Walking As One

Walking is a time-honored way to meditate, ruminate, and otherwise seek clarity. Walking a labyrinth gives each footstep even more meaning. And walking in community brings added sweetness to the experience.

On World Labyrinth Day, May 7, people all over the world gathered to “walk as one at 1” in the afternoon. The idea behind this annual event, according to the Labyrinth Society, is to “create a wave of peaceful energy washing across the time zones.”

The Rivoli Park Labyrinth hosted a potluck and group walk, representing the local community on a day when some 200 public events took place across the globe. An intermittent drizzle didn’t keep us from sharing soup and salad while we made new connections and renewed old acquaintanceships. At 1 it was time to drift into the circle of the labyrinth as we each felt ready.

20160507_131234 (1024x576)

Walking the labyrinth as one

I had never participated in a communal labyrinth walk before, and I found it quite lovely to share the labyrinth with others. Each in our own space and yet connected, some chatting, some silent. Sometimes meeting on the path and clasping a hand as we passed each other with a smile. At one point I found myself walking next to an acquaintance who gave off motherly vibes, and I impulsively decided to take her hand until our paths diverged.

When I enter the sacred space of a labyrinth, I like to set an intention or ask a question. My intention for this particular labyrinth walk: To take nourishment from all quarters. I was feeling depleted after a busy week and several short nights. The meal we shared was one source of sustenance, and I wanted to see if I could also be nourished by the air, the rain, the soil, the plants, and the beings around me, both human and nonhuman—and the movement of walking itself.

20160507_132217 (1024x576)

The boulder in the center is a perfect resting spot.

Afterwards, I did feel restored.

What makes this labyrinth unique is the fact that it is a pocket park situated on a vacant lot in the heart of the city, a public space developed and managed by volunteers. Lisa Boyles, Rivoli Park’s founder, strives to bring people together through art, so the park has numerous community-made art pieces displayed. (Note the paintings on the fence in the photo above.)

20160507_125954 (1024x576)

Walkers can record their thoughts in a log book at the start/end point of the labyrinth. Lisa sees the logbook as a way to encourage reflection and sharing, and to build community among solitary walkers as well.

In fact, creative expression is built into the design of the labyrinth itself.

20160507_123049 (1024x576)

The “pole of possibility”

According to Lisa, the pole at the entrance to the labyrinth marks one of three “focus points” in the labyrinth. Volunteers from 2015’s Indy Do Day (citywide service day) decorated the bricks. “The poles at the three focus points,” she says, “were handmade expressly for the purpose they are serving now as delineators of the focus points. This tall one at the entrance of the labyrinth I like to call the ‘pole of possibility.’”

In keeping with the art theme, Lisa invited the “Seeds of Common Sound” music bus to take part. On board the bus, we could add to communal art pieces, play instruments, and get inspired.

20160507_140652 (1024x576)

Communal art on board the music bus

Care for creatures is another role of this labyrinth, as it was just designated a certified wildlife habitat. Here is our little group with the plaque.

20160507_125639 (1024x576)

I plan to visit Rivoli Park often over the growing season to watch the plant, animal, and insect life flourish there. And to seek nourishment for my soul in this place of quiet reflection.

Living Proof

Yesterday at Rivoli Park Labyrinth, I met up with a riotous party of plants, insects, and birds.

The park, which formed on a vacant lot thanks to community organizer Lisa Boyles, has gotten overgrown this rainy summer—but it is also a haven for life.

"Queen Anne’s Lace provides beneficial nectar to insects during this dry part of the summer when they don’t have many options. Caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly eat the leaves, bees and other insects drink the nectar, and predatory insects, such as the Green Lacewing, come to Queen Anne’s Lace to attack prey, such as aphids" according to Chiot's Run. (Click photo for more.)

“Queen Anne’s Lace provides beneficial nectar to insects… Caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly eat the leaves… and predatory insects come to Queen Anne’s Lace to attack prey,” according to Chiot’s Run. (Click photo for more.)

Some plants we call weeds and others we call ornamentals. Some we consider natives, wildflowers, edibles, or another elevated status. Some we designate as invasive, others as desirable.

What I realized yesterday: These divisions are more important to humans than the rest of nature, which seeks its own balance.

The plants called “weeds” are the ones we pull out. Still, the grasshoppers, bees, and spiders find food and shelter on plants of all stripes. They are the epitome of nonjudgment, our guides in an insectile anti-labeling initiative.

Friendly pollinator

Friendly pollinator

So often I am quick to judge something good or bad.

Just now I went to strike that sentence, gauging it too trite! As testament to my new commitment to allowing things to be messy and imperfect, I am leaving it there.

