Los Nietos - an amazonian food forest.

For 3 months the Canto Luz chakra lay dormant waiting for us. The clearing work was done in November 2015 on lands of our neighbor. It was not that Canto Luz has no land for planting. Rather, we are guardians of primary forest and our neighbour's once agricultural land is more ecologically suitable for food forests. (In Peruvian Spanish chakra means a cleared space used for growing food).
The first time I saw the land, I gulped. As if the jungle was creeping back in, the wild-plants were growing again, and there was a lot of woody debris to navigate. The task of planting Canto Luz´s Food Forest was going to be tough. We would place over 300 plants with 32 different species of fruit, vegetable, flower, medicine, bean, dye and fiber bearing plants in a span of just 2 weeks.
Come rain, shine or insect, the foundations for a food forest would be born.
To be charged with so much life is not something I take lightly. The ecological toll for clearing land, as well as the life of all the baby trees is serious business. I thought the rainy season would pass fast this year. El Niño always brings unpredictable weather, especially in Peru – droughts here, floods there. Our part of the amazon is wet in February, but the last strong el Niño year rains were short and there was drought. This year I worried we were too late to plant the trees.
But we set-up carefully. Not only do we use ecological principles and design practices, but we also welcomed a group of volunteer professionals to help us plant.
Our volunteers Hannah, Vince and GaChing arrived first, followed by Shane. Along with these volunteers Canto Luz local workers were busy helping to remove leftover woody debris so we could walk unencumbered through the plot.  Our food forest is about a ½ hectare, which sounds big.  It is actually “human-sized”, manageable with just a few pairs of hands and lots of sweat.
Ecologically we planned this food forest to manage soil. Forest soil in the Amazon is tricky and has a fertility that deceives. Voracious growth of plants, abundant water and beating sun are not all that they seem: nutrition for growth is locked up in the plants themselves and only released in a complicated cycle of decay. Here a cleared area has a couple of years of fertility, but if you don't protect and build soils, a farm will fail or require chemical inputs. No thanks.
When we cleared, we didn't burn. High oxygen burning, common to this part of the amazon, releases vital minerals like a big bang, and scorches all bacteria and fungal networks that help with nutrient cycling. When rain comes the nutrients are washed away, leaving empty sands and clays, and no top-soil to grow life.
As we cleared we left green-plant material on top of the soil right where it lay. The idea of this "green mulch" is to slowly decompose and maintain water in the soil. When the powerful Equatorial sun comes after the rainy season, we hope it will do just that.
We also utilized woody material. We have made hugelkulture-like beds of large sticks that over the next several years will decompose with termite action. Under the weight of green material that we will place there these piles will become a repository for black soil... one day at least - we just have to be patient. How patient? We are not sure. It's a theoretical experiment we are basing on the black- organic rich soils (Tierra del monte) that are found around decaying tree logs in the jungle. These wood piles also provide spaces for small creatures to set up home.We did not pile all of our woody material because there was a lot of it. Some of it was burned in small piles, and the ash we saved and put in our aging compost pile with local Guinea pig manure, goat manure, and humanure. In a year this will be lunch for the hungry tropical trees.
Then we got busy planning. Vince, a soil expert, helped us map the soil at the chakra. We found there was mostly suitable soil, but quickly ran into a challenge – nearly half of the chakra was water-logged for part of the year, meaning that most species would wither and die from too much water. The question was whether to make a canal and try to remove water. In the end we decided to favor the water as it is. We planted palm fruits to mimic the watery palm groves found throughout the jungle, and would plant other local water-loving species, too. Nature knows, just follow.
Dealing with so much organic matter is an important task in the jungle soil cycle - this photo demonstrates the types of soil management we chose.
the soil found at one of the soil test sites - sandy-clay loam with topsoil -- better than we thought.
Don Ancillmo piles wood. a lot of wood! The wood is from fast-growing colonizer species (mostly cecropia), which began to grow after our neighbour left his cleared land fallow.
An aguajal is a natural wet place where palms rich with fruit grow.
We were ready to find the plants - Sourcing plants is no problem here as this region is garden central! We visited the local reforestation organization ARBIO to get advice and find plants – frijol de palo (a nitrogen fixing bean tree), moringa (the superfood salad green) and the tasty fruit trees cacao and copoazu (a local relative of cacao!). Luckily through our talks, we learned it may actually be (weather cooperating) the perfect time to plant. We hope for rain.Then we went to the local market and found even more trees and shrubs. Achiote for red dye and smudging… well-known fruits like avocado, starfruit, pineapple, mango, passionfruit, lemon and orange... as well as local fruit specialities like anona (DELICOUS!), araza, casharana, bread fruit, vitamin-c rich camu camu, and the cheesy flavoured noni fruit, which is very healthy.  We also found flowers like toé, and medicinal plants like coca, tobacco, turmeric, ginger and lemon grass.
bananas travel upriver with us from Puerto Arturo
Claudio helps transport some of the plants we found - others we will start from seed and cutting.
A jungle style nursery helps shield seedlings from the harsh sun.
Meanwhile we visited our neighbours, and in the native community of Puerto Arturo we found yuca and bananas. Mariluz, Canto Luz staff, helped us find two types of wild taro root – this delicious tuber in the araceae family is boiled and becomes starchy just like a potato. We also were able to plant local varieties of cucumber and pumpkin.

