Waterfalls in Chinatown?

With the whole world talking green, that the word ecology breaks down into the Greek roots eco and ology, or “home science” may not be news to you. But humor me as I take the moment of launching my Rainwater Harvesting Construction Guide to consider the outer potential of rainwater harvesting as part of an all-inclusive home-science strategy. Even if the scenarios explored here never happen I’ll ask you to let them stir your imagination, move you anyway. With that alone as MLK and JFK can attest, we’re already halfway free and halfway to the moon. The journey of a thousand miles begins right where we’re standing and its imagination that collects the compass, chooses the road, guides the first step and calls the muses in.

The cost of household water:

  • At least in LA, has doubled in the last 12 years with no end in sight and has skyrocketed since 2002 when claims on the Colorado River began to exceed the river’s entire flow.
  • Will likely increase as rainfall becomes more erratic with climate change and cities and their vendors trying to cover the risk.
  • And is currently kept artificially low by government subsidies that may not last as the US dollar and political system face the road ahead. Consider that residents in Guatemala City would pay $1,700 for the water people in Washington DC pay $350 for.

Water Trends: The Price of City-Supplied Water 1994-2014

So a multi-barrel system built on the ultra-cheap might buy you a few extra nights out over the long haul with more nights every year, but I’m guessing it’s not the nickels that have got you reading this far, and dimes don’t really inspire journeys to the moon.

The real question I suspect many of us would really love to answer is “What difference can DIY rainwater harvesting make,” and the answer involves a different set of numbers and the big D-word – it “depends.” That said, even dropping a $20 craigslist-score barrel under a downspout and using it to water an existing steroid-pumped lawn would mean importing a few hundred less gallons of water every year and cutting municipal infrastructure a tiny bit of slack.

But I for one love to play big too. So, hearkening back to my days working on the Los Angeles Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, I dared myself to take it all the way. I asked myself, “Could the city that inspired Chinatown meet its needs just from what falls on it from the sky?” Even if the answer comes back as a definitive no, we might learn big.

Dome over Los Angeles

That’s what we call a thought experiment, and as with any experiment, there are rules to the game:

  • For the moment we’d set aside considerations like social inertia, political drama, red-tape, building and social conventions, hours spent in traffic and busy, busy lives. To simplify the game, we’d just look at the goal as a design problem. Show hope of solving the design problem and it becomes worth looking at the much stickier, all-too-human rest of it.
  • The teeming semi-desert Megacity of Angels would have to solve the problem through distributed DIY possibilities within the existing built environment. No gutting neighborhoods or $20-billion canals.
  • We’d only look at households. Yes, agriculture uses most of the water and commercial properties use water too, but if we’re resourceful enough to become aquatically solvent in the household, we’d be one step closer to resourcefulness and solvency at work and on the farm.
  • The City of Angels would have to become water solvent without sacrificing its material standard of living. No living like Third World refugees and no spin-the-bottle to see who gets to shower.
  • For now, we’d just look at the yearly numbers. The seasonal timing of things makes a critical difference, but we’ll look at the low-res now to see if it’s worth going high-res later.
  • And for now, we’ll just look at the average rainfall year. Even if we don’t cover the nut for low rainfall years, we’ve come a very long way and can perhaps begin to think bigger than the next bottleneck.

Next in the spirit of gaming, come the variables that establish the field of play:

The thought experiment begins in the flat Mid-Wilshire 90019 zip-code with an average yearly rainfall of 15 inches and zooms in on a hypothetical 7,500 square foot lot, say 100 feet wide and 75 feet deep. There’s a house on the lot with 1,000 square feet of rooftop and a family of four living inside.


