Blog post #2 – 5-21-12: New Life Begins

I’m in the program known as “New Life”. It’s a program that was started almost 2 years ago, so it’s relatively new. It’s designed as a three-month structured learning experience for those interested in understanding more about this interesting Eco-village Community in Northern Italy. See my  Living by Design posts #7 and #8 about Damanhur in order to know more about its history and how it functions.

My first several days as a “newbie” New Life participant were spent at a temporary housing residence, called Aria, which is staffed by three women who are considered “Monks” in the spiritual community of Damanhur. They spoke only Italian, so it was a good introduction for having to use my survival Italian in a setting that was not so demanding because it was only temporary. In fact, the difficulties in communication proved to be an interesting learning experience for me right from the get-go – no doubt because of my usual jump-right-in way. I saw there was a rather poor garden there, with some scraggly chard and lettuce. There was a spade sticking in the ground next to some already turned fresh soil, indicating someone had been trying to dig up the jungle of quack grass in order to make some more garden beds on the far side from where the existing vegetables were planted.

So I asked Geppio (a rather gruff woman who seemed to be in charge) if it was all right for me to do a garden there, to which she shrugged her shoulders and indicated it was fine by her. The quack grass was too thick to try a cardboard sheet-mulching permaculture approach, so I got to work with spade and hand removing of the aggressive quack grass. As I worked, I decided I wanted to make a more interesting garden, so I invited another New Life person – Sarit from Israel, who said she liked to draw, to help with the design. I gave her a quickie version of how to design permaculture gardens, and after she protested she couldn’t do anything, she came up with a beautiful figure-eight, infinity pattern. I laid out the entire pattern in the garden space (about 25′ X 50′), with sticks, and brought Geppio to see what she thought of it. She again shrugged and said ok, so I went ahead and started seriously digging.

When the New Life participants – 12 of us at this point in time, met together, I introduced myself and invited others to come and help out as a “gift” of a garden to the place all New Lifers started. Two years before, some New Life participants had asked to spend their time fixing up the Aria house, and that’s how it came to be used as the first residence for all New Life members. So it seemed fitting that we could all put in a nice permaculture garden in our spare time as a gift to future New Lifers.

Some of my new colleagues did come and help on the first time slot that we had open in our schedule. I realized that our schedule is quite busy with all of the learning experiences that are set up for us. We have one day per week of “compos” (community services) at the Sacred Woods (an agroforestry native restoration project in the grounds overlying the underground temples). Another day per week is for ‘compos” at the main farm nucleo out on the productive flatland part of the valley, Prima Stalla. One day per week is for Italian lessons. Different teachers in the morning and afternoon. Then there are a variety of classes, group meetings, and community events in our schedule. Once we are placed in our nucleos from Aria, we also have “torno” – our nucleo service times. Suffice it to say, there was little available time for people to flock to help me with my self-assigned garden project. This has become a familiar theme here – everyone is so busy doing their own thing, that there is no time or interest in fitting in someone else’s newest, greatest idea. In the meantime, I was pleased to see that Geppio had demonstrated her support for my efforts by going out and buying flats of veggie starts (lettuce, eggplant, celery, basil, peppers, etc.) and bags of compost and organically enriched potting soil. I seemed to be winning her over.

The next night I went to an “ecstatic dance” a free-form dance with sequenced, diverse music hosted by a recent citizen who came from California, Quaglia (“Quail”). My friend Ann Marie introduced me to Simon, a New Lifer from a year ago who had put in the original garden at Aria. After the dance I invited Simon to come see the progress I was so proud of, and to have a glass of the Italian wine which I was discovering (inexpensive and good). Simon knew Geppio well, and the two of them came out to the garden in the remaining light of the evening and talked. Simon translated for me, and I discovered that Geppio wasn’t at all happy with the way the garden was looking. The way I had been digging out the paths, the beds were much too high for her to reach. She was also concerned that I wanted to extend the same infinity pattern into the previously planted garden, and was planning on transplanting the plants to make room for the complete design. She didn’t think they would survive. I had thought the plants were from the previous years, and had overwintered. But apparently most people don’t plant winter gardens here. I’m still not clear whether or not they would work, since I don’t believe it’s any colder here than where I live and plant winter gardens that thrive. Those veggies had been planted earlier in the spring, and I couldn’t imagine that if we planted veggies at that time in our climate that they would have gotten so mature. So obviously the climate is not what I’m used to, although I have tried to understand it by reading the annual climactic conditions. When I asked Simon to translate to find out what Geppio did want, she said she’d like a “spirale”. A spiral is a common pattern that I had seen throughout my visits already in different parts of Damanhur. They were made of stones in the fields or woods, and were used for walking meditations, and to “contain energies” that were set up to have influence on those who walked through the stone-lined paths. There were spirals for optimism, and spiral for health, etc. Finally, Geppio was very concerned that I might start a spiral garden and not finish it, and she’d be stuck with a mess. I thanked Simon for clearing up the situation, and he left without having time for the glass of wine. I trudged to bed, realizing that I had one day – Sunday available for doing the garden, since my schedule for the week was already full, except for a half day on Wednesday, and I might already be in my new nucleo by then.

I knew none of the other New Lifers would be available to help when I awoke on Sunday, since that is a work-at-home day for the nucleos. The other two women staying at Aria were taking their Temple tour (I had done my tours with my wife Judy and our friends Ann Marie and Rev already before going to Aria). So I went out into the mounds we had already dug, with my morning tea and did some serious thinking. I had to come up with a spiral design that I could do by myself in one day. It couldn’t be done in the same way that I had begun digging the deep paths and high mounds, or it would take me a week.

I worked harder that day than I have in years. I came up with an elegant spiral, used the rocks and stones on the site to make the inside coils into an herb spiral, and maximized the digging that was already done. It was an overcast drizzly day, which was perfect for the task before me. A hot day like we had been having before, would have caused me to die of heatstroke, no doubt. By late afternoon I was ready to plant the starts that Geppio had bought, using the bags of soil with each plant, and covering the entire garden with the bagged mulch to prevent the poor soil from drying out. Every time I walked into the garden to work, I was walking my labyrinth, feeling the energy of that spiral I had been creating. I realized it was my own task of digging the temples that the first Damanhurians had done for their first 15 years of existence. I felt energized and alive throughout the day, and it was pure joy to take off my gloves and plant those healthy vegetable starts in the new spiral beds. My meditation for the task was about how I had gotten myself in trouble with my usual “too-much-Chuckness”, but due to synchrony and just plain lucky Chuckie-ness, I came through the whole experience unscathed. But, I’d like to think – not unchanged.

When I was waiting the next morning for my interview for the local daily Damanhur newspaper, which was expected of New Lifers so their future nucleo hosts would know something about them, I was looking at my pictures of the spiral garden. The interviewer asked me what that was, and when I told her, asked if I would send her a picture. So I began my New Life experience with my picture and a picture of my giardino spirale.

My first week of New Life at Damanhur was also woven through with many instances of synchronicity. Whenever I was rushing to get to an event on time, I would realize I just had to relax, and invariably when I did so, someone would drive up and give me a ride to get me to my destination right on time. The more relaxed I was about things, the more things seemed to work out for me. I would meet just the right person to talk with about what I was thinking about at a particular time. I would wake up most nights early in the morning and lie in bed quietly so as not to wake Judy, and the thoughts would flow through my head that were giving me greater understandings of my place in this new world of Damanhur. Despite the lack of sleep, I felt energized continually, just as my friends had told me they felt when they were here last year. I waited patiently to hear where and when my nucleo placement would occur.

spiral garden

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