Twilight Permaculture – Retiring Not Downhill

Happy 40th Birthday Permaculture

40 years ago the first permaculture book was published.  The design concepts by Mollison and Holmgren first appeared with Permaculture One. This humble beginning grew to influence many grass roots practices. Now is a good time to glean some of the wisdom from our elders.

Glint in Wizened Eye

Self reliant eldersPermaculture is bubbling with inspired individuals who prefer to spend time refining their little inventions rather than go out to protest in mass rallies. These folk are essentially optimistic, they enjoy developing alternatives. What unites permaculture designers is their ability to design and their pioneering spirit. Permaculture design is a patient art. And the rewards include surprising insights and meaningful connections.

Been There, Done That

Occasionally there’s a chance to see elders proudly demonstrate their unique contributions.  For 40 years these unique individuals have been passionately building the permaculture test-models.

Yes, there is bound to be a pile of flops and discards, but there are many gems of great work.  Their fledgling design projects integrating solar energy, rocket-stoves, rain-gardens, composting toilets, worm-farms, rain-water tanks, mulch and yoghurt or Kombucha have become household realities.

Judith Collins of EarthKeepers, Companion Planting Author
Judith Collins of EarthKeepers, Companion Plants Author

After 40 years some of these glorious pioneers may have slowed down. Some, such as the eternal optimist, Bill Mollison has returned to mother nature. The younger, David Holmgren has now matured into co-operative living.
Holmgren and his partner, Sue, have cleverly downsized the personal space and expanded their options by sharing the rewards and ongoing physical work of their productive home site.

Some of the permaculture-designed pioneering communities, like Malaney, have now installed their own graveyards.

The beauty of permaculture design lies in its ability to adapt and respond to change. How do these elders adapt in their twilight years?


We can all list the things that we want to retire FROM, but did you know it is vital for our physical and mental health to know what we are retiring TO?

Permaculture, even in our twilight years, offers decades enriched with meaningful employment.  “Permaculture gives us a toolkit for moving from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance” Toby Hemenway

Passing on know how

Janet Millington defined her twilight period as her personal energy descent period. She pioneered wicking beds with integrated worm-farms to intensify food production and waste management close to the kitchen door without any back strain. She and Carolyn Nuttall built a rich legacy of school permaculture programs.

Environmentalist and longtime host of CBC’s The Nature of Things David Suzuki, at the age of 79, writes that “‘it’s time to admit you’re an elder and start getting on with doing what elders should be doing, which is speaking out’”.  David Suzuki talks about living in his twilight years. In fact, every elder in our community has a wealth of experience directly relevant to our community and our unique bio-region.

Take Stock

Permaculture designers around the planet are busy.  They are the type of people who would rather do stuff rather than talk about it. For them, there isn’t a lot of time to talk about it because they feel a strong sense of urgency to get on and build a better culture. They want to show it can be done.

But herein lies the challenge. In order to demonstrate a happy alternative to consumerism, we all need to talk about it. At least, sometimes.

If you are one of the lucky ones who can join us at a Permaculture Convergences enjoy the rare chance to sit and listen. Grab and elder and quiz them about their failures.  Invest time to travel about to see what the pioneers have put into practice and how they have designed their twilight lifestyle.

Soon we are leading a grand Permaculture Tour. Come and join us in this one-off  opportunity.

Wisdom Beats Cleverness

Where Can I Get Myself Some Wisdom?

“Wisdom enables us to work with the unknown and the known. Cleverness is limited to working with the miniscule known.” Prof. Stuart Hill

Wisdom says ‘This is good! I’m happy with this’. Whereas, cleverness says ‘there’s got to be a better way’. Cleverness is constantly searching for improvement.  Whilst there is a purpose in life for cleverness. There is always rest in wisdom.

Clever Permaculture Design

Permaculture Design, at the outset, aims to be clever. Long term, it aims to be wise. Permaculture design develops stablisers that enrich the resilience of our lives, enhancers that make the system abundant and flows that help speed up the transfer of energy and plug up losses.

An example: a lifestyle stabilser might be the act of taking time to support others. They may support you or others in return. An enhancer might be having a back-up plan for when something in the system fails. like having a belt as well as braces to hold up Grandpa’s pants. An example of a flow device might be catching the waste from one project and using it right where it falls. For example, we might choose to step outside to peel the carrots on a hot summer day and the chickens can catch the peelings as they land.

Step Off the Treadmill

As we age our energy descends. We shift from trying to be perpetually clever and start to gain insights and wisdom. At this critical point we can choose to enjoy a companionable relationship with nature. We know it is better to aim to be efficient than to toil until we are worn out.  Collectively, the habits become our culture. Permaculture is about gently shifting our habits to create a strong and more permanent culture.

Imagine weeding every time you step into a garden? The alternative could be radical and start eating the weeds or we could be less radical and just plan to let the chickens eat the weeds then we get to eat the chicken eggs. On a social level, we can free ourselves from debt and actively seek wisdom.

Practical Wisdom

One of the quickest ways to acquire some wisdom is to ask an elder. The next source is observation. Permaculture is, in essence, about observation.  When we seek to observe and see connections we are actively learning from clever connections. We can track how energy can be transferred and build efficient life-style designs.

If you are local, join us on a workshop to meet some permaculture elders. Wherever you live you can find some of wise-owls and enjoy their little gems of wisdom. Alternatively, you can enroll with us and be supported and mentored throughout your permaculture journey.