Observe and Interact - It sounds pretty boring on the face of it, also common sense, which it definitely is. Its a very important permaculture Principle - possibly the most important if you had to pick one.
The principles, along with the ethics of permaculture, are a bit like guiding lights, giving us the mental tools to create solutions. They enable us to critically think, recognise what the problems are and to find solutions within the problems. That's why its such a powerful way of thinking. It keeps brains like mine on the straight and narrow when it fancies taking off and flitting from thought to thought, ahead and back in time.
To observe and Interact is in my opinion the starting point, because to do so, brings answers. Its also a bit like a Jedi mantra - I can imagine Yoda or Obi Wan uttering Bill Mollison's principles to a young Skywalker. As I begin to concentrate on observing, I interrupt less (a fault of mine), I learn and notice more, I begin to live in the present. To interact enables me to change the things I need to for the (hopefully) better.
If I wrote a new years resolution list, it would be a very long one. I am full of ambition, but very often fall short of my own expectations due to laziness/tiredness/poverty (delete as appropriate). Writing a list of stuff I shouldn't be doing or have to give up doesn't massively work for me, and inevitably ends in soul sucking, failure. To resolve to have this one principle in my foremost thoughts gives me a powerful tool to make my life better.
To Observe patterns, within my garden, my diet, and my life in general gives me the opportunity to make efficient and fun changes. I am not that observant by nature, which is possibly why heart palpatations were the first hint I had that I drank too much coffee. Or the kidney stone was the warning for not drinking enough water. If I was more observant, and acted on those feelings earlier, then maybe I wouldn't have gone through those experiences. So you see this is possibly the most selfish, and coolest of resolutions. I propose to concentrate on how I feel, what makes me energised and healthy, what makes me feel sick and tired. And I resolve to act on my observations by making positive changes in my activities and food intake.
I wanted to try some cool things this year, And I will building, water harvesting and forest gardening, but to observe the space I want to design within, enables me to realise what is needed, possible and preferable. I can observe where the shadows lie when the sun is highest, from the height of Summer to the dankest, darkest December day. I can observe where the badger likes to roam, and where the kids like to play. I can look at what we like to do within the garden, when and where. I can see which shrubs support the bugs, which ones house the birds in the winter and feed them during the Autumn. I can make choices using a template based what is already happening. I am collecting important information.
When I design, one of the most important things to take into account is how to make the least changes for the greatest benefit ( another principle, you will find that they all interlink very nicely). If I know that the remaining Ceanothus both supports a vast number of pollinating insects AND fixes nitrogen in the soil, I am then confident in my decision to keep such a plant within the guild. This despite at a first glance appearing to be a plant which only flowers once and doesn't produce me any food. Observing hundreds of insects all over those electric blue puffball flowers on a hot June afternoon is information gleened in the loveliest fashion. Its easy for me to observe the garden. Its right outside my house, behind a big patio door, and I can gaze for hours while drinking coffee. Michelle always thought I was doing nothing but this sitting and watching is important stuff.
I planted an edible berried Amelanchier last Summer along with a Goji and Wineberry. The smaller Goji, though happy in semi shade, doesn't seem to enjoy his spot as a young plant. It needs more sun to become the plant it wants to be. I will move him to sunnier climes, to the other side of the garden, perhaps beneath the more dappled shade of younger plants destined for canopy status, perhaps a Plum or Apple. They can grow together - each one supporting the other in a myriad of ways on the sunny side.
Observing Bettys crippling stomach aches was hard for me as a dad. Its quite debilitating when you feel powerless to help your beautiful babies. The NHS is an amazing thing, but when the solutions which modern medicine come up with include long term medication for a 7 year old, we decided to observe further. We looked at the food intake and found that she was intolerant to wheat. On top of this, the antibiotics prescribed to her as a baby had stripped her tummy of the natural bacteria she needed for her guts to operate properly. Yoghurt and gluten free pasta has gone a long way to changing her life. Its now predominantly pain free, rather than the exact opposite. So instead of rushing in on this stuff, we surveyed the landscape and the problem became the solution (its so Jedi, eh?).
The badger is a pain, but I'm not going to kick it out, hurt it or use any methods to move it on. By Observing and Interacting - I hope to come up with incremental actions that might guide it to STOP DIGGING UP MY GARDEN. And also grow food that it either isn't interested in, or cant get to. Previous suggestions have been signage politely requesting badgers to keep off the grass (I found out badgers cant read), chilli powder and sending small children down the hole - none of them work, one is probably illegal so if there are any ideas out there - I'm listening, really listening!
This resolution is beautiful because it enables you to be your best, to stay tuned and connected with everything around you. It empowers enlightened decisions and gives reason to your actions. It leaves you with little self doubt and gives more purpose to your life because you are taking responsibility. So guided by this simple little mantra - I will walk into 2014 happy.