Archive for August, 2011


Those of us with “doomer” inclinations are noticing the early odors of the future blowing towards us from just over the horizon. They have a nasty, sulfurous smell. Since there is probably no brimstone involved, what we are detecting is more likely the stench from overflowing puddles of effluent, waste, decay, and the odiferous bloom of societal melt down. As our rage rises so does our sense of helplessness. Given the difficulties of building a sufficiently large and well-equipped ark or bunker, what else can one do? Where to take a stand? And on what? And how? And with what?  Despite opinions, from Derrick Jensen as well as many other dedicated planet-loving resistors, that modifying personal behavior is insufficient to make much of dam (or even a damn!) against this impending onslaught, I cannot help but try out some highly personal projects. Why? Because then I can at least feel as though I am doing something, however puny and weak, to help myself and those around me, to resist the on-coming tide of what is most likely to be an unpleasant and disrupted future. Better something rather than just the usual pontificating gaseous emanations of outrage and hope, and often hapless, ignored protest marches.

Advocating for the protection, renewal and rejuvenation of our planetary ecosystems is hollow if I am not, to some extent at least, actively and practically pursuing those goals on and in the ground myself. An old saw is appropriate here: “Practice what you preach.” My personal pursuit doesn’t necessarily need to be dramatic, but it does need to be consistent as well as persistent to qualify as a genuine “regular practice” of some kind. What moves me are touchable, smell-able, and feel-able endeavors. First and foremost, I am an ardent sensualist, one of those folks who are aroused, inspired, and sometimes even persuaded, by touch and sight. And so, this year, I have renewed my vows of perpetual sensuality.

To honor that resolve, my regular practice, my daily meditation, has been a food garden…..building it, tending it and nurturing it. I use the term “it” with some hesitation, for “it”, this place, is, in this case a living and breathing community of plants, animals, and microbes. This community thrives on an interconnected network of mutual exchanges. A diverse and robust ecosystem is an elaborate barter system based on reciprocity. With that in mind and wanting to be a working partner in this enterprise, I bury my hands in the soil as often as possible. I take as a gardening axiom: healthy soil (including microbes, worms, etc.) = healthy plants (and ecosystem) = healthy food = healthy human (and other animals). Part of my role as a steward of the soil and a participant in the process who may take away a goodly share of its nutrients in the form of food, is to provide the nutritional ingredients for growing healthy soil. My goal in that regard has been to make do with what is available locally.

It just so happens that I was/am carrying around the answer to one of those nutritional problems at this very moment. In fact, the solution, literally, is sloshing around in my bladder. Like each and everyone of us, I have the capacity to be my own mobile fertilizer factory, if I just choose to take advantage of it. SO I took matters into my own hands, literally again, and began to turn on my own skin spigot. Now of course this is not new idea, it is for me, however, a new practice.

Now I am happily pissing in bottles, well not bottles exactly. My vessels of choice are glass canning jars. (Plastic is verboten in this household for all but a handful of uses, but that’s a topic for another blog piece.) There are four principal reasons for draining my liquids into a portable container: [1] It’s marvelously convenient, in fact, and handy, particularly at night—no stumbling about tripping over shoes or dogs or thumping into walls, for example; [2] I am no longer wasting gallons of valuable potable water to flush away a valuable “waste”; [3] the practice appeals to the once junior, now senior, amateur scientist still lodged in my brain; and [4] I am also achieving a kind of at-one-ment – bonding with my plants as well as feeding nature in general in a way that far surpasses just splashing my “bodily fluids” into porcelain bowls. And a fifth reason: it’s pleasurable, it’s fun.

