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Monday, April 16, 2018

A meditation on four propositions

1. On the truth that life hurts.

1.1. I don't know much (though I have been told a great deal, all my life) about past lives or an afterlife, but I'm pretty sure I'm living a life now, and, given that I was a tree planter amid the mountains of the Pacific Northwest for ten years, I can assure you there is physical pain. What we know as psychological pain or mental anguish is also physical pain. 

1.2. Not all such pain can be avoided; it's a signal built into us so that we may have some aversion to burns, freezing, cuts, bruises, scrapes, bumps and communicable diseases, so as to be more likely to live long enough to propagate ourselves on this hot, cold, wet, sharp and hard planet.

1.3. Some pain to ourselves and others may be prevented by wise action, such as not driving on the wrong side of the road.

1.4. Some pain to others may be prevented if they will heed our warning not to drive on the wrong side of the road.

1.5. Yet not all consequence of driving on the wrong side of the road is brought about by those whom we have advised; they may heed it very well, and then someone else, for whatever reason, drives on the wrong side of the road and may hit them.

1.6. That physical pain which is misery — for our purpose here, mental anguish — often concerns timing: the past, present, or future. "Time" may be a construct with which we seek to comprehend rates at which differences are observed, but it's real enough to us that we may speak of "past, present, or future" without too much interference from all but the most militantly abstruse philosophers.

1.7. One might, for example, lie abed in the hospital and agonize over having driven on the wrong side of the road. One might also agonize over the present state of one's absent loved ones, who perhaps have heard about the accident and are leaving work in order to get to one's bedside. Or perhaps are showing less interest in one's condition than one hoped. And one could agonize about one's financial condition, having been hit by an uninsured motorist (this mainly applies to the odd system of health care in the United States).

1.8. Change is what is unavoidable. Some of it does not hurt and some does. For our purposes here, as we are not, perhaps, world class biologists, pleasure and happiness are states, signals that good food, clean water, decent shelter, and beautiful scenery have been experienced, are being accessed, or have been promised.

1.9. Pain and misery are states — change slow enough to be illusively perceived as having an essence — and they are signals that inimical change has occurred: scrapes, bruises, loss of trust, loss of income, cancer, winding up in the burn unit.

1.10. Suicide (when successful) is a sure bet for ending some kinds of personal pain and/or misery, but it often tends to include some abdication of responsibility toward others, unless one has already entered hospice territory and one's affairs are properly tied up. In general, non-harm includes non-self-harm.

2. On the truth that much of how it hurts is that we want our way.

2.1. But for now, let us assume we have sufficient health and strength of body and mind to take some action in the world. We may reach for food, scoop up water for ourselves. Upon reflection, we find that it is a good idea to do this for family, friends and tribe. For others, in a wider or even much wider circle, it may be more difficult to perceive why we should do such things gratis. Hence, trade. Value for value, in an effort to ride the tide of change, win-win, at least for now.

2.2. In trade, however, there may be the temptation to short the trade partner. What is intended is more pleasure and happiness for ourselves. Understandable. But the attempt to guarantee these by tilting the table of value toward ourselves may increase pain and misery to others.

2.3. Eventually they will notice. They may try to tilt the table back toward themselves in some way. Choices include product adulteration, tariff, sanctions, the setting up of laws and courts, assassins, hacking, war. It's a game with consequences, this shorting of others -- any others.

3. On the truth that we can let go of having our way.

3.1. Some pain, and ultimately, all death, are unavoidable. But much misery --and much retribution -- is not. By protecting the widest circle from undue misery we offer the greatest such protection to ourselves and our own. 

3.2. Furthermore, the best approach -- for ourselves -- to protection from misery is simply not to need protection. How would that look? What are the things a person might be doing whom undue misery cannot reach?

3.3. We must let go of "having our way."

4. On the way to let go of having our way, in eight parts.

4.1. Kindness. Dig it.

4.1.1. Ethical behavior cannot well spring from rote memorization of a program, nor from pain avoidance, which is what we're doing when we have an enforced code thrust upon us. That's not ethics, that's "morals."

4.1.2 We have to decide for ourselves what to do and why we do it. So to ameliorate pain and misery for others, it behooves us to understand ourselves and them, the nature of our relationship to them, perhaps something of their goals and direction in life. Multiculturalism is an expression of compassion.

4.1.3. We will need to see better our own mistakes and the pitfalls in our way, and see what is required to step round the pitfalls and cease making these mistakes.

4.1.4. As noted above, while some pain is simply part of the way things are, much misery is created by the holding of expectations.

4.1.5. This is perhaps because we are mistaken in our view of time and mistaken in our view of the self.

4.1.6. There is no past, only the synapses formed when the past "was" the present, which is all there is -- all is now. Memory and consequence (change) are with us, but only in the present.

4.1.7 We agonize over the "past" when we should instead accept the consequences and memories we have with us as given and begin from there.

4.1.8. No ethical effective action, no effective action, and no action can take place in the past.

4.1.9. So, instead of "If only I hadn't done that, my friends would still trust me" one might say, "I'm sorry I did that. What can I do to make it better?" spoken with the intent to act in the present. 

4.1.10. Also there is no future, only our memories and the current state of changes that are taking place, from which we extrapolate a posited future.

4.1.11. We agonize over the "future" when we should instead simply act in accordance with the best available principles in the here -- this here -- and now -- this now.

