Bill Parke of Blackview Farm, a pasture-based livestock farm that uses rotational grazing and Holistic Management practices, was nice enough to sit down with me and talk for a bit about the farming life. Continue reading “Life All Around: The Joys and Challenges of Small Farming with Bill Parke & Blackview Farm”
Who defines what an animal is? Is an animal rational or irrational? Are the animals inside of us or outside? Descartes wondered how they were different from machines. Continue reading “Actual Animals”
Please read if you will
The following is a comment from the peanut gallery (author unidentified) that is at the heart of concepts that i had not been able to find the words for… Not only relating to human interactions but to our relationship to the other species and co-habitants of this planet.
Hippocrates said “Let food be they medicine, and medicine be thy food.” At the doctor’s office for my annual checkup I was asked to list any herbs I take and I thought “this should be interesting.” Sure, I take herbal supplements but what about all the fresh or dried herbs I cook with or drink as tea? What about Mediterranean herbs in spaghetti, garlic in hummus, basil in pesto, chamomile or mint tea? What about carrots, sweet potatoes and squash in navy bean soup to boost our immune system and fight off colds? I asked the doctor if I should list basil in pesto and was told “No, that’s food!” (along with a look that said I must be an idiot). Well isn’t that the point, that our food is our medicine!
Dawn picks through the dark thicket
through which I’ve just come –
smudges of bloom persist like just-
poured champagne, high-scents of wild sage
and sprucetips are in the air. Manes of hyssop and
lupine glitter in the sun. Continue reading “A Jewel in the Net: Kestrel Heart”
This partial mosaic of many images tried to capture the breadth of what my eyes saw when walking along the path of the south rim of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. The image and the memory have served to provide me with a meditation focus for many years on the subject of time, and has calmed me during the storms of this modern age. Along that miles long path are only a couple of modern buildings, a small museum, and a larger inn, built a century ago by someone intent on capitalizing on tourism long before our current travel industry stoked our collective wanderlust with advertising to increase our thirst for “experiencing it all”.
As a child I loved climbing trees and making mud pies. My friends and I once joined hands, as the children in the picture above, to measure the trunk of an old elm tree in the back yard. It took six of us as I recall. It’s unfortunate that all the old majestic American elm trees have died from Dutch elm disease.
Images of Madam Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire, resemble the flames seen in flowing lava. When she erupts she is passion incarnate, bringing destruction and creation at the same time.
Fall has finally arrived. It’s November, well past the time of year when we normally see freezing temperatures. This year was unusually warm, a phrase that is beginning to lose its meaning since most years now are usually warm. The leaves on the trees are finally turning color. The nights are going to be freezing this week. I look over the garden and see a few peppers I missed and remind myself to pick them before nightfall. I collected masses of dill that reseeded itself from spring plantings. I’ve learned that if I freeze the dill in tomato sauce I canned this summer the flavor in soup is the same as if it’s been picked fresh. Good to know these things if you like the taste of fresh dill in winter soup. I look over the garden and see bunches of herbs I need to pick before the frost or they will be lost to the freeze. I worry about wasting them, and then I smile, remembering that the plants will give me another crop next year. I’m still getting used to this experience of bounty from the perennials in the garden. I’m still conditioned to think of food and herbs as things I purchase from the store, not wanting to waste money by allowing them to go bad. Store bought food is so easily wasted. Gardens are more generous!
Most of my life I’ve been a person who worried about waste; don’t waste electricity, don’t waste your food, “There are starving children in China”. I wonder what was in the news in the 60’s when my mother used this phrase to make us feel guilty for not eating all the food on our plates. Were there stories of people starving in China? What happened, I wonder, to all the starving children? I remember the oil embargo of the 70’s and the impetus not to waste energy. I was old enough to understand about the lines at the gas stations, but ignorant of a thing called “peak oil”. I remember the school placing plastic cards around light switches reminding us to turn off lights and conserve energy. I understood about turning down thermostats and wearing a sweater. Perhaps growing up in Minnesota we understood wintertime better than people living farther south. To this day I still hear my mother’s voice complaining if a door is held open too long, worried that I’m ‘letting out the heat’. I remember my father taking the screens off the windows and putting on storm windows.
My grandmother told me stories of living through the Great Depression reminding me not to take resources for granted because there might come a time when we need them. She never wasted a thing. That was her nature. I’ve been conditioned by the times I’ve lived to think about energy, but mainly the cost of it more than the supply of it. I remember the taking of our embassy personnel in Iran. It was my first inkling that the Middle East would impact life in America for decades to come. Ronald Regan took office and told us “Today is a new day”, and somehow people believed him. The 80’s led to the 90’s consumption binge as if there was no need to worry about tomorrow. Credit was cheap. We forgot about the embargo. We forgot about saving money and living frugal. We seemed to forget that bills always come due eventually.
Today it seems we have another Republican led effort to ignore the limits and pretend our actions won’t have consequences. “Climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” “Coal jobs are coming back.” “There is plenty of oil for us to pump when the arctic ice melts!” The cognitive dissonance this requires is profound. If the arctic ice is melting how can we not be concerned about climate change? As the storms, floods, and wildfires raged this year I wondered if a tipping point has been passed, if the rate of climate change is accelerating, if the dark time of climate chaos and weather disasters is upon us. Winter is coming. The time when food becomes scarce, when the softness of nature retreats into submission, and storms rage with callous fury. It’s a time when we don’t know who or what will be left when spring arrives.
