Ending Our Exuberance   17 comments

An entry in the How To Be Poor series

In my previous entry in the How To Be Poor series on voluntary poverty, I argued that many people’s dietary choices reveal the sort of luxury we have available to us today in industrialized nations. By choosing what we eat from a wide variety of foods, without regard to the limitations and constraints inherent to our local landscape and personal circumstances, we often provide ourselves a diet possible only in an industrialized world swimming in cheap energy and resources. Our context is utterly unlike that of most all others throughout human history.

In making that argument, I suggested that how we eat may be as or more important than what we eat. It’s a mark of luxury that the specific foods we eat can be mulled and considered and decided upon, rather than being dictated to us by a strict set of circumstances. If, instead, those circumstances dictated our food, what we eat would not so much be the question and we might instead focus on how we eat, with that determination providing us the method of building meaning into our diets. Creating a set of moral and ethical codes around the how of eating rather than the what of eating makes more sense in a world facing serious energy and resource constraints.

Still, we don’t yet face that world, though it certainly seems in the process of asserting itself. For those of us attempting to eat well, we face instead the question of what to eat, which is an important question. I wrote in that last entry that “I’m not saying these questions are irrelevant or unimportant, but they are often borne of luxury.” I think that line could come across as flippant, disavowing the importance and implications of what we eat, and that’s not at all how I want to treat the subject. No, I think what we eat is very important. As a simple matter of very specific circumstances dating back millions of years, we find ourselves in a period of human history in which those of us living in industrialized nations can choose to eat almost anything we want, regardless of the time of year or where that food is capable of being grown, raised, processed or produced. That reality places a significant burden on us to attempt to eat well. Since we don’t find ourselves restricted by our local context, I believe we’re left with the responsibility to do our best to eat in a way that is nondestructive. We should eat foods that serve well our bodies, the land, animals, farmers, our environment, other humans and the soil. Our eating should not worsen the state of the world. Ideally, it should nourish it.

And yet, that’s not how we tend to eat. Most of us eat in ways that worsen the world; that exploit farmers and animals; that destroy land bases, soil and waterways; that are built upon suffering and cruelty; that impoverish other human beings; that degrade our bodies; and that serve to further sever our connection to the world around us. We often eat fast, dirty, and thoughtless. We fail in our moral responsibility—often we fail to engage that responsibility at all.

There’s nothing surprising about that. There was a very perceptive quote from Bruce Friedrich that I first read in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. In arguing for vegetarianism, Friedrich asks, “What does it say that the leaders of the ‘ethical meat’ charge, like my friends Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan and even the Niman Ranch farmers, regularly pull money out of their pockets and send it off to the factory farms? To me, it says that the ‘ethical carnivore’ is a failed idea; even the most prominent advocates don’t do it full-time. I have met countless people who were moved by Eric’s and Michael’s arguments, but none of them now eat exclusively Niman-type meat. They are either vegetarians or they continue to eat at least some factory-farmed animals.” While I’m not impressed by some of the things Friedrich says before that quote, I find this particular observation to be spot on. As I’ve noted, I started eating meat again after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma with the idea that I would eat good meat. While I follow through on that ideal a good percentage of the time, I still find myself getting the occasional hamburger at a bar that comes out of the Sysco supply chain or buying bacon from New Seasons—which is much better than Smithfield, but far from a small, local, humane ideal. The reason I fail at times is a combination of availability, convenience, and lack of will power. If I’m at a bar and I’m drinking, I’m hungry, and it’s on the menu, I’m going to order that hamburger, even if it’s not grass fed and from a local rancher. I fully understand the implications, but I give myself a pass and dig in. It’s an available moral failing and I take it.

Most people do much the same thing, either part of the time or all of the time. We don’t tend to eat with our brains but with our heart and stomach. We give in to desires—this is one of the reasons there’s a number of massive and profitable industries built around food and diet. Food is something we think about, obsess over, attach moral implications to, satisfy emotional urges with, and which provides us the very sustenance of our lives. It’s a relationship rooted in messiness and complication and the industrial world we’ve built around us has only served to complicate that already complex relationship by vastly opening the choices before us—and vastly increasing the moral implications of what we do decide to eat. The food we normally would eat has become far more corrupted via poor farming practices and the food we normally wouldn’t have available to us now is available and serves to tempt us in ways it never could before. These realities have imbued the question of what we eat with moral implications that it never had before, and as such has shifted our concerns more firmly toward the question of what rather than how.

