Below are the 25 most recent journal entries.
More a note than anything else--I'm doing this work because I believe that only self-sufficient, sustainable food-raising can change the world and/or free and empower us to change the world. And because I'm painfully aware that anything else is hypocrisy--you can't genuinely have progressive vision yet assume your food will just show up on your table like it always has with no meaningful consequences. Not with the way things actually are right now.
And first I have to learn from the work, I have to master it. And I want to further develop it. That could take a long time.
But ultimately, in addition to encouraging and strengthening a functioning alternate sustainable infrastructure, I also want to be able to spread this knowledge in a way that will empower the "bottom" of contemporary society.
But nowadays these people don't own land, not to mention enough land even for biointensive food raising. Teach them how to farm, and they could become serfs, enlightened lifestylers yet still wage slaves. It already happens with many of my fellow idealists. In addition to the fact that being tied to the land can be a vulnerability--though widespread self sufficiency and hospitality could easily make up for that. And finally, it just doesn't affect the pressing problems of the moment.
I never did really connect to the Catholic Worker, despite dropping by St. Joe a few times and having a friend work there and so on. But houses of hospitality would be needed to help connect the urban present to a self sufficient future, without hoarding it all for prescient hippies and the Amish. And there is already, in the Catholic Worker, this idea of extending hospitality into farms. CW also has the advantage of being more culturally flexible than a lot of shelters and soup kitchens necessarily are.
So what I need are connections to people already involved in that side of the work.
This is just a thought for later; right now I need to be working on 40BU plans.
The destruction of Katrina feels very far away. I am spared impotent rage at improper journalism, and the blog posts I have been reading provide about enough shocked contact with the disaster as it slowly becomes clear just how horrendous the current situation is. I have also come across good links for donating to relief organizations for people and animals.
I slept through the morning of 9/11 uptown. In the afternoon I stood on a corner and looked down Third Avenue at the billowing smoke and dust, surrounded by window shoppers.
Now, similarly, I hear about a disaster which I can barely imagine. Similarly, the Bush Administration was not prepared. Similarly, the response has been dramatically insufficient. I read in an article, "What you're seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels," said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA's disaster response chief. "...They've been weakened by diversion into terrorism." But the reality is that emergency preparedness for natural disasters and terrorism has a great deal of overlap. If we aren't prepared for natural disasters, there's a strong likelihood we aren't prepared for terrorism either. Let's not be euphemistic--some of the resources of the US have been diverted into the War in Iraq, which had nothing to do with terrorism until we brought it to the Iraqis. The rest has gone to lining pockets with corrupt defense and security contracts at home and abroad, until we reach the point where refugees in Mississippi can't get a drink of water. There is no excuse.
What I draw from these kinds of occurrences is the observation that the system does not reliably work. It is based on extensive division of labor: I do my job, you do yours, and with many people doing this we contribute to a system which in turn as a whole will take care of us. We rely on it to tell us what places are safe to live, to protect us from disasters and to assist us when that is not possible, to provide clean air and water and clean and nutritious food, to shield us from poisons, to provide a decent education, and much else in exchange for meaningful, useful work. Both sides of this exchange have broken down, as they are two sides of the coin. Gandhi described a system of rights and responsibilities, but when we are unable to fulfill our responsibilities we actually long for them (though perhaps not always consciously) as much as we long for our rights. In this respect the Bush Administration is a symptom rather than an original condition. It is important that dedicated people work to establish an alternative to this system which is fundamentally self sufficient, though not strictly separate. And then rather than maximizing profit this self sufficient system must extend to include the disadvantaged. Self sufficiency is not simply a matter of cultural and political dissent, which can easily become a mere superficial distraction. What does it mean? Where can people start? What is the most practical approach for someone in your circumstances? What are you depending on the system to provide to you, although you know you can't count on it?
Let's take the basic necessities: air, water, food, shelter, energy. Let's say the system that provides for you breaks down for a week. A month. Three months. Six months. Ten years. Fifty. Can it happen? Yes, easily. In a scattered way it is already happening. Natural disasters are a constant risk, but more so with climate change. There's terrorism, peak oil and other forms of resource depletion, ecosystem destruction, increased governmental corruption. My partner grew up in a country which no longer exists. Yes, it can happen.
