“Oh Brother let’s go down, let’s go down, come on down, oh brother let’s go down, down to the river to pray” is the song I began singing on the deck at 5am in the morning, the morning we were leaving to visit Permies Wheaton Labs while the scene of Delbert’s baptism played in my mind and I began to laugh – especially the part where Delbert has his arms outstretched, soaking wet and overjoyed at his redemption exclaims “come on in boys the water’s fine”.

That would aptly describe my state and the conclusive culmination of six years of  the great finding out of where we’re at and what we’ve done as a human species and my resolution towards accepting life on life’s terms, and thusly, waving goodbye to future posts about the recklessness of it all. The timing could not be more perfect as DHS receives a huge sum of $ to track down all the naysayers of American exceptionalism on the internet, though that fact counted for little in my decision to desist in writing about the military shit-show, in fact zero.

I would be heading to a place commandeered by none other than Paul Wheaton, the bad boy, the Duke of permaculture who’s signature line is ‘we don’t spend time being mad at the bad guys’ and that timing could not be more perfect – given my 5am song and vision.

I’ve camped and meandered the wild spaces on earth for decades; the Alps, all of north America, and Mexico, from drinking water at the shores of lake Huron with my Ojibway friends to setting a tent under the New Mexico sky on a mesa’s edge overlooking the hidden pens of one of the rarest species of wolf in the world; The Mexican Wolf Canis lupus baileyi – the latter being a fetch of my time being paid $12 per day to reintroduce the Mexican Wolf in spaces on the Arizona/New Mexico border high in the mountains. There’s a basket in the dining room that secrets a three pound bag of sea salt crystals as big as golf balls, gathered from salt pits maintained and harvested by the local fishermen who fish the Sea of Cortez. Those islands are protected and only accessible by boat and I was lucky enough to be one of the humans to romp those shores and hike their desert ascents to the top.

I’ve cooked fresh trout at the edge of the Blue River just outside of Eugene, spotted cougar tracks in Three Sisters Oregon, radio collared porcupines in northern Vermont, tracked radio collared wolves in Minnesota, watched River Otters released in western NY waterways for reintroduction, and sat on Washington State cliffs looking 500 feet down into the valley below with fellow naturalists training a pair of Peregrine Falcons to enter their new wild home. And now on that Wednesday morning I was preparing to head to a place that is the antithesis of our place in an interesting way. We started with multiple outbuildings already constructed and nothing but a parcel of treeless dead dirt while they started some five years ago with mineral rich soil and not a building in sight. We chose to forego community building while they chose to emphasize community as part of the whole process.

What a fantastic contrast in how permaculture works.

Plus, we needed a vacation.

I’ve discovered the iron laws of Entropy that edict the loss of energy; in other words Entropy eats your lunch and scatters the concentrated energy in diffuse pieces to the wind. No matter what life any of us beings live, every living being has to offer up some part of that lunch to be eaten by entropy – and eventually all of it. I’d like to think, as conscious beings,  we get to choose wisely how we’ll live between the first bountiful giving of the energy smorgasbord (birth) to the final see ‘ya later, but as we know it doesn’t always work out that way. Shit happens. It’s easy to get tricked by the societal Right Now Goddammit syndrome and it’s not until we opt to grow a garden, heal some soil, and encourage some trees that we begin to see that the time construct has very different meaning depending upon whether it’s Nature centric or human shit-show centric. Very different.

 I wanted, on that Wednesday morning, to leave the electronic world of humans behind and remember for a brief moment what it’s like to go to sleep and wake up without those prosthetic artifices of modern culture.

So I opted for the tipi as our home camp during our stay at Wheaton Labs.

It was an excellent choice.

Now; Wheaton labs has requested that I don’t disclose the location so whatever I talk about in Nature terms will be explicit, but the rest of the shebang in human terms will be intentionally left vague…the where-is-it-how-do-you-get-there stuff is irrelevant – especially since we’re talking about repairing the human-nature relationship and frankly the whole point of permaculture is that it can be done anywhere, in any environment – all that’s needed is the will and intention.

The place is amazing and satiated my need to be in the bosom of a heavily treed wonderland. It was time to leave the doom & gloom of human follies behind and spend my energy breathing in everything nature could offer.

The geology alone is complex and mind boggling. There were beautiful rocks everywhere. I immediately coveted them and Will saw the look on my face and said ‘you can take home 15 – no more – I know you’. It has taken geologists a century to grasp the features, topographies, and soil components of the region, and they still don’t have it all nailed down. We’re talking vast Precambrian sediments, inland seas followed by uplift, faults & slips, followed by 3 million years of glaciation grinding away at the bedrock and depositing huge depths of sand and finally the formation of Lake Missoula which rose 4,250 feet – enough to inundate Wheaton Labs – and lay down additional deposits of clay before the ice dam broke. It’s these deposits and gifts left behind by Nature that the residents of Wheaton Labs use to build their wofatis and rocket mass heaters; clay and sand for cob, rocks for paths, gabions, fence post support and so forth.

