New Year – Different Path: What Lies Ahead


The “Birdhouse” at Heartsong

It’s the third day of 2015 as I write this new post on my renamed WordPress blog. I’m sitting at my desk in my new home– a 400 sq. ft. “tinyhouse” called “The Birdhouse” on a beautiful, 8 1/2-acre parcel in Tumtum, WA known as Heartsong (formerly known as the Heartsong Retreat Center). For the past three years the land has been under new ownership. Three very friendly and progressive families purchased it from its former owner who had developed the facilities as a retreat center more than 20 years ago. In fact, I attended a strategic planning retreat of the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network here back in 1999. Back then, I felt a strong connection to the place and if I was accepting of metaphysical phenomena (which is a condition in me that comes and goes), I’d say that feeling was one of reverse déjà vu (I’ll be here again). And so, here I am.

The 2014 Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild's 2014 Convergence at Heartsong.

The 2014 Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild’s 2014 Convergence at Heartsong.

I’ve joined the community as live-in caretaker. It all came about as a kind of spin-off from my involvement in helping organize the Inland Northwest Permaculture Guild’s 2014 Convergence which took place here back in September. The Heartsong Families had decided they wanted a live-in caretaker and since they knew that I am pretty good at getting word out about such things to a wide audience, they asked me if I would spread the word about this job opportunity, so I said “sure.” Thinking about it for a day or two, I said to myself “maybe I should apply for this.”

So why would I, securely ensconced at my homestead at Tolstoy Farm, leave that to become a caretaker somewhere else? Primarily, the water shortage at my Tolstoy homestead, which has been a perennial issue since moving there in 1990 and despite the sinking of two wells, was only getting worse. My garden withered and died from lack of water last summer with the well taking more than a week to fill my small 1500 gallon tank. For someone like me who doesn’t just want to garden, but needs to garden (to keep sane), it just wasn’t working.

In my new role as caretaker I am happy to apply my skills in permaculture design, gardening, building, goatherding, cheese-making (once kidding season comes and goes), event coordinating, photography, group dynamics and community building… and hopefully more regularly, blogging. I am looking forward to reviving the newly enlarged garden here and growing crops with adequate water for a change. Even at the Pine Meadow farm where we had a half-acre garden, I lived with a water shortage. I am putting together, with input from the Families, a nice big seed order to augment the many seeds I brought with me and a garden plan that I’m finding really inspiring.

I am also looking forward to beginning to establish an extensive Food Forest here. The existing orchard and the fruit trees that are interspersed around the property are healthy and productive. There’s an abundance of sub-soil moisture on the land that allow trees and shrubs to grow well un-irrigated once they’re established and plans call for establishing new plantings of fruit, nuts, berries, fodder hedges and associated guilds which will be an exciting project that could take up a good portion of the up-coming decade.

Other plans for the near future include building another greenhouse, a composting outhouse, a goat shelter and goat “tractor,” an outdoor kitchen, refurbishing a small yurt on the property that’s used as guest accommodations, keeping up the existing buildings… There’s no shortage at all of ways to be creative and engaged here.

And it looks like hosting periodic events here related to permaculture and community-building, like last September’s Convergence, will be an on-going feature. In fact, word just in is that the First Spokane Herbal Fair and a two-week, residential Permaculture Design Course taught by Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski will be happening here in May and June. I had a blast at the Pine Meadow Farm Center hosting groups who were eager to learn agrarian and simple living skills and everyone remembers fondly the warm feelings of closer community we shared at the INPG Convergence last fall. I am looking forward to helping to facilitate future successful similar events here at Heartsong.

And, last but not least, in response to several folks at the 2014 Convergence expressing their desire to come out to Heartsong and volunteer their time and skills working alongside me improving and beautifying this great community resource– and getting the garden and food forests going strong– I will be having regular work parties here every Tuesday and Thursday starting March 3rd. We’ll start mornings at 9am or so. Folks will need to bring food and drink to eat and/or share, dress for work and being outdoors (we’ll not be using any indoor facilities except the bathroom building, nor will there be any overnight stays). If you’re interested, drop me an email at I’ll eventually set up an email listserve made up of folks who are taking part so folks know what work to expect to be doing and so that I can know who to expect to come on any given work day. Please no showing up without contacting me prior.

We will also be hosting, every now and again, work parties on the weekends. The first one of these will be on Sunday, March 8. These will definitely include potluck lunches. Again, please contact me at your soonest opportunity to let me know you will be coming. Drop me an email at

This is a big adventure for all of us here at Heartsong and everyone for whom this magical little power spot holds a charm. Heartsong is a private home owned by some very generous and community-minded families who recognize the value of this space as a retreat and learning center benefiting the community and the planet. Together we can create a unique and sumptuous permaculture sanctuary. Let’s get started!

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