Most appropriate lyrics and music to go with this blog?

Ripple, Box of Rain, Uncle John’s Band


Hi Dawn,

Signed the papers on the property yesterday.  Here’s a picture of it, with lots of fluffy clouds.

= )


Well it’s done then. The telling of a story that one man tells himself when he’s gone and done it; signed the papers for the property and it now belongs to him on that October afternoon of 2007. He emails his daughter to confirm the reality and begins to think about how he will craft his new life, two years from now, when he releases himself from the monster and the noise, the traffic and the obligations, and sets out on a life-long wish to be alone and take his sweet time at doing so. Eleven outbuildings and a dirty vacuous house left cold and in disrepair by the last 5 tenants, five miles from any other house, and with one exception, the only house on the three mile dirt road that dead ends into the dry canyons of the Columbia Basin channeled scabland shrub steppe.


October 2009

Enough projects to last a lifetime, or what’s left of his, and his coworkers think he’s crazy. What will you do out there all by yourself? Won’t you be lonely? Aren’t you worried about getting bored? You’ll be back in two years.



February 2009

The house was so bad, he lived in his trailer for the first year in the orchard, and entered the house only for the purpose of cleaning it, and spent the rest of his time pulling in the silence, settling old nerves, and getting to know the rising and setting of the sun, the sounds of the birds, and, as they say, the lay of the land.


winter 2009

The guy who sold him the house said “well good luck, never did find a single earth worm there’.


August 2010, before the old juniper against the Q-hut in the background was torn out


2009, looking back at the house, towards the NE, through the orchard, first attempts at mulching the bases of the trees to try to keep them  alive, they were in pretty bad shape, just 44 trees, mostly lilacs, and some were already dying.

The next three pics are the same field; north of the house – looking north, with the silos & Q-Hut on the left. There were only six alfalfa plants in this field when Will moved in – today this field is covered and the alfalfa are moving east to the field between the barn and old school house and quite proud of themselves. We don’t water either field. Mulch, chop & drop, and compost.


First load of wood for wood stove heat.


Solar Arrays going up


A Field of Alfalfa 2016



Alfalfa field this winter 2016

Kyle Chamberlain stopped by in 2010 to help build the first Talus Garland in the south yard, in front of the house. Click on the photos for a larger view of how bad the dirt was at that time.





And the occasional visitor (wild turkeys in the background)


Other than that, just a lot of dry bare ground and brittle dry cheat grass

After two years of this, and all that goes with a new property; a burst waterline was repaired, the tree that got in the way was felled, a deck torn out, another replaced, a few gardens scratched out, a root cellar roof remade, other roofs replaced, a truck rebuilt, and eight years of burnable wood delivered whole, to keep him warm (twice) with the wood stove his friends had gifted him.

He already had his PDC from Geoff Lawton and Darren Daugherty, so the next likely step seemed to lead to the 2011 Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence in Spokane, where he could contribute his audio/visual skills for the weekend.

That’s where we met. One steady state human being, who had strategized his way out of the monster, and the other human being, smack in the middle of a vicious crash and desperate for the answers and the way out, shook hands across the lunch buffet. In my socially inappropriate Asperger’s way I looked across the bowls of salad, focused on the name tag and shouted in my outside voice “we’re supposed to meet each other!” It was a suggestion by a mutual permaculture friend, because both Will and I were orbiting the same tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I find out later, that Will is a 10/10 introvert, so that had to be weird for him.

In 2012, my crash came and went, with the usual outcome that was shared by millions of other Americans after 2008, and some, like me, hung on for longer than others. I was exhausted.

So there I sat; terrified and frozen (half the time) trying to think – but not think about what all this meant for my future, and each time I went outside, not knowing where I was, all I could see was the desperate desolation and degradation, and the total lack of resiliency; the soil, the ground, and the trees mirrored back to me. We were the same; shattered.

I’m Irish. My family – the O’Tierneys – was one of the last two clans to fight the British before County Mayo fell to occupation, and so in traditional Irish fortitude, human punching bag and all, each day I got up, went outside, found a shovel and started digging.

Conversations, so many conversations ensued for that year, and Will recognized that in order to get me on board to the full extent of his vision, I needed to get my PDC.

I did. In 2013.

It was a lightning bolt going off in my brain, and the final putting together of the puzzle pieces, that so far, both of my higher educational experiences had managed not to accomplish; in their knuckle dragging way.  So many of them don’t; specialization by way of scientific reductionism, shines the high beam light on computer modeling, stats, data, correlation and sample size, but utterly lacks the ability to provide a view any wider than you’d get by looking through a straw. Had it not been for the Native American Philosophy minor inserted (by me) into the final educational experience, I would have come close to losing my mind, while attending the Big Red Ivy League University on the hill. My Mantra back then was appropriate for higher education these days; Degrees are found on thermometers, and you know where they stick them.

Two heads being better than one, we started putting two and two together; where are we? What’s shrub steppe, Koppen-Geiger climate, semi-arid, transpiration, evaporation, soil types, pH, water, water flow, wind direction, sun azimuth, slope, orographics, monocrops, multi-plantings, insects, tree species, wildlife, precipitation, seasons, and weather.