This isn’t a good thing. While I love having the easy access to sugar and animal products, coffee, chocolate, fruits that would never grow here, ginger and coconut milk, and so many other foods that I wouldn’t eat if not for our industrialized world, I can’t endorse this availability. It’s distorted our ways of eating and skewed them toward destructive ends. It makes every meal fraught with moral and ethical considerations, often turning those meals into exhausting acts full of self-doubt and worry. Recent neurological research, as outlined in a New York Times article, suggests that as we make decisions, we deplete our will power. We become less able to make good decisions until we’ve restored that ability to our brain, which is tied to glucose levels. In other words, our decisions around food are particularly likely to be based in irrational thinking as we often crave sugar as a way to restore our decision-making abilities. But even aside from food, the need to make constant decisions saps our will power over time and degrades our ability to keep ourselves firmly within self-established limits.

In other words, deciding how to eat well is not a simple matter of rational thought, education, or strong morals. All of those things have their effect, but they’re part of a much more broad and complicated act of decision-making that is tied as well into brain chemistry, sugar levels, genetic predispositions and emotional signals. So while it’s important to acknowledge the moral importance of eating well in a world awash with bad food, expecting moral implications to lead to good eating amongst the world’s population is a fool’s game. There may be the rare person out there who is capable of eating at all times within a strict moral code, but the vast majority of us are not going to manage such an impressive feat. We’re going to make decisions that are not going to be good for the world—sometimes purposefully and sometimes not.

I recently read William Catton’s Overshoot and the final paragraph of chapter ten has been haunting me. Catton writes, “Using the ecological paradigm to think about human history, we can see instead that the end of exuberance was the summary result of all our separate and innocent decisions to have a baby, to trade a horse for a tractor, to avoid illness by getting vaccinated, to move from a farm to a city, to live in a heated home, to buy a family automobile and not depend on public transit, to specialize, exchange, and thereby prosper.” Our behavior, in other words, has been perfectly natural. If we see humans as simply another species on this planet, as I do, then we can see how we would make these poor decisions. We can understand why we would eat foods available to us even if those foods increased misery throughout the world. We can see how we would crank the heat even if we knew we could put on a sweater instead, and even if we knew that heat comes from fossil fuels that pollute the world and that are quickly being drawn down. We can recognize that we are animals, not perfect moral beings, and that we will as often as not choose the route of comfort and convenience and satisfaction, even when we intellectually understand the long-term downfalls of those choices.

So while, yes, I think we have a moral responsibility to eat well—much as I believe we have a moral responsibility to live and work well—I don’t think we can undertake such lives via morals alone. Our morality is only so strong and is only one piece of a tangled web of emotion and physicality, genetics and desire, social and cultural norms, and so many more variables. Attempting to engage all of those variables and always still make the right choice is an exercise doomed to failure, and one that will exhaust and break us in the process.

What we need instead is a life of limitation. We need less choices, fewer options, more constraints. A life lived more local and constricted by context would help to absolve us of many of the decisions and options that globalization and industrialism has foisted upon us. Such a life would necessarily be of a smaller scale, rooted in the local land and intimate knowledge, rather than resources that can come from anywhere in the world and through the debased, standardized knowledge of industrial systems. Such a life would limit our impact on the world not by forcing us to choose each time to limit our impact, but by limiting our ability to make such impacts.

This, again, gets at the absurdity of the challenge of voluntary poverty, as I wrote about in Our Distorted View. It shouldn’t be hard to live poor, but it is when you have money and so many options to live otherwise. If we’re constantly facing that temptation and constantly having to make the decision to live a modest life in the face of the ability to do otherwise, we’re quickly going to exhaust ourselves and make poor decisions. So to live a life of voluntary poverty, we need to build limitations and constraints into our lives.

