A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Contemplation and Action

     The past month of our life can pretty much be summed up as follows: making maple-walnut syrup, sitting in community meetings, and potty-training our daughter. These have been fairly tedious tasks, it must be admitted, and February (and March) are good times to slog through them. There have been a few other little projects or events here and there, but those are the major themes, most demanding of our attention.

     Maple-walnut syrup has been Mike’s project. This is the first year he has enthusiastically plunged into slinging sap buckets and commandeering surface space on our wood stove (yes, we boiled it down indoors, with no fires to report!) The walnut part of the syrup is something few people know about—walnut tree sap also has a high sugar content, as well as a slightly different flavor. We tapped about 15 trees of both varieties and made a blend. The sap runs during the window of time in the year when there are freezing nights and above freezing days. This year with its yo-yoing weird weather has had quite a few of those days, and subsequently we have ended up with over two gallons of syrup--yay! The ratio of syrup to water in the sap is something like 1:60, so you can imagine how toasty our house has been with the stove going full blast over the last month, plus a delicious syrup scent wafting in the air constantly. As you might imagine, we have been eating a lot of pancakes…

    As for potty training—well, we have taken the plunge. With the sage advice of Jamie Glowacki, author of Oh Crap! A Potty Training Guide, encouraging us, we are trying for an intensive all-hands-on-deck approach to training with some pretty good results so far. Not to say we don’t still encounter the sight of a mysterious puddle on the floor (or worse) but for the most part Caris has grokked the major concept—poop and pee go in the potty. Diapers are beginning to seem like a memory, hallelujah! Just in time for her second birthday, and the beginning of little girl-dom.

    In meetings with our neighbors, one big question defines our conversations as we think about moving forward—what makes our current and future community life any different than the world around us? How do we tell the story of who we are, put it out into the world, and invite newcomers in? For me, the answer hinges somewhat on the foundational story of civilization around us—the one we all take for granted because quite simply we have been born into it. I have been reading and ruminating with that question in mind (Charles Eisenstein has been especially helpful), and it seems to be something along the lines of—we are in The Great Age of Progress, making life more prosperous and efficient for each generation of humans on this Earth.  But increasingly, it seems like disparate events are punching holes in that narrative, or perhaps exposing themselves as symptoms of an unraveling at the very least: another school shooting, another failed cease-fire, another drug epidemic, another police officer acquitted of killing a young black life, another political/sexual scandal, another whistle blown, another round of schools/cities/programs stamped “failed” and turned over to the private sector, another country claiming to have nuclear technology, another round of cataclysmic natural disasters, another wave of refugees… It sort of seems like the new normal, right? And yet to continue forward justifying and rationalizing each event within the narrative of “The Age of Progress” seems increasingly like patching up holes in a sinking ship and continuing on course. At what point do we stop believing that things are getting better, or that technology will save us, or that the right leader will sort things out, or that surely someone is going to do something now that we all know about it?

     Maybe I have this wrong. Perhaps the tide of increasing indebtedness/ obesity/ depression/ gun violence/ corruption really will turn soon and we can resume with progress. That would be nice, and certainly easier. But more what I suspect will happen is that there will be increasing catastrophes as our old worldview dies, that jolt individuals out of complacency and “business as usual” and into a new and confusing worldview. I can’t yet really imagine what that will look and feel like, but perhaps the best microcosm of it is what is currently happening in our most “failed” cities, like Detroit. The old political and economic behemoths have run their course to the point of collapse, leaving behind something almost post-apocalyptic in appearance. But now among the rubble there are seeds of new life regrowing. That new life is very grassroots, scrappy, hopeful, and determined. Our community feels like it is a small part of that new life growing, though at times I am not always sure how we fit into the bigger picture around us.

Canning--a heck of a lot of work! 

