permaculture

The Last Screw

screw

I just recently finished building a “chicken tractor” as I am expecting ten young birds this Thursday.  For those that may not know the term, a “chicken tractor” is a wooden frame that is wrapped in chicken wire (or some such wire), and is accessible from the top.  The birds are put inside the structure and the whole shebang is put out on grass allowing the birds to eat grass and bugs.

I’d never built one before and it wasn’t difficult.  No plans were needed and managed to build two doors on top: one for the food and the other for the waterer.  Such projects are typically done without a plan, by the seat of your pants and this one was no different.  There is always an idea in the head that sparks it all off and then the work begins.

A few days later (or sometimes a few hours, depending on other chores) projects such as my chicken tractor are done and another takes its place.  This particular project started with a few 2×4’s and some chicken wire.  I had some tin roofing left over from the pig house I’d built the weekend before in the same manner.

The drawings in your head change as the project progresses.  Plans change; pictures are repainted.  The door is moved, the structure is reinforced diagonally instead of just in the corners; the door is smaller and in the opposite corner. These changes are typical and ongoing and like a house or painting or a piece of music, projects are rarely finished but simply left after the last screw is screwed in.  There are no finish lines, but only last screws.

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Material Goods and Good Material

materials

It’s been snowy and awfully cold here these past few days (-7 f) and the wood burning stove has been busy in the shop, as have I.  But one thing on my mind has been in these holiday  times: materialism.  Of course, it is with us in the west most everyday, but during Christmas it seems, well…so over bearing.

However, recently I was reminded that there is a difference between material goods and good material.  We do live in a material world, but we need to remember that we live in a material world; a world of things and stuff.  These things need to be treasured and looked upon as the good that they are.  I was reminded of this yesterday while trying to decide what to do with the two massive cherry slabs I recently acquired.

These slabs remind me of the importance of putting importance on material things.  There is a cost to all the things that we buy, from iPhones to cherry slabs but it is not only the monetary costs, it is the real, the material costs that we need to always remember.

Looking out over my acreage, it is covered in forest, I am reminded of how much lesser the land would be without its beauty; I am reminded that this beauty is not wasted, but is wonderful; it is not resources, but reality.  The difference between material goods and good material is the real cost of taking these things from the world that we live in and the world we want to live in.

 

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.

Renovation

renovate

Starting anew with self-sufficiency means renovation.  First, the old habits need renovating.  We don’t notice the habits that we have; the expectations are built in.  Easy is easy for a reason and it is an unnoticeable slide into the acceptance of habits.  Being self-sufficient starts with renovating the habits we have.

Secondly, your body needs renovating.  Our modern society has softened us and no gym or workout schedule will change that.  My father-in-law put in seven day workweeks up until a few years ago (he’s 75).  Now he puts in the normal forty to fifty hours a week.  I’ve always respected his ability to work.  Being self-sufficient leads to the acceptance of soreness, aches and pains and the occasional smashed finger or two.

Third, your mind needs renovation.  Starting any adventure is an education and like all other educations your mind needs to be made up.  Plans and dreams are one thing, planning a 1/2 acre garden, a day of forestry work, running electric for the back up generator or cabinets for a mudroom is another.  Daily schedules change and decision need to be made, sometimes quickly.

Fourth, renovating your skill set is almost inevitable.  If self-sufficiency is your goal then learning how to be self-sufficient becomes your daily task.  Self-sufficiency is the other end of the stick from dependency.  But remember, dependency includes dependency on skill sets that people have, not people.

Whatever renovation you are doing in your life it is important to be ready to change habits, to be ready to work hard, to learn, and not be afraid of trying new things.  We are, after all, human beings with a mind that has evolved to be, well, renovated.

 

The Community of the Self Sufficient

self_sufficient

To be self sufficient is a personal thing, not unlike so many who just want to “get away” and have everyone leave them alone.  I am, and was one of those.  However, things often must change, and do.  NOFA puts on event up here in New England, and I went to a hog butchering class today.  There I realized that to be self sufficient, there must be a community.

It does sound strange, but it is, and always has been, true.  In the cities we often forget this fact of independence.  Often we can live around millions of people and be completely alone.  This is sad, true, but it is only because there are communities of self sufficient communities of people that support such lifestyles.

Aloneness is important.  Being alone we can often find our “true self”, and what we find is often a bit disconcerting.  But the self sufficient ought to be able look that self in the eye every morning and meet it head to head on those nights when we wake up feeling so alone and vulnerable.  One way to do this, is to realize our dependence on healthy communities.

Unfortunately, self sufficiency is often correlated with those who have opted out and see survival as a pile of rations and guns.  This is a misconstrued view of self sufficiency.  Self sufficiency is an education and there are many great teachers out there that are willing and often able to teach those willing to learn.  To realize that the community of the self sufficient are not these radical outliers one only has to reach out to learn, well, to be self sufficient.

At the class, there were seven of us, we each took turns learning to cut the 1/2 hog in such a way that would do justice to the animal, and to those who had, and will continue to create a community of the self sufficient.

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.

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.

 

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.