Why these numbers? Well, the LA Department of Water and Power uses zip-code, lot size and family size to determine water prices. The Shortage Year Tier 1 allotment for our imaginary friends would be 26.35 Hundred Cubic Feet (HCF, 1 HCF = 748 gallons) per two months in Low Season (May to October) and 20.4 HCF for two months in High Season (November to April). This adds up to about 105,000 gallons per year and 287 gallons per day. In 2012, the family would have paid $3.70 per HCF for their allotment and $5.92 per HCF for anything more. If they’re an average American family, they fit squarely in Tier 1, using 73,000 gallons of their 105,000 and paying $361 for the water.

Knowing what those 73,000 gallons are used for then gives us the goods on solving the design problem…. In Permaculture parlance, we say “observe” and also “the problem is the solution” and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the two ideas go hand-in-hand. Below are national averages reported by the National Academies Water Information Center (click here). The outdoor use varies by region and season, but we’ll go low-res with the yearly national averages here.

Our Water Use

Right away, rainwater harvesting wouldn’t cover the current total household use even if we could somehow catch and store everything that fell on the whole lot. With 15 inches of rain, the property only gets 70,000 gallons in an average year. We’re already 3,000 gallons shy.

A whole systems approach to the rescue then, and first goes the toilet. The toilet uses 10.9% or 7,972 gallons a year. Convert that to a composting toilet and get extra goodies like carbon-sinking black earth for the gardens, and if enough people converted, way less pressure on the decaying channelized streams-cum sewer lines like the LA River, filtration plants and the ever stressed water quality budget. Maybe enough pressure-release to de-pave the river, turn it into a park and turn the park into the backbone of a food forestry network with all the black earth we’ve got in 6 months, while ending algae plumes and itchy surfers off the Santa Monica Pier. The family’s yearly water score drops to about 65,000 gallons.

Paired with a conversion to eco-friendly household products in the shower, bath, kitchen and laundry, the next move is to run the used, grey water from faucets, shower, bath, laundry, dishwasher and the mysterious “other” through the garden. Now that water, all 18,000 gallons of it, 24.3% of the family’s total use gets used twice before leaving the property but counts only once for the new score for the year, 47,000 gallons. Outdoor use is down from 42,000 gallons to 24,000. Assuming the grey water system is well designed and doesn’t require a bank of levers to operate, there’s no loss in quality of life – and most of the worst household waste has been tamed before it hits the pipes. Any algae plumes still hanging off the coast are done for.

Then it’s down with the leaks. Nearly 6% of water lost through leaks? Some leaks are unavoidable. Pipes age, foundations move, kids happen and with all the proverbial leaks in life, busting out the plumber’s wrench for a weekend ends up low on the totem pole. But say the family goes for it and cuts the 6% to 3%. So much for 2,000 gallons lost per year. Average yearly use: 45,000 gallons.


Now with a much lower bar to hit, let’s see what sort of dent rainwater harvesting can make.

First we’ll look at two types of rainwater harvesting that we might distinguish as “hard” and “soft.” The hard variety refers to the tank, barrel or tub kind of rainwater harvesting, and we could say that the soft variety refers to that which can be theoretically started, if not always finished, with a shovel. The two varieties work best in tandem starting with a hard system that blends via an overflow or “spillway” into a soft system integrated throughout the whole property.

The imaginary property has a 1,000 square foot peaked roof. With a 220-gallon system on either side of the pitched roof and the right gutter arrangement, the whole roof can be collected from. With 15 inches a year we get the potential harvest of about 7,500 gallons with 440 gallons of rainwater able to be stored at once. In the ideal world, 15 little one-inch storms would fill the tanks during the wet season with enough time between to empty the tanks out completely every time for a steady flow. That’s unlikely of course, and that’s where integration with soft harvesting comes in.

Land contouring forms the essence of soft rainwater harvesting, and within well designed land contours, opportunities arise that we… and nature when we’re not around… can put to great use. The name of the game is to keep water on the property and keep it moving slowly, to think of the whole rainwater harvesting system, hard and soft, as a watershed, and doing so can inspire a whole host of possibilities.


