Darwin’s View Blog

44 posts

Hydrologic Cycle Intro Continued . . . a.k.a. Hiatus

A rainbow, according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, “is an arc or circle that exhibits in concentric bands the colors of the spectrum and that is formed opposite the sun by the refraction and reflection of the sun’s rays in raindrops, spray, or mist.

This is a (panoramic shot from my iPhone ergo slightly distorted) rainbow:

It showed itself this past week and held me in the moment for more than a few moments.

It is also a perfect representative of the hydrologic cycle, which is the cycling of water throughout our world.

Cool fact: there is as much water in the world today as there was billions of years ago. The difference is the type: fresh, saline, ice, vapor . . .. Water is continually transforming itself, and sometimes it refracts and reflects the sun’s rays.

What’s water got to do with energy and things climate? We hear all the time about the need to draw down carbon. But less about the fact that we have a lot of water in the air, and not in the earth. We need to start drawing down water, too. How?

More to be learned and to share in the next weeks, which are busy. It must be summer. Or maybe just my usual distraction on steroids? In any case, I hope you will take this moment, as I have and did, to breathe and admire Mother Nature’s passion and beauty. Preferably outside, not staring at a computer screen!

 

This is what the sun was doing to the west when the rainbow shone to the east.

 

 

Introduction to the Hydrologic Cycle

I’ve always joked about my tendency to bury plants and my subsequent inertia in regard to watering them. But I got a lesson yesterday. I’d just finished pursuing the most recent Mother Earth News magazine and had read an article by Joel Salatin in which he writes that we are responsible for what we know. “As long as you think someone else is responsible for your training, your development, or your success, you’ll be stuck where you are. The day you realize you are responsible is the first day of liberated learning and progress.”⁠1  That struck home. I stood up and went over to my office window to look out at our evolving annual garden area. I surveyed its challenges. I thought about Tier One and the garden I imagine it becoming some day. After months and, yes, years, I had to admit that no one (other than Carl) would do it, if I didn’t. 

This lesson has been a long time coming. Since 2012, when we moved up here, I’ve been hedging my bets, thinking I could carry on my city life while living in the country. I want to write. To play the flute. Dabble in things politics. But the only way for my fantasy Eden to burgeon forth will be if I focus my attention on gardening. I sighed and looked down at my still swollen, broken pinky toe, and told it, “get ready. We’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Focus is a challenge for me. My distraction-ability seems to get worse (or better?) every day. There’s the constant and underlying simmering stress of the changing weather, the animals in harm’s way, people in concentration camps within our own borders; we seem to be repeating the lessons of World War II. On top of that, are the myriad To Dos in my life. With so much to do, how focus? 

Mother Nature does it, why can’t I? She juggles the hydrologic cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and the oxygen cycle all at once and with us assaulting her, and still she proceeds. Getting hotter and hotter to be rid of the pestilence that is killing her. 

But I digress. You see how I am? I was thinking about yesterday’s lesson from Joel Salatin. If I’m going to create a garden, I better have at it. Out I limped. Weeks behind schedule, (and because the ones I buried weeks ago didn’t sprout) I took the herbs that Carl and I bought two days ago and planted them in the ground. While Carl set up a water catchment system to create a hydrologic cycle Ma Nature would be proud of, I weeded the raised beds that have been entirely ignored since I planted my home-birthed seedling beets and leeks and onions and kale and lettuces back in late May. The only plants that are alive: a few of the onions (or are they leeks?) and the lettuces we bought, full grown, from Rosalys three weeks ago. And then? I watered the garden with the rain water that was captured by one of our two 2500 gallon water tanks.

That is satisfactory: to water a garden with rain water caught by a cistern. Talk about no waste!

The water sprayed from the hose, creating rainbows and puddles and very happy plants and the dawning of this thought: I might plant seeds into soil and be awed by the resulting sprouts. And those sprouts might diligently grow to be an inch or two tall. I might plant those seedlings in the ground with as much positive energy and love as I am capable of giving a plant . . . but if I don’t water them, they won’t grow.

I had assumed we were getting enough rain through the moods and tantrums of the natural hydrologic cycle. I was wrong. The soil that’s not mulched is dry as sand. 

When in overwhelm, it’s easy to ossify. Like neck muscles when they are so tensed up that when you roll your neck, it sounds like popcorn crackling. Action requires action. If we sit and imagine what might come, that will only get us so far. l no longer sit and worry. That’s putting energy exactly in the direction I don’t want it to go. Time to accentuate the positive, express outrage and change. ACT. Attitude Change Time. 

The day you realize you are responsible is the first day of liberated learning and progress.”⁠2

I intend to tend to my garden. To read and learn more about and implement as best I can (with Carl) regenerative farming. To focus on what I can do today to support Mother Nature in her efforts to regain balance and rebuild the web we call life. And that includes writing a post on Friday that transitions this blog from things past to things future. 

Please note the photo of Carl’s and my experimentation in the wiring possibilities of potato roots.

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1 “Practice Makers Progress” by Joel Salatin. Mother Earth News August/September 2019, page 69

2 “Practice Makers Progress” by Joel Salatin. Mother Earth News August/September 2019, page 69

Crossroads

I am in the midst of writing a play. I’ve never done that before; kind of like brain surgery. And so focussing on researching about energy has lost its attraction. The play? Triage: An American Experiment in Existential Arbitration. The question: Who will save the Haze Justice Healing Center? I find the question fascinating. And it’s easier to make up sh*t than research facts. Except both make me terrible sad. And angry. And hopeful.

Meantime, Carl took the bit in his hands and typed out an invitation to all the with Electric Vehicle owners we could think of. With 24 hours of notice, we got a Leaf, a Bolt and three Teslas.

Five EVs. A lot of fossil-ed cars.

Carl is thinking next week, of meeting on Wednesday, the same night as the old fashioned, gas guzzlers meet up. 5PM-6PM. Maybe we can do some drag racing. . ..

Have you ever seen this photo?

There’s another one that shows the same place thirteen years later. In that photo, there’s only one horse. The rest are cars.

That’s how fast transformation can happen.

I just signed on to the extinction rebellion.

https://extinctionrebellion.us

No, not to volunteer, nor to start a local chapter. I don’t know enough about it–but I am curious. The clock is ticking, and how dare I expect of others what I don’t do myself?

https://actionnetwork.org/forms/join-the-rebellion-xr-us?source=direct_link&

 

A Day Late

I forgot to post yesterday. I even had an alarm set on my phone to remind me. It buzzed. I turned it off but didn’t connect the alarm to the fact that I was supposed to not be working on my play but on a post for my blog. It was an example of not being present to the moment, which I am trying to be. The moment is so precious. Yesterday, the moment was distracted. Because we had friends up from Providence, two of whom we haven’t seen since they were knee high to a grasshopper. Alton and Ford arrived, with their mother, Pam, in tow. First stop, of course, was the chicken coop.

Prior to their entering that area, we informed Alton and Ford that it was Schtude territory and to be very careful. In we all went, I carrying a broom to keep the blond dude away from the youths. I noted that they were all about the same size if you include Schtude’s feathers. But looks deceive. He might appear to be all feathery and absurd but don’t be fooled. He is dangerous. Especially when compared to the nice cock-a-doodle-dos at Friendly Farm. There’s not an aggressive roo alive on that farm. (Note to self: alive.) 

I know. I’ve been saying this about Schtude for awhile and no action. But it gets old, having to barricade myself in with hens so that Schtude can’t get to me. I hold my broomstick in one hand and go about the feeding and watering. I am careful not to turn my back to him—and he circles, judging, watching, waiting for the time he knows will come and it does. I briefly turn away to dip into the mealy worms and smack! His talons strike my leg. 

What he really wants is my head. 

The feeling, at times, is mutual. Just not always.

Sometimes, I miss the good old days of our original six chickens. Big Red, whom I have since learned was as much of a jerk to Carl as Schtude is to me, yet was sweet to me. And Panda, our motherly broody hen. Lola (wee) and Chipper (wise) I hardly knew, they died so young. And, of course, CooLots, our worrier, and Ping, our adventurer. Looking back, it was idyllic. An innocent time in a euphoric recall way as we transitioned from the Hay Chalet to the Chicken Palace, and onward to Chicken Paradise. Thirty-nine chickens have peopled Darwin’s View. We currently steward sixteen. 

That’s how I know that these days we are living now are the future’s good, old days. It’s called a lowering baseline. We adapt to the changes without even noticing.

This morning, I swam a lap in our lap pond, greeting our two resident frogs–Burp One and Burp Two–and the many tadpoles unnamed and winging about. Then out to see the girls who clucked about, oh so excited to greet the morning. Except Toey who is broody and irritable as she huffs and mumbles and protests the closed nesting boxes. Schtude circled me. He struck. I locked him into the coop with Toey, and—to their chagrin—Side Saddle Sadie, Collette and Wilma. 

I was free to finish the chores. It’s all so relaxed without Schtude. I get to hang out, chat, bond with Little Red, named in memory of Big Red, and Flopsie and Rosie, Copper, Adele, Daisy, Splotches and Squeaky. Suzie B., Billie . . . and I’m missing one. Who?

This is what happens. Counting the chickens and I reach fifteen and we have sixteen. To figure out who is gone, I go through the generations that are left: There were the six we adopted two years ago; the six we adopted last year and the five we saved this year. Mo (rehomed), Cady (weasel), and of course! The eldest and quietest one: Apricot. The last connection to the past generations of chickens, the fourth generation Cream Legbar. She’s sweet and utterly feral, thus happy to be forgotten and left alone.

Yes. Extreme temperatures, hot and cold, happen. Floods and fires, lightning. What will strike next, these good old days?

Let’s stick to the moment. This perfect day.

Breathe in the health, peace and goodness of this moment.

Breathe out the hopes and dreams for a safe, resilient and sustainable future for those two young men who came to visit yesterday.

Energy 109: The Renewable See-Saw and How To Go Forward

Energy 109: The Renewable See-Saw and How To Go Forward

Sun. Wind. Water. It’s all so old-fashioned and natural. But, as ever, in our 21st century, Anthropocene age, things don’t happen unless they are economic and convenient. The good news is that renewables are now entirely economic. In fact, this past April, renewables surpassed coal in supplying America’s electricity. How so? First, more wind and solar farms went on line. Second, some coal plants were idled for routine inspections. We needed more power and there they were, those renewables. What used to be fantasy has become a reality. And as the renewable sector grows, there will be more real jobs that put real money into our communities that gain robustness from that interaction. Because renewables happen close to home. Local power, local food, local connections.

But don’t get overly excited. First off, however retro and groovy renewables might be, have you already forgotten our creaky, aging infrastructure known as the grid? Renewables dumping all that power into it wrecks havoc because the grid isn’t adaptable (a.k.a. flexible) enough to take in and store all that fancy power. And then there’s the health and environmental costs of mining quartz (the foundation of the silica that is used in solar panels) and the energy used to make the solar panels, and the fuel of shipping those panels hither and yon. (As with everything, it’s complicated.⁠1 And⁠2 then consider the birds that go clunk into the wind mills. And the hydro-dams’ ruination of fish migration. And some of those biomass companies that promote wood pellets as “sustainable” aren’t using slash/waste wood but are cutting down lots and lots of old trees that had stored carbon but now, as they are processed and burned, create more carbon.  

Then compare any of that to the effects and costs of one mountain taken out for coal or tar sands, one oil spill, one nuclear meltdown.

It’s remarkable: this week, I read no less than four articles about things renewable/energy in The New York Times. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/travel/traveling-climate-change.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/26/climate/natural-gas-renewables-fight.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/30/business/energy-environment/oil-companies-profit.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fclifford-krauss&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

And finally this one which was an old newspaper from June:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/opinion/climate-change-hope-solutions.html

All this to say, one, climate change is being talked about. Two, it’s still about profit, not survival. Three, oil companies aren’t profiting from the old ways but that doesn’t stop them from continuing their prioritizing of where they’ve put their (actually, our) money in the past, that old, fossil fuel dependent infrastructure. Four, maybe we can survive because we have the knowledge. But.

In 2009, G20 members signed on to phase out fossil fuels but every year they still spend $452 billion dollars to subsidize those companies,⁠3 and the USA is the top offender. No wonder Greta Thunberg is so sad and angry. Billions go to aid fossil fuel companies without consideration of the enormous cost to our earth. As E.M. Schumacher wrote in his book Small is Beautiful, we use nature as income, not capital. We are using her up. And then what? Now what?

Transitions. From winter to spring, directly to summer. Polywogs to toads and then the newts. Buds into flowers. Eggs into chicks. Bambis and thumpers bound about, pitching forward into life. These transformations happen. If you don’t pay attention, you miss the most heartbreaking beauty of life.

And death. That’s there, too. Sickness, and the pain of disease and dis-ease. Rising waters or drought. Extreme heat. The human population growing out of control and anti-abortion protests against a woman’s right to control her body.

Here we are. Scientists recently affirmed that we are in the above mentioned Anthropocene age. Human created. Depending on your perspective it is terribly ugly or spectacularly fabulous. No matter your perspective, it might soon be over. I’m not quite sure what to do with that information.

The below article by Dahr Jamail suggests a way forward. Fair warning: if you read it, prepare your heart. Be ready to breathe deeply and sit still with the information. Be ready to look into your soul, and ask, “What am I going to do?” Because if you look at this world and all that we have lost, all that we have gained, all that is at risk, you will know in your heart that we are complicit. Just by our existence. My question is how cope with that? Denial doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t for me. I, who have so much, not least the time to worry about things like our pending climate crisis. And it’s so much easier to be complacent, to choose the convenient. Life is so busy. There’s so much terrible stuff going on. Good luck getting through a day. It’s  overwhelming, isn’t it?

On every level—moral, ethical, sympathetic and parasympathetic—we must choose. To do nothing or to act. Either way, we make a choice.

We are in the midst of a transition, a massive, mind-boggling change. We have the ability and the tools and the knowledge to transform this horror into something that aligns with our potential. Think what we as a country have done: World War II. A trip to the moon. . . .

It matters how we act as individuals. Imagine if we come together, again, as a nation. There is no doubt, we can do it again. Every day. Every action.  And you can start by making daily phone calls to your representatives on a local, state and national level.

Do I get repetitive? I’m a bit at a loss. I don’t have enough knowledge on things energy. I only know what I am doing, we are doing here at Darwin’s View. Of that I will write more as we go forward.

https://truthout.org/articles/arctic-is-thawing-so-fast-scientists-are-losing-their-measuring-tools/

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1 https://understandsolar.com/solar-uses-more-energy-to-manufacture-than-it-produces/

2 https://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/solar-energy-isnt-always-as-green-as-you-think

3 http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/

 

On Gardens and Compost Consequences

Maybe it was because I had made it clear that a short cut lawn seems wasteful–what use is boring, old grass, after all? Unless it is very tall grass, surrounding and protecting our very short High bush blueberries, and waving luxuriantly in the stiff breezes coming over the mountain. Carl prefers short grass, not for its neat as a pin look but because it suggests fewer ticks. Whatever the case, I noted that he had taken to watching videos on scything. It’s a beautiful process. The rhythm. The swish and swoosh of the blade cutting the grasses, and the grasses falling into nice rows that are a fabulous mulch. If you mulch deep enough. And keep mulching. Then sun doesn’t get to the seeds.

 

This is the new theory at Darwin’s View, anyway. 

 

The scythe arrived. Carl went out to practice. He came back sweaty, sunburned and frustrated. But he isn’t one to give up. Ever. And so he watched more videos and went out to practice some more. His new workout—much preferred over going downstairs into the basement for a stationary bike ride.  

 

He brought a wheel barrel of the cut grass over to me where I was weeding out in the garden where my tomatoes and eggplants and peppers had so mysteriously disappeared. Well! I found some of them. They are still the size they were two weeks ago. But I am sure that now they will begin to grow because 1. Carl took pity on them and sprayed them with compost tea. 2. The competitive edge of nature will motivate my seedlings because I bought some starts from Rosalie’s Farm. And our neighbors gave us some starts, too. And so I planted those gangly teenaged tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in between my infant seedlings. Composted everything. And then spread the luxuriant grass that Carl had cut down with his scythe. It is amazing. I sprained my pinky toe a few days ago (not advisable) and the soft cushion of the grass on bare feet is the best! And it is thick on the ground, but every two or so feet, a plant. Hope for the future! Which we need right about now, reading the news (also not advisable). And then I went inside to announce to Carl–watching a video on how to sharpen a scythe–that I want to learn to scythe, too. 