4.1.12. So, instead of "what happens if the bank fails? I'll be ruined," for example, we may work here and now to be clear of debt, and live so as not to require a large (and therefore vulnerable) cash flow. The best way is to need almost no things.

4.1.13. Also there is the matter of the “self.” There is body, mind, thought, feelings, memory, and these have a locus which is contingent upon the body.

4.1.14. But we tend to sequester these from our surroundings and say, "I want that dinner, as I'm hungry, and as I'm stronger than you, I will have it, too bad for you." I versus you, us versus them. It's the basis of almost all that passes for news and current events in this sad world.

4.1.15. But what if self is a bit larger than that? Say, for example, everything that makes you you is everything you are experiencing? Such that the sunshine that comes slanting in the window on a late afternoon not only warms you and occasions thoughts of beauty, but to the extent that you see and feel it, and have feelings and thoughts about it, it also is you?

4.1.16. How would we behave if we experienced the sun and moon as ourselves? And the air, the rain, the streams, the landscape, the soil, the plants and animals, and every human being we encounter? Perhaps we would treat them all differently than we have done if we begin to regard them as not separate from ourselves.

4.1.17. So that there might be an understanding from which an empathetic ethic -- a helping, and not hindering, personal nature -- flows: in which we have no past and no future but only a present moment which is everything and from which we are not separate?

4.2. Think it.

4.2.1. As we wake up to the understanding that time is now and space is here, i.e. being is the present moment and all that is in it, we begin to lose our sense of separation -- from others, from the natural world.

4.2.2. This frees us from fear and makes possible kind thoughts toward others, which is the foundation of ethical actions.

4.2.3. We may begin to review our impulses toward speech. Is this kind speech? Does it tend to increase or decrease the (false) sense of separation? Is it mired in the past, as with resentment, or concerning itself with things that might not even happen, as with apprehension? Perhaps it is concerned with the here and now, but is it needful? And: Is it true? Thought can thus work as a spiritual tool for regulation of speech.

4.2.4. We may also review our impulses toward action. If an action is rooted in a misunderstanding it will produce or compound error. If we are thinking clearly here and now, we may take an action that is beneficial to all, at least to the extent that this is possible.

4.2.5. We may also give considered thought to our livelihood. As a sound understanding gives rise to sound thought and action, the likelihood that we will find "meaningful work" (beneficial and not detrimental to ourselves, to others, and to the world) increases.

4.2.6. With clear thought arises the possibility that when we apply ourselves earnestly, we will promote well-being and decrease harm.

4.2.7. Though our thoughts may help with speech, action, livelihood, and effort, we must also observe our thoughts. Are they grounded in an awakened awareness of space-time (here and now)?

4.2.8. We may ground our thoughts in reality by concentration. Sitting mindfully, walking mindfully, speaking or withholding speech mindfully, acting and working earnestly yet mindfully, in the here and now, we may pass beyond the intent to be kind and we then become kindness.

4.3. Say it.

4.3.1. Other things being equal, the most golden tongue is the most silent one.

4.3.2. That being "said," we may divide right speech into two parts: that which must be said to increase well-being in the world and decrease harm in the world, and that which must be left unsaid to increase well-being in the world and decrease harm in the world.

4.3.3. Content in excellent speech springs from right understanding: a present and unwavering awareness of all time being now, and all place being here, with the inclusion of all other persons and the entire biosphere in what is to be meant by the "self."

4.3.4. Discretion in speech, as to what should be said or left unsaid, springs from right thought: what will be helpful and not harmful in this context, in which the other is also the self? What will be harmful and not helpful in this eternal moment, releasing judgment of the "past" and not productive of illusion concerning the "future?"

4.3.5. With right speech, we can initiate helpful action and prevent harmful action.

4.3.6. With right speech, we can carry out helpful livelihood and prevent harmful livelihood.

4.3.7. With right effort, we will be on guard against selfish habits, and can better distinguish harmful speech from helpful speech.

4.3.8. With right mindfulness, our speech can arise naturally from cultivated wisdom, with selfish habits laid down.

4.3.4. With right concentration, there will be no water in the bucket, no moon in the water, no bucket, no moon, no separate self. Any speech remaining will reduce, and not increase, illusion, attachment, suffering in the world.

4.4. Do it.

4.4.1. If one understands rightly and thinks rightly, one acquires the responsibility to act rightly.

4.4.2. One who accepts and undertakes the responsibility to act rightly will not only seek to create well-being for all in both the private and public spheres of action, but will also seek out a livelihood that creates well-being.

4.4.3. Neither laziness on the one hand, nor fanaticism on the other, but healthily mindful and concentrated effort supports right action.

4.4.4. Aware of what is going on in the community and environment, one chooses mindfully the path through life that will allow well-being to unfold naturally.

4.4.5. While taking action to create well-being, one concentrates on the task at hand, seeing it through to the goal.

4.4.6. Right action includes observation. Know what has happened and is now happening before attempting to intervene, so that well-being may be a likelier outcome.

4.4.7. Seek to work with sun, wind, water and soil efficiently. Go kindly amid the plants and animals.

4.4.8. The earth naturally abounds, as does the community. Do not starve yourself when feeding others.

4.4.9. Accept the wisdom of others, including critical feedback, while observing your own motives and prejudices closely.

4.4.10. Look to work with what can be renewed rather than be used up.

4.4.11. If you must utilize a non-renewable resource, do so very sparingly.

4.4.12. See what is the way of the natural world and design your actions accordingly.

4.4.13. Be unprejudiced in dealing with persons and groups, and cooperate widely.

4.4.14. Do not rush headlong in seeking solutions, but sound out the wisdom of living things. Take the time to get it right.

