Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rain, Rain, and more rain

Fay is moving through my area. We got a few of the outer rain bands on Sunday, and then the rain began on earnest about noon yesterday. It still hasn't stopped and isn't supposed to until after midnight tonight. It is coming down at just the right rate; not to fast and not too slow. The ground, still parched from the drought, is absorbing it. I could see the trees perk up when the first rain came through on Sunday. The drought isn't as bad this year as it has been the last two; it seems to be breaking up slowly but surely. Which is a good thing.

One thing that has struck me the past couple of days is the number of people complaining about the rain. Everywhere I go, somone is complaining and wishing it was over and sunny again. Even people who should know better, like my pagan meeting group and a bunch of environmentalists I know. We're in a drought and they are complaining about rain. No, we're not getting it like they did in Florida -four inches or so is what the forecasters say. And yet people are complaining.

This the measure of how disconnected we have become from the world -that we complain about the rain in the middle of a drought. We need this rain, some of us desperately, but people are just complaining but it puts a crimp in their plans. Admittedly, I used to not care much for rainy days either. I thought they were cold and depressing. Now I welcome the rain -for what it does for me, my land, my garden, and the earth itself. I went outside earlier and just stood, letting the light rain was over me, and felt completely content.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008


Mockingbird, Mockingbird, what are you?
Mockingbird, Mockingbird, how do you do?
Mockingbird, Mockingbird, singing your song
Mockingbird, Mockingbrid, can I sing along?

My backyard had been invaded by mockingbirds this year. There are at least five around on a regular basis and more that stop by to eat at the bird feeders. I’ve had two babies live in the backyard until they were ready to move into the trees. They are always out there singing and love to mock me whenever I come out. They’ll me when I do something they don’t like and follow me around the yard, hopping through the tree branches. I found a mockingbird feather the other day, beautiful and completely intact. It’s a very great honor to receive such a gift from one of our feathered friends. Mockingbird’s are supposed to remind us to listen to our inner voice. I wonder what mine is trying to tell me, lol.

In other news, the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a rough winter ahead. They are at least as good as the local weatherman with their forecasting, and often better. This will be a catastrophe if it happens and I see every sign of them being right –we are all ready moving into autumn here and it is very, very early. Read the article here:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Decision Making, Part One

First things first. The stock market has rallied the past few days and oil has declined sharply, so everything is back to normal and life is good again right? Um, not quite. But you wouldn’t know that from the cheerleading in the press. I’m beginning to think that all of the media and the financial sector are on massive amounts of Prozac and are sipping Vodka in their coffee mugs, to boot. Things are –well, not good. When I look around and see what’s happening I can’t help but come to the conclusion that life as we know is rapidly going into its inevitable collapse. By rapid I do not mean overnight –the collapse of societies is measured in generations, but there are always sharp downward inflection points. I have conflicting emotions over this: part of me grieves for what will be lost, including those people who will not be able to adapt, are dependent on the system, or just get caught in the confusion. And part of me wants to cheer, because I feel that it’s about time things change and I long ago came to the conclusion that changes were never going to occur until the system as we know it comes down.

I promised this post because I have been thinking about the subject a lot, as I’m sure many of you have. After I promised to write I realized I had no idea how to do so. So this post will be an attempt to sort out my own thinking on the subject as well as a general discussion. It will probably get pretty long, so bear with me.

First, I want to discuss the process of decision making in general. There are several different ways for anyone to make a decision. I’ll use the list from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision_making) since it is as good as any other: listing the pros and cons, random methods (such as a coin toss), accept the first option that appears decent, divination (prayer, tarot), ask an expert, or by calculating the expected value of each option. All of us use one of these methods for most of our decisions, but we may not be conscious of it. Most decisions are made rapidly without any conscious deliberation. Do I want the popsicles or should I save the money? If you don’t slow down and force yourself to think your unconscious or your gut will make the decision.

All the formal methods of decision making, however, have inherent in them two assumptions which I find to be highly flawed: first, that humans are rational, and second, that the situation in which the decision is made is known and stable. Despite what economists might pretend we humans are NOT rational. Not most of the time, at any rate. Our decisions and actions tend to be biased and based primarily on our emotions. A book on this subject just came out called Predictably Irrational. Any attempt at rational decision making must be prepared to overcome one’s own desires, emotions, and internal biases. All of these are going to attempt to lean you towards the decision you want to make, not necessarily the one you should make. This fact makes the very foundation of all our economic theory start to crumble, or at least get a little shaky. Most people don’t realize they are not behaving rationally and therefore will make no attempt to do so, and even those who do see the problems will be clouded by their own biases.

The second assumption inherent in systems of decision making is even more dangerous in a situation like ours: it assumes the situation is known and stable. I think even a casual glance at what is happening in our world today will tell you that our situation is in no way stable. Everything has become more volatile –from food and energy to the geopolitical arena. If our relationship with Russia keeps devolving there’s even a chance we could find ourselves in the midst of nuclear war. (At which point I will be running for the hills with my bug out bag and my dogs –I live in a high target area.)

