In Transition and Permaculture circles we’re constantly talking about putting systems in place for when, that is, before, they’re needed. When I headed up the Solarize program in Wayland in 2012, this was my main motivation: lots of individual solar arrays on roofs so we have at least a basis for clean and decentralized electricity in times of emergency, if (when) the big grid goes down. It’s also part of my motivation for much of what we do here at the homestead: chickens, bees, garden, solar PV, solar hot water, rainwater harvest, etc. It’s not just a matter of physically building and installing and test -driving and improving these systems, but also of training oneself to build them getting the experience to get a yield from them, and then to be able to teach the skills to others.

The problem though is this: most of these systems are not yet needed. With any luck, they won’t for a long time, maybe not even in our own life time. Once an “element” is built – a favorite phase involving family and friends and fun problem solving – it needs to be maintained even though there are still much more convenient ways of getting the yield.

For instance, I could much more easily get eggs and veggies from the farmers market than having to deal with lame hens that need nursing and garden beds that need weeding. The water still comes out of the tap, so why am I scrubbing the algae from the water totes and struggling with low water pressure? There is still oil in our tanks or money to buy it, so why am I cold with the thermostat at 59F and why should I get up in the middle of the night to feed the wood stove? Why can’t I go on a long holiday without having to arrange hen and garden sitting? Why am I canning so much apple sauce! Often, the systems I like the most are those that don’t need maintenance, like the solar machines. Yes, I admit it, the living systems are often a drag.

It’s yet another skill, of course, and perhaps the one that most needs learning and practicing: to persevere in a difficult thing and to not give in to comfort and convenience just because we can buy it, or just because society still supplies it. It’s a skill to not turn a blind eye to the real costs of that comfort and convenience and to live a principled life, now and here.

Our group has been discussing the starting up of a co-op for local food, goods and services. One of the major bones of contention in our conversations is the problem that the food, etc. at small co-ops and local stores are usually more expensive.

But why is the price at the co-op higher? And (just as revealing), why is the price at the supermarket lower? Everyone knows the answers by now. The real question is: why, even among a group of committed local activists, doesn’t that knowledge translate into action? The action being to put one’s money where one’s mouth is by paying the extra cost of doing ethical business?

Personally, I have no problem with paying the extra cost of food that is grown by local business that treat their employees, the community and the earth well.

At Whole Foods, the only non-local place where I shop, mostly for milk (most of my food is from a CSA box, my garden and coop, and foraging), a store manager once asked me why I was buying the Organic Valley instead of the organic Whole Foods milk. He said, it’s the same milk and you save $1.50. I told him that that may well be, but they’re not the same business: Organic Valley is a farmers co-op. WF by far is not (he should know). I’ll gladly pay extra for that.

You might say: well, you can afford it! Why yes, I can… but is that a reason why I shouldn’t? You might say: well others can’t afford that. To which I say exactly the same: is that a reason why I shouldn’t?

(These reactions always surprise me but I see where they’re coming from, same as the accusation “but you’re nevertheless shopping at Whole Foods, and you drove your car there, and, o my, are you also buying a bag of cookies??” They are the reactions of people driven into false corners of the culture’s devising, where they are told their last resort is to lash out with guilt and judgment in the form of the poison of purity… But, back to the issue at hand.)

We have to accept that, as Rafter writes in a recent blog post on Liberation Ecology, we are…

faced with the formidable task of regenerating ecosystems and communities, while surviving in a system that rewards the destruction of the same systems. Permaculture projects have to compete with degenerative enterprises and institutions that are happy to take the efficiency ‘bonus’ from unsustainable and exploitative practices.

Our local regenerative efforts are set in a widespread and deep-rooted, global degenerative context. That’s why local is more expensive than global and that’s why most of us can’t afford it. But let’s be clear that the first doesn’t mean that paying a little extra isn’t worth it (or actually the true cost of living), and the second doesn’t mean that those who can afford it, shouldn’t. In fact, it makes perfect economic sense: by paying that little extra, I make the co-op milk cheaper, so more people can start affording it.

