Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Diamond Cutter at Apache Pass, Part 4: Permaculture

"There is epigenetic asynchrony in this biome."


This is the fourth and last installment in a series.


Irony seems to stalk Geshe Michael Roach like a puma. It was ironic that while he was studying to be an Episcopalian minister he became a Tibetan Buddhist monk. It is ironic that as a monk practicing the 8-fold-path — which includes Right Livelihood — he became a wealthy diamond merchant and then a sought-after advisor in wealth acquisition. 

It is ironic that after a quarter century of austere, celibate monastic living, he has come under fire, largely without merit, for a wacky marriage and divorce and accusations of inability to hold safe space for his religious pilgrims. 

Reputations come and go. The choices we make and the risks we take can as easily lower us as elevate us, and you can’t always know what may happen when you act from imperfect knowledge. 
Life may be impermanent but then there is permaculture.

As described in the first installment in this series, we were invited at the end of summer to visit Diamond Mountain, sit with Geshe Michael, and walk his land. The geshe sought advice on the best future for this site.

“It may be stupid for this to even be here,” he said. “If so, I want to be told.”

“It may be stupid,” we replied. “But it is too soon to judge.”

Our observations over the following days raised several issues.

First, this is Apachería. It may have been legally purchased from some previous title holders, but it was originally stolen by deceit, murder, the unspeakable torment of innocents, and attempted genocide. That bad blood flows in these streams.

The previous inhabitants had attained harmony with this fragile landscape after twenty generations of assimilation. Europeans have been here as a people only seven generations. To find a multigenerational family here is a rare thing. There is epigenetic asynchrony in this biome.

Then, owing to rapid climate change, the Chiricahuan Desert to the Northeast is being overtaken by the much more severe Sonoran Desert to the Southwest. This change is still in its early stages but the curve of acceleration is exponential. Exponents are deceptive and unforgiving. Apache Pass is a slim wedge that barely holds the separation, for the moment. Wildfires threaten. Springs are drying. Animals are out-migrating. To live here is to buck the prevailing pattern.

To live here is to stand between a living planet and a dead world, just as a titanic battle to decide that fate is about to commence. Apache Pass holds the thin line of green vegetation that separates two raging deserts.
The clientele for conferences and retreats with Geshe Michael’s business brand is more upscale than ecotouristic. Russians, Chinese, Japanese — they are accustomed to hot showers, swimming pools and gourmet fare. Bowie is two hours by interstate highway from the nearest four-star hotel. This is the middle of nowhere.

As permaculturists, we begin with the knowledge that nature is our first client. So we ask. What is it She wants?

It may be that She is tired of the two-leggeds and their disrespect and would just as soon shake them off like fleas, perhaps by making the planet too hot for them to remain.

Or it may be that She would be pleased if this immature species decided to grow up and take some responsibility. It could have a role in healing, one well suited to its talents. That next evolution of humans could start by building the soil here and planting trees. Whether that would be enough to halt the climate juggernaut coming over the mountains is an unanswerable question for now, but the great pure effort required would be worthy in and of itself. It would build character in all who participated. 

With this in mind we made our first recommendations. By no means a final design for the site, we made some preliminary observations and tendered our suggestions for next steps.

First, we suggested that Diamond Mountain not attempt to cater to the desires of its high roller clientele. It should not build a huge hotel and swimming pool. Stay far removed from the casino and golf course developer world.

Second, we recommended that Diamond Mountain not encourage more car traffic through the site by widening and paving the mountain road near Apache Pass. The existing trail needs to be re-surveyed with a keyline management plan so that water from storms — which will likely become more violent and profound — is captured, absorbed, and applied to recharge the aquifer and build soil biology. The washes, which are fountains of life in season, must be protected throughout the year.

Keylining could also allow more surface water features and assist in reforestation, where appropriate. Those forests would generate a wetter climate. They would revive the springs, and with the springs, more wildlife would return.