The National Forestry service was the prior owner of this acreage, which means in many ways the acreage Wheaton labs inherited was broken; by years of profit driven logging, local yay-hoo garbage dumping, poaching, and general mayhem. Their gates have been vandalized, ripped out and fucked with six ways to Sunday and the local population is none too happy, having lost their own private drinking mudding Saturday night go-to spot on public land. As a result you won’t see many hardwood trees because in the eyes of the Forestry service (whom are landlords for the private profit enterprise) the hardwoods simply take too long to grow and take up too much space. I would venture a guess that it won’t be long before we make a return visit and see; black cottonwood, peachleaved willow, quaking aspen, plums, chokecherries, rocky mountain maple, burr oak, hawthorn, green ash, and poplar. http://arc.lib.montana.edu/msu-extension/objects/ext1-000315.pdf

Elegant Mariposa Lily

I wanted to be speechless for three days and on our first night there – figuratively speechless I was at the variety of plants at my feet – but failed miserably as far as ‘being quiet’ with each new plant discovery. As many of my friends and family know my brand of Asperger’s means Sheila doesn’t have an ‘inside’ voice when she gets going, so my apologies to the Peasant PDC students and resident ants & staff. I managed to control myself after that first night. If my blog readership friend Connie from Canada had been there with me, I seriously doubt anyone would have been able to control us or quiet us down or stop us from shouting ‘hey look over here!’.

I brushed up against serviceberries & snowberries, ducked under Mallow Ninebark, walked past lupines, stepped over; kinnikinnick, Elegant Mariposa lilies, Arnica, Western Meadowrue, Idaho Fescue, Beargrass, and marveled at larkspurs, orange honeysuckle and had yet to encounter minor’s lettuce, morels, and nettle leaf giant hyssop Cara pointed out on our Friday night walk gathering morels. I didn’t have my plant books and that’s ok. I plan to bring them on my next visit and really get into discovering how many different species hang out at the Lab. I’ll include the genus species list at the end of this post of the plants I did encounter and identify. The other forgiveness I’ll beg – is in reference to the coniferous trees. I’m from the east coast and still don’t have a handle on my western coniferous tree id’s but the usual suspects were present; ponderosa, Douglass, larch, cedar, pole pine, and I’m sure a whole lot more that I ‘just’ don’t have the eye for – yet.

We slept on the rocket mass heater cob bench in the tipi and shared the second night with a baby rabbit who obviously thought we had great digs. He wandered up to our campsite next to the tipi, which is surrounded by a large crescent huglekulture bed that protects the northern side of the site, looked me in the eye, then casually walked into the tipi. The next morning while sitting inside on the cob bench I figured he had left, but no, there he was stepping out from behind the backside of the bench. He stopped, looked at me and exited the tipi. I swear I heard him say ‘thanks man, nice place’.

The wildlife is everywhere at Wheaton Labs, as it is here at CBP and I’d like to credit that situation to what we do; provide a healthy nonviolent non-disruptive place to be. We saw hordes of Columbian Ground Squirrels, Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels, Red Tailed & Yellow-pine Chipmunks, Red Squirrels; but we weren’t lucky enough to run into the Hoary marmots, Northern Flying squirrels, or Yellowbellied marmots, although we do have Yellowbellied marmots living at CBP. We saw small bear tracks, deer prints, and fertilizer left behind by Elk. On our way out on the last day we took this picture of a female elk.

We had a great time and I got what I came for; three days of heavily forested negative ion nurturing without any expectations, and it’s that last one, for anyone wanting to visit Wheaton Labs, that I have advice for and it’s pretty basic; today’s expectations are tomorrow’s resentments. We live in an unheralded time when a few humans have managed to burn through millions of years of stored sunlight in a very concentrated form (FF) in ‘just’ under 300 years and because we’ve taken that situation for granted, for lack of better terms, that situation has turned many of us into expectation- laden goddammit-right-now babies.

I would like to think that I’m moving away (detoxing) from both of these elements; overdependence on FF and expectations as this society and civilization comes to terms with limits to growth. A lab is, by definition; a place to conduct experiments, as in, outcome TBD and that takes time, repeatability, sample size and common sense. Neither CBP nor Wheaton Labs are apposite to the shiny ink-ridden catalogs of consumerist gee-whiz-I-want-that mentality. If you want a better world you’ll have to build it.

Will’s a down to earth guy but I’m a bit more of a superlative girl, so having said that, I do believe I’ve crossed the Rubicon, from knowing too much (negative) every morning I wake up, to permaculture (positive) immersion. After all it would be nice to revel in both life-nature experiences and continue to use that Cornell natural resource degree for better purposes, and the timing to Wheaton Labs could not have been better.


This is only a fraction of what we experienced and there’ll be more posts coming to tell the rest of the story.


Thanks for reading my blog







Manual of Montana Vascular Plants

Mallow Ninebark  Physocarpus malvaceous

Snowberry  Symphoricarpos spp

Serviceberry  Amelanchier alnifolia

Kinnikinnick  Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Thimbleberry  Rubus parviflorus

Wood’s rose   Rosa woodsii

Horsetail   Equisetum spp

Lupine  Lupinus spp

Beargrass  Xerophyllum tenax

Arnica  Arnica spp

Western Meadowrue  thalictrum occidentale

Idaho Fescue  Festuca idahoensis

Orange Honeysuckel  Lonicera ciliosa

Field Mint aka nettle-leaf giant hyssop  Agastache urticifolia

Elegant Mariposa Lily Calochortus elegans

Miner’s lettuce  Claytonia perfoliata