Living here in an off-the-grid homestead has provided all kinds of lessons in that reality. We heat the buildings via wood stoves, which require more work than the simple flipping of a switch or turn of a dial. That leads to less heat, as the effort to produce that heat discourages unnecessary usage. Our hot water also comes from a wood stove, as well as solar hot water panels. That teaches us to pay attention to the weather and to limit our showers. There simply isn’t always hot water without some work, so none of us showers every day—which is unnecessary anyway. We have electricity via solar PV panels and a microhydro generator, but not an abundance of electricity. Generally we can run what we need to, but we’re not powering big screen TVs or using electric heaters or blow driers and we can’t run, say, the electric tea kettle and the hot plate at the same time. We further can only run devices that use small amounts of electricity (such as CFL bulbs) on a continual basis and run high-power devices in short burst. That’s fine—I quickly grew used to these limitations and they hardly impede my life. But it’s a different reality from being hooked up to the electric grid and having essentially unlimited power at your disposal.

These limitations are ingrained into life here and they quickly slip into the background, barely worth thinking about. As a part of life, they do an excellent job of limiting energy and resource usage while providing, at worst, a bit of inconvenience—and often not even that. I live a good life here, possibly better than I have anywhere else, and likely with less energy usage than I’ve used anywhere else.

That, to me, is the goal of voluntary poverty. Finding that way to live that uses less energy and resources while still providing a good life. It’s not the easiest goal in the world, but it certainly is a possibility. Yet, it has to involve the creation of limits and constraints—a context of living that naturally leads to a downsized life. As I prepare to move to a new situation, I’m going to find myself back on the grid, with more living space and constant hot water and changed circumstances that are likely to lead to me using more energy and resources. Leaving behind this off-the-grid homestead, I’m going to have to craft the context of my life to introduce some of the constraints that my current home featured by default. If I don’t do that, I’ll live larger than I want to live, too often making the easy decisions when they present themselves to me. I’ll be able to heat at the flick of a switch, to shower any time I want, to cook by turning a nob rather than stoking a wood stove. How will I deal with those conveniences? How will I stop myself from slipping too easily back into something more akin to a middle class American lifestyle?

These are some of the questions I’ll be writing about as this series continues. It will be a challenge, but I expect it to be a good one. I hope, as well, that my attempts to live in a home more closely approximating the standard American set up will help me to provide more useful information to my readers. Most of us don’t live on off-the-grid homesteads and so the constraints we need are ones we will have to put into place ourselves, as often as not. That creation of our context is going to be a main focus of this series. To lay the groundwork, I’ll be writing soon about the home I’m moving into and the decisions and tradeoffs that led me to this living situation. Those decisions were rooted in constraint, as well, and will help to illuminate some of the frames of mind we’re going to have to dispose of if we’re to live well in a poorer future.


17 responses to “Ending Our Exuberance

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  1. Hi Joel,

    Nice post. Yeah off the grid can be seamless to grid connect when the sun is shining (and the creek / river or wind is flowing strongly) but when conditions are not optimal then it’s FHB (family hold back). We only vacuum here when the sun is shining, but the worst appliance of all is actually the microwave oven, believe it or not. It only gets used for reheating very occasionally. Returning to the world of grid connect electricity will provide you and us with some fascinating insights.

    Food is very political and takes a strong commitment to follow a strict code as you say. Here, we eat fruit, vegies, grains and dairy at home, but outside the home pretty much eat whatever as long as it is reasonable quality. It’s not very popular to make an issue about food, so we do what we can and then just don’t worry about it. I’ve got a couple of mates in their very early 40’s with type 2 so food can go wrong pretty quickly. On the other hand I’m bemused by veganism – which is the other end of the spectrum. Respect to anyone doing vegan as it is a worthwhile objective, but very hard. Still, plastic comes from dead sea creatures so it is literally an ethical minefield. I read somewhere long ago that we are all on a continuum about the ethics of food.