It’s worth noting that standard American landscaping flows to a different drum: get water off the property as fast as possible. Hence we’ve all been trained to believe that gardening means running the sprinklers incessantly and still expecting parched soil by June, while the downspouts from the roof generally give the roof runoff a one-way concrete-lined ticket to the ocean. It may seem surprising that just flipping the landscape lens from convex to concave in key spots, that thinking in terms of bowls instead of hills can change everything until you actually see the results with your own eyes.

Since that perfect series of storms is unlikely, we’ll link the hard system’s overflow into a soft system on the property, essentially running its overflow into bowls, swales and other uses so we still get good and more gently distributed use of the 7,500 gallons the hard rainwater harvesting system nets us. Now with the hard rainwater harvesting and the grey water outputs we’re only taking 16,500 gallons from city mains for outdoor use – remember we started out demanding 42,000. Even taking the seasons into account, we’re doing well, since the grey water output isn’t going to change much month to month. Total demand from the city is now down to about 35,000 gallons, half the original 73,000.


At least in theory, the soft rainwater harvesting can take the numbers down a lot further. Bowls don’t accumulate just water. One year of leaves from deciduous trees can form mulch mats that hold water underneath and keep soil processes unfolding for months, even in the hottest weather. Add a 6 inch layer of straw and the ground’s wet all summer. Gardens flourish in the dips and perennial water sinks develop virtuous hydration cycles with increasing mulch, fungal mats, plant diversity, birds and happiness all around.  Shape the concrete driveways and patios to direct water into the bowls or replace these hardscapes with permeable inlays and we could argue for hard and soft systems keeping 80% of rainfall in productive use on the property for much of the year. That’s 56,000 gallons of water. On a relatively flat lot sculpted for soft rainwater harvesting and productive soils, we’ve got a 14,000 gallon outdoor surplus for the year.


We’re still pulling 18,000 gallons from the city main for potable indoor uses and the occasional car wash, so I’m not calling the game won just yet, and for many of us, this would be a great stopping point. Extrapolated over the whole city, the low-res joyride has cut water imports and bills by three quarters with no loss of quality of life, a good part of the difference made with hard and soft rainwater harvesting in tandem. Even if in real life we got only a third of that result, we might still win the consolation prize – whitewater rafting for everyone down the Colorado River like in days of old.

And for those of you who really want to finish the job and take the score down to zero, I say start with the Rainwater Harvesting Construction Guide, Power to the Makers! and don’t stop there. The answers are out there. Clay cisterns were such the rage in Biblical Jerusalem that they were a favorite metaphor in parables and Jeremiah even did a jail sentence in one. Here too is a pic of the adobe Earthship that shared our space at Grassroots United in Haiti. The entire roof is a rainwater harvesting system and the water harvested gets used for 3-5 purposes before leaving the surrounding grounds.

GRU Earthship

With all due respect to Chinatown, I for one will risk my hat over yonder barrel and say that at least as a pure design problem, zero’s a winnable game. Just figure it’s 1962 and I’m asking, can we get to the moon? Only this time, we’ve got the hive mind of the internet too and I’d love to hear all your bright comments for making up the difference.

Thanks again and take a peek while you’re here…



Vertecology’s Gone to the Bees!

Okay so it’s official. In between rocking out the Hanging Gardens and the rest of the goodies, Vertecology LLC has gone to the bees. Specifically, mason bees, little critters that are about 100 times as effective as honey-bees at pollination and without the sting or the susceptibility to the dread Colony Collapse Disorder. In layman’s terms this means that mason bees, 140 species of which are native to North America (there are about 300 species worldwide, mainly in the Northern Hemsiphere) are so easy to “keep” that even kids can do it and don’t need special training or clothes, and it also means that the fruit apocalypse predicted by doomsayers with the attendant collapse of the bees doesn’t have to happen.

