Next time remind me not to go in. Definitely, if I do go in, not to visit the Nature section. And if I get there anyway, not to listen to Amie!

She had checked out the Children’s section already and found nothing of interest. Then she joined me in front of Nature – I don’t think she’ll ever go back to Children’s. It’s only two cases, so she read title by title, calling them out to me – siren song! We were no better than each other. We spurred each other on. It’s the fault of neither one of us.

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Amie chose chicken and goat books:

  • Once Upon a Flock: Life with My Soulful Chickens by Lauren Scheuer
  • Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin (not only about chickens, but it has a chicken and an egg on the cover!)
  • The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese by Margaret Hathaway

I chose the following (bear in mind that the word “choose” is sued here in a loose sense):

  • The Frog Run: Words and Wildness in the Vermont Woods by John Elder (there are a few authors I’ll buy any book from: Bass, Lopez, Harrison and Elder)
  • The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (Just curious)
  • The Wild MuirTwenty-two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures by John Muir: wonderful illustrations by Fiona King
  • Finding Home: Writing on Nature and Culture from Orion Magazine by Peter H. Sauer (Collection of Orion articles from before I became a subscriber (1992).)
  • Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination by Barbara Hurd (Intriguing title)
  • Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling through the Dark by Barbara Hurd (Comes with the one above)
  • An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field by Terry Tempest Williams (Need I justify this one?)
  • Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death by Bernd Heinrich (I’ve read Mind of the Raven, or was it Winter World? I forget, but it was good)
  • Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature by Linda Lear (I like reading biographies, and Carson is of course a hero of mine)

PS. We did not get to bury Nocty. Both ground and chicken are frozen.

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.)

Another “hot” day, in the high 60s. Yesterday we reached 70.  Talking with people as I go about town it occurs to me that we love it. Of course, who wouldn’t, right? Well… A couple of warm days in November and we’re happy because we can open the windows and leave our jackets at home. We’re so happy only few of us want to consider the cause and the effects of this down the road. Then, when it gets cold again – and probably very cold, in this seesaw climate – we can also be happy because we can finally grab that nagging suspicion by the horns, shake it and say, “global warming, huh!”

Today I wanted to write about salvaging. Yesterday I had to go into an Office Depot to have two big posters printed – we started “deep recycling” at the school I represent for the Green Team. I never go into those places. I can’t bear to look at the $1 packets of 100 pencils or ball points, the $2 t-shirts, the Save On This and That. The disparity between the advertised cost and the real cost of all this junk is too jarring for me.

But anyway, there I was, looking at all this stuff. And I realized why I never go to these places, or rather, why I never have to go. I salvage.

I get all my paper in the mail and through Amie’s school projects. I only write on scrap paper anymore.  Companies and my town send me envelopes with perfectly good envelopes in them. When we get take-out and the pita bread comes in tin foil, I wipe it and keep it. Same with plastic baggies. I even save the elastic bands that my grocery store puts around egg cartons and bunches of veggies for me. Haven’t had to buy a single elastic band in years now.

There must be many more examples that I can’t think of at the moment. I just do it subconsciously: I see something that is not “used up” and to me it says “reuse!”

I love to read apocalyptic novels and very recently tore through  The Old Man and the Wasteland by Nick Cole (kindle version, 99 cents). Like in The Old Man and the Sea, the old man  leaves his community to find something. Not a big fish, but salvage. They are a community living a hard life in the dessert, decades after the bombs, on salvaged stuff. I loved the insights into the salvaging mind – it’s all about following the story. It’s a great adventure and I was sad to get to the end, not just because it was the end, but because the man finds a whole city (Tuscon), intact, preserved and defended against The Horde.

He calls it salvage, but to me it was the end of salvage. And - tadaa – the epilogue indicates it was the beginning of the new “civilization”. Earlier in the book, the Old Man thought about how depressed everyone was right after the bombs, having lost everything. To survive that you had to accept that you lost everything (and many couldn’t). But now here it is: everything he thought was lost, for him and his community, given back again. What a shock that must be, but there isn’t much about his feelings – it’s too short and racy a novel for that.

Strange, my conflicted feelings about this ending. The curve of humanity swings upward and the Old Man, the author and the readers sing in praise. But this reader closed the book and stepped out into a warm day in November that was supposed to be cold.

The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
… we have come to our real work,
And that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
– Wendell Berry

My copy of Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel arrived yesterday and I am hooked. Clearly written, humorous but without fluff and to the point, tightly structured, and beginning in the beginning and ending with the end. Just the way I like my books on the structure and evolution of plants. I plan to learn a lot!

