"There is no 'try'...there is only do, or do not." ~ Yoda

"There is no 'try'...there is only do, or do not." ~ Yoda

Preparing myself, my family and my friends for the Fourth Turning.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Faith and Reason

I awoke depressed today, for no good reason. It does get lonely here.  I don't yet know many people, and certainly don't know their habits and schedules, and so don't yet know what opportunities for social connection exist.

I expect it will take some time.  Perhaps more so than for most people, given my solitary nature.

And I've been doing some thinking lately, and that can sometimes do it - the kind of thinking where I am gravely concerned over the manner of world my children and grandchildren will inhabit, and I then become infused with a sort of parental guilt at the behavior of my generation and the one previous.

What have we wrought?

The weather, of course, is challenging; this boggy, clammy, soup of a week or so we're having, interspersed with brief respites of sunlight, crisp air, and brilliant vermillion waves cresting atop the ridges and sloughing into the valleys of the autumn sea.  Like swimming in a lake of despair, with but brief breaths of hope.

The sheer volume of work necessary and remaining to transform this wonderful house and our property nearby into the vision we have for our home and our livelihood is astounding.  Doing as much as possible by hand and by myself, without cost to our cash, can be exhausting and isolating. 

Even certain minor political considerations have arisen unanticipated, and unsettlingly:

When the gentleman arrived to inspect and connect my wood furnace, I inquired as to the possibility of placing a wood stove in the dining room and connecting it to the existing, original chimney and taking the oil furnace off line.

He informed me that would likely not meet code, as a wood stove alone is deemed insufficient to heat a home.  I'm still finding pieces of my jaw when I sweep the dining room floor.  Why ever should the state care, much less dictate, the manner in which I heat my home, save a legitimate duty to ensure, for the common welfare, that it is poses no risk to others within the community, and to a certain extent, minor children (if any) within my household (the State has no legitimate right to be concerned with risk to myself, but I welcome its informed opinion should it perceive one)?

The tentacular nature of the state is becoming alarming.

It should not be so challenging to be a compliant citizen; indeed, when the burdens of compliance with abstract, meaningless, and punitive rules that add no value to society's general well being become so onerous and contradictory that compliance is impossible, it then becomes not only the best interest of, but also the duty of, each citizen not to rail against them, but to ignore them, wholesale.

And if they should do so, all of them, at once, and those charged with upholding the law, yet realizing that the law is absurd, where to at the same to cease to enforce absurd lawitry, and choose instead only to enforce those laws that were beneficial, then we might have a world that made sense.

In the meantime I must endure the despair of having encountered yet another obstacle.

But to heap scorn upon injury, the final irony arises:  my oil furnace, the duct work recently cleaned, has now taken on a loud humming when in operation; something is amiss, and I shall have to have it remedied. This will entail more time, more work, and more frustration. 

Yet I am told by the state that I must prefer this noisy, smelly machine lurking in the bowels of my home, itself requiring scores of square feet of sheet metal in the form of piping to carry its product about, and electricity to feed its noisy fan to assist it in doing so, to the quiet comfort of a near-to-hand wood stove, radiant and comforting to arthritic bones, provisioned by my hand alone, serviced by my hand alone, and quite capable of warming the home with no mechanical action whatsoever.

And this in a region that seeks to pride itself on its green efforts, in a state that offers subsidies to consumers to promote reduced energy footprints.

Dear State:  Will you please get out of my way?

So being depressed, and injured, and scorned, and feeling more than a little sorry for myself, and quite lonely at times, and rather poor compared to my accustomed lifestyle, I mope.

This, then, is the call to discipline that I am today given, that I must match my challenges not with toil and endurance and strength and a grim, quiet acceptance of pain, as when a soldier.  Nor must I employ the odious tools used to navigate the Machiavellian halls of banking, that corrupt and stinking corpse in the living room of our society, in which I was until recently employed.

That second set of tools I am loathe to ever employ again, and suspect I am therefore forever unwilling to accept corporate employment again, unless some substantial move towards a genuine ethic were to spontaneously arise in corporate America. The first may aid me somewhat in my toils, but are not equal to the task before me.

I am not given the opportunity to simply bull on through; I must have faith and employ reason. I must have faith in myself and my purpose, and in those whom I know stand with me.  I must keep to reason, and not be lulled by stochastic events that appear to counter the trend.  I must have faith in my own ability to reason; in my independence graced by my presence in a community; and in my ability to discipline myself.

Each day I must recall the reasons I have chosen this path.  Each day I must review the progress.  There must be some physical labor each day, and on most days, a full day of labor is expected.  Each day, I will remind myself that this thing I call the Jupiter Project is my attempt to build a safe and secure place for my family and my community against the storm I know is coming.

And what if I am wrong, and no storm comes?  Then no harm has been wrought: if successful I will have established an independent small-hold farm capable of sustaining itself and its denizens, with appropriate support from the community and with appropriate returns to the community.

My food will be healthy and self-produced; my days and evenings my own; my labors directed so that the profits accrue to me, and not to some distant chief executive and his crony shareholder.  Were I capable of prayer, I would pray that this outcome should occur.

And if I am right, then I will have built a place secure from the worst of climate change, at least as secure a place as I am able to achieve given the limitations of resources and my place in space, time, and history.

As for poverty, I am yet hopeful that I am this winter, barring some future misfortune, as 'poor' as I am likely to get.   Next year, if all goes as planned, the work on the home will be finished, and the work of producing food will begin in earnest.  I will at that point be wealthier than I am now, for having invested my time and toil in the preparation of this place to that end, with comfort beckoning at the close of each day, to be shared with my wife, herself isolated in her toils far away from me, striving toward our common end.

For what is wealth, but an amount of capital available to one that exceeds one's immediate needs, accumulated over time, so as to improve ones' life and measures of ease, and the closeness of family?  I am too accustomed to thinking of wealth as money and the ability to get things on a moment's notice, by walking into a store.

True wealth is the possession of resources sufficient to ensure one's survival, and then some.  It is the possession of the means of production of food, shelter, and all of the necessities of life, embedded within the community of which one is a part.

The wealth of man has grown endlessly since the first hominid chose to carry with him (or her, for that matter), rather than abandon after use, a rock he picked up as a tool.  On some distant square meter of ground, at some moment in deepest history, that rock found itself in a place where it was useful, and where it had value for the simple fact that no other rocks were around and a rock was needed.

At that moment it ceased to be a senseless burden, and became wealth.

Like that primitive creature who reasoned the usefulness of the rock and kept faith with its own decision until proven right, I will hew to my faith that I am right, that this is necessary, and that it is my task to prepare this place for my kin.

These things shall keep despair from my door during this long winter and into the spring, when I will offer to my beloved wife this house as our home.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Legacy of Useful Things

The one real legacy available to us as our empire winds down and energy scarcity begins to become very real for many people is that of Useful Things.  We have these in such abundance now it is difficult to imagine a time, past or present, when it was not so.

I've all but given up trying to convince people that renewables such as solar and wind aren't really going to solve any problems.  Certainly we'll find ways to breathe life back into useful technologies like windmills and waterwheels - but it won't be to magically manufacture either fuels or endless high-pressure streams of electrons, both intended to drive machines that spare us much physical labor in today's world.

We will have energy, and we will have fuels, and we will be able to use that energy and those machines to do work.  We just won't have the energy to do so much of it as we do now.  We will have to begin making choices regarding the cost of energy use versus its benefits.  This is nothing new: as fuel prices have risen many of us have made choices in response to the rising cost such as purchasing smaller cars or driving fewer miles.

What most don't seem to grasp, however, is that this is but the tip of the trend.  Imagine what it would mean to have say, even 20% less energy available for your immediate use than you now consume.  Just 20%.  Now think about which 20 miles out of every hundred you won't drive.  Which 20 hours of every 100 of lighted darkness you won't illuminate.  Which 20 loads of every 100 loads of clothing you won't wash, and you begin to get the idea.

As we're eventually going to return to levels of energy availability roughly equivalent to those available prior to the discovery of oil, 20% of course is but a step down on the Long Descent.

