Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Let fall body and mind

"身心脱落!" T'ien-t'ung Ju-ching shouted,
finding a sitting monk half asleep.
He meant it kindly, but his urgency cracked

the air, a thundernote. "You must let fall
body and mind!" the old man pleaded. What
effect this might have had on the sleeping monk,

we are not told; Dogen, sitting nearby,
moved from a stuck place toward a resolution
he had sought. He then traveled home

determined to teach his people the simplest way
of letting go. "Sit," he told his students,
"just sit. In so doing you are already

Buddha; there is nothing to obtain."
I think I did not "have" a body or
a mind before I came into this life,

so far as I can tell, and so will likely
not have more when it's all over. If
there's a lesson in this, it's not much;

perhaps to take ourselves lightly, lightly,
giving without a thought as to return,
taking with thanks whatever will appear.

I watched my mother die, and held her hand;
it was her hand; then her breath came ragged.
Three times more her rib cage rose and fell,

but that, as they had warned me, was not breath.
The hand I held already was not her.

Late August blackberries

 I'm canning tomatoes and blackberries today. Zukes, hops, and tomatoes are also in the dehydrators. With luck, we'll make 83F, though the morning seemed quite cold to me.

You can see from all the fallen leaves from the young cottonwoods behind me that we are still feeling the effects of the drought. less than a third of the blackberry bushes are worth the effort but they are enough to keep me busy. You can also see the effects of old age here; I'm looking more and more like Andy Rooney. So it goes. 

Not being very patient when I'm harvesting, I've taken to carrying the pitcher from the blender in my harvest bag. It behooves me to do pretty good Q.C. when I do this; no one like to chomp on a stem. Some impurities are a good thing; it's the reason most country people have resilient immune systems. But we try not to be gross. 

These berries are considerably sweeter than the ones I was doing last week.

Five blender loads make a batch. After the last load I will blend some honey yogurt with the residue and call it lunch. When this has cooked down some in the slow cooker (lid ajar to let out steam), it will go into pint jars and be available to go with yogurt, pancakes, waffles, toast, or be repurposed with fruit juices or even wine. We have mostly white wine grapes as yet, and the blackberries help me pretend I'm making red wine ...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Right action and the second toolbox

Grassroots Garden, Food for Lane County, Eugene, Oregon, USA

A continued discussion of Permaculture ethics, realms and principles in the light of Buddhism.
"Earth care" is right action. Preventing soil loss, water pollution, excess atmospheric carbon, and radiological contamination are examples.

"People care" is right action. Active listening, feeding with good food, offering clean water, assisting with shelter and teaching right action are examples.

"Fair share" is right action. Living within one's means and finding small means sufficient opens up possibilities for others are examples.

These actions may be carried out in all of life, for example, within nature, architecturally, through responsible choice and use of tools, in teaching, in health care, in gift and exchange, in coming together on governance (the mutual determination of right action).

"Observation," as noted in the preceding post/note, is right action. 

"Obtaining energy" in an ethical way (without destroying the life or livelihood of others, and without excess) is right action. 

"Obtaining a yield" -- primary production (forestry, agriculture, manufacturing) in an ethical way for your livelihood (without destroying the life or livelihood of others, and without excess) is right action. 

"Self-regulation" (evaluating and redirecting one's actions. Also: accepting criticism) is right action.

"Choosing to reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose, and renew" -- over the opposites of these -- is right action.

"Eschewing wastefulness", which is closely related to the preceding principle, is right action.

"Designing from patterns to details" -- close observation and imitation of natural cycles -- is right action.

"Integrating rather than segregating processes" -- closely related to the three preceding principles -- is right action. Incorporating a chicken moat into the homestead protects the garden from the hens and from the insects and mollusks the hens eat, for example.

"Using small and slow solutions" -- mulch rather than a tractor where a mulch will do -- is right action.

"Honoring diversity in all things" -- human and in nature (which comes to the same thing) -- is right action. Consider, for example, the resiliency of mutually respected vibrant culture and the resiliency of a food forest or polycultural vegetable garden.

"Using edges and valuing the marginal" is right action. This is related to honoring diversity; from the edges in society come imagination and innovation; from the edges in the landscape come wildlife and species interaction, preventing outsized populations of "undesirable" species without chemical invention among other benefits.