Often people ignore these phenomena because they're too depressing and frightening. This is human and understandable, but we don't have to approach it that way. We live in a crucial moment in history. The prospect of these challenges gives us the opportunity to shape our futures. Within the system it may be hard to find meaningful work, but the failures of the system provide more than a lifetime of satisfying work. Where and how can a person start? What do you think?
Action is the hopeful, joyful counterpart to the fear and loathing of analysis and politics.
Action can produce concrete self sufficiency, which empowers people to engage analysis and politics more fully--your ability to dissent is tightly curtailed if you are intimately dependent on the system for your necessities.
Action is not about collecting objects or ideas. It is about doing something simple yet challenging and satisfying, something concrete.
Why do I still have hope? I believe that the earth has a far greater regenerative capacity than the human species. If we manage to self destruct, plants and lizards and mice and wild horses and ants will simply carry on. So long as humanity lasts, though, my hope is also based on the constant regeneration of the earth, and also the peace of distance she sometimes affords us.
There's a painting called The Fall of Icarus. When one looks at it, one sees a farmer ploughing his field, if I remember correctly. Surrounded by trees. Behind him is a valley with a town within it. And in the distant sky is a tiny Icarus, silently falling. To me this painting illustrates an aspect of localization, where the spatial definitions of the earth may cause experience to be increasingly discrete.
As all things in this world, this discreteness is two-sided. It can lead to oblivious disengagement and apathy. But it can also provide peace, security, and empowerment. Much engagement in today's globalized world is largely futile; the forces at hand are so large and impersonal that the engagement consists largely of emotional reactions and endless fruitless brainstorming. With a constrained focus one's work and choices can be seen in scale as having a significant impact, and constantly developing.
The change required to bring humanity and the earth into balance, to achieve genuine sustainability and a compassionate society, is so great that it can only be accomplished by one person transitioning to a sustainable and cooperative lifestyle at a time. And by the vibrant communities that develop out of this process.
I am seeing some amazing things happening here in one region of California. Many inspired and dedicated people connecting. Real work and investment is necessary even just to make sure that the people here would be fed in the event that the Safeway truck doesn't come for a few weeks--because things are that far gone. But it is actually being done, from the bottom up and the top down alike.
Furthermore, although relocalization could easily lead to political isolation, it would also provide political empowerment for engagement. Communities would be able to shape themselves according to their own principles and ideals, rather than be shaped by random global market forces. They would be far more self sufficient, and that independence can provide more weight to throw around when negotiating with others or engaging in passive resistance.
In "Hind Swaraj" Gandhi wrote "As long as we are slaves, India will be enslaved." So many progressives and similar people are trapped in the belief that there is no alternative to urbanization; above all, there is nothing less realistic than becoming a farmer, starting a small local eco-factory, or becoming a simple practical craftsperson. Much of our current paralysis comes from this widespread idea, which itself has emerged from the disorientation of society through governmental subsidization of mega-scale corporate chemical agriculture. In fact the constant regeneration and generosity of the earth is our foundation and source, and society finds its way again by returning to that foundation.
This is the second time I'm seeing a community and its minifarm become alienated to the degree that the minifarm began to seem unnecessary. I wouldn't be surprised if it occurs regularly in communities that aren't centered in the garden.
At some point we may have a couple people come and speak about the impact this garden has in the greater world (as interns have gone out and initiated projects elsewhere) and also how it's perceived by the town & county as a place that is on what J likes to call 'the growing edge.'
But in the meantime, we need to design our crops so that they're more suited to the community's needs. Together we came up with an action plan:
As little as possible of our work and resources should be wasted, as much as possible should go to satisfying the community, and everything else should either be food for us or else pulling in income.
It's crucial that a garden maintain ties to the community. This can be difficult when few community workers have time to work in the garden. Without that connection community members begin to forget why there's a garden in the first place, especially during times when the garden needs extra support. The flowers provide a visual, emotional connection, and can never be overcooked! Salad is a popular, easy crop which is particularly nice to grow here since lettuce is so perishable. It's also educational for me because it's one of the most profitable income crops. Salad garnishes are also relatively profitable, and they can quickly inspire the cook to make delicious salads. Seeds are probably the best way to bring in income in a small space, if you've got a trustworthy seed catalogue that'll buy them from you (or some way to effectively market them yourself), and we do.
Another garden associated with an intentional community may prefer other solutions, but I thought these might be useful ideas to put out there.
