This past June of 2021, we presented our first in-person PDC in over a year. It was an intimate course of 8 compared to the 24 person online courses we had been administering over the winter and spring. The change of pace was wonderful. We had the joy of hosting this course at Bending Oak Permaculture Farm, and I think the functionally and beautifully designed environment there made the experience even more impactful.
I had visited Bending Oak once before in the early spring of 2020. Even then while the trees were only budding, there was an unmistakable sense of abundance and growth there. Revisiting in the summer really painted the full picture.
The variety of plant and wildlife was amazing. Throughout the days the air was full of birdsong, croaking frogs, and the sounds of crickets and other talkative insects. The nights brought hooting owls and chilling shrieks of wandering coyotes. I was amazed by the variety of trees there— Sassafras, Oak, Maple, Hemlock, and wild cherries to name only a few. It did not feel like I was in suburban Ohio in the least bit.
Leading up to the course the energy present was overwhelming as the students arrived one by one. It relaxed though as I began to get acclimated to the amazing and colorful people that tend to frequent these courses. The experience never dulls— speaking with people from so many different walks of life that all converge by following this common thread of awareness and compassion. The connection they cultivate is brilliant, and although it is formed by so many different characters, the feeling it invokes is distinctive every time. I knew it was going to be a transformative week.
We familiarized the students with their campsites and new “off grid” housing, since each cabin’s electricity is powered by a very tangible and trackable battery, charged by the solar panels off of the barn and hauled up to the cabins. It was an experience I valued when I stayed in one of the cabins at Bending Oak; observing how much the battery’s power level dropped after only a night of burning a porch light and charging a cellphone really put into perspective what passive energy consumption means.
After settling in, each student got a brief rundown of the Super Clean composting toilet system, and we were good to go. After lunch, class started and we were off into exciting territory.
It was interesting to view from a “bystander” perspective what the journey of a PDC looks like. Although I have assisted with a few courses, I have never sat close by for the entirety of one (except for when I was a student back in 2019). Observing from my little desk on the edge of the classroom brought the experience into a different light— I got to see firsthand the beginnings of understanding as the information Bill shared found unique pathways through to the core of each student. Their questions became more directed, the hesitancy to ask them began to disintegrate, and I saw realization begin to move behind curious eyes. By the end of day one the students already seemed to be buzzing with a more focused excitement, and the way they remained absorbed throughout long days and tons of material was great to see.
The reason their attention stayed so locked in despite the lengthy days was thanks to Bill and his eclectic style of teaching. His enthusiasm for this work shines through the material, and his delivery was so engaging that it felt like we had to usher the students out of the classroom every night. I overheard a lot of comments about the value of having a teacher like Bill presenting this information. I couldn’t agree more– He has a knack for poignantly tying concepts into real-life applications, and expresses the human aspect of permaculture with his whole being.
The days were broken up with outings covering all sorts of hands on activities. Amongst my favorites were the plant identification walk led by the brilliantly engaging Hailey, project coordinator of Bending Oak, the tour of the property led by Nancy, and a demonstration of using an A-frame led by Bill.
We were fortunate to have a construction savvy student in the course, and she was able to build us a sound A-frame on site after recognizing a flaw in the original one. The students had the opportunity to operate some machinery, and I taught them how to use a Scythe to chop and drop thick vegetation in the food forest. (which was very exciting!)
We have also added some new material to the course. I have a passion for mycology- specifically fungal ecology, and a lot of experience when it comes to identifying edible and inedible mushrooms, so I put together a presentation highlighting some of my favorite mycology facts and experiences. It was so exciting to teach about this extremely fascinating field and how it ties into permaculture.
During breaks and after class, the students congregated into vibrant, chatty groups. Some of my favorite moments were spent staying up late around the fire pit exchanging stories of travel, work, family, and permaculture dreams and goals.
We fished, took walks, and fully enjoyed ourselves during the down time.
When it came time to create final design projects, the students were in a rhythm. The ideas started to flow, and all the threads they had gathered throughout the course became woven into thoughtful and coherent first draft designs.
The experience of being present and involved in this course was invaluable. It is a gift to be a part of the journey people take towards building better relationships with each other and the environment.
I am amazed by how much the students offer up at these courses— from their performances at the variety show and their wonderful personalities, to their thoughtful questions, attentiveness and curiosity that brings so much to the teaching experience.
I can’t wait for our next PDC Course at Bending Oak, coming up in September! Maybe you can join us? See Schedule Here
-Megan, assistant teacher and designer at MWP