All posts by Angela

Angela is a Learning Designer, in Adelaide, South Australia. She found a sunlit glade in higher education after wandering slightly off the path in the beautiful forest of librarianship and web development. She enjoys supporting the use of learning technologies alongside helping anyone of a curious disposition to discover the creative, imaginative and poetic side of coding languages. Angela is particularly fond of people making things together as learning experiences. When she’s not exploring ed-tech or maker spaces, Angela is out in nature, growing her own food in her backyard permaculture farm, camping in the wilderness and gazing at galaxies through telescopes.

Unobservable universe

I’ll still be writing here about permaculture, astronomy and the things I really can’t help writing about.

I’ve moved a lot of my posts about learning and education and higher education to a new blog at unobservableuniverse.wordpress.com

 

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The Fear – The Dark is Rising

“It was then, without warning, that the fear came.”

Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising

Oh! The beautiful opening chapter of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, which I’m reading in a massive worldwide book group on Twitter,  has brought back all my inexplicable moments of nature fear – or just The Fear, as Will experiences.

Have you felt, The Fear?

Those times when you find yourself alone in nature and for some reason, your sense of awe and comfort switches immediately to a feeling of pagan animism about everything around you. As if you are so very trembling and small in the scheme of tall tree things.

Being alone in nature is something I am quite comfortable with, and actually sometimes really crave now that it’s virtually impossible to have. I did have some pre-dawn walks for a hour or so earlier this year when we were camping in the remote Flinders Rangers. My husband were still asleep in the tent and I went out by torchlight. There was a slightly similar experience to the one I’m about to tell. Perhaps because I had my dog with me, or because it was morning, or even because I grew up around this wild land, I felt awe, but not fear at the strange undersound I heard as I got closer to the hills.

 

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Watching the sunrise in the Flinders Ranges

 

There have been a handful of times when THE FEAR has involved not a wild place, but a known place, like it was for Will.

THe last time I felt it, I was feeling comfortable. It was July 2015 and I was outside our rural holiday cottage in Cornwall. A house full of my children and nephews, in-laws and husband asleep. I was outside at midnight with my astrobinoculars and camera taking night sky pictures.

 

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Cosy light from the room when my young children were asleep

 

Maybe it was because I was marvelling at the novelty of seeing the emerging waxing moon traversing the sky backwards and in reverse around in the northern hemisphere after so long in the southern hemisphere (link explains this if you’ve never realised that there are differences). So, things had been changing in a different way.

 

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Waxing crescent moon in Cornish summer skies

 

 

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Watching the moon travelling ‘backwards’ in the northern hemisphere – Cornwall

 

Anyway, for some reason, being out there in the dark, even after a long night of Summer light, turned, er,  well, frightening.

It began with a sound from the fields. The gardens were surrounded by tall hedges, puncutated by one small archway cut out with a gate, with fields beyond. The sound had a hint of human cough or maybe throat clearing, but un-animal enough to confuse my senses. It wasn’t a growl, and I’d lived rurally so it wasn’t a cow or sheep or fox sound. Or bird sound. It was just, unidentifiable. Odd. Weird.

Instinctively, in that moment, when my brain could have rationalised, it didn’t. The day spent exploring ancient nooks and crannies of Cornwall took over, and I, the I that might laugh at my reaction,  was gone. THE FEAR had me.

That sound, had set my heart thumping in a rhythm for running. And I wanted to run. I just left my bincolulars and camera on the tripod and ran across the lawns to the sliding door and clambered in to the dark of house and the comfort of the lounge. After a few moments, I realised I had left all my gear outside.  As I tried to slide open the door go back to get it, I tried to let the ridiculousness take over. It wouldn’t.

I forced myself, swearing in whispers,  to go back out and fumble to detach the heavy binoculars, fold down the tripod and pack away my camera in what seemed like an eternity spent in the now thick ominous darkness. It was somehow, one of the most bravest acts against myself.

And that, is The Fear. I’ve felt it only a handful of times.

If you have ever felt it, you will understand.

Just as Susan Cooper must have understood, when she wrote it for Will to experience.

Have you known, The Fear? I would love to hear your tales.

 

An Arthurian adventure awaits you – #TheDarkisReading

Starting 20th December – worldwide reading of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

What could be more magical than reading (or re-reading as it is for me) one of the most imaginative and wonderful Arthurian children’s/YA novels ever written, starting when the book does, on Midwinter Eve?  (Midsummer Eve for us in the southern hemisphere!)

Well, how about reading it with a fellowship of other readers, just strangers bound together within the world of limited characters (Twitter) in a shared quest to wrangle and snatch moments in time to read together in the mad days of Yule?

If you have never read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, maybe it’s time. Published before I was born in 1973,  I feel like I grew up with it, even though I was in my 20s before reading it.  I only discovered it after studying Medieval English Literature and seeking out modern Arthurian stories.

If you have an imagination stirred by Arthurian tales, Celtic or Norse mythology, magic, standing stones, quests, good and evil, it’s time to read this.

Will Stanton, our 11 year old warrior awaits.