Better Living Through Chemistry
They say that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out; but if you put a frog into a pot of cool water and slowly bring it to a boil, it will sit there and cook. I believe there is a parallel here with our reactions to industrial agriculture and GMOs.
I've gotten some flack from friends because I don't believe that GMOs are horrendous in principle, except that they are input-inefficient--they take more resources to make than they are worth. I am against GMOs as they exist now, however, primarily because they are insufficiently tested, the corporations which sell them bully potential markets and regulators, and often they are cultivated for highly destructive purposes, such as to facilitate herbicide use.
A few weeks ago I talked to someone who was doing his dissertation on GMOs. To my surprise, he was not against them. He felt that people had confused antagonism towards industrial agriculture and GMOs, that GMOs themselves were not necessarily problematic, and he wanted to clarify the issue so that a debate could be held.
Realistically, however, it's worth pointing out that a debate is simply not possible. To begin with, Monstanto is not in the business of debating; they're in the business of profit-making at whatever cost to somebody else. Attempting to debate green revolution corporations like that is as naive as sitting down to play a fair game of poker with the most renowned cheater in the country--you'll lose, period. In addition, there is minimal investigation and little objective arbitration of such debates. In fact, the "debate" has already been held--you'll note that GMOs happen to be legal in most of the US.
While I believe that the energy of revulsion to GMOs should be pragmatically harnessed, he's got a point that it's actually a misdirected rejection of industrial agriculture. For instance, the problem with GM gene transfers into weeds in this case is not with the GM gene transfer itself, it's with our reliance on the combination of herbicide and GMOs. The herbicide is likely to be more destructive to the environment than the GMO is. And there are far more problems with industrial agriculture that are not related to GMOs, such as its extreme energy inefficiency. In cases where specific GMOs are the problem, such as the GM corn which kills monarch butterfly larvae, the essential problem is one common to all pesticides, not just GMO-based ones.
But GMOs are the pot of boiling water that we've been dropped into--they're new, and they're gross. Industrial agriculture crept up on us slowly, along with the rest of chemical industrialism. First we saw the advantages--more food, fewer crop failures. Nearly all of us have eaten industrially grown food most of our lives. Gradually we saw some of the disadvantages--diminished food quality, especially in taste. Suddenly there's an obesity epidemic and cancer is commonplace. Is the water boiling yet? Can we even tell?
A man with a stick suddenly came face to face with a lion and instinctively raised his weapon in self-defence. The man saw that he had only prated about fearlessness when there was none in him. That moment he dropped the stick and found himself free from all fear.
I had occasion to revisit this, my favorite quote from Gandhi, tonight. I believe it encapsulates a large body of his teachings perfectly.
The first step is to understand what he meant when he said "Be the change you wish to see in the world," or in his more vehement early days, "We measure the universe by our own miserable foot-rule" and "When we are slaves, India is enslaved."
These three statements require a lot of thought to fully unpack, though. (As does the first quote.) In "Be the change," he isn't just saying "Do what you want everyone else to do." He means that, but also something deeper, more internal. Also bigger; you will literally be the change. Your entire life and being will be that change. And you will be an enormous catalyst, known or unknown. And you will see, as you become increasingly freed from previous strictures, (am I using that word correctly?) it will be increasingly apparent that the change is already real, present, alive, imminent. Not so much imminent in time but in spirit. And that the world, corrupt though it may yet be, is mercifully ripe with potential for transformation.
Note that he doesn't say "Be that other thing you wish to see in the world." He's not talking about a finished, completed state. He's talking about something which will always be dynamic and chaotic.
I don't remember a quote which would explain the role that fearlessness plays in nonviolence. It may be subtly apparent in the quote about the lion. Essentially, it requires a kind of fearlessness to not participate in an violently oppositional relationship. One may feel fear, but the source-feeling of the situation cannot be fear. The source-feeling of an expression can sometimes influence the response it gets (short or long term) more than the outside form of the expression. That kind of fearlessness is so multidimensional, not simply the absence of fear. A better term might be faith--faith in a loving, powerful, mysterious sense. Not in the sense of "I believe in something that I have no real reason to believe in." Faith because one knows, one has felt the source of that faith. Like the term 'nonviolence', 'fearlessness' is almost a silly term compared to what is meant.