My ancestors are Scandinavian. I often think their fears of winter starvation still reside in my DNA. Those who lived in the north understood the necessity of putting up food and firewood enough to last through the winter. Winter was the time of harsh choices; when they were forced to choose the strong over the weak. Scandinavians are often known for their stoicism. My grandmother would fit that category, yet she had a heart big enough to love all of us as if each of us was her most cherished. She never complained about the past, yet I knew she suffered many things. She lived through hard times during the Great Depression, and yet still maintained the inner fortitude to keep living even when life was as hard.
Will my future be different? I hear in people’s voices their fears of what might come, not knowing the horrors only imagining their likelihood. I want to offer hope, but how? How can I explain what I learned from my grandmother; that life is worth living even in the worst of times. Family and God were all that she had but they were worth everything to her. She had unshakable faith in the goodness of this world. Her heart was big enough to endure pain and suffering and live through it…for us. We were her future. I wonder whether people truly realize how much our addiction to oil, to cars, to conveniences is going to affect our children and grandchildren’s future?
Yes, winter is coming. But before it arrives I pause and give thanks for what I’ve received this year. Fall gives us colors, a wild celebration of summer’s growth. The last of this year’s crops are picked and stored away. The wood piled high and dry under the eaves of the barn; enough to make many a warm cozy fire when the snow lays deep. I hear the call of the wild geese passing overhead and remember how they sounded in my childhood, high in the sky, the V shape they flew as they winged their way south for the winter. Here in Indiana they stay all year, winter and summer, never flying north. Change has come, and more is coming. It’s time to pick those herbs and finish my chores. There will be plenty of time later to sit by a fire and ponder our future.
My daughter, being sixteen, just got her driver’s license. I asked her a question a few days ago: ” If you had to choose one and give up the other, which would you choose: a personal vehicle or the internet (including social media, wifi, smart phones, etc.)?”
She thought for a bit and said: “It’s a hard question but I would choose the internet. Nobody actually likes driving, it’s just something we have to do, but I really like having access to movies at home and all that other stuff.”
She is just one young person, but the choice and the distinction that she made surprised me. I’m not sure that an older American (Boomers, X’s) would be capable of dis-owning the automobile with so little mental anguish. We “olds” have our sense of social identity tangled up with the system that requires a personal vehicle to “keep up.” Car equals social survival and, beyond that, social status.
These younger ones, whose smartphone use we so often deplore, may offer a strange kind of hope.
Imagine if we could build upon this opportunity: the remapping of social identity from personal mobility to personal connectivity. Imagine if the US fleet of personal vehicles were to shrink just a bit every year. That would be an amazing reversal of our ever more frantic consumerism. It wouldn’t solve everything but it would be a beginning – a sliver of a wedge – and any wedge is welcome in what seems like a hopeless struggle .
And there is hope in thinking that our civilization’s hell-bent investment in social connectivity – the massive server farms, the underwater cables, the satellites, the FoxConn factories, the rare metal mines – might not have been entirely wrongheaded. Perhaps we can leverage the transformation in connectivity to effect another transformation: the de-coupling of personhood from the personal vehicle? I’m not, generally speaking, a believer in eco-modernism i.e. the idea that technology will save us from the negative side-effects of technology, but perhaps our obsession with our smartphones could have a useful outcome after all.
The catch is that we have to actually capitalize on the opportunity and make it possible to have a decent life without each of us having to own several tons of metal for personal transport. We need to convert on the investments we’ve made, somewhat blindly and frivolously, in personal connectivity. We have to dis-own car culture. And I don’t see my generation having the will to do it.
But maybe my daughter’s generation may have the social capacity to make that choice. Maybe they can gently tip into another paradigm.
Ruben Anderson of A Small and Delicious Life describes social capacity this way:
Three things are needed to make change; we need three capacities. We need the Technical capacity, the Material Capacity, and the Social capacity. Let me explain:
If you have a recipe for apple pie, and some sort of an oven or other way to concentrate heat, you have the technical capacity to bake a pie.
If you have apples and flour and sugar and butter and pinch of cinnamon you have the material capacity to bake a pie.
And if you have someone who is willing to cut butter into flour, slice apples and wait around while the pie bakes, you have the social capacity to bake a pie.
If you lack any one of these three, there will be no pie. Pie will be impossible. You cannot have pie.
And the social capacity to let go of our automobiles has seemed to be the missing element . So it’s exciting to see a glimmer of something being born that was not possible before. Just a tiny glimmer.
Of course the danger is that virtual connectivity overwhelms and undermines us humans at our very core, that we become creatures of our machines even more fundamentally, as E.M Forster described in his prescient short story The Machine Stops, (1909) –
…beautiful naked man was dying, strangled in the garments that he had woven.
Our greatest strength is to need no machine, no garments of steel or intricate devices. But that is not where we are at right now. Right now we are searching for a staircase away from the cliff, and for any little glimmer of a path.