Lisa and I talked about this very thing: In my writing, I declared my intent to finish my book while letting go of the need for it to be “perfect, balanced, and comprehensive.” Lisa swept her arm toward the “weedy” labyrinth and said, “Here’s living proof that a project doesn’t have to be perfect—just look at it!”

What I saw: voluptuous plants abuzz with happy pollinators. Abundant living entities in ongoing conversation, all encircling the glorious hibiscus at the center. The idea of perfection doesn’t really apply when we’re partnering with life, does it? So it can be with writing.

I told Lisa that the labyrinth didn’t have to reach some ideal in order to be a marvelous contribution to the community. Uh, hello. Maybe I should write that down and stick it on my computer monitor.

Repeat after me: We don’t have to reach some ideal in order to be a marvelous contribution!

The Ground Rules

Meet “renegade researcher” Nance Klehm. She’s on a mission to transform our thinking about waste—and to transform our waste into healthy soil.

Reader_Nance_Klehm_3174

Nance Klehm

I first met Nance at last October’s Radical Mycology Convergence, which she hosted on her rural land in Illinois. She divides her time between rural and urban—growing native trees, plants, and mushrooms on her land, and nurturing innovative community projects in Chicago.

As a fifth generation horticulturist, she has a passion for working in partnership with nature and enjoying the abundance that results. She has worked on graywater systems, humanure, and soil fertility for years, both in the U.S. and abroad. She was even invited to Haiti to assist with composting toilets after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

She works on composting policy at the state and local level, and teaches “Composting 401” to people who really want to get down and dirty.

“When people say, ‘what’s possible?’ I’ve done it,” she told me. “I have photographs and data and anecdotal experience from living in Chicago for 25 years.” She envisions a widespread scale-up of composting efforts that would shift how cities handle sanitation.

Nancy removing husks from walnuts grown in her food forest.

Nance removing husks from walnuts grown in her food forest.

Recently she was the featured guest on the Root Simple Podcast, talking about her work with community bioremediation in Chicago.

The project, called The Ground Rules, has multiple community-run soil centers working on bioremediation. Urban soils are often contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. Klehm and her volunteers are addressing this problem by diverting waste into compost.

By bicycle and truck, they pick up discards from restaurants and businesses: uneaten food, vegetable trimmings, and paper towels, for example. Nearby soil centers are where they convert this “slop” into a high-powered soil amendment.

"It's crazy fun to work with food slop," says Nancy.

“It’s crazy fun to work with food slop,” Nance says.

The waste is kept local, put to work in service of the longterm goal of remediating the soil. Bacteria in the compost help to break down inorganic chemicals. The teams also use plants and fungi to help with this goal. So, four biological kingdoms—animal, bacterial, fungal, and plant—partner in this vision.

Here’s a great video about the project:

The Ground Rules from nance klehm on Vimeo.

Nance has a book due out this fall, based on her conversations with others invested in the life of the soil. (Note: It isn’t only farmers who care about the ground under our feet!)

Currently she’s writing a manual for others interested in community bioremediation. She blends practical, technical information with anecdotes from the soil centers, because they are all different. Each site has its own issues and challenges. Nance says the social component of this work is the trickiest part, so it’s important to address that along with the how-to aspect.

She’s running a crowdfunding campaign to support this important work. Any small amount helps.

And of course, if you’re in Chicago, consider volunteering. If you want to hang with fun and funky folks while learning a whole bucketload about advanced composting, she would welcome you, I’m sure!

Update: For more on The Ground Rules project, check out my Acres USA profile of Nance Klehm.

Seven Steeples Farm

Last month I got to meet Justin Berg and Mike Higbee, who are doing something I admire: turning unused urban land into an agricultural oasis. As with many such endeavors, they glean local materials to build soil—leaves from curbside refuse, manure from the police department’s Mounted Patrol stables.

What’s unique about this urban farm, though, is that it’s being built atop the pulverized remains of an old mental institution.

Seven Steeples Farm

Seven Steeples Farm

To anyone growing up in Indy, as I did, “Central State” was synonymous with the loonybin. We all knew that it was an insane asylum, back in the day, and as late as 1994 it was still operating as a psychiatric facility.

The enormous campus fell into disuse after Central State Hospital closed, but recently the site has been redeveloped into Central Greens urban village. Part of the project includes Seven Steeples Farm, so-called because the 5-acre parcel being farmed is on the footprint of a building called Seven Steeples, where women were institutionalized.

The building was demolished midcentury, and apparently is now buried under the vast lawn area where Justin and Mike have begun growing produce for the past year. Sheltering old trees that must have borne witness to all kinds of pain still stand, shading the chicken run and outdoor classroom area.

I have to say, this thing has lit my imagination in surprising ways. I’ve read The Yellow Wallpaper and other stories of “madwomen in the attic.” How easy it was to cart women away for any infraction back when this asylum was established (1850s.) I can think of several reasons why I myself, in an earlier era, could have gotten myself tossed in there.