The ability to live skillfully in this world depends on these mysterious 'psychological states' and the relationships they create. They depend on Insight, Faith, and Movement or Exertion of the Spirit. These states cannot be manufactured, they cannot simply be willed or chosen. Even someone who has had them loses them from time to time. The causes of these losses are also somewhat mysterious, but they can provide a way to understand others who never seem to reach these states.
I believe that Pir Vilayat Khan said this: "Spiritual people are always trying to wake everyone else up. But some people might need their sleep!"
I got sidetracked. I meant to reflect that, lately especially, I am using rational thought as a stick. The trouble is that rational thought is serving me very well lately. But my critical faculties are generally overdeveloped, as I'm aware, and while that can be useful, it is often imbalanced and can be quietly destructive. I was told today that all of my most useful experiences were those that I went into out of impulse, often they seemed to be poor choices. But without them I would lack substance.
Like the Boddhisattvas of Knowledge and Compassion, whose names I never remember. Knowledge carries a sharp, raised sword. He is also Division. Compassion--does she carry a lotus? She is Substance. There is always a mysterious, centered, womb-like quality to this Compassion--like the triangle of the Empress in the tarot.
We live in a time of Knowledge without Compassion, division without substance. Ultimately knowledge will tell us that we need compassion. But in the meantime, we respond to substancelessness with a sword. It is not that sticks and swords are always problematic. But Compassion must be our first teacher, and in order to learn it helps to disarm. And then to listen.
I have been thinking lately that I should undertake a vow of silence, or some equivalent...
No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can
expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded. -Margaret
I used to think that pacifists who believe in keeping violence from their children were namby pamby. Violence is a part of life. Nonviolence isn't avoidance or denial of it, it's a way to work with it dynamically so that both the means and the ends are overall positive. It's a kind of jiujitsu of (and through) goodwill.
But, being around kids more often, I'm finding that the pacifists have a point. You can't shelter a child from violence entirely, and it might be counterproductive. But it's very useful for a child to grow up surrounded by adults who approach situations, especially difficult ones, in a peaceful way. Adults who know how to express difficult feelings constructively. Who can express and maintain strong boundaries with an attitude of kindness, rather than have weak boundaries and then become resentful when they are ignored. Who can teach a kid to look more deeply at the root of a conflict, with sympathy and understanding. This saves the kid from having to reinvent the wheel of skillful kindness.
It is also important to limit influences in the kid's life which will rival or supersede that peaceful approach. Most television not only communicates some violence, but also bulimic consumerism and general sheer inanity. If there was genuinely nothing else to do it might be worth it, but those hours sucked up by the boob tube are precious. There's no mortal danger in amusements which involve some depictions or semblance of violence, but it is deeply important that the kid is aware of the problems of violence and the many other choices we have. The less of a role these amusements have in kids' lives, the better. The kid will be less likely to act out towards parents and other kids in school. Also, other family members, schoolmates, and teachers can instill and reinforce a tendency towards competition, disrespect, and escalation of conflict, although wide socialization is generally really good for kids.
So there's always a subtle balance to maintain, and this world will always be imperfect. But essentially I've observed that kids and our relationships with them are strongly influenced by subtle expressions of conflict or constructive peacefulness in adults. Individual children are often disliked because they reflect openly the hidden struggles of adults around them. There's always an alternative, though the transition can be difficult. It often starts with slowing down, and practicing a lot of honest self observation with a sense of humility. Other times it's a small thing, a matter of just expressing quiet, honest appreciation.
A big step in the right direction. Eco-designs of future cities in China.
After reading Threats of Peak Oil to the Global Food Supply...
There's a profound flaw in the way that progressives tend to approach the historical crisis in which we find ourselves. Essentially, it is not proactive.
While our thoughts may soar like a solitary eagle to ponder the world below, our actions stick with the herd, bleating occasionally and running to the barn when the shepherd comes for feeding and artificial insemination.
It's true that many people can't afford to transition to a sustainable lifestyle (though money is certainly not the only deciding factor). And it's true that we do need a few people focusing on policy just in case they can ever make a difference. It's also true that a few eccentrics living sustainably won't save the world. However, they can save themselves. And they can provide an infrastructure and skill base that others can join or learn from and replicate.
This is not a good time to stick with the lowest common denominator. Don't wait for the government and don't wait for the country and don't want for the world and don't wait for your town. Start with yourself. Start with something concrete. And then keep going.
