Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Looking at Darkness and Light

This is the first year that I didn't write a post for Samhain (Halloween) and this post is a bit late for solstice and a bit early for Yule (Christmas).  Several years ago I wrote a post around this time of year entitled  The Darkness and the Light (12/21/10).  I nearly entitled this post that before I discovered I had already used the title.

Darkness and light are major themes for me around this time of year.  I'll admit, in spite of how horribly unsustainable they are, I'm a sucker for the holiday light displays, especially huge, multi-colored ones.  But, as I've written, the most gaudy, garish light display looks pretty pathetic in daylight, even as it looks so spectacular at night.  Candlelight is awesome in the darkness and barely noticeable in the light of the day and, of course, stars can't even be seen in daytime.  We need the darkness in order to appreciate the light.

This year, the darkness for me is confusion and uncertainty and potential.  The small, multicolored lights are the little things that I think I know, my few concrete plans for the upcoming year.  (Visiting Twin Oaks, Acorn, and my cousins in Virginia, and, at some point, getting into Ganas--and, hopefully, coming back to Boston to visit.)  Pema Chödrön writes about being Comfortable with Uncertainty.  I'm not sure that I'm actually comfortable with it, but at this point I am learning to cope with the confusion and uncertainty and potential in my life.  I feel like I've got all these things I need to do over the next week and then I get on the train south on New Year's Day--and then I just don't know.  I have nothing scheduled.

So I intend to enjoy Christmas, both the get together on Christmas eve with folks that I built community with so long ago and have been with each Christmas eve for eighteen some years, and then Christmas day with my family of origin, with loving sisters and brothers and nieces and a grand-nephew.  And then I chug off into the unknown.

I hope that whatever your holiday plans are (including fleeing the madness to a silent place or doing the traditional Chinese food and movies) you enjoy yourself, you enjoy this first taste of winter (assuming you're in the northern hemisphere), and that you enjoy the darkness and the little lights.  And may you find your way into the new year.

Quote of the Day: "I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light." ― Barbara Brown Taylor

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Community Grew on Staten Island

I'm currently on Staten Island, a borough of New York City, visiting the community of Ganas.  (I mentioned this was going to happen in my last post, Building Urban Communities.) I got here last on Tuesday and quickly settled in. I've been attending the planning meetings  that they have most mornings.  My name is on a waiting list to get into Ganas, but I have no idea how long that will be. 

Ganas has been around for 35 years.  It was formed around the idea of 'Feedback Learning', a process that they pioneered, which sometimes happens in the planning meetings.  As far as I can tell, the idea is that they don't hold back on their feedback to you with the idea that feedback can make a difference--with feedback you can change your behavior.  Ganas claims to have only four rules: 1) No violence to people or things, 2) No free rides (everyone is required to work and/or pay their way), 3) Nothing illegal (including drugs), and 4) All criticisms are supposed to be brought up in public meetings where they can be addressed.  This last rule (sometimes called 'no non-negotiable negativity') is intended to prevent people from private griping, talk that can be damaging to the community--especially if the community can't deal with it.  Anyone breaking any of these rules can be asked to leave.

There are about 75 people living here.  Similar to Twin Oaks, there are a bunch of different buildings (I think it might be seven but maybe six or eight) and most people have their own rooms (although some couples share a room).  Some people have been here since the beginning--and some people have just arrived recently.  There's a lot of diversity here.

There is also a core group of ten people who 'run' things, although they do it with a lot of input from others who come to the planning meetings and offer feedback.  Ganas describes itself as being several 'populations': the core group, an 'extended core' (the people who come to the meetings and are otherwise more involved) of perhaps 25 folks, and another maybe 35 people who live here but are not very involved with the community as such.  And that's fine with everyone as long as everybody abides by the four rules

Ganas is located in a rather urban area of Staten Island.  From the street the Ganas houses don't look that different from the other houses, but in the back the yards of a bunch of the houses that are next to each other (and one on the next street that's in back of them) are all interconnected.  The community tries to keep a low profile and not appear different from their neighbors.