 

Not quite sure where that logic came from: from walking on soft mown grasses while tending to incipient vegetable plants, to excessive sweating and frustration. But Carl is having such fun out there, I hate to miss it. And maybe struggling with a scythe will distract me from the fact of our new residents at Darwin’s View.

 

Rats. Carl set up a video cam in the bus stop because he couldn’t quite believe the hens were eating so much of our food waste so fast. (We pick up the food waste of a local restaurant: two five gallon buckets twice a week. It doesn’t make much of a dent in the 150 thousand tons of food waste thrown out every day in the US—that’s one pound per person. But we try to do our part. And it’s all a learning process because we aim to, some day, compost all of Jaffrey’s food waste ….)

 

Carl was correct about the hens being not quite so ravenous. One rat. Two. Apparently, part of our learning process here is what to do about rats. Having just watched the movie “The Biggest Little Farm,” my first suggestion was that we order up . . . or Carl might build . . . a couple of owl boxes. Once we get all the food out of the chicken run, the rats will have to find their food outside of the coop, under the light of the moon and smack! An owl will have dinner. 

 

Why do I have less sympathy for a rat than, perhaps, a possum? Our great niece Peyton used to have two pet rats: Brownie and Valentine. She loved her rats. I thought they were fine. Large mice. Cute in a long, rubbery tail kind of way. Maybe I could adopt and name our resident rat . . . s. Yes, when you get to the plural of rats other ideas come to mind: the armies of rats in NYC that carry thousands of diseases. (I would find details but leave it to you. Even googling NYC and rats gives me a queasy feeling.)

 

Granted, these are country rats. But two rats? That leads me to think of 101 Dalmation numbers of rats. I imagine Nick and Nora having to actually get up from their naps to protect our home from incoming incisors. 

 

And so I googled how to get rid of rats . . . while on the train to NYC. Yes, I and my swollen toe left for NYC, leaving Carl to dig out the chicken run where the compost heap has been all winter long. We have ordered up a new, industrial composter, and are developing a plan to keep the food waste up and out of rat reach. According to google, if you remove the food source, no more rat problem.

 

Unless, as a friend has noted, there’s still a problem. Then it’s time to get out the rat birth control sticks. Which only exist in the form of poison. Which is so depressing. Dessicating a bunch of innocent rats and their babies. They are just trying to survive and isn’t there enough death and destruction in the world? Or is it time to embrace my humanness. As such, I am complicit in the destruction of our planet. For all my bleeding heart hopes and dreams, yet this is the Anthropocene age. Human controlled. We cannot go back. Animals—including humans—die. And they live. They fight. They love.

 

But but but I live in Eden! I live in a bubble. Why not hope and dream? Even if it sounds kind of cra-cra when coming from a presidential candidate, maybe love can win out. Certainly, I believe that is the only way we are going to survive the upcoming times—by working together. Coopetition. Community.

 

Because we are a part of the web of life. We are all connected.

 

Leaving the question open, whether that will save our resident rats.

 

Chernobyl & Energy

Just a postscript on the nuclear energy post. Addresses the no regrets issue. Or maybe it doesn’t. In any case, it brings to mind the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Part of the book concerns what will happen if we forget to turn off things like nuclear plants.

https://www.rt.com/news/155072-chernobyl-images-now-then/

Elementary Gardening

This February and March I set up shop in our greenhouse. I bought seeding mix. I gathered our variety of seedling containers, flats and trays. And brought out the four boxes of seeds that I had ordered the previous fall and divided into root, fruit, flower and leaf. I had put them in alphabetical order in their respectively labeled boxes, and now it was time to plant. Following as closely as I could the biodynamic planting schedule, I took my multitude of seed packets and began to put them into their growing medium. I wasn’t even stymied when I read on the  packets that some of the seeds needed to be stratified. I took baggies, filled them with a mix of vermiculite and dirt, moistened the mixture, and added the various seeds, not least, my luffa. I labeled the baggies, and put them into the refrigerator. The dark and cold helps the seeds to germinate. 

I then forgot about them until, a couple of weeks later, I wondered whatever happened to my luffa. Ah! I removed the packets and noted all the little germinated seeds. It being a flower day, I planted the flower seeds into their pods. And on the next day, planted my luffa, it being a fruit day.

All this to say, I not only shoved the seeds into healthy seeding soil but I went so far as to make labels so that I would know which was which and what was what. And some of these seeds even had the decadent pleasure to be inside the house with an LED heat lamp. It was a wet, cold and foggy spring. Daily, Carl and I would debate if we should turn the lamp on. Daily, Carl would be firm: the seedlings need all the help they can get.

They sprouted! From kale to luffa, artichokes to tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. We were in success mode! I watered. I hovered. I felt so proud of myself, in no small part because I knew what was growing. I could point to a seedling and say, that’s a poblano because I have a sign saying so. And that’s a shishito pepper. See the sign? 

Two weeks ago, Carl and I began the process of moving my little, tiny seedlings—they were only half an inch tall. Still. They’d sprouted but somehow growing wasn’t high on their agenda. But it was nearly summer thus time to fledge those seedlings. And so, on a root day, while Carl put the potatoes into the ground where the tomatoes and kale and lettuces had been last year, I set about planting the very spindly leeks and onions. On a fruit day, Carl and I planted out the six varieties of tomatoes and the eight varieties of peppers and the eggplant and yes! the luffa. The pumpkins and melons. The squash. We then mulched it all with straw. The straw lightened up the ground. It was a eureka moment for me: instead of naked, dark brown dirt attracting the sun, heating up the earth, the straw seemed to reflect the sun back. That’s what we were supposed to be doing: healing and helping the earth to stay cool. If there’s no ice in the arctic to reflect back the sun, we had straw in our garden to do some of that reflecting.

Tick, tock. It was humbling to see those seedlings. The weeds in the garden looked rather more robust. And all that straw we had spread as mulch in the garden had sprouted. Straw is not supposed to sprout. There aren’t supposed to be any seeds in straw. That’s the definition of straw. It is the leftover stalks of grains after the grains a.k.a. seeds have been removed. But there it was sprouting. Vigorously. And the seedlings we’d planted? They had ossified, doing nothing that resembled growth. Fortunately, we had a very busy week to keep us distracted, and hope springs eternal. Until this past weekend, when I showed a couple of real gardener-friends around our gardens. 

Jo and Abbie have a lot of experience with gardens and farming. They have grown vegetables from seed, successfully, for years. They know the ins and outs of gardening and that that includes watering and weeding. They noted that I might want to weed our potted lemon and banana plants. I noted that the kale I’d planted were nowhere to be found. I asked what that waist high plant was. Abbie and Jo exchanged looks and Jo informed me it was a weed and it was about to flower. I pulled at it. It didn’t budge. Jo suggested a shovel might come in handy and we headed to the annual garden area, I feeling more and more self-conscious. Once I got our sentinel Schtude out of the way so Abbie’s bare legs weren’t under threat, we entered the garden and looked about us. Jo and Abbie both looked concerned. They noted the straw-lawn forming.

“You need to get rid of that stuff,” Jo said, her voice raised slightly in alarm. “That’s hay.”

“Nope,” I said. “It’s straw. We bought straw.”

“Well, you need to get rid of it. It’s taking over.”

We continued our tour. Abbie and Jo gamely joined me in my search for seedlings as we walked through the rest of the garden. I found one luffa. 

“You might want to start over again, Tory,” Abbie suggested. Jo agreed. 

Yesterday, I joined Carl in the garden. He was playing the part of Prometheus, weeding the quote straw unquote. On my knees, too, I weeded. Trying not to jar the seedlings. If I could find them. The ones I did find appeared identical to what they had been two or three weeks before. Carl and I got progressively, more and more rapidly, brutal with our weeding until I finally looked at Carl.

“Let’s give this area to the girls.”

He didn’t argue. We tussled a bit when moving the fencing, in no small part because I was trying to save one or two of those scores of seedlings. Miracles do happen. They might still grow. The girls marched in and began to scrape and peck and turn the soil. Our girls are hard workers. Next week, we will move them over to where I planted the leeks and onions. The melons and squash. And my luffa.

Some day, I really am going to grow a sponge. And create a meal that sprang from seeds I put into soil. Some day, these gardens are going to resemble my dreams and the bounty will feed not just us, but many others. Because some day, I will overcome my habit of relying on Mark Shepard’s STUN technique and instead of sheer, total, utter neglect, I will nurture, on a daily basis, each seedling. Yes, I will even be bold and callous enough to rip out the weak by their roots and toss them onto the compost heap, thereby allowing the more robust plants to flourish. I know this will happen because change happens. Example: I actually took the time to put those seeds into containers, and I labeled them. I stratified and scarified seeds so that they germinated. I will even go so far as to say that the vast majority of the seeds I planted and labeled sprouted. And so I am ready to begin again. Yes, this summer’s garden will come from started plants we will buy at Rosalie’s and Walker Farm. But soon, I am going to seed kale and lettuces that will be our fall crop. And in August, I will seed lettuces that will be lush and vital in November, December and January. And then? I will seed again tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Leeks and onions. Melons, pumpkins, squash and luffa. And isn’t that the most fabulous and beautiful part of  Mother Nature? Against all odds, not least my tender loving care, seeds sprout.

Energy 108: Espresso, Fossil Fuels and the Transition Conumdrum

The following really does have to do with things energy.

It has already been a fabulous day here at Darwin’s View. To begin: my morning latte. After two days of no caffeine—preparation for a too familiar, routine procedure—that limp, low energy feeling of blah was replaced by the joyous surge of I-can-do-anything espresso. Ideas popped and surged directly through my pencil and onto paper. It was 4:55AM and I knew work would be done. I was charged up and ready to go!

Our off-grid house, not so much. It’s been cloudy here in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Heavy clouds, full of moisture, that hold no hope of a “cloud edge” sun-oomph into the solar panels, rein. Last night, we knew the generator would turn on. It was just a question of when. Carl contemplated the dilemma. Our old system (#1) battery level was at 57 percent. Our new system (#2) was at 80 percent. And the water heater was due to come on. Thus, before rolling over to go to sleep, Carl switched all the energy load to the new system. 

“Why?” you might ask. Because the old system is smaller (4.8kW) and has lead acid batteries. Lead acid batteries shouldn’t be taken down below 50% of their capacity. It’s not good for them.⁠1 The new system . . . works differently. The batteries hold 22kW.⁠2 And they are salt water batteries. They can go all the way down to zero, if need be, no harm done. That’s why Carl tends to put the full house load onto the new system at night when there hasn’t been a lot of sun, in hopes that the generator won’t turn on in the middle of the night. (The generator is directly outside of our bedroom. Illogically placed? Perhaps, if one’s goal is a good night of sleep. If one wants to be on top of things power, it couldn’t be better placed. The roar of the generator, or lack thereof, keeps us on the pulse of our system.) 

This morning at 4:40AM, prior to turning on the espresso machine, I went down to check on the batteries in the basement, and then back up again to report the results. I hovered over Carl. He opened an eye. 

“Good morning. The old system is at 55 percent, the new is at 54, the default button is blinking, is it okay to make an espresso?” 

Carl mumbled that the default blinky, blinky was nothing to worry about. I took that to be Carl’s imprimatur that it was okay to go forth and make my morning elixir. I did. I went about my morning routine of espresso making, turkey siting, bedewed field admiration, cat TLC, eventually wending my way up to my office to luxuriously sip my cafe latte, bite into a homemade banana muffin,⁠3 and gear up to write. At which point, the house burped. The lights blinked off with a low buzz sound of alarm, then on, another buzz. Power off buzz. Power on buzz. Off. And on. And Carl roused himself out of bed and down to the basement. 

I looked over his shoulder, awed at how he knows how to click through the various options of our systems’ control panels. Aux and amps. The enter, exit, scroll up and down buttons. Click, click, click. His mission: to override the “Under DC voltage” fault which required increasing the voltage of the batteries, which meant charging them, which meant getting the generator going. By now, I have learned not to ask why the generator didn’t turn on all by itself. 

N.B.: The other way to react to the situation would have been to find the load that was causing the demand and turn it off. But at 5AM this wasn’t a priority.⁠4  Arguably this might be the same reason the generator didn’t turn on. Because who would be up on this foggy, wet morning with the dew blanketed field, Schtude crowing since 4:30, the birds singing their morning wake up, let’s celebrate the summer solstice!? The longest day of the year!? Get up and get going!

I drank my latte while Carl flicked through the various options. I mentally reminded myself to remind Carl to write up the process so that, if an “Under DC voltage” ever happens when he’s not here, and/or we have house-sitters, I and/or the house-sitters would have a clue what to do. And still no generator. But the red lights weren’t blinking anymore. Seconds passed. The house lights stopped going blinky, blinky, too  . . . The buzz sound silenced . . . And click! The beautiful sound of the generator turning on.

Which brings me to the point of all this: fossil fuels. They do save the day, and are great for emergencies but, just as heroin is a symptom, an attempt to fill a void, so are fossil fuels. And just as methadone isn’t a cure, neither is the continued use of fossil fuels. The era of fossil fuels is over, we just haven’t recognized it yet. The market is beginning to do so. And then? What are we going to do?

The first step to cure us of our fossil fuel addiction is to admit we have a problem. Too many of us are unwilling to change our habits, give up our conveniences and comforts. Case in point: my daily cafe latte. 

The good news: we don’t have to go cold turkey. Yet. 

The next step is admitting that it is within our power to change. And that the greenest and most its-up-to-you choice is don’t use in the first place. Become aware of the cost savings of not turning on that light, and the effects of buying that morning cup of coffee in a to go cup.⁠5 Or of turning on an espresso machine. Because, my protests aside, the reason we had our little incident this morning was because I turned on the espresso machine. All our demand load was on the new system—salt water—not the old system—lead acid. Lead acid batteries (like fossil fuels) are ready when you are. Bring on the surge of demand, it’s ready! Salt water batteries (like renewables) require . . . gentler treatment. This morning the water heater was on. Then I made my espresso, lowering the battery level. And then the water pump went on. The new, salt water battery system couldn’t carry the load and shut down. A pause. And then, the system turned itself back on, ready to carry on. But still, the too heavy load. A jolt of demand. It turned off again. Etc.. 

Was it the end of the world? No. Renewables and salt water batteries work. We just have to adjust our habits to accommodate them. 

Our past lives have depended on fossil fuels but now it’s time to embrace the future and the transition to renewables. That transition has already begun. We have the technologies. We have only to do what we did with fossil fuels in the 19th century: invest in renewable technologies, full bore. And in an emergency? We can fall back on fossil fuels, thereby using them to create our world anew. That’s what Exxon/Mobil did when it signed that contract for solar panels to help them meet the energy requirements of fracking. (See Energy 106).

We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking. From a team of physicists writing to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-mon regarding the Doomsday Clock.

This post is already been too long but if you have nothing better to do than turn out the lights, call Governor Sununu and tell him you support solar energy in NH.⁠6  And⁠7 after you’ve called him, maybe call all your representative, local, state and national, and demand a full bore ahead change. Because that’s the only thing that will save us.

And, in all your free time, here’s a podcast by a woman who spoke at the DubHub this past Monday. I had a couple of issues with her but, overall, she’s got a great presentation.

 https://www.nhpr.org/post/sununu-vetoes-net-metering-bill-again-setting-repeat-override-battle?utm_source=NH+LES+Newsletter&utm_campaign=314033eaa1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_04_01_39&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_41a68e60e4-314033eaa1-262981897#stream/0

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1 You want details? Ask Carl.

2 Again, details require Carl. Some might suggest I be more involved in these details. But as I have pointed out ad nasueum, do I really have to say it again?: When we moved up here for our little, part-time experiment, when asked, I said I wanted to flick a switch and have it work. Carl said he wanted to know why it worked. Et voila! Ask Carl.