And that’s how we get the ball rolling, not just economically, but ethically as well. As Rafter points out:

worker cooperatives in production, community development financial institutions in finance, and community land trusts in consumption/ownership [...] All of these models can mesh in straightforward ways with the existing economic system, while at the same time undermining it. Substituting collective ownership for private ownership has a cascade of effects that make it possible for enterprises to optimize for multiple functions – including ecological and social health – instead of simply maximizing profit.

When I think about starting a co-op, I’m aiming for that cascade. I’m not thinking to save some money. I’m hoping to save (a tiny bit) of the world, but changing it from the inside out.

Today I had planned to clean the house. It badly needs a vacuum and a scrub. But before I could get started, a friend called and said she wanted to go on a walk that my group, Transition Wayland, was organizing though Wayland Walks. Wayland Walks is a great spin-off,  run by two of our core group members. They set up a walk every month, each one with a new theme (Full Moon, Wild Edibles, Walk on Water, etc.). Exceptionally, this one wasn’t local, but a half hour drive away. We used to have cranberry bogs in Wayland, but no longer.

As we drove toward Wachussett Reservoir, the clouds drifted away. By the time we got there, the sun shone on the water. We couldn’t believe our luck! And there were the berries. What a delight! As Amie said: “They like to play hide and seek!” Who knew cranberry plants were so tiny – well, they’re actually quite extensive, but you only see the “uprights,” the branches that poke three or four inches up above the ground. The real meat of the plant is the tangle of underground runners. You can walk forever and still be stepping on the same plant. The berries are hidden low in the brush: you have to almost get down to their level to spot most of them, and rake the foliage with your fingers.

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We picked for hours, Amie with her friend, her friend’s sister with her friend, the adults mostly by themselves. Before two others arrived, the kids were in the majority, which was a joy to behold. Their squeals of delight and their laughter was wonderful. The adults were quieter, no less intent on collecting. There was a lovely, meditative quality to the picking: focused on the bright or darker red, hidden in the red foliage. Kneeling down, water soaking the knees of my jeans. The slow loss of sensation in my fingertips, a creeping clumsiness there, dropping berries…

We picked quite a few berries, gaining real appreciation for cranberry harvesting. In certain situations, the Native Americans and those after them would flood the bog so the berries would float, making them easier to find and scoop up out of the water.  We donated all but a couple of handfuls to a Veterans Thanksgiving dinner.

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 Look at those intrepid pickers and their harvest!

By then the sun was setting and we were all cold. Two of the girls had found the warmth in the car and wouldn’t come out for the picture.

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Watching Bill Moyers’  recent interview with Wendell Berry, it was hard not to tear up, because of the sheer beauty of this man, his poetry, his speaking, and his holding both grief and joy in equal measure and balance:

It’s hard to think of any thing that’s precious that isn’t endangered. But maybe that’s an advantage. The poet William Butler Yeats said, somewhere, “Things reveal themselves passing away.” And it may be that the danger we’ve now inflicted upon every precious thing reveals the preciousness of it and shows us our duty.

There’s a terrible kind of hope there that makes one hold one’s breath. There’s also the caution not to hold it for too long, and to just get going.

We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is: What’s the right thing to do? What does this Earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it.

Just breathe, and do what’s right. But do it!

And what is that? The question, “what is right?” pervades my whole person: the morality plays  in my mind (the judgments of myself and others, the dreaming and wishing), daily household acts (what to put the thermostat at), the gathering of the tribe for a meal and conversation, my activism in the community (a letter to the editor, a call for a meeting), my forays beyond the local (usually by “voting with my wallet”). The question rarely gets answered beyond a gut feeling. Surprisingly, for someone who had to relearn the layout of her hometown when learning to drive, in this moral landscape I am satisfied with that gut feeling, just as I love getting lost for a bit before grabbing the unreliable ten-year-old road atlas. Still, sometimes I wish I could nail it down into some sort of “manifesto,” not so much to rationalize it or even to make it more trustworthy, but to make it more accessible when I feel off course and need some reminding.

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Feeling a little adrift is not a bad thing, of course. But after a while, it calls for action.