But my goal today is not to belabor the energy discussion, but rather to discuss what should be done with the time we have remaining when energy is rather abundant.  To what uses should we put it it?  And by 'we' I don't mean us as a species, a people, or even a community, large or small.  I mean 'we' as in each of us - what choices can and should we make as the last of the easy oil is consumed.

I'll confess that I am not a purist: I don't intend to limit my energy use simply to prevent harming Mother Earth.  I admire such sentiments, and I admire those who practice austere lifestyles for that reason.  But I am at heart a pragmatist.  Such efforts, while valiant, are hopelessly in vain against the scale of the problem.  The world is unmoved.  Energy will continue to be consumed until it is gone.

One of the consequences of energy scarcity that I don't hear much discussed is that of the impact on manufacturing and construction.  One hears a great deal about the impact on food production and transportation, and people are moved to re-create walkable communities and increase local food production, but one never hears discussed where we shall get the replacement parts for our Subarus, or plastic sheeting and trowels and towels and matches and metal forks and all sorts of useful things.

These are all made in some factory somewhere.  And one of the second-order effects of energy scarcity is going to be a scarcity of things.  Things that will take us by surprise, like staples and paper clips.  Can you make a paper clip?  Can you make a water glass?  And I don't mean fashion one from some other object - I mean take some raw material and make a glass.  And if a tool is necessary, then you first must make the tool. Ad infinitum.

Think about that for a bit.  Let it settle in and gel.

The same holds for construction of new infrastructure: we don't really know how to do it without large machines any more. When the engines of the cranes fall silent for lack of fuel, how will we lift large objects? Who among us knows how to use a block and tackle, much less make one, or make the rope it requires to operate?  What plants that grow locally can we use for fibers?  How should we harvest and prepare the fibers?  What tools are necessary for turning fiber into rope?  Who knows how to make those tools?

Now eventually, we will learn to do without or to make Useful Things things ourselves.  Kunstler addresses this admirably in World Made by Hand.  And if the decent is slow, as opposed to rapid, then the making do without or the making by hand will develop naturally, until one day we look around and realize our standard of living has changed in real ways, but life isn't, after all, so bad.

So the guy down the street makes barrels, and John makes shoes, and I grow tomatoes for sauce I sell and all that's really changed is that our lights are lit by the electricity produced by the generator on Smith Street, behind Courtney's house, in the gorge, and we don't travel so much, nor nearly so far.

The village has only a couple of cars, and (biodiesel) fuel is laboriously produced by at one of the local farms, so that when emergencies arise and horse-drawn wagon is too slow, we can still send our emissary as rapidly as possible over the rutted roads to Syracuse, or Ithaca, or if we need to power up one of the old, big machines we can, at least for a few hours.

There are times when I think and hope we yet accomplish this, even if only by default.

But the stirrings of the #OccupyWallStreet movement, which I view as a continuation of the Tea Party Protests, albeit taking its energy from a different range of the political spectrum, have about them the whiff of revolution in the making.  As America is now an empire in decline, which has recently demonstrated a willingness to inhere its chief executive with the right to conduct extra-judicial killings of American Citizens, the whole affair is likely to get very messy.

This of course is against the backdrop of Peak Oil, climate change, and population overshoot.

So if the whole affair does get messy, then Useful Things are likely to prove themselves in very short supply, and the manufacturing of Useful Things is likely to be curtailed for some time, perhaps a very long time.

So what things to store up then?  I'm no subscriber of the Eschaton - I fully expect human societies to survive whatever collapse is coming, without falling into some sort of Mad Max dystopian existence.   This is not to say that it won't feel like in places and at times.  Certainly, the Bosnian and Rwandan experiences have taught us what is possible, even today.

But if one is caught in that sort of situation, then no amount of preparation is really sufficient.  If some local boy decides to become a warlord, and succeeds in so doing, and I and my family were to become a target, the likely outcome is our death.  Such is the lesson of history.

So guns and gold, while useful, are really needed only in very limited quantities.  Unless one plans to outfit a militia, or open a bank, then mere arms and cash are silly things to hoard. 

There are other things one might hoard, in plain sight, and without even realizing one is doing so.  This is because wealth is a funny thing - and it's not at all what we perceive it to be.  We perceive wealth to be either money, or one of it's manifestations:  the possession of objects of no utility; the possession of useful objects that cost far in excess of the utility they provide (such as million dollar automobiles); power; and freedom of mobility.

All of these things are 'purchased' with what we think of as wealth today.

Yet true wealth is something else entire, and it begins with the possession of land (and not, I beg you, 'real estate').

To that land you can add infrastructure - and this should be carefully thought out.  The infrastructure should be purpose-driven: does it help me access the resources of the land, from which I hope to make my living.  (And I concede that at some point we're going to have to solve the issue of the state requiring us to rent our own land from it, in perpetuity, in the form of property tax.   I don't mind paying taxes, but some basic parcel of land should be immune from taking by the State.)

But once one has a place to live what then?  Then, Useful Things.  The things that will be difficult to come by later: books and tools and equipment and containers.  Not warehouses full, but equivalent to one's needs and in sufficient quantity to provide a spare or two over the next generation.  It takes a long time to wear down a shovel.

More pointedly, now is the time to store up, in reasonable quantities, those things now produced by the use of easy energy.  We can take our personal share of easy energy in several ways - we can squander it, as our species has done and continues to do (just imagine what would have been possible if we had devoted our species' legacy of fossil fuels to the exploitation of space instead of shopping malls and McMansions).

We can disinherit ourselves, and forgo its use. 

I believe both of these choices are foolish.  My task is to survive, and to drag along with me as much of my family and as much of my community as I am able.  This is the essence of the Jupiter Project.  To survive the coming winter.  I want a safe and sheltered place; I am willing to do my part to ensure its continuation, and if that includes using great quantities of energy now to establish the conditions for future success when portable energy will be unavailable in quantity, then I will make that choice.

It is the only logical choice.  If energy is going to be unavailable to me tomorrow, then I had better make good use of it today, either by building things that sustainably generate energy (to include generating sufficient energy to permit the maintenance of themselves as well as an an energy surplus turned to useful purposes); by building things that improve access to my resources; or by acquiring things that will permit or assist in the accessing and sustainable exploitation of those resources, in all cases for myself, my descendants, and by extension my community.

This philosophy extends to beliefs about what my community should do: here in the Finger Lakes we are endowed with substantial water resources and a topography that permits energy self-sufficiency.  We don't need to be on-grid, here in Moravia.  Our efforts and taxes could go to the deliberate consideration of what life might be like if gasoline cost, say, 30 dollars a gallon, or was entirely unavailable.  How might we be forced to live differently?

This is the reality our children, alive and peopling the Earth right now, will face.   To deny this is illogical.  The math insists it must be so.

Should we not now use the energy that is available to us and begin transforming ourselves and our communities, in anticipation of that eventuality?  Use our machines and our wits to build power generation along our creeks and streams, and determine where to place electric trains that will carry workers to and from the fields and produce to the villages?  Before our machines become scrap for want of fuel?

While we still have the time and energy to build the trains and the rails?

To rebuild the mills driven by water, designed using technology that uses parts that can be made locally, and including in our reconstruction efforts support for the development of local industries that manufacture replacement parts?

Should we continue to squander our wealth, or at last make real use of it, before it is gone?

Anyone older than 46 - which includes me - is responsible for the legacy our children are about to inherit.  Corrupt (or at best useless) government, crushing national and personal debt, unemployment, shrinking resources.

But we still have the opportunity to mitigate that legacy, if we begin now to acquire and build Useful Things.  Five acres and a quality set of hand tools would be a tremendous legacy during most of human history; and yet we have the opportunity to leave our children so much more.

The choice to stockpile Useful Things - the things that will continue to hold value and do work and produce other things with limited or no energy inputs - is the only sensible choice.   We must do it ourselves, and we must encourage others to do it.  We must make our homes and our communities snug.

We must learn to grow and preserve our own food in meaningful quantities.  We must learn to thrive in circumstances with far fewer inputs.  But not yet.

