This is the Riot for the month of December 2011 for the three of us. Half of that month we were away in my hometown in Belgium, which explains the low numbers. Our first year’s averages were calculated here, our second year’s averages can be found here. Edson fixed the calculator: all go tither to crunch those numbers!

Gasoline.  Calculated per person. I’ve not calculated in our flights to Europe, forgot how to do that.

3.22 gallons per person

7.8% of the US National Average

Electricity. This is reckoned per household, not per person. With the grey skies and the low angle of the sun, our solar production is down, but it should, of course, go back up as of now. According to our solar meter, we produced 1403 kWh since the system was turned on, 176 kWh in December.  (You can follow our solar harvest live, here).

So in November we consumed:

176 (solar) + 108 (wind) =  284 kWh

12.7% of the US National Average

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household, not per person.

{ ALERT } The way I have been calculating our heating oil consumption is by reading off the furnace how many hours it ran, then multiplying it by .85 because that’s the amount of gallons of oil I *thought* it used. Now DH just told me that our furnace is more efficient than that and the correct number is .65. Which is great news, don’t get me wrong, but gee! I’ve used the new number for this month but will adjust the other numbers in my all-year assessment { / ALERT }

I turned on our heat on 13 December, the day before we left for Belgium. The thermostat was set at 45F to prevent pipes freezing in case it should get really cold (which it didn’t, no snow either). ironically, even though we weren’t here to use the furnace for hot water, etc., we consumed more oil than in November because we weren’t here, that is, because we couldn’t use our wood stove to heat the place and forego the furnace.

14.95 gallons of oil

24.3% of the US National Average

Trash. After recycling and composting this usually comes down to mainly food wrappers.

10 lbs. pp per month

7% of the US National Average

Water. This is calculated per person.

204.46 gallons pp.

6.8% of the US National Average

I found an old journal (last part of 2007) in a stack of novels hidden behind a chair in my little “office”. I am usually very careful with my journals, keeping them together and safe. This one isn’t the usual black moleskine but a fancy cloth one given to me by a friend, and that’s probably why it was separated. I opened it, curious about the year 2007, and on page one I read:

~

I’m going to write a new story. A short story, an essay, a novel, a poem, or maybe a definition, an etymology, or a map or itinerary, a history, a geography. I don’t know yet. I have some inklings. It will be “American”  in that it will be concerned with situating me – someone – in a landscape. “Situating” is perhaps not the word: letting her be, get lost, find her way. And it will be “American” as in “natural”, nature-bound: about the freedom and potential and the rule of nature, and mourning it. No matter what will be the point of writing it, I need write it, on pen and paper, scratch it as much as write it: ETCH it and so it is alive.

Even if you despair about the future, you still need to take care of the present. It is in the present that your urge, you life, soul, animus exists, lives. It may aim towards and work for tomorrow, next year, “retirement”, but it aims and works now.

~

They’re connected: writing, the story and the now. I’m still doing that, four years later, asserting a story (my imagination, my freedom), in the present (the way things are), to be able to face an uncertain future.  I guess that’s  my way of coping, living.

In the meantime my neighbor’s pine tree has interposed itself between the sun and my office window and I can feel its shadow on my back. In Winter in an unheated house one is so close to the edge, the margin between warm enough and cold is so narrow a tree makes all the difference.

Now I can’t stop blogging! I just wanted share this, from Jim Harrison’s North American Image Cycle:

The boy stood in the burning house. Set it up

that way, and with all windows open. I don’t want

a roof. I want to fill all those spaces where we

never allow words to occur.

That’s what I feel like. The house is burning. I want to fearlessly invite and feed and explore that fear.

A Fugue.

I’m reading the newly arrived Life in the Soil. Actually, I’m devouring it. And it’s not even that particularly well or passionately written.

I started wondering about this as I marveled over acellular slime molds and trichomycetes and realized that I often take refuge in books about soil and geology when I am down about the state of the world. In the first days of my “awakening” to climate change, peak oil and what have you, I fed on McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, like Henry, swallowing all 712 pages whole in the matter of a week.

Why?

Glaciers, archaebacteria: they are the kind of Earth without us. The kind of Earth that, given enough geological time, will be there after we are gone. Maybe what I am looking for in these books is perspective. I mourn so deeply what we might lose, and it seems such a shame. But these books tell me that, in another scheme of things, it doesn’t matter so much. From the perspective of the glacier, of the lichen, we don’t matter that much…

Does it work? I lose myself in the text, in the imagining of these things so utterly un-human. That’s something at least. When I read about art, about philosophy, it’s all so thoroughly human. Even a medieval religious icon or a 17th century piece of music are tainted with my sense of loss, of futility. So, losing myself in this Earth-without-us helps take my mind off things.

