Mud is Good, a Resilience Reflection from Joanne Poyourow

June 17, 2015

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.
In Resilience Reflections we ask some of our contributors what it is that inspires their work, and what keeps them going.

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Joanne Poyourow leads the Environmental Change-Makers community group in Los Angeles. She blogs at  and has written a number of articles published at including  Collapse? Maybe Not ,  Revolt and Change our Lives , Powerdown: Let’s Talk About It and Transition Cities: Mission Impossible?

Who/what has been your greatest inspiration? And why?
My garden / gardens (there are so many of them now) and the natural world –- the way it all springs back. Drought, heat, downpour, abandonment, root-knot nematode, assault by city wildlife, abuse by humans … and still it manages to recover, and find its new equilibrium.
I love the “Nature is Speaking” video series unfolding right now from Conservation International. No, Nature doesn’t need humans. Humans need Nature, and we’d better figure that out really damn quick, and change our ways, or She will simply shrug and that’ll be the end of us.
In my work every day I’m trying to listen to Her and intuit how to better fit into Her systems – as a gardener, as a denizen of this planet. I’m always learning. And instantly as I figure anything out, I turn around and teach it to those around me. It’s never ending.
What has been your biggest setback and how did you recover?
For sure, the very biggest of all was when Peter Rood, co-founder at Environmental Change-Makers with whom I’d worked for 8 years, suffered a massive aortic aneurysm. We nearly lost him forever. First there was absolute shock, then panic and confusion and desperation trying to keep everything going “like normal.” Ha!
Then there was the realization that this was completely new unexplored turf, Peter was recovering but might not ever come back to ECM, that I needed to change. I called in an Advisory Circle, and we did a massive shifting of gears. We did a lot of letting-go and got very, very local in our focus. I did a lot of grieving of what once was and might never be again. I completely lost my way, and wondered who I was and what I was doing (even while I was still doing quite a bit of change-making work). And meanwhile as a practical skill, I learned a lot about coalition-building.
Peter is much better now, back to gardening and leading a campaign for divestment from fossil fuels. But ECM has a new energy now, and we do different things than before. We do a lot more in concert with other organizations; fewer things all on our own. But it’s happy energy, and lots of people are involved. Right now we’re building a community-scale bread-and-pizza oven, from adobe and cob, and working with Los Angeles Bread Bakers to do it. Mud is good.
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For you resilience is…?
It’s defined by those setbacks and challenges, specifically, what we do about them, how we respond to them, and how we recover. And what the new life pattern is like after that recovery. That’s resilience.
The challenges and setbacks might be personal, family crisis (like Carol Deppe writes about in The Resilient Gardener). Or they might be economic challenges. Or the massive Triple Crisis, of climate change + peak oil + economic contraction. There are always setbacks – lots of ’em – and their numbers will probably increase even more as the Triple Crisis unfolds. So it doesn’t really matter which crisis in the moment, because resilience is all about our response.
I have this slide image I use in my talks. It’s a little stick figure guy, bouncing on a trampoline. The surface beneath him is always changing, never the same twice. But the little guy has a big smile on his face. He’s figured out how to enjoy the ride. To me, that’s resilience.
What gets you up in the morning or keeps you going?
My to-do list. It is forever growing because I’m into so many projects. But it all comes from this deep inner feeling that I never know how long I have left to do all these things (I’ve known so many people who died young, and you never know how much life is left). So I want to do them all. Now.
I get a ton of things done, one little thing at a time. I write books, blogs, coalition-building emails to bring people together. I organize big projects, like building community gardens. I teach, several places. In my garden I’m localizing several vegetable varieties, and have an itty-bitty local seed company here in Los Angeles. I still manage things in the first garden I built. In the midst of all this, I launched one kid off to college, and the other is deeply involved in high school. I cook, I knit, I devour books several at a time. The list is long but I’m never bored.
And in all the Action, I find relief from the worry about the state of the world. I know I’m doing the very best that I can, to move things in the right direction.
What book/film/other resource has most supported your work?
This is going to sound silly, but it’s a book I wrote, Legacy: A Story of Hope. Back in 2003-2004 when I was learning about the Triple Crisis, I said to myself “OMG, can we possibly make it out of this mess!?” I started learning about solutions: Permaculture, localization, powerdown. I compiled them all, hundreds of ideas from hundreds of sources, and I set them into a story, a novel.
Legacy has a very carefully calculated timeline, because you see, I was trying to figure out for myself whether it could really work, whether it was even possible to “save the world” if we started doing all these great things.
In real life, I’m continually astonished when the news reports something that happened that was in that story. Something I imagined, that at the time sounded completely impossible, but now here it is in mainstream CNN news. That gives me tremendous hope. We’re on the timeline. Actually, we’re ahead of the timeline.
I still feel tremendous apprehension about “it will all work out in the end.” But then, that apprehension is itself part of the Transition, it is a place along the journey. People like Starhawk and Carolyn Baker say we have to go through the apprehension before we get to the other side. And the apprehension might motivate us too. But it’s definitely an indicator of the place where we are, where our entire society is, on this timeline through change.

Joanne Poyourow

Joanne Poyourow is the co-founder of the Environmental Change-Makers in Los Angeles.  In their 10 years of operations the Change-Makers have done many things including building two community gardens, and initiating Transition ideas in many areas of Southern California.

Tags: building resilient communities, resilience reflections