The community owns three businesses in St. George/Tompkinsville, the area of Staten Island that the ferry from Manhattan lands at.  All three businesses are called Everything Goes, but one is a vintage/used clothing store, another sells furniture, and the third is a bookstore/cafe.  Unlike Twin Oaks or Acorn, there is no requirement that visitors work while here (and I suspect that most don't) but someone found out how much I like books and so I've been volunteering at the bookstore (giving me something to do while I'm here), cleaning, pricing, and shelving books.  I'm enjoying the work.

The businesses support the community in several ways.  One way is that most people here are required to pay a fee, which includes rent, food, utilities, toiletries, etc.  The workers at the businesses are almost all Ganas members and their 'pay' is usually a deduction from the fee (plus a small stipend, I think).  At a recent planning meeting, the group went over how well each of the businesses is doing.  I think that the community is supported by a combination of the income from the businesses, the fees from those who don't work in the businesses, the income from visitors (like me), and people in the core group who work outside the community and use their income to support the community.

Right now, Ganas is at a point where things aren't working as well as they had and the community is pondering 'restructuring' itself.  One of the goals is to have the structures of the community better match the current reality.  A number of options have been proposed and the core group is debating what to do next, sometimes in open meetings.  It's an interesting time to be here.

It's also an interesting time to be in this area of Staten Island for a completely different reason.  If you've been watching the news, you've probably heard about the death of Eric Garner and the decision not to indict the cop who choked him.  His death occurred a couple of doors down from the bookstore that I've been working at and there have been a lot of protests and rallies happening near the store.

I'm here until this Thursday.   Then I'll be back in Boston until New Years.  After that, I hope to be off to Virginia to see if I can be part of the Point A project. (Again see my last post.)  I may be there until there's an opening in Ganas.  And one of my biggest reasons for wanting to be at Ganas is that it would give me a base in New York City to use in building a community here.

Quote of the Day: "Ganas people dream of developing open minds with which to talk together and understand each other better. We want to learn how to cooperate, care, share resources, and welcome those who want to join us. ... Most of us think of ourselves as a bonded, caring, hard working, fun loving, extended family." - from the Ganas website 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Building Urban Communities

I've been talking a lot about the communities that I've visited in Louisa County and in Rutledge and northeastern Missouri.  In my last post (Four R Communities) I also mentioned other communities like East Wind and Earthaven and The Farm.  And last year (right up until this summer) I was involved in a project to create a farm-based community in upstate New York.  All this could give the impression that the most important communities, or all the egalitarian communities, or any 'four R' community, would have to be a rural community.

And it's true that, by and large, most of these communities are rural, but that doesn't mean there can't be urban egalitarian communities or even Four R communities.

I've written about this issue before in my post on Issues in Community: Urban and/or Rural (9/29/13).  I mentioned there that I helped start an egalitarian community (an urban commune, if you will) in the Boston area in the 1990s, that lasted five years.  I also mentioned that there were two urban communes in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, the Emma Goldman Finishing School and the Midden.  (It now looks like there's also a new Community in Dialogue in the FEC that's in Portland, Oregon.)  And I mentioned the Los Angeles Eco-Village as an example of an urban ecovillage.

I know that the Midden and the Los Angeles Eco-Village are trying to live in a way that's sustainable, if not restorative/regenerative/robust/and/resilient.  There's no question that this is more difficult to do in an urban setting than a rural one.  At the same time it may be more important to do, as more and more people live in the cities and less and less live out in the country.

I also want to point out two very important examples (not communities, but to show things that communities could do) of 4R living in city settings.  In Holyoke, Massachusetts, some permaculture folks (two couples) bought a house with a tenth of an acre backyard which they turned into a flourishing edible urban garden that they have named 'Paradise Lot'.  Looking at their website,  it looks like the latest thing that they're up to is building a bioshelter to grow 'subtropical plants'.  (I've written a post that talks about Bioshelters--8/15/14.) Another example of what you can do in an urban environment is Colin Beavan, who calls himself 'No Impact Man', who tried to live as 'eco-effectively' as he could in the middle of Manhattan. He wrote a book about it and then there was a movie made about the experiment.

