Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Never a dull moment

Almost May! Frost this morning, expecting 80s later in the week.

View from kitchen window. Fence has been set back up to regulate doggy's bathroom activities (it's usually there in winter for when the poultry are cleaning up the garden). Also at upper left, extension of poultry moat has returned. Now the ducks and chickens get a ringside seat as things grow -- and get to help interrupt even more slugs migrating toward the goodies. 

In middle ground, center, Lacinato kale going to seed. Foreground, potatoes, knocked back by a freeze but recovering. Upper right, compost drum and the toolboxes (hers and hers, recycled mailboxes). Compost bins have been emptied onto the beds. It is definitely time to weed and mulch under the grapes! In distance, beyond the garlic and leeks, greens are up: lettuce, kale, collards, spinach, chard, cabbage, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, radishes. Carrots have as usual not germinated for us. 

Apples will be skimpy for a change this year, but pears and cherries are coming on. Quince look like they will fruit for the first time. Raspberries very vigorous, blueberries languishing a bit.

So much drama! Never a dull moment in the gardens.

The green gate was found by us twenty years ago, abandoned in the blackberry patch. We spruce it up with paint every five years and it has been in constant use, hither and yon. Tee posts are a variety of sizes and heights because they, too, are salvage. They had been bent by being pulled out by tractors; well, we just bent them right back. Some old things will work well for you if you take care of them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stay tuned

The term "ethics" -- along with some of its synonyms and part synonyms -- has been in trouble with materialistic biologists for the last hundred years or so. The website Resilience has recently taken a look at the reputed problem: "The relevance of the lurking inconsistency to conservation biology and steady-state economics should be evident — conservation and sustainable scale are, after all, purposes that are ruled out in a world governed only by chance."

Yes, well. I am a "neo-Darwinist" as the term is used by Herman Daly, the author of the piece, though it is properly a "designation of Weismann's theory." I think he means by it that I hold to mechanism -- chance, really -- all the way down (as with the turtles) -- which I do. Scientific evidence as we have seen it to date demands it. So am I not among those who disbelieve in "purpose," and therefore in anything that can be called "ethics," as any part of the discernible universe?

Probably. But I'm just not bothered by the contradiction. The Internet is not a real place, but it's where I spend much of my time. What I experience as purposiveness (my advocacy for energy descent, subsistence, permaculture, and right livelihood) may be quite meaningless in the realm of stars, planets, plate tectonics and the thin soup, across the globe, of genetic materials combining and recombining by chance.

Yet I will advocate for these things anyway; one of the consequences of chance has been the production of me, and of my children and my friends. Another is the emotional attachment that I have to these, as well as to my home on a street in an unincorporated town in Oregon, on this continent, in this world.

I perceive that my brain -- its thoughts and emotions -- is involved in a web of relationships that predate me, and those thoughts and those emotions imply the honoring of contracts: Here, hold the baby, I'll be right back. Later: "WTF, where's the baby?" "I dunno." "What do you mean, you don't know?" These things matter little to the Joneses eight houses away, and not at all to a blue whale, or to Mount Monadnock, but they matter to my perception and experience of myself, to the young mother who has entrusted me with her baby, and to the child itself. Consequences could build, up to and not excluding the possibility that there has been a catastrophic -- to us -- failure, the mother's failure to reproduce -- after considerable investment of time and resources, and whatever we wish to refer to as her soul.

At our scale, and in our comprehension, that's not chance. Pull the microscope far enough away -- say, a being "Q" examining our blue marble from beyond the orbit of Jupiter -- it is. Our local tragedy, from a certain distance, is not more tragic than that of a seed from a maple tree, among many thousands launched, landing on pavement and being unable to take hold in the punishing sunlight and aridity of that location.

I would argue that we have no "purposeful" business worrying about a presumed irreconcilability between chance and purpose. It can be demonstrated that the universe does not care. So, trying to persuade Congress to care may well be a fool's errand; I don't know. Personifying the universe as a raging white-bearded patriarch, or for that matter a fawning blue lady, is counterproductive; I think both are fables concocted to persuade us (if not Congress) to honor various contracts. But we and a few of those around us are all we have, really; we have arrived here by chance, will go out in a wink, and we can choose, perhaps, very little of what we do, determinism being the obverse of the coin of chance.

Yet, I am materially here. Riding the substrate of my material existence are the thoughts and emotions, epiphenomenal though they may be. I do have contracts, whatever the hell they are.

In that context I have continued to think about Buddhism and Permaculture; they are two organized ways of thinking about natural phenomena that I feel are consistent with each other. To recap: Following David Holmgren's formulation, I noted that permaculture principles spring from ethics. "Care for the earth, care for people, and fair share."

And so does Buddhism: "so, (here I take liberties) the [four] truths may be expressed: 1. Things are not quite right (between us and the universe, say): off-center. 2. This results from selfishness, the not honoring of our contracts. 3. Giving up selfishness restores the center and our usefulness in terms of honoring our contracts. 4. Here is how we fix that: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration."

These eight components of a way are easily merged or dovetailed with the currently expressed set of a dozen permaculture principles, here abbreviated to: observe and interact, catch and store energy, obtain a yield, accept feedback, accept services, produce no waste, design from patterns to details, integrate, use small solutions, value diversity, value the marginal, respond to change.

I'm not sure where these ruminations are leading me; I am by nature a syncretist and reductionist and have been very willing to lead myself by the mental nose into the philosophical ditch and then wallow there.

