Thursday, February 28, 2008


Subarubia had a big gas leak Tuesday night, leaving 2000 residents without heat. Although the gas company claims to have restored service, in reality they need to go door to door to reconnect everyone individually, for obvious reasons. I am car blogging today because I don't want to miss the technician, but it's below 40 in my house right now (the thermostat only goes down to 40), which is a little chilly for sedentary work.

There goes the idea of making bread today.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Living in the material world

Colin Beavan, over at No Impact Man, has this post about his coffee date with Juliet Schor, whose work includes Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. He asks Schor if Americans are too materialist, and she replies that the problem stems rather from our not being materialist enough--in other words, we don't pay enough attention to the material right in front of us, and hence misuse it and throw it away, whether it be (and here I'm embroidering) in the form of consumer goods or people.

I think she's right on the money. The false dichotomy between spiritual and material is responsible for at some of the worst excesses in our society. As I said in my comments on the post, to value spiritual values over material values leads rather quickly to, for example, the James Watt apocalyptic view of creation, where depredation doesn't matter because the rapture's coming soon anyway. Yet the spiritual traditions that we commonly think of as being most least materialist are all about giving material its proper weight, neither too much nor too little. Chop wood, carry water. In Christian terms, if the spiritual is all that matters, why bother giving God a body?

By the way, the last time I wrote about Beavan, I was rather uncharitable. I've been following his blog now for several months, and I think he's the real deal.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Alter ego

My presence in the blogosphere these days is mostly limited to making unhelpful comments on other people's blogs. I have seemingly become everyone's environmental harpy, a role that I do not relish, and the beams in my own eye and practice could build a McMansion. However, and this is where I struggle, I think I actually do have a body of simplicity knowledge that might be helpful to someone, if only I can figure out the right forum. This blog was supposed to provide that to me, but I can't seem to find a voice that isn't pure preachiness. Maybe I need to go with that? Obviously there is a soapbox reformer inside of me who is dying to come out.

Let me begin this new career with a rant that I've been forcing back for months, and that is "how to be a water conservative." Common wisdom in Subarubia and surround is that, in the midst of a severe drought, the best thing to do with water is to make sure it goes as directly as possible back to the river whence it came. Considering that my state has been in considerable trouble over its bogarting of shared resources, this makes a kind of sense. In order to meet obligations to folks downstream, we treat and return the water we use.

Only, a river isn't an aqueduct. Treating it as though it were is an exceedingly short-term solution. In a healthy system, water returns to the ground, which holds it like a sponge and bit by bit releases some of it back to the river, some of it into biomass (a not-inconsiderable reservoir), some of it to evaporation (i.e., rinse and repeat). Holding water in the ground is a buffer against both drought and flooding, which is why paving over massive areas of land increases the dangers of both. Obviously that doesn't mean that the best expenditure of potable water is to water the lawn or the golf course, but it does suggest that recycling graywater toward native plants and trees, or storing and using rainwater, is not "irresponsible," as a letter to the local Big Newspaper suggested. Unfortunately, mine seems to be a minority opinion.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Plant dreams

I don't even have all the fruit trees in their proper homes yet (it's 32 degrees and drizzly), and I have ordered more plants. Are you ready? An American hazelnut (I planted its sibling last year, so it's not as lonely as it sounds), a Sitka alder (I'm a very long way from Sitka, but alders grow well in clay and are nitrogen fixers), and [fanfare please] a dwarf date palm. The last is a total experiment, but even if it doesn't flower, I think it'll look cool off the screen porch.

So, as of some indeterminate but near date in the future, these will be my edible or medicinal plantings:

Black haw
Black Arkansas apple
Callaway crab
North Star cherries
Rabbiteye blueberries
Saffron crocus
Passionflower (Maypop)
American hazel
Dwarf date palm

I'm on the fence about whether annuals will follow. Perennial gardening gives so much more bang for the buck, and it's beginning to be true that local vegetables are easy to obtain, either at farmers' markets or from all of my friends whom I turned on to CSAs.

It's a start. For the last few evenings, however, I've been curled up in the easy chair making lists of items for next year: a Jeffrey pine, a couple of pawpaws, a sweet woodruff, bulbs for decoration, and a nice black cohosh. . . . Oh, and a good hedge shears.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Corporate Intervention

Crunchy Chicken has an excellent post today about Proctor & Gamble's campaign to keep South African girls in school (which they might otherwise miss) during their periods by providing menstrual products and even constructing new bathroom facilities for the schools. I don't watch enough tv to have heard about this before, but it sounds benevolent, doesn't it?

Not if the project a) creates a new and not insignificant source of pollution by incinerating and b) creates a dependency on consumer products that the girls cannot afford--think free infant formula, although of course the scale of perniciousness is different.

Before you say "Whoa, whoa, Simpleton, isn't this another example of disparaging use in the developing world of products you yourself enjoy?" Mais non, gentle reader. (If you have a significant buy-in to cultural "ew" buttons, you may want to avert your eyes during the next paragraph.) I've been using homemade non-disposables for years. If you're not a seamster, there are lots of other options out there. Crunchy mentions the Diva cup, while Etsy carries some more conventional alternatives (which are cute and hip, by the way). And so Crunchy's blogpost suggests that sewing may ultimately be a better alternative than being buried in paper products.

I'm not trying to talk you into anything here. If you've considered the alternatives and have a system that works for you, rock on. And clearly there may be other factors involved in African life (lack of water for laundry comes to mind) that make disposable products more feasible in the long run. Even still, my response is to look for the cynical side of corporate "benevolence."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Soul of a Man

Sometimes the best antidote to despair is Bruce Cockburn. Oh, that and 300mg of Wellbutrin.