When we must, we will make do without energy.  But now, while we have it, we should turn its use to that of preparation, and that means building and making and collecting Useful Things, that later generations might have them still when their making is difficult.  So that future generations will have a fighting chance to build a lifestyle that, while perhaps not as luxurious as ours, is yet comfortable and safe and provides some measure of amenity.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall's First Blush

(Final edit for grammer and punctuation 2000 25092011)

The trees are hinting at visions yet to come.  The fields turned a week or so ago, the ambers and yellows deepening, being joined by browns and oranges, waning from green and waxing toward reds and yellows and brilliant burnt umbers and the thousand non-green hues of fall to which northern latitudes are privileged.

In some short time, if the rain may please to check itself, and the temperature drop just ever so much, approaching frost but not yet there, then we may hope for a fall in all its glory.  My anticipation is high.  It was thirty years ago this October first I left western New York - some 200 miles west of here, near the Seneca Nations, a town called Smith Mills, population maybe fifty, bound for Parris Island and Marine Corps Boot Camp.

As it happens, I tonight received a text from and made a call to an old marine buddy of mine, Brett Williams - we talked for an hour or so, catching up after a dozen or so years; I won't bore you with the details.

Our Alaskan Cruise adventure has ended - I'll post pictures soon, I promise - and fun was had by all, especially the Moms, for whom the cruise was intended as a late-life adventure.  I've been back a week now and hard at work on the downstairs bathroom the whole time.  Come Monday, I will mud the walls and mortar the floors, placing the first layer in the shower pan.  By the end of the week, I should have the tiling in, and will be thinking about finish carpentry and paint.

I would prefer not to have to strip a bathroom to studs and sub-floor again, but it has been a learning experience.  Pictures (with a few still on the camera, coming soon) are to the left.  Plumbing and electrical are in - two new sewer lines, a new hot and a new cold water line, and three lines moved, a wall moved, enclosing a window that will be inside the shower, necessitating custom glass.  Shower enclosure custom built, pocket door installed.

Total assistance: one plumber to cut in a side hole on an existing sewer line (I rerouted the other new provision myself) and one carpenter to frame the new wall.

My cat has been returned; I am glad as I was woeful lonely without her. 

So that's the update on the mundane stuff.  I've had time time think as well.

I write beside the fire, out back of 17 Park.  Fall approaches - today I harvested all of my neighbor's basil, a thick handful of stems forming a bouquet of basil leaves two feet long and a as big around as my thigh.  It's hanging to dry in the kitchen.

My northern and southern neighbors are preparing to flee the cold, to Florida, to winter over.  Thus, with the cold will come the sealing of my solitude, as often days it is to these neighbors alone to whom I speak.  With their absence, the likelihood that I will pass days without human contact grows.

Time moves slowly, lackluster waves rolling gently into a grey shore, unhurried insistence begging notice. 

Events coalesce.  The Bundeswehr recently released a report (Bundeswehr Report) (detailing certain of the same likely outcomes of peak oil as the Joint Chiefs did in the 2010 JOE.  Fascinating reading, the circumstances these two militaries predict our now-global society will face in the coming years - and I mean years, as in, two to five, not years, as in, some indefinable but certainly very far future time.

I stress that the time frames are theirs: the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Bundeswehr, organizations not given to histrionics, generally, and perhaps two of the more fact-based decision making bodies on the planet with any immediate power.

Time is short, and the tipping point is upon us.

My religious acquaintances are well acquainted with this concept: they call it the rapture, the moment when the saved are lifted up to heaven, and us heathens are left here 0n Earth, which will by then have become the Devil's cauldron.

That there will be a cauldron I agree.  With the assertion that it will be global I concur as well.  The likelihood that some percentage of our population will be spared it's horrors by magical intervention I deem unlikely.

It will happen by the end of the decade.  Our current way of life will slowly (if we are lucky - if not it will be rapid and bloody) crumble, and change will come.  It is inevitable.  As inevitable as the slow drift of yesterday's leaves to to the forest floor.  

The markets are troubled, governments seem ineffective, with every action taken to promote 'growth' falling short, failing to reignite the economy.   This is because it is a futile endeavor.  It cannot be ignited, not anytime soon.  Not in the manner nor on the scale to which we are accustomed.

Wealth distribution is too skewed.  The subsidies of fossil fuels, like a mismanaged trust account, are dwindling, and the climate is just beginning to discover it can roar.  We are an engine that has ceased running, that is choking from lack of fuel, running on fumes, desperate for a fill up, but none is to be had.

Leadership at all levels is absent.  What passes for leadership is mere hubris and sanctimony, as often as not applied for short term positional gain by insisting upon sacrifice by others.

More personally, this is a time of great reflection for me:  upon the fall in general, ever my favorite season, and my true progression into mid-life, and my reaction to the outcomes of the choices I've made.

It is a confluence of falls.  It is the fall of this year, and it is the tail end of the summer of my life, perhaps a bit early for true fall yet, but nonetheless the promise is in the evening air.  It is the fall of this great empire of America, where I have been privileged to have been born and raised.  And it is in the fall of our species, grown too plentiful too fast on the promise and potential of a resource that itself is nearly played out.

Civilizations will be realigned, destroyed, created, reworked.  

As to that, while I am apprehensive regarding certain historical patterns that seem to be repeating, and what they portend, I am nonetheless confident and content that I have prepared as well as may be against the gathering storm, and I consider myself well positioned to weather the storm and shelter those close to me if need be.  I like who I am, and I like who I am becoming even more.

I am aware I may fail - but it will not be for having been blind and caught unaware.  It will not be for having been careless.  It will be instead for having been defeated, by the elements, or chance, or another stronger than I.

But there is no shame in defeat - only in failing to strive.

And it is nice to feel so deliberate, to feel so in charge of one's one destiny, to feel that finally one is choosing one's own path.  And though I live in the lap of austerity, yet I am more satisfied than ever I have been, to wake each day and spend my labors and my thought and my property improving my immediate environment, answerable to no man, and beholden to none.

I am 47, and I am beginning to discover what it means to be free.  It does require meaningful sacrifice.  It does require prudence, and honest, hard work.  But it offers so much space in which to think, it which to consider what it truly means to be human, and to be alive.  To recall our choices and look back over our path.

To learn that perhaps the ways we have been taught are flawed, and that other ways are available to us.

And thus I reminded of an axiom a man related to me, related, in turn, to him by another man.  The first man admired the second man, and had for some time, this was clear.  And so he had received this 'wisdom' from the first man in the spirit of an acolyte receiving guidance from one of the Learned.

And he took it to heart, and never considered the implications, and related it to me some years later:

'Sometimes, if you just can't make someone happy, it's best to let them go be unhappy someplace else'.

Can you spot the condescension?   The hidden assumption of righteous authority on the part of the original utterer of this nonsense?

The occurrence was on the occasion of my resignation, announced well in advance: two month's notice was given.  The resignation had been prompted by ad hoc changes in levels and types of responsibility far exceeding the nominal duties of the position I held, and, due to the financial crisis I was informed that compensation had been 'frozen' for everyone.

At the time I was questioning the value of my career, and my desire for the level of responsibility I was being asked to take on, without any corresponding rise in compensation (for the second time, mind you - the first occurrence of that I let pass with little comment).

Coming as it did in the van of the financial crisis, I bethink I was viewed as somewhat disloyal, that I would not accept endless increased responsibility at no additional charge to the company - that I did not become more productive out of duty and loyalty to the company in tough times.

There's more to the story, of course, but it isn't particularly relevant; I relate this only because some background against which to discuss the above comment is necessary.

So I was unhappy, and I was also being told that my being unhappy because I was dissatisfied that my responsibilities had increased while my compensation had been frozen was selfish. Even here, I might have accepted this line of reasoning, had the circumstances been similar for all involved; yet nothing was further from the truth. 

What really bothered me was the assumption, inherent in the statement, that if I did go somewhere else, I would remain unhappy.  In other words, my unhappiness was due to a flaw within myself.  It must be so, because, if this company couldn't make me happy, then it must be that I could never be made happy.

How else to interpret '...let them go be unhappy someplace else.'?

What stunning arrogance!  It's like the abused wife being told by the abusive husband that she has no business complaining - he's the only one that will ever love her!