All this is not simply theoretical for me.  I am just about to spend a little over a week at Ganas, a thirty-five year old community on Staten Island, in New York City.  Hopefully my next post will be about life there.

And starting in the new year I will be returning to Twin Oaks and Acorn to be part of the Point A project, an attempt to create urban income-sharing communities ('communes') along the East Coast of the US, starting with Washington, DC, and New York City.  Part of my reason for going to Ganas is to understand the situation in NYC.

Last year I was involved with a group trying to create a farm based community in upstate New York.  This coming year I hope to be involved with starting urban communes.  To me it's all part of the same plan.  We need to live differently--as I've been saying since my first year on this blog, Simply, Equally, Communally, and Sustainably (see my post on SECS, 9/22/08), and more importantly, as I've been saying recently, a way that is Restorative, Regenerative, Robust, and Resilient.  It doesn't matter if it's in the country or the city, creating communities that model this way of living is what's important to me.

Quote of the Day: "Our project is social transformation and that means changing people and how they relate to each other.  Currently and increasingly the people and their relations are mostly in the city.  ...  What matters is that we're being taken care of and that so is everyone else.  Liberty, equality, community.  By basing our economy on equal access to resources rather than equal distribution of resources we celebrate and support differences and eliminate a lot of paperwork on our way to our post-scarcity utopia." - from the Point A website

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Four R Communities

So how do The Four Rs (see my previous post) work in practice?  How does this translate into community building, for example?

Here is my take on where various communities belong with regard to the four Rs:

Restorative Communities: Most true ecovillages go beyond sustainable to restorative.  For example, Dancing Rabbit in northeastern Missouri (see my posts First Week at Dancing Rabbit,5/28/13, Land Use Planning, 5/31/13, and Thoughts as I Leave Dancing Rabbit,6/14/13) has been trying to restore the prairie land that they're on as well as planting trees everywhere (which I mention in my post on Land Use Planning).  Communities like Earthaven and Red Earth Farms (see my post Red Earth Farms, 6/4/13) function in similar ways.

Regenerative Communities: I think that the 'deeper green' communities are the ones trying to figure out how to be regenerative.  In essence, these communities (for example Living Energy Farm--which I wrote about in a post on 12/8/12--and The Possibility Alliance--which I wrote about 6/11/13) are trying to live off the grid and without using any fossil fuels, the way I and they suspect we'll all need to be living in the future, only they're doing it now.  In some ways they are recreating civilization as well as the landscape.  And besides regenerating the land, communities often generate new communities: Red Earth Farm came from a dispute at Dancing Rabbit (they now work closely together and with Sandhill, also in Rutledge), East Wind and Acorn (see below) were off-shoots of Twin Oaks, and the two new communities in Louisa, Living Energy Farm and Sapling, came from Twin Oaks and Acorn.

Robust Communities: Twin Oaks (which I've written quite a bit about, see especially my posts Real Models 1:Twin Oaks, 9/30/10, and Update 6: Life at Twin Oaks, 12/4/12) has been around since 1967--closing in on fifty years--has nearly a hundred people and has a waiting list to get in.  There are certainly other communities that have been around nearly that long (for example, The Farm in Tennessee, founded in 1971--although with a major restructuring in 1983, Findhorn  in Scotland, which evolved from people who settled there in 1962 but became a proto-ecovillage in 1982, East Wind Community, founded in 1973, and Sandhill Farm, founded in 1974--which I wrote about in a post 6/8/13) but Twin Oaks has existed without major changes (although it has slowly evolved, there are no major change points the way it happened with The Farm and Findhorn) and with a fairly sizable population (unlike Sandhill which has never had more than twelve adult members and had six when I visited them a year and a half ago).  East Wind has also simply evolved slowly, to about 60 adults--but it's probably not an accident that the folks who started it came from Twin Oaks.  And, actually, I see all these communities as robust--and proof that the communes didn't disappear when the sixties and seventies were over.