3 https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/banana_bread/

4 The offender? Likely as not it was the water heater. At 1AM. Drawing 500 watts. For 6 hours. No, it makes no sense to be off-grid with a water heater that insists on turning on in the middle of the night. But the company of this most-efficient-ever water heater explains that the heater has its routine, and it’s best not to interrupt it because it only means the heater will have to be on that much longer to get the water up to temperature. This being a conundrum for our upcoming Geek Weekend.

5 https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/resusable-coffee-cups/

6 https://addup.sierraclub.org/campaigns/tell-governor-sununu-to-support-solar-energy-in-new-hampshire/petition/tell-governor-sununu-to-support-solar-energy-in-new-hampshire

7 https://www.nhpr.org/post/sununu-vetoes-net-metering-bill-again-setting-repeat-override-battle?utm_source=NH+LES+Newsletter&utm_campaign=314033eaa1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_04_01_39&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_41a68e60e4-314033eaa1-262981897#stream/0

Birds 101

Our four resident frogs are enjoying the lap pond’s 66.4 temperature. More my style would be a balmy 82 degrees but that’s not going to happen any time soon due to clouds and rain and cool weather. But that’s okay because that allows for time to clean the pool of green algae, and to listen to and look for the birds that are all around us. I am trying to learn and remember their songs and which species sings the scale, and which how-to-drink-your-tea? To aide and abet, we invite specialists. 

A few weeks ago, we had a couple of grassland specialists from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies visit us here at Darwin’s View to look about and train us in on how to monitor for grassland birds. A birder friend of ours joined us as well. All three shared their knowledge and thoughts on how we might maintain the property to entice grassland birds such as the bobolink.

We had a bobolink couple nesting here a couple of years ago but weren’t sure if they had come back since then because . . . what do they sound like again? Bobolinks prefer acres and acres of open grassland. Trees and big brush, not so much. Thus, Carl and I were concerned that all those permaculture swales that we put in and planted with blueberries and kiwi and fruit trees might have removed the sense of space and acreage that bobolinks require. Granted, we’d cleared five acres below the field to finish off our USDA grant to maintain brushland habitat but birds can be picky creatures as our chickens have taught us.

A tweet, tweet in the brush and all three birders exclaimed “Warbler!” Each named off a different species, finally agreeing it was a Prairie Warbler. And then “Great-crested flycatcher!” And isn’t that something to strive for? To know, just by a song, what the bird is, and its needs and comforts. Alas! Towhees, Prairie Warblers and Great-crested flycatchers we might have but the bird specialists all expressed doubt that the bobolinks would come back. They noted that some scruffy trees had grown up in one of our stone walls that bisects the field, and suggested we cut them back, and then wait and see.

We’d been meaning to clear out of that stone wall anyway. Within a day or two, the brush was gone, leaving us free to return our attention to garden creation, burying seedlings and a frozen chicken-who-died-back-in-March, and the feeding of black flies and deer flies with our blood. We pretty much forgot to pay attention to things bird. Though every morning, preferably by 5:30, I try to get up and go outside to listen to the morning chorus of birds wakening. I note the Phoebes. The Eastern Towhees. I keep forgetting who does the little scale tune. The rest? A blur of beauty.

Last week, as we drove up the driveway, around the sharp turn and on up toward the house, I looked to the right and saw a bird flitting. It landed on a tree. (Can you find it?) After a brief kerfuffle and study, we determined it was a male bobolink. We emailed the specialists who were thrilled for us, though they qualified the happy news: Likely as not, the bobolink had been displaced by a nearby field being mowed. It was unlikely that it would nest here. This year, anyway.

This happens a lot these days. Bobolinks are small blackbirds who like big fields. Lots of space to swoop over, blades of high grass to perch on. They nest in those fields, on the ground. And if those fields happen to be hayfields, which they often are, the nests and the eggs and chicks in the nest get chopped up by the mowers. Though there is a suggestd protocol to not mow until after the chicks have fledged in late July, that’s relatively unreasonable for farmers who are trying to get sufficient hay to feed their cattle in winter. And so bobolinks flit from just mown hayfields to ours. Happy days for us!

That same day, a Scarlett Tanager appeared. Carl got it on camera through our telescope.

Energy 107: The Nuclear Option

Let’s say those people who believe we have a climate crisis on our hands agree to disagree with those who don’t. And that those who don’t agree—or don’t care—agree to look at the true cost-benefit analysis of energy in the U.S. Of A.. If such were the case, there would likely be agreement that it makes economic sense to look beyond fossil fuels. As already mentioned, fossil fuels will soon be uneconomic and CEOs of fossil fuel companies don’t want the consequences of mining in their backyard. Exxon Mobil Corp has, ironically, signed a 12-year lease to buy solar power that will power their production of oil in West Texas.⁠1 Fortunately, we have options, not least, nuclear power. It provides 11 percent of the world’s electricity. The plants are big, and provide a reliable source of power. Pretty much all scenarios of how we go forward include nuclear power to bridge the gap between now and the future; and if you are talking carbon, think about this: If not nuclear, we fall back on coal-fired plants. So why not build more and bigger nuclear plants? What’s the hold up?

Economics, dear Watson. Nuclear plants are hugely expensive to build. As a result, unlike most other sources of energy, the cost of nuclear power has gone up in price and is now four to eight times more costly than four decades ago.⁠2  And then there are the risks and costs of a meltdown. Three Mile Island, a contained meltdown that occurred in 1980, cost $1 billion to repair and decontaminate, and took fourteen years. Meantime, they had “to fund an additional $2-3 billion in capital expenditures to insure reliable electric service to their customers.⁠3” It was a solar flare moment. According to the Comptroller General’s report: “The nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island power plant triggered a number of serious problems for the General Public Utilities Corporation, including a near financial crisis, as it moved to purchase high-cost replacement power to maintain service to its customers. During the year following the accident, the Corporation was recovering only a small part of the $233 million of power costs from utility rates.”⁠4 

None of these costs included the property damages, which totalled $2.4 billion.

Although the government states there were no health effects, and therefore no public threat,⁠5 interviews of residents show that diseases consistent with nuclear radiation contamination did happen, and that hundreds of lawsuits were settled out of court, and millions of dollars compensated parents of children born with birth defects.⁠6

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster cost several billion dollars.

Japan’s more recent nuclear meltdown could cost $200 billion dollars. 

Compare that to Hurricane Katrina’s cost of $125-250 billion.⁠7

But so what? Nuclear plants have insurance. The Price-Anderson Act⁠8 was enacted in 1957 and provides nuclear liability insurance. Nuclear plant owners pay for enough insurance to cover the equivalent of the physical plant. Which is like insuring the bumper on a car. If and/or when there’s a contained or all out meltdown, their insurance won’t cover the externalities: the environmental damage and health costs of a meltdown. Ah! But there is insurance for that, too: the insurer of last resort: our government, also known as you and me. Because nuclear power plants epitomize risk but they also provide an important, one might argue a vital role. Therefore the risk should “be socialized. The state needs to accept responsibility as insurer of last resort, as with everything else in industrial societies, though attempts have been made to represent this as a specifically nuclear subsidy.⁠9

The article I just footnoted is an interesting (in a Chinese curse kind of way) read of the World Nuclear Association’s perspective. They prove their glowing butt . . . resses are covered—their economic numbers and responsibilities are clear. Should that make us feel better? Nuclear power plants boil away. We, in New Hampshire, blithely turn on our lights, and if anything happens, there’s money to pay out. A perfect storm.

In the book (and website) Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, there is a brief comment about “no regret solutions”.  In that book, almost all [the solutions] are no regret solutions. Regardless of the carbon impact, the actions described are ones that we would want to take for the good of the environment, and human health and well-being. Nuclear energy is an exception. Nuclear energy is a regrets solution. In part because it results in a lot of nuclear waste that will take  hundreds of thousands of years to breakdown. But more because if an accident does happen—and accidents do happen—the toll is devastating, to the extent that the cost of nuclear power is most certainly not economic. 

Woe is us. Fossil fuels on the wane. Nuclear power is possibly too risky and expensive. What are we to do? 

We already are.

Next Friday: The Transition to Renewables: Will it work?

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1 Exxon Mobil Corp. will use renewable energy to produce oil in West Texas.

Under 12-year agreements with Denmark’s Orsted A/S, Exxon will buy 500 megawatts of wind and solar power in the Permian Basin, the fastest growing U.S. oil field. It is the largest ever renewable power contract signed by an oil company, according to Bloomberg NEF. Terms weren’t disclosed.⁠1

1 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-28/oil-giant-exxon-turns-to-wind-solar-for-home-state-operations

2 Drawdown page 19

3 https://www.gao.gov/products/EMD-80-89

4 https://www.gao.gov/assets/140/130102.pdf

5 http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/three-mile-island-accident.aspx

6 https://www.thebalance.com/three-mile-island-nuclear-accident-facts-impact-today-3306337

7 https://www.thebalance.com/three-mile-island-nuclear-accident-facts-impact-today-3306337

8 https://www.naic.org/cipr_topics/topic_nuclear_liability_insurance.htm

9 http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/liability-for-nuclear-damage.aspx

Why I Was MIA.

I fell off the blogosphere last week. Myriad excuses but it all comes down to this: I lost heart. It’s overwhelming, trying to be positive in the face of so much horror. Especially when people laugh about it. It’s like the “Springtime in Germany” scene in The Producers: making farce out of events that prove the depths of evil to which humans can sink. I don’t believe such events hold space for humor. On the contrary, my heart breaks. And so to joke when faced by the willful blindness and complacency that too many—myself included—are exhibiting? We are witness to the dying off of millions of species. Without them, we, too, will die. People rattle off “in eleven years”. “In 2030.” “By 2050”. We become inured to exactly what that means, and how soon. Until the horror strikes in the form of a hurricane, a tornado, drought or flood. Fire. 

And brimstone. Some people are stoked. They believe all this disaster and death is a good thing. God’s second coming. Bring it on!

They must believe they are the Chosen. Oh, so special. It won’t happen to me. Or thee. Only to them. Time will tell. Ha. Ha.

I was sitting at a bar the other night while Carl was getting ready for a gig. A couple of women sat down next to me and ordered drinks. They asked if the baseball game channel—I wasn’t paying attention. It is baseball season, right?—could be switched to the Belmont Stakes race. And so the next minutes were spent trying not to look at, and worry about, the gorgeous horses on the screen. Past races. Current preparations. I hoped the horses were happy. I suspected not. Or maybe, yes, but when the bartender asked the women if horse racing isn’t rather a cruel sport, one of the two—clearly familiar with such an inane question—replied, “no”. Or rather, “at the lower levels, yes. It’s awful. But these horses?” She nodded toward the television screen. “They are really well cared for.” She said this almost with envy. As if she’d like to have those massages, and the fabulous buckets of free grain. Are horses read bedtime stories? “But yes, at the lower levels, it’s really bad.” A pause. Maybe she was thinking about the 21 horses who have died recently at the Santa Ana racetrack. “Like everything in life, right?”

And with that sentence, she excused herself. She passed off any responsibility for her own participation and how she might be contributing to those “lower levels”. Just so the climate crisis. I wring my hands, and read about the pods of emaciated whales showing up dead on beaches because the ocean’s waters aren’t cold enough for the krill. And the krill are mostly plastic. Or the poster child Polar bears. The baby seals. And what can one person do? It’s untenable, unbearable, awful, overwhelming . . . and a shrug because it’s like everything in life, right?

I avoided all this last week, only to write about it this week. Some things we just can’t avoid.

Believe it or not, I’m trying to be positive, feed the good, not the bad, energy that’s swirling about . . . I try not to think about how the Democratic party is, apparently, determined to repeat 2016’s debacle. Tone deaf to all the new voters’ (and old ones!) and their demand for big change, the DNC won’t have a debate on climate change. It’s “impractical” to have one debate focussed on just one issue, even if it is the existential crisis of our species. And the DNC won’t allow candidates who participate in “unsanctioned” debates participate in DNC hosted debates. 

Fortunately, there’s the media to keep us in line and informed, right? That’s why last week, safe as milquetoast Joe Biden was on the front page of The New York Times nearly every day, gaffs and all. And no mention of the other candidates or their platforms. But why would we want to hear about those other candidates? Joe’s the “front-runner”. Just like Hillary Clinton was the front-runner.

Let’s nod bravely now, and say, “like everything in life, right?”

Maybe what I need to do is stay in the garden with the black flies and Deer flies. There, Carl and I have created a lot of garden beds and filled them with every, single one of the seedlings who survived my tender, loving care this spring. The garden will be very crowded if they all survive. And still the eggplants to plant. More lettuces and kale. Flowers. I’m hoping a few artichokes. We fenced the girls out so they don’t dig things up, and they are on the other side of it, hard at work, scratching and pecking.

The hens are really quite fabulous. They give me perspective and allow me to look about the garden, where I just spread a bale or two of straw and think, wow. The yellow straw is so much brighter, and lighter than the dark of the soil. The straw will reflect the heat, not soak it in. That’s good for the earth. And then I look about me, at the barn swallows swooping in the air, and the Killdeer scurrying along the gravel driveway. The turkeys in the distance and I realize I am surrounded by dinosaurs. And that I adore them. And the box turtle, too, who made a remarkable imitation of a rock. And then was gone. Just like that. For being so slow, they move like lightning.

Being in nature. Being here. Does that do any good? Carl and I have been imagining bigger than us actions. There’s the Jaffrey Climate Initiative, that’s apparently got a reputation around town for being full of crazy people. In fact, all we want to do is prepare for the inevitable changes. 

And there’s the idea of buying and renovating a downtown building, turning it into a net zero community center, a place to meet for a drink and a meal, to buy local produce, and that’s just the beginning. The building will embody the vision of what we want the future to be. Resilient, sustainable, community-driven. The idea is out of my comfort zone but if I thought it would make a difference, I’d do it. 

Jaffrey doesn’t much like change, and too many people don’t see the forest for the trees, even as the trees topple. And that’s what gets me out of my funks: the radical, transformative potential of these times requires us to go bold and big. Like the Green New Deal, and Inslee on climate, Warren on economies, Gabbard on war. It’s time to take those uncomfortable leaps. Go ahead. Figure out what your base is, how you ground yourself, and then open your arms wide, embrace the change, and jump.

I’m entirely unconvinced that this Friday’s post will be about nuclear energy because that is so old-fashioned. I guess we’ll see what comes out on Friday.

ENERGY 106 Part II: A Dirty, Little Secret

Roy Hopkins writes in his book Transition Handbook, that digging out the tar sands—from whence comes much of our fracked gas—is “akin to arriving at the pub to find that all the beer is off, but so desperate are you for a drink that you begin to fantasize that in the thirty years this pub has been open for business, the equivalent of 5,000 pints have been spilt on this carpet, so you design a process whereby you boil up the carpet in order to extract the beer again. It is the desperate, futile attempt of an alcoholic unable to imagine life without the object of his addiction⁠1 . . ..” 

No doubt: Fracking is a cleaner fuel than coal and, perhaps, oil. It has facilitated an economic boom of sorts. But it is a temporary and environmentally devastating economic boom. It helps us deny the fact we have a full-on addiction to fossil fuels that is going to kill us if we don’t stop sucking on that old carpet.

Which brings us to this most foul and egregious fact: fracked gas isn’t cost effective. Nor is coal. Nor oil. Without subsidies, and if we include externalities, this is a very, very expensive addiction. In 2008, we spent over $1 trillion on fossil fuels, more than was spent on education or the military.⁠2

Polaroid and Kodak, in their day, were publicly traded and bigger than Mobil/Exxon is today. Polaroid and Kodak were as rock solid then as fossil fuel companies are now. Sales were going up. And stocks were going down.

Investors are herd animals. Three years before those rock solid camera companies blew up into nothing, investors were bailing out. Those companies had a volatile life. And then life changed. No more cameras. No more VHS. Enter iPhones. In 2005, Kodak was the largest digital camera retail in the US. In 2012 Kodak files for chapter 11 bankruptcy.⁠3

Energy is 20% of the global economy, and investors are beginning to shift their sights away from fossil fuels toward renewables. They are doing it, not for the sake of the environment, but for their profit margin. It is happening, despite the weather and the climate because it is uneconomic to carry on as we have been. 

And so. On one hand, we have a wobbly grid and a growing demand for power to run our day to day lives. On the other hand, we have a lot of money going to what is looking more and more like a dying business model. Now what?

