Tribute to Toby Hemenway
From Permaculture Magazine, Issue 04
Toby Hemenway passed away on December 20, 2016. His poignant articulation of permaculture helped introduce the concept to many people around the world. Gaia’s Garden has been published in 6 languages, and has sold more than 250,000 copies, making it one of the Top 10 Gardening Books in 2010 by The Washington Post. He was a great asset to the planet in helping people understand how to work with nature, rather than against it. Toby was a real treasure and inspiration to those he met, and will be missed greatly by us at PMNA, and many people throughout the world. He brought a very special, particular presence to the permaculture community, very practical and scientific, yet extremely kind and loving. He was one of the good ones. Rest In Power, Toby.
Here some of his close friends offer their gratitude to Toby:
An amazing soul and light of clarity became an ancestor on December 20, 2016. Toby Hemenway was not only a great thinker with a brilliant mind, but also had a big heart. In person he was agreeable, kind, mild mannered, soft spoken, articulate, and understanding of multiple points of view. Yet, behind the keyboard he could be a fierce warrior with words and ideas and could take on even the toughest online bully, hold his ground, and put people in their place. He wasn’t afraid to instigate and dive into controversy. He was a bit of a chameleon in that he could walk confidently in any circle with dignity and he received much respect from mainstream academia and counter culture alike.
I certified Toby in Permaculture Design with Tom Ward at Sandy Bar Ranch in 1994. He came to permaculture with a background as a science writer. I believe this skill made him exceptional at explaining complex ideas in ways that were understandable. I had dinner with him last September 2016 and he said he was the happiest he has ever been. He loved his life and the many opportunities that he was blessed with. His connection to his wife, Kiel, was so strong and his love for her was always in the forefront of his heart. We both held a lot of hope that he would buck this thing and get on with living a long productive life.
He was a brother, dear friend, and confidante to me, and I will miss him deeply. He was blessed to get to know how much he is loved and appreciated and how he impacted so many people’s’ lives while he was still living. He inspired many people and changed many lives.
Toby, we will miss you! May your journey be as graceful as your life on Earth.
Toby Hemenway lives inside of us now. A dear, humble man who merely wanted all the world to thrive. Toby was one of the world’s most articulate champions of the better world that he knew is possible. Through his inspiring books, Gaia’s Garden and The Permaculture City, he both left us roadmaps forward as well as a legacy that honors everyone that helped to make him the person that he became. I love him and miss him terribly. Yet, I also feel him all around me, as ever in the world, as he was before he was born.
Seriously, he is like the fabled character, Obi-Wan Kenobi now, in that he lives inside of us and is probably stronger now than he ever was when he was contained in just one body. Now, he lives in my heart and affects all of my choices from here going forward, and I know there are thousands more who also feel him. It’s been an honor to have been his friend in life, and now it is my honor to carry him inside of me, which is something we can all share. Thanks for existing, Toby!
Toby and I partly shared a history of having trained in the academic ‘hard’ sciences and a general love for the realms of natural history, early explorers, and all things related to the evolution of life on this planet. Our baseline as biologists always informed our discussions about how we could best offer lessons from life to support our design students in expressing functional emulations of ecology. Toby’s passion for teaching, for ramping up the calibre of the content, and for expanding the circle of people engaged in this critical work was never in question. He had a unique capacity to inform and inspire our shared design community, in written form and spoken oration. Toby, in his humble, quiet, and gentle way, was always the epitome of ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ As the Tantric aphorism goes: “Form is the envelope of pulsation.” So, I say may the pulsations of permaculture that Toby inspired in the hundreds of thousands of people all over the planet continue to take form, and envelope our collective consciousness and practice of actualizing the journey of Life-Loving and resilient Perma-Cultures! Via con Gaia, Toby. I will miss you!
Today the earth lost a legend. Toby Hemenway, you were my friend, my mentor, and my inspiration in so many ways. I will never forget the good times we shared at the Permaculture Skills Center, the Hopmonk, Pomo Canyon, and building your final raised beds. May you swiftly join the great polyculture in the sky, my friend. We will continue the work you started. Permaculture is forever, Toby. Godspeed.
Toby was a super-smart, highly- educated kinda guy with science-geek boyish charm and a calculating brain. But his real brilliance was being someone who truly had a deep love for nature and compassion for people that no formal education could destroy.