 I have spent two years thinking on this brief verbal exchange, occurring in passing at a meeting of no great import, merely a casual comment made with bonhomie and a chuckle to ease the sting of the admonishment.

And I have learned to my own satisfaction, and realized only because I have withdrawn from that world and found the time to think with a clear head, that it was not, after all, my inability to be happy that was the problem.  It was not greed that provoked my departure, nor was it a lack of willingness to sacrifice for the larger good.

Clearly I am capable of happiness, as I am happier now than ever I have been.  And near the poorest, at least in terms of cash flow.  And have and will continue to give freely of my meager skills to all worthy comers.

I am not, after all, some flawed denizen of the corporate world, dissatisfied with everything and forever grumbling.  I'm not some greedy, insatiable tool demanding ever more.  I'm just a man who felt treated unfairly, and was made to feel worse for being made to feel disloyal.  Despite no such loyalty having been either earned or demonstrated in return by the company.

And I am also a man who has watched with some puzzlement as this company, our society, and our species have all continued to make inherently unsustainable choices focused solely on short-term expectations and desires, in the face of clear and growing evidence that what has worked previously will absolutely not do so this time around.

It is the cohesion of these two trains of thoughts that is so welcome.  Our world is broken.  This is  reflected not just in the grand sweep of history that topples and births nations, and which is now a gathering wave that will sweep the globe like fire as humanity experiences a crisis the likes of which it has never seen.

It will be the Anasazi and Easter Island on a grand scale.

It is also reflected in our personal interactions, in our values of and for each other.  And I don't mean to invoke transactional measures here: the coin a man is paid for his labor.  I mean in the unspoken perspectives we have for each other.  The discourtesy evidenced while conversing on a cell phone while driving.  The lust for oil, regardless of environmental costs, because we don't have to live with the mess personally, do we, or at least most of us don't.

The hubris evidenced by '...let them go be unhappy someplace else."

I still watch the progress of that company from afar - I spent a great many years of my life there, working very hard and giving my utmost.  It's the only way I know to work.  The company may survive, but I have my doubts.  If it were healthy, it might survive a second crisis, but it's yet on life support from the last.

I will be sad for most of it's people when the end comes.  But the leaders will merely reap what they have sown, disregarding Aristophanes as all leaders seem to eventually do, to their peril.

And so, in the fall of this year, in the early fall of my life, in the fall of our empire, and of our species, I witness as well the fall of one company, important to many, but no different than the countless other corporate leaves of our deciduous global society, doomed to a slow fade from green to flame, and then to fall and fade, much as this complicated world we have fashioned out of cardboard and sand is doomed to subside.

The cycle will turn, however bloody and desperate humanity's future proves to be.  I don't think we shall destroy ourselves completely, but another dark age is certainly possible.

Meanwhile, the leaves blush, absolutely immune to the meanderings of humans; a hundred million years ago, the maples showed such hues to the uncaring (we presume) animals of the forest.  A hundred million years hence, they will likely burst as brightly, though whether any sentient being with color vision will be present on the planet to appreciate the show is anyone's guess.

But I am here now, this mind I call 'I', and I take my pleasure in the hues of nature, and in the sense of justice done.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Men, Horses, Rivers, Steam, and Trains - On the Record.

We already know what a sustainable technology looks like: men, horses, rivers, steam and trains.  Men for the planning and work requiring intelligence and manual dexterity.  Horses for the 'horsepower' - to which we still refer today, when discussing the capacity of engines of various sorts.

Rivers for steady, relentless conversion of energy into different, more useful forms: electricity, sawmills, grain mills.  

Steam for where even horses are insufficient - and by way of note on that topic, we have here in Moravia two working steam engines - magnificent beasts, I know not how old, but near a hundred, I think, carrying a couple of thousand gallons of water in a nose tanker over the boiler.  They still operate, and I am told they used to be used to pave roads and other challenging tasks.  Replacement parts are custom-made by a foundry in Pennsylvania, I am told.

Trains for transportation - the commercial isn't kidding when it says it can move a ton of freight on a gallon of fuel - trains are very efficient ways to move things, and, as importantly, require much less infrastructure than other forms of distributed, often private, transportation.

Humans got by quite well with all of this save trains, of the mechanical variety, anyway.  History spoke of caravans and trains long before we ever made one of iron and put it on rails.

So we know how to do sustainable, although the factors outlined above are in no way what those who eat, live, and breath 'sustainable' as both a 'lifestyle' and an ideology are thinking.  No, what those folks are thinking of as 'sustainable' translates to, in plain speak, as: 'a guilt-and-relatively-cost-free-method, preferably less expensive than current methods, of living fairly closely to the way I currently live, and without the toxins in my seafood'.

We want sustainable without having to affect our livelihood in significant ways.  Most people I encounter who participate in behaving sustainably do, in fact, lower their footprint.  But it's on such a small scale as to be nearly meaningless.  'Rationing' trips to the store.  Growing more at home.  Re-purposing items, bartering, etc.

Great stuff!  I'm a huge fan, as much because such actions bring us closer to a true exchange of value than paper money has any hope of doing, as because such a lifestyle is a fundamentally more human way to live.  And in the particular case of barter, as each party to a barter is calculating not only their advantage, but their trading partner's advantage as well - and, if ethical, not just to ensure that one is receiving a fair value, but that one is granting a fair value as well, it's a more humane way to live as well.

Taking advantage in a barter economy gets one aught but trouble.  Barter economies tend to be small, and reputations tend to be known and taken seriously.

Eh.  I digress.

The root of it is, going sustainable means using electricity only during certain periods of each day.  It means doing most things by hand - without the aid of powered machines.  Of living more locally and simply.

If a public conversation were to be had, and I were to maintain - as I until now have maintained privately and here maintain publicly - that the point at which we will soon find ourselves is much nearer the known sustainable technology point than it is to the hoped-for sustainable technology point, then I should expect to soon be roundly criticized and mocked.  (And I am no stranger to these circumstances, but mostly on a personal scale in intimate conversations with fellows.  Only rarely am I greeted as at all insightful).

Anyway, as the anti-sage once said, "bring it on".

The truth is, and I believe it's about to become very up close and personal to each of us, is that we're very soon - and here I mean weeks and months - going to have to get used to getting by with a whole lot less of everything, but mostly energy, and it is, after all, energy upon which our making and getting of everything else is based.

I don't know how many nails I can pound in a day with a hammer, but it's certainly fewer than I can drive with a decent nail gun and a compressor.

And that's leaving aside the energy input into the two architectures.  The first, of course, is simply a man, a hammer and a box of nails.  We'll call it Architecture'.  It's components all require energy to grow or make, it is true.  Make note of it.

Yet it's sustainable based entirely upon energy inputs from the sun - no manufactured nuclear energy, nor any recaptured solar energy (hydrocarbons), is necessary.  The man, the hammer, and the nails may all be produced, directly or indirectly, via the energy received from the sun over the course of a normal human lifetime.

(It's getting late, and I don't much feel like adding a logical proof of that last point, but if you wish to challenge, feel free to e-mail me (jeffrey.saeli@knology.net))

But then consider the energy input that goes into manufacturing the nail gun, the nails, the adhesive or paper or plastic or wire holding the nails together, the box in which they are packaged, the compressor, the hoses, the brass fittings, the entire delivered-electricity network, to include, just by way of one example, that industry and it's components responsible for felling, preparing, transporting, and employing the buried dead trees to which we attach the copper wire to carry the electricity to power the compressor.

And, of course, the vehicle upon which to load and transport the gun, the nails, the compressor, the hoses, the cords; and the vehicle's associated industries and ad infinitum,and we are all guilty, myself as much as anyone.

We'll call this Architecture".   Architecture" is not sustainable because it relies either upon energy inputs that are either so toxic as to destroy our species with cavalier elan; or are fast diminishing and irreplaceable over the course of at least the next two decades (and likely never).

Do you think we have a sustainable future with nail guns?  Do you know how many 'green' types I have met here cheerfully running around building off-grid houses using nail guns? Is our cultural sense of irony decayed, retarded, or, alas, dead?