4.4.15. Do not try to do all things in the same way.

4.4.16. Expect wisdom and value in places and persons others have overlooked.

4.4.17. All things change. Ride the stream rather than struggle against it. (6 through 17 espouse the Permaculture Principles as formulated by Mollison and Holmgren. See also 4.8.4, Permaculture Ethics).

4.5. Make your living at it.

4.5.1. A natural outgrowth of right action is right livelihood, or making sure your carrel in the office is a place in which you are doing more good than harm.

4.5.2. It is probable there are few such carrels. This is evidence for the idea that "livelihood" does not necessarily coincide with "job."

4.5.3. In general, there are currently two kinds of livelihoods: those that have a centripetal influence on economic and decision making power, and those that have a centrifugal effect.

4.5.4. The former help create and maintain environmental rapaciousness, bureaucratism, capitalism, privatization, theocratism, nationalism, fascism, or cults of authoritarian personality, advancing fear, selfishness and mutual distrust, while the latter help maintain the environmental commons through communitarianism and cooperativism, advancing kindness, mutual respect, and trust.

4.5.5. All work evinces both tendencies, as when a manager at an oil drilling firm is kind to her employees and delegates powers to them.

4.5.6. In seeking right livelihood, while the first consideration is to obtain a yield, that is, one must support oneself and perhaps a family by means of such livelihood as is available, be it ever so centripetal, the second is to consciously prepare to seek out right livelihood.

4.5.7. Right livelihood allows for right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

4.5.8. Right livelihood allows for observing precepts -- for example: to abstain from cruelty, brutalizing, wounding or killing, to abstain from plunder or theft, to avoid relational or sexual misconduct, to abstain from false speech or destructive silence, to refrain from addictive and debilitating drug usage, such as drunkenness.

4.5.9. Right livelihood allows for perfecting the marks of wisdom, as in generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, contemplation, insight.

4.5.10. Right livelihood allows for observance of the Permaculture ethics and principles (there is much overlap with all of the above).

4.5.11. It seems a tall order, in these times, to achieve all this! Find the "job" or "jobs" that provide you the widest scope for right action and a clear conscience, and remain vigilant to find an even better one.

4.5.12. For many, a step away from the debilitating self-compromising that is entailed by industrialized (centripetal, authoritarian) employment may be found in simplifying one's life and reducing one's needs, so as to be able to earn a livelihood through independent (centrifugal, communitarian) action, such as developing an artisanal skill and trading upon it.

4.6. Bring it.

4.6.1. When one knows the truth of an error-prone world experience, the truth of the cause of error, the truth that error can be corrected, and the truth of a program of correction, it is not enough to merely appreciate the information.

4.6.2. That is, it is not enough merely to acquire wisdom: right understanding and right vision.
4.6.3. It is not even enough to behave well: right speech, action and livelihood.

4.6.4. One must also earnestly and tirelessly apply oneself to discovering, mastering, and manifesting these things. This has been called right effort.

4.6.5. "I'll get on with it in the next hour, the next day, the next week, the next decade," one might say. Or, "this is just too hard." And one reverts to "old" habits, not making the effort to understand and see how to let go of false self-regard, poorly directed desires, harmful words and actions and destructive employment.

4.6.6. Do not think the path away from error can be embraced without a sense of urgency. Error is to be dispelled here, where we are, and not left to others.

4.6.7. Error is to be dispelled now, not somewhere down the road or even around the next bend.

4.6.8. The program of correction comprising wisdom, action and concentration is to be embraced fully in the here and in the now. "Old" habits, what and where are they? Now is now. 

4.6.9. One might put it this way: "I take responsibility, here and in the eternal now, to end my contribution to the error and misery in this world, on behalf of all, from whom I am not separate."

4.7. Eat, sleep and breathe it.

4.7.1. The old teacher said, "let fall (drop off) body and mind." That is, do not cling to separateness. Your body is part of the world and your mind is part of the world. Where is this "body?" and where is this "mind" that you "have?"

4.7.2 Mindfulness begins after the letting fall. As there is now and not then (past) or later (future), nor there (away), but only the reality of here/now, mindfulness embraces that which is and steadies one on the path.

4.7.3. Mindfulness, or not straying into unreality, illuminates the understanding.

4.7.4. Mindfulness promotes uplifting speech and prevents deleterious speech.

4.7.5. Mindfulness guides correct action.

4.7.6. Mindfulness finds or creates beneficial livelihood.

4.7.7. Mindfulness invigorates effort.

4.7.8. Mindfulness, by clearing away illusion, is the ground of unshadowed concentration.

4.8. Be it.

4.8.1. Understanding that there is a path, thinking that arises from traveling the path, speech that arises from such thought, action that follows upon such speech, livelihood that is the outgrowth of such action, effort that is applied to path-keeping, mindfulness that prevents straying, all lead to concentration.

4.8.2. In the concentrated life, rising and retiring mindfully, sitting mindfully, walking mindfully, speaking, acting, eating, working and breathing mindfully may all lead to one-pointedness, the “state” in which even mindfulness, or watchfulness lest one stray, drops away: "let fall body and mind."

