Category Archives: Amy

Class 9: Greywater Spectacular

Class notes by Amy N.

Greywater spectacular at class this week!

Finally made it to class early for the first time in a little while.  Both my alarm clock and the BART schedule were in sync enough to get me to Berkeley early enough to enjoy some beautiful weather and fresh air.

Each time I head to Berkeley from San Francisco, especially lately, I feel like I’ve traveled quite a distance.  Although I know I haven’t been traveling for a long time, the scenery and weather can sometimes change so drastically to make me feel hundreds of miles away.  After passing the Oakland stops this past Saturday and on my way to Ashby, I noticed the tall, lush, green hills in the distance glinting in the early-ish sunlight.  I only say early due to the 7 am wakeup it requires me to get to class on time.

The greywater talk was informative and interesting.  It got me excited about installing a system somewhere in the city or elsewhere.  It reminded me of a time when I had a greywater system while working in Baxter State Park, ME.  I got to see the tank located in a crawl space under our main deck.  It was pretty neat.  We didn’t learn a whole lot about it at the time.  But I remember it looking pretty cool and sounding interesting at the time.

At lunch we broke into design teams.  Although there is much work to do, it was so easy to sink into the grass near the farmers’ market, enjoying the sunlight and the sound of kids playing on the playground.  Eventually we settled in to the reality of only a few weeks left before our presentation deadline and assigned projects for everyone in the Center Street group.

Instead of looking at the two blocks that will already be converted (most likely), our group decided to look at the park adjacent to the farmers’ market and design a project around that site.  We’re all pretty excited about it, especially after seeing the proposed design for Center Street that will be voted on March 23rd.   Some of our ideas focus on integrating the local high school, city college, and delegates from the farmers’ market.

One of the highlights of the day was Jay’s fungi presentation.  His excitement for the topic, kept most of us going after a long day about greywater.  I got pretty stoked on the info and look forward to doing some more research on medicinal planting values of mushrooms.

Class 6: Creating a Tight-Knit Community

Class 6 notes by Amy N.

Got to class a little late this Saturday. Was bummed about it, but needed the extra sleep after being sick most of the week. Had a nice trip on BART reading my Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, trying to figure out what to eat to make me feel better.

I arrived just after everyone had separated into their design groups and right before our intro to soil science. It reminded me a bit of a geology class I took in college, but in a more intimate setting. The one thing I clearly remember about my college course is that we were learning about soils at the end of my spring semester in Wisconsin in an extremely old lecture hall with no air circulation and wooden seats that your legs stuck to from a mix of your perspiration and the sticky humidity from the air. It’s too easy to forget those days of being in a lecture hall with 200-300 people and little to no one-on-one time.

I’ve found it nice to have the opportunity to chat with the instructors throughout the day, giving the opportunity to clarify whatever needs to be clarified or just to pick their brain. I’ve also found myself picking the brains of my classmates as well. All of us come from similar, yet different backgrounds and have somehow all ended up taking this course to create a pretty tight knit community.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this close to a large group of people and could let go and be myself. I feel supported by everyone and am comfortable enough to be a goofball once more. Goofball status has been on a bit of a hiatus while living in San Francisco. Worrying about so many random things makes you forget about all the fun little things, like good clean fun. Participating in the improv games this Saturday helped snap me out of the dull sleep I sometimes feel while in the city. Improv games=necessary in life for everyone 🙂

I also enjoyed hanging out at BYA once more, putting our soil and mulching knowledge to work! Although I was definitely feeling a bit under the weather, just being outside and listening to the birdsong and interacting with everyone made me feel a bit better.

Class 4: Returning to the Heart

Class 4 notes by Amy N.

Water is the essence of life. It is something I and many others have been attracted to since the beginning of time. Every river, stream, lake, and ocean I encounter I find myself and lose myself. Rivers invoke a pause for deep contemplation and release. Staring at the rushing water, swift or not, I look at the algae, the macrophytes, the microorganisms and wonder about its health, its source, where it ends and what body of water it spills into.

Each time I see one I stop, close my eyes, inhale, exhale. I remember other rivers or lakes that I have stopped at to do the same thing. Stop. Breathe. These are the things that make me feel alive and are some of the things that help me tap into myself and others.

Living in San Francisco I have forgotten many things. Most of which include my ability to speak loudly and clearly from the heart without feeling like it would be stomped on. After the almost three years of living here, I feel I have forgotten how to invoke some of my humanness. My ability to connect to others without putting up a wall has slightly shrunk in fear of being shutdown or disregarded one more time.

