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The Challenge of Long Term Homesteading

 
Michael Forest
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The Challenge of Long Term Homesteading: The Great American Rush Ethic, and Living in the Forest, Land Legacy, Aging in Place (Redux)



Serving Time not the Ecosystem

Working efficiently usually means getting more done in a shorter period of time. And time is a primary economic yardstick. Time is money is the predominant measure of the American way of doing things. I believe we should consider re-purposing this particular American concept, the intermixing of efficiency/time/money as a means of lifestyle shaping. Our modes operand i is goal creation/achievement. We are bred to believe this is a natural modern human tendency. I believe we have an compulsive fixation on time itself. If we are not using time, we are wasting it. Taking one's time to accomplish something is considered to be the privileged exception. "In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep and to wake up, we stopped listening to our senses and began obeying the clock" (from The Shallows by Nicolas Carr). Serving time doesn't just apply to the penal system.

Goal orientation based upon the efficiency of time use can quickly deplete quality of life and also lessen our sensitivity to our surroundings. I would argue it is happening not only to our youth like never before, but it is the malady of These Times. By the time one has to make a living, one is not only serving the system, but time itself, whether you work for a company or independently.

Americans continue to be the most industrious workers in the world. We are a work oriented society and we are told we are second to none when it comes to productivity. The production ethic is so strong, that change, which embraces becoming even more efficient at what we do or aspire to do, is readily welcomed without question, once demonstrated. As a whole what is more sacred than work? We are busy bees, no doubt about it. It is not so much what is life without work, but what is life without the harried push of work our culture is so committed to? Perhaps we are addicted to the idea of work more than the work itself. Working is what gives Americans meaning, it appears. Why have we made ourselves slaves to it? Work gives us our excuse to brazenly use the land, or perhaps more correctly, to judge the purpose of the land, for the sake of development, landscape reformation, resource use, etc. We couch these excuses in terms like growth, environmental sustainability, without thought of not so much long term human consequences but long term Ecosystem cycles.


Using the Land

There seems to be a rush to get back to the land. At first glance one might think well and good. But then again, why is there this race with time itself connected so much with what we do? What drives the need to go from one accomplishment to the next? To put it another way, if one were to travel through space, land on a life supporting planet, would the same time urgency to get things done be there even though every physical aspect of the planet would be an unknown? It does seem a case of forgetting the forest for the trees.

The Ecosystem is not primarily about knowing it's makeup of plants, animals, land resources. It is first and foremost a system of patterns and relationships. When I first moved to the forest I thought I needed to know what things are. To be able to identify, categorize, distinguish beneficial from non beneficial and so forth. I was wrong. I need to do as little as possible. I need to understand this place, enough to know how to participate and contribute.
We need to dwell upon the land, to become an inhabitant of place. We need generational succession as Wendell Berry indicates repeatedly. (If not from one's family, then someone else's). Getting to know the land does not require expedience, but rather a habit and indulgence in slowness. I have little hope this will happen in our society. The argument against slowing down, taking more time than one needs, is too well honed and eagerly accepted culturally, as crucial to one's well-being.

Is the Ecosystem second to US? The only reason the question comes to mind is that we continue to approach the land as primarily a resource to use. Living with the land as a respected equal, or more so, a respected mentor, we seem to leave to indigenous cultures. "We have names for species but we don't have names for their dynamic relationships". ( Ecoforestry, Monitoring for Ecosystem Management, pg 78 ) . The landscape, the land has a lot to tell us, yet we feel compelled to project upon the land without haste. We aren't interested in the land's history the way Wendell Berry speaks of it. It is assumed the land should give to us but should we be giving back? Not physically but in an adaptive way perhaps.


Aging in Place or getting back to the land as if it Mattered and Slowness as Wisdom

Getting old in our society means losing essential usefulness. Treating the elderly with respect means, at best, finding a place for them. But by no means a leadership role. We want to humble the elderly, not seek in earnest, the wisdom from their life experience. Because our roots of heritage, especially any historical connection to the land, have for the majority, completely atrophied, even the greying generations believe their social worthiness is tied to striving to appear as youthful as possible in physical and mental endeavors. An older person who seeks the opportunity to "get back to nature" or is already aging in place needs to forge the attributes that come with growing older with a homesteading lifestyle. There is limited discussion on this theme.

For those of us who already have the land and no heritage legacy in place, simply put out the call for help which usually translates into something like: "I/we now realize we're getting older, can't do things with the efficient expedient ways of our youth. It's getting harder to keep up with the demands of homesteading, sooo we need help!" And for the most part, the person(s) we desire as helper/partner is younger. It seems natural to want to regain the efficient energy which is subsiding with aging. But maybe we are shooting ourselves in, not just one foot, but both feet instead. We are telling ourselves as well as our peers, it's just not practical to have others of the same age around. It is in reality more weight in the boat. At the same time, we are telling ourselves there is only one way to achieve aging in place and that is to replenish our energetic productivity with youthful partners. While this is definitely a reasonable way to go about resolving the help needed, we shut the door on the capabilities inherit in getting older. Capabilities inherit in getting older does seem oxymoronic when we are being preached to, quite frequently, about of the costly burden aging is on society.