I had been feeling  most adrift with Transition Wayland, the group I am most involved with, to the point that I’d say it’s my part-time job (unpaid). I felt we weren’t going anywhere, accomplishing anything. I read about Transition and other such groups starting food co-ops, putting up community solar, getting a seat on the town council and rezoning for local agriculture, holding unleashings with half the townsfolk in Open Space. With the urgency of reports and bulletins in my back I was in a hurry to “put systems in place for when they’re needed.” I saw deep rifts in my community and felt that, even if I am helpless as an individual, I should still have influence through this Transition group that promises to act in the middle between the individual and the global.

The crisis came when I realized that all of our latest meetings happened not as Transition Wayland – working on our town’s resilience in the face of climate change, etc. – but as the tribe several of us found through it: satisfying, heartening days full of canning, sharing books and tools, gardening together, in our private homes, unannounced on the website or in the local newspaper. Tribal, closed, self-sufficient: the opposite of Transition.

My compass went berserk, as if you had dropped me at the magnetic pole. There is nothing there, you know, at the pole,  and it keeps moving!

I went a little crazy, inspired by trainings and books on effective groups, open space and how to design one’s group culture.  My first opportunity to put us to work was at a meeting about Eisenstein’s Sacred Economy scheduled a while back. The idea was to present the book, which no one else had read, and then to discuss the long-held idea for a co-op. Though I had announced this on the site and in the local media, only the core group showed up and just one new person, making ten of us. It confirmed my suspicion that most people think of us as a finished, closed tribe. I lectured on Eisenstein, rigid with ambition even though the conversation wanted to go more deeply into more personal stories of giving and receiving. I skipped my carefully prepared segway into the co-op idea, instead projecting it onto the wall in all its powerpoint glory: the goods and services it would ideally offer, its legal underpinnings, how the board would be chosen, dividend paid out…

The others couldn’t believe it. “You want to go into business?! Why sully our good intentions with money? Even I don’t feel the need for this.”  In all my years in Transition, I had never felt so at odds. Even those in the group who had also held dear the co-op, could not  recognize it, let alone come to its defense. We did find our messy way to the bottom of the issue, “Why do you feel we need this?” But by then it was too late, and late. People had already drifted away without saying goodbye, the group unraveled.

Driving home, I told myself: Well, this was good, this was something different, this was Storming, right on cue after Forming and before Norming. I lost a night’s sleep over it. When we came back to it in many good individuals conversations, I managed to explain my intention better: to set the group on track again, find our direction. I billed the meeting two weeks later, on our site and in the local media, as a “General Meeting” where we would do a visioning exercise and a find-your-mission game to re-invent our group culture. I thoroughly prepared for this. People and Permaculture, The Empowerment Manual and the resources on the Transition Network site are wonderfully empowering and a lot of fun. I studied, then wrote out an entire script for the evening. A problem was that I didn’t know who would come. I’d done a lot of promotion and was hoping for some new people. The goal was that they’d get to answer the question, “What is Transition Wayland,” themselves. I packed twenty clipboards.

*

*                 *

My first clue to what was really going on came on the day of the meeting, when I ran the agenda by a friend, over the phone. I went over the visioning exercise: “How can we work for a better future if we can’t even imagine it? So let’s imagine it! Get comfortable, close your eyes if you want to. Imagine a world, ten years, twenty, fifty years from now, where our community is transformed to satisfy your deepest wishes for it. It is a beautiful world you feel safe in. Find yourself in your home. Look around: what does it look? Smell like? Who built it? Where is everybody? The children? The elders? The sick? You’re about to have a midday meal. Who is there with you? Where do they live? What do you eat? Who cooked the meal? Where did the food grow, and who grew it? How did it come to you? How is the land taken care of?” Etc.

It brought my friend to tears. How stark the contrast between this longed-for world and reality, where teachers are murdered by fourteen-year-old students. The exercise did exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do: it thrust her into a feeling of profound powerlessness. My suggestion that with Transition we get to expand our power from the individual circle to the community circle and start the work sounded empty to my own ears. I thanked her profoundly for reminding me of the courage that is needed to imagine a better world.

At the meeting there were eight of us, just the tight core-group (minus one, who couldn’t make it). We did a fun round circle, sharing our moods as weather reports. I introduced group culture and its two domains, vision/mission/goal and process (how meetings are run, decisions taken, etc.), and asked:  Are you happy with our group culture? Is it transparent to you? I explained how I felt adrift.