This course is helping bring back my humanness and ability to remember the feelings I had all the times that I have stood by a beautiful lake or river that really moved me, or the deep conversations I so miss with people that truly listen in every way. Since this last class, I have begun to realize more and more how much I miss these interactions and the fact that I have been missing them at all. I have opened my heart once more to my friends and have already felt theirs opening once more in return.

The power of eye contact, of body language, of speaking from the heart. We all know about these things, but not all of us remember that we have forgotten to practice and use them with not only our friends and family, but with friends we have not yet met.

It is my goal to remember to speak from the heart wherever I am and whatever I am doing.

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
-Black Elk, Oglala Sioux

Class 3: Practicing Observation

Class 3 notes by Amy N.

It usually takes a few days for everything from class to sink in and see it begin to integrate into my life. Today (three days after our class) was one of those days where I was given the chance to experience and explain a little bit about the course to a friend and some family.

My day started with some typical house chores and fed into a little “road trip” across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Marin Headlands. Spinach, lentils, and the scent of garam masala accompanied a beautiful view of Angel Island and a misty cityscape. Silence broke only between bites of food to discuss life plans and other happenings. As with most conversations as of late, we ended up discussing permaculture and what I’ve been doing in class.

I started off her off with some generalizations of permaculture while watching the fog burn off over the bay, giving greater visibility to the ocean and the natural contours of the land. Once we could better see the city, my friend and I noted and discussed the difference in the amount of structural development on either side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It made me happy to be where I was at that moment, surrounded by rolling hills, peppered with dilapidated and graffitied batteries.

From lunch we wandered through one of the battery tunnels to Hawk Lookout. The dark concrete tunnel was like a transporter taking us from a view of one of the world’s most famous cityscapes to green grasses and tall sequoias full of birdsong. Beyond the trees was a promise of a grayish open ocean and an empty horizon barely visible through the haze.

Once at Hawk Lookout, we found a sit spot situated within the sequoias. After taking a moment to settle, we dove into a quiet conversation accompanied by the chatter of songbirds. From there I remembered our discussion about bird language and nature awareness and brought it up to my friend. We wondered what type of disturbance we had caused by climbing the slight hill to the lookout and share the beautiful view with the rest of the forest. Hopefully we hadn’t startled anything too much. I have a feeling we didn’t because eventually we were accompanied by three ravens gliding into view just above our heads and a hawk soaring lower down in the valley. Birdsong had returned and been noted until a mountain biker happened by and made some noise walking his bike through some wood chips.

We returned to the city with smiles on our faces and full from good conversation and beautiful scenery. Although only a quick trip, its impact was strong. I feel my mind reawakening from the dull sleep of city gossip. The profound thoughts I once had are slowly reemerging and filling a void in my life.

This little adventure showed me how much I have absorbed from the course these past three weeks and further piqued my curiosity for what’s to come. I look forward to getting my hands dirty and a further expanding of my mind through more observation.

Learning Affirmation: I reclaim myself through observation and interaction with my community.

Class 2: Permaculture Overview, Ethics and Principles

Class 2 notes by Amy N.

This week’s course focused on Learning Affirmations, Community Agreements, Permaculture History, and the Ethics of Permaculture.

We began the day with the Elm Dance, a way of bringing us all together after a week of living our lives separately from one another. The dance represents a release from experiences of the previous week and a way of reconnecting on an energetic level with everyone else in the course. Asleep at first, eventually our minds gently awaken for the day ahead. Ready to dust off thoughts not visited for a while, portions of our brain that many people don’t address in everyday conversation.

Learning Affirmations

This exercise provided me with the ability to vocalize something I always knew inside, but never expressed outwardly in a profound manner. Milling about, sharing answers to questions on our best methods of learning, some of us noticed a similar learning pattern among the group. It seems that many of us expressed that we best learn by doing. Some learn best where the teacher and student share a path of reciprocated learning. Others learn well in a somatic way. We are human beings made to move freely and with emotion that needs to be expressed. Our current public education system needs help in creating space for these outlets.

Community Agreements

The community agreements are interesting and I’d like to learn more about them. I think they would be helpful within other contexts outside of permaculture. Some non-profits or businesses could greatly improve their working atmospheres by practicing a few of the agreements.

Permaculture History

I liked the way that Sage and Jay step back and allow the class to teach one another. I felt engaged while trying to define permaculture and creating the permaculture flower mandala. When I first signed up for the course, like some of my peers, I had a hard time explaining exactly what I had signed up for and why. It was easier to define once we were split up in groups and were able to bounce ideas off one another for a 10 second elevator speech. My group defined permaculture as something that “creates a sustainable system to address everyone and everything’s basic needs based upon natural systems and cycles.”