What is the advantage of young over older when it comes to homesteading? More muscle power, more physical energy, longer lifespan come readily to mind. If that is the case then homestead life is about endurance and timeliness in accomplishments over a long period of time. But at the same time these attributes may end up leading to defeat because of the stress of being goal oriented within expected time frames.

To consider slowness as a part of daily functioning is to be pummeled by all the good reasons society has to offer for going faster, at a socially deemed acceptable pace. As an example, instead of allowing us the benefit of slowing some of our routines, the most salient driving draw towards ever increasing use of computer based technologies is expedience. Also our traditional mechanical machinery may make getting something done easier, but we rarely slow down because of it. In machinery we see more achievable production.

To say we need to slow down is like the stage actor being hit with rotten tomatoes as soon as the first act begins. Going slow is anti-American. While it will not make as much quantifiable production, it will make for better production. It will be better production in terms of the effects of long-term stress for one, the wholeness of experience for another. There are many things happening inside our heads as well as in the surrounding environment which, within the context of focused production, are considered to be distractions to the task at hand and are to be ignored as much as possible. By slowing down, we are able to notice more, absorb more of the minutiae of the ecosystem. By slowing down we have the opportunity to realize what our personal natural rhythms are which are as varied as we are individuals. The natural environment, the ecosystem is complex and understood to limited shallow degrees. If we slow down, we begin to understand that meaningful comprehension of the complexity of the Ecosystem remains at an apprenticeship level for one's entire life.

We go out of our way to not consider other cultures' wisdom as guidance when it comes to getting things done, as being mentor models for a way of living. The American way is to analyze other social communities, after what we consider a timely period for observation, critique their productivity and efficiency, and then gather what we feel are the key beneficial aspects and synthesize them via our own way of doing. We are limited by a thin sense of curiosity of the total, wholeness of a particular society. Our government, communications media, and purveyors of modern technologies play upon our lack of desire to really want the whole picture as to how a society, a community for that matter, functions. Americans just want the facts, the ones which count.


On contemplating a Wendell Berry essay collection: The Citizenship Papers - some passing thoughts

The trilogy: there's you, the land, and the community. Each have place, each have history. Living and the art of it, is the interactive process within the trilogy. There are many processes which facility the quality of that interaction. One of which may be permaculture, as well as the process of heightened awareness of our surroundings. There is the process of accountability, sensitivity, appreciation for what is. We tend to want to change the land because it needs fixing to provide economic viability, or more suitable use. We have an apparent need to improve upon what is. Nothing is growing near that tree, therefore cut it down. Coarse woody debris (downed wood) of a forest may take over a thousand years before it's cycle of contribution is complete.
The trilogy approach is with the box within a box within a box within a box, and on, ever expanding. It is a generational heritage which is passed down. Remembering that inter-connectivity runs deep and takes time to understand, more time than most Americans are willing to accept. There is history, short and long. The short history of land, community may present itself easily. The long history is a cycle beyond a single life time. It is the short history wherein Americans find justification for their actions upon the land. If it's not practical, not useful, we need to change it.

There seems to be a lot of talk about purchasing forested land with the strong desire to turn it into agri-based land. While people with good intent want to grow food, raise other animals for food production, what proportion remains forest? I believe there is plenty of agri-based land already. Do we really need to cut down trees regardless of a piece of land's other potentials? Trees take a human life time and even many generations to reach such heights and age as one sees strolling through the woods. The United States is losing farm land at a rapid rate. (See the EPA report excerpt below). I will have to go on the assumption that potential farmers have found trying to stem this loss to be futile. If that is the case, we are caught for all practical purposes, in a spiral of development. One type of land(scape) is changed to another.


Land Use Overview Source:http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/landuse.html

The United States is blessed with more arable land than any other nation on earth. Still, only about one-fifth of our land area (408 million acres (2007))(*2)is used for crop production. Grazing land for livestock accounts for about one-fourth of the privately held land in the U.S. (613 million acres (2007)(*2). In spite of a growing population and increased demand for agricultural products, the land area under cultivation in this country has not increased. While advanced farming techniques, including irrigation and genetic manipulation of crops, has permitted an expansion of crop production in some areas of the country, there has been a decrease in other areas. In fact, some 3,000 acres of productive farmland are lost to development each day in this country. [Italics added]. There was an 8% decline in the number of acres in farms over the last twenty years. In 1990, there were almost 987 million acres in farms in the U.S., that number was reduced to just under 943 million acres by 2000, and then reduced to 914 million acres in 2012 (*1).