4.8.3. Concentration completes the circle, for the path is a circle that takes in the entire universe.

4.8.4. Without reference to a localized "self" and not lost in recriminations concerning the past or anxieties as to the future, we become that which takes care of people, takes care of the earth, and naturally, without self-regard or hesitation, manifests beneficence.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On bumps in the road

Ready for the open road -- we thought.
Back when our family was living a nomadic lifestyle that revolved around tree-planting contracts on mostly federal lands, we pulled a small travel trailer behind an International Travelall with most of our worldly goods in the one or the other.

And one day we left home to go to a contract five hundred miles away, and in ten miles came to a brand-new sign that said, “BUMP.” As in, “we have removed the top four inches of asphalt from the bridge fifty yards ahead, with a vertical drop at each end, and if you hit it at any speed between five miles an hour and the posted speed of fifty-five at which you are now traveling, well, have we got a surprise for you.”

We saw what was coming, but with three second’s worth of brake time, there was not much to do but grin and bear it.

It took days to sort out our windshield and flour and beans and lamp chimneys and toe-in and trailer tongue and so on, and we lost some work. Fortunately no one was hurt.

All that was, was a bump in the road. But suppose it had been a cliff?

"civilization" seems to me to be nearing a cliff, so I've done what I could about it. If you might wish to do the same, read on for some glimpses of doomer hobbies you might take up.

Nobody gets out of the world alive, and I’ve picked Zen meditation and Buddhist precepts as my outgoing hobby -- cheap and portable. Also I write poems. Something else may work better for you.

Things to do that might help: and

You may wish to access (not necessarily buy) land or a rooftop or a lot of containers and do, to the extent possible, your own food (and maybe some for others). Don’t bother with a water barrel, go water tank if you can. There’s almost always a way to farm. 

Consider learning and applying the principles of “permaculture.” Some or all of this might work for you; start small and low-cost.

If you like, go low profile, find, make, repurpose, fix, mend, borrow, trade, recycle, but also lend, and lend a hand (networking). Friends can get you through times of no money better than money (or what’s left of it) will get you through times of no friends. Leave banks for a credit union and draw down to invest in tools, dry food, the children, the grandchildren, the “friends and relations,” and the neighborhood.

If at all possible, drop the car (and flying) and go by train, bus, rideshare, bicycle, or shank’s mare. Look at all your motors and downsize (from gasoline to electric, from electric to hand tools).

Maybe teach what you know, and learn what you don’t. Stockpile old (paper) books on tools, maintenance, farming, gardening, preservation, cooking.

Maybe learn some older stuff: or

Keep an eye out for anything from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Get some current books (and supplies) for first aid, medical emergencies, health, and community health.

Or maybe what you need is online, but I set store by printing out.

Maybe pull the plug and go off-grid? We’ve done it, we loved it (but, yes, we were young). Our goal was to live like Mr. Badger, and we pretty much have:

Our solutions were low-tech for a reason. You can do nifty technological solutions to keep this comfy. But it helps to be educated, bright, somewhat well-heeled and industrious, with stable surroundings.

Remember, though, the middle-class dream of going off grid with gadgets will get you killed in an actual collapse scenario.

If you try all these things, and then collapse comes and kills you, what did you lose by your efforts? Most of these activities are more fun, at least to my mind, than the cubicle life, so to speak. If you try all these things, and then collapse never comes and doesn’t kill you, what did you lose by your efforts? Most of these activities are more fun, at least to my mind, than the cubicle life, so to speak. 

And you might find that powering down and “collapsing now to avoid the rush” as John Michael Greer says, leads to an ethic that makes you happier (in your remaining time) with yourself than whatever you had going before.

An ethical approach to air, water, soil, the oceans, animals, plants, and ourselves and one another leads, or should lead, to reduced impacts on air, water, soil, the oceans, animals, plants, and people.

And if you don't feel you have achieved much, ya still done good. Outcomes were never guaranteed anyway.


We're on the right. Sustainable, where we were for some millions of years up until twelve thousand years ago, is on the left. Can't get there from here. So, relax.

May you and yours be ever more thoughtful, wise, resourceful, just, and kind in all your dealings than you have been hitherto. 

And may you live in peace and unafraid.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

A light dusting

I have begun work on my rakusu. This is a miniature monk's or nun's robe which is worn at certain times like a bib, symbolically connecting me, through the generations, with Gautama Buddha himself, and a sign of my acceptance of the precepts to guide me through life. Each of these tiny panels will be hand stitched to the others, and is a symbolic rice paddy. One is "nourished" by the precepts, you see.

A light dusting. Because temperatures have been falling into the low twenties (Fahrenheit), I've been covering the kale patch. Beloved brings in the poultry's water buckets at night and sets them out in the mornings, to keep them from freezing. It's not really cold cold, though. A look at the woodshed confirms this.

You can see there is a fair amount of chop-and-drop Japanese knotweed in the current mulch. It was laid on last summer, leaves and all, to help shade the garden during the intense drought.

When the thermometer drops into the twenties, we put a little birdseed out.

Lark buntings, which I've not seen before, swarmed the feeder. They seemed to be passing through. As I went out, they retreated to the orchard and swore at me with a musical "chip-chip" that was a new sound to my ears.

I brought in a Brussels sprout plant, which must have sprung from a seed among a kale mix I'd bought. It's been waiting in the garden since March for me to take an interest, and today was its day. I use the broad leaves as well as the sprouts.

I've been visiting the potting shed and looking it over rather wistfully. You'd think I would know better than to go out there and try to pretend it's March.

Patience, girl.

