I’m continuing in my Permaculture Design Course – we just had the second weekend session, hosted at a beautiful and wonderful urban farm and community center in Denver called the Growhaus.  Like the first session, lots of things were covered; I felt like the weekend was full and abundant.  We dove into some more technical design things this time, such as base-mapping (I’ll do a post on that soon, as my assignment this month is to make one), but like the first session, a lot of the time we talked about broader societal issues and more personal things.

One of the more technical sessions was on climate and microclimate.  We hear the word ‘climate’ a lot lately, especially followed by ‘change‘, but it was refreshing to get a technical definition of climate: long-term weather patterns in a particular place.  Lots of factors go into climate, but the major ones are latitude, altitude, precipitation, proximity to water, and topography. The scale can as broad as the globe, or as narrow as a backyard.  It’s these smaller scales where one encounters microclimates, which are sites within a larger climate system that have some significant variability from the norm.  For example, in a temperate climate such as here in Northern Colorado, on a sunny late-fall day like today the north side of a house can be significantly cooler than the south side: the sun’s southern angle heats up the near-side of the house, while the far side is in shade or shadow.

Later on in the day, we took some of the permaculture principles we’ve been learning and turned them on ourselves, and on our society, in a class called “Invisible Structures.”  We saw that there are patterns in the institutions of culture and community that can be looked at, designed, and redesigned, just as patterns in out home’s landscape can be, through the lenses of permaculture.  And like our homes are the center of our residential landscapes, our selves are the centers of our societal and communal landscapes.  So we spent some time looking at the invisible structures we live and move in, and the privileges and limitations we have within those structures as individuals.  As someone with more privileges than most (white, male, heterosexual, upper-middle-class childhood, good education, etc), it was humbling, but also encouraging, to see my place in these systems in this new light.

As part of the structure of this class, we have regular time set aside at the beginning and end of each day to reflect on the things we’ve covered.  During one of these sessions, one of my fellow students, S_____, spoke about the things above, and in her reflections mentioned how she was noticing the way that her attitudes, moods, emotions, and whatnot affected her perception of and interactions with her environs.  Something clicked in my head as she said this, and when she finished I spoke up.  “Personal microclimate,” I said, and her and the class agreed that the metaphor made sense.

Microclimates are things that we can design for, and shape.  For example, if I wanted the north side of my house to be a bit warmer, I might site a pond nearby, in an area that gets good sun, to retain and radiate some heat.  But I wouldn’t know I needed to do that if I didn’t spend some time sitting in the cold and shady part of the yard, and paying attention to what was going on there.

The first principle of permaculture design is to observe and interact – that is, to approach a design project by first spending some time in the space and seeing what you can see.  I know that there are dark and shady sides of myself too, cold sides that could use some sunlight and warmth.  So in addition to my base-mapping project, I’ll be spending some time this month sitting in those places and paying attention to what I see, to find out what changes I can make.  And I’ll be sitting with this idea of personal microclimates too, paying attention to how I – and those I interact with – change the personal climates that surround us.  I have the feeling that a lot of us, especially those of us with privileges in our environments, affect things more than we may realize.  Stay tuned for more, as observations come in.