    That last paragraph by William Catton is a bit scary and really highlights the moral minefield – and chronic self interest – that we all try to navigate every day. We didn’t have kids for moral and ethical reasons and it really puts you in a minority. Telling you this, I’m just outing myself on that issue, but I don’t judge anyone elses choices, it’s all cool, we all walk a different path.

    Thanks for the reply about the forest, the broadleaf trees (maples I think from the photo) are more attractive and shade giving than the eucalyptus trees here. I was surprised that you mentioned the evidence of a forest fire as I thought you get too much rain for that sort of thing to occur. Interesting stuff. Did you know there is an Oregon link to where I live? The photo’s of the forest were errie in their similarity to the forest here. We have areas where broad leaf maples have invaded (sycamores) and they seem to get along OK with the eucalyptus trees and self seed and form an understorey. Who knows which will prevail? Chook shepherd time now! Regards


    • I could see the microwave taking a good deal of electricity. I didn’t even think of that—I gave up the microwave some odd years ago for health and philosophical reasons. I kind of detest the things, as convenient as they can be. I got used to just using the stove and a toaster oven and taking my time. Of course, we can’t use a toaster oven here. Well, maybe in the summer we could, as like you we have a lot more flexibility when the sun is shining abundantly. But even then, our system isn’t too huge, so running a toaster oven for any real length of time would probably be too heavy a pull on the batteries.

      As for the microhydro, it’s great at giving us a base, but it’s only something like 80 continuous watts. The nice thing is that it fills in the winter, during which there’s a stretch of months when not only is the sun typically behind clouds, but it’s even behind the tree line. The property doesn’t get sun at all, so we’re basically all on microhydro for our electricity needs. Enough for CFLs, laptops, a bit of tea kettle usage and cooking eggs on the hot plate in the morning, but that’s about it. In the summer, we tend to unhook the microhydro for a month or two when we have abundant sun and the creek starts to get low. It doesn’t get too low to run the microhydro, but we have a neighbor who also pulls from the creek and he has this tendency to run his sprinklers for hours every night. It’s ridiculous, but we’ll pull the microhydro to make sure not to cause any trouble. No sense in riling the neighbor, especially over something that becomes largely unnecessary (though we did have a couple stretches of cloudy days during that time this year that did put us low now and again.)

      Anyway, the vacuum’s an interesting point, too. I kind of forgot about that–all hardwoods and rugs here, so we just sweep and beat. That’s kind of how I like it, too. Not a big fan of vacuums, though I can stomach them more than microwaves. (No criticism of your use of them either way, of course. Just a personal preference.)

      Food is tricky, indeed. I think I might have already said this in a comment in the previous post, but these days I mostly just try to be involved in as much of my own food production as I can and then be as informed about the rest of my food, as possible. Then I allow myself some failings (burgers at the bar, for instance) and try not to obsess over it too much. Yet, I always want to improve. I’m considering putting in place a rule that I’ll only eat meat at home from the farms I work for. We’ll see. Still toying with that.

      I might write about that Catton paragraph more. It hit me hard when I read it and has stayed in my mind since. One of the things I liked about the book was how he tried to pull our behavior away from moral condemnations and just look at it in the context of us being much like any other animal on this planet. In that context, it’s not really unique behavior, and that makes sense to me. It is tragic, though, and it depresses me at times. But this is just part of being alive here on this planet, and in the end the good has certainly far outweighed the bad for me. I’m grateful for that.

      Probably won’t have kids, either. I haven’t hard ruled it out, but there’s nothing on the horizon and I don’t feel too inclined to add to the overpopulation. Plus, I seem to have my hands full with lambs these days.

      We definitely get fires out here. In the summer, from July through September, we generally get very little rain so things can get pretty dry come August and September. We might get an inch or so a month on average during that stretch. Of course, it’s a bit more particularly where I am, as I’ve mentioned the high rainfall rates. But not significantly so–we have much the same drought conditions during that time period. Now the particular area that picture you referenced was taken wasn’t out here but in Washington state, a bit north of the Columbia River gorge–so maybe 100 miles to the east, as the crow flies. Less rain out there, but still not dry and the forests there are quite similar to the ones out here. But they have the drought months, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was when the fire happened.