In fact honeybee populations are in trouble, but if enough of us get mason bees augmenting them in the garden, we can still enjoy peaches, plums, apples and apricots and lots of other stuff for a million seasons to come. And when the honeybees do make a comeback, which they certainly will as queens adapt to the new ecological reality, their sharing of the turf with the native, solitary mason bees will not hurt anyone, in fact, will allow for an even more robust ecology.

The idea of offering a number of habitat designs came with a fun and lively bug in my ear by the name of Laura “Bee” Ferguson, principal of Bee Haven International, and we’re both working closely with Pacific Domes International of Ashland, Oregon. While I haven’t got the much hoped for day job with the folks at Pacific just yet we are now excited to be working together on this venture.

In anticipation of the page launch I put up a number of the habitats for sale at the first annual Autumn Ashland Maker’s Market put on by the Southern Oregon Crafters’ Collective, sold a few and got a lot of interest.

So now it’s time to let the secret out, the page is up… click here or just go to the “Mason Bee Habitat” link at the top of this site. There’s a much richer bit of info up there, and it’s going to fill in more in the coming days and weeks, as will the product and build-it-yourself options. On a business front this is exciting too, as it creates an additional layer of very affordable, participatory, permaculture-oriented Vertecology products that will move very quickly and provides the opportunity to prototype and test out business models formerly reserved only for the big installs a lot more easily. Here in fact is the current business plan & financials, if you’re so inclined, thanks to SCORE on this one.

If you’ve got a garden in the zones where mason bees thrive (check the spread on the Mason Bee Page) or know someone who does, make a purchase if you can either from the sidebar on the right side of the Mason Bee page or directly from the Etsy shop… it will support Vertecology, the ecology at large and bring you a lot more yummy fruits and veggies next spring. And do keep checking back as I’m about to get crazy on the design side of things.

Thanks again and enjoy!

Strikng a Pose at PranaFest

A few weeks ago I was out at the Ashland Food Coop doing the political campaign work I’ve been doing to make ends meet while continuing work on Vertecology’s evil plan to take over the world with edible vines and up walked Janet Marley of Bahkti Fest fame. The net result of our conversation can be seen in the photos below…

The Hanging Gardens strike a pose while yoga rages on!

Oregon’s got a set of Hanging Gardens, a lovely pair that made an appearance at the first annual and very successful PranaFest at Ashland’s Jackson Wellsprings a couple of weeks ago. While a few hundred of us did our yoga poses under the guidance of a dozen or so of some of the best yoga instructors around, these twins struck a pose on stage and got star treatment all around. Thanks again to Janet for producing this great event, festival producers are like rock stars in my world; thanks to all the rest who made it happen behind the scenes and thanks to the thousand people who came out to play.

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And stay tuned… there is method to my madness and Vertecology is going to the bees! That will make sense in a very short while, I promise!

Growing Freedom and Blooming in a Hundred Dimensions: A Harvest in the Hanging Garden

Greetings again, beautiful world! I have a confession to make, but no worries, it turns out better than I imagined in the end. For all this talk about permaculture, I must confess I’ve felt more comfortable until now with the “Design :: Build” part of the Vertecology equation. The “Permaculture” part of course is all about a design science that applies just as well outside the context of gardening as within it and I have certainly been putting that to work.

But at the end of the day I wondered how much of a permaculturist I could be if I (supposedly) had a brown thumb. As if there was a body of proprietary knowledge needed for planting and growing stuff. As if human beings didn’t have generations and in fact thousands, if not a couple of million years working closely with the natural world; as if the beings of other species… that is plants, animals, fungi, don’t want to grow just like we do, and don’t do so to the best of their abilities on their own using the resources available to them.

Echinacea has taken root, planted from seed in the Vertecology Hanging Garden

So much for the myth of the brown thumb. The truth is that until I got that permaculture was pretty much the answer to our global yearning for a culture of abundance and a future worth fighting for, I didn’t see much reason to try to grow anything.