I may be wrong but it does seem like trees sometimes get treated as natural environment obstructions; sequestering water, influencing the dictates of what else grows and lives in the vicinity. Make something useful of the majority of them but don't simply let them be. Trees matter, big time. They are a significant part of the lungs of the earth. A quick search reveals:

"One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. That same acre of trees also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year."
- New York Times

" A 100-ft tree, 18" diameter at its base, produces 6,000 pounds of oxygen."
- Northwest Territories Forest Management

"On average, one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year. Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four."
- Environment Canada, Canada's national environmental agency

"Mean net annual oxygen production (after accounting for decomposition) per hectare of trees (100% tree canopy) offsets oxygen consumption of 19 people per year (eight people per acre of tree cover), but ranges from nine people per hectare of canopy cover (four people/ac cover) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to 28 people/ha cover (12 people/ac cover) in Calgary, Alberta."
- U.S. Forest Service and International Society of Arboriculture joint publication


Developing a successful heritage and legacy

I have come to value it more than I could have imagined a decade ago. Eight years living in the forest has had a profound affect on my understanding of the art of living. The land speaks, it really does. I want, eventually, to share that awareness.
In the beginning the land was our future. Our plan was to gain from the land economically, but do the right thing at a pace that was just enough. We thought we were sincerely working towards being good stewards. As circumstances would have it, some call it day to day life, we didn't get much accomplished. Aging had something to do with it. We didn't clear half an acre here, half an acre there as planned and replant a diversity of trees as our county forest plan indicated. We couldn't make up our minds about which course to take and now understand we were blessed simply by our slowness to get things done.
The forest evolved naturally and I began to notice, mostly from lazy observation, the way things are done around here. I began to learn from the land, this particular land. I really began to see who the land really belongs to. I began to understand the cycles I had only read about. I began to intuit the inter-connectivity. Everything speaks, everything teaches. I began to stop being Columbus and began to live not just in, but with the forest. If I tried to record my observations I found the connection got lost in the narrowness of words. The land has led us in the right direction, in our opinion, because we were slow - not on purpose, but by default. Treading lightly now, my respect for the land grows daily.

Nature is not goal oriented; its cycles are minutely short and uncomprehendingly sweepingly large. We all know this; we just have trouble understanding it. What legacy, what principles of heritage could be more valuable, more precious, than devout respect for the land, the Ecosystem which has existed for millennia?


 
chrissy bauman
Posts: 131
Location: Sunset Zone 27, Florida
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"One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. That same acre of trees also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year."
- New York Times

" A 100-ft tree, 18" diameter at its base, produces 6,000 pounds of oxygen."
- Northwest Territories Forest Management

"On average, one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year. Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four."
- Environment Canada, Canada's national environmental agency

"Mean net annual oxygen production (after accounting for decomposition) per hectare of trees (100% tree canopy) offsets oxygen consumption of 19 people per year (eight people per acre of tree cover), but ranges from nine people per hectare of canopy cover (four people/ac cover) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to 28 people/ha cover (12 people/ac cover) in Calgary, Alberta."
- U.S. Forest Service and International Society of Arboriculture joint publication


It is known that trees use between 1/4th and 1/2 of all the oxygen they produce during respiration, though the net oxygen production is still positive. These statistics you have quoted seem to misremember that fact, unless perhaps, you have taken them out of context.
Most people want to maximize production of their small landscapes, this is part of the human condition. It is not necessarily greed, but more of a drive to help our land work for us. Perhaps you have much more land than one needs to be sufficient, at least in food. Most of us do not.
An unproductive tree is really a giant weed. Why have something ornamental when, given time, a person can have something productive in the same spot, particularly if he or she has very little land to use?
It is the drive to maximize production which separates the modern homesteaders, who are not afraid of useful technology, from the old-school hippies of your generation.
 
Julia Winter
steward
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Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Michael, sounds like you are reading from the book of nature. Good on ya.

Chrissy, while it's true that trees take in oxygen as well as produce it, and they only produce it while photosynthesizing, they still produce more oxygen than they take in, and the statistics quoted seem reasonable. They sequester large amounts of CO2 in the process as well, and for long periods of time. Other plants do similar things, and increasing the organic matter in the soil also results in significant carbon sequestration. There's more than one way to save a planet.

I'd say we need every way and every strategy possible. I like what Rob Roy said to Paul in his latest podcast: if you're going to get land for yourself, consider degraded land. You can get it for less money, and you will make a huge difference. He and his wife transformed a gravel pit, a "moonscape" into a vibrant homestead with rich organic soils. Now that's some serious world changing!

Still, if you are already on your land, and you've got to remove a tree or three in order to make the land work for you, then, you do what you have to do. I know that Paul is going to be removing some trees on his land in order to move forward with his plans. If I buy a house in Portland with a giant Douglas Fir making my tiny backyard suitable only for mosses and ferns, I will be trimming it or removing it, no doubt. As long as you don't burn the wood you take down in big wasteful bonfires, it's not an evil thing. You have to look at the bigger picture.
 
Rick Roman
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Thanks Michael, I'm taking your thoughts into the garden today and it feels good.
 
Fred Morgan
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Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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Many of the trees we are left with are inferior genetics due to high grading. People took the best, left the worse. Often the best idea is start planting some with better genetics, and more diversity, but don't remove the others till the better trees have taken their place.

Regarding doing what works best for us, if anything is eventually going to cause the extinction of the species, it is short sighted decisions based on what is good for me now. We have to stop thinking like exploiters, and start thinking more like nurtures and caretakers.
 
Judith Browning
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Michael, thank you for such a thought provoking post. I think this area of thinking spans generations and cultures and is at the very heart of permaculture.
 
