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Archive for December, 2013

(Note: This is a re-posting of a piece I put up here in September of 2010. It was written during a period of time midway in the Obama administration’s first term when it still seemed reasonable to have optimism about his capacities as a leader. There was talk of reviving the economy with actual productive work, though it never got beyond the talking phase and even then seemed more like a highly watered down attempt to recreate FDR’s New Deal. Instead we got no deal, unless you happened be a big corporation or a big bank. The doubts about Obama’s commitment to serving ALL of the people had already begun to blossom. Since then these doubts have been confirmed and amplified over and over. From drones to surveillance to servicing the relentless rapacious appetites of the elites of finance and corporations, Obama has proven where his allegiances truly reside. His dazzling smile now seems more feral than friendly.)

I have no shovel-ready answers about how to definitively dispel despair, in fact I’m not sure I should. Despair provides a goad and an inspiration. (Much of the time even knowing how to pose the right questions about dealing with our unraveling world in a clear and forthright fashion is a struggle.) The inability to be absolutely certain about what actions to take can be an abiding problem. I believe, the answers as to how to cope are at once personal and local; they are rooted in where we are living and will arise from that source. Not to beat too hard the old drum of “Think global, Act Local”, but because those of us who are looking for sanity, justice and ecological health for the entire array of species on the planet do not have a single answer, we almost always wilt and fail against the forces of corporate and military thinking — forces that always have a unified tri-purpose: profit, power and control. But because of our smallness and our sense of scale, we can be more resilient, more flexible, more nimble and more effective in creating long-term vitality. And, to be forthright, it is the righteous and moral way to go.

Our entire nation has been fed and has swallowed, for the most part, hook, line and sinker, the notion of the absolute rightness, a divine rightness in fact, of corporate capitalism and the supremacy of individuality. Though these are, in fact, opposite and opposing intellectual positions, their natural contrariness has been cleverly blended together by manipulating politicians, advertisers and nattering hucksters into a blurred amalgam sold under various labels as the American Dream. This ‘dream’ is first and foremost a product, a commodity. It is a product that requires constant infusions of propaganda in the form of advertising, and the relentless pilfering of our planet’s resources to maintain its hold on the collective mind and pocket book. And it’s not just fossil fuel energy and minerals that are being used up to bolster this house of cards. Vast swaths of tropical forests, entire mountain tops and rich verdant landscapes as well as  all the life that dwells there, are being laid waste to keep us in plastic wrap, I-phones, frozen pizza and SUVs.

This relentless devastation is going on with our complicity. We may not personally see our role in clear-cutting the Amazon Basin, but it is going on nonetheless. Despite the incessant and relentless greenwashing and anthropomorphizing of nature and a few very minor triumphs here and there (starring the Snail Darter, for example), despite lavish and lovely films about ‘nature’, e.g., the “World”, the fact is that we are continuing to trash and poison the planet at an ever-increasing rate. Our surrogates are busy, busy, busy and they have no restraint. Who are these engines of commerce and ‘progress’ who act for us, if not in our name, but with our tacit approval and endorsement? Why do we give a license to all those corporations, like Monsanto, and Cargill, and MacDonald’s and Nestle and Toyota, whose convenient products we buy, and the military, whose wars we don’t really protest, and the government, whose policies that support such violence and destruction to act on our behalf? Unfortunately, much, probably most, of what we have already perpetrated cannot be undone even if we were to stop right now. As we contemporary Neros fiddle away, spending our time and our dwindling $$$ shopping, all of the damaging practices that keep us in thrall to the ‘American Dream’ continue 24 hours a day seven days a week. To rephrase Barry Goldwater: “extremism in the defense of corporate profits and power is no vice.”

So what can you do?

1-     Become intimate with your food. Learn how to cook. Do whatever you can to get involved directly in gardening and growing at least some of your own food. Avoid giving in to the temptation of prepared meals, those plastic-swaddled specialties that are laced with fructose and nuked in the microwave. Besides your time, robust health is one of your greatest assets. The internet is an almost limitless source of information, but only hands in the soil and juice on the cutting board is going to provide real experience.

2-    Resist the urge to spend any more than you have to. Vote with your $$$. Shun the corporate sirens of convenience whenever you can. Another set of dishes, or another electronic gadget isn’t going to bring you fulfillment, it’s probably going to bring you debt. I realize that this kind of restraint is particularly difficult for most of us.

3-    Spend your time, probably your most valuable resource, on endeavors that bring joy and satisfaction and a feeling of community into your life. All of us are going to need ‘the kindness of strangers’ more than ever in the coming years.

4-    Become a ‘Green Wizard’. Go here for more information:http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/. Make or do something ‘useful’ and practical. Make a bookshelf. Refinish an old piece of furniture. Try carving a spoon from a single piece of wood. The possibilities are infinite.

5-    Consider learning more about ways to cope more effectively or even create a more satisfying lifestyle by looking into ideas like ‘permaculture’ (http://permacultureprinciples.com/), Transition Initiative (http://transitionculture.org/), Co-housing (http://www.cohousing.org/), etc.

6-    Use the internet to inform yourself of what is going on around the planet rather than relying on the big media, FOX, NBC, CBS, etc., for information. Start by learning about ‘peak oil’ (http://resilience.org/).

