Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Children's Children

After reading a post by chemistry teacher, Dan Allen, on the Energy Bulletin,, I was once again reminded about the plight we've left for our children.  I sympathize with Dan and the feelings he has about his daughter’s future as I do with most everyone that is unaware, (children that is).
       With Mother’s Day quickly approaching I began to think about what our children really need from us and how we might help them to understand the mistakes we’ve made.
       This past January for the first time I became Nana to a beautiful granddaughter whose middle name is mine.  We were not surprised to hear of our daughter’s pregnancy as we knew of her wishes to have a baby, but surprisingly to some, we were not elated.  We were frowned upon when we didn’t act like other first time grandparents who begin to plan the future of their grandbabies before they are conceived.  Our reaction was slow and deliberate as we realized immediately what this meant for this innocent child’s future.
    Summerlynn is our granddaughter’s name and her bright blue eyes light up our world.  She is here to share her life with us, and all we can do is love and cherish her.  She is one of the happiest babies I’ve yet to see and I tell my daughter all the time how lucky she is to have a baby that is nothing short of perfect. I realize though that I’m the Nana.
       I spent 4 days with my daughter while she was in labor and I’ve never seen such strength.  She reluctantly gave in to her wish of giving birth at home once the baby was in jeopardy.  Amazing how moms know what their babies need and we put our own needs aside for the safety of our children.
     She was born on my daughter’s 29th birthday and like my daughter, Summerlynn was born healthy and full of life.  As I sat waiting at the hospital I remembered how I felt when our daughter came into the world.  At 8lbs 9oz she looked as if she was a month old, but it didn’t compare to Summerlynn who was 9lbs 12oz.  Wide awake she appeared ready to conquer the problems of the world and I couldn't help to stare in amazement.  Born innocent and unscathed our children see nothing but joy.  The magical sense of belonging in a world full of wonder makes them curious to learn.  If only we knew how to keep this sense about us as we age.
       Little did I know in 1982 when our daughter was born, that we would be here today staring into the eyes of collapse and trying to prepare our children for a different life.  I want to believe that our daughter, now a mom herself, may have an easier time understanding why we live today as if there is no tomorrow, not because we want to but because it’s necessary.
I only know how to prepare to survive another day, while these younguns only know how to have fun.  We are constantly reminded to think "happy thoughts" whenever we stray to those darker corners.  Can we not compromise without lowering the bar?
       Ten years have passed since I last saw my mother-in-law who is now 84.  Recently while she was visiting, my husband and I had the wisdom to ask more questions.  We learned that on Mother's Day while four months pregnant with my husband, her and my father-in-law were laying tile on the floor of the liquor store they owned at the time.  I know my husband has always enjoyed beer and pretzels but I didn’t know she took him to work with her when he was two weeks old, as they couldn’t afford a sitter.  She smiled when she spoke of the joy he brought to the customers faces.
       My eyes glazed over with tears as I listened to her tell us of her experience of birth.  I also remember listening to my mom tell about the loss of her mom the day after my brother was born.  I can't imagine losing my mom just after giving birth though I related a little as I lost my father-in-law whom I was very close to, a couple of weeks after our youngest was born.  I remember being told, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”  I always wondered why they couldn’t be open at the same time, but I learned quickly without feeling pain, you seldom know joy.  Now I don’t let the fear of illusion keep me from discovering the key to open the door though at times I do close the window.
       The youth today need the strength to look beyond the sunny, blue skies of wonderment into the dark reality that’s about to rain on them.   Every day is another chance for all of us to learn something new that will help not only them but also us.  This we owe them, if not more.
       Below is a letter that I plan to give our daughter on her first Mother’s Day written by me in the voice of our granddaughter, Summerlynn Elaine.

