Friday, August 21, 2009

report from the trenches

We are like soldiers camping out on the eve of battle. It’s been raining since last night and I am tempted by visions of labs, science colleagues and the Dionysian comforts and shared ecstasies of women in my arms. Also by the lack of ticks, chiggers and poison ivy. Scratching myself does feel ecstatic at times, but makes it hard to focus on anything else and is wearisome after a while.
During our meals, Chris talks about the liberals and how they need the government to take care of them. He rants about the evils of land ownership and capitalism. He bemoans civilization and how it does not meet the needs of men (freedom, adventure, variety, creativity), only of women (comfort and security). I understand where he’s coming from, though I don’t agree completely with him about his generalizations. I also disagree with those who claim that no generalizations can be made at all, that men and women are the same in their needs, that masculine and feminine have only historical meaning. Anyway, capitalism is not our enemy, nor are the liberals, the conservative, women, or any group of people, the bugs, the poison ivy or even the deer who eat our crops. Yet we are at war, in the rainy, bug infested trenches.

Chris tills the beds that Shelby dug long ago, when Shelby was a young man full of hope, with a family to support. They were overrun with grass and weeds when we got here. Shelby put some logs on the edges to rot. We removed the rotten logs from the edges, but then we found more in the middle of each bed, buried. There must be about 1000 logs, in various states of decay. We use a pickaxe to lever them out of the ground, then we pile them in the pickup bed, and from there we load them on the woodpile. I was worried that Shelby might get mad or melancholic about us undoing his work (though the nutrients probably have all left the logs and gone into the soil by now), so we do the piling right after each digging out. “Put them back”, Chris jokes, trying to imitate what Shelby might say. We know that what we plant we might not harvest, and all our work here might not be for us to benefit from.

I am really close to having a self-feeding rocket stove. It is smaller, cheaper and easier to build than the one in the book. I think it is also more efficient. My design keeps changing, and hopefully converging.

The deer are eating our crops because we have no fence. Shelby doesn’t like fences or going through gates. A fence would be yet another investment of money and time that we may not get a return for—who knows when we would have to leave (Shelby could kick the bucket any day and Sara said we can’t have more than just 4 people here—not the thriving community we have in mind, with hundreds of people). A Kelvin Generator fence would be cheaper and less work to put up, so I am looking for metal tubs with spouts—I offered Shawn some money for his, which he uses for washing vegetables from his garden. And then there is the issue that the KG fence is still experimental technology, with some bugs yet to be worked out, and Chris has no patience for that, being a Yankee farmer.

People keep telling us of possibilities for a few acres to buy, or a place to live on someone else’s land. Just yesterday I was helping install a big rocket stove (not my design) for Laura and she and Kent are trying to be so encouraging, but they don’t get it. They think we’re just trying to survive, to find easy opportunities for us to live, to be comfortable. We are not here to be comfortable, though sometimes we indulge in some comforts (like the hot tub made from a horse trough and kept warm with insulation and 5 gallons of propane-heated water every few days).

Though Chris doesn’t know it, my heart is heavy every time we watch a video. Not that the videos are not good, moving, entertaining, informative. It’s the vision in my head and the yearning in my heart for celebration that is much more active and vibrant, a sharing of souls, active vs passive, work mingled seamlessly with play. Like folk dancing after working in the fields together. Like sermons, rituals and workshops that uplift, music that is played collectively, outdoor games full of glee. The video, despite the best intentions of its producers, is a symptom of a society of consumption, extreme individualism, and specialization. It works well in this kind of society. The kind of folk dancing I have in mind does not work well in this society, it doesn’t fit the rest of the attitudes and ways of being and doing. It might be enjoyed by a few people, but without the other ingredients (group communion, shared work, less specialization, agrarian lifestyle), it comes up stale. I try to enjoy the sharing of this passive activity, because at least it is sharing something, though sometimes it feels like a mockery of my yearning, a form of soma in a Brave New World.

We aren’t here to survive, or because we want to be self-sufficient, or free or even happy. We aren’t here for our children, though we miss them as a tree misses its roots and are sad that the Culture has taken them. We are not here to be martyrs—we aren’t trying to get an ego boost from any discomfort or material lacks or suffering.

We are here because we care deeply about this world, because we know that there is something good, beautiful and true that transcends our existence or that of our children, something worth sacrificing our comfort and security for. Our enemies are laziness, ignorance, selfishness, stupidity, both within us and without. Chris thinks our enemy is private ownership of land, but I think that is not a root enemy. Our friends are everywhere, in the midst of our enemies.

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