty”, 1859).
When younger, I used to look in the mirror and believe that I wasn’t human. Somehow, I understood that I was different. It may have been something to do with a nursery school teacher’s label of ‘freak’, or at least that’s how my mother told the story. I did get over this apparent delusion and am quite comfortable in my humanness. I now prefer to think of myself as a chameleon who is able to fit into any social situation, but those allowed close enough start to see through the mask. I’m really a fish out of water in regular social life, living on the margins.
I now embrace marginalisation and have come to believe that existing on the edges of society has an advantage. Conformity leads to stagnation, challenging accepted wisdom helps in the pursuit of truth and in human development. I particularly value those who have something different to say, the eccentric, and those who challenge the status quo. The intersection between diverse ideas, cultures and subcultures is where interesting changes begin to happen.
Edges and Margins in Nature
In nature, the margins between one environment and another are similarly as interesting.
Where two ecosystems meet, e.g. grassland and water, forest and grassland, land and ocean, the species of both ecosystems can be found. But what also occurs is that unique species, which are specifically adapted for marginal living, also inhabit this transitional edge. Where one ecological system meets the other is an ‘ecotone’. In permaculture, these unique habitats are valued and actively encouraged.
Use Edges and Value the Marginal
Edges create an increased number of mutually beneficial relationships. They serve as energy traps, since nutrients and organisms from two ecosystems will cross them, material is (re)cycled and this produces biomass. Edges also have useful microclimates which can be incorporated into an effective design. They help to increase yields and the productivity of a permaculture system. Edges can be created through utilising the principle of observing patterns in nature with valuable marginal sites. An effective means is emulating nature and working from patterns to details: A wavy line has more edge than a straight one. Interweaving the principles together creates both functional and aesthetically pleasing landscapes – the kind of environment within which I would like to live.
The principles outlined in Permaculture Principles Parts I-VI were derived from Bill Mollison & Reny Mia Slay’s book, “Introduction to Permaculture”. They were revised by David Holgrem, and are those now taught by the Permaculture Association (UK) on their PDC courses. The information here is derived from the thinking that arose from notes taken during one such course. It was hosted by Rosie and Steve at “Edibles”, with course leaders being: the mind map guru Andy Goldring, CEO of the Permaculture Association and the absolutely incredible mine of useful information, Niels Corfield of Edible Cities, Leeds. My apologies in advance if any feel I have interpreted their teachings beyond all recognition (they did try to get us to focus on solutions rather than the problem, but I think solutions need to be positioned in the context of our global problems). All-in-all, life changing!
Bill Mollison suggested several other principles, which are regarded as the central features of permaculture philosophy. I quite like them, so don’t wish them to be relegated, but rather promoted to the top of permaculture league. They will be showcased in one of my next articles.
© Safar Fiertze (2015)