Ethics of Permaculture

After lunch we dove into the ethics of permaculture and how each applies to different petals of the permaculture flower. Split into groups again, each was given a petal to focus on and ask questions whether it applies each of the three ethics. Not given a specific scenario to focus on allowed us to interpret the exercise in whatever way we chose. For the Health and Spiritual Well-Being petal, my group chose to look at it as if we were creating a new global health system. Some questions we came up with included, “will profits get reinvested into the earth in measures that prevent degradation of its resources,” “will everyone have equal access to health care,” and “will the system promote self-reliance and personal accountability of one’s health?”

We further “met” Bill Mollison and learn some of his -isms after dinner. I was impressed by the video clips and motivated by the stories in India and Africa. To see the lush gardens that have come from barren land gives me hope for us and that hopefully soon we can turn our arid lands over as well. The swales found in the Sonoran Desert are impressive. It’s amazing what nature does when we leave it alone.

Affirmation for the day: I am working on formulating the life I know I am capable of leading.

Class 1: Expectation

Expectation and assumption can formulate and change our experiences based upon positive or negative influences from the outside, sometimes with positive or negative results.  I entered this course with few expectations or assumptions.  Focusing more on my excitement for the unknown and exposure to new ideas and teachings, I arrived Saturday with an open heart and open mind.

At first glance, the building holding the Common Ground courses blends in with the rest of Center street with many college-aged students strolling and hurrying to and from the UC Berkeley campus.  Past construction outside and upon entrance into the “office” portion of the school, the welcoming sound of a bamboo fountain and calming yellow hues help dissipate the hustle bustle feelings felt via transport by BART from San Francisco to downtown Berkeley.

Chaco’s removed and notebook in hand, I tip-toed across the wooden floor to join my new course-mates already engrossed in Awakening the Dreamer.  Looking around, I was pleased with the warmth and overall energy felt in the room and ready to take part in a new and awaited experience.

Arriving late, my day began with the final half of the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, leading into a multitude of facilitated activities and presentations.  A few that stick out the most at the moment include a video on city repair, the Elm Dance, the stretching time activity, milling exercises, and the bowl of tears.

The intersection intervention video segment was engaging and gave me hope of the future state of some of our more liberal cities.  That it began in Portland, OR does not surprise me and I look forward to learning more about it through outside research.  It seems like a great way to reconnect our severed communities through artistic expression and an actual physical space set aside to achieve a supportive community.

It wasn’t until the Elm Dance that I began to feel a connection and sense of community with everyone in the PDC course.  What were presented as simple movements at first, turned into a fluid transmission of energy and emotion.   Introduced as a practice used by Joanna Macy, it is a beautiful dance that I look forward to taking part in every week with my fellow classmates.

The stretching of time exercise was one of my favorites.  Sitting across from an “ancestor” I, the “future generation”, listened as profound questions were asked then answered.  Such questions as, how humanity ended up in such a mess and “what did you do” in response to the state of humanity were the general ideas behind some of the questions.  Some of the answers I heard deeply resonated with my beliefs of what needs to be done now and also in things that I could be doing myself in the near future.  Once it was my turn to speak as a representative of the future generation, it almost felt like I was giving hope to the “ancestors” on the outside circle.  Through our descriptions and visualizations of what could be, we are hopefully transcribing what will be and what can be actualized in our future as humans and a part of Gaia.

In order for some of us to remember and realize that we are all connected with Gaia and are a part of it, we must also realize that we are all connected with one another.  The portion of the milling exercise where each of us chose two people which to maintain equal distance between was a great example of the connectedness of all our movements and actions.  The movement of one affected the movement of us all.  This was especially noticed once an elimination round was experienced.  The removal of one person from our system led to the eventual exponential removal of us all, or the demise of the entire system.  It is a great way of showing the cause and effect of all our actions whether small or big in all we do everyday, regardless of the context.

Finishing the evening with the Bowl of Tears was a great way to wrap up an amazing day, continuing with the theme of connectedness and visualizations.  The simple notion of repeating the words “we hear you” after each person’s turn solidified our unity as a group and was a way of demonstrating active listening.

Thank you to everyone who was there this Saturday.  I have learned much from you all.  I look forward to spending more time with you and the coming weeks.  Thank you all for being present and giving me the opportunity to feel comfortable and be myself.


– Amy N.