"Using and responding to change" is right action. 

Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει All things flow. Ride the river of life.

The first toolbox as right action

The Young Man volunteering at Grassroots Garden kitchen

An analysis of the four truths and eightfold way of Buddhism as a unified concept which could be expressed as Right Action. Discussion continued from a preceding note/post.

Primum non nocere, which which we ended that post, means, "First, do no harm."

It's rough out there.

That it's rough out there can be taken as a given. Some of us are insulated from the consequences of inappropriate action through the inequitable accumulation of resources, but the effect is temporary and I think a kind of self-harm accrues, to ourselves and our loved ones. Certainly harm comes to others.

Hence: "it's rough because we (whether ourselves or others) want things to be different than they are." We suffer when we have expectations or unrealistic intentions. Others suffer when we attempt, through action, to enforce our expectations. We take an inappropriate action.

"We can change our behavior," that is, we can learn to select appropriate actions.

So, "Right Action" could serve as the key concept for drawing the Buddhist and Permaculture toolboxes closer together.

Right view could be taken as observe clearly, which is a kind of action.

Right aspiration could be taken as a kind of action, in which one connects observation to volition. Separating appropriate desires from inappropriate desires, with an intent to manifest the appropriate desires, is an internal activity, but an important one. "Cessation from all desires" is a misleading concept in this context, as it lacks the qualifier "appropriate." If one fails to desire to breathe, no right actions will follow.

Right speech is certainly an action, through the choice to say or not say, as needed. A friend often says, before speaking, ask yourself: "is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?"

Hence, right action. And is your action kind? Is it true (correct)? Is it necessary? These three combined are what is meant by "appropriate" as used here.

Right livelihood is right action. If benefits accrue to you and others by your actions you already have right livelihood. Do not think this is limited by or to the earning of money.

Right action must be carried out, not merely thought of. One applies one's energy to the task. So right effort is about action.

Right mindfulness, also, does not just happen. To clear away obstacles and focus, though it occurs in the mind, is an internal action without which appropriate external activity will not occur.

Right concentration is what occurs in meditation, i..e., the suppression of distractions so as to observe directly. So we have come full circle in this exercise, as the finding that it's rough out there is an observation. You have taken the action to find that out, to discover the cause (which can be boiled down to selfishness) and the cure (which can be boiled down to selflessness).

"Ethics" need not be taught in a university, nor demanded in a church. It is as simple as breathing. When you rise up in the morning, set your face toward the doing of right action, that is, whatever is kind, true, and necessary.

Still thinking

The following can be regarded as a pair of ethics toolboxes for designing a life. I'm still not clear on how to merge them into one, so this is practically a repost. If you've seen it all before, think of me as my own target audience, thinking out loud.

The first is derived from Buddhism. I find its core survives Occam's razor. Its basics are: four truths. And: eight ways for those truths to be manifested in your life.

Truth one: it's rough out there.

Truth two: it's rough because we (whether ourselves or others) want things to be different than they are.

Truth three: Not much we can do about others but we can change our behavior, so that things are less rough for us, at least internally.

Truth four is a simple method for these behavior changes.

Here is the method with its eight parts -- they are interrelated; are really aspects of one thing, but broken down for utility.

Right view. See what's happening.

Right aspiration. Care about the things that matter, not the things that don't. Notice the things that matter are not things (esp. as in "possessions").

Right speech. When communicating with others, delete whatever would hinder them from discovering the truths and using this method. For example, hurtful snark.

Right action. Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you. Heard that before?

Right livelihood. Do not do for a living that which would hinder them from discovering the truths and using this method. Example: fracking engineer. Example: bankster. The best occupations are probably smallholder and the crafts that support smallholders, along with health professions, preferably preventive care.

Right effort. Conducting the parts of the method with due diligence.

Right mindfulness. Clarity of thought concerning the truths, the method and their goal of non-harm.

Right concentration. To achieve clarity of thought, discipline the mind. Simply refusing to load it up with extraneous chatter (from television or Facebook, for example) is a start. I attend Soto Zen Buddhist retreats. Your mileage may vary.

The second toolbox is the Permaculture Design principles. I find them to be, ultimately, the same box differently adumbrated.

