Sunday, July 14, 2019

It's a wrap

Hens will do pasture good if they are not too concentrated on it. -- John Seymour

Some years ago, I came across the concept of a "chicken moat" and it fired my imagination. I was not much into having livestock myself, but, partnered with an enthusiast, knew poultry and other animals were going to be part of my life.

Chickens, ducks and their guard goose in the moat
I thought about the idea for years without implementing it, until the day I discovered deer had climbed onto the porch and eaten all the tomato seedlings in their pots. We counted up the costs of fencing the entire acre so as not to have this issue, and found we could do it.

This had the immediate benefit that we could extend the range of the poultry, but their effects in the garden were deleterious, even though they were no match for the deer in that regard. We could have them there in winter ...

... but in summer, once the slugs and bugs were under control, lettuce and chard would appear on the menu. So the obvious thing to do was to have an outer deer fence and inner poultry fence, defining the space between as pasture, and -- mirabile dictu -- a "moat" had been built.

We next placed the orchard in the moat, reasoning that even fallen fruit that was not eaten by the birds would produce bugs of various kinds that might be opportunely snapped up.

Chickens, however, are very hard on the root collars of young fruit trees, so we tried first caging the trees with prunings (the birds pulled them apart), hardware cloth (too many weeds) and then a rock mulch. We found we could spread fruit pulp (fertilizer) from cider making at the roots of the trees, and it could be explored at leisure by the birds, with the roots protected by the buried rocks. These must weigh at least three pounds or hens will root them out in order to make dust-bath pits. With ducks, this is really no issue.

We do think the garden shows signs of a reduction in slugs and veg-predacious bugs, though we have never been able to close the entire circle because of our predetermined layout, which can be an issue when buying a place already developed -- renters may encounter even more issues.

But almost every single-unit or cooperative housing place in arable temperate country, including in the suburbs could potentially benefit from such an arrangement, local codes and HOAs permitting (if they don't, now might be the time to go into politics!). I think it can be kept attractive. Of course, the more freedom you have, the more species of plants you may wish to encourage, so as to work toward a true permaculture forest garden.

Acre or even smaller lot: a) House b) garage c) wellhouse d) garden shed e) barn/poultry house f) garden beds g) fruit trees h) chicken moat i) optional goats/sheep j) truck access k) walkway l) shade trees such as mature cherry or walnut. m) place for humans to zone out.  Not shown: plantings of tea, herbs, berries, grapes, lavender, etc.
In our case, it's impossible to tell from the road that there is a moat, as we have shrubbery along the road and apple trees along the inside of the fence there. Ten feet from the road is the location of the fence, to account for county right-of-way. The poultry zone stretches from there all along the east side of the property and, as the neighbors have their own chickens, there are no diplomatic concerns. You can see from this that the idea of a moat can be very flexible indeed.

This is shaped more like a pipe wrench than two concentric circles. But for us it's a wrap.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

She's done so

That which is medicinal is where she finds it, in many cases, though she's not always willing to write about her findings. Fortunately, libraries, the Internet, and conversations with the right people will bring anyone up to speed who has the will to ask. She does try to sprinkle her findings with Occam's shavings as needed.

poppies and mint

Much the same is true for food,

peas and grapes


flushing out and reviving an old well


salvaging materials for an enclosed porch


cutting up windfalls

and cooling.

exterior shades for a dollar each

All these activities will not come to much, though, if one remains prey to the internalized demands of the current civilization, which requires of us that we either exemplify greed or, through fear of loss to ourselves and our loved ones, grovel to the greedy.

To the extent possible, she would prefer not to give in, at least in the last things. Here she's mindful of the pressures that can be brought to bear. It might come to be too much, yes? But for right now she has some wiggle room in which to choose a story, and she's done so.

In spring the hills are green 
the stream below is blue
the ox gets by with few desires
a good feed keeps it happy

like this for thirty years
the ox has been well trained
seeing someone else's grain
doesn't make it hungry

-- Liao-an Ch'ing-yu in P'u Ming's Oxherding Pictures & Verses (unpaginated, tr. Red Pine)

Monday, July 08, 2019

To so live that one does not need television

Cultivate poverty like sage, like a garden herb. Do not trouble yourself to get new things, whether clothes or friends. That is dissipation. -- Thoreau

Down to a twelve hour week? We need not fret. Not so many years ago I was living in a single room, doing laundry in the sink, cooking in a rice steamer on my desk, drinking tap water. I made teas from found herbs, and then ate them with my rice; I prowled alleyways for apples and plums in season.

Once I had made my way back to the country (a house was for sale with an overgrown acre at its feet and blue tarps on its roof), I resolved to eat better, and picked up tools.

A tree planter's shovel can do a lot; with it weeds and roots may be chopped, posts may be set, soil turned, seedlings planted, and an orchard set forth. Some have dug wells so. Acceptable soil, temperatures and moisture (while that is possible) can be a big help, though one might be surprised at what some have made arable.