But I spend far more time planting peas than theorizing about them, these days.

I did do something new this week, though.

After forty-five years of studying about Buddhism -- particularly Zen Buddhism, particularly Soto Zen Buddhism -- but remaining, the whole time, diffident as to actually practicing -- I recently discovered that an old friend had gone off and studied in a monastic setting, received Dharma transmission and become ordained as a priest, and she and another priest have returned to Oregon and set up housekeeping on a lovely site in the Coast Range as a zendo/retreat center.

I visited, liked what I saw going on, and registered for a retreat (they have them the second Saturday each month). These are, in effect, one-day sesshin with a rule of silence. You can sit on a zafu, kneeling bench, chair, or if you need to lie down flat. I found I could handle the kneeling bench (Seiza posture). It goes something like this: forty minutes zazen, ten minutes kinhin, forty minutes zazen, ten minutes outdoor kinhin, forty minutes zazen, ten minutes kinhin, break, forty minutes zazen, lunch, forty minutes zazen, ten minutes kinhin, forty minutes zazen, tea, individualized bowing and prostrations and either zazen or kinhin, and at the end of the day, what seems like a self-crit session (silence over).

It was a hell of a start for someone who's been lazy about meditation for a lifetime, and I was sore for two days afterward, but profoundly grateful.

What did I learn? Nothing really new; in that amount of time, zazen is not likely to leave one feeling as if one has been struck by lightning. In fact, as I reported at the end of the day, I spent much of the morning with a song stuck in my head.

But -- especially during kinhin -- I got that one-pointedness, grounded in the realization (for me, anyway) that ...

... while the emptiness to which Zen leads you and drops you off may well be the discovery of that universe in which whatever you do, purposively, does not come to anything ...

... nevertheless can be a good tool for carrying out the eightfold holy way. And the twelve permaculture principles ...

... assuming, of course, they're the sort of things you want to busy yourself with.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A day in the life

After coffee and breakfast, Risa lets the poultry out, checks their food and water, collects duck eggs, and waters the flats in the "greenhouse" (potting shed with glass south wall).

Besides the potting bench in the greenhouse, she keeps a "spring bench" on the north wall of the house, halfway to the garden, for hardening off. Not only is this easy on the back, it's a far piece for slugs and snails to get into the pots. Here we have peas, yellow storage onions, and assorted greens. Below is the garden kneeler, some spuds "chitting," and the planting-out tray. The flats, tray and bench are home-made. The red handle is that of the "ho-mi" or Korean hoe, Risa's trowel of choice. One hits the soil with it like swinging a hatchet, then pulls back, producing a hole that's just right for planting a three-inch pot's plug. Later in the year, for hot spells, the spring bench becomes the summer kitchen, so as not to add to the house's heat budget.

The watering can (sorry about the plastic, did not buy) is full of bruised willow twigs, which at this time of year will leach a bit of growth hormone into the water.

Risa plants the spuds down the middle of a bed she's built for, and into which she's broadcast seeds of, mangel beets, a gift from a dear friend. There's really nowhere left to put spuds, so there's a pot on the wood stove of them boiling, to give to the chickens. Her next chore is to gather up the one-dollar "garden knives" she got from Goodwill ...

... and give them a dose of red paint, which is the "garden tool" color here -- a better chance of spotting them, cleaning them up, and putting them back in storage at the end of the day. 

Next, she turns her attention to the woodshed, just about her favorite thing; she brings a radio for Mozart and such. There's a cord of maple/ash out of reach behind a cord of Douglas fir on the left, which were stacked in the order they came in. She wants to split down the fir a little smaller and mix the hardwood and fir with even smaller coppice roundwood from the premises, to have an efficient mix for feeding the wood stove next winter.

Here, she's cutting up a salvaged pine branch. This is a small, cheap electric chainsaw, suitable to this size work. She also has one three times as big, made in the Sixties, which was five dollars at a garage sale, for the big stuff. She hasn't used gasoline at the woodpile in years. The pallet provides a stable platform, easy on the back. Its interior struts have been cut to form a slot for the sawbar (or bow saw if in use), and the wheelbarrow catches sawdust for the berry beds. The leftover twiggy bits of hardwood can be trimmed down and used in a wattling project she's doing. The greenery from pine and fir she uses as mulch in the berry beds, along with the sawdust. It could also be used as slope-contour swale material. She doesn't make burn piles.

Here is the coppice yard, which is part of the poultry moat along with the orchard. Fifteen years ago these two willows at right were once beanpoles that sprouted in the garden over the summer. They've been firewooded three times since. The mass of wood at the base is called the "stool." The growth is called "rods." For better firewooding, she'll reduce the growth to eight rods per stool. If you want beanpoles, wattles, and basket wood, leave the smaller shoots until you need them.

Here's a piece of bought-in fir just a little too long for the stove. If your saw makes tiny sawdust or cuts on a curve and binds, it's time to sharpen it.

Showing the slot in the pallet and the sawdust:

To end the day, Risa brings a ladder and picks Big-leaf maple flowers from the tree above the woodshed. They have a season of just under two weeks, and are good in salads, stir-fries, quiches, souffles, pancakes, breads, and soups.

After putting everything away, she'll make pan bread on the wood stove with the flowers mixed with fresh duck eggs, vegetable stock and a home-ground grain mix (barley, rye, buckwheat, cornmeal, quinoa, dried greens, acorns, walnuts). And have dinner, washed down with homebrewed Hefeweizen.