We never got to do the visioning or any of that.  The fact that it was “just us,”  which had alarmed me at first, turned out to be a blessing: I could put my five-page script away.  We talked freely about what we already do and it was good to hear it. We build trust in our community, by simply walking the trails, for instance, and that gives meaning to our place for everyone in it. We make connections, all the time, like fingers of a hand reaching into the community, and we have to trust that the spaces in between the fingers fill up in unexpected ways often unknown by us. We model compassionate living, friendliness and everyday courage. We counter the dominant culture of fear and distrust. We are more organic and “opportunistic” than prepared and “on track”…

We talked about Wayland Walks, our most successful running program, which had just lead a walk to which twenty people came: twenty people deeply present in the landscape, in search of wild edibles. We gathered around the Master Map that will come out of all this walking for the town’s 375th Anniversary. The crisis had brought me right there, where I needed to be: to this map of our town with these people standing around.

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It’s not true, what I wrote, that there is nothing there, at the pole.  It is true that it keeps moving. In fact, it could be anywhere.

It is the place where you get to question your compass, shake it a little to see if the needle is stuck, and be reminded that you cannot, once and for all, “nail down” that needle.  What is there is the satisfaction that you should just trust your gut feeling.  Just breathe, and do what’s right.

The writing of this entry was inspired by my reading today of Charlotte DuCann’ s latest blog post about the walks she takes her community on, and especially these lines:

So having followed the Transition ethos of relocalisation and community resilience in these five years,  I realise what I have really been doing within its well-managed civic remit is fostering a culture that cherishes all these  wayward,  earth-loving  actions.  Paying attention to things that civilisation has scant time for, or has forgotten in its pursuit of power. I have come to see that return and regeneration - of soil, neighbourhoods, people, places - is the wild card in the pack, the card all of us have up our sleeves.

So it is for me as well. We will work on local energy, local food, continue the hard awareness-raising, and put systems in place. We will  “go places.” But the compass that guides us there will be the precious things: compassion with one who is face-to-face, courage in small actions, the grief and joy of standing in a field together. They show us our duty.

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Yesterday my friend R and I carpooled into Medford to see Rob Hopkins speaking at Tufts University. We walked into the crowded room and someone called, in a British accent: “I know you!” I turned and there was Rob Hopkins. He had recognized me from our “just get going” segment in the movie In Transition 2.0We chatted for five minutes about how thankful we are that he came,  about his tour and about my town as well – he was genuinely interested in what is going on in Wayland. It was also touching when he said this would be the longest time he has ever been away from his kids.

The audience was about half Transition crowd, half students and faculty and others interested in Transition as well as in the other two speakers, the mayors of Fitchburg and of Medford. Rob’s all-too short talk was delivered in his usual familiar, passionate manner. Even though I’ve read up on Transition, obviously, and  took trainings and “talk” it all the time, there were some insights and turn of phrases that were new to me. I particularly liked three elements.

One, how in many core groups, at a certain stage, there develops a need for special support for the middle. Rob likened the core group to a donut: it spreads outward, which is great, as it grows, but often time there develops a hole. Groups would be more effective, and happier, if that middle weren’t empty, if someone held it. But that also means there has to be support for that person, and that’s what the Transition Network is working on. At this moment, for us, the person holding the middle would be me and boy, did that message resonate! Not just that I would be supported, but more importantly, that anyone in the middle would be supported. Meaning, of course, that if I had to take it easier or even step aside, there would still be someone to take my place, unafraid of the ‘whelm.

The second aspect was Rob’s emphasis on the economy, on how Transition should see itself as a new economy driver, the creator of a new local and sustainable (non-growth) economy. Our group too is slowly veering in that direction as we investigate the possibility of founding a co-op. It looks like the Transition Network is looking to push the importance of local economies in the global world, with this report, well worth reading. A quote: “Growing the community resilience movement to the national and global scale that’s needed will require the full support and participation of the US environmental community.”

The third element was Rob’s response to a question from the audience: should Transition groups walk in protest? Rob’s answer was nuanced. He thought for a minute, then said: “That is not for me to say.” Then he said that on the whole Transition is so positive and inclusive that protesting against things may get us pigeonholed and thus undermine our role. He said that Transition groups shouldn’t shirk away from debate and can be great catalysts of debate.  But again, he stressed that it is up to every group to decide. (Rob wrote about this here.)