Greta Fields
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Michael,
I don't think aging on a homestead is a challenge. I watched my grandma age into her nineties on her farm. She only became a burden the last year of her life. She was in a wheelchair a year or two, I can't remember. She "processed food" in the kitchen before that. They caught her in the hayloft gathering eggs when she was 90.
I think the biggest challenge in longterm homesteading is the isolation. I know one woman cut off at the waist (diabetes) who is nothing but a "stub" of a body, yet she chops wood and keeps her own fire going all winter. Whenever I feel pity for myself, I think of her. She does have family members who visit regularly. One day they found her upside down between two rails on the staircase. They described her being incredibly defiiant the day she was amputated. When they family went to look in on her right after surgery, she was sitting up on her stump glaring at them.
I never met the woman, but her relatives talk about her all the time.
I don't have diabetes, but if I did, she would be a role model. The problem is, relatives die off, and the homesteader is left isolated unless in a community. That's my case, but I would rather be alone in the woods any day than with a million lost souls in a city.
 
Michael Forest
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Greta Fields wrote:Michael,
I don't think aging on a homestead is a challenge. I watched my grandma age into her nineties on her farm. She only became a burden the last year of her life. She was in a wheelchair a year or two, I can't remember. She "processed food" in the kitchen before that. They caught her in the hayloft gathering eggs when she was 90.
I think the biggest challenge in longterm homesteading is the isolation. I know one woman cut off at the waist (diabetes) who is nothing but a "stub" of a body, yet she chops wood and keeps her own fire going all winter. Whenever I feel pity for myself, I think of her. She does have family members who visit regularly. One day they found her upside down between two rails on the staircase. They described her being incredibly defiiant the day she was amputated. When they family went to look in on her right after surgery, she was sitting up on her stump glaring at them.
I never met the woman, but her relatives talk about her all the time.
I don't have diabetes, but if I did, she would be a role model. The problem is, relatives die off, and the homesteader is left isolated unless in a community. That's my case, but I would rather be alone in the woods any day than with a million lost souls in a city.


Greta,

Thank you for the thoughtful reply and examples of homesteading longevity. I'm sure those of us who love the lifestyle want to be as robustly active until our last breath, but as you know circumstances are different for everyone and one of the intents of the essay was to ponder the question: what if one simply cannot keep up with essential activities which need to be accomplished in order to remain a homesteader? I wonder how many people who post here on permies, looking either for partnership or to sell their homestead, are doing so because their capabilities aren't as energetic as they feel they need to be? As I stated, the goal for my wife & I is to live out our lives to the end on the land, just as the examples you mention I assume are doing.
To that end I focused what I believe are two characteristics which can affect whether we can achieve long term homesteading: that of tending to primarily think and act in terms of productivity and the other refuting the concept of slowing down by choice as a good and healthy thing to do in all stages of life.
As to looking toward "elderly" or "handicap" as candidates for partnership , your examples support the idea that youthful energy, although welcomed, is not necessarily required.
You mention isolation as your biggest challenge. I can understand that as a valid concern and one of perspective. For myself I'm the polar opposite. The less time with other people, the less lonely I become. I'm more than lucky to live in the woods - as time goes by "grokking" the forest as true family is seeping into my veins day by day. Quite simply the astonishment I get from observing/interacting with Nature keeps growing as does the absurdity of today's culture/societies.
The following poem is " An old Native American elder story rendered into modern English by David Wagoner, in The Heart Aroused - Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte, Currency Doubleday, New York, 1996"

Lost

Stand still.
The trees ahead and the bushes beside you Are not lost.
Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows Where you are.
You must let it find you.
 
Alder Burns
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Location: northern California
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An alternative view:
Homesteading American style is trying to do something as couples or families what the entire world throughout history has only attempted as larger collectives....extended families at least (which was also true of many pioneers), if not larger collectives ("villages, tribes, etc.") Other threads have also touched on this, referring to true permaculture as a multigenerational project. Any sustainable effort at inhabiting the landscape must sooner or later face the problem of mortality, and with it the associated problems of land tenure and multigenerational stewardship. (For example there's a video circulating around of living bridges, made from carefully trained trees, over deep gorges somewhere in SE Asia. I doubt the land those trees are growing on is "privately owned" in American terms.)
The modern notion of the nuclear family (and it's even more modern descendants, the single-parent family, the live-together couple, and the single independent bachelor/bachelorette) may well have been more or less deliberately created in the interests of profit. Before WWII, even in America, extended families were the norm. Afterward, fossil-fuel energy and technology really began to spin up and affect ordinary life. Consider how many functions performed by those old extended family households (much less villages and tribes) are now outsourced into the money economy....starting with childcare and eldercare, on to the whole array of home economics, food preparation and preservation, cottage industry, etc. How many modern young people don't even cook?
What's the solution? Not sure. Modern intentional communities have a pretty bad track record in terms of durability. I think that economics may pull the trump card...already some families are starting to pull together and people are forming new creative associations motivated by necessity.
 