Now with the onset of Spring, many of the little Echinacea Purpea and a few of the Yarrow seeds I popped into the Hanging Garden at the Sugar Shack have grown into robust little plants on all five levels, and some of the little guys are even flowering. That with only sporadic watering of these drought-tolerant species and a soil mixture taken on faith from my friend and partner in permaculture crime, Norma Bonilla.

While I’ve been posting about the Hanging Garden for a while now, I couldn’t really say the  “1.0” version was complete until seeds had successfully taken root. After all, as a work of art, my vision of it was never just the hanging boxes themselves. That was just the foundation. Even though I will soon be manufacturing the structure, each installation will be unique based on what comes to inhabit it.

So now with this success, it’s on to fine tuning. Here are my thoughts on an even better soil mix considering aeration and improved drainage within the planter-box; as you can see from the diagram below, I’m thinking now of a gravel layer with a breathable sheet of fabric for future installations. Of course this will vary also with the sorts of plantings you want to do and I welcome suggestions. I’m also thinking a larger version of the Hanging Garden in the months to come for larger plantings.


Optimal soil mix in the Vertecology Hanging Garden for drought-tolerant plants

And thus humbly begins a new leg of the adventure. Growing a garden is an act of patience, and as I’m learning in my endless unfolding, so is growing a business, or anything of value. You can’t plant the seeds and then cut the first shoot and expect a grand forest to envelop your digs. Perhaps that is even a great lesson for our entire quarterly earnings and test-scores culture, and one that when we have learned, we will begin to see our world self-heal largely with little more than a bit of multi-dimensional thinking, guiding and letting ourselves be guided. Just sayin,’ but that’s a rant for another day.

Fibonacci Trees

Now it’s only great to see nature at work, and to know that this experiment is blossoming and promising fertile weeks, months and years to come. Thanks for tuning in!

The New Rainwater Harvesting Video

Here’s the new video showcasing the Sugar Shack rainwater collection system with a bit of how-to, the wisdom of experience gained after a few big storms, and some future ambitions! I’m not only excited to have the content out there now; this is a big milestone for Vertecology in bringing the power to the people.

Since long long ago, I’ve envisioned using media as a way to empower DIYers everywhere (think all my talk a few years back about collective intelligence), and to create income streams that will ultimately get reinvested into projects that bring out the creative potential of both human beings and the ecology that has made us possible, into the world that can be.

This video represents the first major step in the fulfillment of that vision. I hope enjoy it. Thanks and happy Friday!

Hanging Gardens Coming Up Green All Over

Here are some new photos from the Hanging Garden at Philip Horvath’s – now fully stocked with a veritable encyclopedia of baby herbs and veggies (click on the links to learn more about the plants and their benefits on Wikipedia).

The Vertecology Hanging Garden planted with herbs and vegetables

At the very least the Brewery’s first vertical garden is going to make for an oxygen-blasting, aromatic, culinary and visual symphony with medicinal benefits, and I can’t wait until the dinner parties where all these delights get served up with delicious dishes! Even if a few of the plants get crowded out, it will provide a learning experience to all of us who are paying attention.

Meanwhile we’ve got some baby greens popping up from seed in the Sugar Shack’s outdoor Hanging Garden – a few tiny leaves sprouting up, too tiny to get with the camera just yet.

And on a business note I’m setting up some basic online infrastructure for taking orders. The email address mark@vertecology.com and the Paypal business account able to accept credit cards should be coming online within the next few hours. The whole venture of course continues to be a lesson in patience; I like the oddly perfect analogy of a growing plant – you can’t rush it, and when you care for it, trust the process, and allow it to unfold at its proper pace, the rewards for everyone are rich indeed.

Five New Square Feet of Urban Economic Liberation: Planting the Hanging Garden

I’m pleased to announce that the next phase of Hanging Garden R&D is underway. Starting with a 1-1-1 mix of sand, homemade compost and potting soil, I’ve seeded all five levels of a Hanging Garden now swinging from the rafters at the Sugar Shack with small herbs that will help prepare its soil for later planting, attract birds and beneficial, predatory insects like ladybugs, long-term test the Hanging Garden’s performance in outdoor conditions and offer the intentional community here another baby step toward urban economic liberation.