Resilient Communities: There are probably lots of examples of this--Twin Oaks and East Wind have survived fires and deaths and other things, and, as noted above, The Farm has survived a major restructuring, but if I had to choose one major example of a resilient community, I'd choose Acorn. (For more on Acorn, see my posts Update 2: The Acorn Community, 9/14/12, and Update 3: Life on the Farm, 9/23/12.)  I was told that in their early history, Acorn was at one point down to six members and at another down to two.  More recently, last year Acorn had two major fires. (I talk a little about them in my posts on Snow, Darkness, and Fire, 3/13/13, and Issues in Community: Recruitment, 11/11/13.)  When I visited Acorn last March (see Acorn Again, 3/28/14), they were doing fairly well.  What leads a community to do so well in spite of such setbacks?  I asked one person in an early visit how Acorn got through periods when membership was so low.  His reply was that he thought it was two things--one very committed member and the nearby presence of Twin Oaks.  And that was true with the fires as well.  I was at Twin Oaks when the first one happened and people were quickly organizing to help Acorn out.  One of the reasons for the recovery from the second was also that a crew from East Wind (not nearby at all!) drove out from Missouri to help out.  I think one major source for resilience in Virginia and Missouri is when there are groups of communities that can depend on one another. (See my post on Communities of Communities, 6/9/12, and what I wrote about the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in my posts on Egalitarian Communities, 10/22/08, and Acorn Again, 3/28/14.) To my mind what's happening in Louisa County in VA and Rutledge, MO, would be more amazing if it happened even more places. (Twin Oaks' and Acorn's presence in Louisa County, for example has spun off Living Energy Farm and now, a fourth, brand new egalitarian community called Sapling--see what I wrote above under Regeneration.) In fact, regeneration of communities is a major factor in the resilience of communities.

So how to build more of these communities?  And, especially, how to build them in the city?  That's the subject of my next post.

Quote of the Day: "We are building a zero fossil fuel ... community that demonstrates that it is possible to live a healthy joyful life without the use of any fossil fuel. ... The most powerful sustainable “technology” we employ is cooperative housing in an income-sharing community. ... We have strong support and involvement from members of existing communities in the central Virginia area, and will continue to network with these groups." -- from the Living Energy Farm website

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Four Rs

As we think about social change, what are kind of change are we aiming for?

One term that many folks use--and I've used it a lot in the past (for 87 posts according to Bloggers label tally)--is sustainability.  (An early post I wrote on this is Sustainability, 10/14/08.)  At this point, I no longer believe that simple sustainability can be the objective.  While it's better to have things sustainable than not, being sustainable is the least we can do.  As one activist put it, "If you have a new relationship and someone asks you how it's going, how does it sound to answer, 'It's sustainable'?  Certainly not very enthusiastic."

What lies beyond sustainable?

1) Restorative.  The world is already degraded.  Do we want to sustain it in its present, debilitated state? Our first goal should be to return the planet back to healthy, thriving ecosystems.  Imagine streams cleared up, soil built back, forests and farmland restored.  One of the keys to restoring the planet is having more plants.  Plants take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, put more oxygen into the atmosphere, and provide food for animals and fungi.  (See my post on The Most Important Chemical Equations, 11/14/14)  Things like planting trees, growing food, and using green roofs all involve the use of plants and can help restore the air and build back ecosystems.

2) Regenerative.  Here we are going beyond restoring systems to creating systems that are renewing and revitalizing. We are keeping the momentum going, working toward a world that models the way ecosystems work and grow, and keep growing and keep creating new life. Compost is one way to do this. (See my post, Thinking in Circles, 1/6/13) It's important to note that we are talking about growth that's in balance, growing life within systems, not the kind of unrestrained growth of cancer or capitalism.  We're talking about new life, not just more of the same.

3) Robust.  Strong, sturdy, healthy, vigorous.  Not only renewing and regenerative, but capable of dealing with adverse conditions.  If we're talking about going beyond sustainable, we're definitely talking about creating things that are strong.  How do we protect fragile ecosystems?  How do we build systems that not only survive, but thrive?