      I’m not too surprised about the link. From what I remember, those pictures you posted in your permaculture post I read awhile back did bear some real similarities to environs out here. Not exact, of course, but more similar than I would have expected.

    • Chris:
      Northwestern Oregon is the site of one of the biggest recurring wildfires known. It is referred to as the Tillamook Burn (check it out on Wikipedia for details) and took place not far from where Joel now lives. I lived near Portland, Oregon, which is about 75 miles east of where the fires were, during the time of the last two fires (1948 & 1951) and have vivid memories of the dense smoke they produced. I also remember driving through the devastation on the way to the coast for years afterward. During my last year in high school I participated in replanting portions of the burn – one of the areas I helped replant was partially harvested (thinned) just a year or so ago.

      • Thanks for this info, Martin. I didn’t actually know about the Tillamook Burn, which I find kind of depressing. That’s the sort of local history that really should be taught in local schools. But I’m learning about it know, and happy for it.

  2. “Finding that way to live that uses less energy and resources while still providing a good life. ” I really like that line. In a way that is what my blog is about, too. At least until I get to the heliostats 😉

    Regarding will power, I have read somewhere that it does act like a muscle, getting stronger with use, but breaking down under fatigue.

    I am very interested in seeing how your transition back to the grid goes. Living in semi-wilderness is all well and good, but if everybody does that, it will no longer be semi-wilderness. We need solutions that will work for everyone. (I refuse to accept solutions that entail massive, sudden reductions in human population, even if that might be what does eventually occur.) Hopefully your experience will be enlightening. I suspect you will do relatively well; you seem to not be under Mammon’s Curse.

    • Thanks, John. I think sometimes I get a little doomer and can get away from hitting home the point that it’s not about living in cruel poverty so much as just learning to live with much less while still being happy. I don’t think that’s an impossibility. A challenge, certainly, but living happy with lots of money is quite a challenge, as well. I’ve found it easier to be happy while having less money. I don’t know that it’s entirely a function of the money, but there’s definitely a certain amount of connection.

      Will power is a very fascinating subject. I loved that New York Times article I linked—there was a lot of great info in there. It may be referenced in future posts, as well.

      I’m interested to see how this transition goes, too. I think it’s going to be a challenge, but I’m hoping to figure it out. I agree with you in that I don’t have an interest in accepting a large die off, though I think that’s entirely possible. But obviously, there’s no sense in working for that—much better to try to get people to understand the challenges we face and to start adjusting accordingly.

      I hope to prove you right in terms of doing well. We’ll see. Luckily, I consider figuring it out very important, and I think just having that attitude is a big piece of it.

      • Thanks for pointing out that New York Times article again, I skipped over it the first time.

        After reading that article and rereading this one, it occurs to me that a strong moral code can either be a great help or a great hindrance to decision fatigue. If for example you decide you are never going to eat any meat, then that can eliminate a number of choices, making decisions easier. On the other hand, deciding you are only going to eat ethically-raised meat adds to the number of decisions you have to make.

        Another thing I’ve read in the context of web site design is to give users 3 to 7 options. Fewer than 3 makes people feel restricted, but more than 7 overwhelms them. I suspect that applies to food and other things we have to decide about.

        • I had the same thought about vegetarianism while writing the post, but decided I might write about that in a future entry. And I can vouch for the exhaustion of trying to eat ethically raised meat. One of the reasons I’ve given myself permission to eat burgers at the bar is because it was tiring to fight with myself over that decision time and time again. My will power is not particularly strong when it comes to food, and when I get really hungry it’s often things like burgers or pizza that I crave. Add in alcohol, and I tended to lose any battle of morality and tire myself in the process. Of course, now I’m as likely to fight with myself over the expense of getting a burger at the bar, so perhaps I haven’t solved any problems at all.

          As for the web site design, that’s fascinating. It makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe I should clean up that cluttered side bar over on the left.