Greta Fields
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I wonder the same things.....what are people to do without intergenerational, extended families to help them homestead when they get older
I read that the average daily family contacts in the 1500s involved 20 family members. Now it is more like four.
I watched extended families break up all around me as I grew up, in Appalachia. I grew up with huge extended families on both sides. I feel like we need to reintegrate extended families into a modern lifestyle. Jeremy Rifkin talks about how a new community sense is emerging, in his lectures on You Tube. His view is that people are naturally social and gives you a feeling of hope that the native American community style can be integrated into a third world industrial GREEN revolution.
I like the poem that Michael posted. If you live in the woods long enough, the woods and animals become part of your extended family, and you don't feel alone in the woods.
I don't have any answers to the questions you all raise. Rifkin has ideas applying to the future, not to me.
I have been on that intentional community website myself, and I met one person who said she had been using it for years looking for a community!
What I am doing myself is giving up on the Internet and websites as a way to meet people. I am trying to meet LOCAL people with Cherokee blood, and then I am going to invite all of them to my place for a picnic. It might work. I am even finding distant relatives.
My family got split up as a result of the Trail of Tears, and then were further dispossessed by white people. It is a long ugly story.
 
Michael Forest
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Alder,a very insightful post,near the heart of the matter. All day long I have been meditating,as I worked in short spurts in the sweltering heat, on a particular phrase from what I read this morning. This is it:

"......the attitude of respect, gratitude and honor, and the spiritual relationship humans have had with nature in traditional cultures is important in determining how they used their environment....."

from Ecoforestry, The chapter entitled: "The Earth's Blanket" Aboriginal attitudes towards Nature

Substitute the the word American culture for traditional cultures and the words respect,gratitude and honor have little if any value when it comes to our relationship with environment. Our empirical view of nature has to be wrapped around some rudimentary scientific basis in order to be valid. Ancestral knowledge is simply something to be advanced upon. Economics may bring people together on the homestead but the reasons,unfortunately, will be based upon survival necessities,not some traditional values which respect the land. We want to do things to the land but we have no vocabulary for honoring the land. As long as we get "results" we are satisfied with, that is enough. Simply put extended families from a Western perspective were important due to economic productivity not from some cultural ties which were passed down generation to generation instilling reverence and gratitude for what Nature provides us.

Greta, I think you are on the right track. With all the emphasis on localization as a viable alternative for a enduring enduring community why do we end up looking elsewhere for like-minded people?


 
Greta Fields
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I agree, Alder's view is correct in that we need to return to the traditional relationships to the land. Unfortunately, "economics" is not the main reason we should flee from cities to the land. We should want to take care of the land.
I recently met a group of people wanting to teach primitive living skills so that they could survive "off the land". They included ginseng digging in their skills list. I said, whoa, where are the classes about restoring ginseng, about healing the land so it CAN take care of you? Every single class they wanted to offer was based upon exploiting nature, without regard to healing nature.
I am especially interested in water myself. My father was a waterworks man who loved water. He grew up playing in trout streams, but by the time I was born (after my mom had 5 miscarriages from polluted water probably), the water was full of coal silt and polio and E. coli and typhoid fever. I was not allowed to touch the creek.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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I was having a conversation with another smallholder the other week. She and her nuclear family live in a farmhouse and own part of what used to be a big farm which was broken into thirds. They call it an 'unintentional community'. There are 3-4 households based there, each autonomous, owning their own land and home, but collborating on certain things and big projects. We had a long talk about farming, and community. How in our area there are lots of people trying to set up communities - eco-villages, cooperatives, all kinds of things - which in some ways are really amazing and work great and in other ways are prone to human failings and don't work. And in some ways, they are kind of trying to 'reinvent the wheel'. They are mostly being organised by 'back to the landers', people from an urban background who KNOW that humans are really supposed to live in close-knit cooperative communities but dont have experience of such communities. But the fact is that there are such communities left, or at least vestiges of them. In our rural area, the numerous villages are very small and retain many aspects of cooperation, as do church communities and so on. So I don't have a firm plan - except to kidnap my parents and siblings and make them live next door to me - but I do believe that an absolutely essential element of any permaculture design is a supportive community.
 
Greta Fields
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If you plan to start a community you might check out the intentional community website. The person who started the website wrote a book that is invaluable to people thinking about starting a community. She did a study of communities and figured out why they fail or succeed. I think it ought to be required reading for anybody wanting to go into a community or start one!!! My family members will not relocate to live with me, so good luck there getting your family together even. Most people are still living in the old, unsustainable world. The good news is, some people are beginning to visualize a modern world based on a new green industrial revolution. They are envisioning nation-wide green energy networks, green energy car networks, a nation-wide wild animal corridor system, and computerized grid.....all "glocalized".
 
William Trachte
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Location: Deerbrook, Wi
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Michael, if sitting alone in the woods will help me write as beautiful a prose as you do, count me in.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Necessity provides motivation for most people. "Reason" influences relatively few people when it comes to undertaking and suffering difficult efforts, in all likelihood for ones entire life. As Charlie Brown said, "There's no problem to big to run away from".

There _are_ people doing the "right" thing (to varying degrees). Certain religious communities. the LSD, Amish, Menonites, Adventists (maybe - not very knowledgeable there). Maybe that is what religion is all about - causing large numbers of individuals to follow practices that in the end save their people. The methods and often the creeds and dogmas used by religions are widely frowned on by most "educated" "modern" folk. But from all appearances the religious congregations are the _only_ ones implementing consistently, over hundreds of thousands of people and over hundreds of years the practices we laud here. At least way more so the any other groups of people; and to varying degrees and with varying "success" - but nobody else even comes close to their size and longevity.