Our favourite addition to our plant list however was planted by a wild-gardener. Imagine our surprise when in the middle of the chakra we found papaya growing! Who did it? It turns out the tayra, a wild weasel relative and omnivore, has a taste for ripe papaya, and while roaming the Amazonian countryside it defecates papaya seed from its previous meals! This happened through our chakra evidently, and we hope it will come again and again and again.

The Tayra - a wild species that loves papaya, and is not endangered.
When we were ready to start the planting we put up a tent to protect the tools and compost. The compost was a mix of gathered forest soil collected from a rotting log, and types of manure and charcoal. We were ready to plant. Using our tree map we staked out the tree locations, planning for their eventual height, canopy size and maturation time.
But it had not rained for nearly a week.
The work was so hot, and we agreed that even by starting work in the early morning we couldn’t imagine putting new plants into soil under such hot sun. The thought made us all take a swig of water and ponder hard. The best plan was to start in the evening.
It was a good choice - Imagine the joy of beginning work hours before sunset when all of the sudden a gentle, cool rain begins. The new plants shone brilliant green, especially while we sang songs for them as they entered the ground.
We finished planting 3 days later in perfect timing because each day it rained. The rain allowed our freshly dug plants to drink, and set their roots in. Throughout the days, they each seemed perky with hydration, and some of the banana plants even started sending out leaves.
A compost mix - used to topdress fresh plantings.
A finished map of the chakra (just missing the yuca).
Our jungle tool shed protects the compost from rain and sun.
hannah and vince mark plant locations and bring mulch for new plantings.
Rain makes everything seem more connected.
a demonstration of our complete planting method: sapote with mulch, compost top dressing and a stake to mark its placement, to prevent us losing it when the jungle starts to grow again.
Now that we have finished planting, our next steps will be to continually care for this chakra until the plants age and plan other activities in relation to this work. It has been a long time coming but we will be also dedicating these fruit trees to our funding donors who offered support in the early day of Canto Luz. It is a dream and a promise come true. It is good to complete.
The day before we finished all our work we made an Andean despacho with the help of Juan's father and Q'ero nation resident Lorenzo. When Lorenzo asked what we named the chakra, I told him, "se llama Los Nietos - it´is called the grandchildren", and then I recalled a conversation I had with a neighbour. The neighbor asked why we did not plant faster growing food crops like rice or corn, and instead fruit trees that could take years to produce well. The reality is a fruit tree project is one for future generations. Of course we expect to eat from it, but the best years will be down the road. "Los Nietos" is quite literally for the grandchildren - both human and animal.
So, here is to food that feeds the future, and also to many more years of good work in this chakra with Canto Luz! We hope you can come visit. The papaya should be giving fruit in a few months... but you may have to share with the tayra!