This time of year that room is not much visited.
Its herringbone-patterned floor of worn bricks
tilts here and there where rodents have made inroads. 
Homemade flats lie heaped in corners; stacks of cells
lean sleepily together; insulation dangles;
tools hang, festooned with webs and dust. Sometimes 
when the door has been set ajar, a towhee wanders in,
becomes confused at light from so many windows,
beats itself silly, then rests, is eventually found 
and shown the way out. There's not much
an old lady can do but wait, watching for
earlier suns to rise, for petrichor, 
for that sudden dislocation brought on
by stepping into sunshine by a southern wall.
Then, after one jonquil blooms by way of 
affirmation, she'll step in, rearrange things,
dust her work bench and stool, bring seeds,
open the soil bin, grab a pot, begin.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dark of the year

At my age, I'm finding I don't get out for chores much when the thermometer drops below fifty Fahrenheit, or it's dark and I'd have to wear a headlamp, or rain gear would be called for, or rime coats the fence posts. One or other of these conditions obtains pretty much all the time now, what with its being an el Nino year and all.

It's teatime all the time, and sit-by-the-fire time, and visit time and such. Visitors create dishes, and I like doing dishes; it's a kind of meditation and an excuse not to camp out on Facebook.

There was one decent freeze, lasting about three days, and I went so far as to cover the kale, chard and beets, which went well. I find I am cutting the beets and chard more than the Red Russian kale, which seems a bit coarse even after the freeze. Some broadbeans are also up and I have been taking some greens from those as well.

Along with the beets, I am finding onions that were missed in the fall -- they are sending up shoots and giving themselves away. Add to these some corn from the freezer, and homegrown meals are turning out all right.

The Granny Smith apples hung on through the freeze and I'm finally getting around to them -- enough for pie.

All that is left is the Granny Smiths; she
Loves that they cling to their shivered tree,
Leaves long gone. Even the hens have left off
Trusting the sky to toss them sugar, and
Have retired to their tractor, pecking
At storebought feed in its styrene bin.
The winds whistle through, rasping
Ink-black twigs together; the apples nod and
Stub their green bellies. She
Lifts ten or so down, as if they were
Each one of her own breasts, tenderly
Filling her small basket. In the kitchen
They will sit shyly waiting their turn:
It is the season for other foods; in
Stoneware bowls, nuts and citrus
Talk among themselves in distant tongues.
Here her hands make outland meals,
Even finding work for lemon skins.
Granny Smiths are not much favored,
Really, by her guests; in festive mood, if an
Apple is desired, they'll reach for waxed,
Not thinking of that one tree, struggling
Night and day to keep for them fresh joy.
Yet she knows she cannot blame them;
Shy apples do their best in pie.
Moonlight limns the fruit she did not pick;
If some green globes remain at large tonight,
The morning light will prove, tomorrow,
Holiday for those that cannot buy.
Squirrels and towhees will know what to do.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Work for one another

I'm a bit of a Murray Bookchin bunny, as may be divined by perusing the link at the bottom of this rant. Please bear with me.

In the 1970s and 1980s I was a member of a forestry services cooperative, The Hoedads, Inc., as recounted in my book, Iron Buddhas. While our initial contract bid bonding was put up by the founders by attaching liens on their real estate, we capitalized our bonds and other costs after the first year by docking ourselves fifteen percent on our individual earnings, meaning that those who earned more were subsidizing those who earned less; but we did not mind that as everyone's fifteen percent pooled together made bidding for work possible for all, including those who earned most.

At first much of the work was done by piece. Say replanting a clear cut grossed us ten thousand dollars and required fifty thousand trees. Each seedling was worth twenty cents, so a planter who put in one thousand trees made two hundred dollars that day, less fifteen percent, while a planter who put in two hundred grossed forty dollars. Fifteen percent out of that did not leave them much to live on, even in those days, especially for such bone-bruising work. Yet these were the very people who, for various reasons having to do with human nature, often found themselves planting in the most unplantable and dangerous ground.

Some of what we called the "low-rollers" accordingly gave up and went away; but many contracts stipulated a minimum crew size in an effort to guarantee that the clear cuts would be reforested in a timely manner (before the end of the rainy season). In an effort to retain them and not lose work due to an underpopulated roster, the crews (each of which was autonomous in its internal governance) entertained solutions.

It was to be expected that the low-rollers proposed switching to an hourly wage. That would certainly be to their advantage, though they could argue both their presence and their patience with unproductive ground (which could not be skipped over or the work would pay zero) as having value, as well as pointing out that they would now be paying a full share of the capitalization.

This, some other crew members (generally the high-rollers) saw as unacceptable. The one to two hundred dollars per day that they were bringing in to their families and farms (as migrant labor who had successfully cut out the "middleman") was vital them and the principal reason for their presence. Making, say, seventy dollars for a day's work in which they had planted a hundred and forty dollar's worth of the trees galled them.

The company operated on the basis of Robert's Rules of Order, and while majority vote had brought everyone a long way, there was the very real danger that in this matter of the distribution of earnings, a vote for either position could result in the disaffected parties departing, leading to a defaulted contract and considerable loss of earnings all round.

A compromise was proposed, in which the treasurer would calculate each crew member's earnings by tree total and again by the hour, then average the two methods to calculate the paycheck. This was called half by the share and half by the tree, or Half & Half. One crew even named itself for this innovation.

A low-roller might make sixty-six dollars in a day instead of fifty, and a high-roller might make eighty-one instead of a hundred, depending on individual totals, gross tree totals for the unit (clear cut or shelterwood), and unit price.

