My dad told me, when I was 22 that he thought that I was turning into a professional student. Little did he know! It seems that it was a habit that was to stay with me. Along the way I have picked up certificates ranging from a city and guilds (giving my age away now) qualification in cooking to a postgraduate diploma in community safety and a degree in politics to a reflexology qualification.
Now, a little older :), I am still learning. So what now? The latest is my permaculture course which is turning out to be a source of joy, part book learning and the joyful bit. Permaculture teaches that it is important to observe and that is turning out to be the joyful part.
Previously, in my forties I had re-trained to be a yoga teacher. As part of this I have struggled to have a meaningful meditation practice. Basically it has meant trying to be as mindful as possible, so when I am washing the dishes, that is what I am doing, and not thinking about what I am going to do when I am finished. I can forgive myself if I am not too successful with that but can often be annoyed when I have taken the dog for a walk and on my return realised that I have been out and hardly noticed where I have been, or what I have seen. Not a single moment of being ‘in the moment.’
That has now changed and it is wonderful, especially at this time of the year, when we are surrounded by abundance. Part of the fun, too, is that I am learning about how much that we are surrounded with, that I can actually eat, for free!
So, at the moment, I am teaching myself about trees. This is not as easy as it sounds as you walk around trying not to draw any attention to yourself, while you compare leaves and tree trunks in the book to what you are seeing in front of you. I am also on the lookout for elder trees in particular but I do know what they look like. I am particularly interested in the flowers as I am going to have a go at making wine for the first time. Presently I am having to be very patient as they are still not yet fully formed in my part of the world. This is particularly frustrating as I saw numerous elders heavy with blossom on the railway banks on the way to Edinburgh last week.
I am also learning about edible plants. The learning, to a large extent, is happening at the home and garden of Graham Bell, a permaculture teacher based in Coldstream, in the Borders, where he has crafted a forest garden from less than a quarter of an acre of land. It is a little paradise. At the time of writing he has 60 edible species there. However it is not only about what you can eat but identifying and appreciating plants which show that the ground is fertile
Now I walk around trying to identify some of the species I have seen in his garden, that are edible. Already close by, I have seen Sweet Cicely which can be used as a salad vegetable, amongst many other things. I also look at nettles with a completely different perspective. I can make tea from them but more importantly they are a source of nutrients for my tiny little garden on the steps, which Karen Birch very cleverly built for me, from re-claimed timber from my brother. This is important because permaculture is also about using and re-using. And in using nettles as food for plants everything is being returned to the earth and I am not introducing chemicals to the little bit of food that I produce.
Book-learning has always been my preferred style. I was a bookish child and learned to pass written exams with some ease as a teenager. I was frightened of practical exams. I hated my driving test because it was practical and was amazed at managing to pass second time because I was so nervous. This however feels more like learning through observing, some book-learning and putting it into practice. I am loving it; it makes me feel alive noticing the natural world around me and how it works. I am hoping that in the not too distant future that I will be able to have more than just a few boxes on the stairs, to grow trees and plants and to look after them in the happy knowledge that they will provide abundance for me and those around me. I feel that I have finally found what is truly right for me but have also enjoyed the learning and development opportunities in my life that have finally brought me here.
If you want to know more about permaculture, two great little books are: The Permaculture Way and The Permaculture Garden which I have previously reviewed (http://www.the3rdimagazine.co.uk/2012/09/book-review-the-permaculture-way/) and you can find out more about Graham Bell at his website: www.grahambell.org.
Annie Casey is the business manager with the3rdimagazine.