So for those who have asked recently, this why I do as much as I can by hand.  To understand what it takes to do these things by hand, that used to be done by hand, and now are done by hand if at all only with the assistance of myriad waldos, realized and unrealized.  Because Architecture' is going to win, and I'm just trying to get ahead of the curve, so that when things get rough, at least my hands have been toughened.

I sense I'm soon not going to have a choice, so it's simply sleeves-rolling-up-time.

Semper fuckin Fi', Rangers Lead the Way, Deeds Not Words, and all that oo-rah and hoo-ah shit, which, if you get right down to it, at least has the virtue of being up close and personal.  Plus, those are worthy codes.  There is honor in every one of those credos.  Something profoundly lacking in our society.

Someday soon when the wheels of commerce seize and the banks are broke and falling like ashes and money has once again become mere paper, then the unexpected outcomes will kick in - when trade fails, and we notice that we make nothing of immediate usefulness here in this country; certainly not the stuff we need every day, then we'll begin to understand what it means to have such limitless quantities of energy at our fingertips, every second of every day, that we may have our shoes made half a world away, and the laces elsewhere still, somewhere across yet another distant ocean, and our tomatoes from across a continent, and yet we make nothing ourselves, every day.

We'll understand when it's taken away.

Sometime during that realization, we'll all begin to understand much, much better what it means to get by with things, as James Howard Kunstler would put it,"...made by hand."  Because we'll have to make so much more in exactly that way.  And walk so very many more miles than to which we are so recently accustomed.

I have told my family now, for some time, and I have spoken of this to some few others as well, that I believe 2011 is the year when, as I put it, 'the wheels come off'.

I believe this is the year when our currencies collapse, when our global population enters the early stages of collapse, when climate change becomes undeniable to all save the most fringy, when our governments fail, when our trade ceases, when corporations crumble, when war erupts and the grand chaos so desired by Christians, claiming it portends the rapture and their salvation, waxes in mournful splendor, casting us humans aside as pawns-in-play on a ne'er used chessboard sweep aside the dust of centuries.

Mind: we are not the pawns.  We are not so grand.  We are the dust.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Here There be Ghosts

There are, of course, ghosts in this house.  I know this is so, as it is the only possible explanation for the recent shenanigans with my glasses that occurred as I prepared to write this post.  Said glasses remained nowhere to be found, despite a stern, lights-on, room-by-room and surface-by-surface search.  I even put on clothing, so as to promote deliberateness and thoroughness (by virtue of not having to hasten around as-yet un-curtained windows, although truthfully, almost none remain).

It was only upon a stern rebuke to the Muse - a single, vocalized warning in the empty stillness, the crack of spring ice, that my eye at last lit upon the spectacles: right before my very eyes, on top of the books on the shelf above the stereo, wherein I had loaded several Supertramp cd's as background music for the writing of the post.

I had earlier been seated on the dining table, swinging my feet, the house dark save for the glow of candles, soaking in the tranquil silence of this stately home.  Upon my head sat (and sits still) my old traveling hat; made of coarse brown leather, it's crossed the country and the pacific with me more than a few times.

I had earlier given some boastful, self-congratulatory thought to myself for the quality of my weariness and the honesty of it's acquisition.  I rather fancied myself hard working.  I could cite tasks accomplished by hour, by day, by week - they are indeed manifold.  I am labor; hear me roar.

I think that it was this arrogance that caused the ghosts to strike.

Now, here an aside: of all the supernatural forces in the world of which I have ever been apprised, I am certain as to the status of all but two.  Which is to say, none exist, save, perhaps, ghosts and my Muse.

And I am aware, thank you, that the Muse is a construct of my own mind, an imagined personification with whom I indulge in debate and conversation.  My imaginary friend, there always, and at most points in my life, my sole friend.  Forever eloquent, and when I am searching for a word, she dissolves into a cloud of butterflies that become words, fluttering my face in offering until the perfect expression of my thought alights upon the end of my pen and is thereby absorbed into the page.

As to ghosts, there are some intriguing possibilities for coherent explanations to the phenomena our limited human minds perceive as ghosts.  So the jury's out there.  Or was, until this event with my writing glasses this evening.

I am dead certain my darling Muse would not be so unkind as to force me through the adventure of searching the home three times over for my glasses; finally determining to fetch my old pair of writing glasses  - to include having gone so far as to make an actual attempt to write with them; and subsequently giving up in despair as the words age quickly and must be captured while fresh.  I cannot believe she would do this, simply to teach me me that while I might think I am doing much with little, others have done much more with much less, to include several others who have lived here previous to me - all nine generations of them.

Somewhere in the basement lies a stone that was placed there by a man over a hundred years dead, and I rest my bones in the home that he built atop that stone.  He built so well that it shelters me still, and, moreso even than that, delights me in contemplation of it's craftsmanship and maintenance.

It is my grim determination to honor that man, who quarried or arranged to have quarried and transported tremendous blocks of limestone, an easy 10 cubic feet at a whack.  You'd need a bomb to dislodge this foundation, and that might not even do it - regardless of the fate of the house, the basement would likely survive.

But I digress.  Regardless of my certainty of her lack of involvement, I openly rebuked the Muse and suddenly there they lay - my glasses.

Yet somewhere in that process of searching for my stolen glasses, it occurred to me that perhaps the former occupant of this erstwhile abode may have him or herself wished to undertake a written recording of some type, or perhaps a work of fiction: they may, by chance, have desired to write, much as I do, and undertaken it themselves as well.

Of course, these people, should they have chosen to follow a desire write, would of necessity faced a much more arduous task than I today face.  I have a computer; the original inhabitants of this house had at best pencil and paper with which to work.  I have spell check!

Perhaps more to the point, in much likelihood, adequate glasses to compensate for failing sight would likely of been precious commodities.  And so I was in turn rebuked, that I had pouted over having been forced to contemplate the use of a less-preferred pair of glasses in the face of my inability to locate my preferred glasses.  I mean I have two pair, close to hand.  Wealth, by some culture's standards.

I also have the choice of electric lights or oil lamps and candles; the original inhabitants of this home had no such choice.  Nor did they have running water, paved streets, automobiles, or any of hundred things that we each take, each day, as commonplace.

So it occurred to me that I was being handed a lesson: don't think too highly of yourself there, sport; you who toy at labor when those who have gone before you approached it not as a chosen vocation, but as the price of life.  And approached the task with that solemn knowledge foremost in mind.

I am certain my sloe-eyed Muse would ne'er be so unkind as to teach me such a lesson in such a haphazard fashion, and in so doing threaten the loss of the very words she has given me, and so I conclude the house must be haunted; it must be ghosts taunting the Muse, setting her up, as it were.

So here there be ghosts.

I have been here, by my reckoning, about eighteen days.  I departed Columbus, fully loaded (the truck, not me, heh-heh, but I did treat myself to a bottle of Laphroaig upon arrival), on the 12th of July.  I arrived mid-day on the 13th, a Wednesday, and unloaded the truck completely before knocking off.  On that evening, having traversed no fewer than 1200 miles in two days, I had my new neighbors over for a fireside chat.

Since then I have steadily worked 10 to 14 hour days, with my 'easy' days now being the three days I spend working for Bill Kirk.  While working for him, I have help, expensive power tools, and intermittent down time.  Easy days, compared to what I put myself through.

There is no end to the work that is necessary: the real number one job on the schedule is to gut and remodel the main floor bathroom.  I won't go into detail but suffice to say, we will shortly be back to wall studs and copper tubing in there.  But in order to do something fairly significant like remodeling a bathroom, it helps to not be working out of a bag.

So I do understand that this grand undertaking, this Jupiter Project, is not a weeks or months or possibly even years-long process.  My unscientific (but generally fairly accurate) estimation of the time needed to take the Project to what I would consider 90% complete is about ten years, give or take two years either way under expected conditions.

Given good luck, favorable weather, and some modest economic success with Against the Grain, we may be able to whittle the establishment phase of the entire project down to five years, but even that is quite a stretch ( and that's assuming access to fuel and heavy machinery).