This practice, on my own crew, was voted on, with the amendment that the crew as constituted upon arrival at the landing could decide to amend the ratio after seeing the unit together -- say, 1/4 by the share, 3/4 by the tree. This was a lot of work for the treasurer but deemed an acceptable sacrifice.

The motion passed.

The crew, and several other crews, had survived a crisis by identifying a policy where two apparently irreconcilable parties could, while agreeing to disagree, attain part of what they wanted and move forward, rather than voting on their own initial positions and then imposing policy from the majority upon the minority and risking a permanent and disabling rift.

All this was an exercise in workplace democracy, and it was carried out by socialists and libertarians choosing to work together toward a common goal. The shared commitment that pulled everyone through was a strong distaste for, and distrust of, authority.

Oh, wait! Some readers might say; aren't socialists authoritarian? The low-rollers wanted to confiscate some of the earnings of the high-rollers and give it to themselves! Isn't that authoritarian?

Well, any action by a living being or group of beings must proceed from some autonomous entity, whether its locus is in the individual or in some or all; you cannot effectively get fifteen workers to lay out seedlings on a grid on a slick and uneven sixty-percent slope in a driving rain without communicating (and, with permission, imposing) a vision of how it is to be done.

The usual method in our industry was for a sole proprietor, partnership, or limited liability corporation to hire workers and tell them what to do, paying them to do it out of the gross the workers earned while retaining some portion for themselves. Direction and control thus comes from "above" and resides in property rights (this is my company); the hierarchy thus established reaps the earnings of all and for all, but (usually) disproportionally to itself (profit) despite who really knows how to do what, or does it, on the ground.

They had the consent of their workers, in exchange for relatively low but stable wages, for what they were doing, but there was generally an element of theft.

Nothing is the actual equivalent of something of a different kind. By this I mean that wheat is not corn, and leather is not steel. Interest accrual is not labor. Money is none of the above. All transactions have a component in which someone subsidizes someone. This is what is meant when some say there is socialism for the rich as well as socialism for the poor. Under authoritarian structures such as corporations or oligarchies, socialism for the rich is more common than socialism for the poor, as anyone might expect from a study of human nature. Yet the low-rollers do perform a service to the high-rollers in labor, as we have seen above; add capitalism and you will see that the low-rollers also subsidize the children and the grandchildren of long-dead high-rollers, as well as those of thieves and pirates who can afford good lawyers.

Returning some proportion of that subsidy to those who have helped generate it makes good business sense. They will now have something to spend, helping the economy, instead of going off to die under debt or a bridge somewhere, or adding to the burden of a strained and much maligned welfare system. Even then, as the poor become the homeless, investing in the well-being of all benefits all.

The rich sometimes become the homeless, though they seldom see it coming, just as the able become the disabled, and who are we to decide which among them is worthy to receive assistance in the hope that they may regain some measure of productivity? Meanwhile, they will spend that assistance.

There are always those who forget the ancient story of the goose and its magnificent eggs.

I mentioned capitalism, but I'm inclined to think it's only one way of fleecing the low-rollers, and I think a stable society with a high level of well-being (goose not killed) follows upon our maintaining vigilance against all fleecers.

The private-property libertarians in the Hoedads were faced with a different structure than the authoritarianism most often associated with capitalism. They had more power over themselves in context than they would have had working for a contractor, but so did everyone else. Managers (the "foreperson" as we called them) were elected on the spot for the day and earned a share only, more than the low-rollers and less than the high-rollers. The workers were otherwise equal in voice to them and to each other, regardless of productivity, religion, sex, race, sexual preference, or hygiene. Nothing was ever perfect, as there is no such place as Utopia; yet we all had self-respect and mutual respect and generally a very high level of morale. It was the best years of most of our lives.

This was social democracy in the raw, and I think quite applicable to the ills of modern society.

It can't, perhaps, achieve everything but it can do much.

All the time now, especially in the United States, there is increased polarization of right versus left on issue after issue that seemingly cannot be resolved, even by the vote, even by edict of the Supreme Court. Without an understanding of the ills brought about by authoritarianism (particularly externalization), to which both the right and the left have fallen prey, we will continue our slide toward the abyss.

By choosing workplace democracy -- quitting jobs in businesses or entities which refuse to adopt a democratic structure and banding together to create businesses or entities that embody a democratic structure -- we can take a step toward regeneration of ethical treatment of ourselves, those around us, everyone in the world (many of whom the USA is currently bombing for oil), and the biosphere itself (resulting in clean water, air, soil, oceans and food for all sentient beings).

Externalities are a major consequence of authoritarianism. Worn out bodies of contractor treeplanters tended to be made the responsibility of the workers and not their bosses. Externalities ultimately create extinction. Externalities are a byproduct of industrialism. Modern industrialism is authoritarian and represents socialism for the rich, both in capitalist and so-called socialist regimes. Government tends to enslave itself, via the taking of bribes, to this authoritarianism. Government thus winds up protecting the “right” of industrialism to externalize costs and subsidize itself at the expense of labor and everyone and everything else.

Regime change is called for -- one of the best, because most peaceable, ways to begin to achieve this, is by choosing to work for one another, both in trades and in nonprofits, cooperatively rather than for "The Man."

Lefties, clear your heads; the Right is aggravating and even dangerous yet is not your enemy but only your enemy's troll. If you are authoritarian the Right could say the same of you. Here is your homework (don't worry, it's short):

There is much to do, but it can be done incrementally and many of us live where we might not even be taken out and shot for it. Lucky us.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Planning? What planning?