A critical mention: 21 Acres, cut diagonally from SW to NE, leaves 14 Acres with the sign Do Not Disturb, to return to the original channeled scabland shrub steppe flora, with the associated crustose-lichen soil. We leave this area completely unaltered. A majority of the pictures that I have used, so far, in the two years of blogs, reflect the changes we are making to the 7 acres of small holding, that will be required to maintain both us, and our animal visitors, but the changes happening ‘over yonder’ in the untouched area are just as remarkable. One day I’ll put up a tab on the website with a gallery of the dozens of different species coming back, and they are coming back by the thousands.











second best









Next came observation and record keeping; precipitation, birds, insects, trees, weeds, grasses, native flora, and the silence by ditching the TV, Radio, and reducing the incoming/outgoing distractions of too many local project involvements.



Deer Deer Deer 1






And so the recognition began; we need soil, water, nutrients, shade, micro-climates, mulch…

Now it’s time to get going. Build soil by launching the Star Bucks program, mulching to build soil and retain the water in the ground , biomass from town to contribute to compost making and wild life habitat, horse manure from Spokane for more nutrients, and money by finding, applying and winning the Espoma Award; two thousand dollars for the purchase of trees, shrubs, & native perennials in the fall of 2013, planting to begin in 2014, 2015.









Now it was time to start planting trees, and placement is everything, so the design to use the gray water began…

Gray water area, looking SW from House and Orchard. This picture was taken in 2009. Then in 2010, earth works altered the area behind where the weir stands, to create The Hill, location of the Wild Tree Field. In 2013, Seven Hybrid willows were installed just to the left of where the stick weir windbreak was in 2009. Positioning the fast growing willows (40′ in 3 years) reduced the impact of strong SW winds into the orchard, took advantage of the excess gray water, dropped mulch, provided habitat for birds, who in return, deliver more fertilizer.  The darker stump in the background was a cherry tree that did not recover and now has Columbia Basin Clematis growing on it, surrounded by edible shrubs. The stump with one upright branch did recover and it is healthy and producing cherries.



The sticks in cages (left) , are the willows planted in 2013. You can see the gray water tube in blue, slowly releasing water from the house.






Here they are today with a whole host of other plantings under them; like native common camas, Columbia basin clematis, nettle, service berry, yarrow, rocky mountain iris, native grasses etc. The plants you see in the foreground are actually on the eastern side of The Hill, and are planted down the slope; golden current, Nootka rose, Buffalo berry, mock- orange, nine bark, and on either side of my future ‘stream’, are ; Austrian pine, Idaho poplar, pacific willow, more golden currant – all to act as shade over the water stream to reduce evaporation. The head of the stream will be the large old hot tub, sunk into the ground and filled with reeds & cat tails….


So now as we turn and look to the right of this area we are on top of the Wild Tree (The Hill)


We’re standing about mid-way on The Hill. There are over 50 trees here; you can see black locust rising above their friends; oak, Siberian pea shrub, Austrian pine, Ponderosa pine, Limber pine, and behind us; juniper, more ponderosa, Russian black olive, elderberry, apricot, Nootka rose, wax currents, and we no longer cut the grass, instead native grasses and desert forbs are taking over.

Here’s a shot looking along the fence line between the eventual ‘stream’ to the west and the orchard to the east. Plenty of comfrey, which I planted by taking tiny one stalk pieces as an experiment in 2013. They like it here, and we use their leaves to add micro-nutrients to the soil. This shot was taken in 2014, so this is first year growth for the comfrey. Also, what you don’t see is; the entire fence line is planted with Buffalo Berry & Siberian pea shrub (both nitrogen fixers) for yet another secondary windbreak for the orchard.


Here’s one more crazy growth photo…with 9″ of rain, and the most conservative amounts of drip irrigation.


ok, now get ready, remember the corridor where Kyle  was working? Well after he did his magic and we built four more talus garlands that started out looking like this:


Here’s that corridor now









The picture to the right shows Kyle’s TG with the seeds he threw into the stone wall, which were never watered, are now 10′ tall edible trees and the section to the left enclosed in hog wire is home to some 21 different edible, medicinal tree/shrub/perennial species, mushrooms too. The Austrian pines above them are so much healthier now.

Here’s one of the talus garlands we built in the winter of 2014


Because I was no longer living under the hell of compartmentalized thinking, each process and project and the observation, concepts & themes of permaculture revealed another dozen realizations that helped me to connect even more systems I could plow back into circular loops – basically everywhere I looked.

Kitchen scraps found multiple vectors of use; into compost, feed red worms (which we had by now), thrown simply on the ground, set aside for chickens.












No MORE MOWING. When I arrived, Will had to dedicate 5 hours fairly often to mowing down huge swaths of area around the house due to fear of the dreaded Weed Board, who systematically identified, tagged, and fined properties throughout the eastern 1/3 of the county. I vowed to get him out of this drudgery, so I learned every ‘weed’ on the county/state/fed list that were not allowed and then broke those down into a small group that could not bloom, and from there, the rest became our helpers. We chop & drop before the really ‘bad’ ones go to seed, or pull them up and out by hand.