Gurus are probably the embryonic form of religion. Maybe we should make room for and acknowledge the need and the role for religion in people's lives. And just to help clarify what might be "religion" I consider atheism a religion.

IMHO, of course.


Rufus
 
Kitty Leith
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Location: Oakland, CA
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I've been thinking about this post for quite some time now, but the thoughts that come to mind are jumbled, so forgive me in advance...

The first thought that came to mind was density. We studied housing projects in school, especially Corbusier and the brutalist's vision of mass housing projects as the structure upon which a more egalitarian society could be built. And we were all horrified at the inhumane beehive that resulted, despite all the amenities. But then the instructor reminded us how it was better for the environment than urban sprawl, which made us think...maybe the concentration of humanity, even if it consumed mass quantities of energy and caused great pollution, was still better than spreading like a disease over all the land?

The second thought that came to mind was satellite imaging. From afar we can see every property line delineating where one person's idea of land use begins and the other ends. In the U.S. it is cartesian with the exception of interruption by land forms, and in other countries it might follow contours a bit more, but the slicing, dicing, and chopping of the earth and everything growing on it is rendered very stark from a distant perspective.

Another thought was Woodie Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" song. North America is so vast and so less populated than many other countries. And yet despite this, that patchwork quilt extends everywhere except the most remote or inhospitable places if not part of national parks, and even those have been cut up by the forest "service" as free lunch to timber companies.

So how much wilderness is really left? And why do homesteaders want to cut it down?

I think the idea homesteading is still very much connected to the notions of manifest destiny - the idea that we are entitled to be kings of our own spread, and that sovereignty is always on the horizon. Never mind that this idea was first put in place as an incentive by our government to occupy disputed territory through the romantic lure of conquering new frontiers.

So to answer my own question, I think it is about conquering and taming; having everything to do with needing to have control over something. And the flip side of self-sufficiency is having control over everything. Agriculture has been the means by which we found the most control for our own welfare for millennia, so farming for our own use has become second nature.

In this day and age homesteading is suddenly very hip. I think it's because people are realizing life has spun out of control. Which brought a conversation with my daughter to mind. I moaned because I was a failure at a mid-life attempt at learning music. "Not everyone can (or should) be an artist or a musician" she said. "Which is why there's so much garbage being made." That gave me permission to just appreciate the talents of others. I think the same holds true with homesteading. Many aspire to it. But not everybody should practice it. Imagine empty cities and nothing rural left.

Even permaculture, with its focus on ecology and a place for man within that ecology, seems heavily weighted (to my mind) towards man's utility. There is the desire to test its commercial value and increase its scale. There is the measure if its efficiency and the quantity of its yield, agricultural terms, and some think of it as natural farming first before anything else. How much management is warranted? I believe in cases of remediation, permaculture can save the planet; but where wilderness already exists, it should dictate the pattern of zones vs. being overlaid with human-centric design.

It seems to me a lot of homesteaders are living in zones 3 and 4 and trying to make zone 5 into zone 4...I also wonder if zone 5 doesn't exist in people's minds, as if the wilderness is a mythic place perpetually beyond where they are standing. Which is kind of parallel to western expansion in the pursuit of manifest destiny...It's called rationalizing our own greed...

Not to say homesteading is bad. (I dream of homesteading myself) It's just complicated, as homesteading encompasses so many different philosophical outlooks, and we DO need to use some resources. But it does seem the dominant relationship in homesteading is top-down, with nature to be in service to man, which is another component - adding Judeo/Christian culture and dominion over the earth to American manifest destiny. Those are really powerful forces, and I think it takes first consciousness of our egos and consumption and then either great self discipline and/or a long and sustained relationship with the forest to keep societal conditioning like that in check.

As for long term homesteading. Folklore comes to mind, which seems to be a product of pre-industrialized or isolated societies, where the homesteader is portrayed as forest crone or anti-social refugee or ascetic hermit. They are usually all old and nobody knows what becomes of them, as that isn't story worthy. Back to the landers Helen and Scott Nearing were older as well. Thoreau, as a literary figure was not a homesteader and was young and privileged. I think you are on the cutting edge of defining what it means to transcend homesteader, naturalist, philosopher, permaculturalist, and aging human into a model that has healthy limits and looks beyond self-sufficiency towards preservation.

Since most homesteaders are not permaculturists and many will only begin to address aging as they reach a point when it can not be ignored, it might be nice to draft a legacy creed that could be distributed in order to preserve those areas of wilderness in which they occupy but which will be at risk upon their passing...I think the existing homesteader population is aging and wannabe homesteaders are approaching mid-life before they can afford to purchase property and will soon be aging. And at some point, they will either have tamed their property to an almost suburban existence or come to commune with nature as you have. But the point is they will all need to begin thinking about their legacy and it might be nice for there to be something visionary for them to look to and work towards.

