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Permaculture in the Desert

Eva’s Kiva at the Harrison House. All photos courtesy of Eva Soltes

Eva Soltes has, over the course of her decades-long career, produced, directed and/or written nearly one thousand music, dance, theater and media works for national and international audiences. She currently lives in Joshua Tree, California where as a burgeoning permaculturist she is the Founder/Director of Harrison House Music, Arts & Ecology, an artist residency/performance program for gifted artists and environmental activists based at the straw bale retreat built by late American composer Lou Harrison.

Jill Giegerich is an artist and a permaculture designer. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has artwork in the collections of numerous national museums. She is a Professor Emerita of UC Riverside and a founding member of Transition Joshua Tree and the TJT Permaculture Team. She currently lives and works in Cathedral City, California.

Interview with Eva Soltes by Jill Giegerich, October, 2018

JG:

How do you define Permaculture?

ES:

Permaculture is a design science for creating environments that are in harmony with nature, making use of the patterns and the wisdoms of nature.

JG:

You’ve recently changed the mission of Harrison House.

ES:Our mission at Harrison House for the first seven years was Music and Arts.  Then I realized without nature there is no art.  Nature is the most sublime artist there is and the most amazing teacher. For whatever reason (and it’s a little mysterious) humans seem to have evolved away from feeling like we are part of the earth. Permaculture for me is learning to take lessons from nature and living more in equity with nature.

JG:

How have you personally combined art and ecology in your life?

ES:Having had a life in art and having always regarded art as my spiritual base, I’m very indebted to Beauty as a resource internally. Art and Nature both engender Beauty and share relational traits.

JG:

You’ve worn a lot of different hats in your life and taken lots of chances. You currently have a dance career in India. You are Director of Harrison House with the added mission of permaculture. You’ve produced over 800 chamber music concerts. You make films. Tell me more about living such a creative life.

ES:

You know, I’ve often been a lone wolf and worked for myself. I believe that remaining open to life’s possibilities will get you to where you should be. It’s fear that keeps us from finding our way. It took me a number of years of being freelance to get over the fear. Now, my work has led me to permaculture. It’s a new way of seeing things, a new paradigm.

JG:

Artists are trained to see a link between something over here and something way over there, where few others see the relationship between them.

ES:

Artists are courageous pathfinders. The people that I’ve always been attracted to, try to collect around me, are the ones that are out on a limb.

Gathering during the Intro to Permaculture Workshop

JG:

When you are out on a limb, you have a new perspective. And that’s a permaculture design principle – Use The Edges.

ES:

A lot of people who’ve done a Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) say that their lives and their perspectives have changed as a result of it. For me, it was a way of seeing myself in the world and going “oh my God, wait a minute, the earth is alive!” I think once you make that leap, you can’t live the same way.

JG:

You are now about to run a PDC here at Harrison House taught by the world-renowned permaculture teacher Warren Brush. How did you come to this decision?

ES:

Like many people who moved to a new area like Joshua Tree, we come out with our gloves on, wanting to be activists. One of the first things I remember doing was sitting with you in front of Vons handing out free re-useable shopping bags.

It became clear to me that living in the desert, being surrounded by nature, was an extraordinary experience and opportunity. I was raised in semi country in the San Fernando Valley. But pretty quickly it became ‘developed’. The pine forest, the orange groves that I grew up with all became housing tracts and I witnessed the destruction of the environment.

Now, living in Joshua Tree, I have come to understand that the desert is Ground Zero for climate change and if we can learn to live in the desert while regenerating it, then we will have a lot to teach the rest of the world because there’s going to be more desert in the world.

I could give artists the space to take a deep breath and think about their next steps with their work. That’s what I could do with the Harrison House with permaculture. I could share wonderment in the beauty and joy of living in nature.

JG:

You were one of the first people that I asked to join us on the Initiating Team of Transition Joshua Tree (TJT).

ES:

Yes, you invited me and eventually I was able to join and become part of the coordinating council.

JG:

How did you decide to get a PDC yourself?

ES:

I started volunteering as a WOOFer (Worldwide Organization of Organic Farmers) on a permaculture farm in Portugal. It wasn’t arid lands permaculture but they used the same permaculture design principles, a combination of indigenous wisdom and contemporary technology. Later, I learned that Warren Brush was offering a PDC at his Casitas Valley Farm. I decided to enroll as I realized that it was concurrent with making a mission change to Harrison House.

JG:

Did that PDC change your life?

ES:

Yes, I came out understanding that I’m part of a web of existence. In one of Warren Brush’s talks during the PDC he explained that Native Americans negotiated with Mother Earth regarding any construction that penetrated her soil. Later, I was installing a steel gate at Harrison House and I thought “oh my God, I’m digging massive holes in Mother Earth” so I mitigated her wounds by planting six trees nearby.

JG:

Are artists uniquely positioned to tackle our environmental problems?

ES:

Artists are creative problem solvers. We need to put all the creativity we possibly can into solving our environmental problems.

JG:

It makes sense that you would connect with Warren Brush because he is such an artful teacher.

ES:

Warren Brush is one of the most inspiring people I know. He is passionate about sharing his unique understanding of the Earth and combines ancient wisdom and modern philosophy. He imparts his knowledge in such an artful way. As a storyteller, he builds community and spreads design for resiliency, which is much needed to get us out of the fix that we’re in, having nearly destroyed the Earth.

JG:

When is Warren Brush going to be offering the PDC at Harrison House?

ES:

March 31st to April 14th 2019. I believe the community will understand the value of what Warren Brush has to offer. As Warren has said: “We are the first generation of humans to have a choice of whether or not the human species is going to continue”. Permaculture presents us with a path back to health.

JG:

What’s the best way to volunteer or sign up?

ES:

Visit our website louharrisonhouse.org or call 760-366-4712.

JG:

Thanks for this interview! It’s been an honor speaking with you.


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