  3. Hi Joel,
    The microhydro sounds pretty good for over winter, especially if you get lots of rain. 80w x 24 hours = 1.92kWh. It wouldn’t power an electric fan heater for even an hour, but lights, PC, internet – for a couple of hours – easy. The funny thing about off grid is that it is like systems, it’s only as good as the weakest link. The weakest link here is between May and July as the sun is low in the sky and the trees (eucalyptus obliqua with a mature height of 90m (295 feet) keep growing upwards to the sky and shading the PV panels during this time. Oh well.
    Yeah, hardwood and rugs are here as well. The vacuum is a nice thing to have on a sunny day only. In an hour it will use about 1.5kWh, but the system will easily produce this – when the sun is shining – so it is a luxury. Long term, it’ll be as per your wise decision, sweeping the floors and beating the rugs outside. When I was young I don’t remember wall to wall carpet in houses as most people had hardwood floors and rugs. Possibly it was about the late 70’s (there was a mining boom happening in Australia) when it started becoming what people would call a necessity.
    Ethically farmed meat is a really good idea. Lambs are good too.
    It’s interesting to see that you get such dry summers and extreme wet for the rest of the year, what a contrast. Summer here tends to be about 2 inches of rain per month on average, but once every decade, the summer rain fails and that is bad.

    Hi Martin,
    Thanks for the link to the Tillamook burn. Pretty scary stuff. The whole continent here, with the exception of sandy deserts and major urban centres, is fire prone even the arid lands up north. Forest fire fighting is done by volunteers here (I’m in the local community brigade) with the equipment paid for by a levy on housing insurance right across the state. There are about 60,000 volunteers in the state I’m in. Check out the wikipedia entry on the Feb 2009 Black Saturday fires:

    Hi John,
    I’d never advocate that people move to a wilderness area. I reckon villages may be the long term sustainable mode. What do you reckon?


    • Hi Chris,

      Yeah, I thought perhaps the electricity would be tighter in the winter since we basically would have no solar (or very, very little) and just the microhydro. But what I actually found was that we never really had any trouble, mainly because there was just three of us there during the winter—and often only two, with someone off gallivanting in Portland—and so the electricity pull was very low. The problem times really seem to be spring, when some of the WWOOFers start to show up and using a bit more electricity but the solar hasn’t kicked in much yet and then late summer when we have a stretch of some cloudy days but the microhydro’s been turned off. Those are our weak links, but we can just adjust our electricity usage. The killer’s always the tea kettle and hot plate, so there’s always the option of firing up the wood stove if it’s cool out or using the rocket stove outside if it’s warm. A bit more work, but if that’s your biggest problem, then I think you’re still firmly in good life mode.

      I looked at the rainfall averages for around here and it looks like the summer months are closer to 2 inches—about 1.5 to 2. But yeah, very different than the other months. People who aren’t from around here and only know the area by its reputation are always surprised to learn we have a multiple-month stretch during which we get lots of sun and decent heat and little rain. Luckily for us at our particular place, the creek that runs through the property and to which we have water rights is spring fed and there’s enough rainfall the rest of the year that it keeps it flowing all through the summer.

      Lambs are great, indeed. It’s been interesting getting to know the differences between lambs and cows as I work on these farms. Lambs are easier to handle in being smaller but they’re more wily than cows. Cows are just generally much more docile. But they’re more intimidating. It’s a good education in terms of thinking what animals I might raise if I ever have a farm of my own. Of course, I’d probably do goats, which is one animal I’m not regularly working with. But they’re super crafty and that can always lead to fun times.

  4. I wish I had the link. It was similar to the Times story, but it was about people on diets having a lowered “IQ” due to having their brains over used. I see the same thing from people recovering from drug use.

    • That sounds like an interesting article, Dennis. Being on a strict diet, the few times I tried it, proved exhausting. And my idea of a strict diet was much less strict than many peoples’. Your point about drug use is an enlightening one, as well. I could see how that could lead to a constant barrage of tiring decisions.

  5. I’ve read your comments on CFN and The Arch Druid report with great interest. I finally made it over to your blog. The first of, I am sure, several visits.