4) Resilient.  Beyond even robust.   Able to withstand trauma and bounce back quickly from problems.  Here we create things that can be thriving and sustainable even when things get rough.  And, as we know, no matter what kind of world we work for and create, there will always be difficulties. Here we are building to last, and last in a way that supports dynamic, flourishing systems.  While nothing is invulnerable, things that are robust and resilient can take a lot of wear and tear.

Imagine creating a world that's restorative, regenerative, robust, and resilient.  Imagine something that's thriving and flourishing.  Doesn't that sound much better than sustainable?

Next, 4R communities.

Quote of the Day: "Resilience is true security." - Starhawk

Monday, November 17, 2014

Is Everything Connected?

Last year, when I thought that I was going to be moving to a Lyme-ridden area of New York state, I started reading everything I could find on ticks and Lyme disease.  When I found that the library had a book on the ecology of Lyme, I knew I had to read it.  And it was a pretty good book, covering aspects of the disease I hadn't found in other places.  But one statement in the book, a little section about ecology rather than Lyme, irked me.  Here's part of the passage:

"Just as I began my research on the ecology of Lyme disease in 1991, I read what to me was an astonishing statement by leading scientists about ecological systems.  The statement was published in Science magazine as a part of what was called the 'Top 20 Greatest Hits of Science'.  This was a list of the 20 most important, fundamental, and enduring generalities, or 'laws,' in all of the sciences...  The science of ecology was represented by one entry, listed as number 20: 'All life is connected.'
"Of course, this statement  in no way represents a universal law of ecology and does not belong on a list intended to foster scientific literacy.  The main reason is that it's too vague to interpret unequivocally or to evaluate rigorously.  ... 'All life is connected' is either a false statement (think about trying to detect the effect of an oak tree falling in Delaware on a blue whale in the South Pacific) or utterly untestable."

(Richard S. Ostfeld, Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp 5-7)

As someone who does believe that 'All life is connected', I was bothered by this statement.  I suppose from a strictly scientific view, this is an untestable proposition.  He later quotes John Muir: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."  He says that this "is lovely poetry, but it is not science."  Well, poetry or science or faith, I do believe that everything on earth is connected.  And, personally, I feel like Richard Ostfeld had thrown down the gauntlet when he talked about "the effect of an oak tree falling in Delaware on a blue whale in the South Pacific."  Is there an effect?  What is it?  Can we show it?

I do believe that I can show the effect of that tree falling on the whale that's so far away.  But before I try to demonstrate, I'm going to ask you, my unseen reader, to take a moment to see if you can figure out what effects the tree might have on the whale.  It's a puzzle, if you will.  I saw an answer rather quickly.  What do you think?

(These images are here to give you a chance to stop and take a bit of time to see what you can figure out.)

Okay.  Here's my thinking:

I think that the oak tree falling would have an effect on the blue whale but it's so small that it would be hard to detect.  For purposes of this thought experiment, let's amp it up--instead of one tree falling in Delaware, what would happen if all of them fell?  Let's clear-cut the state.  (This isn't so preposterous as it seems.  A lot more timber than that gets cut down yearly in the Amazon and the estimates I've seen would make the amount of forest lost around the world in a year about 25 times the size of Delaware.)  One of the immediate effects of this tree loss would be a significant lessening of oxygen in the air and an corresponding increase in carbon dioxide.  (See my last post on The Most Important Chemical Equations for more on this.)  But the whale is in the ocean.  How does the change in atmosphere effect her?

The increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a large contributing factor to ocean acidification.  The more CO2 in the air, the more acid the oceans.  And, of course, the increase in carbon dioxide is contributing to global warming and particularly the rising ocean temperature. I doubt that the whale would enjoy either the warming temperatures or the more acid waters.

So, yes, a single oak tree falling in Delaware would have an effect (very small) on a blue whale in the South Pacific--and clear-cutting the state would have an even bigger effect on the whale.

Okay,  so once again, I still believe that everything is connected--and especially all life on earth.

Quote of the Day: "We are all together in this, we are all together in this single living ecosystem called planet earth." - Sylvia Earle

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Most Important Chemical Equations

I've become a chemistry geek in my old age.  It's surprising because I hated chemistry in college.  These days I'm busy memorizing the first few lines of the periodic table.