This post was published in March of 2016, just after we finished the work. We are happy to report that so much has grown and flourished. almost all the plants have survived the dry season, however a noni, a moringa, all the granadillas died. We nearly had a forest fire, but the rain came just in the nick of time, and somehow cows arrived from nearly 3km away, and ate one banana before we chased them off. The chakra has a lot of wood and medicinal "volunteers", that is plants who grow on their own accord. One of the most prolific is the sangre de grado, a powerful medicinal used for wound healing, as well as disentry. We have produced tomatoes, cucumbers, papaya, moringa, squash and some medicinal herbs. It looks like all is going well, and the rainy season is coming again


Homo Luminous

i have been discovering old poems, here is one i wrote in 2007.

 In a wild world, bourn Wild from sprouting seeds
holding ancient memories of ritual human deeds,
we were each cast by spirals of DNA
Twisting like snakes
Made for remembering
where we come from,
and where we are going through Kundalini arising.

To remember what wildness we hold,
we must be bold:
First we ask for and listen to the whispers of ancients
illuminating exactly what we need,
for in the strands of ourselves we will see,
a DNA template to activate, assisting us through everything.

Human beings are sleeping cacoons
waiting for transformation, and soon to swoon
like butterflies.
Path into the Heart of Things we can go,
up on human wings that will soon unfold,
Our power balanced
with the sweet fragrance of remembrance.

The thriving fabric of existence,
is in our persistence
to remember that our bodies are bridge between the worlds
The one that cradles us,
and the spirit filled dream world that leads us to worlds untold.

Humanity, we take up our role in the Heart's Hearth,
and come into belonging.
We are the saviours of ourselves from our long history of our grief and longing
to be together, in community,
because the vibrant village heart is one of immunity.

Hear children of Earth and beat the drum for our ecological way,
so that those still sleeping
will stir awake.

photo: Mark Henson "La Semillera"

Climate of Shift

i have been discovering old poems, here is one i wrote in 2007.

from space they say you can see her face
the face all scarred and oozing
black of blood born from the backs of
dinosaurs and carboniferous forests
so ancient you wouldn't know
when we drove to work this morning
we were burning 1 million years of history
vaporized into the atmosphere
some scientists say it will be misery
if the temperature rises just 4 degrees
ice caps melting and raising seas
some call it global warming, see
I call it intense climate unpredictability
complexity with non-linear affects
so that we haven't quite grasped the consequences yet,
and the irony is that while we battle to grapple
if its happening or not
our chance to respond is a whole lot
less, because lack of action
puts immense pressure on our chests
and implies that to wrestle
this beast down to the ground
means we'd have to turn our whole ship around
from the edge of some sort of "can't go back zone"
where there is no replay or harmonizing tone
so if oil is one way we power our destruction
climate is the monkey on the back that fuels our
of a different model
funnel the oil money into better ways to save tomorrow

photo: New Pioneers by Mark Henson



I ache for what my spirit is becoming. 
As if I could know,
if a bird aches to hatch,
as if it knows
what it means to fly.


Perú en Tres Partes - 1st short stories in Spanish

Las Ventanas y Elefantes de Perú

Pongamos las cosas en orden. Es una historia sin inicio claro, pero necesito empezar en algún lugar. Los pasos son como piedras de paso, pero solo en retrospectiva tienen sentido. Puedo empezarlo hace 7 años, o hace un mes. Da igual. 

Hoy pensaríamos en nosotros hace 1.5 años, en el desierto de España cuando hacía sol cada día. Estaba allá por unos sueños. Los que me hicieron sudar: de calor, de posibilidad y  de miedo. La cara de un lobo, la cara de una mujer cubierta de granos. Los jardines y trabajadores por un mundo mejor.