Localization Wherever You Are
Economic localization (also called relocalization) allows a community to be more independent in the face of an uncertain future, and gives it more power to shape itself and its economy according to whatever principles it may have, such as responsibility, sustainability, equality, and cooperation. The primary focus is on the most vulnerable necessities such as energy, food, and water.
The Post Carbon Institute and its companion site Global Public Media have focused on relocalization as the best response to Peak Oil, and provide quite a bit of information on the subject. PCI is also coming out with a book on the subject in the fall. WELL in Willits CA is a good example of what a community organization for economic localization can be.
But in most places the communities as a whole (or just too large a segment thereof) simply aren't ready for this process, the agreement and participatory democracy that it requires. So what can one do under those circumstances?
I started thinking about this in response to a brief comment from lahermite. Suppose you live in a large city or suburb, where people aren't very forward thinking or open to such ideas. Well, start where you are. You've got yourself, your household, your friends, their friends, and probably a bunch of other people you haven't met yet, some of whom you could reach through certain organizations or publications in your area. Even if it's just you, that's a place to start. It won't seem like much on the grand scale, but your own life (and your energy bills) can only benefit from whatever you accomplish.
Ask yourself: How can I make my energy and food more local and sustainable? Get everyone together and start a brainstorming session.
Can you lower your energy needs ? Can you find cheap ways to harvest solar energy, like solar ovens, or recycled solar panels? Can you buy local organic food? Can you grow local organic sustainable food in your own backyard, with an eye towards actually supplying the basics of your own diet? Can you start a community garden that includes a study site which models what one person would need to do to grow all their own food? Can you team up with sympathetic organizations that can assist your small group in doing these sorts of things?
The possibilities are really endless, and many would be inspired by the particularities of your area. Target whichever projects are most important to you and most practical with your given resources and needs. It is likely that as the price of gas goes up and the need for local economies increases, awareness will increase, and your group will attract more and more people. Bear in mind also that the simple existence of your group (and whatever accomplishments people hear about) will indirectly increase awareness of these issues in your community.
Gardens will change the world.
Why? Because they can give a sizable proportion of the population food independence. And then those people will be more empowered to take things into their own hands, to create local economies that are based on their own principles.
What world will they create? Will it protect and strengthen the vulnerable? Will it foster economic and social equality? Or will it be a world of landlords and wanderers?
Vetiver grass roots smell incredibly good. And familiar--I think they must use them for mats in India.
An interview with Douthwaite on local currency: the debt based economy may mean more than you think it means. He talks about the problems with Local Exchange Trading Systems. Odd though that what he's advocating is actually not a regional currency, as far as I can see.
"We have so little time, we must proceed very slowly."
Saving columbine seeds is wonderfully easy. The flowers eventually turn into a dry pods with puckered open channels. I picked the pods, and tipped them over into a small paper envelope. Most of the seeds easily fell out, and more emerged when I pressed the seed pod. I then closed and labeled the envelope with the name of the flower and the date, and put it away in a dry place.
Localizing Sustainable Agriculture Scholarships
The senior apprentice here will be completing his apprenticeship and leaving by the beginning of September. Not only will we be down to two people at this location, but my knowledge and skill in no way compares to his. So I feel strongly that we should have two interns for the fall, at least.
In the past, it seems like the most energy has gone towards foreign interns, particularly those from 'developing' countries. But at this point visas are becoming more difficult to get. We will probably be able to get one such intern from Costa Rica this fall. It stands to reason that if we find another intern, he or she should be American or a resident. In order to get one, realistically, we would need a modest grant to provide for his or her basic needs while here.
JB of the economic relocalization group has been really interested in getting EA more connected to the local community, training local students, and starting food-producing projects in the area. Just having done a preliminary search for foundations that provide grants for environmentalism and sustainable agriculture, I think that not only is the localization angle a good one, it would be motivating to Northern Californian foundations as well. I'm not sure if you can use two grants for one person, but if so that would be perfect. Actually I think that with a little time, we could easily have a regular localizing sustainable agriculture scholarship for two interns at all times.
Of course interns are great no matter where they're from, but this is a very interesting possibility. Possibly interns from other regions could get similar grants for their own area, which might even continue after their internship if they had a project to start.