Years ago, in his book Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher wrote that humans are using nature as if it is income. “Fossil fuels are merely a part of the ‘natural capital’ which we steadfastly insist on treating as expendable, as if it were income, and by no means the most important part. If we squander our fossil fuels, we threaten civilization; but if we squander the capital represented by living nature around us, we threaten life itself.”⁠4

That book was first published in 1973, during the first Environmental movement that birthed the Environmental Protection Agency (1970), Earth Day (1970), the Clean Air Act (1970) and the Clean Water Act (1972). Since then, the conservative rule of “Don’t sell your capital. Only use the income” has withered away. We have treated the earth as capital, not income. And now we figure out the answer to this question: What now? 

Let’s consider nuclear energy.

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1 The Transition Handbook, by Roy Hopkins, p 24.

2 https://environmentamerica.org/news/ame/dependence-big-oil-dirty-coal-could-cost-us-30-trillion-2030

3 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/the-moment-it-all-went-wrong-for-kodak-6292212.html

4 Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher page 17

The Day After

Carl and I spent Memorial Day in the garden, moving rocks, digging, planting, connecting to the land. Sometimes, it’s too painful to remember and yet, even without intentionally going about it, we do.

I remembered my father. My aunts. My grandmothers. There they were, with me, in the garden. I did have a moment. After all, the ache of remembrance is not the advise of a living person. I could not ask, “Do artichokes like to be planted near dill?” or “What is this bushy plant that looks like I intentionally put it here?” or “Why did the Bleeding heart I got from you not survive the winter?”

No response. Just the sense of them there in my garden, and the memory of them in theirs as I planted the tiny sprouts of flowers that I succeeded in sprouting: Elecampane, (good for whooping cough); Ashwagandha, (combats stress and anxiety) and Astragalus (boosts the immune system). Only time will tell if the plants will live to heal.

Memories. You don’t even know to expect them until there they are, in your head. Along with the inch wide welts on one’s forehead, the consequence of a black fly swarm while planting sunflowers.

Yesterday was a stunningly, beautiful sunny day. And today? A stunningly, beautiful rainy one. Mother Nature’s gifts. I try not to take them fore-granted.

Energy 106: Lead up to a Dirty, Little Secret

Ever hear of Liberty Utilities’ Granite Bridge pipeline project? It’s remarkably similar to all the other pipelines that have been proposed that web across the United States. It is promoted as a job creating, economic investment that will save money in the long run, and create a secure and dependable supply of fuel. The project would “bridge” two existing pipelines. By using existing infrastructure, it would lower environmental and private property impacts, and open the flow of lots of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The pipeline would wind through New Hampshire to Epping, where it would be stored during low demand times for high demand times. Proponents state that natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than other fossil fuel options. It provides jobs, jobs, jobs, and lowers energy bills for some of us, for a little while, anyway. And it frees us from the shackles of our dependence on foreign oil. This is about energy security, not individuals. It will bolster our current energy infrastructure.

As with so much else in life, there are opposers of Granite Bridge. They are fire and brimstone against this project, and any other that has to do with LNG, fracking and its byproducts. They raise safety concerns: the myriad reports of leaks, explosions and earthquakes, the long term health of water, soil and humans and the toxicity of wastewater byproducts of this “cleanest of fossil fuels”. They point to the fact that, back in 2014, Rex Tillerson, CEO of pro-fracking Exxon, and then-House Majority Leader Dick Amey sued to stop fracking near their neighborhoods. And yet both men publicly and vehemently support/ed fracking, claiming it is a boost to the economy, and not dangerous to the health of people, water tables, and the environment. So why do they not want it near their homes?⁠1 

 Gas leaks: not if, but when? Not to mention earthquakes…

Interesting, too, that Liberty Utility has agreed to pay fines for not doing their required “due diligence” safety inspections on, at least, three occasions.⁠2 Truth be told, every company that’s applied for a pipeline has a history of leaks, of noncompliance to rules and laws, of paying violations so as not to attract attention.

And Liberty won’t guarantee that the towns affected by the building of the pipelines will have access to the gas.⁠3 More likely, it will be shipped abroad. Which counters their argument that the pipes are being built because we need the gas.

In an effort to be fair and balanced, bear in mind this fact: a tanker with LNG anchored outside of Boston this winter provided the Northeast with an extra boost of energy during high demand times, thus New Hampshire weathered the storms and cold without losing power.⁠4 Yet another example of the wonders and convenience of fossil fuels. Why bother to change? Why not stick with the old infrastructure? It’s so much easier and convenient. 

The answer depends on if you want to include the climate crisis debate. If yes, then you need to factor this into the mix: if we use the oil and gas that’s already been dug up, we will push ourselves well over the edge of livable carbon levels. (We already have.) If that’s the case, we must leave what’s still in the ground, in the ground, and figure out a way to re-sequester all that carbon that’s getting released.

If, on the other hand, we don’t include the climate crisis debate? Fossil fuels are finite. On July 14, 2014, the British Petroleum company (BP) came out and admitted it: oil reserves will be used up in 50 years. BP said that five years ago. So if we are going to be out of oil reserves in 45 years, would it not behoove us to stop building fossil fuel driven infrastructure, and instead use what fossil fuels we have left to build and transition to a new infrastructure? Sort of like having American employees train-in their Chinese replacements prior to being fired. But in a good way.

One could point out that “oil reserves” are not “oil in the ground”. Just dig up more, right?

That brings us to our dirty little secret. See you next Friday!

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1 http://www.newsinferno.com/pro-fracking-exxon-ceo-sues-to-stop-fracking-near-his-5m-ranch/

2 https://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20180808/bia-endorses-granite-bridge-pipeline-project

3 https://www.nhpr.org/post/proposed-granite-bridge-pipeline-draws-supporters-and-skeptics-manchester#stream/0

4 https://www.clf.org/blog/frigid-temperatures-not-a-problem-in-new-england/

Black flies, Newts, and “The Biggest, Little Farm”

What do I love about New York City? No black flies. I’m scratching the welts received during a bout of gardening a couple of days ago but fear no more—at least, until I get back home. Meantime, honking and shouting, car alarms and sirens, and heat. I take on the façade of a true New Yorker and don’t leave my mother’s apartment. Rather, I step out only to get from point A to point B. Fortunately, from A to B usually requires a walk through Washington Square Park. As I wander through—looking ever so directed and purposeful, a slight frown, and don’t make eye contact—I watch pigeons, instead of chickens. Cooing instead of clucking. And no roos.

I have threatened my mother that some day I’m going to arrive with Schtude, our resident roo. Mom laughs nervously as I describe how we will diaper him and let him free range in the apartment. She would prefer a hen or two for their happy eggs. We agree to compromise. We will set him free in the park. He will strut his stuff for the pigeons, attack unwary passersby, crow his fabulousness . . . and his loneliness because he’ll be the only chicken in the vicinity that’s not been plucked. 

Thus, I haven’t brought him. The idea of Schtude being sad is too much to bear. He remains in New Hampshire with his 15 hens. And I, in New York, dodge humans, instead of black flies.

Meantime, at Darwin’s View, the hens take their daily morning constitutional around the perimeter of the garden. With Daisy, Splotches and Swallow in the lead, running and flapping with delight, the other hens take time to peck and poke, a harem accompanying the stately promenade of Schtude. Every time I look out my window to see the sun as it rises over the Wapack Trail, I smile. The chickens’ joy in life when they catch a bug, or ohmygoodnessit’sawormminemineminesquawkgulp brings me heart-warming happiness and hope. As do newts. 

Carl and I went for a walk earlier this week. While Carl foraged for mushrooms, I saved no less than twelve newts who had paused in their progress across the road. They had no idea what danger they were in, perhaps, not noticing their fellow, smushed Pleurodelinae. These efts, terrestrial and fully metamorphosed, are Eastern newt and exquisite. They exhibit the breathtaking complexity of nature. From their orange color to the fragile solidity of their bodies, they expose the essence of life, and its dogged persistence. 

As are so many other species, newts are threatened. Habitat loss, fragmentation and pollution. Several of their species are endangered. The Yunnan lake newt is extinct. But the ones I saved, that I picked up ever-so-gently and carried over to the side of the road to which they were headed? They are safe, right? They will live to enjoy the day, and breed. Right? Or did I, just by touching them, like Midas, kill?

Thus, hope is double-edged. Black flies might swarm but are there enough of them to feed all the birds? We seem to have far fewer barn swallows this year. Usually there are dozens of them flitting about, looking so natty in their blue and black tuxedos. This year? Four or five. And so I mourn the lack of black flies. 

Chickens, too. They bring me great joy, and great worry. Weasels. Hawks. Coyotes. John and Molly Chester of Apricot Lane farm would understand. They lost a lot of chickens in their film The Biggest Little Farm. It’s a wonderful, heart-wrenching film about taking dead dirt and transforming it into a sustainable, resilient, productive, biodiverse farm. One in which every animal plays a part in the web of life. Every species is there for a reason.

I rate it 5. I loved the film. I felt as if I’d learned something since we moved to Darwin’s View because, when they faced snails and maggots, I knew the answers to their problems before they did. NO! I’m not going to tell because it’s part of the drama. If I told, I’d spoil it. 

What broke my heart? The fact that life requires death. What enlivened it? They created their vision. John is a filmmaker and had his crew film everything that happened on the farm for seven years. The film shows the evolution of the farm. The building of the swales, and the very large pond. The fixing of the well. The buying and planting of 10,000 trees. The care for a lot of animals, not least six large, white guard dogs (who bore a remarkable resemblance to Enzo, the Maremma guard dog of our nine rental goats last year.) And a large farm crew of (young) people. Eventually, the farm found its feet and began to make money. But whew! How did they support it in the meantime? 

Maybe they got a subsidy from the government like the fossil fuel and nuclear industries do.

Whatever. They did it. Hard work, openness to learning, and love. They prove that it’s possible to change how we grow our food. Their farm is what all farms need to strive for: regenerative agriculture. That’s what we must do—transform our food infrastructure from Corporate, monoculture farms and factory farms to regenerative, no-till, biodiverse farms. Return to Mother Nature’s ways. She really does know best. 

How can we afford it? Remember the $10 million a minute? Move all the subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry and give it to the farmers, and the land. In seven years, deserts can be transformed into lush places that grow more food than the current framework, and don’t kill the planet in the process. On the contrary. We might have a chance. In fact, the real question is, how can we afford not to?

On Friday: Lead up to a Dirty, Little Secret.

Energy 105: In Defense of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels helped to create this country.⁠1 Coal, gas and oil enabled mind-boggling growth and progress, and improved the quality of life, (if not always the health), of humans, (if not nature). America, in a heyday of change and development, built up a culture, an infrastructure, a world that promised milk and honey, and required gushing and guzzling coal, gas, and oil.

When and why fossil fuels? Was it because after World War II, all those chemicals used to build bombs needed to be disposed of and, thus, were turned into fertilizers to be used against the nasty bugs in our soils and on our plants? Multinationals began selling petrochemicals⁠2 to farmers around the world, this being not so good for soil and small farmers but excellent for profits and growth. 

Or was it back a bit farther with Henry Ford’s invention of the automobile and the promotion of the American, Go-Westward-Young-Man way? 

Or back farther yet, with the laying down of the coal-driven rail system that connected east to west, north to south?

Whenever, why-ever, it was gas, oil and coal that drove our economy. Fossil fuels were cheap, abundant and available day and night. Thus, our government’s energy policy supported them. Which brings up the question—since we are talking about economics—how much money has gone to support the fossil fuel industry? And how far back should we go?

Shall we include the 19th century land grants to timber companies and the granting of corporate charters to coal and railroad companies, and past and present protective tariffs on imported coal? Or the more recent spending of the Department of Defense on “energy security”–war?–which, over three decades, has cost over seven trillion dollars?⁠3

Granted, numbers can be arranged. The EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculate that same cost to be zero, and therefore do not include national defense costs in the Fuel Economy Standards program. The result is an unacknowledged subsidy of $0.28 per gallon for petroleum products in the U.S..⁠4

Which brings us to two definitions that are significant in this brief study of the true cost of fossil fuels. We know the direct costs: utility bills. The price of gasoline at the gas station. But these numbers do not include the indirect costs, or externalities: Environmental damage. Health care costs that are a consequence of degraded water, air, and food. Wars for oil, and oil spill cleanup. Do we count those, include them in the cost of a gallon of gas? Can we afford that?

And then there are the subsidies, monies given out by a government to assist a business or industry to keep its prices competitive. Subsidies take public money away from other uses—like education and health care—and direct them elsewhere, in a very un-Adam Smithian⁠5 way, though, at times, even more invisibly than his invisible hand.⁠6 There are direct subsidies, and indirect ones: tax policy and giveaways; regulations, loans and price controls; federal funding for Research & Development, land, trees, and water; national security. 

Not including the past decades of government support of the original build of the coal and nuclear plants, and the road and railway systems, the oil/gas industry is currently 50% subsidized. In comparison, renewables get 20-30%, cord wood, zero; and nuclear energy 80% with the government, also known as taxpayers, paying for most of its insurance.

“When externalities are included, as in a 2015 study by the International Monetary Fund, the unpaid costs of fossil fuels are upward of $5.3 trillion annually — which works out to a staggering $10 million per minute.”⁠7

Roads have been and still are being paved (literally) for the fossil fuel industry . . . but it’s too expensive to change, right? It must be, given that even after G20 country governments signed their much touted agreements, they have continued to subsidize the production of fossil fuels to the tune of $444 billion a year, thereby undermining any attempts to stop the solar flare we call climate change.⁠8

Oh heck, let’s call it what it is: climate chaos.

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1 http://www.dblpartners.vc/documents/What-Would-Jefferson-Do-Final-Version.pdf?be761e

2 Petrochemical fertilizers are another name for the synthetic products because they are produced using large quantities of petroleum and other fossil fuels. Some common examples include ammonium nitrate, super phosphate and potassium sulfate; https://homeguides.sfgate.com/pro-cons-petrochemical-fertilizers-86254.html

3 “What would Jefferson Do?” by Nancy Pfund and Ben Healy, September 2011, page 28.

4 See http://secureenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Military-Cost-of-Defending-the-Global-Oil-Supply.-Sep.-18.-2018.pdf

5 Adam Smith is known as the father of capitalism.

6 This is Adam Smith’s theory that when people pursue their own self-interest, there are unintended consequences that benefit society as a whole.

7 http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/

8 http://priceofoil.org/2015/11/11/empty-promises-g20-subsidies-to-oil-gas-and-coal-production/

Off Grid? What’s That Mean?

Photo compliments of Carl

Different things to different people, for Carl and me, “off grid” means living in a normal house with flush toilets and showers but no dishwasher. The difference is, we get our power from the sun via solar panels, and have no wires connecting us to that inefficient, uneconomic thing called the national power grid. Thus the term “off grid”. On sunny, summer days, we get lots of power and try to think up ways to use it. The opposite of frugal. Because if we don’t use the power being generated by recharging our batteries, or doing laundry, or charging our electric vehicles, that power gets dumped into the ground. Shocking but true. Like running the faucet full blast while brushing one’s teeth. What a waste!

BUT! Just because we are off grid does not mean we are fossil fuel free. We have our solar array but, on days and weeks that the sun doesn’t shine, or does so minimally—think winter, or this soggy, white sock spring—we have our generator. It recharges our batteries that, in turn, run our electricity, and our back-up heating system when we go away and aren’t there to stoke the wood stove. Especially in winter, and when we have houseguests, (or did I mention this soggy, white sock spring?) we go over our electricity budget and our generator powers on. Representative of the devastation of pristine Canadian lands, and earthquakes in Oklahoma, Alabama and elsewhere, our generator destroys any vision of low carbon footprint that I might have held because it runs on propane, a.k.a. fracked gas. 

The fact is, there is little in our current life and infrastructure that the typical American can do to avoid fossil fuels and the consequent harm to the environment. Our buildings and transportation, agriculture and commercial industries, heating and cooling—all are based on coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy, with a smidgen of renewables tossed in. Are Carl and I delusional, thinking we might make a difference living off grid? Solar panels use precious resources. They take energy to produce and transport, and destroy the lands from whence they come. Ditto fancy electric vehicles. 