-¿¡Sabes cómo callarte y escuchar?!-

El bueno da camino a los cambios. Temblé de depresión. Sabía que había una razón para estar en España, especialmente después de los sueños. De seguro la quería más que todo, pero en los momentos sin finales de mi depresión muy grave: nada tenía sentido. No podía ver el futuro, pero tenía la sensación de estar creándolo.

-¿Cómo se puede crear que no se puede ver? ¡Qué paradoja!- me pregunté.

No podía levantarme de la cama. Cada día un elefante se había sentado en mí pecho. Deseaba ver “por qué”, pero no podía aguantar.

-Ayúdenme – pensé, a nadie y todas. De la desesperación sufría, creándolo en un círculo. -¿Qué pasará?- pregunté al mundo –no tengo ninguna dirección-.

-Ven a Perú, dama bonita- me respondió una voz de una amiga –Constrúyanos un buen bosque comestible-.  Ella rió de la simplicidad, pero no estaba segura.

-¿Cómo?- me lamenté, si fuera una rota tocadiscos. -¿A dónde fue mi autoestima?- y me di cuenta: fuera de la ventana.

Vino el próximo sueño: tres abejas y una frase –presta atención, Cassandra. Esto tiene un significado tan importante-. El sueño desapareció, y en su lugar dejó la esperanza.

-¿Puede ser que estoy aquí para ir allá? ¿A Perú?- pero sabía que el tiempo solo puede tener sentido en el tiempo. No pude saber seguramente. Miré por la ventana.

Practiqué el español si estuviera practicando por un concierto. A veces con ruido, con la gente corriendo a las colinas. A veces más suavemente, y la lengua y los hispanohablantes venían para escuchar. El me enseñó un montón. Mientras el elefante me separó en la cruz de mi elección. La dirección era más clara. Vi en sueño un camino en frente y los diferentes verdes de la jungla. Pero todavía con hambre de la sangre de mi mente, no sabía se nada podría prepararme para ir excepto las ganas.  Y las ganas me levantaron en el momento en que el elefante salió.

Los mapas se estiraron en frente de mí con el camino. El hocico del jaguar me besó con la explosión de la jungla. En sueño volé como el pájaro. Y sin fuego, sin celebración, soñé todos los colores del camino en frente: la escuela natural, el árbol de cacao y Juan, quién me dijo –he vivido muchas vidas.-

Las noches de sueño y la dirección del día se mezclaban juntos en un arco iris que vi encima de Puerto Maldonado. Por fin, todo tenía sentido en el momento en el asiento trasero de la moto, cuando los diferentes verdes pasaban y se convirtieron en la jungla y en sus oportunidades. Las que puede ver solo en retrospectiva, después de una vida hecha por paseos hecha de pasos sobre piedras y llevando un elefante. 

Pero no hay elefantes aquí en las junglas de Perú, ni ventanas tampoco.  

San Pedro

Las nubes prometían lluvia cuando cruzábamos la plaza de armas. Un Husky saltó a un lado de la fuente y Fernando me preguntó si conocía a Mischa.

-Nunca- le dije.

Fernando empezó a explicar su relación con el Husky, que desapareció a la jungla solo hace 4 semanas. Empecé de cruzar la calle, pero él quedó, como si estuviera en sus propios pensamientos. Todavía recordaba el día que recibió la llamada.

–Estaba en el cemetario con un estudiante- me dijo, cas riendo –qué sitio, ¿no?- podía ver sus emociones mientras caminábamos hacía el mercado.

-¿Lloraste?- le pregunté. –Sí- me dijo y me mostró su tatuaje del otro Husky Sasha, al que tuvo antes de Misha.

Sascha y Mischa eran como niños para Fernando. Claramente me parecía un poco triste todavía, pero quizás por vergüenza, su atención haya cambiado hacia el mercado. –Mira, este mercado fue…- pero lo paré.

-Gracias por compartir- le dijo, mis manos en su pecho. No sé si fuera así, pero me pareció que lo necesitaba y continuó con más de la historia. Empezó de llover, así que cuando llegamos estábamos listos para entrar.

