It’s hard to lose two in one week. One, Scott Pittman’s passing, felt like a celebration of life and friendship, an end I didn’t want to come but saw coming (I’m not done celebrating his life). The other, Dan Palmer’s, felt like a tragic moment I wish I could’ve reached through space and time and turned around with supernatural power.
I had just spent the day paddling the Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone with Sarah when I found out. It was an intentional day to unwind from grief of Scott’s passing, and to celebrate Sarah and I’s anniversary. After taking out at the access, I took my phone out of its waterproof case and saw the glow of a single text message from a mutual colleague of Dan and I’s. After reading it, I didn’t believe it. I kind of still don’t.
Dan’s voice feels ground into my brain. Maybe it was his accent in part, but more so it was his enthusiasm. For much of the month of April, I was walking around the house mimicking Dan’s voice. We were scheduled to record a talk on April 25th, the last time we “saw” each other and spoke. “Welcome to Making Permaculture Stronger, I’m Dan Palmer…” I was set to interview Dan for his own podcast and was toying with starting it just like Dan did, accent and all. I chickened out once we started talking, and as it turned out, neither of us were in the right space for the interview to be what we wanted, so we scrapped it, hoping to reschedule. I guess we won’t be doing that now.
“Dan was initiating and activating the conversations that I felt needed to happen in permaculture.”
Dan and I connected around a pain in common. We both had worked in the permaculture world for a long time, were at the same place in our careers, were close with elders in the field, and felt like it was time to take it deeper, to keep it fresh. We weren’t quite sure if we could be successful at turning such a big ship. We wanted it to become stronger for the benefit of humanity. We talked and emailed about it a lot, stumbled over our words at times, and kept striving. In all honesty, neither of us were quite sure if we could keep doing our work under the permaculture moniker.
We explored like this for a couple years together during the pandemic lockdowns we each endured on our sides of the world. Dan was a friend I could connect with around the deeper aspects of my professional life as my work got very pandemic-focused on building a huge farm project for land regeneration/connection, food security, and food sovereignty in St. Louis. As incredibly meaningful and important as that on-the-ground work was, I was fully distracted from taking permaculture theory and practice deeper. Dan provided new friendship and intellectual stimulation at a time I really needed it. And without any baggage, pressure, or expectation. Our conversations were wildly unstructured, free to go where they may, thanks to Dan’s warmth of openness and unending curiosity. Dan was initiating and activating the conversations that I felt needed to happen in permaculture. I wanted to support his efforts as much as I could, which more often meant being a guest on his show.
“Dan wanted permaculture to change individuals full beings, so they could be an embodiment of life’s interwoven creative process itself.”
From what I gathered, Dan wanted permaculture to become more alive. He felt there was a lot of copying and pasting, mimicry, and a proceeding lack of authenticity in practice. He wanted it to change individuals full beings, so they could be an embodiment of life’s interwoven creative process itself. He felt permaculture’s essence was to stir people into a state of aliveness, where the process of creation flowed out like magic from a single motion. It sounded a lot like what I know of my Zen teachers.
Dan was a friend and colleague, but probably didn’t know he was also one of my teachers. It feels like our time together got cut short. I can unequivocally say this though…Dan moved the needle for me. I know what I want to share about permaculture now. I know why I got so into it in the first place. I know where it needs to go (at least for me). And I’m crystal clear about how I want to move forward. Without Dan’s poking, prodding, camaraderie, and inspiration, I’d still be wading through the weeds looking for the needle in the haystack. I just wish he were still around so I could tell him, and then show him, and then finally meet in person and celebrate our collective successes with the glee that so many of his friends know him for.
Dan, you’ll be missed my friend. I’m so sorry for the pain you endured. We’ll make the world better in your stead.
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