I had thought at first not to go to this event. I am very suspicious of, even allergic to, gurus. When someone tells me some guy’s brilliant, they’ve not done that a person a favor in my eyes. (I’ve written about this before, here.) But I can report that I need not be suspicious here. Rob’s not a guru, and doesn’t want to be. I can imagine how weird it must be for him to come to these things and be thought of as having all the answers and be stared at. (I admit I did a bit of staring, but just because he caught me by surprise, and because he’s much taller than I thought he was, and just for a second or two).  His demeanor and his explanation of Transition, as well as, for instance, his answer to the protest-question, put any misgivings I had to rest.

That’s the whole point of Transition: there is no guru – one who knows it all – and the network  is each and everyone one of us, equally and together. I hope everyone in the audience got it too! I’m so happy I went.

THANK YOU, ROB, for starting this and giving it away!

If you have the chance to meet Rob Hopkins on this ONE TIME ONLY tour of the US, make sure not to miss it! His schedule is here.

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What a rush. Wayland’s 2013 Earth Day Weekend, organized by Transition Wayland and the Wayland Green Team (both of which I am an active member), is over. It was a two-day community extravaganza of open houses all over town: people showing their retrofitted or super insulated houses, gardens, solar PV and Hot Water systems, heat pumps, geothermal systems, compost, chickens, bees, rain water catchment and much more.

I ran from one house to the next, trying to go to all of them, which was impossible, of course. But as the organizer I felt (1) that it was only right to shake each host’s hand and wish them good luck and (2) that I should get the maximum of enjoyment out of this event. Last year, when we put up a big fair on the Town Building grounds (400 visitors), all I did was help set up booths, put out fires, and worry that the tents would fly off on us. In any case, I was gone from 9 am till 10:30 pm on Saturday and from 10 am to 6 om on Sunday. But I had a blast and was very heartened.

First of all, we managed to do what Transition is supposed to do and what, having done it, is the right thing: we “gave it away”. Hosts prepared and ran their own events. All we did was come up with the concept and  the promotion: a flier, a website, lawn signs. Giving it away was very powerful, both for our initiating group, for the hosts, and for the visitors. Everyone I spoke with loved the formula.

And there were plenty of visitors.  At a first guess (we’re still counting), the open houses attracted about 500 visits (not visitors, as it’s impossible to tell who visited which houses). One of the houses, our town’s famous LEED Gold Toaster House, got over 150  (they were open for 12 hours, 9-9).  The screening of the documentary Chasing Ice on Friday evening, got over 50 viewers.

Our own open house – the first time we show off Robin Hill Gardens – attracted about 30 people. Amie had a lemonade stand and though the lemons cost $11.50 and she made $4.50 we were all psyched, she most of all, because each cup was, in the end, only a quarter. She was so happy to finally be part of Earth Day after having missed Mama for the whole weekend. DH shared much of the work: I showed the garden, compost, rain water catchment, bees and chickens, he showed the solar PV and Hot Water systems. It was nerve wrecking and fun to do and I felt good about it. Only…

Only, the ultimate goal had been to attract the neighbors.  “If only your five immediate neighbors come, it’s a success!’ is what we had said. Only one set of neighbors came to mine. True, I had a difficult slot, it was the second-last event. But they had seen my sign, got the brochures in their kids’ backpacks, and I had talked to them about it. Even my next door neighbors, who were home and biking around and whom I had invited by personal email, didn’t come. I’m not whining or accusing, just wondering why? Was it timing, messaging? Were there barriers that neighbors felt they couldn’t cross while total strangers could?

Here’s another thought. On Friday we showed Chasing Ice at the High School, and on Saturday one of the hosts, also an active member of Transition Wayland, showed Green Fire, about Aldo Leopold, in her living room. Both movies elicited fantastic conversations. The first (about 30 stayed for the conversation), more intellectual, abstract and contentious (in a good way). The second (7 of us) so much more personal, with childhood stories and emotions gently surfacing. I realized I like the second approach better and am thinking of taking both movies “on the road” in Wayland, showing it in living rooms and talk, talk, talk, get to know each other.  For instance, a friend of mine who came to Green Fire was a different person than I usually see (mom of kids who are friends with my kid – those are our usual roles). I loved hearing that intelligent, articulate woman share her amazing experiences so confidently. We need that culture in our town: conversations, not presentations; friendships, not memberships. We must get to know each other, get strong together, before we get to know the facts and start to act.