Vi los colores de las tejidas colgados en la entrada. Noté las piedras del suelo y Fernando me dijo que el mercado tenía casi cien años. Eran suaves y muy gastados. ¿Pueden ser piedras de las construcciones antiguas de las incas?

Paramos para nombrar las frutas y no vi ninguna nueva, pero tuvimos una mini lección de los tipos diferentes de plátanos. Mientras me contaba de su familia me preguntaba sobre las familias y niños que crecen toda la vida en el mercado. Cuantos niños hay de los trabajadores del mercado de San Pedro. Me habló de las tradiciones de los trabajadores allá y notó que muchas eran mujeres. –Como mí mami- sonrió Fernando.

Pude oler las carnes y vi a la gente vendiendo la leche fresca, reciamente hervida esa mañana. Toqué el material de una manta. – ¡Qué colores!- pensé. Le señalé un cactus de San Pedro, y hablamos de los orígenes de las cosas en el mercado. Cuando nos acercamos a la entras, supe que Fernando tenía que irse.

Me sentí agradecida con Fernando por mostrarme el mercado y le di las gracias a él por la tarde juntos. Cuando nos separamos, el cielo se había puesto más oscuro. La noche llegaba. Subí los 545 peldaños a mi casa, paso a paso con paciencia. La que necesito para aprender español en la manera que espero.

Al final empezó la lluvia con fuerza.


Lo blanco. Lo negro.

A menos que quieras conocer a un espíritu, no te vayas para un cemetario en Latina América, donde los vivos y los muertos existen al mismo tiempo.

El grupo de siete músicos marchaban al redor de las tumbas de los difuntos. Dos hijos jugaban entre los pisos de sus ancestros. Era la segunda vez que estaba en un cemetario aquel día. El cemetario de San Jeronimo tenía flores en cada dirección. Hacia arriba, vi las lapidas con flores cortadas y de plástico. Y por todos lados las flores de las tumbas del pobre en el suelo crecían como si fueran cultivados por amor. Pero las flores en todos los rincones sugerían que fueran por destino. Quizás los espíritus sean un conjunto con los vivos, por qué solo las fuerzas de la naturaleza con la mano de los vivos pueden esculpir algo tan bonito.

En el cemetario de Almudena, vimos un hombre. El cortaba una caja de seguridad para que pudiera entrar. Se agachaba encima de la caja, limándola imperturbablemente. En la cripta más antigua había velas negras derretidas en el concreto. Después reflexionábamos sobre la magia negra y Fernando me dijo que pensaba que el hombre que vimos no era un hombre. Con un sentimiento distinto de escalofríos, no sabía que debía pensar. Pero si tuviera otra oportunidad miraría al hombre con el gorro raro por más tiempo.

Ni que en contrario a las velas y el hombro que quería entrar, el papi de Juan nos dijo de una mariposa blanca que vivía en la tumba incorrecta de su madre, Matilde Flores. La mariposa blanca quería salir. Y si puedes creer en la magia entre los muertos y vivos, es posible imaginarte una mariposa volando por voluntad para separarse desde los huesos de Matilde Flores hacia la tumba de su hermano. Es que no le enterraron ella como ella pidió, al lado de su hermano. Pero después de la mariposa blanca, nadie podía creer en ninguna otra posibilidad: había un milagro. ¡Mudar los huesos! ¡Celebrar los difuntos!

Para distinguir las diferencias entre los muertos y los vivos, no te vayas a los cemetarios de Latina América. Lo blanco de los deseos de ellos es que quieren descansar, y lo negro es que no pueden. Son notas de la misma canción, donde los niños y los ancestros bailan juntos al compaz de la banda.


Ecoforestry Insights & Stewardship in the Jungle

The tree house of Canto Luz, in Madre de Dios, Peru.
photo: Maria Garnet

For two years now, I have been wondering what role humans can have in positively affecting ecosystems. I am trying to put all the pieces of my passion and training in ecology, sustainability & permaculture into work experiences and living opportunities.