The core ethics are generally expressed as "earth care, people care, and fair share." Social Darwinists (those not interested in the above method) tend to dispute these a bit, especially the third one. If you're one of these, likely you didn't get this far. You'll have bailed, perhaps with a "hmph," and continued on your unhappy way. Socialism, as practiced by sovereign states, has not always led to ideal (whatever that means) conditions, but it is not inherently bad to help your neighbor, while it is inherently appropriate to help. Permaculture, like Buddhism, is effectively socialist and effective socialism, when not abused for personal gain. Try these three ethics. You may find you like them.

The ethics are applied in, usually, twelve kinds of activities usually called principles. 
1. Observe and Interact. By taking the time to engage with nature we can design relevant solutions.
2. Catch and Store Energy. Developing systems to collect resources when abundant, we can use them in need.
3. Obtain a yield – Ensure that you are getting useful rewards from your work.
4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – Efficient or resilient systems require noting and correcting inefficient or nonresilient practices.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – as opposed to non-renewable resources.
6. Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not.”
7. Design From Patterns to Details – Observe patterns in nature and society. Test their appropriateness broadly, rather than losing yourself in detail.
8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop, creating efficiencies and resiliences.
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – Small is beautiful.
10. Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” -- be resilient.
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.
The principles are applied in seven "domains" that have been elucidated. These : The Natural Realm, Building(s), Tools (Technology), Education/Culture, Health (Well-Being), Economics ("as if people mattered"), Governance (participatory democracy preferred).

I'm aware that some leaders in Buddhism and Permaculture have historically and have continued to fall short of the ethics enumerated here, particularly in the treatment of women by men in positions of authority. So what's new? I'm all for rooting out the predatory. But I'm going to practice as long as I see the utility of practice.

You are here for only a moment, less than a moment in the universe's time. Clear the mind, open the "heart," open the hands, work for and with and not against. 

Primum non nocere.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fall garden seed sprouting contest

I'm not the best fall gardener, but I get by. Seems like every August, I come across a stash of greens and roots packets that are years out of date, and, rather than try to do anything meticulous like sort by year, look up the viability date range, and do a germination test, I wind up funneling the lot into an empty seasoning shaker, stir them a bit, and head out to the bare spots in the garden with Darwin on my mind. The procedure involves clearing a patch in the mulch with the ho-mi (basically a right-angled trowel), testing the ground a bit (the beds harden up some over the summer), doing a little clod-busting as needed, shaking some seeds out over the "hill," and throwing some prepared soil (stolen from molehills) over them. I'm chintzy with the planting soil, so this method tends to favor the lettuce seeds over the others, which is fine by me.

Invariably, on these expeditions, I come across scads of volunteer potatoes and onions and such. I pocket them, take them in (it's approaching 90F out there anyway), give them a washing up, and carry them over to the chopping block to work up a fresh lunch.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Annual goose egg blowout

Re-re-re-post, I think.

Every year I have to learn all over again -- the margin of error, with the high-speed grinder and the basketball pump, is relatively small. I'm sure there are better ways to go about this, but this is what we do:

We gather up containers for the freezer, and a Sharpie for writing on the container, spread out some newspaper, find a round toothpick, an old-fashioned milk bottle or a glass carafe, the basketball pump, the high-speed Dremel-style tool (ours is a Craftsman), and a bowl of soapy, salty water.

With the little cone-shaped grindstone, we zip off a bit of shell at each end, about as big as the head on a six-penny box nail, and punch through the membrane with the toothpick, stirring up the yolk, then place the egg on top of a suitably wide-mouthed bottle and gently pressurize the contents with the basketball needle. You can just barely see a small rubber gasket here, cut from a flat rubber band, to seal the contact between egg and needle.

Every second egg we pour off the eggs into a freezer container, so that if we get into a bad egg we won't waste a lot. Mark the container "Goose 13." Wash the eggshell inside and out (draw some soapy salt water into the shell and shake vigorously, then blow out). Repeat. Freeze containers, sun-dry shells.