Lots to think about  as we take Transition Wayland to the next stage (giving all of it away), trying to discern and influence the complex fabric of a community. Today I am writing a Letter of Thanks for our local media, watering my garden, and reading Aldo Leopold:

All ethics evolved so far rest upon a single premise:

that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts

The work is always only just begun.

 

 

I see it only now, at the end of the day, how much was accomplished: cleaned out the chicken coop,  collected four eggs (we’re back to four!), inspected the beehives, painted the last of the signage for our town’s Earth Day, and racked the wine.

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 Four.

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Amie paints her own sign in the new basement Project Room. The Earth Day lawn signs behind her are reused.

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The A-Frames from the previous year got a new lick of paint and are awaiting the last lettering on the porch (along with the seedlings, hardening off).

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DH racks the Merlot and the Cabernet

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Sediment, with some wood chips.

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We tasted both, the Merlot, pictured here, was further along than the Cabernet. Back in their cubby they went for the next stage.

 

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This, dear friends, is a massive apothecary! The beginnings of it. Some of these envelopes hold just 5 seeds. Many hold seeds that need scraping with sandpaper and intricate regimes of warm-moist and/or cold-dry conditions. Some will take years (years!) to germinate. Suffice it to say, these aren’t your average lettuce seeds. Each one is special. Each one is demanding. But if I do right by them, each one will repay me and my community a thousandfold.

As for my silence here, I’ve been clearing my desk just so I can devote the necessary time to these seeds. Today was the day it all came together. I sent off an application to teach a course on collapse (yes, you heard that right!) at Tufts Experimental College. I finished the Solar Wayland Report (a rather technical policy-oriented report which you can read here). I also submitted a grant application for Transition Wayland. What a relief to have all those done! Added up they amount to a hundred dense pages of text, and they have been months in the making.

Earth Day has been a non-stop promotional effort (we have articles in the local media every week, all the way up to the weekend itself: check them our here/here, the write-up of our house here/here, and here/here). I only wrote the one about about our house, we have a great team volunteering for this!  The group is also investigating making Transition Wayland into a co-op. And then there are the plans to promote solar hot water. Oh, and on Monday a friend and I are taking a 14-foot truck to pick up no less than eight IBC totes plus some barrels we’re planning to convert into compost barrels…

I’d better be off to my basement now to sow those seeds, before I get sidetracked!

Amie reads Calvin and Hobbes during Hurricane Sandy (13h) power outage, 29 October 2012

So we weathered yet another storm. Or rather, we didn’t. Sandy went around us. We got some of her peripheral gusts of wind and some rain, but none of it very severe.  Half of my town was out of power.  School was closed Monday and again today due to power outages and blocked roads.

So we got lucky. Or did we?

Our power went out at the very beginning, before Sandy had even made landfall 300 miles south of us. So just the smallest of what Sandy could throw at us instantly toppled our infrastructure. Why? Because  all she had to do was continue what Irene and previous storms had already wrought: trees and branches weakened by those storms had to come down.

The lesson here is that we don’t go from crisis to crisis, resetting each time. Instead we now accumulate risks and dangers. The next storm, however small, might be a major tipping point. The next big one might be utter disaster. Lacking the money or will to repair our infrastructure to pristine condition or to replace it with more resilient systems – systems that can take a hit - we “maintain” it in good enough condition for “normal” conditions.  The downed wires will be restrung, but we won’t be putting them underground.

We’re merely treading water.

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Reading during (40-h) power outage Nor-Easter of October 30, 2011

Here’s another example of our lack of resilience. When the grid went down, our grid-tied solar array went down with it. Batteries are still too expensive, environmentally problematic and short-lived, so my household was without power too. With Solarize Massachusetts we managed to get about 130 solar small residential and business arrays up here in Wayland and in our neighboring towns of Lincoln and Sudbury. We pat ourselves on the back for our success, yet in times of crisis it turns out that it means nothing.