 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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A careful reading of Mollison will discern that in several places he is an avid proponent of wilderness preservation and restoration. "Stay out of the bush", he says outright in one place (either in the D.M. or the autobiography, I forget which). The idea of clearing a homestead out of anything resembling pristine wilderness is inimical to the First Ethic in such an overcrowded world. Where permaculture really shines in in the remediation of degraded land resulting from conventional farming, logging, mining, "brownfields" of various sorts, and so on. In working with such lands on just about any scale, both human subsistence AND wildland restoration are often pursued together and to mutual benefit. I was taught in my PDC that on very small landholdings, one eliminates all the zones except 1 and 5.....there always needs to be a corner of zone 5 for observation purposes, especially if there is no "unmanaged" land nearby. More spiritually inclined people often believe it is necessary as a sanctuary for nature spirits.....
 
Rufus Laggren
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> [wilderness]...sanctuary for nature spirits...

+1

Spirits in every form and meaning the word.
 
Greta Fields
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Wow. I think some of you have more insight into mankind's predicaments than anybody I have read.
Rufus may be right -- religion and necessity determine our approach to using the land. But Rufus, don't forget the native Americans. They say, the main difference between the Indians and white people is that the daily Indian LIFESTYLE is determined by their religion [but that religion is in turn determined by the necessity to get along with nature to survive.]
I do not get up in the morning and face the six directions, but I sometimes do, because I recognize the wisdom of the native American approach to living. I am part Cherokee in blood, but I feel all Cherokee in values, and I am trying to get back to living like a Cherokee, and not like the Europeans who came here.
The problem with giant housing projects is, people are viewed as "parasites" ON the land, instead of part of it. Yes, Suki, it may be better for the land to keep the big populations stacked up in housing projects. Hpwever, that is not good for the people, as we are throwing out the baby with the bath water when we put babies in housing projects to protect nature. It is very sad for our children to never get to play in creeks or see butterflies (: (
I HATE the concept of "manifest destiny". I encounter it every single day: It is alive and well in American businessmen and in those who think "Might is right".
I agree with you that homesteading often is based upon manifest destiny and urges to conquer instead of co-exist with nature.
Alder has pointed out another problem with homesteading and permaculture -- that that people could save the land if they would use "brownfields"". However, new farmers gravitate to the best places. I did that too, I confess. I am trying to save one little corner of Pine Mountain though, while others keep tearing up the lower slopes, running houses up beautiful hollows, destroying pristine creeks and running four-wheeler trails over the rarest ecosystems, cutting down trees for cab ins and killing everything that moves.
I have not found answers, but I feel like native American values are a start. But even the Indians destroyed their ecosystems sometimes -- New Mexico apparently had big trees, which Indians and drought wiped out. Greece, Iran and Egypt once had trees too.. . . I think we have to try to protect forests, at the least.
The Nearings built houses out of rocks. I like that idea myself, but I bought land that already had wooden houses on it.
I am not sure that I agree we should stay out of the bush, but we should keep ATVs out of the bush.
I want6 to put CHILDREN back in the bush and in the creeks! I grew up playing all day long with neighbor kids in the woods and creeks. I grew up in paradise that is fast disappearing. Nowadays, the "bush" around me is filled up with destructive pot growers, ATVs and greedy people wanting to take everything .
I agree with Rufus that we need "religion", but I don't want a guru. My solution here is to study all the native Americans....some of them really do have wisdom. I do not think that the modern permaculture person is going to integrate the Indian, the Indian is going to integrate the Indian.
The more I learn about Indians, the more impressed I am with their wisdom. Cherokee philosophy, for ex., is as sophisticated as Aristotle and very similar to Aristotle. I am finding out, white and European cultures don't have much to teach us about philosophy, community and culture. We have better cooking pots, better technology than Indians, that's ALL we have. I would like to see us put technology in service to Indian values maybe. Winona LaDuke leads the way here: She is helping her tribe get alternative energy.
I
 
Kitty Leith
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Location: Oakland, CA
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I agree about urban children getting an opportunity to connect to nature. So often even visiting a national forest is beyond the reach of poor children. But I also think that appreciation and connection to nature can still be fostered in urban children, like they do in Asia and most notably in Japan, one of the most densely populated urban countries on the planet.

I was lucky that I convinced my family to let me go to a primitive tent camp when I was 12, so got the opportunity to sleep in the forest in my own temporary lean-to made of tree-fall and forage a little. It made a lasting impression! In England they have these things called Adventure playgrounds where the kids are allowed to swing from trees and build things and use muscles they can't normally. But in countries not as big as the U.S., there just isn't space to support all those kids growing up to live off the land. But I think all children everywhere should be given the opportunity to experience nature first hand and learn to appreciate it.

The sad thing about a lot of sustainable Indian practices is they are now illegal. Without a holistic understanding and deep knowledge of the local ecosystems, those practices would be a loaded gun in the hands of most homesteaders. But we can surely learn a lot from the native population if only we could have a relationship. Part of the big frustration of entering into homesteading is we are divorced from the wisdom of generations preceding us, because our forefathers were the ones who raped and pillaged the land, and there isn't enough time on earth to gather all that knowledge for oneself...I believe in mentorship and kinesthetic learning...and respect for elders...

I would be really interested in reading more on practical & philosophical native voices speaking of land stewardship, so if you have some recommendations on sources it would be much appreciated.
 
