Thursday, February 28, 2008

Doctor My Eyes

Oh but I had the best day at work. My boss came through the barn with one of her Friesian mares on long lines and said, hey, if you want to, come out to the arena and play with me. And then she explained what she was working on with this horse and why and how and then let me long line her too. I always feel like I screw up, like I kept saying GO! which sounds too much like whoa and I wasn’t real good keeping up with the lines as I changed directions . . . but at the same time I can see what is going on and I know with some practice and some thought I could do it better.

So there was that. And I rode and despite some resistance to the bit, I got one really good transition from trot to walk and a couple of passable transitions from halt to trot which I don’t believe this pony has been asked for before. And I got a helper to work with me for a couple of hours each day I’m there so that I’ll have the time to ride.

Later my boss and I talked about the price of gas. I said, we have to use less. And she said, I already use as little as possible -- I only drive to work, I do all my errands on one day just like you do, I can’t use any less. And a light bulb went off in my head, that that’s what people think, that they can’t use any less. And I looked with those eyes at my life and wondered at the changes that could be wrought. When would it be not worth it for me to drive to work? And if it isn’t worth it for me to drive to work, that means even less money. Which we could live with almost no money. Almost. But is there a point at which we collapse back onto this farm and don’t leave again, hardly ever? And if that’s what happens to us, what happens to everyone else?

Because in order to use less gas, people’s lives have to change dramatically. It just made me see it more starkly. I took that job knowing that that barn is not a sustainable venture. I love it, I am grateful for it, but there is nothing about it that is sustainable. But I may be the only person there who knows that.

Of course, we are all just guessing at what it will look like. I think there will be more room for horses in the future, not less, but they won’t be stall kept horses doing nothing. My goodness, it was just my grandfather’s generation that grew up with horses and trains being the only transportation. It is still within living memory -- the fellow at the produce stand told us just the other day, there were twelve of us growing up and my brother and I used to ride seven miles to the mill every other week with a sixty pound sack, one time of corn, the next of wheat, that’s how much it took to feed our family. But mills existed back then. As did the knowledge to grow enough caloric food to survive. And the patience to wait at the foot of a hill for enough wagons to back up to have enough teams to take them all, one at a time, to the top.

I swear I still can’t for the life of me imagine what it will look like. But I swear just as strongly that it is happening. Now.

But I worry about a society that already thinks it is using as little energy as possible. Because a society convinced of that won’t see any other way of being -- and too many people even now who, if they do imagine anything different, think it is a bad to be avoided rather than a good to be embraced.


Anonymous said...

Last weekend my partner and I, both non farmers, attended the Organic Farming Conference in Lacrosse, WI. We had a wonderful time, and we can both see agriculture in our future. She is studying to be a midwife and I myself will start studying at an agriculture institute. Our most valued ability at this moment is our cooking. We love food, and we'll do anything to secure the best food possible for our future. Materialism in this manner is justifiable when you're set on shitting in a hole out back.

Anyways, I write with only one question: Do you think the Internet is sustainable?

LFW - Love from Wisconsin

arcolaura said...

It startles me sometimes, talking to someone who seems fairly aware, and then seeing them freeze at the suggestion that we could recover some of the old skills. The reaction seems to be "No way, been there, won't go back." It's not like I'm suggesting "going back to living in tipis," as the more dismissive people put it.

I don't know, maybe there are a fair number of people around here who already believe that they can't do with less, but I'd say there are many more who "won't." I want to ask the women who drive Hummers, "Where do you live - do you have to ford a river to get home, or something like that?" If I park my little truck at the restaurant, it disappears among the big diesels. At the curling rink, I commented to my Dad about all these command-start-equipped trucks, sitting running before they are needed - what's the impact of that innovation on total emissions? And my Dad said he figured some of those trucks had been left idling all through the curling games. I hardly notice the ongoing sound of revving snowmobiles as the kids around town are joyriding. Is it just because we're oil country, and so the people refuse to even think about problems with the industry they depend on? Feel they have to thumb their noses at the whole ideas of peak oil and climate change, by revving the engines a little louder still?

Sorry for the rant. Just came from an all-day church meeting where people got embroiled in lengthy discussions about horrifically trivial matters. Sometimes I think I need to be there, just to shake things up, but oh, the whole thing is so pathetically myopic.

ps pirro said...