When it's raining out or otherwise makes it difficult for us to appreciate the joys of getting out of our robes and into gum boots, there are other homestead-y things we can do, such as pottering about in the kitchen or sewing.

Planning? What's that?

Oh, actually we do have a plan. It has kind of settled in, though, and does not need much updating. Two posts ago, we talked about how the satellite view of the home place lent itself to zone analysis. That's a step in planning, for sure. We used to have a drawing of the place on a white board, and after satellite photos became available, we took to transferring the more accurate dimensions to the white board, by printing out a cropped printscreen on graph paper, numbering the squares, and drawing on the board in squares we'd lined off to scale.

Beneath the white board is another white board, and it's an inventory-at-a-glance of stored dry goods and stored seeds.

We have no garden journal, but these lists, combined with such memories as we have of last summer's garden and with the zoned map above them, seem to jog us enough to prepare more or less adequately for the coming year.

In October I pulled the seeds from the refrigerator, in their packets in the seed box or in their mason jars (saved beans and such), and listed them in alpha order. We saw right away that there were no lettuce, pumpkins, yellow zukes, snap peas, and some other things. So we placed an order with our most local seed supplier, Territorial (no, they are not owned by Monsanto). We like other reputable seed houses, such as Baker or Fedco, but aside from our economic localism, we like to support and use local landraces.

We also have on hand way more of some seeds, especially cucumber, than we need. It's like this: A hardware store or somebody donated a lot of year-old seed packets to a food bank, which could only use so many in their gardens, so they sent whole crates of the packets to their collection points, who handed them out until no one could be prevailed upon to take more. So my roshi, who was volunteering at the local collection point (a Grange hall), was prevailed upon to bring home the remainder in a grocery sack, and she dumped them out on the dining room table at a meeting of the sangha.

So this is how I came to have a lot of hybrid and probably Seminis-sourced seeds this year. Especially cucumbers.

I'm probably the end point for these seeds as seeds, as they were having trouble finding a home in the first place and I hate to waste anything, even hybrids. But we have relatively little room for them this year, as I'm not this year's farmer. Beloved, who has been away from it for the last half decade, is ready to get back into it.

What I may do, and I encourage others who find themselves in like case to do, is go ahead and sow them in flats, pot up what comes up, and give away plants to gardeners and would-be gardeners who have a little room.

No, I don't farm for money. I believe in, to the extent possible when living among others who have disparate goals, subsistence.

Every plant freely homed, if cared for and harvested from and then composted, helps in its tiny way to build community and unbuild the enclosure of the commons as represented by the supermarket system.

That might be a plan.

Friday, November 20, 2015


100 Views of Life at Stony Run Farm 

Photos from 1993 to 2015 in chronological order, showing the sweep and cycle of the seasons on a small exurban homestead. It's a little heavy on the last seven years, which is when I finally had what you might call a camera. Oh, well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


We haven't talked much about zones at Stony Run Farm. Basically, the farther you have to go to get up from your rock in the cave or easy chair in your house and do something to water, feed, clothe, shelter, or remunerate yourself and yours, the higher the zone number. If you are well organized your lower-numbered zones are those closer to where you get up, and are those more frequently visited. If you are having to commute ten hours a week to work forty or more hours a week thirty miles away from your bed, you're, to that extent, not doing permaculture, because you're mostly in Zone 5, the least efficient and least ecological place to be spending the bulk of your time. Getting there and back literally costs the earth

So your livelihood is most permacultural when it is most on the premises, and within reach -- say you're a knifemaker and the knifemaking workshop is on your premises (or in your village), in or near Zone 0 or 1. Walking to work is both efficient (expends little energy or capitalization) and resilient (needs little energy expenditure or capitalization). 

We two worked for the last thirty years in libraries and now live on our pensions, so we are in our inner permaculture zones much more of the time than we used to be. This is privilege, and it's been expensive to the earth for us to do it this way -- most of those sixty combined years of commuting were via automobile -- but we're here now, and our apologies will not do much for either you or us. Given the way society's infrastructures and opportunities are laid out, it was kinda what we could do.


Zone 0 is usually the house, then Zone 1 is the kitchen garden, Zone 2 is the crop garden, Zone 3 is the orchard and henyard, Zone 4 is pasture,  and Zone 5, in an ideal world, is just the wilderness beyond your village, but in the world I live in, it's the city twelve miles away, with its libraries that needed managing.

Here's a satellite view of our acre. The house is in the middle and, clockwise from top, the driveway, orchard, garden, sheds, creek, pasture, and woodlot. Those white dots in the orchard/poultry moat at the far right are Ancona ducks and a goose.

Here's the same satellite view with zones imposed on it. Because I forgot about Zone 0, let's think of my easy chair, where I'm sitting with a Macbook, as Zone 0. The house with its nearest garden beds is Zone 1, the gardens and sheds are Zone 2, the orchard/henyard is Zone 3, the pasture and wood lot are Zone 4, and the wide world not included in the photo is Zone 5.

I think the arrangement came out much as a permaculture designer would have come up with for us, which is to say that more or less concentric zones based on number of steps facilitating frequency of visits is just common sense. Most of the farms around here are in fact zoned correctly already.

What's bad is that they all have that driveway with multiple fossil-fuel powered vehicles in it, just as ours does.