And what sort of “treatment” did the women undergo, inside the walls of Seven Steeples?

It feels to me like a major healing of an old wound to have an urban farm there. Community volunteers (and patrons) enjoy a peaceful setting smack in the middle of a somewhat sketchy part of town. The food is accessibly priced so that people living in the middle of a food desert can have a decent choice of nourishment.

Justin Berg, farm manager, and Mike Higbee, project coordinator, with lady friend

Justin Berg, farm manager, and Mike Higbee, project coordinator, with lady friend

Visitors love to sit on the stumps next to the chicken run and just get on “chicken time.”

The farm has announced 2015 CSA (community supported agriculture) plans, and will also have a weekly farm stand to sell eggs and produce. (More info: info@sevensteeplesfarm.com or 317-713-9263.)

Justin says, “Call to set up a tour, and everyone’s more than welcome to come by the farm stand if they’re in the area. They can grab up some produce and come check out what a rural setting could look like in the city.”

See my Farm Indiana piece for more on this project.

Many Hands

Lisa Boyles, who turned a vacant lot into a beautiful meditation space and labyrinth, is coordinating a new project in her neighborhood. Her energy and drive are truly inspiring. In fact, when I read that she spent part of her birthday volunteering, it moved me to spend part of my birthday helping with her latest project. Check out what she’s up to in today’s guest post.

Guest post by Lisa Boyles

Imagine people of all ages working together to improve their neighborhood. Think of a city unified through installations of art painted by community members. By designing a series of geometric projects, Andrew Severns has a vision for public art in the city of Indianapolis that can accomplish these things.

Artist Andrew Severns outlines the design for the mural at E 10th and N Sherman Dr.

Artist Andrew Severns outlines the design for the mural at E 10th and N Sherman Dr.

He says that the geometric uniformity among murals and other pieces of art will ensure its strength and timelessness while giving a well-defined look to the city at large. And through the outlines of shapes that Severns provides, those who help paint have a guide for creating a beautiful piece of art.

The project at the corner of East 10th  Street and North Sherman Drive is part of a larger series along the railroad underpasses in the Rivoli Park Neighborhood. The areas where these projects are planned need care and attention. By creating art that is participatory, people in the community can feel a sense of ownership of these previously neglected corridors.

# 3 Many hands came together to beautify this street corner, all coordinated by Lisa Boyles (foreground).

Many hands came together to beautify this street corner, all coordinated by Lisa Boyles (foreground).

The geometric style that Andrew uses reminds me of the colored pieces in a kaleidoscope. These shapes interconnect to make a pattern representative of the many different people in our neighborhood living together. It has been terrific to see so many people coming together to paint the mural at this busy intersection—and to hear the honks of approval and positive comments of people driving by.

The community's handprints are all over this site!

The community’s handprints are all over this site!

Students, teachers and parents from the Paramount School of Excellence participated in this mural project. The students seem especially excited to be a part of something positive that will have a lasting impact in their neighborhood.

Students from Paramount School of Excellence helped paint this mural.

Students from Paramount School of Excellence helped paint this mural.

Everyone who has donated or volunteered will have his or her name (or a dedication) alongside the edge of a section of the mural. When people think of their dedication, they are encouraged to also think of a meditation or intention to be a part of creating a better community. We will all share our thoughts about the project at a celebration party at the culmination of the first phase of the project on November 22nd.

#2 Community members of all ages have come together to paint the shapes in the mural.

Community members of all ages have come together to paint the shapes in the mural.

The online fundraiser for the Rivoli Park Mural Project continues through Friday, November 7th.  An investment in this project is an investment in community.  Check out the incentives and details here.

Putting the “Radical” in Mycology

Soon I’ll be on my way to this weekend’s Radical Mycology Convergence, an annual gathering of citizen scientists, mushroom enthusiasts, and other earth-loving types. It’s all about learning how to heal the earth by partnering with fungi.

Radical Mycology Collective founder Peter McCoy’s guest post explained how mushrooms become our allies, teachers, and partners.

“The Radical Mycology project revolves around just this philosophy: that by studying, working with, and learning from the fungal kingdom, humans can best find solutions to problems of personal, societal, and ecological health.”

—Peter McCoy

I mentioned before that I had a chance to help Peter and other radical mycologists with an installation of bioluminescent mushroom mycelium this summer in Olympia, WA. Here’s a bit more about that experience to whet your appetite for the convergence.

We used both “plug spawn” and “chip spawn” of a mushroom called panellus stipticus.

Peter holds a jar of "plug spawn"--bits of furniture dowel that he inoculated with mycelium.

Peter holds a jar of “plug spawn”–bits of furniture dowel that he inoculated with mycelium.