Last year, I was invited to help design and initiate the eco-forestry based food-fibre-fuel and medicine forest for a 600 hectare project in the Amazon of Peru - this blog will be an online space to share the experiences  learning, living and working in these places I am becoming part of around South America. These are aspects of projects who are working towards a sustainable vision for humans in tropical jungles -
In my separate jungle blog, I will share my experiences about the challenges, successes and dreams of people in the projects I am working with during the next 6 months and beyond. I am sure during writing that I will be coloured with a foreigner's perspective, being that I am in a very new landscape and culture - I hope this is amusing and useful for you - but I also hope to bring in other perspectives, too.

As always, I will be sharing poems when they come to me, pictures where I can load them, and offering some inspired essays and reports on the possibilities of strategic social and ecological sustainability, rooted in community based efforts for ecosystem stewardship and the creation of thriving well-being.

For this 6-month journey, I am packing a small typing instrument, so I can easily record updates about ideas, poems and projects that I am working with. I will be living primarily in places "off-the-grid", and being removed from both electricity and internet I will make postings - sometimes pulsed out on masse - when I am in towns.
Please stay posted with me.  

You can see all the updates here: http://earthfullcircle.blogspot.ca


Resilience Restoration: a Paradigm for humanity


A leaked document tells us about illegal gas operations in Manú Park, Perú. The news tells us about a percentage of the world birds, butterflies and mammals who live there, and different Peoples too. UNESCO says that Manú is a protected area that has biodiversity that "exceeds that of any other place on Earth" : around 10% of the world's bird species (that means 1000 species), 5% of all mammals (around 250), and 15% of all butterflies (that's around 2625).
But what does that mean...
...to you?

Tell me of something near to you that's threatened.
To me, I get an overwhelming sense from having lived in different parts of the world that everywhere has something special that is threatened. I have seen and heard of ecosystems, watersheds, rivers, mountains, cultures, languages, community buildings, species, individuals, and it goes on and on. What seems to me as common is that the cause is so often, but so easily, summed up as “humanity: the evil, the virus”.

I tell you about an experience that seems so familiar to me, does it also feel familiar to you?: You read/see/hear/experience something awful, feel outrage, and then go to some degree that is between full-on action (“save the world” … “stop X,Y,Z” ... “fix the problems!”... “Do less bad”) or apathy (“well, we're screwed anyway”... “it's impossible”... “please tell me something good, instead”). It's that perspective which either tries to stave off destruction for one more hour, day or year, or at least try not to feel/notice anything while it happens.
But this only one way to react.

Paradigm is the word used for how a community sees themselves in the world. A change in paradigm is ultimately that which affects what is thought, and done. It's a pattern held collectively, and then, from it acted individually.

What is it that Humans do, as individuals and as a species? Biologists call this activity a “niche”, economists call it a “product” or “service”. Perhaps a Westerner perspective would call it “career”. For others it might be called “living life”. I want to call it ecological role.

Some say another paradigm is possible, and I am trying to find the words to express it here because I live with some big questions in my heart, and I live them everyday. When I see or read something that makes me feel so sad or angry, especially articles like this, in my heart I need to feel that there is a fundamentally different way for humans to live/be/and operate here on earth. So I look for it.

Are humans born predisposed to cause pain or destruction, or at least remain ignorant and seemingly powerless? Who knows, but this is the story we often tell ourselves and it's part of a current paradigm, and the perception of ourselves. But there is a different paradigm, too. At the moment it's seems a sometimes quiet one... but you'll hear it here and there. This is the paradigm of rule changing, system shifting, of doing not only “less bad”, but as living as a steward. It's a paradigm of moving just beyond sustainability, and toward resilience and restoration.

Could this be humanity's ecological role here on earth? And if we were to live that way, how would it look? How would it be in your life? 

(picture from frans lanting: http://franslanting.photoshelter.com/image/I0000L2wqc4XKO6Q)