They are better than not. Our cars now run, for the most part, on the sun. And even if, and when, we charge them at a charging station? Where does that power come from? In New Hampshire, it’s likely nuclear. In Vermont, it’s more likely renewables. And so, ever on the edge of being precious, we make it a point to try to charge in Brattleboro. It takes on hour and twenty minutes to get a full charge. That’s enough time to walk to the co-op, shop, have a quick lunch, and walk back up that very steep hill, with groceries, but still—a full charge! Three hundred miles. We just have to plan, budget, and remember to plug in on sunny days. 

Carl and I are privileged to be early adopters. We are the guinea pigs of is-this-going-to-work? We are learning that good is better than perfect and that, even on cloudy days, our solar panels provide us with some power. We are learning to charge up the house batteries first, and then move on to the car batteries. Sometimes we use the 220 plug and, sometimes, the 110 because, even if we only charge during the day (because we’ll use up all our battery storage at night, otherwise) and even if the 110 only gives us 4-5 miles an hour, it’s something. We now know that every little bit helps, and that everyone might not be able to afford solar panels and electric vehicles but a lot of people out there make choices every day that make a difference. 

For example, Carl and I attended a NHSaves workshop and learned that, if you insulate your roof and take care of leaks in your basement, you’ll save a lot of the energy that you thought was going out the windows. Check out NHSaves.com. You’ll find all sorts of ways to spend money in order to save money. Rebates, energy audits and weatherization programs. And then there are all the actions you hear about that it’s just a matter of doing. Take that first step and walk or bike, instead of driving. (I know, easier in a city than the country, and so read on!) Eat a more plant-based diet. Compost. Reuse, repurpose, recycle. And call your representatives on the local, state and national level and demand the transition to a resilient and sustainable infrastructure because we have the technologies. We have only to use them. If we get our town, state and national government on board, it will be that much easier for more of us—and it is us, not them—to get off our fossil fuel addiction and find alternative ways of being. 

Energy 104: The Politics of Energy

Fossil fuels or renewables? Is energy access a right or a privilege? Is it a service or a commodity? Is the sourcing, development and distribution of energy a social justice issue? Do we celebrate if we’re old, and apologize to youth because we’ve screwed them? Who really is in charge and who’s paying attention? Who cares because the bottomline is how much is it going to cost? And what, exactly, do we mean by cost? 

Mind-bending but true, in our contemplation of energy, we need, too, to consider politics and economics. Because, however much we wring our hands and moan “what is to be done?”, the only relevant question in our capitalistic society is this: Is it cost effective to save the world? 

The answer is complicated. 

For example, some of us might wonder why coal remains the dirtiest-energy-but-onward-we-go. Historically, coal has been a primary form of electricity generation in the U.S. of A.⁠1. Only recently (2008) has natural gas surpassed it. Still, coal generates 30% of our electric power supply in the U.S.. It might be steadily heading down the path of obsolescence but, if it’s so terrible, why is it taking so long to go away? 

I’d like to say it’s compassion for all the people whose lives depend on that industry. Coal mining is their livelihood and has been for generations, if only because the corporations have set up a mono-culture and semi-servitude for the people who work those twelve hours shifts of backbreaking work deep in the bowels of the earth, mining coal so that thee and me can turn on our lights.⁠2 It might be polluting the air, soil and water, ravaging the earth’s contours, increasing carbon emissions, and causing major health issues (from cancers to pulmonary diseases to asthma, to death by accidents) but our coalminers need jobs. They need food. They need a roof over their heads. And, in a perfect world, health care, education and the ability to pursue their personal definition of happiness. If we kibosh the coal industry, what happens to all our coalminers, their families, their pension and retirement funds? Thus, prior to closing the mines, and leaving entire towns decimated, we are moving slowly, retraining our coalminers, providing them with alternative job options so they can support their families.

. . . No, we aren’t. We aren’t doing that. It’s not compassion. The reason coal is still in any way feasible, and therefore not going away, is because our tax dollars are subsidizing coal companies, some of which are publicly owned. It is incumbent on publicly owned companies to put their shareholders’ best interests (profits) ahead of things like the health and the best interests of their employees and/or the environment. More money, money, money. Not people. It’s the law.⁠3

Too, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is selling leases to tracts of publicly owned land to companies like Peabody and Arch Coal. Because coal is being supplanted in the U.S. by “cleaner” fuels, like fracked natural gas, the coal is to be shipped overseas to developing countries. When all that mineable coal is mined—destroying swathes of nature’s infrastructure—and then burned, it will contribute 3.9 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. In other words, U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing coal companies who (sic) are profiting by mining publicly owned lands, degrading the environment and further accelerating climate change.⁠4 And we Americans don’t get the coal, nor its profits. And now that coal mining is “uneconomic”, those companies are asking for respite from their loan debts (royalty fees). And our government is giving it to them.⁠5 And, in the deal, taxpayers will be losing revenue, too, because this is public land.

And then there’s the infrastructure. The mines. The railroads. The retirement funds. It’s already there, dirty or not. We, taxpayers, helped to build it over the course of decades. It’s an integral part of our current energy infrastructure. Imagine the cost of starting over, basing our future on who knows what form of energy. We have to keep going on the path we are on because it’s too expensive to do otherwise. Right?

Energy, its production and distribution is complicated because it involves the environment, economics, politics and human lives. News these days simplifies things down to “them” and “us”. But remember the web—not www. but of life? We’re all us and all them. It is time to start understanding the true cost of our fossil-fueled path, include all the costs, in order to make an informed decision on our future. And we have to do this rather quickly. And. please, let’s not leave the coalminers behind. They, too, need to see a light at the end of this tunnel.

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1 https://www.eesi.org/topics/fossil-fuels/description

2 Please take the time to read through this blog: https://thethoughtfulcoalminer.com

3 B Corps, on the other hand, “are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.” www.bcorporation.net

4 https://grist.org/coal/why-are-u-s-taxpayers-subsidizing-coal-mining/

5 http://www.digitaljournal.com/business/utah-coal-company-seeks-relief-from-federal-lease-payments/article/516932

This Is Not What I Intended.

What’s so interesting about these troubled times is how ignorable the whole “we are totally screwed” concept is in our daily lives. I write a post about OMG-we-have-got-to-do-something-immediately—and then go about my day. Sure, simmering in the background is fear. Depression. Anxiety. But hey! I have a broody hen to contend with. Her determined fluffiness and scolding, her throaty call for her nonexistent chicks, the life-giving heat of her body, the warmth of the eggs as I take them from beneath her, thereby stealing her life’s purpose. It is my human will against a chicken’s. Nature. Who do you think will win?

Do you agree that thinking about chickens is more pleasant than thinking about the demise of our earth? That’s probably why I suggested to Carl that we let Flopsie keep an egg or two. He pointed out our notorious roo to pullet hatch ratio (3 to 1). I considered his argument, and adapted mine. Thus, while picking up organic chicken pellets and pine shavings at Agway, and after staring lovingly into the large, silver-colored bucket full of peeps and quacks, I suggested we slip a couple of ducklings under Flopsie. Carl didn’t even pause to look. 

It’s not that he’s a brute. He only knows from experience that it might be springtime now but winter will be back and then, just as the temperatures plummet and the snow begins to fly, we will be out in the coop, jury-rigging a nice duck pond for the grown up ducks who would be producing—assuming ducks have a better boy to girl ratio than chickens—beautiful, big eggs, and a lot of slippery poo. 

Thus, I am the brute. Upon returning from Agway, I went out to the coop and pulled Flopsie off the nest. The egg she had been carefully tending was under her wing. It fell and broke, to both the hen’s and my heartache. She flapped and fluffed and squawked. Schude came running to her defense. I closed off the nesting boxes. Schtude attacked the horrid, two-legged creature who was defying the most natural of occurrences in a hen: mothering. And I claim to respect nature! He tossed his head in a vain attempt to get his feathery headdress out of his eyes, and returned his attentions to the distraught Flopsie, who wanted nothing to do with him. She wanted an egg.

It’s all about mourning, and the will to survive. My 16-year old cat Nora is a rail relative to her past plump self. She is deaf. She sleeps an inordinate amount of time, even for her. She yowls. But when I rush to her? She raises her fluffy tail, purrs her heartwarming purr, and leans against me to be petted. She is fine! She will live forever! I allow her to delude me because the option is too painful to consider. So, too, Mother Nature. No worries! Mother Nature can take care of herself.

Very true, and she is. She is heating up just like the human body when it has a virus. The heat kills, and then life, if there still is life, proceeds. That’s where we humans are miscalculating. If we, as a species, want to survive, we need a complete and immediate shift in perspective and action. We can do it. We need only the will.

That brings to my mind a fascinating book: Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom. In it, he studies the four issues that we, humans, fear: Death. Existential Isolation. Meaninglessness. And freedom a.k.a. responsibility and willing. . .. How terrifying a thought: to take responsibility for our past actions, and to will our future ones.

But this was so not what I was going to write about. Isn’t that just like life? We might have the best of intentions, and suddenly, here we are, wondering how the heck we are going to get ourselves out of this sticky situation. 

Maybe if everyone moved to the country, and learned how to grow their own food, and adopted chickens, and lived off-grid. Would that make the difference?

The short answer: no. Because part of the problem—and the answer to this conundrum called climate chaos—because that’s what’s coming if we don’t prepare—is that humans don’t come from a cookie cutter. We each have our own role to play. Carl and I are testing out the move-to-the-country-adopt-chickens-and-live-off-grid option. Will it make a difference? And what does it mean, off-grid living. 

But that is for next Tuesday. And this Friday? The Politics of Energy.

In the meantime, I’m going to call Governor Sununu’s office and see if he believes in things climate chaos yet. And that I hope he will support the climate and clean energy bills that are coming to his desk. And that I am going to hold him accountable for how he uses he veto pen in the next weeks.   603-271-2121

Update: I spoke to Rhonda. Note to self: Don’t start off with the question about belief and climate chaos. It’s too aggressive, and off-putting. Rhonda stopped listening, and the point is to be heard.

Energy 103: Demand Response and Solar Flares

The grid is an edgy basket to put all your eggs into, though we do, thanks to our ever burgeoning, bigger-is-better attitude and economy. We, Americans, need our power when we want it. Not only is that expensive, but it’s risky because the grid isn’t as elastic as it needs to be, given its uneconomic, inefficient infrastructure. (See ENERGY 102: Energy in the U.S. of A..) It’s wobbly, too.

One rule of thumb that is important to know: electricity supply and demand have to remain in balance or disruptions happen. In the U.S. of A., things usually chug along. The utility companies work to supply us with power, thereby responding to our demands. To keep those demands in check, the utility companies charge us more during peak times. Even so, on really hot days, or cold, demand surges and the utility companies have to juggle where to get enough power, at full throttle. This is like asking one’s great-grandfather to jump up from his leisurely breakfast table and run a marathon. The Grid is old and creaky. Power surges are a challenge. The recent deep freeze in the midwest being an excellent example. Utility companies had to plead with customers to turn down their thermostats. The Grid was having trouble meeting the demand. There was a very real possibility that the demand would outpace the response and the whole system would collapse. Especially after a fire broke out at a natural gas compressor station. Which it did do.

People turned down their thermostats. Still, some people lost power. Brr.

Far preferable a circumstance is a planned reaction. Just as we are learning about energy in order to choose how we will go forward, so the U.S. government developed a “National Action Plan on Demand Response”.⁠1 Demand response reduces or shifts energy demands at all levels of the grid, from electric system planners and operators to customers, so utilities can better juggle supply with demand, and lower the necessity of building more and expensive power generators. (Think coal plants and nuclear reactors.) Demand response programs offer customers the opportunity to lower the cost of their electricity by not using as much during peak times. The utilities send prompts to customers, or the equipment at the customers’ location, and they, in response, turn off their air conditioners and water heaters, and unplug their electric vehicles. The customer pays less. The utilities are better able to cover the electric demand without stressing the grid. The grid doesn’t collapse. Everyone is happy.

Grid collapse is an ugly scenario. The U.S. military considers it a national security issue, right up there with solar flares.

Solar flares, if you don’t know, are sudden eruptions of energy on the sun. Intense yellow, orange and red explosions of magnetic energy that, at times, break off and rocket into space. Sometimes those bounding balls of energy head toward earth. It takes eight minutes for them to reach us. And when they get here? They cause geomagnetic storms in the stratosphere above us. 

Solar flares won’t hurt us. Not directly. They do, however, have the potential to wreck havoc on the grid. The U.S. military is more worried about solar flares’ effects on the grid than a terrorist attack on the grid because there’s a 12 1/2 % chance that one will hit us and take out the entire grid for an extended period of time. And we won’t be able to fix the grid because all the fix-the-grid tools depend on the grid, and the communication system it runs, to work. Within two weeks of the grid going down, 1.3 million people could die due to hospitals being crippled without electricity, lack of clean water and food, withdrawal from cell phone access to Instagram, Twitter and your bank account. It would take out our economy. 

Energy is a national security issue. Think demand response. Think solar flares. Thus, it is important to understand how it all works: so we can know our options . . . and there are options.

Did you call your national representatives? Now try calling your state reps with the same message: You care about things climate, and that we need to start now to create a resilient infrastructure. Why wouldn’t we? Of which more in next week’s Friday post: The Politics of Energy.

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1 https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/oeprod/DocumentsandMedia/FERC_NAPDR_-_final.pdf

What I Did Do and What Might You Do.

Sometimes, when overwhelmed by the energy that swirls about, the hyperactive doing, the sense of not enough time, I think of the Laws of Thermodynamics. I wonder if that’s why everything feels so out of control these days: all the energy that used to be stored (in the earth,) has been freed by us, and now it gyrates and spirals, more and more, with every tank of gas, every lightbulb, energy whirling toward chaos. A sense of low grade panic seems to be part of every day life. 

The discomfort of heart palpitations ticked up yesterday when I read this article:

https://truthout.org/articles/the-last-time-there-was-this-much-co2-trees-grew-at-the-south-pole/

I did not get too far into it before I knew what I had to do because panic is unhealthy. As has been previously stated, it can kill. And so, to regain a sense of control and empowerment, I acted. I called my senators to ask what they are doing to effect change in regard to climate change. 

The responses of the young women who answered my calls were measured and by the book. They both suggested that I go to their boss’s website and read the press releases on the topic of my concern. My response to their response? I believe it’s called sympathetic, also referred to as the “fight or flight” response. My “Really?” hit a high squeak that is not in my usual vocal range.

 I took a deep breath. 

*I told myself my senators, and the young women answering the phones for them, have to deal with a lot of different issues, and different opinions. They are trying.

But business as usual is not going to effect the necessary changes, nor bring back all the species that have already gone extinct. That’s the heartbreak. I took a moment to mourn.

*I thought about the Green New Deal, that road plan that might, or might not, be given the chance to pave (with permeable concrete pavers!) the way to a new economy and lifestyle. And that this is our bright and shiny moment as humans. It’s a better and bigger opportunity than World War II to let our true selves shine—to do whatever it takes, however small, to make a difference. And like World War II, it seems to be an impossible task.

I noted that it is impossible, unless each and every one of us takes a first step toward change. No exceptions. 

But what of all those climate deniers? They won’t change. They’ll sneer and scoff and shake their head at my lily white, privileged, liberal to progressive naïveté.

But here’s something: In the next posts on energy, you’ll see that they, too, will start paying attention, because it is entirely uneconomic not to. They already are. The necessary changes are already happening. The only question is, will enough people take the first step?

Step one: Set your micromanaging self free. Go out and buy a power strip if you can. Tonight, after dark, go for a walk through your home. Look for the green and red lights that glow 24/7. Your television. Your stove clock. Your microwave. Your washer. The lights you forgot to turn off. Begin tonight to make a habit of unplugging them when they aren’t in use—or plug them into the power strip. Every night before you go to bed, turn off the power strip. 

Replace your bedside electric clock with your cell phone.

When you get your next energy bill, see if  those changes made a difference.

Step two: Go to the website www.drawdown.org. There you will realize a most comforting thing: we have the answers. 

Step 3: Call your Congress people and request that they get busy or busier, or thank them for doing what they are doing about climate change. Mention that they, too, can go to the Drawdown website for ideas. Whatever you do, make it clear that you care about climate change, and that you vote. (Do you vote? Step 4: Go register.) 