Part of the fun is getting to experiment with five separate “test tubes” if you will. The bottom three levels got dusted with seeds of the yarrow plant, which according to legend was carried into battle by Achilles because of its effectiveness in treating battle wounds, and whose tendency to accumulate minerals means rich soil will be left in its wake. The fourth level up is planted with both yarrow and echinacea purpea seeds to get an idea of how the two behave together. The top level is seeded with echinacea alone, and echinacea is the go-to plant for easing a cold out of your body (something the house could use right about now).

For both herbs the winning planting formula appears to include spreading the seeds no more than ¼ inch deep. The yarrow seeds are little bigger than fine grains of sand and get spread liberally. The larger echinacea seeds get dropped individually about 2 inches apart. Then on all levels, I overlaid some exhausted coffee grinds from the house coffee maker.

The setup will get lots of sun on the rooftop, just like these plants love. It is winter here of course, but it is Southern California and these plants which would get planted later in the spring further north can take the couple of frosts we might get this season. If all goes well, we should start to see little green leaves popping up in about a week or so.

And this is a great opportunity to explore what the Hanging Garden can do best. For while we grow these herbs here, as other installs go up, Hanging Garden clients can begin to share notes – I hope to have a forum for this on Vertecology as  more installs go up and things come together.

And finally, a bit of cross pollination – it’s great to be watering the Hanging Garden with water from the rain harvesting system in the downstairs garden. Already watering the Hanging Garden on the rooftop, I’ve taken on watering the whole roof garden; prior to building the water harvesting system, I knew simply that our rooftop garden needed water. The water messily came out of a hose when I turned on the spigot, and that’s about all I knew.

The Sugar Roof Garden takes about 4 gallons of water per day in winter.

I always felt a pinge of guilt in watering the American Way, having no idea of how much water I was actually using, and only knowing that the water was coming from places like Mono Lake and the Sacramento Delta. By watering with buckets from the harvesting system, I’ve learned that the rooftop garden requires about four gallons per day in the winter time. Sure the watering is a bit more laborious but the information gained while exercising – climbing stairs with bucket in hand, has named the unnamed and means that I can now realistically design for how much water a design-build-permaculture install will actually need and yield.

Thank you Norma Bonilla for the soil mix formula and Baza Novic for the seeds and planting direction. I’ll keep y’all posted, and of course I welcome feedback. Thanks!

The Amusing Muse Exploring Possibilities for the Hanging Garden

One of the things I’ve discovered in dropping Hanging Gardens in some different locations around town is that there are a whole lot of different ceiling situations to deal with. Some are more difficult than others, and the hope is that I can come up with a few standardized approaches that fit most, as in say 95% of mounting situations. Honestly, I’m excited about the challenge, as solving the mounting challenges is beginning to reveal other opportunities that will help flush out the full potential of the Hanging Garden and will enhance its potential as a kit system usable to anyone who wants to turn that dead corner, porch or balcony into an ecological garden.

Here’s the latest. I had the good fortune of a temporary install at the Hummingbird Nest Ranch in Simi Valley over Winter Solstice evening, when Evonne Heyning, Tirza Hollenhorst and friends put together a fabulous Dance to Freedom event. Already exhausted from the two week treehouse adventure, I had about six hours before the party started to figure out how to mount the Hanging Garden under a huge beam to which I could not attach any screws, except along the hidden top, and over which it was impossible to run any ropes or cables. I had to “side mount,” and wasn’t sure how to pull it off.