Dear Mama,

         Though I can’t talk yet, I hope you will allow Nana to speak for me, as I know she holds both of our interests in her heart.
         I want you to know that I will always remember the pain you went through to give me life and I will always live knowing that you did this because you wanted me to have the most natural birth possible.  I know the natural world and everything that belongs in it is what you hold most dear and I’m so glad that I was born into your arms that now hold me close to your heart.  I hope you teach me all that you know about nature so I can learn to protect it from any more harm.
         Nana and I have had conversations though sometimes it’s hard not to laugh when I look at her, but I understand her message and it comes from being wise to the world and living the life she has lived.  I know she understands how important it is to protect everything that was also given life like me.
         I see the passion she has in her eyes when she talks about the birds and the bees but I also feel her pain when she speaks of such life being destroyed every day.  I hope you're paying attention to these signs and working towards a better world for me.  I know someday when Nana is no longer here with us, I will have your wisdom and strength to fall back on and I feel so lucky to learn from you both while I can.
         Through this chain of command we will share a bond everlasting that will help us communicate with each other and try to understand the differences in our lives.  I hope we can find some common ground to share what we have learned as even I can offer something.
         Though I don’t know much about this world that I’ve come into, I know that I’ve been given a challenge to create a new way of living.  I hope as I begin to crawl that I will soon learn to walk and skip down some of the same paths that you both have taken and I hope to learn quickly the way I need to go.
         I can’t say that I won’t blame those before me for using up resources that were mine, but I hope with your love and understanding I will be able to forgive.
         Now that I’m here please help me to learn all of the mistakes that have already been made by both of you, so I can spend time making my own.  I'm sure I won't have time to make as many, so I’ll have to learn quickly what ones not to make again.
         I hope on this Mother’s Day, Mama, you know how much I love you and thank you for giving me the chance to visit this place called earth.  I want you to know that I will give life my best shot and I hope to always have the courage to proceed wherever I need to go to protect what you have given me.
I love you Mama,

Summerlynn Elaine

Thank you Nana for putting words in my mouth.

         This Mom’s Day I hope women everywhere whether a mom or not will have the courage to speak to our children honestly and not enable them so they have a tougher time of dealing with the truth in the future.  Please have the heart to speak openly with them and share the facts about the earth and what past generations have done to it.  None of us are immune from fault.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Message: From the Grunts in the Fields

     The elephant in the room that no one talks about in the collapse/transition movement is the physical condition of most Americans.  Americans are overweight (highest obesity rate), most overmedicated, most entertained and out of shape people on the planet.  There are a number of people in the collapse/transition movement that write and speak eloquently of having group music/dance and the spiritual aspect of mourning the loss of all life, which is very important.  However, at the end of the day, we still need to do the hard, physical work that will be required to grow food to feed ourselves as well as to barter with.
     Americans are use to working with their fingers, sitting on their butts, staring at a computer screen all day then coming home from work and plopping down in front of a television set, watching mindless programs we call entertainment.  So I don’t think sitting around all day holding hands and chanting will be at the top of the list of things to do moving forward.  At the end of a hard day’s work in the fields, it is more likely that we will need the skills of a highly skilled masseuse.
     I will turn 55 this fall and since the age of 12 or 13 I have worked out at least five days a week and done physical work my whole life.  I began by playing sports that required running and/or cardio work as well as lifting weights.  I have eaten healthfully most of my life even more so over the past nine years since “growing and preserving more of our own food.”
     I’m 5’8” and weigh 148lbs (eight pounds less than when I got married 34 years ago).  I still fit into some of my high school clothes which are back in style, for whatever reason.  About seven years ago I started doing yoga that has allowed me more flexibility.
     When we moved onto the property ten years ago, we purchased a small 20 H.P diesel tractor that I used to start our hobby garden.  As I started to read more about peak oil, resource depletion, soil degradation, and collapse, I realized that we would not be able to grow our food this way in the future, so I implemented a system based on Eliot Coleman’s books, Four- Season Harvest, and The New Organic Gardener.  I realize now how much more physical work it will take and many more hands in the mix to accomplish this.  The DVD Power of Community also gave me a better understanding of how sustaining ourselves during collapse will be much different than what we’re use to.
     Our property is gently sloped north to south and our 50+ raised beds are 4’ x 26’ in the same direction.  I did this knowing that water is a precious commodity and in the future we could use gravity fed drip irrigation.  There is approximately 20” between each bed, which I seeded with perennial clover that keeps out the weeds, attracts bees, and keeps the integrity of the beds intact.  It is also beautiful to look at as well and is easy to walk on. 
     I have not tilled in the garden for the past five years and instead use extensive cover cropping and composting methods.  All weeding is done by hand and I started using an old 9-iron golf club that a friend of ours picked up from a second hand store.  With the sharp edge he put on it, I can use it to cut down the clover in between the beds.
     We now have 25 blueberry bushes, 10 apple and pear trees, hops, grapes and 280’ of assorted berries that we maintain.  Totally there is about one acre that is cared for by hand, for food.  Below is a list of food that we stored for 2009.  We keep adding to this each year and last year we grew drying beans that after harvest gave us 25 lbs.