Personally I keep thinking about that garden which provides employment, food, and training for homeless people. And a minifarm could easily connect with a school in a similar way, to provide food, learning space, and hands on environment and gardening classes, and work and exercise for the older students. (I saw a lot of grants for environmental education for youth. That kind of thing can be meaningless, but properly done it could start to rebuild our skill base.) Alternative economy projects are those which will make the difference in the future, but in terms of making a difference in the present, a community project like the above would be able to change people's lives, and doors would open for such a project.
It appears that I will be taking over the 40 bed research unit here when D leaves. I feel like I'm coming closer to the point where I ask J if he'd be all right with me starting a 'high profile' blog, and being more clear about where I'm working and what I'm doing and so on. It would have been nice to document the experience of the first six months more fully, which is the period of classes which most people will take if they come here. But I didn't have time really anyway.
I have to change my approach to lettuce. The heads are getting huge, the old cut roots have grown substantial leaves again, and it's all far more than I'm capable of preparing and eating. Especially when you consider that the only window to cut decent tasting lettuce is in the early morning, and I'm prone to forgetting.
In the future they'll be on smaller spacing, and I'll plan to harvest more of them just a little past the baby stage.
If I do take over the 40 bed unit, my diet plan for class is no longer so hypothetical. I can expand it spatially though, since my current diet plan only uses 27 beds. I will also use some beds for experiments. So I'm thinking more seriously about crops providing my nutritional needs.
One intriguing crop is sorghum, especially varieties such as Dale, which yield both grain and syrup, as well as compost material. I tasted the syrup last weekend, and although it's not as good as maple syrup, it's far tastier than molasses. I could get used to using that as my regular sweetener. We have a sorghum press here, and it's not very complicated to use. I flatted some this morning, though there's a chance it won't mature before the fall frosts.
I was reading a short book on elementals last night, and a point from this recent message was further clarified or emphasized:
When a person becomes interested in spirits, particularly nature spirits, they often think of contact with a spirit as though they themselves have created the spirit, or more accurately, proven that the spirit exists, and something great has been accomplished. Afterwards there is often a cycle of doubt and longing and resignation. Although this is understandable given the way that we are, the truth is that we are already quite aware of nature spirits just as they are aware of us. We may cooperate while rarely communicating directly, but we are still far beyond ships passing in the night; rather we are like several individuals working in one room at familiar cooperative tasks, instinctively harmonious. It is we humans who have forgotten much of this familiar work, but impressive psychic accomplishments are not the most important aspect of remembering and returning to harmonious cooperation. Communication will come more easily and appropriately when basic elements of our work and cooperation have returned to balance, though even now it is beneficial, in proper perspective.
Whether you conceptualize these spirits, energies, processes as sylphes and undines or photosynthesis, cellular reproduction and DNA does not mean that either is the ultimate reality. Both ways of thinking have advantages and disadvantages, but both are no more than signifiers and are not the 'seal of the concepts'.
I liked a couple of quotes from this book I'm reading, The Backyard Dairy Book by Street & Singer, published in '72:
"The less CASH you need to buy the necessities of life, the less you need to earn by selling your time as an employee, or by selling the products of your work as a self-employed person. IF YOU ARE PAYING TAX AT THE STANDARD RATE, EVERY POUNDSWORTH OF FOOD WHICH YOU PRODUCE YOURSELF SAVES YOU HAVING TO EARN 1.43P. Remember that..."
"This may also motivate you to start a home dairy production. We can all sit on our backsides and moan about the ecological effects of modern farming methods, about the power of modern industrial corporations and about people having to spend their lives as factory automatons. Unless you do what you can to cut down your economic reliance on this situation, you are much to blame for what you are moaning about as anyone. Now that you have picked up this book, there is no excuse."
Repose in action.
This is very exciting. Gandhi's writings online, and his collected works in PDF format.
Working through my period is not hard, and I'm overall quite happy, though my feet get sore in those boots, and occasionally hormones start rollercoastering around. I just let myself drag for a half hour, and it passes. Reality usually reminds me that the worst case scenarios affecting me so powerfully are wildly off the mark. And then, the sky is beautiful, ravens are everywhere, and beds full of lush, varied crops wave in the breeze.