Thanks for this clear-eyed post. The image of fiddling while Rome burns comes to mind.

CG said...

hey LFW, I'm sorry, but "studying" won't get it. If you wanna be a midwife, attend births (all births, animal, vegetable and mineral) and read, and if you wanna grow stuff, grow stuff. And read. I mean, really, where does this "I have to go to school to know anything" thing come from? Oh, yeah, government school brainwashing.

And you know, I love my boss. She is the most kind, thoughtful, bright person, and aware of things really, and it just gave me a new perspective to hear her say that. I don't see how people who are in houses they can't afford got there without being aware of it . . . well, this is how evidently. I still don't understand it but it makes me feel like I took the red pill.

Anonymous said...

CG, I understand and agree. My comment was abstracted. Rest assured, the births are being attended, the ag studying will be on-farm (hopefully at the michael fields institute feb '09), gardening this summer, and a CSA worker share this summer. We both read: Gene Logsdon (The Contrary Farmer, which is how I found your blog, btw) and enough Wendell Berry to fill a bath tub. - LFW

CG said...

Good for you. I don't mean to be a sh*ta** (as my grandfather would say) but I am contrary.

I love Logsdon. Except he evidently doesn't eat goats.

CG said...

oh yeah, you asked, do I think the internet is sustainable. I don't have the foggiest really. I suspect it might actually be. To some extent anyway. In that I think it could exist and produce more than it consumes. I think the internet could actually do this more easily than a lot of people I know. But if it (the internet) quit existing, well, it wouldn't hurt my corn patch any.

clairesgarden said...

more folks here on the 'won't', few enough on the 'can't'.
I'm on the 'have to', no money for extra gas and not sure I'd spend it even if I did.
nice to hear your getting some riding now at your job.

Eleutheros said...

"Anyways, I write with only one question: Do you think the Internet is sustainable?"

In Douglas Adams "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" he relates that the Total Perspective Vortex was invented by Trim Tragula, who was a speculator, a dreamer, or as his wife would have it, an idiot. When he would spend inordinate amounts of time musing over the mechanics of safety pins or doing spectrographic analyses of bits of fairy cake, his wife would tell tell him "Have some sense of proportion!!"

To understand how the internet is sustainable, you have to have some sense of proportion. Think of the difference between an AAA battery and the 220v connection that runs an electric range. A small computer that would connect you to the internet can run from one or two AAA cells, such as PDA devices and the new hard-drive-less computers.

I have a NiMh AAA cell here and it says it can store 550 milliamp hours. That is, fully charged it will deliver about half an amp for one hour at 1.25 volts. It's total power is the product of those three things: 1 hour x half an amp x 1.25 volts. = .625 watt hours.

Compare that to, let's say, your electric clothes dryer. It uses 220v at 10 amps for the same hour of use. That's 220 x 10 = 2200 watt hours. That's over 3500 times the amount of electricity.

The problem comes from lumping all energy use into one basket without having a sense of proportion. You could power the devices you need to access the internet for hours from a few AAA cells and you could charge those with a solar cell the size of the palm of your hand. But that much electricity wouldn't run your electric clothes dryer for a tenth of a second.

Like that lighting and heating offices, schools, stores, and the streets, climate controlling houses, using electric clothes dryers, etc. is unsustainable. But by comparison, all the infrastructure of the internet and all it's users combined is a tiny, tiny fraction of that energy, and wisely managed, it is sustainable forever.

Wendy said...

Damn the red pill! I think I'm still trying not to swallow it, and it's kind of stuck in my throat, about halfway down. I KNOW what's happening, but I'm hoping that people will be willing to give up their Hummers and electric clothes dryers so that we can preserve some of the things that can't be replaced with things that are more sustainable - like the Internet. I keep telling my husband that I want solar panels so that I can continue to power my computer, and he says, "But that's not the way it works - you can't just power the things you want", and I'm thinking "If I turn off some breakers in the electric box, I think I can ...."

Of course, I realize that the answer is not to have solar power and a hybrid car and just keep living the way we are, which is why the primary focus, at least in my suburban home, is to cut back - reduce, rather than just switching energies, because ultimately, getting accustomed to using less will serve us much better in the event that we end up having none to use.