    “There may be the rare person out there who is capable of eating at all times with in a strict moral code.” I can think of one I’ve known in my entire, long life. She had more than a whiff of judgemental disapproval about her.

    I have recently moved to the boonies. About half way between Portland and Seattle. Up in the foothills of the Cascades at about the 600′ level. I’m pretty close to Rain Tree Nursery. And, I’m a city guy who has never lived in the country, before. If nothing else, I’ll probably provide hours of amusement for my neighbors.

    After living (camping out) in the back of a retail space for 15 years, I find myself with a much more lavish lifestyle. A stove! A microwave that actually turns! A REAL refrigerator with a freezer! A washer and dryer! Guilt? Yup. Propane and electric heat with no chance of wood. It’s a rental. Neglected for 3 years. I have arrived just in time before the blackberries take over. And, there was a gardener, here, at one time. The owner (an old friend of 20 years) walked me around. “The rhubarb used to be here. The horseradish, here. There was an herb garden. This is a hop vine. That’s a plum thicket. These five trees are dwarf apple, each a different variety. Cherry trees over there…” You get the idea. It will be fascinating to see what’s still here. What comes up. What with all the fruit trees, the need to build a food dryer just ratcheted up a few notches. My 99 year old neighbor is going to give me some of her strawberry starts.

    I look at what I eat and plan a garden, accordingly. Lettuce. Garlic. I’m going to try ginger and turmeric. Tea ….

    Re: The Tillamook Burn. Grew up in Portland in the 50s. 4th grade? 5th grade? So, 10 or 11 years old. Our whole class went out a couple of times to replant the Burn. Boys with pulaski and girls with a burlap sack with 50 fir seedlings in it. Brown bag lunch in the woods. A good time.

    • Thanks for the visit and comment, Lew. I imagine your adventures in rural living should be quite interesting. I would not be sad if you came back and provided occasional updates. Was your move more choice or necessity?

      I see that your general location is near where I did a meditation retreat a couple years ago. It’s beautiful out there, from what I saw.

      Much like you, I’m finding this change to a more lavish lifestyle, though it sounds like it’s not quite as big a change as for you. But having electric heaters on and my own stove and refrigerator and a TV—oh man, this is a bit of a new world. I’ll be writing about it soon. I definitely am going to have to make a more conscious effort to manage this life.

      It sounds like your set up is pretty great, though. Or it at least has quite a bit of potential. I wish there were fruit trees here. I may plant some, but it’s unlikely I’d still be here by the time they started producing actual fruit. Still, not a bad gift for whoever ends up here in the future. But yes, I imagine it will indeed be fascinating to see what comes up there.

      Are you going to grow the ginger in a green house? Will it grow up there? I’ve heard of someone growing it in Oregon, but I don’t know exactly how.

      Your pulaski note reminds me of AmeriCorps. I always was fond of the pulaski, I must say.

      • Choice or necessity? Oh, that’s a hard one. Well, first I’ll say that life has a way of careening off in unexpected directions. And, you make choices and then must live with the consequences, good or bad. I am by nature, very much a hermit. I have always wanted to live “out.” The used bookstore I had was just limping along. The lease was up. I was 62 and could start collecting my “entitlement” check. There was also a (very) small state retirement. So, I jumped.

        There were actually three places that presented themselves. Or, I could move back to Portland. If I HAD to live in a city again, it would be Portland. But, it’s so expensive. And, I really don’t have any ties there, anymore. At first I thought I might be living in a trailer on this place. But, it was thrashed. Then, the house presented itself. I’ve been here a month and a half. Lost the water, once, and the power, once. But, I muddled through without much discomfort. I’m still living out of boxes and running in circles looking for things. A 15 year accumulation. Which I started to pare down at the old place and continue to pare down at the new.

        Yes, it is beautiful here. I’m still in the “raving about the vast panorama of nature” stage. I’ve promised the neighbors it will wear off, or at least I’ll shut up about it in a month or two. I am caught by wonder and surprise, daily. The other night I got up around 4 to use the john and happened to glance out the window. Moon, snow and a very large rabbit crossing the yard. It was a show stopper. Keeping in mind that Mr. or Mrs. Rabbit will soon have designs on my garden. A bald eagle in the pasture.

