An Update on the Experiment

experiment

This particular post is two things: an apology and and explanation.

First, an apology.  I realize that blogs are particularly important to those who write them, and less so to those who read them.  That being the case, I must still apologize for not being consistent, if only to myself.

Secondly, an explanation.  I have embarked upon an experiment in self-sustainability that involves moving from one side of this country to the other.  Such a move takes time and effort which explains my apology above.  This experiment involves buying a small (22 acre) plot of land with a house, a barn foundation, and a full woodworking shop.  This is the result of several years of contemplation and contrary thinking that has cost comfort and security, I hope, to a good end: to see just how self-sustaining an individual can be.

To this end I would like to invite anyone interested to visit two new sites that will be up and running this fall.  First, I will have a podcast called “The Philosophy of Gardening” and at some point and time a youtube channel called Trollcastle Works.  These endeavors will simply be a video/audio blog of ongoings around the property that will include forestry work, woodworking and of course gardening.

I hope to have several projects going that include: a small fruit orchard, vegetable garden, furniture making and carpentry, hops and grain fields, and brewing beer.  The podcast and videos, I hope, will be of interest to anyone that might consider self-sustainability as a way of life.

I call this an experiment, because I see 100% self-sustainability as being the speed of light, and the experiment’s goal itself being to see how close to this ideal that I can get.  There will be failures and there will be accomplishments, and I hope to share both.

The reason for this experiment is, of course, personal, but it stems from a belief that self-sustainability for individuals and families is the only moral option.  What better way to test this belief than putting it in practice!

I hope that some of you consider following me on this adventure!

Two-Way Sword

sword

Fear is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is protective; a gut instinct is helpful in situations where the facts are not clear. We have an evolutionary trait (called an intentional stance) that we carry in our genes that makes assumptions that have proven to save our hides. Fear is a product of that, a consequence of both our genetic makeup and our desire to survive.

However, in the western world this intentional stance does not always serve us well. Often our fear does not help, but hinders us. The issue is for us to determine why we are afraid. At the end of the day, our actions need to be based upon well-informed decisions, but skepticism concerning our actions is a well-tested intentional stance.

Fear serves us well until we becomes slaves to it.

Perhaps our fear comes down to what it is we actually want: to be correct or to be courageous. Alas, the sword cuts two ways again.

Industry

industry

When did the word “industrial” become synonymous with heinous attributes of our society?  To be industrial has not always meant “continued or increased military spending by the national government.” a term first used by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961.  Nor has it always been “characterized by a low fallow ratio and higher use of inputs such as capital and labor per unit land area”, in contrast to traditional agriculture in which the inputs per unit land are lower.  Nor has industry been a “transition to new manufacturing processes…”  To be industrial traditionally refers to the efficient effort put forth by individuals, and not to the methodological destruction of other countries through warfare, or the planned and procedural devastation of the environment.  Nor has industry always denigrated human beings to just another “cog in the machine”.

Industrial military complexes, industrial agriculture systems, or industrial revolutions really do not refer to industry at all, but to consumption, profit motivation, and product movement.  I would like to take back the word “industrial” to mean something effective but positive; a compliment if possible.  I would like to see the industrialization of our communities by seeing lawns disappear, being replaced by gardens, and useless fences replaced by useful fencing in of a few small livestock.  I would like us to be an industrial culture once again, but in the true sense of the word.

If we are to become industrial, we must come to understand the system in which we work.  We must understand that industrialization does not mean continued or increased inputs measured in units and efficient processes that lead to positive profits.  I would like to be industrial because that is what human beings’ purpose is: to work.  But we are also moral beings, and so I would like us to be morally industrial.  If we are to work, then we ought to work towards something good, something positive, something sustainable, something worth being.

The good, the positive, is seldom complex and even more seldom reliant upon units, inputs, measured efficiencies or manipulated markets, goods and services.  It is almost as if we have let our language fall prey to the lowest common denominators of those in our society that would have us believe that progress is measured in goods and services created by our industries rather than our industry.  I would like us to be industrious without relying upon industry.  We can, if we only realize that we must.  We must, and so I can only hope we will.