I amended my corn bed, and will transplant and direct sow corn tomorrow. Also got help from D on my garden plan, mainly help with the equations. As JB said, biointensive can be so math happy. I sort of like it, so long as people will be patient with my slow grasp of what numbers do and don't do, when they're right and not right. It makes the tortoise successes all the more satisfying, now that unlike in school, math has a purpose. So I'm really enjoying working with excel, so far.
It's 1 AM and a bird is singing. Oh no, it is only the nightingale. Or I'm up so late that my imagination is becoming musical.
I dug up a crop of winter potatoes that were planted in the greenhouse. So far I'm only up to the patch of blue potatoes. And my god, but they're beautiful when first out of the ground--a rich purple blue luster beneath the dusty black dirt, a sacred and obscene color. I actually feel the madness of a jewel hunter while digging for them, capturing the tiniest seed potatoes, every single one, digging deeper and deeper in the hopes of more astonishing purple. I couldn't bring myself to eat them. You could only understand if I showed you, if you saw them straight out of the deep dark soil. Purple potato fever.
And then CB (I think, or was it CH?) appeared; a thin, jiggly, giggly and healthy old man who finds every second sentence worthy of a chortle. His frame is set to all sorts of diagonal angles, and he talks like a kid, getting every thought out there. He's the president of the biodynamic association, (which one, I wonder?) and has guided D's next career direction. He was supposed to be one of our teachers, because he was also an early biointensive person, but there was politics so he left. We went to an orchard on the property. He slathered the trunks with special mud while I dug up thistles and sweated.
He asked me about how I ended up with biointensive. I told him that I'd been studying Gandhi's political philosophy, but didn't think typical antiwar work could be very effective, unfortunately. (I should qualify that by saying that I think nowadays antiwar work is very important against the Bush style wars, but I think that's more on the level of politically choosing one's wars with a bit of wisdom rather than yeehawism, not so much an issue of nonviolence. And anyway, as much as I appreciate it, it's not my path.) He misinterpreted me and thought that I meant that I had taken on biointensive in place of Gandhianism, and was saying that Eastern philosophies are too abstract. I said that actually, Gandhi had this idea of volunteers working on what he called village sanitation. And I thought to myself, what is the equivalent of this that's appropriate for the US? And then I encountered biointensive, and that was it.
But man, village sanitation? I have to reread the booklet on the Constructive Programme and look for more evocative phrases. Village sanitation was a response to, I think, English criticisms that India was so dirty and Indians themselves could never clean it up, that was the white man's burden. Gandhi certainly had a mixed relationship with villagers, and I'm sure he had mixed experiences with them as well. (By the way, if you have any questions about Gandhi, I'd love to answer them.)
I told him about my interest in sheep and fabric. He said he'd take me to the F Vineyards, because they have sheep there. Meanwhile that's where the Steiner study group meets, and where the best cheap fresh milk comes from. It's a large farm inhabited by a vast extended family, and all the children go barefoot all year and herd animals around and so on.
CH and D were talking briefly about how biointensive is ideal for food production for a few people labor intensively, ideal for third world countries, but not here. I have mixed feelings about that idea, but I think I will have to try to train elsewhere one way or another after this apprenticeship, to broaden my experience and judge for myself.
It's impossible to describe the bliss in the garden, to circumscribe it. It is no different than any other moment except that there's usually some physical comfort, and bliss. I was pushing the wheelbarrow along the path, to go pick up the fava bean stalks I'd scythed when it flooded me. But it wasn't an emotional flooding either; it was clear and universal, like the sunlight all around. The world gleams with life, with myriad activity.
Sometimes, if you make space for what you desire, it will naturally come. Contemplation can be the space for many things. Contemplation of this kind is not thinking, not not thinking, but something closer to listening; maybe imaginative listening.
Busyness is an obstacle to contemplation for me at the moment. I'm somewhat receptive while working, but not deeply so. Being uncomfortably cold in the mornings and evenings is as well, though the space heater and season change helps. Not having the right kind of physical space matters a great deal--my shrine in the corner looks very pretty, but there's something too small and enclosed about it. I would almost like to make a shrine (in the sense of a place to focus) on the back porch, at least for the summer. Excessive social contact and verbalization is also an obstacle. I want to stay in contact and to some degree I still crave it, but I need to have less of it. Tomorrow I won't come online except for email and possibly writing. I can always be fetched by email or phone if necessary.