When I lived in Rhode Island, I could look to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Every week, for years, he has given a “Time to Wake Up” speech. Here’s one he gave in 2017 about the politics of Climate Change. Citizens United: Demo-n-Captialism at work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=176&v=nPew-_8HdhI

Next post: Demand Response & Solar Flares.

Energy 102: Energy in the U.S. of A.: Definitions and Infrastructure

 

Do you know how energy works in the U.S. of A.? A lot of people at all levels of society don’t. That is a problem. How can we deal with the energy side of climate change if we don’t understand the problem, or even the right terms to use? We need facts, not opinions. Facts like:

*Energy is the biggest part of our economy, barring our medical and healthcare system. 

*Our economy and daily lives depend on the energy infrastructure we call the grid.

*The grid is a tenuous network that, at times, is unable to supply us with enough power.

*Energy and power are not interchangeable terms. Before we go any farther, we have to get down the terms.

“Energy” is the thing itself. “Power” is the rate at which energy moves. Or, to put it another way, power is energy plus time, as in a car has a lot of power. 

When you see “kW”, that is a kilowatt which is equal to one thousand watts. “kWh” signifies a kilowatt hour. If you leave on a one hundred watt lightbulb for ten hours, you have used one thousand watt hours, or one kWh.

Usually used to express electricity, kWs are units of power. So are British thermal units or BTUs, but BTUs refer to heat. A BTU is the energy it takes to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. One BTU/hr is a British thermal unit per hour. If you have ten BTU/hr, that would be the quantity of power that would heat ten pounds of water one degree, or one pound of water ten degrees, over the course of one hour. Though BTUs are commonly used for heat and are derived from heat, they can be used to express any energy, including electricity. 

Just as “liters” express units of water, kWs and BTUs express units of energy. The rate at which you pour the water into a pipe is a watt. And the size of the pipe is the voltage. Sort of. 

According to the EIA.gov website,⁠1 there are five primary energy consuming sectors: Electric power (38.1%); Transportation (28.8%); Industrial (22.4%);  Residential (6.2%); and Commercial (4.5%). These five sectors depend on the electrical infrastructure that has been built, in ad hoc fashion, over decades: the national grid.

The grid began small. As each town, then city, or isolated human, moved in, and then out, and farther out into the suburbs and across the country, the wires that connect us followed. We now have a system that connects us in such a way that, at times, when you flick a switch in my town of Jaffrey, the response might take place in Quebec or Rochester. The electricity that turns on your light has traveled hundreds of miles. That is not efficient. 

Even locally, the grid has wires going every which way, not least, way off into the hinterlands of country living. Though the utilities have to provide customers with the means to get power, it is more expensive for the utilities to run those wires and run the electricity through those wires, than the amount they can charge customers for the power. Not good economics. 

More definitions: Power generators produce electricity, then sell it on the wholesale market. Electricity providers purchase the rights to that electricity at wholesale, and then turn around and sell it to their customers, who can decide on fixed rate, variable rates, 100% green options. Electric utilities deal with the physical movement of electricity from the generators to the customers: they maintain the wires and poles, thereby enabling the energy that has been harnessed by the power generators, and bought by providers, to go through wires maintained by the utilities, to your house, a process that is noted by the electric utilities because they need to collect the delivery charges, which are duly regulated by the state public utility commission (PUC).  The theory is that by separating providers and utilities, the customer is able to shop for competitive rates and still receive reliable service.

Eversource Energy is an energy provider. And a utility. Hm.

It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. And it’s a complicated system with a lot of entities involved, not least, the customers.

Please feel free to comment and correct! 

anImage_5.tiff

1 United States Energy Information Administration

Interstices

Are these energy articles worth our while? I’m not sure. Rather, it will be a case of the blind leading the blind because I don’t know “energy” any more than the next person.

Or maybe I do. Because, in the years since moving from Rhode Island to New Hampshire to live off-grid at Darwin’s View, my perspective on energy has shifted, as it did when Carl and I bought our EV Leaf in 2012.

The cutting edge of electric vehicles at the time, the Leaf requires an off-grid mentality of limited resources, not abundance. Just as I have learned to turn off the lights when I leave a room and not to use a hair dryer, just so the Leaf requires a certain mind set: Planning. It is remarkably like budgeting. We must ask ourselves how far are we driving? Why? Is it a necessary trip?

And, stunning but true: Carl drives slower in the Leaf because driving fast takes up more electric charge. He takes it as a challenge to keep track of how much less energy he uses on each trip. 

For my part, I drive slower because it’s incredibly satisfying to grow more of those trees that appear on the dashboard when I drive carefully.

Due to its lowering battery life, our Leaf can go eighty miles on a full charge. That means eighty is the number of miles we have to get to where we are going, and back again. On a seventy degree day. No hills. With the windows closed, and no heat or cooling. And the whole time, we feel like we’re in a Star Trek vehicle. The quiet whirr of the electric motor. Sh! You slide past the gas stations, feeling oh, so oil free. And the car has an adorable thing called “turtle mode”. A little turtle joins the trees on the dashboard when the car is on its last gasp of power. The turtle appears just after the red, blinking lights begin, and the sultry car voice announces that the car “will not reach its destination please head immediately to the nearest charging station,” which is usually farther away than one’s destination. And then the car slows waaaaaaay down. Just like a turtle.

And so, driving the Leaf is, at times, like a cross-country train ride: it’s about the adventure, not the arrival. So is living off-grid on top of a windy hill in times of climate disruption. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Frightening. Sobering. Life at Darwin’s View: a study of change and transition because Carl and I might live off-grid but, still, on some days, our propane-powered generator charges into action. 

And so, maybe my experiences here will become the interstices between these energy articles, exhibiting some of the possible answers to the bedeviling issues we face. Or maybe the energy articles will be the interstices between those I write about what we are doing at Darwin’s View. Maybe, with time, the two will become one. We are all, after all, just energy.

Much as we love our Leaf, it’s rather a sad rendition compared to the cars coming out these days that can go two and three hundred miles on a charge. But here’s a secret: I prefer our Leaf for exactly that reason. It doesn’t fool us into thinking we can go farther, faster. Which is a lesson we, Americans, must learn. Bigger is not better. More and more and more money is not life’s purpose. And being often makes more sense than doing as energy swirls around us, and our world rockets through the universe, and ever in the background, that aching question: will we save her?

Friday’s post will be Energy 102: Energy in the U.S. Of A. Definitions and Infrastructure.

 IN WHICH IT IS NO LONGER A CASE OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, BUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO.” PAUL GILDING, THE GREAT DISRUPTION

Energy 101: Introduction

From www.wattsupwiththat.com

Apparently, we are in trouble: Icebergs melting. Waters rising. Species dying. The last five years, the hottest ever recorded.⁠1  These are facts, not conspiracies, and I see the hand-wringing of people—myself included—who want to do something to stop our sprint to extinction. We know that this environmental devastation is due, at least in part, to human activity, and that we, Americans, have the potential to make an enormous difference in dealing with it. Our actions matter. We’re not acting. Why?

That question could take us in myriad directions. We could delve into the psychology of fear, a primal reaction to danger that causes adrenaline to course through the body. Extreme fear, called panic, can kill because it shuts down more rational reactions, like thinking, and action. 

Or we could consider the learned helplessness and disempowerment that has been encouraged by the demo-n-capitalist society in which we live: Bigger is better. You can’t be too rich. Profits prioritized over people, and corporations rule our politicians, so why bother to vote? Go shopping, instead, because there is (arguably) nothing one person can do to make a difference.

Or we can study energy. Energy is complicated. There are so many different kinds of it—kinetic, potential, thermal, electrical. Our labyrinthine lives in 21st century America depend on the convenience and reliability of energy, in the form of fossil fuels, the extraction and use of which is one of the causes of our heating world. What built this country is also its Achilles heel, and do we even know how it came to be? How it works? What will happen when it runs out? Which it is going to. Fact, not conspiracy.⁠2

Convenience rocks. Change is hard. We are complicit in our environmental free-fall because we all partake of the fossil-fueled system. If we want to make a difference, we have to change. But in order to change, we have to know the facts, and our options. So let’s educate ourselves on the thing that keeps us alive and connected: Energy. That simple, elegant and overwhelming aspect of life that is us, that connects us, that runs life as we know it in the United States of America. 

Or not. We can opt to do nothing and watch the droughts and floods, the fires and mass extinctions but the spectator seats aren’t comfortable because deep inside we know this: If we leave others to sink under the rising tides, we lose what we claim puts us above other animals: our humanity. Too, who will be left to help us, and why would they? 

1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/02/06/undeniable-warming-planets-hottest-five-years-record-five-images/?utm_term=.2561f982839e

2 Fossil fuels are considered finite because they were formed of organic material over millions of years. Millions more years will be required to make more. Thus, for our intents and purposes, they are finite. In 2014, British Petroleum said that in fifty years, reserves will run out.

Ideas Popping Like Popcorn . . .

Bicycles. This is an interesting article on bicycles that might solve a number of problems in a small town like Jaffrey, or a bigger one like Providence. Maybe only in spring, summer and fall. But the infrastructure built to accommodate bicycles might adapt to winter, too. We would just have to think a bit deeper.

https://www.motherearthnews.com/green-transportation/bicycling/growing-importance-bicycle-infrastructure-ze0z1412zhur

What problems, you ask? Parking. Traffic. Obesity and other health issues. Pollution.

But, please, read the article and contemplate the issue yourself. I’d love to get a conversation going about things climate change and the options we have to deal with it, not least bicycles.

Going forward, on Fridays, I will post my Stone Age Redux articles, an alternative to the current path we are on, the one that’s so familiar, so convenient, so inevitably leading us over the climate cliff.

No doubt, I will expose my own version of cognitive dissonance, and starry-eyed willful blindness. Feel free to point them out. Please join in with your own. I’d love to hear from you.

Article to Read!

This is an interesting read on the cognitive dissonance we all live with. I might add that there is a lot of construction and buying of big, expensive buildings on and around the island of Manhattan . . ..

https://popula.com/2019/04/02/heaven-or-high-water/?te=1&nl=morning-briefing&emc=edit_NN_p_20190409&section=whatElse

Missed Opportunities

I’m trying to get a foothold back into the blogosphere, and have been for months. Dozens of attempts fill up a document folder titled “Possible Posts”, and each beginning has a paragraph, or a series of sentences, none of which got finished. Missed opportunities to connect on topics that range from rental goats and possible goat adoption, to heritage breed chickens, broody hens and chicken deaths, and on to a debate about the necessity of winter prep for our resident frogs. (We didn’t, and recently scooped out four corpses from the pond-pool; lesson learned but at such a cost . . ..) The last was about book writing. After fifteen drafts, I have finished At Crossroads with Chickens and now face the daunting process of seeking agents and a publisher, and then publishing, and it’s far easier to write.

(That is a lie. Rather, choosing to write is my choice and, therefore, within my power. I have no control of agents and publishers who might, or might not like, or even read, what I send them.)

When in the final throes and pages of At Crossroads with Chickens, I began a series of articles on energy with an aim to raise awareness about the true costs of fossil fuels, and educate myself and whoever read the articles, on how energy works in the U.S. of A.. Easier said the done. The articles had the wrong tone, from too “lite” to too pedantic. And where to begin when energy in our lives is so far reaching, and each fact requires pages of supporting evidence because ever in the background are the doubters, the deniers, the giver-uppers, and too-laters? So much background noise on top of the cognitive dissonance of the world is ending but isn’t it a beautiful day?

Note to self: The world is not ending, it’s just that Mother Nature, not Homo s.sapiens, will bat last. The world as we knew it, though, is long gone. Coming up is the world without us, and just what will that look like?

That is where I draw my line in the sand. Here. I want to make the world a little bit better. I am done with the question “Is there climate change?” Because the answer is a resounding yes, and it is human caused and more aptly described as climate chaos. We are at ground zero. And, as Derrick Jensen says in his article “Nothing Else Matters” . . . nothing else matters.

Except, perhaps, tone. Tone matters. If I get too dark, people will get depressed and overwhelmed. That brings to mind a conversation I had with a local dairy farmer. A cheerful, kind fellow who spends time with his cows because they have so much to teach him, he smiled when we got on the topic of things climate, Big Ag, soil  health and pesticides. He laughed and said that, when he first started  in organic and biodynamic farming, he was radical. It was his way or the highway but with time, he calmed down, and adopted a live-and-let-live attitude. After all, it takes all kinds. But now—and here his voice hardened, his jaw tightened, his expression became intent and serious—now he is back to militant because who will protect, nurture and heal the earth and its sentient creatures if he doesn’t? 

I’m with him. I can’t control other people, and yes, the situation is absolutely and undeniably overwhelming. And no one person can save the world. But each of us has his, her or their personal being with which they can change the world. Think energy. Think electrons connecting us to everything around us. Our actions make a difference. What we bring to the table, each of us, is our own unique being. That’s all. That’s everything.

Change a lightbulb, and turn out the lights when you leave a room. It matters.

Walk, don’t drive. It matters. 

Hang your laundry, don’t use a dryer. It matters (and will lower your electric bill, too.)

Eat less meat, and try for happy meat. It matters (especially for those sentient animals living in CAFOs).

Call your legislators and tell them climate change matters. Talk to your neighbors and create connections because they are who you are going to need when things get tough.

And they will need you.

Whatever you do, don’t do nothing, because there is no perfect, no single answer, and everyone of us is accountable. We have the chance to save the world. Don’t miss this opportunity.

Only time will tell if it’s easier than finding a publisher.

A Book and What’s Next.

What used to be my Darwin’s View 2012-2014 blog is now a 211- page book. It took a lot longer than I thought it would. Deletions and additions, pages of them, came and went. So did quotes and footnotes, and my tirades against America’s Demo-n-capitalism and the inertia of Home s. sapiens in regard to climate change, CAFOs and the poisoning of our soils with leftover poisons from war. Each draft—all fifteen of them—has been a peeling off, development and deepening of the themes of chickens, my mother & Mother Nature, and home. These changes were exemplified by my title tweaking. What began as Darwin’s View One Breath After Midnight morphed into Darwin’s View: A Journey to the Heart’s Core with the Double Assist of Chickens to Off-grid with the Double Assist of Chickens  . . . Off-grid with Chickens: Growing Chaos, Healing Soil, Sowing Hope . . .. In every draft, with every new title, themes braided, morphed, evolved, even as I did.

The final edit was the most eye-opening and, believe me, I would never have done it alone. In 2015, I took a memoir workshop with Ann Hood (The Italian Wife, Obituary Writer, The Knitting Circle, etc.). Months later, I asked her to read a draft, and then another. Finally, I sent her the three hundred page Draft Fourteen. Her suggestions consisted of cutting a chapter here, a chapter there, all told nearly one hundred pages.

The first seventy pages of cuts made absolute sense. But not the chapter on music! Not the one about my father in Hamburg! But as I read how the book flowed . . . I cut. And again. Those final cuts clarified the book as a cook does butter, removing the excess foam. What’s left? At Crossroads with Chickens: A “What if it works?” Adventure in Off-grid Living, and Quest for Home

It’s not the book I thought it would be. It won’t save the world. But I hope it will add what I believe the world needs: more love, compassion and soul work.

And now? I am working on articles on energy. Ideas for a play, a children’s book, another novel, another non-fiction book percolate. And then Carl and I have a plan up our sleeves. We will know in a week or two if it’s a go.

And, of course, there’s Darwin’s View and the chickens. Spring threatens floods and slurry. The chickens race outdoors to muddy their feet and exercise their wings. The young farmer who helps us will be back soon to help with all things permaculture and plantings. And then there’s the question of goats, and the writing of query letters in hopes of finding a publisher. 

More Chicken Rules!

MORE CHICKEN RULES

We are in the midst here at Darwin’s View, moving the chicken coop and bus stop from their winter position—that we thought would be permanent—to where we hope will be their new and, yes, permanent home to the north of the annual garden area. You might ask, “Will this be the thirteenth or fourteenth coop rendition since you adopted the chickens in 2012?” Or, as likely, you might look at us askance and say, “Why, for pity’s sake, are you moving them again?”

