environment

Mothers

mothers

I am reminded, on Mother’s Day, of those mothers that do not have a voice, but love nevertheless.  I am reminded that all of life has a mother; one who loves in their own way, even if it is not ours.  I am, of course, referring to the mothers that we all often forget.  I am reminded of them when I walk out my door.

I hear them in my yard and see them scamper up trees and into the wood pile out back.  In the mornings I see them walking slowly through the forest on our property.  And sometimes I hear them in the back and have seen their black flash run through the woods.  I read about them and see pictures of them lovingly licking their young children or sleeping.

I must admit that I have disturbed a few when I lifted some wood or mixed the compost pile.  They look up at me and I feel a shutter run through me.  I quickly replace the wood, or cover them back up; them and their young.  I hear them chatter angrily when I let the cat out, and I hurriedly pack poor old Fimp back inside.  I know there are mothers that are afraid, that are hunted by the heartless among us and they too have mothers.  I cannot seem to get myself to read or watch about these things.

I would ask all of you to give a thought to all the mothers of the world and consider that they all, in their own way, love their children.  I think, especially in this age of inconsideration, that it is time that we consider those that deserve much more than just a passing thought.  I love my mother, and she loves me.  I also know that there are others do the same.

Learning How to Read

snow-forst

Many of us love to read books, great articles in good magazines, and perhaps less and less the news.  But after years of reading I am learning how to read…yet again.  There are certain topics that are difficult such as philosophy (a love of mine), and scientific books, even layman science is difficult to me.  However, having recently purchased a property that I intended to make a farm, I am learning how to read again.

In the crisp, New England mornings I walk my dog through the months old snow and the half-century old forest that I own.  I’ve done the walk twice a day for some time now and every day the land teaches something new.  A crevice here, a creek that is burrowing a new furrow; hills and dales, and the trees: oak, birch, red and white pine, hickory, poplar.

Farmers, I think, know what they want, but few know what the land needs; only the good ones, and to know this they need to know how to read.  Walking the land envisioning a field but the land won’t have it.  Perhaps a fruit tree grove there, but the land has started one here.  We own land, but we don’t control land.

Land seems pliable and passive, but don’t let it fool you.  It is the master of its own fate.  We are ego-filled and short-sighted.  The land is wise and counts eons, not seconds.  It is in no hurry as its age is endless.  It knows that we are of it, and by it.  we see land as potential, but it is full of the past.

I am learning how to read the land, and it is a difficult lesson.  I am impatient and the alphabet is foreign.  But the land is patience, and its alphabet it created.  The words ooze out of the fog of my ignorance…slowly.  But as I learn to read I realize that even the choice to learn is an illusion.

Sustain Sufficiency

sustainability

The fall has come here at our new forest/farm.  The renovation on the bathrooms is almost finished and the months past have flown by.  The question still remains: is self sufficiency a pipe dream, is it possible?  This discussion, I’m sure, is common in households that have decided to turn their backs on the supermarkets, the food-consumer concentration of non-sustainability, and suburbs that offer comfort and the all-consuming security.

First, self-sufficiency.  The problem, it seems, is energy.  How to sufficiently produce and continue to produce the energy that it takes.  There are two possibilities: add to the energy production or take away from the energy consumption.  Alone, there is no option: we must take away our need for energy to be self sufficient.  So, self-sufficiency becomes a community approach to living at some point, which (in order to be moral, to be healthy and to be virtuous) must be sustainable.

Second, sustainability.  The problem is energy.  How to continue to sufficiently produce the energy that it takes to be self sufficient.  There are two possibilities…

So while self-sufficiency and sustainability are not the same they are reliant upon one another: to sustain self-sufficiency we must have sustainable energy sources.  This is the catch and the secret.  This is the unending education that I am reminded of as a look out over my new acreage  and feel the damp coolness seep in, watching the golden leaves fall.

I throw another log on the fire and sip my hot coffee.

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!

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.

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.

 

 

The Choices We Make

 

choices

When I chose to get a dog from the pound about five years ago, little did I know of the ritual that would soon become my life. Every morning up at 5:30 and after the coffee cup hits the coffee table for the final time, a nudge (toy in mouth) and off we go for our morning walk. In the afternoon after work another walk, work in the woodshop or in the garden, and some playing in the yard until it is time to eat. Then, off to the favorite bed she goes watching the house from her favorite perch.

The choice to get a dog from the pound has obvious implications. My life has changed, but so has hers. I made a choice, and that choice has brought me as well as my dog a great deal of happiness. These are the choices we make, and we continually make. Other choices that we make do not always have obvious implications.