The miraculous quality of my circumstances has come rushing back to me. I realized last night, amid many molehill-mountainous struggles, that what I need to do is cultivate energy. I have about three hours in the evening, and three hours in the morning. So I have to make the most of my mornings, and even if I'm very tired in the evenings there are ways to keep from exhaustion, or even to be slightly productive though exhausted and then go to bed early.
So upon waking (as the alarm clock seemed to be talking to me excitedly) I immediately set to work, eating a bigger breakfast than usual, cleaning up, and getting a little work done in the meantime.
Class up at EA was less interesting than usual, though still nice; we basically practiced the worksheets we have for homework, where you calculate your calorie needs, the calorie content per pound versus pound yield per square foot of various crops, and also the productiveness of compost crops. Although I am number dyslexic no matter what, I improve significantly with practice, and I enjoy the challenge when there's a purpose.
I should explain more about the purpose behind these assignments. The goal of biointensive is to provide all one's food, in the minimum amount of land, in a way that is sustainable (or even soil improving) in a closed system. So of course one has to know a lot about how much food one needs.
In order to do this, certain types of crops are grown in a certain ratio:
Sixty percent is composed of grain crops which produce a high amount of carbon for the compost. Corn, wheat, and quinoa are grown for their stalks and leaves primarily, and the grain for food is of secondary importance. Although grain is an excellent source of calories per pound, the yield of calories per growing area is not very high. In other words, a box full of wheat is incredibly nourishing, but it takes a lot of space to grow enough wheat to fill that box. But if you grow sixty percent of these grain or carbon crops in your minifarm, it will provide enough compost for one hundred percent of your minifarm. Although sources of nitrogen are less emphasized, they are also included as compost crops, such as fava beans and alfalfa.
Thirty percent is composed of special root crops. These are crops which yield a lot of calories per area. In other words, though the box of wheat has more calories than the same size box of potatoes, it takes very little space to grow enough potatoes to fill the box and more besides. There aren't very many thirty percent crops; potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, leeks, parsnips, burdock and some others. Onions and carrots don't produce enough calories, for example. Over time, perhaps people can develop onions that do, and make parsnips tastier. I believe that would be the next frontier in biointensive, but I'm simply not equipped for that one. I'm growing elephant garlic, which is actually closer to leeks than garlic, as an experimental special root crop this winter, since we aren't sure what it's calorie content is.
Ten percent is composed of vegetables, which includes everything that isn't a compost crop or a special root crop. Vegetables are in the diet for vitamins, minerals, and variety.
After class JB drove me home. He's one of the people behind WEL, a former ...plant scientist specializing in a tropical tree, a househusband, and he's taking the class with us. I love getting driven around with these people, because we have the most fantastic conversations. We talked about the fallacy of the concept of the middle class in the framework of sustainability, and he told me a great deal about the Russian economy, which put the recent aquisition of Yukos by Putin into a different perspective. Although it seemed like a sinister move towards dictatorship (and it may be that as well), it was also an attempt to rescue Russia's resources from those who benefited from its ripoff postcommunist privitization, especially at a time when oil resources are likely to become more valuable.
I spent some more time working on my garden plan, which at the moment consists of transcribing information from How to Grow More Vegetables and later will consist of doing math. Then we had a garden meeting, and D taught a class on leeks. He pointed out that since both leeks and potatoes are 30% crops (calorie and area efficient) it gives a whole new meaning to potato leek soup. Which, incidentally, I have just had for dinner, using D's wonderful overgrown leeks.
I worked in the garden for just a couple hours, weeding some of E's most needful beds. D worked nearby. At a certain point he saw a racer snake, which indeed moved very quickly and seemed the exact same color as the ground. We chased it around for awhile, and then it seemed to disappear under some shade coverings placed over a potato bed. I lifted the shade covering a bit, and there was its body, still and unawares. Does it bite? I asked D. No, he said. He must have meant that it does not bite poisonously, because when I grasped it by the belly it twirled up and bit me firmly yet gently on my left forefinger. And it hung on, piercing my skin with its tiny teeth. We swung together for a minute, both surely astonished, and then we both let go. It raced away. I showed D the tiny, bleeding pinpricks it had left. The red gleamed, and I felt blessed by the strange encounter.
Evening has come. I'm determined to finish or nearly finish my garden plan tonight. It's even a simplified version. The sky is long shimmering blue veil behind interlaced black trees and black mountains, as it is nearly every evening.