Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Through a Glass Darkly

I stopped by the local food store to pick up a pack of bologna. Ok, some beer too. Beer and bologna.

I was standing there in front of the selection of bolognas trying to discern the best buy, having waited for another working man to make his selection (I later met him again in the beer isle), when a old, scruffy man missing one foot (I couldn't tell how much of his leg was gone with it) rolled up to me in a wheelchair.

"A body can't afford to eat anymore, can they?" he said by way of introduction.

"Every time the dollar goes down, prices go up," I reply.

"It's gettin' bad, prices goin' up every day," he said.

"Yep," I said, "people are going to have to grow a garden if they want to eat. Like they used to."

"Lawd, people are too sorry to do that. I have children that are too sorry to pick a piece of bread up off the floor," he said.

"Well, your children and those other people are going to be hungry then, aren't they?"

"Huh, I guess they are. You've been working," he says as he eye's my muddy boots, my dirty jeans, "working in the mud. What do you do?"

"I've been working with a barn full of horses all day today," and I went on to explain my situation a bit -- a boarding barn, a mother, working part-time, milking a cow, growing most of our food.

"Your husband helps you, don't he?" he asked.

"We couldn't do any of what we do without all of us working at it," I answered. "But when I talk about people needing to grow some food, I know what that means. Corn and 'taters and meat and milk and hard work. And the occasional pack of bologna!"

"Ha, it's gettin' to where a body can't afford it," he says again.

"It sure is," I say, moving away after touching him on his shoulder first, a gesture of almost kinship, "so tell those kids of yours they better put in a garden!"

I'd been thinking about how energy intensive the horse business as I'm working in it is. It *could be all recycled and renewable and fertilizer, but as it is, the sawdust for the bedding is hauled from a couple hours away, and to get good sawdust is a four hour haul bill. Then the manure hauling away is more gas, although that is at least more local. We have a load of hay coming in from New York, but that is only because of the crop failure due to drought this year. A lot of our hay, even in this year, is local. But again, there's gas and oil in it, from tractors to hauling to the hay elevator (a device to put hay up into the loft with).

And yet, it wouldn't have to be. I guess recreationally it would have to be, but if we were talking practical horses, it would have to find its practical outlet. I think a lot about what transitions might look like. I think the people with the money to pay so much to keep a horse recreationally will continue to do it for a relatively long time -- to burn that oil until it is all gone. And then those horses will become draft horses again, or pack horses, or something. They could be put to hauling their own sawdust.

I would love to gallop a cross country course again. I would love to ride a dressage test. But today, I'm going out and walking my own big guy up a hill just to begin starting to put some muscle back on him because I've let him get way too out of shape. And doing that will put my own riding muscles to use so perhaps they won't be totally atrophied away.

I love my job. I love going there, I love taking care of the horses, talking to the people. I love my farm, milking my cow, doing the home economics of maintaining everything, finding the baby goats to cuddle. I have a lot of plans, I always do. A lot of hopes and dreams and schemes and readiness to see what might work. I am excited to look toward finding my way, and helping the others in our family find their way, in the post-oil world.

Because the answer is not to find alternative sources of energy, other ways to be industrial capitalistic consumers. It is to embrace the change. Because life will be different. Soon.

Life will be different. Is it climate change? Is it peak oil? To me, and I can get pretty passionate about this, it is neither. They are both convenient shorthands for talking about getting "right" with "livelihood".

Western civilization, industrialization, and probably right back to the agricultural revolution, has produced a way of living, a way of life, a way of death, that is exploitive. It is dependendent on exploitation of the earth and her people. Great works of art, great music, great achievements are not those that are dependent on patrons, on exploitation. Just like history isn't really the history of wars and conquests.

Really great works of art are those that have gone unremarked. Like history is really the story of hearths but no one has thought it remarkable enough to write much about it, or to call it history.

The way I read current events, life will be changing, in this direction, whether you make right livelihood changes or not. It is a time when having gone to the right schools won't matter. Growing a garden will matter.

And perhaps you understand that growing a garden is, for me, a shorthand. It also means being able to take what you get from the garden and make delicious meals from it. And it means being able to entertain yourself and not depend on your cellphone and ipod to do it for you. Play an instrument, tell a story, whatever. It is so much of everything. Grow a garden. Be independent in a real way. It is not only a non-exploitive way of life, it is not only salvation for yourself and your fellows and the world, it is fun. Sure it is hard, but it is rewarding too.

Oh, gawd, I feel like John the Baptist or one of the OT prophets. "LOOK PEOPLE. You can see it at the grocery store, yeah, in the bologna bin, repent of your evil exploitive ways, repent and sin no more. Grow a garden. Salvation does not lie in spending your money, in saving your standard of living, in making the world trade oil in dollars. Salvation depends on how you get your money, and not getting much of it to begin with because much money means much exploitation and this you cannot do. This is how you kill your fellow man and the world and call it giving back. As the prophet Eleutheros says, you break their legs and give them crutches and call that virtue. You must not break legs to begin with. You must not kill to begin with. You must repent and take a step back, one step at a time, step back to a real life, consuming only what you yourself produce. Consider a pack of bologna to be opulent, and consider ostentatiousness to be the worst of vulgarities."

And you know what I really like the most about this vision? That it doesn't matter if a person has both his feet or not, he can grow a garden. An old woman descending into Alzheimer's can be useful shelling the beans. There is a place for everyone, a real place, not a PC manufactured sheltered job sort of place. Not a "we'll send you a check every month so we really don't have to deal with you barking obscenities" sort of place. A real place. Useful. A retarded boy or girl can keep chickens, or raise goats, or get the kale through the winter. A teenage boy can find his balance chopping the wood and he won't need to shoot up a shopping mall because he won't be a burden and won't see himself that way. No matter what you can think of, that person can be productive, with the exception of the very few first years of a kid's life, and perhaps the very last few days or months of a person's life. What a joy that is!