Cool Storage
50 qts tomatioes
9 pts pickled veggies
20 - 4 packs of corn on the cob
155 lbs potatoes
1 gal apple mint
22 qts zucchini
12 qts butternut squash
20 - 8 packs of stuffed cabbage
200 lbs onions
1 pt spearmint
5 gal red onions
7 qts sweet meat squash
16 - 1.5 qts spagetti squash
600 heads of garlic
1 pt orange mint
8 qts strawberries
7 qts pumpkin
5 gal blueberries
30 spaghetti squash
2 qts peppermint
8 qts anaheim peppers
25 qts grape juice
5 gal marionberries
12 butternut squash
1 gal mugwort
3 qts celery
25 pts strawberry jam
3 gal boysenberries
8 sweet meat squash
1.5 gal motherwort
4 gal celery leaves
12 qts blackberry jam
3 gal strawberries
4 pumpkins
1 gal yarrow flowers
1.5 qts Eur. Soldier Beans
12 pints boysenberry jam
20 - 10 packs anaheim peppers
.5 gal lavender
2 qts Swed. brown beans
22 qts sauerkraut
8 pts pesto
1 qt lemon balm
1 qt scarlett runner beans
48 qts tomato sauce
50 lbs walnuts (bought/shelled on farm)
4 qts lemon verbena
8 ristras (50-100 peppers)
14 qts salsa
3 qts pineapple sage
16 qts pickles
4 qts basil
58 qts green beans
1 qt clarey
1 qt rosemary
3 qts calendula flowers
2 qts skullcap
1 pt dill seed
1 pt lemongrass

     All of this takes an extraordinary amount of physical labor approximately 60 hrs a week during the growing and harvesting season.  After doing this amount of physical labor for nine years, it has taken a toll on my body.  I struggle during the season to keep my weight up.  Every year it gets harder to work at this level and takes much more time during the winter for my body to heal and recover. 
     I try to look down the road and I have a hard time envisioning me being able to work at this level in 5-10 years and yet I have always taken care of myself.  Taking a hard look at Americans doesn’t inspire much hope in me knowing the amount of labor that will be required to feed ourselves. This doesn’t take into consideration all of the problems, challenges, that we face with climate change that effects what and when we can grow.    This in itself is a subject for another day.    
    Many potential partners and visitors come to our homestead and comment on how beautiful it is but they don’t see the need to go without gas powered farming equipment and think the way we farm is too labor intensive.  I think about the enormous amounts of resources used in producing fertilizers and I question them about peak oil and how they think we can continue using these methods and their reply is, “there will always be fuel and the costs will be passed on to the consumers.”
     People my age that I’ve read about and spoken to like the idea of living in the country and doing their own thing, but I don’t think they realize the amount of work they’re getting into and these are people that are not in the best physical condition.
     My honest advice to anyone wanting to live a healthy, rewarding, fun, and spiritual life, living out of the system as much as possible, is to find hardworking people that are physically fit with skills and resources who are honest, trustworthy, collapse aware and preparing, to partner up with.
     There is much to learn such as, greenhouse starts/seed germinating, orchard maintenance, animal husbandry, natural pest management, processing and storing of food to mention a few.  
     I know from my nine years of experience if you had four people working together each having their own expertise, you could overlap and help each other and together everyone would only have to work 15 hrs a week, whether it was in the garden or in the kitchen.
     You would also have someone available on the property to take care of your investment if you wanted to go away during the growing season.  With the “go it alone” approach, there is little time to do this.
     I wish I could say it’s been easy to find collapse partners, but I can’t.  We have been unsuccessful thus far and it is has not been from lack of trying.  We know what we are trying to do is difficult because humans have been programmed by empire to “go it alone”.  Seems like it’s a good idea to keep us from working together which suits empire just fine.  We believe if you can find partners, the rewards will be worth the effort.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Time to Find a Dance Partner