But then there is always the moment when I come out of the text to be reminded that it was written by a human. The science was done by humans. That knowledge and imagination, once we’re gone, will be gone as well – all that work, all that passion – for nothing! True, the real thing will still be there, the lichen, the glacier, geological time. But here I am, just holding a book, and sighing too much.

Aren’t you glad this wasn’t another “tutorial” (remember “Calcium in the Soil,” in 8 parts)?

Lately I’ve been in several situations and conversations that have brought home for me an important shift in how I as an activist (and many other activists) consider my priorities and view my task.

I stumbled into The Situation some months back. With the Green Team we have been focusing on recycling. At the beginning of the school year one of our two elementary schools went online with deep recycling. That’s recycling each and every scrap of paper and plastic, drastically reducing the school’s waste stream (you can see the posters we put up here). After testing that system for a couple of months we started the system at the school the other elementary school, which I represent.

It was clear that most of the bulk of the remaining trash bags was styrofoam trays. That one school consumes (and trashes) no less than 265 of these, every day! Our town’s recycling center does not take  these. So I thought I and a small group of parents could possibly collect these trays ourselves and bring them to a recycler int he neighborhood that does. But before I started rounding up volunteers I needed to find out what this entailed.  So I started the system while I was there anyway, during lunch, for two weeks, training the kids and the staff.

It entailed the following:

  1. the kids shake the food off the trays and putting them into a bin – not a problem.
  2. custodian stores bags with trays in bins until pickup by a parent at the end of every school day (while they pick up their kid). I didn’t find this much of a problem. True, walking from school to our home with a pair of bulky (though feather-light) trash bags raised some eyebrows, but I thought: Yes, a statement!
  3. volunteer takes trays home and there rinses them clean. Oil and dressing and some food can stay, but no lettuce leaves, or too many crumbs, etc. This is where I lost some steam, when I tried to get the mashed potatoes and chicken stew (I detest the smell and taste of boiled chicken!) off by dipping the trays into the hot soapy water in my sink. Took me 40 minutes. Still, I had Beethoven on!
  4. volunteer neatly stacks cleaned trays and brings them to my house where I store them until once-a-week drop-off by me. After two days these towers of foam and air already took up a lot of space on my porch (enclosed – the critters would go wild if I left them in the open). They also go stinky. Not good…

It was discouraging, but I persevered, trying to find the best methods of shaking,  rinsing, storing… Then the Situation arrived.

I thought if I could wash them and store them at the school I could at least dispense with tasks 1. and 2.  I arrived 15 minutes before dismissal and began. The only place available to do the rinsing was a custodian closet with a floor sink. It was so small I bumped into things. It smelled of cleaning chemicals. I  also didn’t want to make work for the custodian so was overly careful not to spill and splash. It was dark. It was lonely. I must already have been thinking “this isn’t right” because I closed the door so no one could see what I was doing from the corridor. Then the bell rang. I poked my head out the door and called Amie before she ran outside.

She came into the little room, I closed the door behind her and she looked at the scene in dismay.

What are you doing? she asked with a frown.

I explained. She sighed, Oh Mama!

That tone, half pitiful, half ashamed, said it all. Time to ditch this project! Time to prioritize!

A friend came to visit us and after eating homemade Belgian waffles I suggested I take her and my family to Pod Meadow, which I had discovered on a walk with Transition earlier in the week. The weather was a balmy 55F and only partially overcast.

Pod Meadow is an amazing conservation area in my town that is a hidden gem, “a sleeper,” the town naturalist calls it. It is 25 acres. You park the car on a busy road – no less than the old Native American Great Trail, which became a major highway in the colonial era and is now Old Connecticut Path, or Route 126. You walk through someone’s yard, and then, suddenly, this:

Amazing, the sudden dip toward the Pond and the lack of tangled shrubs under the stately trees – mostly beeches, oaks and some pines and spruce – which allows you to see right through. It gives the open and clear feel of a maintained forest, much like, I presume, the forests in the time of the Native Americans, who used to set fire to the underbrush to make hunting and travel easier.

In this forest the maintenance is done by the beavers. I don’t have the skinny on the beavers yet, but there seem to be many of them and, some worry, too many. They have dammed the Pond so that now the water reaches higher, inundating old trails and making what used to be a vernal pool (first water body in the picture above) into a part of the “full-time” pond.

The beavers clear the forest by doing this:

Amie couldn’t believe it. Imagine chewing through a whole tree with your teeth! There is more beaver handy toothsome work behind her: the beavers apparently like beeches the most and in this spot most of them were stripped of their bark at beaver height. It is amazing to run your finger over the scrapings. To me it is like touching the wild. Here’s an even bigger tree (an oak) being worked on:

And some more beeches:

We speculated that there must be some system or plan in their activities. Perhaps they are working up to a moment when they will tip one tree and it will take down all the others, like dominoes, in one great bang! Then they’ll have a party, say “our work is done here,” and move on.