Winter lesson: It might be convenient to have the chickens nearby for those arctic winter treks to water and feed them but the amount of chicken feathers, dander and manure that has been tracked into the house is fantastic. I have reached my limit of gross. The alacrity with which Carl agreed and proceeded to move all things coop and bus stop run from the household/human area affirms that he, too, has reached his limit. Thus, the chickens are back across the driveway where they used to live prior to last fall’s winter move. The hiccup being, they are not in a fully Fort Knoxian situation. In the return process, the old coop made way for the quonset hut coop, and the old runs were dragged up and behind the solar panels, next to the water catchment pond, there to await repurposing. At least, that was our plan. Mother Nature had other ideas and destroyed them during last week’s windstorm.  The remnants of the run dot the landscape.

Further exposing our disheveled state? Two of our three geriatric (at age six) hens are sick. Ping—one of our original chicks—and Chickadee—an adoptee that same year. Both hens sit with their tails hanging down, in part, perhaps, embarrassed by their dirty bottoms. Chickadee in particular. This winter I suspected she had arthritis, the way she limped, exuding discomfort whenever she moved. She used to be a weighty hen but is now boney and light when I pick her up. Which I do only rarely. I don’t want to disturb her when she stands still, eyes half closed. She has been “off” for at least as long as Brownie was sick. 

Did I not mention that we lost the last of our devilish triplets last month? I still don’t know why but Brownie started down the hill of non-recovery and got a mite infestation. Mites won’t kill a healthy hen but they will definitely take out an unhealthy one. All my efforts to help Brownie—Epsom salt baths and blow drying her feathers; assisting with dust baths; spraying the environs with various anti-mite natural sprays because the insecticide warnings sounded more deadly to us than to the mites; hovering and worrying. Nothing helped. In fact, I think I made things worse for the little hen when I attempted that second dust bath of wood ash, dirt and diatomaceous earth. Both of us were coughing by the end of it.  I didn’t know what to do, who to turn to, until I stepped out one morning to see Brownie squatted down, feathers matted and mites crawling over her shut eyes. Yet still breathing, she was the epitome of abject misery and resignation. I called for Carl. He took her to the chop block. 

There is something quite final about a headless chicken. After weeks of anxious thinking about her, trying to save her, abruptly, there’s no hope. Only the hovering question why am I doing this? I’m no steward, nor farmer. I should rehome them all to someone who knows what they are doing.

Meanwhile, two more sick hens with dirty butts. What to do? Cleanliness is key. I prepared to give the sick girls baths. 

Epsom salts. Three buckets of warm water. Medical gloves. An extra layer of clothing. I walked over to the new coop area where Schtude was prancing about, overseeing his four sisters who were merrily pecked. CooLots and Apricot, too. Ping and Chickadee were sitting under the coop looking . . . meh. I donned the gloves, picked up Chickadee and took her to the bathing area. The buckets weren’t really big enough for her, and was the water too cool or too warm? Was it uncomfortable having me loosen those cling-ons? I removed her from the first, now filthy bucket of water, and plunk into the second bucket went her bum. She was not a happy teabag. A brief struggle. Not done with her cleaning, yet I let her go. I didn’t want to stress her anymore than she already was by Schtude, who harasses anything that moves, jumping up on even his sick coop mates, and attacking my muck boots with me in them.

Dumping the buckets, washing them out, refilling them with warm water, I then proceeded to Ping. I picked her up and settled her down into the first bucket. She kept up a steady conversation. Our Dominque is a sweet, chatty girl. With her rose comb and curious nature, she is my long-time favorite. I have neglected her all winter in favor of the new girls who are so aggressively friendly that it’s hard to make one’s way to the more retiring older hens. If only because there is Schtude, ever scuttling about, sending warnings, eyeing me with suspicion. I paid him no heed, holding onto the soft, downy Ping with both hands in the bucket, tidying her bottom until Bam! My head was knocked by a very hard kerfuffle of feathers. My eyeglasses went flying. So did Ping. I covered my head with my arms, closed my eyes. A very bad headache. Was that blood trickling down my cheek? I shouted for Carl. A deep ache on either side of my head, breathless from shock, and the damned rooster still making feints at me. 

“Carl!” 

He came running.

For the record, cocks have claws, and then there are the hook-like spurs an inch or two above the claws. Whereas Big Red, all those years ago, had very long spurs, Schtude’s are rather short and stubby. Luckily. I only have bruises on both temples, a bit of broken skin, a post migraine-style headache, and a slightly blurry right eye with an extra floater.

Much as I’d like to blame Schtude, it was my fault. Like many roosters, he doesn’t like my attentions to his hens. And when I think back to that moment, he was there dancing about, a yellow feathery blur, clucking and scolding. But I felt more concern for my sick hen than to the antics of that dastardly cock. He was right there in front of me, warning me. I didn’t take note. And so he attacked. 

I took a couple of hours to recover but I figured getting attacked by an overzealous cock is like getting thrown by a horse: it’s important to get back out, not be dominated by a yellow feather of attitude. He came at me. We spent a minute, each trying to get the upper hand, or wing as the case may be. Eventually, I succeeded in grabbing him.

I believe it is highly insulting to a roo to be held, embarrassing to be humbled in front of his hens. I told him to suck it up and deal because I am bigger than he is, however formidable he might seem to the terrorized hens. And then I apologized for the stress of the coop move. The upset of his two hens being dunked. I forgave him his brutality while giving him a long tour of what would be the new chicken area if ever we have time to get to it, and then I set him down. He scuttled off. Just out of reach, he paused to let out a mighty cock-a-doodle-do. I thought about rules and how, according to my rules, all was forgiven. We had reached an understanding, made peace. But, by now, I know Roo Rules are different. When I look out my office window, I watch him and know he is planning his revenge.

And I ask you: Do I rehome him? Do I send Chickadee and Ping to the chop block and rehome the Suffragettes and Squeaky and Swallow, CooLots and Apricot? Or do I do like a rooster and shout out against the wind and nature, “Damn the torpedoes! Hope springs eternal! I’m going to adopt more chickens!” And maybe some guinea fowl to eat the burgeoning population of ticks. Ducklings to eat slugs and be generally cute. But not goats. Those we will rent. In early June. Twelve of them will come with a dog and a shelter and their very own electric fence. . ..

 

Now What?

A few weeks ago, I finished the twelfth draft of my memoir about life here at Darwin’s View, off-grid with chickens. Since then, I have been scrambling to get caught up with myself and everything else that fell by the wayside, not least, the book summaries I said I’d write and haven’t. What was I thinking, giving myself that task? Each morning, I sit down to write. I pick up one or another of the books I’ve read . . . and I’d rather tidy a hen’s pasty butt until it’s back to fluff and order. And so, instead of pumping out reviews, I have organized my flute music. And moved around my office furniture. With Carl, I have gathered up our taxes and reconciled our accounts. And lots of phone calls and texts and emails. I signed off of that time suck Facebook. What a relief! Now I have more time . . . to write the dratted reviews that are like disassembled skeletons. Even once they are put together, they’ll need flesh and blood to make them worth reading. And ever in the background, the question that ends my memoir and jumpstarts this blog going forward: Now what?

Adopting oxen was my first, if temporary, response to that question. Mentioned to us by a new friend, Jesse and James are described as gentle giants, hand-raised from birth, a working team who pull timber . . . and are quite amorous toward their new and petite Devon cattle sisters. Thus, they need a new home, and I thought, why not here at Darwin’s View?

I must have said that aloud because Carl promptly counted out the reasons why not. 

“We have no barn.”

“Oh details,” I replied, and waved a hand in the general direction of outside. “We can build one.” 

Carl countered with the obvious fact that cats and chickens challenge my limits. Oxen are enormous and they have horns. And, before I could respond, he suggested we start with something more our size. A dog. I took the bait and opened PetFinder.com. Carl went down to his man cave to practice, leaving me to drool over corgi mix puppies . . . and, unbeknownst to Carl, goats. 

Not long ago, I read Brad Kessler’s Goat Song and suggested Carl do the same. The book is about Kessler and his wife’s who move from New York City to a Vermont farm where they take on the task of goat adoption and cheesemaking. In the course of the year Kessler details, he tells the history of humans and goats, his own interactions with their Nubian goats, and the process of cheesemaking. That process would include the fact that in order to get goat cheese, one needs goat milk, and to get goat milk, one needs female goats to get pregnant and have babies that are then detached, bleating, from their mother’s teat so that the milk can be used for cheese. And to get that female goat pregnant? Kessler describes his virgin goat’s first time in graphic detail. 

Ah, silly me. There I was imaging that the book would get Carl hooked on the idea of the cheesemaking, and thereby goats. In fact, he was so repulsed by the description of the rutting goat’s rape of that young female goat that he almost contemplated giving up eating cheese. Me, too. Though I was more upset by the bleating kids. Kessler’s goats might be treated humanely but the fact remains, as with cows in dairy farm factories, dairying requires humans to step in and separate mothers from their children. 

Fortunately, I was able to balance the anguish of that with Sy Montgomery’s The Good Good Pig. We might not be able to save all animals but, at least, we can have the satisfaction and self improvement of saving one, in Sy Montgomery’s case, a runt pig that grows to be . . . well, rather larger than an ox calf. Montgomery, though, has a barn. And chickens. And a heart full of love for all the world’s sentient creatures and the verve to befriend and love them all. 

My friend who suggested the oxen, Alyson, works at Nye Hill Farm in Roxbury. It is a brewery and a sanctuary for animals, not least numerous piggies. I have met these piggies and they are grunty and sweet and big. Actually, huge. Overwhelming and amazing and not, in any current context, within my comfort zone, even having read about Sy Montgomery’s Christopher Hogwood. I feel so limited. After all, if it would mean saving a pig from becoming bacon, I should leap at the opportunity. Instead, I harken back to Carl’s remonstrance that chickens and cats are my limits. I come up short even with them. Just ask Nick and Nora. They meow incessantly throughout the night for attention, enduring great loneliness and neglect when I don’t get up to pet and feed them, maybe run the shower for a moment so that water will run down the drain for them who are positively parched at three o’clock in the morning. 

And the chickens? Every morning, while I am strapped in my office chair and don’t dare leave because I know I won’t come back due to one distraction or another, Carl does the chicken chores of watering and providing daily treats. Truth be told, some days, I barely make it out to say hello. Ping is so offended that she hardly deigns to approach me anymore. Granted, she is elderly now and likely prefers to avoid the kerfuffle of the Suffragettes, and Swallow and Squeaky stampeding me in hopes of mealy worms.

In contrast to me, Sy Montgomery is a real, honest to goodness animal steward who develops a relationship with her hens. She keeps her peeps with her in her office as they grow up. She let’s them fly about, be their authentic selves. And when they are grown up, she visits her girls and so they like her.

Pause to note girls. Montgomery doesn’t have the karma that attracts boy chicks to her circle. No cock-a-doodles for her. Her chicks never transgender into cockerels, who start out so sweet and end up chasing her around the yard, rapping her on the wrist with their beaks, insisting she keep away from HIS hens. 

I am not bitter. I am only making reference to my own chick to chicken history which is chock full of roosters. Big Red. Cornelius, Pong and Clayton. Little Big Man and his brother who died too young to be named. Mo and Schtude, who was supposed to be Uncle Schtude but is currently not living up to his laid back, gentle name, thus not embodying the future I had hoped to write about in a children’s book. It will have to be fiction.

All to say, I’m not sure if I should start an animal sanctuary here at Darwin’s View. The animals might not be as attended to as they should be. And it’s so blowy up here. This past week, fifty mile an hour winds that blew out the trim in our attached greenhouse. They’d have to be sturdy animals. What if they got sick and the vet took a long time to get here and they were in pain? And if they died? No. I need to protect myself from the worry and anxiety of animals beyond Nick and Nora and our ten chickens . . . and the resident twelve or fifteen wild turkeys that promenade the property like long-tailed pterodactyls. And the herd of leaping, browsing deer. The porcupines and mice. The frogs in our lap pond . . .. Why not be content with worrying about all those living beings?

Because I know what goes on out there in the world. The carnage and cruelty of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). The terror of the just born separated from their mothers. The slaughter. 

Whoops! Before I get onto my high horse about that I have to go out and attend to Brownie who is not well. And stare at the myriad books I have read, details of which to come. Maybe. Maybe not. For now, I’m going with the flow, seeing where it takes me. Today, it takes me to meet Jesse and James, the oxen. And a couple of goats. Just to see them because we don’t have a barn. Carl is coming with me to be sure I remember that. And then we will come back to Darwin’s View, to the wind buffeting us and the cats and chickens and I will likely read more words, and write some, all with the aim of finding the answer to that still echoing and haunting question Now what?

PERSPECTIVE

I watched the lunar eclipse this morning. The start of it anyway. The moon set within minutes of the shadowing but still, what silent beauty. How awesome a thing, the planets’ dance, and I am left wondering, can the feminine of the moon counter the patriarchy of us? For millennia, Homo sapiens have dominated and crushed, rather than stewarded and nurtured. The human species opposing microbials and the planetary energies flying about? What hubris to think we rule as a species when put into the setting of life writ large.

But still there remains us. What of us as individuals and in the context of the minutiae of daily life? The earth rotates round, and I go about my white, privileged life while others live in fear, deported, arrested and incarcerated for being black, for being different. And still, the earth turns, creating the illusion that the sun is rising, the moon is setting when, in fact, it is the earth ever turning as it rockets through space.

How live an authentic life, a moral life, when one’s own actions seem so paltry, the big picture so devastating, and the biggest picture so humbling?

Tonight Carl and I are hosting a Fossil Fuel Free Future event under the auspices of 350.org and other organizations that are working for change and a better future for the human species. Will it make a difference? Is it too late to make the necessary changes to combat climate change? Once this current administration is finished—and it will be. Whether by election or, in the course of time, by death—how ever will we go back or forward when such damage has been done to our democracy and our world?

It’s all about one’s perspective and attitude, right? Because the fact is, we have little control over most things that fall under the category of life except how we each go about our own lives. We can foment and march, keen for all that has been lost, or work for and celebrate what has been gained. Option three, we can do nothing, frozen and overwhelmed.

Life is not black and white. Moods and energy ebb and flow. And it’s how we live our own lives and what we stand for, or don’t.

Shall I look with horror at the world, or put on PollyAnna glasses and take on an “ain’t this grand” attitude?

It is rather grand from where I sit. Nature’s beauty is simply breathtaking. I am no photographer and yet look at the colors, the sparkle and shy beauty of her that surrounds us. She is divine and it is us who can watch her, appreciate her with gratitude.

At least that’s what I hope to do. Try to do. Every day as I look to the moon, softer than the sun but her pull is underestimated.

The Egg & I by Betty MacDonald

Within days of Betty and Bob MacDonald’s marriage, while still on their honeymoon, Bob announced that what he wanted, really wanted, was to be a chicken farmer. Shortly after their return from their honeymoon, he found a farm off in the hinterlands of Washington State. Betty MacDonald’s book The Egg & I is a memoir of the author’s trial by fire life on that farm.

“When you make a complete change in your mode of living, as I did, you learn that, along with the strange aspects of the new life which seep in and become part of you, will come others to which you never become accustomed.” (p. 94)

I found the initial pages delightful. The broad similarities of the MacDonalds’ relationship and experience with Carl’s and mine that imbued the book kept me happily reading. The humorous recounting of her childhood, and her 1950s conditioning on how-to-be-a-good-wife, lay the groundwork for her lack of rebellion at Bob’s turn-on-a-dime announcement. Their move out to the hinterlands to rebuild derelict chicken coops and outhouses, reclaim the forested landscape to create gardens, all while lacking 20th century conveniences like electricity, running water, a radio and telephone . . . and then the creepy nighttime visits to the outhouse? It was humbling to read. I whinge on if I can’t have an espresso in the morning. My comfort zone might be rather small but—full disclosure—we are very, very comfortable here in our now-large, off-grid home. I might have to clean the chicken coop, refill the water buckets and food bins, shovel snow and toss hay bales with my arm in a cast and in negative wind chill weather, but the chores here are manageable with only ten chickens . .  and Carl.

Too, we have hot showers. I cannot imagine facing the manure and kerfuffle of two thousand hens without running water or a backup propane tank.