One may find other tools at yard sales and thrifts. Or make others. Know when to stop acquiring; a tractor, for example, can lead to complications. You need not grow twelve acres of carrots for people in the next province, state or country.

I favor a short-handled hoe made from a car fender by a handy friend. For transplanting it has no equal, and it can weed or, in a pinch, plow. But we are a deep-mulch family.

If one can count on relatives that's a blessing. Maybe my best garden tools are the bench grinder and vise given to us by my dad almost fifty years ago. With these, what I don't have, I can generally make. His old wrenches, hammers and such came in handy as well.

One may be given seeds, or find them at a seed library, or on sale. Or from reputable suppliers.

Then there's seed saving. I have always avoided patented seeds for this reason and others.

Saving all compost has worked well here; gardening, like farming, mineral mining and fossil fuel extraction, costs the earth. The costs must be repaid if the garden is to continue. The more local the nutrients, the lower the cost to the earth. I know the gadget pictured here is expensive; it was a gift.

Work and rest, eat, sleep, drink tea, watch the clouds go by. The idea is not to save the earth; as I have said, that's water over the dam. But to at least so live that one does not need television.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

A Way to Live

Like most blogs in the age of intensive short-read social media, this one has suffered from the drop from hundreds of thousands of views to a trickle. Your blogista did give it up for about three years, but the reason was not loss of audience -- whoever wants to read, well, there it all is -- but loss of utility; posting had become a nightmare due to extremely slow response of the Blogger database, which she attributed to there being a thousand posts. Maybe, maybe not.

Putting the fall garden in the midst of the spring garden, 2011.

Lately, the urge to blog, at least a little, perked up again and so she purged redundant or dated posts (about three hundred), retaining those that gestured most clearly in the direction of her target audience: those who might consider the possibility that subsistence agroforestry homesteading might be a suitable response to the destruction of the biosphere by greed, anger and delusion, particularly by way of industrial agricultural capitalism (though that's almost like scratching the surface). She's been talking about Permaculture, really, but she and many others are shy of the "patchouili" reputation that word has garnered over time, and not having attended a PDC course, felt constrained to work with a parallel vocabulary.

Polyculture, 2014

She then reported on her current project, an immersion study of the lifestyle of Buddhist hermits, living part-time in a hut that was the former playhouse of her long-grown children. This touches on her ongoing interest in low-tech homesteading, because the hermit life is perhaps the ultimate in low-carbon living. Concurrently, joining a sangha and taking the precepts filled a need for her that could be called spiritual.

Gogo-an, 2018

She's not a full-time hermit because there are family members who need ongoing support and care, and at seventy she's, umm, become one of those. So the one-acre homestead, with its house, garden, poultry, social life and amenities, is still a thing.

The farm kitchen, 2010

There is still the truck and teardrop trailer and visits to lakes and mountains, and what not -- the contradictions are ongoing, and simplification has not really been implemented at life-changing scale. But given the likelihood that everyone will stop flying or buying plastic or fighting for the last drop of oil any time soon, she's done with berating herself.

Fortieth anniversary, 2017

She could push the extremely simple life -- prescriptively -- but she's going to continue to only moderately model it -- descriptively, at least for now. To those who would say, perhaps quite rightly, that she's copped out, she can only reply, "that's right. Have a go at doing better, if you are so inclined, and be sure to let us know if it's catching on." Perhaps the things she's been trying out could have been useful if adopted at scale; but it's becoming clear, given our biological imperatives, that's not going to happen in time.

Many react emotionally to such an assertion, but, after all, every species dies, just as every civilization and every individual dies. These events are normal and neither good nor bad in themselves. If we fear death, perhaps we should consider what the world was like for us before we were born. What was Stalin or Hitler to me in 1945? Or any disaster or drought or famine? There was no me until 1949, and consequently I did not suffer in those nightmarish times. So it will be for me after I die, I'm pretty sure, and so it is for civilizations and species. As Cool Hand Luke said, "nothing can be a real cool hand."

We did the harm, and we can own up to it, noting that planetary repair wasn't going to happen in, or even before our time, and choose: work frantically to change the behavior of eight billion people overnight (yesterday), against the will of every power on earth, or go pick some dandelions, blackberry leaves, mint, lemon balm and borage, or whatever is local to us, and make our own yard tea, which also is against the will of every power on earth, and a bit less stressful.

And we can make yard tea for others; nothing in recognizing the facts about resource depletion and planet heating requires that we abandon compassion.

Broadbeans as season-extending shade for the summer garden, 2014

Out of habit as much as anything, the Old Woman will continue, while able, to report on what she's doing. Ya like the idea of yard tea, follow along.

Polyculture, 2015

Control food and you control the people. -- Henry Kissinger

Grow it, pick it and eat it fresh. -- Risa Bear

Saturday, June 29, 2019

In Place: An Album Epilogue


is whatever one does repeatedly with an intention, such as to form a habit. In the case of this old woman, she sits zazen, walks kinhin, or does chores with awareness of the present scene — internal, external — to the extent possible for her.