Our situation also is not fully known. How bad will things get? And how fast? Has oil all ready peaked as the data seems to indicate or do we have a few more years? How fast will depletion occur? Are we going into the second Great Depression? (On this question I am heeding the advice of my elders: everyone I know who is 85+ believes we are on the cusp of Depression the Sequel and that things now are just like they were when that started.) When will the effects of global warming really be felt and how bad will they be?

In times like ours all the normal modes of decision making fly out the window. They are almost totally inadequate. It can be tempting to just throw up your hands and let luck and the diving sort it out. Many will do so. A church down the road from me has a sign up that says PUSH –Pray Until Something Happens. Now, I have nothing against prayer; I am very spiritual and somewhat religious person and pray on a regular basis. But if prayer is all you do in a situation like this, to use Southern vernacular, you just might find yerself in a heap o’ trouble. One of my neighbors lost her job and just prayed for God to send her a new one. What ended up happening was that the repo man came to foreclose on her house.

So are there things you can do if you’re not comfortable with just hoping for the best? Of course. I grew up in a very bad situation. My family was homeless on and off throughout my childhood and we always lived in very bad areas. One of the things I still carry with me is this –make decisions that leave you with lots of options. Try not to back yourself into a corner where you’ve limited your options and don’t have any backups. This can be as simple as stocking up now so if there is a panic you’re taken care of.

Given the situation as it is we need to focus on the basics. What do you need to survive?
Shelter, food, water, community, and security. I’m going to go through these one by one. First, we’re trained to immediately assume we’ll buy all these things with money earned from a job. But will that be true in twenty years? Eventually the global economy is going to go away as cheap fossil fuels do so. Oh, we’ll still have some trade. Coffee, chocolate, and other high-value items will still be shipped around. But you won’t get grapes from Chile in January anymore. Like it or not, economies are going to relocalize. Food –and everything else –will be produced much more locally. Do you think you’re job will still be around? If not, what will you do? How will you do it? Start thinking about this NOW.

Shelter –where do you live now? Apartment, house, farm? Do you own it outright, have a mortgage, or rent? Is this place sustainable? If you own it, can you imagine yourself staying there and adapting? If you have a mortgage or rent ask yourself what will happen if you lose all or a significant portion of your income. Can you still make the payments? Is there anything you can do in that situation? Take in boarders or relatives? If you think you will lose your home, start thinking of alternatives NOW. Don’t wait until the eviction notices start arriving. What can you do and where can you go? Relatives, friends, a lower-cost place? Maybe you rent and would like to own but can’t afford it on your own. Okay, so what are the options here? Perhaps you could go in with several friends and buy a large house outright. I know several people who have done this and with careful planning it can work out. There are also other considerations –those high-rise apartments are great, but you can’t grow food in them. And what happens when your job goes down the drain with the rest of the economy?

Food and water –how do you get your food now, and can you see that continuing? If you see a short-term interruption coming, stock up now so you won’t go hungry. But what about the longer term? Do you think you’ll still be able to get your staples and treats at your local big box store in another twenty years? If not, what will you do? Most people don’t like to hear this, but in traditional societies most people have some kind of connection to agriculture and food growing. Maybe it’s just a kitchen garden, but they have it. So you need to look either at sourcing your own food locally or producing your own food. If you try to buy locally remember that it can cost more now and eventually a lot more people are going to try and get local food (or need to get local food) and this will drive the price up. Will you still be able to afford it then? If you decide to learn to grow food, start now. It takes ten years to master a new skill. If you wait until you need to learn you might starve to death before you get your first good harvest. Don’t have a yard? Start with pots or apply for an allotment. Also consider relocating to someplace where you will have access to land, at least a small yard. In traditional societies wealth is often defined by its connection to the land –if you had land you could more easily take care of yourself and your own needs. Water is also key. How do you get your water now? Can that continue indefinitely? If the city supply gets shut off, what do you do? Can you harvest rainwater?

Community –this one is big as well. You can’t live on your own without cheap fossil fuels (or even with them, unless you are fairly well off). Every person is going to need to learn to give and receive help. You might not be able to fix the driveway but can sew clothing (or vice versa). Systems of mutual dependence, trust, and barter will need to be built back up. These take time. Look at where you are now. Do you have any sort of community? Is there the possibility of building one? Are these the sort of people you want to spend the rest of your life with? If not you need to make arrangements. Also, look at your childcare situation if you have children. Is this sustainable? The elderly and disabled are going to depend on communities to survive, as are children. In traditional societies the former two often played key roles –they often looked after children while the parents farmed or what have you, and they made necessary items like blankets. Could your parents move in or nearby and help with the kids?