     Welcome to Embracing Collapse and our first post.  We hope you will follow us on the path to a new life.  We live on five acres in the Pacific Northwest and are currently growing about 60% of what we eat and the rest we buy from local farms or markets.  We have always lived differently than most and more out of the system than in.  Every day we learn new dance steps together and we usually know which way to go. 
     In our 34 years together we have never been in debt and have counted our riches by the relationship we share together with the planet.  For more than eight years we have been searching for those who embrace living simply and are concerned about peak resources and preparing for a much different future. 
     We would like others to join us in sharing living expenses that will help keep our footprint small.  Seems silly to us for everyone to own their own vehicles, equipment and tools, not to mention land to grow their food and/or raise livestock.  We are also aware of the great amount of effort it takes to grow your own food, process it for later use and maintain the property in general.  With not many aware of where their food comes from we risk our own food security by not learning the skills needed to sustain ourselves.   
     Our blog name, Embracing Collapse shares a history of how we have lived our lives in the past and present and tells a little of whom we are.  We both agreed to this name though we realize some won’t understand and we hope to raise their curiosity enough to try.  One may ask how you can you embrace something so horrific, right?  Well the fact is you may as well embrace it before it embraces you because when it does, it might not let you go.  We are living in collapse whether you like it or not and the sooner we all agree that our future will be different, the sooner we can get to work living the way we were meant to live, which isn’t all bad.
     These days when so much work needs to be done training others to prepare and helping them to learn the skills that will be necessary as well as continuing to learn ourselves, we see little action and hear lots of talk.  People live in denial and are stifled to proceed in the opposite direction where once your life is reclaimed, you are free to make choices that will help you and your loved ones.  Frightened by the idea of not being able to live the way they’re use to living, they’re prevented from exploring any other way.
     I can't say that I’ve always embraced collapse and I may have been forced to in some ways because of the learning I've done in the last few years.  I know the more I fail to see what is in front of me, the bigger it gets until it's the only thing I see.  I now look forward to the day when cars are few and planes are less.  I welcome simplicity with all its quirks and enjoy less technology and more spirituality.  Nature has picked me up from the concrete and planted me to bloom in a new rich soil where my roots run deep.
     That said I have yet to find a network that aligns the likes of us who do embrace collapse.  Lots of buzzing about community living but I don’t read much about small groups of people who want to pull their resources together in order to avoid living in the mainstream.  People like us who know of the opportunities to live an enriched life where working towards something takes the place of any holiday bonus.  Reaping what we sow is an option for all of us, one that awards us the time to have fun and explore other ways of doing business.
     As we struggle to accept what is, we find ourselves in the past or future worrying about what’s already happened or what’s to come.  I work with what I know are the facts and live accordingly.  As a hospice volunteer I try to live each day as my last and feel blessed to have right now to do it.  We live on a planet with finite resources, where we want to continue to have everything and still produce more people.  And while we continue to grow, we are destroying the very place that sustains us.  It’s like planting a tree that you know will get big next to your house then having to cut it down in a few years, or planting my starts close together as if they’re never going to grow.
     I started reading some good history about five years ago.  Books such as, The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins, and Carolyn Baker’s, US History Uncensored which opened my eyes to our horrific past and present and got me thinking about what we as humans have done to ourselves as well as all living things.
     At the time my husband and I still watched a little television, mostly Link TV, Free Speech TV, and I.N.N World Report.  Programs like, Democracy Now taught me more than I wanted to know about torture, and I couldn’t help to cry on the way to work each morning after forcing myself to watch.  I had to, in order to accept it.  I needed acceptance to move on and now for me the hard part is over. 
     Though I realize embracing collapse will also mean embracing the death that will come with it, I knew coming into this world that I wasn’t immortal.  The past several years have not been easy for me, as I’ve lost friends and family because of the different lives we lead.  We are all the same people just some of us have taken the step forward in embracing what is inevitable.  Instead of wondering how I can keep things the same in my life, I look for ways to be different.  Turning off the television and turning on my mind has awarded me creativity that I never knew I had.  Instead of feeling like I have no choice but to be a part of the problem, I find ways to be a part of the solution.