Panellus is not known for remediative properties, but for its ability to—seriously—glow in the dark.

I saw this bioluminescence for myself when I took a section of inoculated burlap home. Tiny mushrooms had emerged on the outside of the “chip spawn” bag, and they did indeed glow in the dark. One of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Checking out the "fruiting bodies" (tiny mushrooms) on the outside of the burlap bag full of inoculated wood chips.

Checking out the “fruiting bodies” (tiny mushrooms) on the outside of the burlap bag full of inoculated wood chips.

We used inoculated wood chips to make a path around an herb garden.

Lining the path with burlap

Lining the path with burlap

The hope is that on dark nights, visitors to the Commons at Fertile Ground will see a faintly glowing path. (And check the size of that rosemary plant in the photo above. That’s the Pacific Northwest for you.)

Spreading inoculated wood chips

Spreading inoculated wood chips

The dowel bits went into a freshly cut red alder log. Eventually the log itself should glow, or it may even pop out with little glowing mushrooms.

Drilling holes (at right) to be filled with plug spawn (left)

Drilling holes (at right) to be filled with plug spawn (left)

Peter emphasized that the same techniques could be used in a mycoremediation project, or to grow mushrooms as food or medicine.

Radical mycologists!

Radical mycologists (with finished alder log)

I’m so looking forward to learning more this weekend—it promises to be a deep immersion in all things mycological. A sampling of workshops:

  • Liquid Culture will Change the World
  • Direct Action for Myco-Activists
  • Permaculture for Radicals

The leaders will be guiding us through several onsite remediation projects. Other attractions: a Passion Show, culture/spore swap, and “forays.” Wahoo!

So to get in the spirit, for the first time ever I tried a mushroom called chicken of the woods. Its beautiful orange folds just called to me from the food co-op bin.

By Kbh3rd (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

By Kbh3rd (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been sauteeing bits of it up with my eggs every day for lunch. I’m finding it a pretty complement to bright orange egg yolks, and it does taste like chicken. So here’s to trying new things.

Note: Registration is still open for the Radical Mycology Convergence, happening Oct. 9-13 in Orangeville, IL.

Public Art Foundation Turns 1

Guess who turned 1 last week? Foundation East, a grassroots organization born right here in my own neighborhood. These action-oriented folks bring “artists, funders, and dreamers” together to turn eastside Indianapolis neighborhoods (such as mine!) into public art havens.

My neighbor and friend, Rita Spalding, working on one of her signal boxes last fall. Photo by  Charmaine Edwards.

My neighbor and friend, Rita Spalding, working on one of her signal boxes last fall. Photo by Charmaine Edwards.

I first blogged about their work last winter in Public Art Unites the Community. Since then more traffic signal boxes have turned into canvases—not just in Irvington but in other parts of town as well. And Foundation East won a “Best of Indy” award for best public art for the Irvington project.

Oil painter Rita Spalding, one of the signal box artists, taught a painting class at Friday night’s birthday celebration.

Oil painters-in-the-making

Oil painters-in-the-making

What a kick to see people so absorbed in their creativity. Not a mobile device in sight (except for the occasional smartphone photo). We need more evenings like this.

Sunflower under the brush

Sunflower under the brush

Rita recently started another still life. She’s painting a signal box located on a busy intersection. Someone suggested she apply a painted wrap to the box instead, for safety’s sake. Though many neighbors have expressed concern about the cars and buses whizzing by, she remains committed to painting the box itself.

That’s because she wants passersby to see an artist at work in the public sphere. In her own words:

“My fondest hope: that rubbing up against original art in one’s daily commute and/or walks will awaken a curiosity about the arts… that it might lead to a trip to the IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art); that it might cause one to slow down in front of a gallery window; that it might encourage one to dig out those paints in the garage and try something expressive and/or creative… A gentle nudge in the form of original public art might create some lovely ripples in a vast variety of lives…”

Here’s Rita (what a gem!) schooling Friday evening’s youngest participant in painting a peach.

Rita with Nathan, budding painter.

Rita with Nathan, a budding painter.

Another artist friend, Laura Hildreth, will be painting a signal box in homage to Irvington’s history. She’s the perfect person for the job, with family ties to this area going back generations.

Laura with a representation of her design for the signal box at the corner of Washington and Ritter.

Laura with a representation of her design for the signal box at the corner of Washington and Ritter, showing the original buildings along that stretch.

And just to show that we are not alone in this effort to beautify the commons, here’s a photo I snapped in Victoria, B.C. earlier this summer. This particular utility box pays tribute to the “slender woollyhead,” a plant native to Vancouver Island.

On the back was printed information about the plant.

On the back was printed information about the plant.

Watch for an upcoming guest post by Foundation East’s co-founder, Vishant Shah, about the next generation in public art projects.