I am well ahead of schedule with the shop - it's very nearly complete.  I must still sort and organize a great many of the smaller tools and expendables, and I must still wire it, but those will be done in short order.  The heavy work is done - the new floor, the workbenches.

The inside of the house - the parts I frequent, anyway comprise one of the most beautiful homes in which I have ever been privileged to live; and I've done little but install new shades, clean, arrange furniture, hang pictures and decorate.

Still to do is a complete remodel of the interior.

I've begun the landscaping.  Nina has begun mapping flower locations in beds (she maps each flower's placement down to the inch), and along with the debris from the destruction of the garage floor I've brought in two loads of creek stone from Creek Road and some of the timbers left from bridge construction.  Also, a dozed bags of crushed gravel for base for the stone wall.  The lot of which will soon form a backdrop to phase one of landscaping the back hill.

I've already cleared the hill and established the baseline contour of the wall using concrete rubble, which has saved ma lot of work: the width of a dry stone wall at the base must be twice the final height; I have been spared a great deal of hauling of stone from Creek Road by having the garage floor to hand.

The timbers must be cleaned, stripped of bark, and stained, to lengthen their lifespan.  No doubt, however, I shall be revisiting this task in about ten years.  That's okay.  Next time, we'll work only with stone, and plan for centuries.

So  feel I have accomplished an fair amount in a short time - and, still, I feel as though I am a man who has determined to move a mountain, and having taken the first shovel-full, looks about himself contentedly, basking in his accomplishment, only barely beginning to grasp the enormity of the task which he has undertaken. He rather is pleased that he has undertaken a beginning, and content to call it a day at that.

But calling it a day at one shovelful and a warm glow will not suffice; actual work must be done.

And so I dig in, with my hands and my sweat, and I end each day gritty and exhausted, some days hobbled a bit if I have been carrying great weights.  And I have not stopped for a day yet, and won't until the 16th when I am inbound to sit a spell with my bride and my children. 

By then, the shop will be completely finished, the landscaping will be well upon it's way to being done, and the basement will have been once again reorganized after having been somewhat bestirred during the process of building and outfitting the shop.

Then, the ghosts shall have to do without me for a few days, and remain instead content with my new kitten, who arrived in a stranger's arms today, a seeker after the cat's master, and to that point luckless.  But now the cat has a master, and I have a cat, and my erstwhile village mate (whom I shall now forever consider her named as She Who Brings Cats) - whose name I do not know - is relieved of her burden, and returned to her own three cats.

And I am content.  In fact, I am no on record as affirming that my life is at present almost perfect, the sole flaw being the absence of my wife from my side.  I miss my children also, but that sting will be there whenever one doesn't see them daily, as one recalls parenting, and so I do not count that suffering as resolvable.

I am beyond content.  I am at peace.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

17 Park Street Progress

So as you can see from the slideshow titled '17 Park Street Progress', I have been fairly busy lately.  I got into town on the 13th, unpacked immediate needs, organized the place somewhat (at least, the spaces I am currently using are organized.  Much remains to be unpacked.)

The general plan was to arrive, conduct minimal unpacking and settling in, and commence the major projects.  Because most of the major projects will require a full suite of carpentry, masonry, electrical and plumbing tools, as well as space in which to work, Nina and I determined that construction of the shop would be job one.  I am decisively engaged in this now.

I have until the end of August to complete the shop.  This involves:
  • replacing the floor with fresh, polished concrete
  • removing the non-functional post-and-wire electrical service and re-wiring the shop for both 110 and 220
  • installing lights
  • removing the windows, repairing the frames, re-glazing the windows, and reinstalling the windows so that they open and close
  • established fixed locations for certain large tools (drill press, band saw, two lathes, etc)
  • establishing a fixed, external and sheltered location for the 80-gallon compressor (it's very loud)
  • designing and installing lumber racks, racks for seasoning turning wood and for work-in progress, and shelving and other storage as needed
  • designing and installing tool and expendables storage
  • insulating the interior (maybe)
  • installing a wood stove
Once this is done, I can move on to the other major projects (in no particular order):
  • landscaping
  • remodel the downstairs bathroom
  • remodel the upstairs bathroom
  • remodel the downstairs kitchen
  • remodel the upstairs kitchen and Nina's 3-room office suite, of which the kitchen is a part.  The upstairs kitchen will have it's internal 'kitchen' footprint reduced; the remaining space will be given over to a bistro-type seating area, and an indoor gardening and herbalists workspace
  • concerting the living room into a study, which will involve installing French doors - one of the few items I intend to pay to have done
  • removing old, non-functional wiring left in place when the house was re-wired some years ago, and re-wiring the house as necessary
  • renovating each room in the house, one at a time, to include removing, refurbishing, stripping, re-painting and re-glazing  all windows and installing exterior storms
We're allowing a year and half for this phase.  Concurrently, on an as-able basis, we will make improvements to the Project - I have already coordinated for the mowing of the home site and the pasture, and for roughing in the remaining section of road enabling me to drive to the Abode.

For the last two days, I have been tearing the floor from the shop.   This activity coincided with a record-breaking heat wave - it was 105 degrees here today. Unbelievable.  Even without the heat, 12 solid hours of breaking concrete into manageable chunks using nothing but a sledge hammer, and engineer's hammer (basically a four-pound hand-held sledge with an extended handle) and a pick is arguably the most brutal task I have ever undertaken.

By the way, for those reading this - feel free to post comments or ask questions following each blog post, as opposed to e-mailing me directly.  That way, other readers can share the comments and questions and answers.

Mailbox will be in tomorrow, and most of the new blinds for the house arrived today.  Since I won't be able to work in the shop until Saturday, and Mom is arriving Saturday, I won't actually begin work on the shop until Monday, perhaps later, as I've agreed to work two days a week for Dave E - the second job offer I've had since arriving.  Work will be general demolition prior to masonry work.  I don't know what two days I will be needed next week.

I'll write a progress post late next week.

Keep in touch, and learn to drink tea,



Saturday, July 16, 2011

Notes from a Small Town in July

So tonight I am listening to music drift across the valley - it is the last night of the Fireman's Fair, the primary fundraising event for the fire and emergency services here in Moravia.

Today there was a parade through town - pretty good turn out, and all of the various fire departments from across the region sent vehicles to represent.

I walked to the parade with my northern neighbors (I think I got the compass wrong in my previous post - if that information differs from this, then go with this) Susan and Carolynn, two quite delightful artists - truly, artists, having made their living at it the whole of their lives, in one manner or another.  Phenomenally intelligent people up here.

A completely wonderful pair of individuals, vibrant and alive, endlessly energetic and optimistic, growing things to eat in odd places, all over the yard, and oh so crushingly intelligent.  I must keep my mouth shut in this town for risk of running afoul of Twain's warning.

(And my how the music sings now - a soulful dirge creeping across the valley, echoes in the night air reflecting festivals ancient and modern)

It's the geology, really.  Until you've been to Ithaca, you don't know what natural beauty is.  Add to that the presence of a world-class, internationally renowned university, and you've set the stage for a wonderful eclecticism.

People arrive from all over the world to partake of the education, fall in love with the geology and the forests and the peace and the tranquil sense of community that pervades the region and take any job - however menial - just to stay.  And I live at the center of this.  Again, my eyes are tearing.

So people of remarkable intelligence and learning settle here, foregoing wealth in order to remain. This is an interesting dynamic.

Mmph.  In other news,

...on August seventh we shall have a Park Street Pot Luck.  All of the residents of Park street, all 25 or so of us, will attend.  It is a regular affair, the only decision being who shall provide the venue - and I have volunteered for the privilege.  So on the seventh, the neighborhood will converge on my back yard, now occupied, after having been empty for four long years.

Many in this town know the home - I have been told time and again of the bike shop that used to reside in the basement, and the pride of Mr. Brewster over the fact that he had the driest basement on the block.  A portion was even carpeted, I am told.

His son and daughter in law live next door - it is from them we purchased our home.  They took wonderful care of it, and were terribly accommodating during the purchase and moving in.  Ed Brewster is a retired corrections officer, and Penny is a current corrections officer and - of all things - a true roller derby queen, just like in the old Jim Croce song - although much prettier than the the woman in the song, of course.