When I heard of his passing, I did it again – I cried enough tears to water Gaia’s garden. He would have said it was I was grief-stacking. We shared a love of trees, plants, animals of the forest, and flowers, and little bunnies. We didn’t hold hands that much, but we did go on long walks together. Because we are also bad-asses, we talked about cars, big dogs, and trucks, too. And we laughed. We laughed a lot. We even laughed about death many times – and eventually, we would talk about his death. He told me he was happy with some things being unknowable.
I think that ultimately a sustainable world is a world of compassion – free of fear. We both once were warriors with Bill Mollison. Bill told us of life and of death – that ultimately in this life what we would hope to do is create time – time to be in love again.
That we we could be in love with everything, because we are part of everything that exists. And, we would simply dissolve into and reassemble from – a system that exists, and we will do it forever. Forever awaits…
Long before I knew Toby, I sang the praise of Gaia’s Garden most every chance I had. So, I was a bit giddy with inspiration when he moved to Sonoma County and reached out about working with Daily Acts to host permaculture programs. Then, last fall when Toby found out he had to undergo another round of chemotherapy, we checked in to see if the PDC course should go on, just as we did the year before when he was diagnosed. Both times Toby passionately said that he had so much more to do and share. Plus, he had amazing friends, like Paul Stamets, who were loading him up with the best myco-medicinals Gaia had to offer.
Late one Saturday night, Toby called me to discuss design projects. He had to leave his hospital room for better reception. I could just picture him in his hospital garb out in the hall or outside the building, geeking out on permaculture. Until his last months, days, and hours Toby was teaching, sharing, and connecting with this community that he loved and helped grow in so many ways. We were his bucket list.
While I am mourning the friend and teacher we lost, what I mostly feel is a deep-in-my-cells celebration of his life. As a student and teacher of nature’s beauty and wisdom, Toby knew that nothing truly dies. As his body feeds soils, roots, and plants, Toby cycles on in the hearts and minds he fertilized and the movement for the regeneration of life that he helped grow.
I had lunch once a month with Toby for three years. I learned he was
a very intelligent man, but always humble. He had an amazing breadth of knowledge, way beyond just Permaculture. As one of the most level-headed, scientific, and reflective people I’ve met, he offered much to the Permaculture World. At all times, the guy was just plain comfortable to be around. I will greatly miss him.
Visionary forerunners…. Out on the leading edge … and I do mean EDGE!
Rest in peace Toby Hemenway. Your keynote at Permaculture Voices 2
on Permaculture and Anarchism was a bad-ass flag in the ground, which stimulated many of us next-gen into wider realms of meditation. Thank you for your deep dives into the human condition, your kind conscientiousness and sensitivity. I’ll always hold dear the memory of us all singing along to Tim Sexaur perform “The times they are a-changing,” drinking mead, arm in arm on the foyer of the Hilton in San Diego. See you on the other side, mate.
Words of Wisdom from Toby
“Permaculture gives us a toolkit for moving from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance.”
“Soil is miraculous, it is where the dead are brought back to life.”
“Start with something known and basic, and gradually add connections. We now have a hint about creating our own guilds.”
“…Offering a little something extra – a habitat for bees, a home for soil organisms – ties the small cycles of our garden into the generous and large cycles of nature.”
“When you are doing work of value, people will support you in a variety of ways, not just money.”
“I like to talk about the idea of ‘design without design,’ where we’re creating the conditions for the things that we want to see happen rather than trying to force a particular set of outcomes.”
“I’m going to argue here that the most accurate and least muddled way to think of permaculture is as a design approach, and that we are often misdirected by the fact that
it fits into a larger philosophy and movement which it supports. But it is not that philosophy or movement. It is a design approach for realizing a new paradigm.”
Soar on Toby
Gaia’s Garden and The Permaculture City can be ordered at www.ChelseaGreen.com
www.TobyHemenway.com is a resource for some of the last writings by Toby, including his serries of articles The Cosmos, the Earth, and Your Health – The Story of Soil. A great example of how he could take a complex subject, analyze it from many directions and share it in terms the lay person could not only understand, but also be intrigued by the musing he added in well orchestrated writings.