Now I recognize them, each for who they are, and many are edible and many are medicinal. They teach me where the ground has been impacted, or where copper is deficient, nitrogen lacking, or potassium bereft. Weeds aren’t alive to piss people off, they exist to fix what humans have fucked up, no other reason. Weeds are good, because Mother Nature’s not your bitch. If she needs a haircut, we use hand tools like clippers and scythes, both yield exercise and no CO2 from fossil fuels, and her haircut looks better too, especially the day after it rains, because in permaculture – timing is everything…yes, the picture to the right is the same place…









The area to the right of the path (above) to the small greenhouse: comfrey, strawberries, peach, edible dogwood, aronia berry, serviceberry, scarlet runners, and room for annual edibles each year (eggplant, tomato, beans).

The area to the left of the path (below) to the small greenhouse; mulberry, apricot, peach, prune-plumb, also golden currant, white currant, rocky mtn penstemon, carrots, onions, squash all self seeding.










Weeds evolve in succession, each taking their turn, in waves, to bring life back to the soil. Salsify is one of my favorites; edible, medicinal, brought by the Europeans, long bloom times, offering nectar to the local pollinators and deep carrot-like roots that puncture and aerate the soil, and when done, provide tunnels for earth worms when the roots decay.


Wow! The northern pocket gophers love them. Dawn and I watched one as the tiny clawed hands came above ground and yanked the salsify down into its tunnel, so the more salsify I have, the more food the gophers have and the less likely they are to eating the roots of my trees. In four years and 525 trees & shrubs, I have only lost one tree to pocket gophers.




The definition of Positivism isn’t about being airy fairy positive about permaculture; as the definition explains; the results are verifiable, as in data, as in outcome, and additionally, by practicing an ethical design science, I don’t have to go around in a fit of immaturity slaughtering everything I think is a threat, like pocket gophers, who serve the invaluable job of moving the soil around and pulling all kinds of detritus deep into the ground.









Hell, I’d kiss their asses if they could help me dig through the caliche.

OK, so the empty space inside the fence in this photo, was over planted on purpose; to create more shade and reduce the evaporation; wax currents, rose, buffalo berry, limber pine, black locust, Siberian pea shrub, apricot tree, then came the perennials and annuals, and the great part is now many of these self seed.











The GH Area has so far, been a real success, getting the Earth Berm GH in, and the syrup tree field NE and behind it, and the overplanted area as well.











I’m teaching myself how to construct pounded tire & bottle walls for retaining earth. First one came out o.k. – that’s Yoshi on the wall keeping me company. The black tower in the distance on the hill is for gravity fed water. Yes, that would be caliche (we dug up) I’ve used for a landscape effect in front of the GH – which BTW is staying above 45o with no heat, even in the temps we’re getting which have stayed below freezing for a month now, 20’s day, teens to negative temps during the night.

The Arbor area wasn’t an area at all in 2009, just bare dirt, dust, cheat grass and one lonely juniper. Before Dawn bought her house in 2012, her old landlord no longer wanted the skeleton from a car port and gifted it to us 🙂


Those are my comfrey cuttings, and 8 grape starts, that Will bought through a community order in Spokane, from Lawyer’s nursery.









We’ve temporarily placed a 6′ fence in a semi circle to enclose the arbor.  The interior will contain; the patio, outdoor wood fired oven, rose & fragrant perennials, and to the west (far end) we’ve planted; currants, elderberry, lilac, nine bark, and mock orange.  Between the arbor and Q-Hut are two mulberry trees that will be espalier. The northern end (closest side in picture) has been planted to a cold hardy drought resistant Bamboo, to reduce the cold winds from the NE.


















Here’s a view looking north, from the eastern part of the orchard, towards the Q-Hut and Arbor Area over the massive bunch of raspberries. True story, he ripped up those raspberry plants with the back hoe right out of the ground, where they weren’t doing well in the old GH area, and set them in a pit we’d been making compost in. They’re happy now.


Patio, whew, I’m tired…geeze…




















In 2012, after completing the patio, we observed that this area received some of the most deadly hot western sun in the summer, because the western hill on the other side of the patio was so sparse. In 2013 I tore out the crab grass, double dug the area, contoured it, added large stones and heavily mulched it.


The lilacs began to benefit from the drip irrigation in the patio beds, water was directed from the roof to the hill, and tiny elm seeds found better purchase in the mulched soil. Three years later the opening to direct wind and sun is almost closed.












The giant elm is propagating a small forest around itself, creating a mini-forest at its base.


As some of you know, the chicken coop in the orchard has been completed for awhile and the chickens are doing well in it this winter. We’ve added a low hoop tunnel off of their small door so they have a place to wander around in with straw bedding, and no snow, with natural light for this time of year. The Orchard is always changing in design, as we learn more, and that’s ok, and most certainly is a place with a lot of activity.


Thank you for reading! Happy New Year!