Cabins, already constructed of native materials, should be fireproofed with geoplasters and living roofs of succulents (Ice Plant, Aeonium and sedums). Landscapes should store water and resist fires by selecting plants with:
  • extensive root systems
  • limited production of dead material
  • high levels of salt
  • ability to withstand drought
  • low levels of oils or resins
  • ability to resprout after a fire
Good examples are the native foods and livestock feeds of the Chiricahua — yucca, agave, purple sage, and blue fescue.

Lastly, an ecosystem regeneration camp should be convened here, inviting participants from around the world to come, camp and re-green these mountains.

Our principal recommendation therefore, is to honor the spirits of the original inhabitants by restoring the ecosystem they knew, one capable of supporting life.

The Pass needs to enter the battle of the deserts with greater greenness and deep reserves of water.

In The Diamond Cutter, Geshe Michael asks what are the principles by which business must be judged. Foremost, businesses should be profitable. It should gain the respect of customers, partners and employees by fairness and generosity. But then, businesspeople should enjoy the money they earn, and don’t work themselves so hard that they never find the time to appreciate the harvest. 

Success in business should be defined, when all is said and done, by time spent in meaningful activity, not just for ourselves, but for the greater social good. In the end we want to be able to look back upon our lives as having been good for others, not merely ourselves.

Yet, the Buddhist idea of limitlessness — at the core of Geshe Michael’s teachings on wealth — comes up against the permaculture principle of limit awareness. Earth is changing, rapidly. Limits have been exceeded in our numbers of humans, our withdrawal of minerals, our cutting of forests, our slaughter of wildlife, and our care of the water. 

If by hosting remote silent retreats, with small cabins built almost invisibly into the landscape, or by bringing together the youth of the world to plant trees, Geshe Michael can teach his students to lead by example, whether in business or in life, there would be great merit. 

Willingness of people to change their habits is more important to reversing climate change than finding more carbon drawdown solutions. The technology is already there. Human willingness isn’t. We, the White Eyes, are still oriented towards materialism as our religion. Too often we seek gain and don’t consider who or what bears the loss. At the end of our individual lives this becomes a cause for regret.

If we could shift that paradigm enough — such that we begin to take responsibility, even to the extent of reoccupying places for 20 generations — then we might have a chance of regaining stewardship and still have something left to steward.

In Zug, while working to develop the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Peter Head observed that
People deal with change in a much more positive way when cultural and natural heritage is retained, looked after and respected. Part of this history lies in that faith institutions are the oldest social service providers we know. They were the original providers of health services, education, nutrition, farming, sanitation and energy. They are also the oldest fundraisers, community mobilizers and human and social capital builders. Their ability to convene people voluntarily to resource critical endeavors –particularly at times of risk–continues today.
Mobilizing faith-based initiatives could be key to achieving the pull back from the Anthropocene that humanity now requires in order to survive. Head says:
With rising numbers of pilgrims visiting sacred cities and sites every year, these locations could become the first powerful demonstrations of transformational practice to deliver sustainable water supply, waste management, low carbon energy, sanitation, eco-mobility and simple low energy accommodation for everyone.
Using a systems approach and resilience, the total cost of these projects can be reduced by up to 40%, which gives a good return on investment and increased beneficial social impact. Pilgrims could take these examples and practices back to their cities of origin and mobilize resources for change there, providing a powerful scaling mechanism.
Last year we described here the Two Mountain policy of Xi Jinping. Xi’s first peak is the mountain of silver — fair and peaceful global trade and commerce. His second is the mountain of gold — restoring traditional harmony between cultural values and nature. In Arizona, we found a third, a mountain of diamond — building a new culture worthy of respect, with the presence of clear mind, the only thing that can cut a diamond.


We are traveling at the moment and don’t have regular opportunities to post, so we have written this series ahead of time, to release in the place of our regular weekly installments. This is the last of the four prepared parts, but our thoughts resume along these lines in real time next week.

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