Betty and I do share a special something: a lack of organizational skills. Her high hopes and fantasies regarding seeds are mine. She, too, would dream, as she ordered seeds for fancy-ass plants that grow in zone 8 rather than her zone of 3, of a stunning garden full of burgeoning flowers and herbs and bushes. Her attempts flailed and failed as have so many of mine. Carl’s and my greenhouse, for instance, resembles our barren hens, in its failure to provide us with our winter greens and I would suggest that failure is not the greenhouse’s but mine. Even in a greenhouse, for example, one must plant seeds in the dirt and water them. It’s ever so much like gardening. At times, I wonder if, as was suggested to Ms. MacDonald once upon a time, someone ought to say to me, “You ought to get you another hobby, there is some folks who just don’t have the feeling. Yep, you should get you another hobby.” (p. 155)

I would reject such a notion. I only lack intention. Or maybe it’s attention, a skill I am currently honing with the help of meditation and Carl, which brings me to the topic of husbands.

Bob MacDonald and Carl, too, share interests and tendencies. For instance, both love manual labor’s satisfactions. Bob, though, is more enamored of the financial benefits of that work, also known as chicken care. Carl has a more architectural interest, being on coop ten or eleven for our motley flock. And Carl labors more to satisfy my assessment of the coops, rather than the bookkeeping of the final egg count. Clearly, egg count and finances don’t rate up here at Darwin’s View. If ever we get another egg, it will be equal to gold.  If Betty and Bob had had our hens, our girls would have been cooked and plated back in September when they all gave up entirely on providing us with eggs. As she writes “if a hen is lazy or uncooperative or disagreeable you can chop off her head and relieve the situation once and for all.” (p. 39) She further pounded the stake in my heart when she wrote,  “I got so I actually enjoyed watching Bob stick his killing knife deep into the palates of fity cockerels and hang them up to bleed. My only feeling was pride to see how firm and fat they were as we dressed them for market.” (p. 147)

Needless to say, when she wrote “dressed”, it wasn’t in a suit and tie.

To enjoy taking a sentient life isn’t something I ever hope to feel. Which brings me to another point of divergence:

The abundance of nature is throughout her book. Her descriptions of the fauna outside of their door, and on their plates exhibit a flourishing of life’s variety. And its intrusion into their life. In the chapter “Who Bothers Whom”, she describes her scary walk through the woods being followed by some unknown beast. To allay her worries, Bob goes out for a walk with the dogs and a gun. Shots and silence. Upon his return, Bob proudly announces he has killed a She bear. A mother bear. Leaving two cubs. Knowing what I know, to kill a She bear when her babies are cubs equates to killing the cubs, too. They don’t yet know how to survive in the wilds. True or false?

She read my mind when she wrote, “Now, were we bothering that bear? Of course, some people will say that the woods were the bears’s natural domain and just by being there Bob was bothering her. But those woods were our property!” (p.173)

In that same chapter, a cougar “that measured eleven feet from head to tail tip” was killed as well and it just begs the question, for me, on property ownership. I get it. Were a bear to stroll up to our porch and take out a bird feeder, I would freak, too. And when our local bobcat showed up at our coop’s door a few years ago, I ran out with a broom. And then ran back in. But I didn’t call around to find someone with a gun.

“In every case the wild animal bothered us first and it was merely luck for our side that Bob was nerveless in emergencies and a crack shot.” p. 181

That is one possible interpretation of facts. My interpretation is that humans are the one’s trespassing. Certainly, we take all the toys and leave nothing for the other creatures. Given the fast dwindling species, I think it’s about time to consider coexistence rather than destruction. There is a way to coexist. Our chipmunks might be obnoxious, how they take one bite out of every, single strawberry rather than focusing on a few and leaving us the rest. But think how plump they got for that happy kestrel? I would argue that if the chipmunk had not been there, neither would the kestrel. By destroying other creatures’ habitat, leaving them no room to exist, we remove the web that supports life, not least, ours.

Betty is aware of this, I think, in her description of the logging companies working in the forests around her farm.

“The only ugliness we saw was the devastation left by logging companies. Whole mountains left naked and embrrassed, their every scar visible for miles. Lovely mountain lakes turned into plain ponds beside a dusty road, their crystal water muddy brown with slashings and rubbish.” (p. 91) … The small companies were careless and wasteful in their logging, but their attempts at destruction were feeble and unimportant compared to the wholesale devastation this company left in its wake. (p. 227) I counted twenty-seven red flags on the way home. Some of them may have been old, some may have belonged to pole cutters, but even ten were too many.(p. 231)

Red flags on a road side show where a logging company is, was, or would be working.

MacDonald is a product of her time. She notes the destruction and killing but seems to accept it as the way of the world. Humans dominate. We kill other animals for food. We wreak havoc on nature for wood and sustenance. We do what we do to survive. For her, the chickens are more important than the cougars and bears. An understandable attitude.

Less understandable is her insulting descriptions of Native American Indians, whom her husband befriended but she did not. Take this breathtaking example: “Little red brothers or not, I didn’t like Indians, and the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them. They had come a long way from Hiawatha.” page 220

And so. Although I found the book amusing initially, it is dated with its prejudices, and casually exhibits the thoughtless waste of nature, and the hubristic, callous, too-often inhumane treatment of our fellow creatures. I, too, am a product of my time. I believe that when a single person or class or race or species claims dominance, the balance of life and nature tips and the world wobbles. The wind picks up. The chaos grows. Hell arrives at our doorstep until nature provides balance again. Because she will find balance, with or without us.

Thus, I recommend this book. The Egg & I is a time capsule, showing a perspective on a past world, one that still burgeoned with the diversity of life, so much of which is now extinct. It provides myriad subject matter for discussion, not least for those who are considering a “return to the land”. And it left me, anyway, contemplating this question: how will our generations be viewed fifty years from now, assuming there is life on earth.

 

One Way to Jumpstart a New Year

Yesterday began 2018. Some people hold the belief that, however you spend that first day of the year portends how the rest of the year will go. Which is only to say, mine was not an entirely auspicious beginning, given my hope for a calmer, more intentional time going forward.

5:15AM on January 1, 2018. Very cozy in bed with Carl asleep next to me, Nick and Nora, too,  at my feet and on my head, respectively. After a few minutes of convincing myself that it was a good idea, I got myself up. The first day of the rest of my life and I was going to write, to draw, to meditate in the dark of the calm of the slow lighting of the sun of the vast beauty of Darwin’s View. Glimmers and outlines of the environment around me. Schtude’s crows from the greenhouse . . ..

I should preface this by saying that it was cold out on New Year’s Eve. Very cold and, being me, I worried about the chickens becoming icicles. And so the wonderful Carl, ever tolerant of my obsessive worrying, had build a simple wall in the attached-to-the-house greenhouse, thereby creating a 4’ by 6’ space, directly next to the door that goes outside. I had put down newspaper and then hay and used two milk crates to serve as nesting boxes and a 2’ by 4’ for a roost. And then I, eventually joined by Carl, carried the girls and Schtude in, one by one, placing them into the house, directly from the outside, into the greenhouse new coop, as the sun had set, concluding the damned year of 2017.

Was it damned? Unspeakable things happened in 2017. Evil. Cruelty. Heralding the demise of democracy and human decency. Maybe of humanity. And yet! Look around and one can see a fomenting, the solidifying of a movement, of involvement and determination.

Who was it who said of the war to save nature “All our wins are temporary, all our losses are forever?”

The clock ticked. It ticks to midnight. And the chickens were, for all intents and purposes, inside the house. Though there is a door between the living room and greenhouse. And then one must walk the 8 or so feet over to Carl’s new wall and door into the 4’ by 6’ area where the ten chickens nestled and kerfuffled. Schtude fomented against the limited area he had to spread his mighty wings and flap. His crows were remarkably closer than when the birds are ensconced in the coop.

He began crowing at 4AM. I was up at 5:30AM. The wood stove fire had burned down to embers. I shuffled them around and filled the stove with wood and left the side and top vents open in hopes of creating a fire, a.k.a. warmth, thereby proving to myself that I am capable of maintaining the wood stove, even with one arm casted and without Carl’s help. And then up into my office. A deep breath. I settled down to my journal, assorted colored pencils, pastels and paint. Peace and quiet as I contemplated the difference of expression between words and forms. Six. Six-fifteen. Six twenty-five. Yes, it was around six twenty-five that all hell broke loss and the fire alarms began to sound. Every one of them.

I jumped up and ran downstairs. Carl was coming out of the bedroom. My mother’s caretaker (Did I mention that my mother is visiting us for three weeks? Advanced Parkinson’s and we have twenty-four hour caretakers which merits a whole other post, if not a book) Tammy joined us as we attempted to figure out where the smell of plastic or candles was coming from. A faint fog but no smoke, per se. No hot walls. The wood stove was blazing merrily but the fire was safely inside of it, not out. Carl shut down the flues. I ran outside. No flames coming out of the chimney.

“Do we call 911?” I asked. Carl hedged briefly. We decided to call. We could, at least, assure them that everything was okay, right? They didn’t need to come, did they?

They came. Long story short, five SUVs and a fire engine made it up our half mile driveway and we got to know our wonderful local firemen, who informed us that two houses have burned to the ground in the past week because the fire alarms had gone off and the people hadn’t called 911; thereby the Chief reassured me that I hadn’t been an alarmist by calling.  He said, please call.

In 2013, I declared war against climate change on my blog. The last month of 2013, I wrote five posts, building on what I had learned and where it had brought me. Years have passed. We, as a nation and as individuals, debate whether to call the professionals. And the alarm bells are ringing.

Schtude crowed. Having people in one’s house and realizing what it must look like, having one’s chickens . . . . I trusted that the firemen had other things to worry about. Once they left, however, I suggested to Carl that, though it was still damned cold, yet, maybe we should get the chickens out of the house because the greenhouse was heating up—a balmy 50 degrees by 8 am, and the change in temperature wouldn’t be good for the girls. It was only 0 degrees out. It would shock their little bodies.

I put on my boots and went into the 4’ by 6’ area with the chickens who complained that there was little enough room to walk about without a human in the mix. I tried to unlock the door. The door to the outside was frozen. An eighth of an inch of frost bedecked it. Not even Carl could open the door and so we had to take the chickens, one by one, out through the house to the coop. First Swallow. Then the Suffragettes, Susan B and Cady. Schtude. Ping. Chickadee. CooLots. Apricot. Brownie and Squeaky were the last two. I headed out of the greenhouse into the living room with Brownie, who is, by the way, the only one who seems more content inside than out, and Carl was in the greenhouse chasing Squeaky. An uh-oh and crash. A curse. Squeaky was free and squawking in the greenhouse. Carl lunged. She arrived into the living room. I stopped to assess the situation. Carl got onto his hands and knees to follow Squeaky under the dining room table. She darted beneath, betwixt and between the dining room chairs. I told Carl to hold on as I struggled to get my cell phone’s video camera up without losing hold of Brownie all with one arm in a cast; I ever have my priorities straight.

Finally, I suggested to Carl that he take Brownie as I might be a bit more able, even one armed, to chase the chicken. He stood up. He stared at me. No comment as he took Brownie and marched out of the house. I chased the chicken from the dining room into the kitchen where she skidded and shat, and into my arms, feathers flying. As I passed Carl coming back in, I warned him of the liquid bomb on the floor.

At last calm? Not quite. Nora was missing. I spent the next two hours wondering out loud, to little effect, where the cat might be. High and low I looked. Carl, as ever, kicked in. While looking in the crawl space in the attic, he fixed the broken lightbulb. In the basement, I hung the winter coats that had been on the floor since December 21. Trying to de-clutter and fix even as we sought the cat who Carl found, of course, in a box, purring and sleepy and safe.

The most part of the rest of the day was spent with a new friend who suggested, as has been suggested by others in the past but we haven’t made the time, that we write up a mission statement. Clarify what our passions are, what we want to do here.

I have been trying to write about our times here. A memoir of our life at Darwin’s View. The end keeps getting pushed back. I keep learning and the fact is, to conclude a book, one must know what one is aiming for, what one is trying to say, one’s mission.

The book will be the backstory to this blog which, in turn, is a step into the future. My point being, I know if I slow down, all the muck that gets raised in the hurly burly of our life will settle. The muck will become the soil in which we grow our selves, our hopes and intentions.

2017 exposed hate, fear and—for all the aspersions cast about fake news—truth. This nation is imperfect.  But it is a union. We are all connected and therefore we cannot stand on the sidelines anymore. We have only to determine, each of us individually, how we are going to act and thereby expose who we are, truly, as human beings.

Apparently, creosote forms much faster when there is an extreme difference between the heat of the stove pipe in the house and outside. We will need to maintain the heat of the stove in order to prevent the build up. Balance in extremes. How apt.

I believe 2018 will be a year for bravery. Daring. Uncomfortable places. Thus, this morning, I sat still. My drawings were full of zigs and zags, of bright reds, oranges, pinks, yellows. Surrounded by dark blues, blacks. And, in the center, because there she was this morning, so plump and shining, the moon setting over Mount Monadnock. Purity, hope, and balance in words and forms.

Happy New Year.

Christmas?

I’m entering the fifth week of the healing of my hair-brain fracture. The cast has been on for two and a half weeks and makes the most basic actions, like typing, challenging. But still doable.

Rather like Christmas. Carl and I didn’t want to feed into the hypocrisy of Christmas this year by buyingbuyingbuying. Instead, we celebrated the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice is more in line with our beliefs. The longest night of the year celebrated with friends. The quiet beauty of the moon radiating the feminine power within us, the ebb and flow of energy around the earth, our universe and beyond. A quiet peace and holy calm.

And why should we, would we celebrate Christmas as it is today? A grotesquely commercialized celebration of a major religious figure? A religious figure who represents a religion that has justified torture, murder, rape and usury in the name of its god, and been smug and entitled about it? America’s Manifest Destiny is the basis of much of the evil this country has effected within its borders and around the world. Why ever celebrate that?

. . . As opposed to the original intention of Christmas: to love and be generous with that love. To celebrate and honor the awesomeness of a miracle. To stand awed by powers greater than we are, by nature’s grandeur and beauty. To bow low and be grateful for one’s gifts and abilities. And to wonder how best to share them, and support others?

Best intentions aside, Carl and I fell into the hypocrisy of Christmas. We might announce high and low that we aren’t celebrating Christmas but we didn’t want to end up feeling that uncomfortable feeling of being given something and having nothing to give in return. And so we shopped, buying into the falseness, rather than the deeper meaning.

Am I alone in this hypocrisy? Bring the Christ back to Christmas? Fist fights for the most popular toys? (No, that is not how I fractured my wrist.) These petty arguments distract from the heart of the matter and expose the sickness that we, as a nation, suffer.

The beauty of the concept, if not the fact, of America has been based on its acceptance of others. Here all people might have an equal chance to create a new life for themselves and their families. Isn’t that a beautiful thought? There have, of course, been scapegoats—American Indians, Africans, Italians, Irish, women, Communists. Humans oppressing humans. And yes, we have dominated, rather than stewarded, the stunning array and gifts of nature. And no religion can escape the contradiction between its practice and theory because humans get involved. But wouldn’t it be amazing if we could remember the original concept of our grand nation: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness equally to all? And to go to the heart of every religion, love.  There it is. Spread that love generously. Wouldn’t it be grand to slow down and breathe and be with that overflowing, glowing connection of love. To Be in one’s body . . . rather than racing about, going too fast in one’s monkey brain, such that one slips in one’s slippery slippers, and falls down in one’s mother’s NYC apartment, breaking a wrist?

Another ten days to go in this cast. Carl is counting, too, as he’s been doing all the dishes and listening to me whinge on and squawk every time I move my arm wrong. But I slow down. As this hell year races to its close, I sit still more often. It feels right. Every morning, I wake and watch anew the breathtaking beauty of this place. I watch the sunrise. I contemplate the restrictions of this blue cast and consider it a reminder not to get taken up by the greed and hate and distraction of our Demo-n-capitalist society but to work to return to the essence of why, in my ever-evolving opinion, we are here: to consciously experience the grandeur and shivery beauty of the world. To give and share generously, not necessarily stuff but the thing that connects us to each other and holds us together: love.