“You are the seventh son of a seventh son, Will Stanton. You step through time. One by one, the Signs will call to you. You will gather them and gain the power of the Light. You are the Sign-Seeker.”

More details about how to participate in the reading group in the post below from Julia Bird.

Hello to new visitors in search of #thedarkisreading, an unexpected Christmas delight. Read on! ******* ‘This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining…’ tweeted @RobGMacfarlane, posting a photo of a gift copy of Susan Cooper’s classic children’s novel The Dark Is Rising (1973). ‘A wonder!’ I replied ‘I reread it every Christmas too […]

via #TheDarkisReading: A Midwinter Reading Group — Julia Bird

Dark matter and stardust

I love it when black hollyhocks appear, having self-seeded. It’s like having Edgar Allen Poe or Neil Gaiman popping in for a cup of tea.

Sometimes, they cross with other hollyhocks, and appear more of a dark purple. The darkness can be variable each year, so when you get a true deep black emerging, it feels a bit magical.

This years are a lovely velvety gothic night-sky dark.

The pollen falls like stardust on the petals.

Backyard permaculture – pre-design thinking

Now that I’m half way through my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) theory, I’m about to take a really good crack at some intentional design in terms of applying permaculture principles in an average sized garden.

Below,  is the layout of the productive backyard that we now have after five-six years of ad-hoc design with permaculture principles in mind, but without really any formal or deep understanding.

[click image to enlarge]

2017

My final PDC design project has therefore rather humble aims:

Moving this young backyard farm into maturity by giving it a vision and including:

  • removing the last of the invasive lower lawn for veg beds
  • creating more vertical veg growing space,
  • connecting it to the front yard which is now an emerging food forest too
  • solutions for unused wasted sides of the house
  • developing a natural play area for the kids

Bringing it all together as a whole,  is where hopefully having some idea of permaculture design principles will help so that I can see the space and the little areas of potential.

How we got to this stage

I wanted to capture where we are now, and how this young productive garden emerged, before I start my final design project for my PDC and for anyone else working on their PDC with a small space.

Six years ago we moved away from our 20 acre rural block, our dream hobby farm – into a house on about 890 square metres. We were in our 30s so not really traditional ‘downsizers’, but the property was situated precariously on a ridge top, had limited access and in summer we had a close call with bushfire without any access to water.

Leaving our farm was the hardest thing I ever did.

We left space, epic views, secret valleys, winter rivers, echidnas and wedge tailed eagles, space for orchards you could walk through and just everything I had dreamed of. We went to a normal street, into a normal house into a normal space that meant no more cows, goats or roosters or wild places.

I still have days when my heart pines to be back there, listening to the wind blowing through sheoaks.

But, as it tuned out, we were able to slowly create a more sustainable future. A slow retrofit is still in progress, starting with insulation and adding internal doors for example.

We now have less reliance on cars, can walk into the Main Street of our small town rather than having to drive everywhere,  could afford to upgrade solar hot water and power, have massively reduced electricity consumption and no electricity bills – even our house sewage septic system is recycled for viticulture irrigation. Instead of feeding cows and maintaining fences I food gardened.

We moved into bareness in the backyard – just rectangles of invasive lawn, 3 spindly young fruit trees and no soil. I was eight months pregnant and managed to throw a few veg seedlings in to settle in.

 

when we moved in
Soiless and souless

 

We both work professional jobs and have young children and yes, I have to be honest, ALL my free time over the last six years is mostly immersed in food gardening. Or reading about others about food gardening, or talking to others about food garden or thinking about food gardening.

My daughter described me as “mad about permaculture” on a poster describing their mums at school. Maybe I am mad putting all this heart in.

On days I was too exhausted with my baby son, I would be up early to watch episodes of Costa’s Garden Oddyssey I found on DVDs and it became a morning ritual with a baby and four year old.  I had a moment of understanding that this was going to take time and to start with the soil – to build soil – and be patient.

In 2012, I started lasagne gardening/sheet mulching this place to build soil . I borrowed books on permaculture from the library and dreamed of the backyard forest that this garden could be. It was imaginary.

There was no design, no vision, just a hazy idea of what could be daydreamed, the design emerged in the edges of everything else. It felt right to design informally in this way with dreams by the fireside, experiments and failures.

Bit by built we built structures, and after 4 years finally culminated in adding chickens . When they arrived I felt the backyard farm had become!

So, undertaking this PDC has given me an unexpected concern. I’m feeling doubtful about whether I’m suited to designing gardens properly on paper -with any precision. It feels…unlike me to garden on paper.  I’m trying though. I measured out my space last week to roughly get the plan I put together to scale. Sort of.

But I wonder if others feel this way. To be truthful, drawing it out first feels like it kills the wonder a bit for me.

But…what I want to encourage is simple. Start where you are. Right now. In whatever way it feels right to begin.

Don’t wait until you have “the dream acreage” don’t feel that you have to have big space to apply permaculture design. Learn now from the tiniest space.