AND why canning jars? Primarily because they are plain, old-fashioned, readily-available, and appropriately-sized containers. Even the size of the opening of the regular quart jar, doesn’t require too careful, awkward or finicky insertion techniques. And if you are grandly endowed, there are always the wide-mouthed jars, though you may have to search for them a bit as they aren’t as commonly found in stores. At night, if you’re in a slightly somnambulant, turgid, dream-laced stupor, the added dimensional lee way can make for a relatively carefree, much easier and usually spill-free, or at least splatter-less, experience. Added bonuses are the clarity of the glass and the nifty measurement markings on the sides. This makes them the perfect beaker for gauging your own output; which is especially handy for those of us who are inclined towards a semi-scientific replication of various aspects of the practice. Checking on the color and clarity of your urine is simple and informative as well.

I decided to begin the process of home brewing my own fertilizer this spring shortly after I had potted up my seedlings for the third time. For this final potting-up I used home-made newspaper pots. The plants, especially the tomatoes, responded exuberantly to their new quarters. In about a week they had muscled out, doubling in size, while showing off their robust and thick stems. A luxuriant root growth was also curling out of the bottoms of the pots. As I looked at them, I felt as though I had created the plant equivalent of a cadre of freaky steroidal weight-lifters. BUT they had also begun to exhibit definite signs of nutrient deficiency, principally nitrogen. The newspaper pots were either binding up the essential elements or just sucking them away despite my continued applications of fish emulsion fertilizer. But no matter why it was occurring, it was clear, in a Little Shop of Horrors moment, that I really needed to feed my plants. BUT what to do? I wanted to avoid artificial fertilizers at all costs. The answer came in a flash, an urge actually: urine. And so the Magical Golden Elixir was born.

It has three key ingredients: urine, fish emulsion and water, preferably rain water. The proportions of these in the final mix have developed mostly by happenstance. The process is straightforward enough. Right next to the garden I have set up a low-tech fertilizer manufacturing area where the ingredients are mixed into the final brew. I have been using two gallon black plastic pots retrieved from a dumpster behind a nearby Trader Joe’s. After emptying a little less than a quart of urine into the pot, I pour in about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of liquid fish emulsion. Then I fill the pot with water. Before I pour the fertilizer onto the area I have decided needs it, I stir the contents thoroughly with a stick, first clockwise for a few spins, then counter clockwise for a few spins. Though it’s not exactly Biodynamic Preparation 501, I can nonetheless activate the power of the vortex.

The effect of this elixir on the plants to which it has been applied has been, frankly, spectacular. The plants are lush, vigorous and highly productive. The tomatoes are thick-stemmed, fulsome, green and laden with fruit. Planted out as 8 to 10 inch seedlings in very late May, all of them (as of this writing in late July), are at least 5 feet high; many particularly the Brandywines, are nearly 6  feet tall, and the nibbling varieties, like Matt’s Wild, are nearing 9 feet. Other plants, like the broccoli and cabbages are belligerently showy, and the squash vines, both summer and winter, are nearly as aggressive as kudzu. And yes, they are abundantly endowed with flowers as well as leaves for those of you who are concerned about too much nitrogen. I haven’t taken a soil sample for testing lately, but I will at the end of the season.

As of now, pissing into bottles has become a regular pattern and a habit, so much so that taking a leak into a toilet seems flat out stupid, crude, rude, and frankly, much less sanitary. I almost can’t bring myself to empty my bladder into a toilet bowl any more, though of course I have to most of the time when I’m not here, though I always look for conveniently located shrubs and trees. It seems just good common sense that whenever I can I avoid flushing away all that perfectly potable water just to carry off a couple of cups of genuinely useful and valuable nutrients, I do. Instead I opt for feeding the plants wherever they are. “Water closets”, an out of date, ironic and misleading moniker if ever there was one, are an extravagant waste of resources. Living where I do allows me the opportunity to be free with my pee, enriching the soil and feeding the plants in my care. I intend to take full advantage of it to help our household have an abundant, bountiful crop of delicious organic vegetables. And so far the results are as delicious as they are abundant. It seems that making your own fertilizer is almost as gratifying as making your own salad dressing. Next home-brewing project: vodka….using potatoes, of course.