The Foundation of Life

soil

Soil is the foundation of life, and so in my quest for self-sustainability I have chosen to start at that foundational point this year. On my quest to be self-sustaining, this year started with building my own seed starting soil. With $8 worth of vermiculite I have about three wheelbarrows full of starter soil, and the vermiculite was optional. I think a little sand would have done the trick. Nevertheless, the path is clear.

Self-sustainability is becoming more and more important as the industrial agriculture machine slowly chews up its gears and we are left with fewer and fewer moral options. But why stop at not buying industrial food products? This is just a beginning, and a beginning that ironically ends at the very soil that all of our food eventually comes from.

I started with well composted manure, grass and food scraps collected all last year and turned regularly until winter set in. Before putting the soil in my homemade boxes, I ran it through the chipper/shredder. This fluffed up the soil and chewed up some of the bigger chunks. I then filtered it through my homemade soil colander (four 4×4’s with ¼ wire stapled to the bottom) into a wheelbarrow and added vermiculite.

I have started my leek, onion, cabbage, and peppers in this mix and have watered (so far) about four times with no sign of compaction. I have yet to see if my little seedlings, after sprouting, like their new home. Tomatoes go in this weekend.

It is difficult to explain the satisfaction of not buying products in order to be self-sustaining. Although I have a long way to go, this new starter soil is a further new beginning on the road to independence.

Plantitics

plantitics

Its coming up, and it’s coming up soon! Plans are being made as we speak in back rooms and workshops; in dusty places and in living rooms and across America. Are we all ready? Are we all willing? What will happen in the future!?

Tomatoes must be started just at the right time, but can they share the manure with the peppers, and where will the leek and onion be placed (those feisty fellows)? I have to sell the cabbage on sharing the space with the eggplant and at the same time make sure the squash have enough room to spread their greedy tendrils.

The funding must be in place and I have to find it somewhere. I know a rich banker down the street with horses. Perhaps there? I’ve found the gold there before; maybe again.

Of course, I’ve readied the playing field last fall but there are always changes and surprises. The beans let me down every year, but the hops always have my back.   This year the fruit trees will bear fruit and the raspberries look strong. It’ll be rough and some will go down in their prime, but that’s the rough and tumble game of plantitics.

I have to appease the worms, but they are blind and powerless; I, of course, am the master and they the slave. I have the power as the president of my garden!!!   I am the slave to no one!!! The plants will do as I say!!! They will bend before my mobility. But the worms…

I have to appease the women’s vote of course and so I’ve planted some early food in the hives to get them on my side. They’re coming out in droves on the warm days. I can count on them. I am for women’s rights and have promised a new super when the summer comes. They know I’m good for it.

I have to answer to the herb garden’s requests as they can be finicky at first.   But the tomatoes fund my work. You can never trust the ketchup lobby, but I’m strong in the salsa community. I will over the garden this year by promising to keep the “invaders” out. The Japanese beetle will be banded from our garden!

I have a plan for the plantitics of this year by pleading my case to the courts of nature. My garden will succeed and I will live as a king yet again…at least for another year.

A Split-Second Decision

 

John Cage was a composer who “wrote” and performed a piece of silence called 4” 33’ (four minutes and thirty-three seconds). It was simply himself, on stage, and sitting at a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. However simplistic and absurd it might have seemed and still perhaps is, I believe that the art, while not found in the actual performance is in fact found in the thought. This is culture.

 

I believe that many of us are realizing that what we consider culture is really nothing at all but consumerism. Culture is virtuous; consumerism is not. A man sitting at a piano and not playing the instrument, I thought, can be analogous to individuals who find themselves in a consumerist society without being consumers. I know this is a stretch, perhaps, but I believe there is something true in it.

 

To play a piano is a choice and one must learn, and learning takes time and effort; much time and much effort. That is why so many begin by taking lessons but few come to play the piano. Not being a consumer takes time and much effort.

 

The burgeoning agrarian movement that seems to be blossoming in this country can be seen as a reaction to a society that has lost its priorities to profit and consumerism, but I like to think of it as a choice, an idea that often times is ridiculed (as John Cage was when he performed his piece).

 

Perhaps John Cage was reacting to the ever-more complexities of modern classical music at the time? And if so, the analogy becomes even more similar. Rather than complaining as a composer, Cage did something to point this out. In the same way, we can make choices that go against the relentless pressure to consume.