That’s it for today. Just a plug for this wonderful book.

Amie and I will be traveling over the next two weeks, so posting will be sporadic, if I post at all. We have a 9-hour plane ride ahead of us (BANG goes the Riot), and my main concern right now is which book to take. That, and getting a letter notarized in which DH gives his consent for me to take our daughter out of the country.

I’ve whittled it down to three:

Death, Sex by Tyler Volk and Dorion Sagan

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In the Loyal Mountains by Rick Bass

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Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner

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I’ve read about 1/3 of each of these and still can’t decide. Of course I would take The Book if only it weren’t so voluminous – both volumes will come along in my suitcase, though, along with Holmgren’s Permaculture.  Amie will read Charlotte’s Web. But hopefully we’ll both sleep on the plane.

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I’m reading Edible Forest Gardens (EFG) again, alongside Holmgrens’ Permaculture. I’m underlining and taking notes in the books and making summaries on a quadrille pad. I’m on volume 2 of EFG, which is the most practical volume of the two, and I foresee a lot of drawing up of plans as I come across passages that apply to my homestead. I’ll let you look in over my shoulder as I “make my mistakes on paper” (the best place to make them).

I’m also looking around for a Permaculture course, preferably online, or a local one spread out over nights and weekends, as I can’t afford, time and money-wise, the three-week intensive in Bolivia, or even in Cape Cod. I found an online course given by Dan and Cynthia Hemenway via Barking Frog Permaculture, which I could even monitor at minimal cost. But I missed the entry date. Next year maybe?

***

I’m excited  but apprehensive at the same time. I hope my turning to permaculture again won’t turn me away from Transition. I know the latter came out of the former. Rob Hopkins, the “founder” of Transition, is a permaculture teacher. And he advises that at least one member of a Transition Initiative facilitating or initiator group take a permaculture course for a good reason: the principles of permaculture and Transition are the same, only their domains differ.

Edible forest gardening is one part of permaculture, which applies its basic  principles to the agricultural domain, and which in turn then nestles inside the vast ambition of Transition. It is exactly for that reason that I fear I might lose track of Transition. Permaculture, especially when studied with such selfish motivations as my own (I want to make my homestead a permaculture site), could easily blind me to the larger challenge of Transition.

I feel I need to work on my own place – as a base, as a model – before or while I work on the place that surrounds me. And so my vision contracts and expands, expands and contracts. But when focusing on the ground right in front of my feet, I might lose track of the path. Then when I look up to find it again – or because it calls me – my suddenly telescoping vision might make me dizzy, overwhelmed, and I might turn away again.

I know myself. I am aware, and wary. This is one of the reasons why fellow initiators in my town would be so valuable: to keep me balanced!


People, I just received Death and Sex from Chelsea Green and I am just blown away. It is a lovely book, consisting of two texts bound together beautifully, and with great humor. Reading all the rave reviews at the beginning of each text makes me want to pour that cup of coffee, sink into sunlit sofa and read.

This one, for instance: “Dorion Sagan and Tyler Volk show us sex is optional and death is necessary” (Adam Daniel Stulberg). And: “quotidian simplicities are dissolved in the acid of evolutionary theory” (Andrew Lionel Blais).

I had forgotten to set a deadline for the Give-Away. We’ll be drawing a name on Wednesday 18th at 6 pm EST. Grab a chance while you can!

{UPDATE} And the book goes to… Carol! Congratulations, I’ll stick it in the mail as soon as I have your address.

Now this is book I’m interested in reading: Death and Sex by Tyler Volk and Dorion Sagan published by  Chelsea Green – my favorite publisher (see my reviews of Coperthwaite’s Handmade Life, here, here, and here). Looks like it will fit perfectly in my daily regimen of gardening and homesteading books and peak oil and climate change info. You can read parts of the book on Chelsea Green’s great blog, here, and below is an excerpt.

Also, featuring this excerpt here earns me the book, for free, plus another copy, for one of my readers. That means this is my first book give away! If you would like it, indicate such in a comment and I’ll mail it to you.

Enjoy!

The following is an excerpt from Death & Sex by Tyler Volk and Dorion Sagan. It has been adapted for the Web. The source is here.

From chapter 4: Recycling of the Dead

When carbon ends its “lifetime” in the biosphere, it doesn’t stop being carbon. It merely passes into a deeper zone. One is reminded here of ancient myths that feature souls, victims, or heroes descending into the underworld, as a dramatic moment in the story. Like those mythic souls presumed to continue to live but in a new form, so carbon transported downward and outside the vibrant biosphere, after “burial,” continues to be carbon but somewhere deep and dark, and often hot.

