Archive for April 24th, 2008

My Family's Deep Breaths

Sharon April 24th, 2008

I thought it might be interesting to tell you how we’re stepping back a little from the thoughts of crisis today.  My boys and I are…inventing permaculture.  Shhh…don’t tell Simon and Isaiah this existed already.  They think it was their idea.

 You see, in his wonderful book _Gaia’s Garden_ Toby Hemenway mentions that three sisters gardens actually have a fourth sister, cleome serrulata, also known as Rocky Mountain bee plant.  We’ve been planning for some time to do a family 3 sisters garden - the kids have drawn pictures, helped me make a garden plan and chose varieties of corn, beans and squash.  When they heard that, of course we had to add a fourth sister, and while we don’t have that particular Cleome, we do have seeds of common spider flower, also a Cleome.  Will it work?  No freakin’ idea, but we’re going to experiment. 

Well yesterday, as we were out on the swings, Simon and Isaiah came running up with a new idea.  Could they make a Four Brothers Garden, one based on plants that were special to them and that would work together?  And…and…could they be plants that come back forever, so that they have them every year.  I swear - they thought of the whole thing themselves.

So we started to talk about what a Four Brothers Garden would look like.  We all agreed that Eli’s plant should be the biggest, and that it should be an apple tree.  Since Eli can eat a half bushel of apples in a weekend, this seemed important.  We have apple trees, but one more is always welcome.

Simon, being the next sized down kid wanted  a shrub, and I suggested a Goumi, since we don’t have any, they fix nitrogen and I want one.  And Simon likes the idea because birds like them and he likes to say “Goumi.”

Isaiah wanted to have the pollinator plant - he loves bees, bugs and humming birds, and wanted something red that would attract hummingbirds and other pollinators.  We picked some Bee Balm - good also because Isaiah loves to make salads with edible flowers.

Finally, Asher is the little guy, but with a big, pushy personality.  What could be better than comfrey, dynamic accumulator that it is, for its natural mulching pleasures.  Yes, it is a spreader and occasionally a PITA, but then again, so’s my kid ;-) .

With just a little guidance from Mom, we’ve essentially reinvented the wheel.  But boy are the boys excited - and proud of themselves.  And it strikes me as remarkable what kids of four and six can accomplish when they put their minds to it.  Heck, permaculture summercamp - the next big thing!

BTW, I really wish I could go to this - I want to go to camp!  My relationship to permaculture is self teaching plus bugging some people I know to help me out - I’d love a chance to do a more formal program.  But I thought I would recommend it to those who don’t have four little tutors - and I’m told there’s some fundraising being done for those who can’t afford the full program.  

I’ve been invited to stop by and visit, and I might - although there are factors working against it.  First, there’ll be the goats to milk.  Second, there are the four kids and the lack of many people who really want us to dump them on them.  Third, there’s the driving miles - Rioting, y’know.  And finally there’s the real reason - I’m afraid Toby Hemenway will throw composting fruit at me ;-).  We had a little argument once, and I think he might be out for revenge - permaculturists are a rough bunch ;-) .

Ok, must abandon the blog - the screaming in the yard suggests that it is now time for Mommy to encourage the children to reinvent non-violence.


Ok, Breathe.

Sharon April 24th, 2008

So my last post kinda hit a nerve.  I broke 100 comments for the very first time (thanks for the lively discussion on nuclear power, guns, veganism and tomato plants), and made the top links at Savinar’s LATOC, the Automatic Earth, Energy Bulletin, etc…  Can I just make one little complaint - I asked, nay, begged y’all to argue me out of this belief, and almost no one argued the basic premise at all.  I really, really wanted someone to persuade me that things aren’t really going to hell in a handbasket. 

Given that that doesn’t seem to be happening, what to do?  Where do we go from here?  I have compiled a list of suggestions, most of them fairly obvious.

 1. Take a couple of deep breaths.  Yes, this is a scary thing.  Yes, this is a terribly sad thing.  Yes, we have every obligation to bust our behinds to do what we can to mitigate the disaster unfolding before us.

And yet, let’s also note that this current crisis was 150 years in the making and had the participation of a lot of people.  You didn’t do it by yourself, and you aren’t going to fix it by yourself.  You are potentially more powerful than you think - but no delusions of grandeur here ;-) .  The world will not fall apart if you take a short break.  Remember, we are the last fairy godmothers in line at the Christening.  We can’t make the curse go away, we can just soften it a little.

So take those deep breaths.  Go out in the garden and sit in the sun for a bit.  Read a book - and not a book about peak oil or food, a trashy novel - no high art allowed.  If you are a chick, and you haven’t read Georgette Heyer’s _Venetia_ or _Faro’s Daughter_ do.  If you are of either gender, and like mysteries, read Barbara Hambly’s _A Free Man of Color_ and the sequels.  Tom Robbins is permitted, and if you are a Sci Fi geek Lois McMaster Bujold (stay far, far away from the horrible ones about Fawn and Dag, though), Connie Willis (my favorite is _Bellweather_ or Neil Stephenson.  But stay away from “the earth is destroyed by a giant baseball bat and a few survivors must fight off drooling zombies…” stuff.  This is denial time. 