When I finally did pull it off, managing to keep the bad and the ugly from view, I joined the party, spread the biz cards and then as often happens, got the better, cleaner, more elegant and not to mention cheaper, design solution in meditation a few days after it was all over and at the most inconvenient hour… 🙂

The exciting point is that in this solution however is the beginning of an idea of how to quietly integrate water/nutrient delivery that can be flushed out as needed with future installations. The exploration contines and stay tuned, and I must say thanks to Evo, Brent, Pardox, Ed, Lance, Geisty, Tea Faerie, Fuzzy and a lot of others (pardon me if I didn’t include your name…) for sharing yourselves and an amazing evening under the stars and in the cushest horse stables this side of Appalachia…

Here’s to a (R)evolutionary 2012…

The last few weeks have been a great learning and a great challenge. Remember the date of my last blog post? December 3. That was right after LAPD came down from Dodger Stadium and did their best to put the idea of open society, at least on the steps of City Hall, into indefinite detention. Not that it was their doing entirely, and not that it was necessarily their personal will to do so.

I was there, very much a part of it, playing cat and mouse with the best of the Boys in Blue. I had just wanted to attend the General Assembly after the Philip Horvath install but fate had an encore performance waiting in the wings.

The whole ordeal left me grieving, looking within, feeling at times heartbroken, betrayed, liberated, uncertain, helpless, compelled to act, even as I worked on a two week, weekend-less tear, building in the interim a tree house with the O2 Treehouse crew (pics coming soon), recovering from a computer virus and dropping a pair of hanging gardens at the Dance to Freedom Winter Solstice event while running all night on fumes, finally catching my breath here on the Sugar Shack rooftop on Christmas Day. Whew!

You might think of it this way; last night I had a dream in which I was driving with a friend in a pickup truck that had no brake pedal, and whose gear stops were marked all wrong – think “Drive” meaning “Neutral” – maybe. As I found myself in the truck, I was in the backseat, him “driving” from the passenger seat, his left hand occasionally adjusting the steering wheel and nobody in the driver’s seat at all. Somehow he was making it work, somehow getting us up the highway, and it seemed an incomprehensible magic.

Once upon a time I would have been content to sit there in the backseat, admiring his … what? Genius? Charisma? Balls? … and wondering what was wrong with me that I didn’t have the same. But this time I had to taste the experience of driving. I was afraid of course but it was a matter of my manhood. It was a matter of laying on my deathbed someday and saying “I don’t have any regrets.” It was a matter of getting to learn what there was to learn, of getting to fulfill my promise as a human being in this lifetime.

So I offered to drive at our first stop and took the wheel. I managed to get the vehicle out of the driveway and onto the street. Except when I pressed where the brake should be, the vehicle would accelerate backwards.

I had no control, yet I discovered there was help. The help too was confusing, but there were people suddenly about, offering some sort of guidance about how to control the vehicle and pushing from outside so that it would stop or steer in the right direction. I sensed that I might be able to control the vehicle when I did the incomprehensible: trust, practice discipline and pay attention while sitting in that moving deathtrap… and I even felt a little sad that I hadn’t taken the chance earlier.

And wasn’t it a bit obvious how out of practice I was, that I was just getting it now? But then maybe that moment of shame was really the price of admission, the sign that I had for the first time truly committed to the drive. This is perhaps, what it is to be alive.

So what does the dream have to do with the promise behind Occupy, or with getting Vertecology to full-throttle? Maybe lots.

I spent quite a bit of time after the Occupy raid thinking about how it might have gone had I been more prepared and thus not been totally out of my head for the first hour after the cops showed up. I saw with some bitterness the excuses and paradigms that we free Americans have bought all our lives about how life goes: that punishment, outcomes and the monolithic power of “the system” are inevitable and saviors are on the way when they aren’t. And I began to see that perhaps it has been those assumptions that have kept us from trusting, practicing, paying attention… and growing in our abilities long before Occupy was a glimmer the media chose to ignore.