For the moment they’re at home. This is their lodge. No sign of the inhabitants.

Seeing all this is so awesome to me, and I am eager to learn more about these animals. I’m also fascinated by the geology of the place, which is, like so much of New England, dominated by the 50,000-year-old glacier that started to retreat 15,000 to 16,000 years ago. I sometimes dream about that glacier.

Today was about Amie. At first she didn’t want to come but the moment we arrived she started running and jumping, suddenly free and wild herself. She had climbed onto this great downed oak before we knew it and DH had to scramble after her.

She also really wanted to walk on water:

She was upset at the end and I didn’t know why. She said she had “wanted to have more adventures and all we did was walk around and chat!” I will take her back after school some day and she can show me what it is that she wants to do. We can also take our journals and draw or write.

We are reading the Finn Family Moomintroll which another friend gave her and perhaps she has that landscape in mind and the adventures of Moomin and his curious friends. I can certainly understand her. When I was a kid I was always pottering around in the overgrown area (now a nature reservation) across from my parents’ house, pretending to be the last kid left on Earth, losing my boots in the bog, coming home with leaves and mud in my hair.

I would have gone on that tree too! I may still.

Yesterday I went to my teacher, Lisa Dolliver’s annual show. After wowing all the pottery on display and making a small purchase I picked up the small, heavy box with my name on it. It contained the pots I made during the last session. The session before that had been cancelled so these pots were made after a long hiatus, but that didn’t slow me down.

I made an astonishing fourteen pieces (incl the two lids). I remember bringing home the pots from my first session, all seven of them. Two are missing – didn’t make it into the kiln on time.

Here they are, group picture:

These three and their lids were thrown off the hump, wherein you stick a large amount of clay to the wheel and only center, then throw the upper part into a pot. Then you cut it off and work at the next layer. It’s a large and fast production technique of throwing.

I don’t much like this “vase”. The foot came out too clunky, but it was interesting to carve out.

Yesterday I finally straightened out my library. I found it to be a strange mixture of Gardening, Herbalism, Ecology, Botany, Beekeeping, Environmentalism, Ethics, Drawing, Interior Design, Transition, Native American history, Latin (!), etc. Also poetry and some novels (Harrison, Bass, Oliver).

At the moment I’m reading Ceremonial Time, Fifteen Thousand Years on One Square Mile by John Hanson Mitchell (my neighbor), several books on my town, Wayland and I’m rereading The Mind on Fire (brilliant biography of Emerson by Richardson) and Harrison’s The Road Home.

More is coming. I splurged a little on myself while shopping for family and ordered American Transcendenalism: A History (Philip Gura), The Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters by Simon Buxton, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown, Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners by James Nardi and finally, for my Kindle, I’m with the Bears, Short Stories from a Damaged Planet, ed. by Mark Martin. Mix it up, I say!

Across from the bookshelves – barely across – and bathing in the red glow of the morning sun shining through the red silk curtains, sits my massive desk, also freshly reorganized.

I’m going to add a row of pictures above the three drawings, but they need framing first. (Yes, that is still the Maisy sticker that Amie put there years ago.)

This is the Riot for the month of November 2011 for the three of us. Our first year’s averages were calculated here, our second year’s averages can be found here. Edson fixed the calculator: all go tither to crunch those numbers!

Gasoline.  Calculated per person. We drove to NYC and back for Thanksgiving. I walk Amie to school and back again every day, but activism necessitates more (local) drives than usual.

13 gallons per person

31.6% of the US National Average

Electricity. This is reckoned per household, not per person. After two months of not having to pay NSTAR (them paying us, instead) we got a bill again for  69 kWh (all wind). According to our solar meter, we produced 1403 kWh since the system was turned on, 274 kWh in November.  (You can follow our solar harvest live, here).

So in November we consumed:

274 (solar) + 69 (wind) =  343 kWh

17.1% of the US National Average

That’s quite amazing, one of our lowest numbers yet! And as you can see, we also made our first megaWatt last month and are well on our way to the next one! Those megaWatts are important because here in Mass. we can sell them as SRECS, which are the main component of the system payback.

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household, not per person. November has been crazy warm too, just like October. We had a few evenings of wood stove heat, but never needed the oil furnace backup for our “Annex” or for at night. All the oil consumption was for warm water (shower, dishes, laundry).

11.05 8.45 gallons of oil

17.9% 13.7% of the US National Average

{UPDATE} 3 Jan 2012: The way I have been calculating our heating oil consumption is by reading off the furnace how many hours it ran, then multiplying it by .85 because that’s the amount of gallons of oil I *thought* it used. Now DH just told me that our furnace is more efficient than that and the correct number is .65. Hence the correction.

Trash. After recycling and composting this usually comes down to mainly food wrappers.

10 lbs. pp per month

7% of the US National Average

Water. This is calculated per person.

376 gallons pp.

12.5% of the US National Average