Read Full Post »

Luddite(?) ruminations

Given the abysmal state of affairs on our shimmering blue ball, I have been taking to heart (and other parts of me as well) the invitation from IBM to help “build a smarter planet.” I think I have an idea of what their version might look like and I imagine it wouldn’t really look too much like mine.

I assume from their promotional materials, including their fancy website, that what a “smarter planet” mostly means is one that is jammed with electronic monitoring and measuring devices all striving to manipulate and force the flow of nature and events to be, among other things, more convenient, less expensive (a big “maybe” on this point), less scary and threatening, and certainly just way more cool, than anything ever…… or something like that…. According to IBM we‘re going to accomplish all that with an endless tidal wave of smart phones, smart “apps,” smart monitors and whatever else can keep its nose in the electronic air and its digital digits on the pulse of everything in a humongous, infinitely bountiful and dazzingly colorful, never-ending spectacular sweetness of total connectivity ….and the infinite glories of heaven itself will be visited upon the “smart” planet. Amen and hallelujah, bothers and sisters!

Mostly what these techno gee-gaws do, is to make the humans who use them, ever more adaptable to technology as well as more and more dependent on a brittle and actually terribly tenuous technology. It certainly isn’t going to make them any more connected with or conscious of the planet. Most folks under 35 wander through their days with Iphones and Blackberries attached to their ears or held in front of them, amused, mesmerized and as needy as an infant with a pacifier stuck in its mouth, aware principally, if not only, of their own desires and needs. All of the world becomes a 24/7 billboard of flowing data. The world around them could be, and is, actually unraveling behind the curtain, but as long as they remain “connected” to their electronic umbilical all’s well. Most of them wouldn’t know the real world if it dropped a load of fresh steaming compost on them.

All of this “smart planet” stuff is reminiscent of the cautionary tales of the Golem and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It seems clear to me that the planet is a whole lot smarter than we are already. Our bellicose hubris in thinking that we can do better is not only laughable it is down right self-delusional. Ultimately, this mindset is likely to prove self-destructive…. DO we truly want a “smarter planet”? Or do we we just need to learn how to work more cooperatively and amicably with the natural systems already in place? I place my bets on the planet. Despite all of the vaunted brain power at IBM and Monsanto, etc., I doubt they can actually improve on how natural systems work in the long run and even in the short run. Though it can’t be denied that they may be able to tailor individual components, plants or pieces of the existing natural system into something that is more appealing, sexy and “useful” or “beneficial”, and certainly more profitable to humans, e.g., genetically modified organisms. BUT then when they insert these altered, “improved” and “smarter” items, for example take GMOs again, or “nanobots”, back into the systems from which the originals were obtained, the results are unpredictable and more often than not, destructive, even catastrophically fatal to humans and other life. There is an old ecological adage that is routinely ignored, even scorned by most technology-pixilated “scientists”: You cannot do just one thing. Or, to state it another way, there is no such thing as an entirely solo act or a completely distinct individual. Everyone, every creature and even every object, exists in context of some kind. Pretending the context is irrelevant doesn’t make it so. Pretending the effects of our technology has only happy, foreseeable and controllable results is a dangerous fantasy. Leaving its deployment in the hands of avaricious and deluded sociopaths is suicidal….Remember the Gulf Oil Spill? It’s still there, it’s just out of sight. And now Monsanto wants to unleash even more untested GMOs into the environment. There is the odor of something unseemly arising out of the Pandora’s Box of unconsidered “technological progress.” Those who are peddling it call it “Hope”. To many of us, it looks and smells more like despair.

So for now I’ll stick with my as-nature-intended-them, tomatoes….  sexy (this one in particular – we named it “Fabio” and are awaiting a call from the underwear ad folks at Ambercrombie), fresh, lovely, luscious,and nutritious straight off the vine. It doesn’t get any better than this!

Read Full Post »