Carbon is buried as detritus from dead marine plankton when it fluxes out of the dynamic surface system in the form of tiny calcium carbonate shells. The coal we mine to burn for electricity is the dead and highly compressed remains of giant ferns and mosses from dinosaur-era swamps. Our precious, diminishing reserves of oil were long, long ago the sediments underneath some of the world’s most productive marine areas ever. Verdant patches of algae grew, then fell into the sediments at such rapid rates of death that even the voracious bacteria alive there could not keep up with the rain from what was their heaven. The sites and rates of death that led to the fossil fuels upon which modern civilization came to depend were historically unique burial traps.

More commonly, carbon that was buried from organic tissue in the form of the bodies of plankton was finely dispersed. Today we see it as the black tincture in rocks such as shale, in contrast with the pervasive white of limestone rock that entombs once-living carbon in a paler shade.

All these buried forms of carbon can eventually spring back up, like the ancient Greek myth of Persephone emerging from the underworld to bestow life to the surface. She was said to rise up annually, as a rite of spring. But carbon’s stay below is typically millions to hundreds of millions of years. Its ports of reentry are the volcanoes and surfaces of rocks that dissolve when exposed to soil, rain, and weather, thereby returning carbon to the surface circulation of active cycles.

How dependent is life in the sunny biosphere upon this resurrected carbon? In the long run, very dependent. Without the reemergence—a kind of biogeochemical reincarnation, if you like—all carbon would slowly and surely exit from the interconnected surface system of life, air, soil, and water. Emergence would be limited to only truly primordial carbon that comes up as a portion of volcanic activity.

From chapter 7: Built from Death

Surpassing in some ways the wonders of death within the living animal body are the roles of the functional dead in sculpting the towering lives of trees. If you go inward from the bark, past a thin layer of cells called the phloem and another narrow layer of cells that are actively reproducing, you come to a notable layer called the xylem.

The xylem consists of tubular columns of dead cells that function to move mineral-laden water gathered by the roots up to the needles or leaves. Its special, dead cells are called tracheids. Tracheids (or, when grouped into units, tracheid elements) not only provide water and mineral circulation but also support the entire tree in its climb upward against gravity. Without tracheids there would be no forests or grasslands, no green life on land, except for some ground-hugging tiny mosses and a paltry soil coat of photosynthetic bacteria and algae. For not only do trees contain tracheids, so do all nonwoody herbaceous plants. Tracheids are in all stems, branches, and trunks of trees, in the shoots of grasses, in flower stalks (usually in their centers), and even in the veins of leaves. In all these instances, the dead are part of the living.

Without the evolutionary invention of tracheids just inside 400 million years ago, the land today would be virtually deserted. For more than 90 percent of Earth history, neither land plants nor their vital tracheids existed. And because tracheids are dead, in them we have an ideal example of how nature turns death into life to create organisms from cells.

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It’s finally here, the book!

At the beginning of 2008 I got an email from Marjorie Wilson. She and her husband, Brent, are the authors of the seminal Teaching Children to Draw, published in 1982. Marjorie wrote that they were putting together the second edition. She was doing research on the net when she found the YouTube video of Amie drawing the three-headed person (here). From there on she made it to this blog, where she found “Drawing as it Develops,” my record of Amie’s drawing progress. She wondered if we would let her use Amie’s example in her new Introduction.

Of course!

We emailed, I sent her scans of Amie’s drawings, and we had a wonderful phone interview. Amie picture was chosen for the front cover, and her drawing of Tigger (this one) is printed, in color, on the back flap. The new Introduction tells the story of her drawing from age 1.5 to about 3 and how a lot of what she and we did corresponds with their findings and recommendations in the book. There are stills from the video and photographs of the resulting three-headed person, of Amie’s first scribbles, of DH carrying her in the backpack, and of this collaborative drawing in my journal.

Amie doesn’t quite understand – her first reaction looking at the still of the video was: “That’s not how you hold a pencil!” But she knows how happy and proud we all are.

And for me there could be no greater confirmation of the value of this blog. All those entries on Amie’s drawing are not only a record (that I would have failed to keep so orderly and punctually in my journal), but they are also of actual use to others, for their viewing pleasure as well as for information on how children draw.

So the book is finally out – Amazon says it will only be released in February 2010 but that seems to be a mistake. If you’re interested in childrens drawings, this is the book to get: full of insightful observations, great practical advice and lots and lots of fun examples. Brain food and eye candy. And our Amie, of course.

Now can you believe that I have been keeping this under my hat for over a year?!