In a few days they are ready to decorate or sell to Pisanki painters ... whatever suits ya. I like to just sit by the table and look at them.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Crock pot bread

Greased bowl on top of a trivet inside of slow cooker. No two recipes ever the same. This one has water or veg stock, spelt flour, oatmeal, cracked barley, brewer's yeast, sesame seeds, sea salt, a duck egg, yeast, honey -- practically no-knead, raised in the crock pot on low, then basted with olive oil and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Bake on high until it looks right and "thumps" right, then turn out. In our pot, about three hours. We slip a fork under the edge of the lid to let the steam out in the last two hours or so. Makes fabulous French toast.

While it's baking, go putz around a bit.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What to dry when the tomatoes aren't ready yet

Here we have a side leaf from a collard, or maybe a broccoli or cauliflower (much alike for my purposes), from which the bits we recognize from the grocery store have been harvested. It's a but chewy for use in the kitchen, and bugs have marred its looks. One might pull up the whole plant and add it to either the chicken yard's entertainment division or the compost heap.

Another approach would be to harvest it for the solar dehydrator.

There are many, many kinds of leaves appropriate for this -- even some kinds of tree leaves (but we're not "that desperate" at present). Here we have mustard, cabbage, curly leaf kale, Fordhook Giant chard, collards, cauliflower. Sometimes there is spinach, other kales, bok choi, or what have you. Even onion greens will do, though they seem kinda picky to crumble when dried. Much depends on one's patience at any one time.

You will notice we've thrown in a bit of rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme, and oregano in this batch -- because we can. I figure the wider the range of nutrients, the more valuable the end product.

Once brittle dry, gather up and crumble with your hands, first stripping leaf matter from stems and veins, which can be thrown on top of the  mulch somewhere.

You may use the results as is; we prefer ours a finer size. Either the Universal grinder is put into service:

Or the blender. A small handful at a time will process nicely.

This jarful will receive some "veggie crumble" from the next batch, so as to be packed tightly with a minimum of air. One could also oven can; but this product is remarkably stable over the next few years. A few grains of rice can be added insurance.

Use? Alone as a dehydrated soup or in breads, soups, stews, quiches, on any meat or veggie dish. The sky's the limit. Well, maybe not with fruit or in ice cream.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Apple ring season

Apples are harder to come by this year than last, though not as badly as we had thought. Even though they could stand to stay on the tree longer, flavor-wise, worms are taking interest early (what's their hurry?) and so we have begun making apple rings. It's nice that we're still having hot days to run the solar dryers, too.

The peeler-corer slicer makes quick compost (or vinegar if you prefer) of the peelings and cores.

A single slice through half the spiral separates all the rings.

Three days in the sun will suffice to dry the rings enough to put away in storage jars or buckets. They are tougher to chew on than the store-bought variety, but healthier, and reconstitute nicely when used in pies and such.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Early August 2013


We've headed into August here much hotter than many of our friends back east -- yesterday, for example, we reached 96.2F. Watering has occupied much of my attention, as has hiding -- we have a room on the north end of the house where we can go if the rest of the place reaches 85. So there has been correspondingly little harvesting or processing.

Green beans are doing well. We'll eat some raw, but as this is a presumed rare heirloom (known to us as Ron's Grandmother's Bean) most will be saved for seed.

To keep cooking or canning from adding to the heat burden of the house, we have a temporary canning kitchen out of doors. Whenever I have enough of anything to fill the smaller crock pot, I know it will make seven half pints in the small canner. These are mixed vegs, so, since this is water bath canning, I raise the acidity with lots of vinegar. Pickled vegs go well with rice or pasta and can be a relatively complete meal.

Use everything

I use medium to large tomatoes in canning projects, especially mild salsas. I know to keep the peelings out, but don't like the step where you scald or whatever and slip them off. I want those! So what I do, peel them as I would a potato, salt the peelings down, add a little vinegar and haul them out to the solar dryer. That's my dehydrated tomatoes.

The naked innards then go into the crockpot with whatever other ingredients I want in my salsa, where they cook down to thicken with the lid ajar.

Those other ingredients often raise the Ph so I add a lot of vinegar to that as well. A couple of cloves of garlic, whizzed with the vinegar in the blender, invariably finish off the variable recipe.

For raw, I'm good with the itty bitty cherry tomatoes that escaped the peeling frenzy.

If the seeds are open-pollinated and you want them, save seed at this time as well.