So I have neighbors, and we speak often, and mid-street conferences are apparently commonplace, judging from today's activities.  It's rather like a large extended family, at first blush.  And everything is so damnably well tended!  And people appear outside their homes, as the weather is so unconscionably pleasant as to be suspect!

Cool evenings in the sixties - the outdoor fire beside which I write is welcome for more than it's light - and sunny days in the high seventies to low eighties, with humidity quite low.

Even the children benefit the neighborhood.  My corner neighbor- down the street a way, a couple I have not met, he a contractor I believe, and she a homemaker, keen for her role, as attested to by the brightly colored rocks painted by her children and adorning her yard.

She is meticulous with it, her yard, and it is indeed pleasant to walk past each day, and tonight as she stood arms about each other with her husband as I passed by, and they waved.

I wish I could do justice to my joy.  It is much as it is when I am in the forest in the fall in New England, and my eyes burn with the fierceness of the colors.  There is at that time of year so much beauty that my soul weeps.

It is similar now - the elements of peace are manifest, the sense that I have at last arrived at a place and a time where I can fit, and belong, and contribute.  I feel welcomed, in a manner I have never before felt, and it feels quite good to be so welcome. 

Mind you - it is now 2330, and still the music plays, a new band now, but the cheers are as loud.  Next year, I shall endeavor to attend this fair.  For now, I am content to listen from afar and record my introduction to this new life.

Enough for now - forgive any errors, I must return to the world.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Small Town

Outside, fireworks cast echoes across the valley.  Somewhere beneath them, a boy sits close to a girl, hands clasped, parents watchful but unobtrusive.  Fireflies glitter.
There is so much to write. I despair of ever writing it.  But tonight is sublime, and must be captured.  So I will write now, and hang the hour.

Today is Friday.  I arrived Wednesday after a leisurely two-day drive north across the continent, with a quick (literally - fewer than four hours) stop at my mother's for a visit and to add cargo to the rental truck.  There is much to tell about that trip, the hours of solitude and thought, but that is for another time.

Wednesday night, I parked the truck on the lawn, invited the neighbors for a fire, and later slept.  Thursday and today I have unpacked and unpacked and organized - and I am but halfway finished, and there is more to come, in storage at my mother's, or with Nina!  So much stuff!!  Who has need of it?  For that matter, what is 'need'?

Tonight I sat quietly, listening to music and capturing the pulse of the world via this miracle we call the Internet (should someone saint Al Gore? ;-> ), paying scant attention to the occasional boom in the background earlier in the evening.  (On the phone with my wife, I commented that 'they must be shooting a cannon, or some such' - my half-formed thinking being that, as there is a fair in town, perhaps the local National Guard garrison was an artillery unit or some such, and firing their cannon.)

We are a small town, occupying the level floor of a valley formed by the advance and subsequent retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age.  Steep hills arise on either side, no more than a mile apart.  The valley itself is quite long - containing as it does a lake in most of it, and we being situated on the southern portion of a banana-boat shaped valley, where, if you can imagine it, the water occupies but half its possible maximum.

We thus occupy the shore, as it were, a vast, vegetated, sloping mud flat with glacial silt hills and moraines providing substantial intermediate relief.  Numerous tributaries (running south to north here, and ultimately part of the Lake Superior watershed, that vast weight depressing the crust to our north, the classical mechanics' equivalent of a gravity sink, drawing all towards it) drain the hills into the lake; the valley's ultimate fate will be much drier, but that is tens of centuries away.

So on the first night I had a fire and company.  First up were my western neighbors, Carolynn and Susan and their friend Courtney, all artists, mid fifties to early sixties, earthy and bright and engaging.  The evening continued with a visit from my eastern neighbors and the former owners of my house, Ed and Penny.  We had met previously, so we merely caught up for a bit.

On the first day, I unpacked the house and made a trip to the land, to grab a couple of things from the Abode.  I grabbed a bunch of poles I had cut last fall and saved, as I had spotted Susan gathering long branches from the neighbor's trimmings set out by the road.   I inquired, and she reported pole beans in the backyard, so I offered to bring her a few, and she accepted.

On the second night I relaxed, listened to music, and and caught up on world events.   But first, I walked down to the fair.

It's about a mile to the fairgrounds, which occupy about four acres or a little less to my eye, just inside the levee, on a stretch of flat ground.  A long, shallow, barn-like structure houses several food-service stations, each of which served a different treat: pizza, tacos, beverages - you get the idea.

The proceeds benefit the local fire department - all of them in this region are volunteer departments, unpaid, and purchasing and maintaining equipment is a matter of community involvement.

I settled on tacos - $2 each or three for $5.  I'm accustomed to southern and Mexican tacos, apparently.  Finger Lakes tacos - at least the Moravian variety - are herculean constructions.  First, a corn tortilla is fried on a griddle, without oil.  This guarantees it will disintegrate immediately upon being subjected to even the gentlest of handling.  It is then draped into a cardboard dish, such as french fries are often served in - rectangular, with scalloped sides.  Next, approximately a third of a pound of ground beef, liberally seasoned with taco seasoning, is piled onto the toasted tortilla.

Atop the beef, a ladle full (perhaps half a cup) of diced tomato is added, followed by a generous portion of sliced lettuce, and topped with a thick - no joke - blanket of shredded cheese.  I should have known, as the lady afore me bought the three-for-five deal as well, and the concessionaire offered special packaging to her as it was for 'just one' - and also commented that it should probably provide breakfast as well.

I topped it all with hottest salsa available, and wolfed it all unabashedly at a sun-beaten picnic table in the midst of a half-acre of riotous small-town festival seated with half a dozen folks who had no idea who I was, just that I was clearly hungry.  It was, after all, my first meal that day.

Of course, there was no hope of eating it as an actual taco - it collapsed much too quickly for that.  One rather has no choice but to use one's fingers as a shovel, and perhaps that is part of the allure.  Certainly the infantryman in me doesn't mind.

I'm sure my tablemates surmised I was some wandering (possibly rude - I dunno, I did my best to eat politely) tourist come to check out the local scene, fresh from the state park down the road (Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of These United States, was born just down the road).  For my part, I figured I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe my environment without my environment knowing anything about me at all.  I was gloriously anonymous. 

Today I unpacked as well, but also availed myself of an offer made by my neighbor Ruth - she is my southern neighbor, across the street - to transport me back from Ithaca when I dropped the rental truck off.  The alternative was walking - which I was prepared to do - but preferred not to as it is 20 miles.

It's not so much the mileage, per se, as it is that I haven't really the time to spare just now.

Also, in case you are wondering, my northern neighbor is a wooded hillside which, if surmounted, gives way to a quarry.  Its quite wild, with a population of deer, woodchucks, and various other critters.  The hill continues up, forming the north wall of the valley.  I live at the foot of the north valley wall.

So tonight is now my third night in town - and my second full day.  I was again reflecting on the state of the world when the clear sound of fireworks manifested.  The eureka moment arrived and departed (referring of course, to my earlier comments about cannon fire - the obvious now invaded my consciousness), and I grabbed a tee-shirt and wandered down the street.

Now then, this is what I mean by 'small town':

About a hundred yards down the street is a culvert that drains water from the road leading north and uphill to the trailer park.  The culvert empties into a small ditch by means of a diversion sluice; the ditch then runs perhaps 300 meters across town to the nearest creek and empties therein.  The culvert runs alongside a large field - the athletic field of the local school.  The culvert has the standard concrete facing with a thick iron railing to forestall vehicle accidents.  It was on this facing, my hands grasping the railing overhead, that I sat and watched the fireworks, a scant few-hundred meters away, at the town fairgrounds.

In the field before me were similar spectators, flashlights searching the trees between bursts; voices, half-heard, drifting across the grass. My neighbors, although not yet know to me, nor me to them.  But by chance or by need, we are now kin.  My fate is tied with theirs.

My choices have been made; I have taken the path less traveled.  As has become my motto, and which coda increasingly describes my life,  I am Against the Grain.  I am deliberately so, believing the common path to be misguided and without genuine merit: it is an ersatz life, devoid of actual meaning, pretty and glittering, but lacking in real substance, sugary and sweet but without nutritional content.

