Friday, January 27, 2012

Off the sidelines and in the game: peak oil preparedness

My husband wrote this essay that appeared on in 2008.  We think it serves as good reminder to those preparing.  While many still remain stuck and in denial, valuable time is wasting away.
When we embarked on this journey six years ago, I never would have believed how difficult it has been to network with people considering the amount of resources we have to work with. We have tried for the last five years to work with people in our community, well over 100 and the list is growing.

When we talk to people about peak oil/peak resources, climate and ecosystems collapsing, collapse of the financial system and our infrastructure, we find people think we’re nuts. Some are aware of these things, but they’re not concerned because they think they won’t be around to see it happen. Others know it but just won’t do anything and are too lazy, and then there are those who are in it for the money (capitalism with a smile).

It is strange to me if I was to preach hatred and bigotry I would be a valuable commodity and have people flocking to my doorstep. However, offering people a chance to live self sufficiently, responsibly, peacefully in a sustainable manner is more difficult to accomplish. The latter requires hard, physical work -- something most people don't know how to do.

Even though we expected this to be our last move, now after retirement at ages 52 and 50, we are once again thinking the unimaginable, relocating. We know that with our skills and dedication we would be a welcomed addition to someone who is trying to accomplish what we have failed to do. We must begin to build avenues to connect people with certain skills and assets; trying to educate people is not enough. Like the documentary Power of Community states, what happened in Cuba in the ‘90s was not so much technological change as it was human. Sharing responsibilities and costs will be very important in our future, as well as utilizing our resources wisely.

We have not been farmers all of our lives; we are somewhat new to this. Our lives have been nothing like the stereotypical American way. We were married at the ages of 21 and 19, not out of necessity, just young and in love. We had our two daughters five years later, and our roles have been reversed most of the time. I was “Mister Mom.” We lived on one meager income because childcare in this country is deplorable. It was our responsibility and no one else's to raise our children.

While at home I grew some of our food, did fundraising for kids activities and field trips at school, volunteered in the classrooms as well as coaching boys and girls basketball and girls soccer. Because of living on one income, I learned to barter with men 25-30 years my senior in Rogue River, Oregon where we lived at the time. One example: I roofed and painted my friend’s house and he and I built a 20’ by 24’ recreation room from start to finish. No money changed hands, just good times and friendship.

Up until six years ago, most of my life I was what one would consider a “Jock.” I loved sports, mostly hockey, football and basketball. I knew all of the stats and trades, I watched for over 40 years of how championships were won. I saw many types of styles and philosophies of play come and go. They were always in the context that you are only as strong as your weakest link. The teams' success depended on each individual player giving his or her maximum effort, and no one player regardless of how great can win by him/herself.

After 911 something changed in me and I gave up my addiction to sports. In the past seven years I have read hundreds of books by authors such as Vandana Shiva, David Korten, Arundhati Roy, Kevin Phillips, Michael Ruppert, Eckhart Tolle, George Monbiot, James Lovelock, Richard Heinberg, Matthew Simmons, James Howard Kunstler, Wendell Barry, Barbara Kingsolver, Howard Zinn, Daniel Quinn and Kurt Vonnegut.

I realize now that we were lied to. As George Carlin said, they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. All this and more caused me to take direct action.

We downsized to one car, paid off our mortgage, turned off the “idiot box,” installed an indoor clothes dryer (made by a local artisan that works with iron), and our garden that started out for fun and food became much more of a purpose and a way of life. We have hauled in tons of manure and organic compost to build up the soil creating a working system based on raised beds, crop rotation and cover cropping. We now have fifty 4’ x 26’ raised beds and a 10’ x 15’ greenhouse allowing us to do starts and grow more than enough food for three or four families, plus rows of berries as well as fruit trees. Currently we grow and process 60% of our food.

We knew all along that we would never be able to learn everything that was needed as well as do all the work ourselves. That’s why we have tried to partner up or find other like-minded people to begin together the hard work ahead of us.

I remember Richard Heinberg saying that some figured there was 1% of the population who was woken up and they had hoped to wake up to 5%. He also stated that we needed 50 million farmers for the long slog ahead.

I feel blessed that my wife of 31 years and I are on the same page. We had always planned to work together after her retirement knowing that we needed to have some income. We enjoy being around each other. We believe that in this day and age when people are losing their homes, in debt, bankrupt and pensions disappearing, we can and should be able to find partners that are hard working, in good health and have some valuable skills/resources that would help us become a complete team together. There is so much to learn and adjust to, as climate change alone is already affecting the way we grow food in Oregon.

Last year at this time, I processed well over 500 lbs of tomatoes, drying and canning. As I sit and write on this Labor Day, I have not canned one quart of tomatoes -- not many in the area to be found. This is one of the main staples in our diet.