The majority is not bothered, of course. “Those couple of days in the year when you’re without power don’t matter,” they scoff. To them it’s all about the 362  (give or take) good days of energy efficiency and environmental impacts. These are all good and necessary qualities, of course, but we should also be looking at resilience. Climate change and other predicaments will impact  us more and more, faster and faster. “Normal” will shrink and “Frankenstorms” will become the norm. All our efficiency won’t matter if there’s no resilience underlying it.

If you’re thinking that that’s rushing to ring the alarm bell, may I point out that only a few years ago people laughed at the possibility that whole swaths of the country might be without power for more than a couple of hours. “This is not a developing country!” Nowadays we easily skip worrying about the power, taking it for granted that it will be lost, and move on to worrying about the water supply. In a few years time, even loss of water supply will be expected. What’s next?

And so we go happily down the rabbit hole, adjusting our expectations with each step so that we don’t have to do something about it that may – sweet Gee!  - demand sacrifices to our wallets or our idea of ourselves as on top of the world!

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For me this isn’t just a social – local or international – issue. I’m pointing the finger at myself too.

Yes, we’re prepared. We have bug-out bags at the ready and food, water, flashlights, batteries and sleeping bags (*) in a hurricane room in the basement. But let’s not kid myself! Yesterday, as DH was charging our brand-new NOAA  emergency radio, the hand crank broke off. I was furious: what if we had really needed it? Though I am still  fuming, I am grateful for the wake up call. There could have been no more powerful sign of how fragile we are, and only fractionally less fragile even with all our preparations.

That I believed that my radio would work also betrayed that I had not really given up a key assumption: that we are rebuilding this ship in dry dock rather than plugging her leaks in the middle of a choppy ocean. I thought I had:  it’s my favorite image of our world in peril, along with “we’re treading water,” which complements it. But obviously I had assumed that this radio was built in dry dock, that is, under the very best of circumstances and conditions. I know now that it was not, that it was made cheaply, its parts sourced and assembled by the cheapest bidder, its testing foregone because the buyer would buy it anyway and because, perhaps, most buyers wouldn’t need it, anyway.

Well, may we all shed our assumptions, and soon. Treading water is hazardous enough without live wires coming down!

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(*) Some accuse us of being hoarders, but we bought our emergency supplies in times of plenty, when our purchases didn’t  impact supplies – which is not something you can say of those who raid the supermarket shelves the day before the storm.

 

(I’m thinking of this third post today as a Transitiony kind of post…)

When I show people around the place, I finally (after five years) feel like it’s all coming together, and that’s because I have started thinking in terms of elements.

Breaking the enormous task of creating a “sustainable place”  up into elements allows me to do several things:

  1. to accept that it will only happen one element at a time,
  2. thus to take a more realistic  longer-term view,
  3. and while digging the compost I can now enjoy digging the compost, while not also, at the same time, in my head,  digging the pond, pulling the weeds, cleaning out the coop, identify the mushrooms, building the earth oven…
  4. and I can take pride in the accomplishments, in what has already been done,
  5. thus also feeling confidence that we will succeed in making it even better.

Yes, this is all about feeling good! I’ve realized that, for me, only good feelings will (1) allow me and (2) even get me to act.  I am finally taking seriously the title of my blog: Wendell Berry’s

 Be joyful though you have considered all the facts

I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep track of the big picture, the reasons behind our actions, etc. I’m saying that too much talk (or thought), too much worry makes for a very frustrated activist.

Case in point: DH and friends were sitting around the patio table discussing ngo’s and having to make a living and what the world really, truly needs. They had snacks and drinks, and the umbrella was shading them from the Summer sun. Meanwhile, some 30 feet away, I was building a chicken run entirely out of materials scavenged from the property. My run took as long to build as their conversation took to resolve into agreeing-to-disagree. As all of us wrapped up, one of them quipped

“While we were discussing saving the world, you were saving the world”

However much it was a joke, it was revealing. Saving the world? I should never think if that as my job. Or yours, or any one’s. Putting systems, elements in place that may just contribute to a better world? Yes. That I can do, joyfully, efficiently, proudly.