    The truth is that the way forward—what makes for a good and noble life amidst such destruction—is not all that much more clear for us. The phrase “it feels like we are walking uphill with bowling balls tied to our ankles” has been independently generated by several in our community, a sense that perhaps we are doing the arduous work of reinventing the wheel when there is no-one benefiting from our labors, not even us. Is it a mis-use of energy to try to do so much by hand (in an attempt to decrease our carbon footprint and all the ecological destruction and human suffering that accompany fossil fuel use)? Are we just distracting ourselves from using our energy in a more purposeful and efficient direction? These are perhaps only my questions and misgivings, and it may only be I who longs for a sense of greater ease and efficacy in transforming our world into something more beautiful and just.

Our friends Joanna, Thomas, Chris, Ethan and many others in a peaceful protest occupation of the NC Govenor's office--drawing attention to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's environmental destruction and unfair targeting of minority communities.

     Adding to the complexity of our deliberations have been feedback and perspectives from a few former community members/friends. One friend has since gone on to devote himself entirely to solidarity work with Indigenous People, volunteering with resisting Navaho elders living in Black Mesa (a traditionally native-held area that has been seized by Peabody Coal for mining, forcing relocation for indigenous people) and also with Winona LaDuke at Honor the Earth in Minnesota (honorearth.org) as they struggle to block further pipelines coming across the Canada border. He delivered something of a critique to our community from his perspective—suggesting perhaps that we were re-enacting history by being a group of white settlers on stolen land, and that this wasn’t addressing injustices. His critique started some important conversations amongst us about what reparations could look like, and what sensitivities and relationships we should build moving forward. Another perspective is from some other community members who just returned from participating in a direct action—in this case, working with a citizen’s coalition in Robeson county in North Carolina, protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (Their action went incredibly well, with a peaceful day-long occupation of the Govenor’s office, including an interfaith prayer, an impromptu pizza party with police, tearful meetings with Chief of Staff and others, and lots of press coverage.) Is it a better use of one’s life energy to go to the struggles where help is most needed, being willing to lay down and risk arrest to serve justice (especially when it is historically marginalized communities of color being targeted and one has a white body?) We have been focusing so much on decreasing our consumption, that participation in movement work has fallen down the list of priorities. Can we prioritize both? These feel like important questions if we hope to move into a more just future and be at all part of the transformation.

Some of our friends were in this encounter with police at Standing Rock--they are about to be sprayed with tear gas which apparently didn't register because of the freezing water... not until later when warming up by a fire did they feel it.

Are you ready? What is your footprint?

      With all of these shifting perspectives and not really being sure what our small efforts have been worth (aside from the ankle exercise from those bowling balls), it was a little breath of fresh air to come across ONE metric that firmly and concretely handed me an exact measurement of exactly that—my footprint. More precisely, the measurement of how many Earths it would take to sustain a person with my consumption habits. I was searching for some tool that could help us in our sustainability efforts, and this is what I stumbled across on the web—The Global Footprint Network (www.footprintcalculator.org). They offer an online tool that guides you through a series of questions gaging your energy use in various realms. How much packaged food do you eat vs. local or homegrown food? What size is your house, number of occupants, and how do you heat and power it? How often do you drive, or fly, or take public transportation? It got more detailed from there. I found it fascinating as I could quickly glimpse in the questions how differently (for example) a rural Haitian person’s life might stack up against a typical American person’s. And my life? How many Earths would it take to sustain everyone if they lived like me? The answer that the algorithm spit back at me was 1.1. Just over one Earth. That is what all of my efforts in the past few years—giving up flying, growing a bunch of my own food, living in a smallish straw bale house that I heat with wood and illuminate with solar electricity, shopping at thrift stores, etc.—amount to, at least roughly. I am living (almost!) within the limits of the Earth. I feel sort of reassured by this pronouncement, mostly because it seems attainable for anyone if it is attainable by me, even if the variables were quite different (for example, someone living in a small apartment in a city taking public transit might have the same footprint). That being said, I know this alone is not enough. If I just pat myself on the back and go back to minding my own homestead, I am not sure any kind of global transformation is going to happen. We need people at the frontlines too—blocking pipelines and holding signs that say #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter, and Stop Gun Violence, and much, much more. These conversations are a beginning for us all. It will be exciting to see what happens next as more and more people, us included, start taking next steps...

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