        You yearn for fruit trees and my life would be complete if there was just a nut tree in the neighborhood. But, I’ll have to think about your thoughts on planting for those who follow after. I hesitate, due to my age. And, it is a rental. But other people will live here after me. Yes. A gift to the future. And, I never thought I’d end up living (camping out) in the back of the store for 15 years. Dad is 93. So, I may be here a very long time.

        The ginger and the turmeric. There are several videos on YouTube about growing the two in the Pacific NW. Basically, it’s containers at either end of the growing season and outside once the weather warms. It’s all part of my … plan? as to what to do if things begin to fall apart more swiftly than supposed. I switched from coffee to tea as coffee may become unavailable or expensive. But, I can grow tea, here. And, if things get bad, perhaps I can trade ginger, turmeric and tea for other things. I’m trying to think about options if the checks go away.

        I do have a disused blog I might resurrect. Maybe. My computer skills aren’t that sharp and I get tired of things constantly changing. I had a little realization the other day. I acquired an old treadle sewing machine. With manual and all the attachments. It’s on my next winter list of things to master. And that’s the thing. I can master the sewing machine, and it’s not going to change on me. Unlike this box sitting in front of me.

        So, I’m pretty content. I go for days without seeing another human being or speaking to one. It has been no problem to limit myself to one trip to “town” a week. Sometimes, longer. I’m only 15 minutes from downtown Chehalis, but it’s a world away. My little 04 Ranger only has slightly more than 50,000 miles on it.

        Well, enough. I did want to mention a book “A Gift Upon the Shore” by Wren. It’s a post collapse novel set on the Oregon Coast. Well worth a look if you haven’t stumbled on it yet. It’s pretty old, so I’m sure Powell’s would have a copy for not too much money.


        • Hi Lew,

          I can sympathize with the living out of boxes syndrome. I’ve been moving nearly every year for the last couple years. In fact, this is my sixth home since 2007. Wow. I guess that’s part of the life if you keep on taking new farm internships. But perhaps I’ll settle in here for a few years. I have no idea—might not. But it’s a possibility. For the first time in awhile, I have a home and jobs that aren’t guaranteed to change within a year.

          Anyway, I would encourage some tree planting, as you never know how long you’ll be there and it’s always good to leave something for the future, no matter what. Of course, that’s dependent on the ability to do it—sometimes your time and money have designs on other things! But you might as well put in a nut tree if you’re so wanting it. That way it will be there if you stay long enough to harvest from it. It’s amazing how fast the years can pass, after all.

          Where was the used book store? I really have always wanted to own a used book store, though that’s hardly the business to be in at this point. (On the other hand, I see a limited future for the Kindle and other e-readers. On the other, other hand, that’s because of the depletion of fossil fuels and the collapse of the technology industry . . . which also may not bode well for much of any business. But a used bookstore might be something that survives that well.)


          If I had to live in a city, it would be Portland, as well. Which might be obvious, despite my one post criticizing it in ways. Still, I love that city and the people there—even the ones who drive me crazy. But yes, it is expensive. Or, at least, it is for someone like me who has a hard time resisting brewpubs and restaurants with tasty food. I’ve been getting better, though, about keeping my spending limited when I go in for a visit. It’s all about managing my hunger, as much as anything.

          I’ll have to look up some of those ginger growing videos. I would love to grow my own ginger here, and I wouldn’t need tons of it. But having a supply for cooking and a bit of home brewed ginger ale would be pretty fantastic. I really wish, though, that coffee could be somehow grown here. I just never have been able to get into tea big time, despite my attempts and a short affair with it. Coffee, though . . . I’m hopelessly addicted. I’ve considered giving it up, but my current decision is to just roll with it for now and I can give it up when it’s no longer available or too expensive. With luck, it’ll always be available. It does seem like one of those commodities that’ll be traded no matter what happens. But we’ll see how crazy the future gets.

          Thanks for the recommendation on the book. I’ll look that up.

  6. Pingback: The Circus Comes to Town « Of The Hands

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