The real take home lesson from the zone exercise is that most people in most of the "developed" world spend most of their work life in Zone 5 somewhere, requiring some kind of commute and often extra travel as well, which is a lot of where the excess carbon that is now killing us is coming from.

Also, instead of making, borrowing, repurposing, etc., the things we use in zones 0-4, we buy them, which also requires a lot of zooming about in trains, planes, trucks, automobiles and ships.

As well, in Zones 0-4, we like to import energy in the form of electrons (Macbook here) from various sources, including coal in most places, or in the form of gasoline or diesel for our tractors and such -- replacement slaves.

When you're pouring gasoline into the fuel tank of a lawnmower, there are a lot of zoomings embodied in the creation and acquisition of that lawnmower and the liquid slaves acquired to spin its rotary blade.

So it's nice to draw up a Permaculture plan and put zones on it and go onto Facebook and show lovely photos of one's lovely garden, orchard/henyard, pasture and woodlot.

But for the sake of any possible future, please give some thought to how you will avoid doing as we at Stony Run have done -- trading excessively with Zone 5 to get currency and the liquid or electrical slaves it buys. The more you can spend time in Zones 0-4 doing by hand not just the "look I have a garden" trope, but your actual livelihood, the more like Permaculture what you're doing will actually be.

That's of course, a plea to energy descend toward subsistence, and I'm aware that a) it's hard and b) opposed -- sometimes violently -- by the Powers That Be, who want to keep you in Zone 5 for reasons, the main one being that somebody somewhere sometime declared themselves owners of the coal, oil, and gas in the ground and have organized a game where you must use it and must pay them for it.

This is an old strategy, and is related to the Enclosure of the Commons.

Fight back. Please:

You will notice the zone chart up at the top of this post regards Zone 0 as "house or settlement." This is key. Village life is the key to post-urban post-carbon intensive life, if there is to be one. Your livelihood may not be found in or near the house but if it is within walking or bicycling distance (and you actually walk or bike) it will certainly count for something.

For eight years (when we lived closer in) I biked to the library where I worked, and often stopped in an abandoned orchard on the way home to forage. I like to think those years redeemed me in some small way. Not sure what, but there it is.

Here are some of the things we tried to do over the years to walk our talk (when not commuting or working off-site).

They were small efforts compared to what doing without the cars, refrigerator, water heater, freezer and dryer would have been (as we did for part of the Seventies), but ... something.

For an exercise, if you like, look around your own site, with these zones and principles in mind, and see if you can a) do at least what we did with our site, b) improve on what we did, c) do without the immense carbon footprint embodied in how we did what we did, and d) find a way to make a livelihood within the inner zones, either on the premises or within something approximating a village (community).

This is what it will take, I think, to truly honor Earth Share, People Care, Fair Share

Sunday, November 08, 2015

One another

Here, November is doing what it does, dark and wet and broody, though a little warmer than we are used to -- still no frost, tomatoes trying to ripen under a leaden sky streaked with silver.

Bedraggled as the garden is, it is still supplying a lot of greens for the humans and the hens. Ducks have been let in early and are high-grading the chard, but also cleaning up wheat seeds in the straw that we have been slowing drawing over the beds, like a blanket for a winter night.

Much of my intent has moved indoors, where the wood stove finally has something to do and is slowly taking over the house. There's dishwater, tea water, and a loaf of Dutch oven spelt/cornbread happening.

I'm sitting by the west window more and in the living room less. I'm learning to sew a rakusu, which is a demanding task for these old eyes and fingers. I've found and dyed appropriate fabric and am practicing rows of stitches on a swatch, to get the hang of it before beginning on the real thing. Such daylight as we are getting is a help.

A friend came through who has been pedaling an electric-assist recumbent bike from Ramona, California toward the general direction of Seattle. I fed him rice and veg with a dessert of apple-pumpkin pudding, both of which went well for a change.

I'm still walking, though fewer miles perhaps.

Trail walking with a dog is excellent meditation practice and, it seems to me, deepens one's bond with all the good things. I think the dog thinks so to, in his way.

We sit by the river together and share a meal. It's best that he not drink the river, which still has rafts of suspect algae in it, so I shorten his leash and provide him with a steel cup (his own) of the water I brought.

He listens to the surrounding sounds and sifts them for possible dangers.

It's thus we are responsible to one another.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Almost nothing

While the garden mostly fallows, I have been broadening out my activities a bit. There are many new poems at Collected Poems and some new observations at Journal of a Zenista, but these are sit-down activities.

The main effort has been to walk more, for which there are a lot of attractive opportunities close by. Every day, of course, there is walking the dog, and sometimes I take him with me to places that interest us both;

he is game, but getting older fast. I'm beginning to need to go more places than he can, and so I offer him a treat and he must wait, anguished, for me to return. It's hard for him, these separations, but the immense joy he displays at my return is some compensation, I trust.

The longest drive I permit myself for these jaunts is to the place where my parents' ashes rest. For that, and other journeys closer by, I look for someone to go with me, as my bones, like Toto's are becoming brittle.

Only twelve miles from here there is a National Recreation Trail. Following a stream closely through old growth stands, it provides whatever length journey one wishes, simply by turning around at an agreed-upon time and doubling back. Views are as fresh coming as going.

On this last hike, five wooden bridges, one of which was a simple log with the top side adzed flat, added contemplative opportunities rife with the symbolism of transition. "Taking nothing but pictures, leaving nothing but footprints," we arrived, passed through and among, and were gone, with almost nothing remaining behind to indicate we were ever here.


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