My sister-in-law and brother gave me a journal for Christmas. They know that this is one of my favorite things, all those blank pages, waiting to be filled in with notes, or observations, or new ideas. A blank journal, to me at least, is ripe with possibilities.
Today, I initiated my new journal. On the first page is now a (long) list of 2011 projects. They range from the very practical and urgent (paint the house, fix the rotting board by the basement door) to the more optional and fun (build a wood fired oven for baking bread). Following the list are sketches of gardens and plans for changing and improving them (fewer perennial flowers in the north garden, more berries and medicinal herbs, more cooking herbs, closer to the house).
The list is, without doubt, much more ambitious than one family could accomplish in one year. Based on past growing seasons and past lists, we'll take care of some items, do some things that never made it onto the list, and carry some things forward to 2012. The vision of fewer flowers and more berries and herbs will be a gradual transformation that will unfold over several years. But having the ideas in my head and the sketches in my journal helps me work with the gardens and see the possibilities. The iris that have spread out of control are really in the cranberry bed, I see that now from my afternoon's sketching, and when the snow melts and the ground thaws, I'll know what to do. And I now know to keep my eyes open for a black elderberry seedling, which is hard to come by, and I know where I will plant it when I find it.
My friend and teacher, Donella Meadows, said that she never started a project, whether it was a sweater to knit, a book to write, or a garden to plant, without first envisioning the finished project in her mind. Her devotion to the practice of visioning influenced me, and I try to hang on to that practice, not just for gardens, but for the projects we undertake at Climate Interactive, and for the world that those projects are aiming to contribute to.
For me, visioning is easiest for gardens, and still pretty easy for grant reports or model sectors (though neither the gardens nor the models ever come out looking exactly like my vision for them; both gardens and computer models are not, it turns out, precisely controllable).
I have to work harder and look deeper to imagine a sustainable world, to envision the world that I and so many others are working to create. But it's not actually that hard. The seeds of the future are, after all, around us all of the time. Out of the actions of the young people I met in Cancun I can see the wave of grassroots organizing that could produce the political will for change. Watching my neighbor Stephen drive the horses across new snow I see the revitalized agro-economy of our region. Warmed by wood heat, my computer powered by electricity made from cow-manure, I see and sense the renewable energy revolution.
I've never yet pictured perfectly the finished garden from the depths of winter, and I don't believe I or anyone else can really see how a sustainable world will look and work. But even in dark times, one doesn't have to look that far to see seeds of possibility, calling for our energy and attention. And those are good starting points, for choosing next steps, for little garden plots, and for big wishes for the future, too.