As I would now explain it, diligently practicing the Way means letting all things be what they are in their Self-nature, as you put your essential oneness into operation by following the road away from discriminatory and dualistic thinking. When you have abandoned that type of thinking and have thus passed beyond its barriers, you will cease to be affected by its explanations, which, like the nodes in bamboo, block free passage.... "
Dogen, "Bendowa" (tr. Nearman)

She currently makes no claim for the efficacy of this method, other than to note that to practice non-judgment in retreat calms her mind and body and seems to improve her chances, when she returns to the contentious world, of doing what is right:
Give freely, speak kindly,
embody benevolence, and make
between your need and that of others
no distinction

In Place: An Album 58


To and from this hut
daily she has walked,
leaning on her old apple stick,
learning a way to live

To counter greed, hatred and delusion, she has read, one must learn non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion.

Okay; where to begin? In this hut she has realized that she can live relatively free of greed, by keeping it simple -- not needing much. She can live relatively free of hatred, by keeping it simple -- no ambition (for one hates those who prevent or delay the attainment of one's ambitions). She can live relatively free of delusion, by keeping it simple (observation without judgment clouded by greed or hatred).

And nothing is simpler than to sit, walk, eat, and rest without judging.

To be aware of the observer, his movement, his self-centered activity, his assertions, his prejudices, one must be aware of all these unconscious movements which build the separatist feeling that he is different. It must be observed without any form of evaluation, without like and dislike; just observe it in daily life, in its relationships. When this observation is clear, isn't there then a freedom from the observer?
-- J. Krishnamurti, The Urgency of Change 138

One day, the literary giant Bai Juyi paid a visit to Chan Master Niaoke Daolin. He saw the Chan Master sitting upright by a magpie’s nest, so he said, “Chan Master, living in a tree is too dangerous!”

The Chan Master replied, “Magistrate, it is your situation that is extremely dangerous!”
Bai Juyi heard this and, taking exception, said, “I am an important official in this imperial court. What danger is there?”

The Chan Master said, “The torch is handed from one to another, people follow their own inclinations without end. How can you say it’s not dangerous?” The meaning is to say that in officialdom, there are rises and falls, and people scheming against one another. Danger is right before your eyes. Bai Juyi seemed to come to some sort of understanding. Changing the subject, he then asked, “What is the essential teaching of the Dharma?”

The Chan Master replied, “Commit no evil. Do good deeds!” Hearing this, Bai Juyi thought the Chan Master would instruct him with some profound concept. Yet, they were just ordinary words. Feeling very disappointed, he said, “Even a three-year-old child knows this concept!”

The Chan Master said, “Although a three-year-old child can say it, an eighty-year-old man cannot do it.

Hsing Yun
(tr. Pey-Rong Lee and Dana Dunlap)

In Place: An Album 57


In August the altar
is thirsty; she tells herself
be on the lookout for
a deeper water dish

The rate of evaporation of the water offering bespeaks, for her, here, a newly parched landscape. She reminds herself to set out water for birds and animals, and to prepare for fires and smoke. Life as she has known it is coming to an end; new habits will be the correct response in the near term; what will be required in the long term? Greed, hatred and delusion will bear their fruit; what fruit might she grow to counter them?

Anger and hatred are the feelings that arise towards those who stand in the way of your greed and craving, who prevent you from achieving what you believe to be your due. And delusion is the consciousness that shapes itself around the feelings of desire or revulsion to justify your attachment to the outcome you want to materialize, that validate your slant on the phenomenal world as "right."
-- Ross McLauren Madden, The Three Poisons: A Buddhist Guide to Resolving Conflict 99 (emphasis added)

Greed, hatred, and ignorance appear and disappear
Like bubbles on the surface of the sea.
-- attr. Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh, "Song of Enlightenment"

Thursday, June 27, 2019

In Place: An Album 56


From the eaves a small bell
sounds out mountain winds;
the old woman wonders
who is listening

In this location, warming air in summer flows south and cooling air flows north. Such reliability!

White clouds too know the flavor
Of this mountain life;
They haven't waited for the Vesper Bell
To come on home again.
-- Ching An in The Clouds Should Know Me By Now 188 (tr. Seaton)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

In Place: An Album 55


This robe will be stitched
with her mother's thread
her mother-in-law's needle
her shaking hands

She sews at high noon. Thankfully, the hut's large windows admit enough light, augmented with two bright lamps, for these old eyes. Two hours in a day is enough; go play.

The reality of life settles down into the reality of life.
-- Kosho Uchiyama in The Wholehearted Way 164 (tr. Okumura and Leighton)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

In Place: An Album 54


When you sit as one point
you are the awakened one
but just so is the chair, the wall,
the fly resting on the wall

The mundane is the "holy" and the "holy" is the mundane. Examining this image, the old woman chuckles. At seventy, she is channeling Whistler's mother.

Why leave behind the seat that exists in your home and go aimlessly off to the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you go astray from the way directly before you.
-- Dogen, "Fukanzazengi."