The soul starves.

I can walk to anything I need here.  At night it's quiet, and the guy at the pizza parlor remembers me from a few months ago, and asked if I was here for good.  I forgot tomatoes the other day, and so spent a full hour walking first to the library for a card, then to the hardware store for a plug adapter (79 cents) and then to the grocery for the tomatoes.

So I have my tomatoes, and I know all my neighbors, something that never happened in Georgia in all my years in any neighborhood there, and today I got my library card, and I didn't have to prove I lived here, or even prove who I am.  I just gave them my address, and they gave me a library card.  They even gave me a tour of the library.

I'd write more, but I can't hold the tears back any longer.

Stay Gold,


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Farewell, yesterday.

So it's late - very late - Friday evening, or, if you prefer, very early Saturday morning.   Long hours of thinking, flown by like geese headed north.  Mostly silent, some honking now and then. 

I've come to some conclusions.  Conclusion one is, I wish to be a sculptor.  This, I believe, I have always wished: to be a sculptor, to create something.  In point of fact, I might say that I believe I have always been a sculptor, that I am always busily about the process of sculpting something: an object, an environment, a future.

Conclusion two is, I am now halfway through my life. And I realize, at this significant juncture, that until now I have lived my life doing my best to satisfy the expectations of others.  And this is in some sense perhaps legitimate: if we wish to be a part of a society - and I do! - then we had best understand and abide by the reasonable and unbiased expectations of our neighbors.

But there is also the sense that if I am not a net drain on the community - if I am, in fact, either purely neutral from an economic perspective, or if my presence provides some measurable net economic gain, then I should expect to be left pretty much alone.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Iconic Titles of Our Memories

We are at an ending.  Today it became very real, as my daughter and her girlfriend moved out, into their own apartment.  It is their second attempt.

The first was made a bit hastily, and with no clear understanding of all that independence truly entails, nor with much forethought to the reality the environment is abstract until one is immersed within it, and finds it not at all to ones liking, with no easy solution.  Then it becomes something of which one is very much aware.

So, it was back home to me for a final stay - a very welcome stay, as I have seen far less of my daughter than my son over these past years, and previous attempts at living under my roof inevitably met with my rules.  Until this stay, my rules have always lost.  This is progress.  I am proud.

Johnathen moves out soon, to be ensconced in a gated loft community.  He's on a tight budget and learning to make do; today he asked for mere advice to repair some minor deficiencies on his car, as opposed to asking that I perform the repairs.

He's developed some balance in his life - in his case, a little less play and a little more work, motivated at last by the realization that earning money s actually kind of rewarding.  Perhaps, he's beginning to realize, even more rewarding than merely being given it.

Cooper, bless his soul, schedules time to see me, he works so hard.  This from the boy who did not know how to make himself do things he did not want to do.  His words!  With witnesses!  He now works overtime on a regular basis, manages his affairs in an exemplary fashion, shows concern for everyone and has adopted the role of generational mentor.

He's begun the process of mastering debate and rhetoric and dialogue.  A bit hasty with his words - the ideas are there, but it takes time to learn to articulate them under pressure.  The only recourse is to pause and ask for a moment. 

I look forward to a pipe for my birthday, as he's promised to get me one.

Nina spent the day packing sundry items for the apartment.  This is chaos without her.  Children moving off, house to be placed for rent, unattended closing on the new home in Moravia, then a brief sojourn to unpack the household goods we'll ship in mid April, check our our home, make lists of tasks for the winter, and straightaway right back to work here.

If ever there was a match for my lassaize-faire attitude as regards details, it is her.  A master of organization and planning.  More importantly, she is the kind of woman who is willing to actually roll up her sleeves and get to the work of homesteading, undaunted by the prospect, eager for it even.  And quite smashing in cutoffs, working in the garden, an sun hat hiding her face.  Most importantly, I love her, and know that I am loved by her.

Looking at my turning wood, and figuring what, of all of it, I absolutely positively must not leave behind; and what I might safely give my neighbors for camp-fire wood.

I remarked to Nina, after making the sauce for tomorrow's family dinner, that we are someday going to look back at this period, and in our memories it will hold some pithy title:  The Georgia Years, perhaps.  We all do this - I have my life divided into sections, in my mind, when I think back upon it.

But this will be different, because for all of us this diaspora will be new.  Moreover, it will also be shared.  So, with this eclectic group that has, however mismatched and tattered, come to bond into a family, this chapter's title will at last be not of my naming.

I wonder what we'll call it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Farewell Uncle Stan, and Thank You for this Last Gift

Just back from a recent trip to New York.  The circumstances were rather sad - my Uncle Stanly recently passed.  But some good comes from almost every life event, and as we gathered to honor a favorite uncle, a dear friend, a wonderful father, and a pillar of the local community, many of us reconnected for the first time in many years - in some case, nearly three decades.

I don't know that we would have gathered absent my uncle's passing, and so we owe him a final debt, and a final thank you.  Godspeed, uncle, and farewell.  You will live on in our memories, and that is a handsome thing to have said about one.  I hope to have half so many gathered when my time comes.

To those whom I have just met, or with whom I have reunited, thank you for your courtesy to one of the more wayward of the family.  I - we - are coming home, and I look forward to knowing each of you more fully.  As well, I look forward to knowing those new souls you have brought onto this earth - the nephews and nieces and friends and spouses and the sundry folks accompanying them.

I've posted some new pictures, and rearranged the content somewhat.  I'll be blogging a bit more often now, as well, as matters accelerate into the summer, and add pictures as I have time, so that when you meet my now mostly grown family, you'll at least know to whom you are speaking.

In the meantime, if you're curious to know who I've become, this is, I suppose, as good a place as any to start.

Vito - thanks for the picture of Uncle Stan.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Long Overdue

friends -

bear with me through the preamble, and I'll tell you where we've arrived.

Well, it's been plenty of time from late October and nary a word from me.  Which is fine, I suppose, as these words are meant for me and anyone who might ever care to look, and if no one ever looks, they will have nonethleess been written and recorded.

For however long they might endure, these words, and the sum of those I have written before, and, one hopes, after, will stand as testimony to the fact that I was here.  I existed.  I observed and considered and understood. 

Perhaps some person, somewhere, somewhen, might chance upon them and find some small measure of solace.  If so they will have done double duty - comforting both me and a stranger.  Any more, and I might begin to consider them to have performed yeoman's service, should any but I and another find them and reflect upon them.

For it is our echo, in the minds of others, that matters most.  And all of known history is but the recording and passing on of an echo of a moment, of a person, of a person in a moment.  How sorrowful to be an echo of evil, as Hitler, or Pol Pot, or any of a thousand evil men and women cast down through history to enduring disdain.

But how wonderful to be an echo of reason, to become known for thought and insight and wisdom - to be the echo of Plato, of Socrates, of Lao Tzu, Confucius, Descarte, Cicero......what price to be among such luminaries? 

But I am content with my lot; to have to my hand the means of recording my thoughts and, all at a stroke, send them forth to all and sundry who may care to look.  I have no need of pen or quill; no need of the printer or bookbinder or librarian.  I may publish at will, and advertise freely, and hope my words find their target.

So, again, I remind anyone who cares to read, that this site is not just about our journey to a different life in the Finger Lakes.  It is also about the why of that path.  The reason I have chosen it.  The reason I have set aside certain expectations and adjusted my estimation of myself downwards.

Anyway.  Where matters stand is we have postponed our efforts to build a house.  We instead are obtaining temporary housing in nearby Moravia, and will focus the remainder of this year on settling our children, converting our existing home to a rental property, completing our obligations in Georgia, moving to New York, and settling in.

Time permitting, we will complete the infrastructure for the Project, plant the orchard, and prepare the gardens for next spring.

We are to move into an apartment on the 6th of April, and will shortly thereafter ship our household goods to New York.  This house will go out for rent on May 1st.  Once my services are no longer needed by Synovus, I will move to Moravia, and complete any needed repairs and painting to the house.

Nina will follow no later than September.