When I choose to go to the grocery store (the walk of shame as I call it), or to buy something at the local hardware store the choices we make there also have implications. However, those implications are not always as clear as bringing a dog into your life. There are animals that pay a high price for the choices we make. We make choices for many reasons, but those reasons should always be clear to us as well as the consequences of the choices we make.

An easy choice is not always the right choice, and those choices that we deem as difficult should not always be difficult. We can choose to do the right thing, but to simply do the right thing takes time, it is a habit that we must acquire. I believe that most of us know what the right choice is but are often tempted by the easy and swayed by the convenient. Our choices become others and not our own.

Perhaps it’s time to take our choices back, but this too is a choice; at least for now.

a Dead Leaf

a dead leaf

Fall is often looked upon as the end of summer. In fact, as I ride around the area where I live, I see everyone sweeping up the remains of the summer: the leaves on the ground, now brown, yellow, and red. They bag these remnants up and leave them on the curb to be picked up. The trees stand lifeless and the mess which is nature is uncovered for all to see. It is as if we hide behind the fullness of life until our secrets are revealed with the death of a leaf. However, a dead leaf is much more than the end; it is in fact, the future.

I cannot stand the sight of leaves being crushed in the middle of streets under the tires of cars. This unconscious act seems to denigrate the value of death because it is often seen as the end. The leaves have done their job and are discarded, unimportant and we busy ourselves “cleaning up” the mess left behind without thinking of the cost. The trees sometimes seem disgraced in their gnarly nakedness; nothing left to the imagination. However, it is the fallen leaves that hold the future and our lack of imagination the dooms us to repeat the mistakes that we seem to believe justified.

Gardens in the fall do not help. Our gardens have produced and are now left flat and unappealing; the dirt mocking the very labor that we have spent the summer on. The end is all around us and we sweep it into bags and under the eaves of the house. We prune the leftovers almost wishing that no one will notice the seeming ugliness that we uncover.

The fall is not the end, but the beginning. A dead leaf is much more than the end, or even a representation of the end, it is the beginning. In fact, the deadness of the leaf is only an illusion because it is the life that it holds that counts. The dead leaf holds the key to the future. It is such a simple concept; an endless cycle of birth and rebirth, Buddhist in its nature. I picked up a leaf before throwing it into the shredder and looked upon its brown acquiescence. I thought as I threw it into the machine that it was at my mercy. But I was wrong: it is the other way around.

We are at the mercy of the fall and what it promises us. The fall is in fact the beginning of what will be. The labor of the summer is a direct consequence of our understanding that it is we that are at the mercy of the leaves in the fall. It is they that hold the answers and them that hold our future. Within the thin, crackly membrane of a dead leaf is the necessities of life. If we do not understand this, we are in fact, doomed.

So, grab those black bags that hold so much; rip them open and spill their precious contents over your garden, over your lawn, over your land. Remember, the land will only give back as much as we let it. The dead leaf that you crumple in your hand is a deciding factor not only for your garden, but for our lives. A society that does not value the importance of a dead leaf, is a society that is unable to value the importance of a sustainable life.

Fall Back, Spring Forward

fall back

It is the middle of October and where I live this typically means cooler weather. The nights are indeed cool, but the days are still warm. I can imagine my bees huddling up in a tight clump in the hive during the night, but during the day they fly around, busy as a bee. Being a matriarchal society winter beehives typically cull the males and downsize in general in order to make it through the winter. They fall back on the bare necessities; while in the spring work towards building populations and searching for food is immediately began; they “spring forward”.

The phrases, “fall back” and “spring forward” are typically used with regard to us setting our clocks differently, but my cutesy way of using these phrases has a bit different motivation. For eons, human beings have acted not too differently than beehives: in the fall and winter we have needed to rely upon what we could ready ourselves with during the spring and summer. This cycle is natural, and I would argue, necessary to the well-being of us as individuals and the societies in which we live. To fall back and spring forward is sustainable.

As I think about these things, looking at bees, I think about how far we have come in separating ourselves from the natural cycles that really define us. What we have historically defined as progress is not necessarily growth, but the decisions to limit ourselves to the natural and ethical laws that will inevitably come into play.

Bees, of course, do not think of such things; they are not limited, but defined by the natural laws that we spend time taking advantage of and often forgetting. But, if bees were able to forget, I’m not sure that they would choose to do so. Even bees seem to fall back upon the “cold and cruel” culling of males during the winter; this is the nature of things.

I suppose, sipping my coffee and pondering upon bees, nature, and the like that I think it is time for us to fall back upon common sense and spring forward into the inevitable future that we face. I can’t say for sure whether this future is good or bad, but like the bees I do think it is time for us to consider if we have any say-so in the matter. The bees have made their decision.