Greta Fields
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Hi Suki,
Maybe you could suggest some sources on Asia and Japan? I have always heard about the Japanese being nature-oriented, and I like reading about Japanese gardening, but I don't know much beyond that. I know they also had a nature-based religion at one time.
Some of the best wisdom that I have ever heard came from a couple Cherokee storytellers. I didn't get the stories I was reading in the books, but I heard a couple of these guys live, and met them, and theyare awesome: They know just what you need to hear!
I started out reading a lot of "popular" Indian books out of the library -- books about the famous Indian chiefs.
For Cherokee philosophy, I read Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee, and then J.T. Garrett's books. Garrett describes Cherokee concepts as being Aristotelian -- there is the idea that we all have the power of choice to choose between extremes and to find the balance.
I listen to YouTube videos by old people talking on the Seventh Generation Fund site. I also listen to the younger Indian leaders on You Tube, like Sitting Bull's grandson, or Chase Iron Eyes. These guys are very intelligent and able to understand the gap between cultures, and they see very clearly where the white culture is about to de-rail, like that train in Spain.
Once I spent a couple hours talking to an 86-year-old Cherokee woman on the phone. I was searching for a guru or personal mentor, but she kept throwing the responsibility for living right back on me: "Why don't you start something where YOU live....YOU start something etc.' She had advanced college degrees and worked with molested children, but she still lived in a simple cabin and dipped in the river regularly.
She described how her path to the river was lined with plants bending in towards her path, and that image stays with me a lot....plants, like us, loving sun and space.
There are several new collections of interviews with Indian women, and they always remind you that we must live in harmony with the earth. One Mohawk woman says, "If you don't grow your own food, you are out of balance right there." I decided she must be right, so I began trying to grow food, and I got a new respect for Indians.
There is an Indian guy who is a psychologist in NC, and I can't think of his name, but he said, "I always tell people, 'don't let anybody stop you from gardening." from that, I realized, hey, Cherokee are serious about growing corn!
Then I discovered how Indians are still into gardening, and I just read every book on Indians I could find in my local library. I really like Winona LaDuke's videos, and want to get her books. I like Joy Harjo's poetry, and she survived double rape. John Trudell survived having his whole family murdered when he was a protestor. Russell Means' autobiography is brilliantly written. Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony is great, if you can get the final edition [she rewrote the ritual at the end.]
I think you can also read wisdom from bears. Indians associate bears with wisdom, and you think, oh, that is bunk. However, I have found myself "reading" signs left my a very old bear in my yard. One day I discovered my hazelnuts were loaded for picking, but next day, I found the giant pawprints under them . The bushes were totally empty, but you could not tell that the bear had bent so much as one leaf!!! Yet, she left TWO nuts on the very top center.
She has never so much as harmed a twig in my yard. However, I find her pawprints on the edge of my yard a lot, and they say bears do not like to cross open spaces. However, the baby bear pawprints come across the wet grass or snow into my yard a lot, and they RAVISH my hazelnuts, haha.
I think the mother bear teaches us to share with the "cubs", which will eventually learn to respect other people's food supplies!
Last year, the bear ate all down the west side of my tame berry patch, but did not touch the other side, where I had eaten. I sorta think that was intentional. She is real smart, I think, and tries to avoid angering human beings. I could talk about her all day....I love that bear. She went to see my mother for years.




 
Kitty Leith
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Love your relationship with the bears...

But that's too much information to process! What would be your top pick?

But of course, Fukuoka would be at the top of the list...

In terms of Eastern Architecture philosophy, the writings of Kisho Kurakawa focus on the Shinto way of being and place man-made construction in its natural context. I'm still looking for something that addresses both living on the land and dwellings...

Here is a book on ancient Asian farming practices, which homesteaders can glean some inspiration and philosophy from - mostly Chinese and Japanese, with some Korean: http://www.journeytoforever.org/farm_library/King_Farmersof40Centuries.pdf

I started reading "Collapse" but life got in the way. That book can tell us a lot about what not to do and analyzes forces that create unsustainable conditions.

Homesteading is kind of a first world term, I think. Everyone in the third world not in a city is a homesteader by default...and long term homesteading is different as well, in cultures where children and communities take care of those aging. Aging in place without community is a real tough one in our society...








 
Greta Fields
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Sorry. I got carried away.
I will look up Kurakawa's book and also King Farmers of 40 centuries. Wow, that sounds good.
I saw a Japanese cartoon film about the earth god who protected the forest from evil industrialists. It was wonderful!
If you are looking for a theory that combines land and dwellings, check out feng shui! Feng shui is about living in a house which brings the garden into the house, and which surrounds the house with beneficial energy.
I am positive that chi energy exists, since it saved my life once.
I read Collapse, and also Jared Diamond's other book, Germs, guns and Steel.
About Fukoaka: An interesting thing is, he was accepted y native Americans like one of their own. Thinking back on this, I realize, yes, he did understand nature a lot the way that the Indians do. Yes, he is at the top of my list. I have his books and try to apply his principles.
I also like Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Rudolf Steiner, and my grandma: My grandma gave me flower seeds from flowers the Cherokee carried along the Trail of Tears. They are over 8 feet tall as I speak. They get six-inch yellow flowers on them (giant primroses). My great grandma saved them from her ancestors on the Trail.
I am attaching a photo of a real American Chestnut, before it died of blight. I just think Everybody needs to see one, once in their life.
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