What if the Occupiers had met the LAPD with utter silence throughout the raid, those on the front lines calmly looking into the eyes of the police with the same discipline that the police themselves held? Or what might have happened had a contingent of Occupiers realized that there is only one road out of Dodger Stadium and simply parked five vehicles across the already police-barricaded lanes and lay down in the road when the scanners got busy? Maybe they might have stalled the raid long enough for the sun to rise and rush hour to begin. What if I personally had planned in advance to get arrested and effectively gain a microphone thereby, preparing my community, setting it up the way one plans a two week vacation and returning to a world that planted gardens in the streets just because I asked? Why hadn’t I thought of these things in time, or been able to communicate them effectively to the thousands of others there with me? I had had the sense to meditate through my fear and dispel it and have a liberating personal experience, and yet, why hadn’t I become clear enough to change the outcome that night rather than maybe at some indefinite point in the future?

What has begun to release me from the grief is the understanding that the what-if scenarios would have been second grade responses, though we were effectively in the first grade. We can be expected in the first grade to add and subtract but not to do calculus; to effectively show the general public that they are not alone, and to reveal the bitterness we have all been tasting as a Great Betrayal and not our own failure for not being marketable commodities. We cannot yet be expected to create an open society so compelling that the LAPD forgets its lines, though as long as we keep our eyes on the road and not what we did wrong, calculus and an “A” on the exam are coming. We all have a much richer understanding of the game than we did three months ago and my what-if scenarios, once they’re uncoupled from beating myself up, point clearly in the direction of my commitment.

In the dream of the pickup truck I got a gentle reminder that the knowledge of how to do anything, whether it’s building an open society that makes its opposition forget their lines or building a brand capable of helping ease that open society into being… comes with a lot of practice on the field of play and a lot of patience with ourselves. It’s actually good news that I’m feeling lost on how to drive the truck, for now I’m testing the controls rather than living the illusion that it’s obvious or obviously magic, and that either way I “should” already know. I’m actually more empowered though I may feel less so.

The Hanging Garden still holds its shape even when 2 of 3 suspension cables are released. This week I'm humbly reminded of all the work I've had to do to arrive at such a design at all.

And so we sit here sandwiched between the Dawn of the Age of Aquarius and the dawn of 2012, and to some of you that may mean everything, and to some of you nothing at all, nevertheless, it’s a great time to be sharing this insight with you. I am humbled and yet more than ever noticing the texture of the gravel under my feet on the road to greatness (or whatever it is). Everything from a new mounting system for the Hanging Garden dreamed up as a matter of necessity on Solstice night to building an open society worthy of who we are, and everything in between, is a challenge worth taking on. Let it be a year of evolving our way home. (It can be no other way of course, just sayin’ 🙂 ).

Happy Holidays!

Vertical Ecology: The Hanging Garden Goes up at the Famous Brewery

Well a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a lot more than that. So this time around I won’t say much and let the pictures speak for themselves.

This five-level Hanging Garden, built from reclaimed plywood from the Reuse People was installed Tuesday afternoon at Philip Horvath’s loft in the Brewery. The hardest part was getting the ceiling – concrete, but above 3-1/2 inches of pure, white, crumble as you drill into it and of course, eco-friendly styrofoam – to take something from the hardware store strong enough, and long enough, to do the hanging part.

Getting the piece up in about 3 hours, was a real triumph and proves the concept at a whole new level, not to mention the fact that I’ve upgraded the craftsmanship considerably and used a coat of Peonfin oil for a long-term waterproof, beautiful and eco-friendly finish. Now it’s just a matter of further refining the product, testing some new materials and manufacturing approaches and staying in connection with Philip and Barry to see the piece get planted and move through a hopefully very long life cycle. I’ll be sure to update here as the plot thickens.

The video and still footage captured, some of which is shown here is also going to be quite a resource when the Kickstarter is launched for the Venice Community Garden build. Thanks for looking & if you’re interested in a Hanging Garden: markscottlavin-at-gmail-dot-com / 818.538.6586. Thanks!