Friday, November 12, 2010

Cape Cod and Sheet Mulching UMass

It's been quite a week!  I'm currently at the Sirius Community near Amherst, MA, staying with my permaculture friend Ryan Harb.  He's spearheading a campaign on the campus of UMass Amherst to sheet mulch a 1/4 acre plot outside a dining hall, and turn it into a permculture demonstration site.  So far, it's nothing but a huge success, and there's a huge buzz around campus and the community.  I've been on since Monday, sheet mulching with anywhere from 1 to 40 people on the site at once.  It's exactly the right work to be doing, it seems, lots of fun, attracting lots of positive attention from curious onlookers.  Folks are gaining immediately useful skills that can turn lawn into garden.  Read more about the project at

Sirius is a great community that's been around a few decades, and is largely based on the model of Findhorn in Scotland.  Ryan's place is a cozy apartment in the main building, with a wood stove and two kittens (not his).  It's an immensely peaceful place to return to after long days of shoveling and facilitating at the sheet mulching site.

To back up to the last blog entry, I spent a couple more days with Julie and Gail, relaxing on the ocean.  More fantastic sunsets, exploring P-town, helping a little at Twist'd Sisters, and a great walk in the Beech Forest with Julie.  Thank you guys for a really swell time!  I left early Wednesday morning, more or less backtracking toward the base of the Cape.  A little colder, but no problem ... I took the rail trail as much as I could, and eventually made it to Camp Burgess, where my childhood friend Mike Thompson was leading teen outdoor expeditions all summer.

The camp was pretty quiet, as it's the end of the summer camp season.  There were some really neat woods here, as the soil is stronger than out at the end of the Cape.  I rested up my Achilles while it rained, took some nice walks, met Mike's fellow counselors, went to hear some great music nearby, and found a copy of Harry Potter VII.  I started reading, and was drawn in for good ....  What a nice world to be transported to, to remember some magic and nostalgia for a subconscious comfort.  I got on the road early Saturday, throwing myself recklessly toward Amherst, MA.  After a wrong turn or two in the dark, I got on track, pedaling to East Providence.  It was of course a beautiful sunny day for cycling.

Then I arrived at the Blackstone River Bikeway, and I realized this was my destination for the day - it was the perfect bike trail on a sunny fall day in New England, gliding past a marsh and down a river, leaves more brown and burgundy than the more brilliant oranges and yellows of earlier in the fall.  At this point, I think I had biked about 75 miles, and had taken almost no time off the bike and eaten almost no food.  I was feeling light and grounded, and inexplicably blissful ... the air was all just more delicious than I could take in, and the world seemed all just as it should be.  As the sun began to sink lower, I just kept on pedaling, trying to make as much of the 150 miles to Amherst as I could in Day 1 (when all was said and done, I think I did 90 miles, a new record again!!).

I ran into a tricky spot, as the supposed Southern New England Trunkline Trail had no entry where my Google directions said it should.  In fact, there was just a little footpath down to a railroad bridge with no top to it.  In my blissful state, I briefly considered walking across the foot-wide I-beam, but the bike made that a foolish impossibility.  I managed to find roads around to another entrance to the Trail, and immediately found it to be more of a horse/atv trail, mostly sand, mud, rocks, and water.  Still, it was through some really nice woods, and I didn't feel like finding a detour.  I plunged ahead onto the trail, and in the waning light I pushed my bike about a mile in before deciding to camp.  I climbed up the ledge to one side, and pitched my tent in a little depression out of site from most directions.  It never seemed to get fully dark, and I was immediately and persistently surrounded by what sounded like 3 plump and cute woodland creatures scurrying about my campsite.  At one point in the middle of the night, a motorbike's headlights roared past, and then an hour later back the other way, and I just had to trust I had picked a totally invisible site.

It must've gotten below freezing, though I hardly felt it somehow, even with the tent's fly off.  In the morning I pushed and rode another couple of miles on the dirt trail before deciding it to be too slow going and detrimental for my bike.  Finding a detour was no problem, and I was quickly on my way into central MA.  I dipped down through CT, and then northward through some nice little towns.  When I made it to the UMass campus and tracked down Ryan, he was in a circle with his "dream team" permaculture student committee/class, at the half-finished sheet mulching site.  Now, 5 days later, the sheet mulching is nearly finished (250,000 lbs of organic matter distributed!), and the design phase of the garden can begin for the winter.

I'm planning to hit the road again tomorrow morning, westward, and within real striking distance of my parents' house in Clinton, NY.  It feels exactly right to be heading for Clinton and Ithaca right now, as this journey eases to a close.  About 200 miles to Clinton, and another 85 to Ithaca.  Woo!

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