7-    Stop watching TV altogether. If you can’t bear to throw it out — which is a better idea than giving it away – then find some image or images that you love, maybe some your own photos or clippings from magazines, and use the screen to make a changing montage that reflects your growing independence from the infestation of corporate viruses. Don’t just inoculate yourself with ‘hope’ – we all have come to learn just how shallow that concept can be – DO SOMETHING to free yourself from addiction to the faux promises of company shills.

8-    Get up early to watch the sun rise in a sacred place.

This list, or some variation of it will be repeated and repeated in this blog. Repetition, after all, is one of the principal tools of persuasion. It is the most effective, if least obvious trick of advertising, propaganda, and political campaigns. It’s time those of us in the Resilience Resistance began to explore its potential. It may be a little while before we get it right and manage to find the right tone and the right language, but we’ll keep on trying. Tempus fugit, though.

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Awaiting the New Year

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The garden has been laid to rest for the year. We are in a “wait and see” mode until warmer and sunnier days are upon us again. The one crop already in the ground, garlic, is sprouting and spreading its roots as well as pushing up some tentative sprouts I imagine. In some years those tiny tendrils have already poked above the surface by now, but not this year, not yet. It’s just as well, we have several night of single digit temperatures forecast and it’s only the end of December. Patience furthers, as the I Ching says.

Except for a few warm days, we’ve had a “normal” late fall and early winter, though a bit on the dry side. During the last weeks of October and early November I covered the beds with 3 to 4 inches of a loam/compost mixture. Over that was spread salt marsh hay and/or shredded leaves. In a couple of beds I planted winter rye. Most of the seed, at least that not finding its way into the gullets of wandering mobs of local turkeys, managed to sprout before the cold weather shut down plant activity until spring. There is still, however, some greenery percolating along. Inside the hoop house a few plants are still acookin’ beneath their blanket of row cover, bubble wrap and fiberglass house insulation. When I last checked, even after a couple of nights of single digit temperatures, they were looking fresh and robust. The next three months of cold weather is going to drop even more challenges on them, but I am betting on their grit and determination, as well some dumb good fortune, to get them through the winter to eating size. With such optimism in mind I am planning on starting some more greens soon, especially Bok Choy and Tat Soi. I’ll transplant those out there in mid or even early February. And right after that it will be time to start some other seeds.

Some reflections on last season’s growing efforts: We got too many plants into the ground too late last season to have a good harvest. We also had heavy rains in June which left the fields at Meadow Mist soggy. One of them was even underwater for about three weeks. Had to kiss the peppers and tomatoes adios. We planted our pole beans too late to get a decent yield and compounded the lateness with fitful watering. The Brussels sprouts were attacked by pests, I still haven’t determined what yet, that infected the plants with something that resembled above-ground root knot. The plants failed to set any “sprouts” at all and the stems grew either in contorted shapes or bulged out like bloated bladders. I intend to thoroughly test the soil in the spring for both nutrient deficiencies and the presence of unwanted organisms. These experiences just fire the determination to plough ahead. All in all I am hungry for the season to begin.

My efforts to continue the humanizing (of captive nature) and the anthropomorphic domesticating of the life I am surrounded by as I occupy this particular piece of the planet seem at once puny and gloriously worthwhile. Certainly working with the soil and making some efforts to partner with the microbes and other creatures that reside there and have congress of various kinds and degrees with my sown crops is worthwhile. At least in my view it is worthwhile. It certainly beats pushing forms and papers around, or hawking worthless and unnecessary wares that will eventually accumulate in some forlorn landfill or vacant lot somewhere. Besides I’d rather eat my own sometimes blemished and less-than-perfect veggies than the artificially pumped up crap from the supermarkets or even the precious produce from Whole Foods. DO I imagine however that I can feed myself and the rest of household on the food I grow here. Not a chance!

Here on our small piece of suburban real estate we do try to grow as much of our own food as possible. But we don’t have the space or the right conditions to grow more than a small share of the food we eat. We plant about 1800 square feet of crops. Of that, more than half of the area gets less than full sun. About a third of it gets no more than five hours per day at the sun’s zenith. There’s even less sunlight than that at the beginning and end of the growing season. We can’t grow nearly enough of some of our favorite vegetables, and some we can’t manage to grow at all. When the growing season is over, there is never enough to put up in storage to get us through more than a month of so of winter. Even at the height of the season, while we have an abundance of some things, we have a dearth of others. It’s always a balancing act and a precarious one at that. I am very proud of our efforts but I am also thoroughly sobered by them. We do pretty damn well on production and we get to eat nourishing organic food. But realistically these home-grown crops form only a third of our food intake. Some of the rest of our freshest food comes from my efforts at a nearby farm, Meadow Mist. But even this addition to our larder comprises only a minor portion of our consumption. It isn’t likely that this will change as long as we live here. We could lease land for growing somewhere, but being self-sufficient in food production is a goal we will never achieve. And we don’t really expect or even want to. Feeding oneself is invariably and, most importantly, a cooperative and group effort. And anyway, I have no wish to be a self-sufficient loner. The hunter-gatherer existence has long since ceased to be an option.

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(Just a little John Singer Sargent water color to brighten the day.)

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