In 1999, my first veg garden in my 20s was a front garden patch of about 15m2 in England. We won a prize because it was seen as a novelty to grow veg amongst cottage garden flowers – but it was all the space we had. The design – intercropping – emerged from the limits. Limitation can be the spark.

Any space can be enough room to grow.

Make boundaries into horizons.

Inspiration hanging in my garden                              c/o Costa Georgiadis & Earth Garden magazine

Any space can be everything you need, if you can begin with valuing the potential of what you do have.  If you still need more trees, visit them. Or if you need wilderness (which yes,  I really do miss in my deepest soul) go forth and camp there, or join in an effort to plant trees there.  If you dream of more growing space, volunteeer in your local school or community garden.

And then come home to grow where you live.

And live where you grow.

And take your growing, where ever you go.

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garden1

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Hyper-linked

In the breath-held beauty of night, every leaf seems paused as if painted in still life, branches striking shapes, shadow-shifting in the moonlit corners of my sight. Crickets sing a rhythmic chorus under the waxing glow of gibbous moon, inciting beetle feet to tread their forests of towering grass blades. The dance of Diplopoda feet, heard burrowing through to damp soil, microcosmic tramping that loosens pathways, unthreading mycorrhizal threads, triggering fungi to fruit. The luminous moon conjures magpies into a midnight warbling, their tree-to-tree dream song the perfect soundtrack of the Universe. I lift my head and eyes to dive up into the starred abyss of the dark-sea spaces in The Milky Way above. Scrambling for words enough to surface from deep wonder, with everything above and below and around and within connected.

Waldschattenspiel (Shadows in the Woods) – a board game

Wer wird gewinnen, das Lich oder die Zwerge?

Who will win, the light or the dwarves?

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This beautiful German board game by Kraul, wandered into our lives at Christmas. It’s a simple but magical game best played in complete darkness. The board is a forest – lit by a single luminary tea-light that travels the forest pathways on each roll of a die. The tea-light illuminates wooden 3D trees which cast a shadow on to the board, providing hiding places.

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The shadowy woods

Within the shadows cast by the trees,  tiny Zwerge – dwarves/gnomes – must keep to the shadows. Any who stray from the shadows are frozen in the light until rescued by another dwarf.

The objective of the game is for all the dwarves to gather together in the shadow of one tree, before the light freezes them all.

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A dwarf alone in the woods, frozen by the light, awaiting rescue

Tip: First time play – unpack in daytime

This is handy to know if you’re excited to play this for the first time one night – unpack it in daytime. Before playing, you have the opportunity to transform the wooden dwarf playing pieces into dwarfish characters. There is felt supplied for their crafting their hats.

naked-dwarves

I also took up the additional suggestion to add some beards, and some felted wool from my stash added a beardyness any king from under the mountain would be proud of. I did have a few visions of them catching alight, so tamed my initial extravagant very curly beards to this:

ready to roll.jpg

dwarve-completed

Playing

What I particularly love in a world of plastic Monopoly and Game of Life empire building, is that this feels like a fresh breeze in games, because it hearkens back to old story-telling, to simple themes of light and dark, yet, where the shadows are the safer place. It is a very calming game,  and dwarf players play cooperatively against the light player.  Usually an adult plays the  light as the naked flame is pushed around the board through the forest, while the children work cooperatively as hiding dwarves, but responsible children could be given the role of the light.

It’s such a soothing game that it can played right before bedtime.

Complete darkness works best, and in this shadowy world,  the trees even cast their shadows on the walls too, so if you can preserve a childlike wonder, you too are in the shadowy forest. Part of the realisation for the children is that they can hide their dwarves in sight right in front of you (the light-bearer) in what feels like it should be visible to you – yet if the candle is beyond the tree the adult won’t be able to see them – they are hidden right in front of you, in complete darkness. The light-bearer can’t move from their seat and you rely utterly on the tiny light to catch a glimpse of a hat or beard. It’s actually very difficult to find the dwarves, much to the amusement of the children.

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I see you! Betrayed by a bushy beard!

As the adult playing the game with younger children, because you need to look away while the children hide their dwaves each time, you may need to ask older children to take responsibility for helping the younger childen avoid reaching directly over the candle flame. The game is recommended for 5 years and above.

dice

The only other grown-up person in our family of 4,  found the game painfully boring, and I’m not sure we’ll convince him to play again. Both kids 9 and 5 absolutely love it, and keep asking to play it, as I do, so it wins with 3 out of 4 of us. It’s more than a game, it’s got something enchanting about it.

pyramid

There is an additional game board on the reverse of the board which we haven’t played yet.

I can’t quite explain how much I absolutely love this game , unique in its gentleness and with the feel of a fairy tale. It feels older than it is. It relies on your willingness to take on a role and be part of the world of the shadowy forest, to fall into a story of your own making. In simple terms, imagination beyond the board. The kids have invented names for the dwarves and I love their secret whispering strategies as they negotiate tactics for keeping hidden and guessing where the shadows will fall.

A game that will be remembered and loved beyond childhood, and if you find it hard to track down, you can also try making your own version.

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“When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.”
Ursula K. Le Guin.