It seems to me that this is love. We can love each other but only if we are not stockpiling stores.

But that is only possible outside of an industrial oil intensive consumerist paradigm. I think that paradigm is ending but you can step out of it anyway.

If you are strong and brave enough. To love.

And make no mistake, love will mean allowing someone who is too sorry to pick a piece of bread up off the floor to starve to death.


rupestur said...

I enjoy the gospel according to the Contrary Goddess.

I sure could use a baby goat to snuggle myself!

You're living the dream that I seek for myself.

Marvin said...

A powerful commentary.

eyemkmootoo said...
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Chile said...

This post is a perfect example of why I nominated you for a writing award. Details here.

Anonymous said...


Ren said...

Good stuff... all of it.

I was talking to Gary at park day today, and the "simple life" topic came up. I said something about how much hard work the simple life is! It's a lot of hard work.
But I like that it's useful in a real way, unlike other things I do.

eyemkmootoo said...
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Teri said...

And if you read a lot of the stuff from the doomsayers, you will find that they want society to crash. And I think part of it is that they know at heart that our technology is not very satisfying. They've never done farm work, so that don't really understand how that is different. My suspicion though is that a lot of us are going to wind up with draft goats ;) I don't have enough land for a horse but the goats do just fine.

Kaat at mamastories said...

Do you like Chopra?

laura said...

i remember when i worked those 2 months at the holier than thou smoothie and raw food place. i remember feeling satisfied about just the working. but there was this part of me that just knew that all this was an illusion. this organic food, these people coming in from the eco gym with their children who did not know how to behave because they had never spent time in the real world (meaning they had been in day care from day 1 or some other institution filled with same aged small people). all the money, all the misguided notions about what was healthy and what was not (and yes, i've had some of those myself). it was all just a big illusion. using forks made of potato starch. using bamboo and "green" paint. plastic to-go containers made of biodegradable corn oil. all the food being "organic" and mostly "raw."


there's a show i caught the very last 2 minutes of last night on the sundance channel...called "it's not easy being green." here's a link, but you'll have to copy and paste since comments don't make links i don't think:

anyway, they had just constructed a water wheel to generate electricity using the stream. it was really interesting. i'll have to catch it again sometime.

we've talked about "visions" recently and that is one that we've had from the beginning. the idea of having some land and learning to be self-sufficient. i just don't know how to do it. i think it's that way for a lot of people. making that leap. figuring out how to live day to day in this world and also work towards that big ideal. it's just all so overwhelming. but it's worth doing, i know that for sure.

Chile said...

Laura, you can do links in comments. (See mine above.) The html for it is:
<a href="url for the site you want to link to here">the site you want to link to</a>

Putting your links in html also gets around the problem of a long url address being cut off partway in comments.

CG said...

so much to say, and I thought I had commented once already! Oh well.

Chile is very smart with her html code, but since I can't remember sh*t, this is how I do it -- use a code editor, like "new post" then look under html and copy and paste. Ok, that's also why I only include a link in comments when I'm *really* passionate about it.

Thanks Chile for the award. I've been busy but will act on it shortly.

Ren, I think a HUGE thing in life, differences between "success" and "failure", between "health" and "disease", between lots of things, is the ability to see "work" as something to be embraced and welcomed and not to be avoided. The first surefire signal that a so-called homesteader is getting ready to fail is if he/she has to buy every labor saving doodad there is. He'll go broke and he doesn't really want to work but only have the trappings of "homestead".

La, that's a post in itself.

I love Chopra, I am a doomsayer, mamastories leave me a link, horses are always recreational even when they are practical, and a lazy breakfast is ready. later!

barefoot gardener said...

fabulous, inspiring post.

You are an artist with words.

Anonymous said...

Wow- thank you, I needed a little validation of my Cassandra complex. My favorite line - " You break their legs and give them crutches and call that virtue. You must not break legs to begin with."
Puts me in mind of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and all the ensuing 'help'.


Ren said...

~~I think a HUGE thing in life, differences between "success" and "failure", between "health" and "disease", between lots of things, is the ability to see "work" as something to be embraced and welcomed and not to be avoided.~~

I agree.
It was one of those "ha,ha" kind of comments at the time (I guess because when people talk about the "simple life" they have this illusion that it's easier....which it is if you love it, it's a lot easier than doing something you don't love;).

But yeah. I've had it in my blood all my life. This desire to be more self-sufficient. Probably comes from the farmers in my family, growing up gardening, hard-working parents...whatever. It's just there. Only I tried to ignore a lot of it thinking it was impractical to make some of those shifts.

Then one day I realized that I was preaching to people about trusting that which is within, but I was shoving some of my own urgings down. And there it was staring at me and saying "why are you thinking about it, just DO something". It's easier to take steps towards something than to ignore it all together.

I have mornings now, when it's dark and cold and I picture myself going out to milk a cow like CG. :) Could I do it every goldarn morning? Would I? So I'm pretend practicing at the more uncomfortable parts and doing the parts I CAN do now. Like gardening and raising bees and just learning to do more for myself.

I walk outside in the cold and dark and picture myself walking to a barn, only I'm just taking the compost out right now.

Baby steps. Hard work.Soul-satisfying work. But what I realized is that I don't need any doomsday anything to make these different choices. I want to live that way. More and more it's just something I need to do for the sake of doing it,not because I'm afraid of anything.

Teri said...

Do you know about Carla Emery's list for the modern homestead? It's here I remind myself of this stuff when I'm tempted to get rid of my buck goat. Wish I could do something about that more than 30 pound overweight, but can't figure out how to sit at a desk all day and also get more exercise.