 Rent a movie.  I suggest a pre-1950s comedy, preferrably something with Cary Grant.  “His Gal Friday” “Desk Set” (my favorite of the Hepburn-Tracy flicks), “The Thin Man” or the perfect, glorious “A Night at the Opera.”  Nothing that reminds you of our present crisis - no “Modern Times.”

Have a beer or two.  Throw or kick a ball with your kid or some borrowed kid from the neighborhood.  Pat your seedlings.  Pet your dog or cat or guinea pig.  Hang out with friends and talk about trivial things.    Do something life affirming for a short while.

And then, get back to work on the same things - because in  a way, it doesn’t much matter if I’m right or not - the answer to how to do deal with a fast crash or a slow crash is the same - live differently, help other people adapt to living differently, grow food, enrich soil, share, talk to the neighbors, help each other out, take care of yourself and your own, give what you can to those in need, meet as many of your own needs as you can, keep services alive for those who are most vulnerable, speak out against injustice, do what good you can, and try and stop what evil you can, love one another, take pleasure in what you have and find a way to hope for the future.  Above all, to paraphrase the words over the Holocaust Museum - DON’T BE A BYSTANDER.  Be in your world, as deeply as you can, as bravely as you can.

2. Do not start panic buying food, especially rice.   Does that sound strange, coming from me?  Over at the breaking news page of LATOC you will see a lot of articles about food rationing hitting the US.  You may also see, if you look here that food rationing panic drove rice prices up to a record high overnight.  And while I’ve written that I don’t think poor people buying rice at reasonable prices is hoarding, and should not be primarily blamed for high rice prices, a lot of well fed Americans buying rice suddenly because Costco (btw, you heard it here first) is limiting purchases *is* bad for the world’s poor.  So don’t buy rice right now.  Take a deep breath again, and recognize that you and I will always be able to outbid poor people for rice, and that part of why food storage buying made sense is because my audience was so small - everyone wasn’t doing it.  When the problem was not acute, buying rice for your family made sense.  Now, it is acute, and it is more important to do what we can to help the poor.

Does this mean you shouldn’t store food - no, you absolutely should, but don’t contribute to the drive up of rice prices.  By oatmeal, plant potatoes, buy quinoa - but not big sacks or pallet loads of rice.   Forgo CAFO meat, and eat only meat, milk and eggs that is raised on pasture or with minimal human food grain use.  Send the money you would spend on that stuff (or on soyburgers - buy whole black soybeans and eat them instead) to the relief of the poor.

3. Add another row in your garden, or a bed, or something, and donate it to your food pantry.  Grow more food if you can.  Ask a neighbor if you can grow on her lawn, or your boss if you can plant vegetables on the corporate greenspace.  Push the limits of agriculture and local food as hard as you can.  Talk about food - make sure people understand that this is about who eats.

4. Get the hell out of your car.  I know this is hard - I live in the country - everything is far away.  But do it anyway - I bet you have a couple of trips you could skip.  Find a way.  Not warming the planet and not buying ethanol are too important.  So find a way.  We dumped our van, we’re now the proud owners of a tiny, high mileage compact car not officially designed for 6 people, 3 in carseats, but we can do it - and the less we drive, the less I have to sit crammed in the middle.  Making your car freakin’ uncomfortable is an excellent way of creating incentives to drive less ;-) .

5. There’s a good chance you’ll never build your strawbale dream house, start up that intentional community or buy a farm.  You may well be adapting in place.  So if you have been waiting to do things until you were where you want to be, start acting as though you might be in that place.  It is time to decide that home now is home.  Maybe you won’t have to stay put - but a lot of us will - or we’ll be moving onto someone’s couch.  Or someone will be moving onto yours.

 So use the yard sale season to get some extra blankets, and prep the couch, the guest room or whatever.  Think about how the kids might double up.  Accept that where you are may be your world for a while, and make it the best place you can.

 Build community - even if your neighbors are assholes, they are your assholes now. ;-) .  Get to know them, and get to know the power structures in your town and region - see what you can get started.  Talk about food security and Katrina and start developing a plan.

See the opportunity here to push harder, make more change, get more involved.  Run for something.  Give that talk at your church or community center.  Yes, I know you don’t want to.  Do it anyway. 

6. Triage.  If everything collapsed today (and no, it isn’t going to happen, so relax a little - I swear on all that is holy you have at least until Sunday ;-) ), where would you be?  Your community?  Your family?  What could you accomplish, and what can’t you?  Write it down. 

Next, take a look at what you would want to accomplish if you had a couple more years and some money.  Make a list.  I’m going to bet that there are some duplications on both lists - that is, there are things you have to do that you want to do anyway.  Guess which things are now numbers 1 and 2 on your priority list.  Maybe you still won’t be able to do them - but at least you know.  And maybe you will. 

But think it through.  I know, it isn’t much fun - it is far nicer to ask “what do we want the world to look like.”  But just in case, have a plan for fucked up too.  If you need guidance, I would encourage you to read Dmitry Orlov’s articles on his life during the Soviet Collapse, and to read his book as soon as it is available - it is terrific. 

 Of course there’s more - health care, transport, education…but start here.  Breathe first, then get to work.  Yes, things are falling apart rapidly, we’ve acknowledged it.  But then again, your life is different from yesterday now…how?