Security –I don’t think we’ll have the raging hordes so beloved of doomers. But crime will go up as things get worse. (As will hate crimes, so if you’re a target, take measures now to protect yourself.) I’m not going to say go out and get a gun, though that is an option. But at least take measures to secure home as well as possible and learn to be alert. Also consider getting a dog. Yes, they take up resources but most burglars pass up houses with dogs and even if they don’t you’ll have a low-tech, eminently sustainable alarm system. ;-) My dogs alert me when anyone comes near the property –they don’t even have to set foot on it.
Yes, there are a lot of questions here and not many answers. That’s because each person’s situation is going to be very unique. In part two I’ll look at my own situation and do my best at prognosticating the future.

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Autumn is in the air

The morning's are crisp and there is that fall smell in the air. It is early yet for this region but you can't mistake that smell and the feeling that just says "autumn". I thought I was imagining it until a friend said the same thing.

Right now is the time of harvest, of storage, of preparing for winter. Every instinct myself and every other wild creature contains is screaming "winter is coming -prepare, prepare, prepare!" Winter may not be as bad here as in the north but it does get cold. I am hurrying around like a busy squirrel gathering acrons and preparing for the winter.

My garden is in full production mode. I can't keep up with the number of tomatoes I'm getting. My squash crop was pretty much a bust this year -I'm thinking I got some bad seeds. But my pumpkins and watermelons are fine, and the pole beans are so exuberant they nearly choke me every time I go out to get beans. I had my best garlic and onion harvest ever. I've dried a bunch of tomatoes this week for winter soups and pastas. The hum-hum of the dehydrator may give me a headache but it certainly lessens my anxiety about the coming winter and the state of our world.

I hope everyone's fall preparations are going well!

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Winners and Losers

I was berated the other day for leaving the corporate world and my well-paying engineering job. According to the person berating me, I should grit my teeth and go back to engineering for a couple of years and all my problems would disappear. Okay, first that would never happen. I doubt I could go back it I wanted to; I was fired from my last job for "ethical reasons" which is a fancy way of saying I refused an assignment. The ethical problem, from my point of view, was on their end and I refused to participate. I can't say more than that. I have a black mark on my record and that can't be erased, plus most of the jobs around here do similar things to that company. In addition, my last stint in the corporate world left me severly ill physically -I developed numerous ills I won't go into -and made me so depressed I seriously considered suicide. Six months back in a cube writing computer programs -if I lasted that long -would leave me fit for the looney bin.

But let's ignore all of that for the moment. It's the assumption underneath the rant that I want to explore. According to our culture we are all either winners or losers. The winners make it in the corporate world, make lots of money, and generally leave the rest of us in the dust. All the rest of humanity are losers. We have only two function in life: to produce items for consumption and to consume. If we can't do one or the other, preferably both, we are trash and should be disposed of accordingly.

So let's look at the balance sheet. I couldn't hack it in the corporate world. So, I'm a loser. I make very little in the way of traditonal 'consumables'. And I consume very little. So, not only am I a loser but I'm also trash. Gee, thanks for the compliment.

Nothing else about me matters? Not my gardening skills, or my writing, or my caretaking skills? All that I am and will ever be can be boiled down to the amount in my bank account. Or so our culture would have us believe.

I don't buy it. I'm sorry, but that's just ridiculous. More than that, it's bull****. A person's worth can't be measured by money, or production, or consumption. To try is not only ridiculous, but wrong. This is one of the problems with our culture. No, indeed I think this is the main problem in our culture: that we judge everything according to its worth in dollars. If something can't be measured in money or if its value is low, its worthless. In order to repair our culture and our world we need to not only destroy that worldview, but turn it on its head: the most important things in the world are thost that can not be measured, that can not be appraised, that are worth the least in monetary terms. I am talking about love, about friendship, kindness, caring, clean air and water, healthy ecosystems, the love of the cat sitting on my desk batting at my arm. THOSE are the things that matter, and when we value them, then we will be truly on the way to chagning the world.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Happy Lammas!

I'm still working on the post I promised, but I don't want to let the blog die while I do so.

Today (or yesterday, depending on which calendar you're using) is Lammas. For those not familiar with Pagan holidays, Lammas is the festival of first harvest. It occurs midway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. This is the time of the year when the first of the harvest's bounty is coming in. In the ancient cultures of Europe Lammas was celebrated with large festivals and a general holiday.

In honor of the holiday I made a rather elaborate meal tonight: rotini with garlic, onions, two types of peppers (bell and sweet bannana), eggplant and squash in homemade pesto sauce. I had corn on the cob as a side dish and blueberries for dessert. Every bit of this meal with the exception of the pasta, the oil, the pine nuts and the butter for the corn came from either my garden, the farmer's market, or a pick-ur-own farm. And the pine nuts were a gift from a friend. (Hey, you think I'm going to pay $9 bucks for a small bag of nuts? Not hardly.)

A local meal for a celebration of the local harvest.

Happy Lammas!

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