 

Some may argue that actions such as Cage’s piece or the agrarian movement are simply fads, but I’m not sure that the argument stands. Cage’s piece is famous (or infamous) even today and he as a composer changed the landscape of modern classical music. In the same way I think that as more and more people realize the cost of a consumer lifestyle is not sustainable, they too will choose to take a stand. In Cage’s situation it was not too play for 4 minutes and thirty three seconds.

 

Our stand against consumerism can start with a split second decision.

 

 

Obsolete Aptitudes

wooden plane

 

Just recently I was given three wooden hand planes ranging in size from a 9”-app. 16”. Since then I have been learning to use these “obsolete” tools in the shop. I have rubbed and polished the irons and waxed the soles. I’ve spent time practicing setting up the irons for just the right whoosh sound when I run the planes over the edges of the wood. In the process, I’ve learned to “read” the direction of wood grain and to feel if the irons are sharp and in place. I have learned to recognize characteristics of both the tools I am using and the wood that I am working. My education continues.

 

I’ve gotten better in the past weeks and it has cost me a lot of wood shavings and rough edges. But, progress is being made. I am told and hear that such things are obsolete, but I disagree. In fact, I would argue that such aptitudes are necessary to understanding not only woodworking, but also what it is that makes us human. The answers that I find in these old “outdated” wooden wood planes do not come easily, but every one of them are applicable. The questions answered by such tools are far beyond a push of a button or trigger on one of my electric tools and at the same time apply equally to both the old wooden planes and the electric planers and table saws that I use daily.

 

I watch my hands as I place them gingerly on the well-worn wood of the planes and feel the weight and the balance of the tool. I listen to the sounds the irons make as I hope for a smooth glide but often get the chatter of a miss-set or unsharpened blade. Where I learn to listen to one tool, I learn to coax the other. Sometimes I remind myself that I can easily joint an edge with a machine, but then I make obsolete something too important to forget.

 

Such experiences make for a lonely life sometimes, surrounded by modern humans and our mechanical aptitudes, but I’m not sure that convenience and modern “necessities” are worth the cost of losing ancient knowledge and know-how. Anyway, as I begin to look around, I’m not so sure how alone I am in my obsolescence.

 

It is hard to describe and perhaps even harder to understand, but watching the shavings pour out of the top of the planer when I do get it right is a memory that is seldom made when working with modern tools. I am asked, “Why bother!?” and to that question I must answer, “To ask that is to not understand the answer.” The experience is not mystical, but is necessary. It is not obsolete, but essential.

 

Dreams

I have a dream

Dreams

To dream of making a dream a reality takes foresight, hope, imagination and a vision. To make a dream a reality takes those things, but it also takes a hefty dose of courage, hard work, money, and willingness to give up comfort in most of its forms. This is why it is easy to dream, but difficult to live your dream.

Be ready to smile when your friends, your family, and most others remind you of how many ways there are to fail, how good you have it and how you should “give it a second thought…” or how it is simply impossible. These will be bumps in the road in comparison to the endless work and hours, to the face of poverty staring in your window, the relentless pummeling that you will take physically and mentally. Make no mistake, to make a dream a reality you must give up the dream…but only almost.

I say “almost” because dreams are not made to be broken. Live your dream!

If you have a dream first make your mind up to do it. Secondly…do it. It really is that simple. Afterwards, don’t look back.

Regrets

To have regrets is easy: take the path most travelled, bury your hope and your imagination; your vision. To make your regret a reality takes those things, but it also takes a hefty dose of fear, making decisions based upon what others advise, and willingness to give up your dreams. This is why it is easy to forget your dreams, but difficult to live with that decision.

Be ready to smile when your friends, your family, and most others remind you that you could of, or should have if only had. These will be bumps in the road in comparison to the endless days, months and years of remembering the dream, the face of comfort staring in your window, and the relentless pummeling that you will take as you wake up at night and realize that they were right. Make no mistake, to make your regrets a reality you must give up the dream…completely.

I say “completely” because regret lasts a lifetime.

If you have regrets, first recognize them as regrets. Secondly…change them. It really is that simple. Afterwards, don’t look back.