     After giving 30 years of my life to the telecommunications industry, I now spend most of my days on our five-acre parcel where little noise exists.  More frequently than the distant gunshots from hunters or small planes flying overhead are the sounds of flickers and woodpeckers as they prepare to mate.  I wake to the sounds of the rooster next door instead of sirens or car alarms.  Our voice mailbox attached to our one phone line takes messages while I’m away and our email is answered within 24 hours unless we’re away from the computer.  Our library of books and DVD’s fill the shelves that are no longer dusty and we enjoy dancing to the music. 
     My home is decorated with eclectic art and my cupboards are stacked full of colorful glass jars that are filled with food for the soul and actually resemble what real food should look like.  I only have to peer out my windows different times of the year to know what month it is.  Nature has a way of telling us without boxes of numbers on paper and perfect pictures to show us.  Holidays are the ones we choose to celebrate not the ones predated on the calendar.
     Our property is one of great beauty as it gently slopes down towards our home.  A walk up the driveway each day to get the mail, energizes me as I stop on the way back to look at the tall fir and cedar trees that surround it.  The fall displays a colorful picture dappled with alders, madrone and oak trees and the winter snow is majestic.  Star gazing while listening to the barred or spotted owls and sitting under the light of the full moons offer a sense of belonging that creates its own energy.
     When we moved here in 2001 from the city we knew once again we belonged.  I was thrilled to hear crickets and toads rather than neighbors on cell phones talking on their steps all hours of the night where having a window open to sleep was not an option.  We embraced the property and welcomed the work to be done.  Where once lived nothing but scotch broom and weeds we now have a garden big enough to feed others beside ourselves.  Our once small hobby garden has grown as we’ve taken it from seed to tree in ten years.
     All of our weeding is down by hand.  Our “no till” gardens include 50+ raised beds where the only thing between them is clover which helps to keep them raised and serves as food for the bees. 
     The amount of work that goes into gardening this way has us both weary of what's to come. Most people are unaware of their food source and certainly not up to the task of gardening without the use of implements that run on fuel.  Young farmers are ill prepared to offer any type of financial resources though some are pursuing lofty goals of earning skills that are necessary and will be welcomed by aging farmers in the future.
     Our homestead includes hens for fresh eggs and manure as well as a small orchard of pear and apple trees.  Berries grow immensely in all varieties including huckleberries, elderberries, raspberries, strawberries, Marion berries, blueberries, boysenberries and thorn less blackberries.  We have processed juice from our grapes, kraut from our cabbage and jams in all colors.  We hope to brew our first batch of hops into an interesting beer perhaps adding some mugwort.  Donated wine grapes allowed us to make wine for the first time and we hope to celebrate with our first bottle this June. 
     The basic class that I took at Mrs. Thompson’s sparked my interest to learn more about the medicinal properties of herbs.  I’ve enjoyed experimenting with infusions, decoctions, tinctures, salves and lotions.  This year I’m sowing the seeds of plants that will hopefully produce enough natural dye to color my white fleeces that I spin and knit into sweaters, vests, hats, scarves and slippers.    
     The time we have right now is precious and the opportunities are endless. We can choose to live a life filled with grace as we work side by side to grow our own food, share expenses, purchase together in bulk, and barter.
     We see the savings for all involved in sharing the costs of owning a home and property.  Taxes and insurance can be split, and vehicles shared.  Utility bills can be divided and individual ownership would not be needed for such things as: washing machines, tractors, processing equipment, tools, greenhouses or land.  Time saved in maintaining individual places to live would allow everyone to enjoy free time.
     Most people are caught up in a wheel that consumes not only every waking minute of their lives but affects their innermost spirit.  No wonder so many are taking anti depressants, what’s there to be happy about?
     Sharing our land with others who would typically spend time and money making it home makes sense to us.  We have the infrastructure in place to house at least six adults and with 12 working hands we can grow it into a small cottage industry that feeds us literally as well as metaphorically.  We are the ones that we’ve been searching for.  The rest is easy. 
     So have you found your dance partner?  Are you ready to dance to a different tune?  Would you like to blaze a new trail to ride your mule on?  Then join us in embracing collapse and getting to work to discover a new day with a new way.