We would like to have partners living on the property that can help make this work into a functioning way of living, saving resources and growing food for five or six families. We would also like to incorporate livestock, and renewable energy. But attracting willing partners has been most difficult, to the point that we despair and might move away. Neither of us wants to leave what we have built thus far, but if we can't find others who can help, then maybe it's time for a different arena with some new players who wants this team.

As life as we know it begins to collapse, we need a prototype system that can be easily duplicated to show others how to grow, process and store food. People will begin to act irrationally when they or their families have little to no food, so I would like to give them a choice on how to feed themselves without the violence.

In all of my years of watching and playing sports, I have never felt the sheer joy and fulfillment that I do while working in the garden. Watching a butterfly as it lands on me or feeling a hummingbird zing past my ear. The great wins I chalk up now in the CHAMPIONSHIP column are at the end of fall when cupboards are jammed to capacity, standing room only with filled canning jars, the garage walls draped with garlic and onions, and the freezer stuffed full with berries and nuts. What a SWEET VICTORY! It is time for us all to give up our additions, and live the life we were meant to live.

I have no illusions about saving the world. I would just like to be able to have a chance of living in peace and sharing before Mother Nature kicks our ass.
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Ideas to ponder
Connecting people that have different assets:
1) Resumé Bank of people's assets, skills, knowledge and ideas.
2) Such as:
- Land, money, water, resources
With people that don't have this but have technical knowledge
- Such as:
Knowledge on farming, solar, sustainable building
3) People moving from one area of the country/state
- Such as:
A person moving from metropolitan area wanting to relocate to an area that's more sustainable, trading work for his or her stay.
4) Sharing tools/resources
5) Sharing skills such as:
- Preserving of food, cooking, sewing, repairs (home), survival skills
1) Such as:
- Someone with money that they would like to get out of the stock market/retirement funds and invest in local businesses, someone starting a business, solar energy, alternative energy and farming and manufacturing.
2) People with money who want to set up old style mercantile involving local farms and artisans for manufactured goods, clothing, etc.
3) Advising people on how best to utilize their land/resources.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On the Same Page, For Better or Worse

Recently my husband and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary and realized how important it is to be on the same page or at least in the same book.

The first chapter in our lives happened as we met at the youthful ages of 18 and 20.  Smitten at first sight, we spent every moment we could together and within nine months we married.

We realized then that some thought we would present a baby shortly after wedlock but the responsibility that both of us learned at an even younger age cut short the idea of presenting a child to the world while we were still growing ourselves.

Married at 19 and 21 and still “in love” today, we both feel we have much to offer in the marriage counseling field though neither of us hold a degree.  Our relationship has not existed without the bump n grind of daily living. 

We are different people and we usually like it that way.  Like strong characters in a good book, we rely on our differences to make the story interesting.  Together we tackle conflict and advance the plot.

Today couples are finding out how strong their relationships are as they struggle to hold onto their money driven lives while watching their resources dwindle. Most of us resist forming a new path when the road we’re on is already paved for us.  We depend on others to make life easy for us instead of challenging ourselves to find another way. 

We learned early to pick and choose what we depended on and little of it was controlled by others than ourselves.  This made it easier for us to back further out of the system that is so dependent on growth.

Growing stronger together is still our greatest strength.  The gaps between paragraphs in our book get closer as we focus on the necessity of the subject and how important it is in our daily lives.

We choose not to dwell on the story as much as the lessons to be learned.  Over the years our arguments are few and disagreements vanish as we listen carefully to each other and to reason which we both offer just not necessarily on the same subjects.

Sometimes we teach each other new dance steps and together we tango at times supporting each other through the falls.  I often ask myself what signifies a “ soul mate”, though neither of us look to be an example of what real love is; the compliments we’ve been given sometimes shock us both and I find myself blushing like the young bride all over again.

The young girl who was concentrating on what I wanted to be when I grew up embraced the idea that my life would never be the same as I now shared it with someone else.  Even as difficult as it was at times, knowing how much of my youth I was losing, I now know that I gained so much more.

Facing a life of uncertainty can feed anxiety and fuel denial and we need to find others who will understand our angst and listen to us as we express our worries and fear.  Once we accept that our future will be different, we can begin to overcome these by learning that we’re not the only ones concerned. 

I sometimes go to sleep wondering what I may wake up to but I realize that my mind is working overtime and think about what I can do with what I know not what I can’t do with what I don’t know.

The New Year brings us entertainment in the form of bowl games as millions of dollars are spent on supporting events that advance athletes to their next destination, one with roses.  I don’t question our ability to coach others and I wonder what could be accomplished together in our quest to help others understand the game they're playing.

Unlike other games, there are no trophies to be won or bill boards to light us up.  Ours is not a game on paper drawn out in play actions, ours is a life well written in a non-fiction book and even though we’re different characters, we usually appear on the same page for better or worse.