I certainly don't expect most people to share my love for chemistry, but there are two equations that I wish that everyone knew, because all human life and almost all life on earth depends on them.  I have written about the equations before (in posts on Biology 101: Photosynthesis, 5/17/12, and Biology 101: Cellular Respiration, 5/10/12) but this is important, and it's been a while, and I'm hoping this post will tie some of this together.  I also hope to build on this in upcoming posts.

The first equation is the one for photosynthesis: 6 CO2 + 6 H2O (+ sunlight) → C6H12O6 + 6 O2

This means that a plant uses six molecules of carbon dioxide and six molecules of water as well as the energy of the sun to create a molecule of sugar (glucose--C6H12O6) and six molecules of oxygen.  It's an elegant equation.  You can count the carbons (C), hydrogens (H), and oxygens (O) and there's the same number on each side of the arrow.

Basically plants suck carbon dioxide out of the air and (along with water) use it to build sugars--and from there build themselves (plant walls are made of cellulose which is made from long chains of glucose strung together).  When you look at a towering tree, you are looking at something built mostly out of carbon dioxide and water.  On a planet facing climate disruption because there is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, more plants and more trees are a big part of the answer.

There is a second, equally important equation that explains why we and most life exists.  It's the equation for cellular respiration, which is the process that cells (including our cells) use to function, and therefore it's the process that keeps us alive.  And it's exactly the reverse of the equation for photosynthesis:
C6H12O6 + 6 O2 → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O (+ energy)

What this says is that, in order for our cells to get the energy they need to survive, they use oxygen and food (broken back down into glucose).  This is why we need to breathe and eat.  And the process of cellular respiration gives off carbon dioxide and water (which we exhale and pee out of us).

Notice that plants (during the day) give off oxygen and store sugar which is what we need to survive, and we give off carbon dioxide and water, which is what the plants need for photosynthesis.  It's a perfect circle.  And all of us are totally dependant on plants for oxygen (plants are the reason for the oxygen in the atmosphere) and the sugars (etc) we need for energy.

All the carbon in our bodies comes from plants--directly or indirectly.  Even an extreme carnivore who eats nothing but carnivores is dependent on plants (someone somewhere along that food chain eats an herbivore that eats plants), because almost all animals (and fungi, for that matter) can't photosynthesize and need to get their carbon from plants which can.

So study these equations and thank a plant for your life.  Plants are what make the world sustainable.

Quote of the Day: "We cannot cheat on DNA. We cannot get round photosynthesis. We cannot say I am not going to give a damn about phytoplankton. All these tiny mechanisms provide the preconditions of our planetary life." - Barbara Ward

Friday, October 17, 2014

System Design and Construction

Way back in my life, when I was considering getting out of hospital work, I decided to learn computer programming.  Although I had mixed feelings about computers, I was good with them and I enjoyed the logic of computer programming as well as the fact that if you did it right, you could make a computer do something.

Unfortunately, I realized that I was thinking about programming all the time and didn't like the way I felt-- sort of like I was trapped in computer thinking.  So I stopped studying computer programming, but every so often I find myself attracted to computer books.  Since one of the folks that I'm staying with works with and teaches about computers, he has some computer books lying around.  I picked up one and started to read it and was surprised to realize it was useful--not just for work with computers, but a lot of what the author is talking about seemed applicable to any type of design and planning work and seemed very systems oriented.

Of course, it isn't really surprising when I think about it because, just as the human body is a system composed of subsystems (see my last couple of posts), a computer program is a system composed of subsystems.  The book, Code Complete by Steve McConnell, proclaims on its cover that it's "A practical handbook of software construction".  While a lot of the book is about programming techniques (with a bunch of examples in 'code' or programming language), there's also a whole bunch of thinking that might be useful to anyone planning any type of project.  (Some of it reminds me of the way that Ben Falk approaches permaculture design--see my post called Resilient Farm, 8/25/14, for a bit more on that.)

Here's an odd place to start reviewing Code Complete but one of the books that the author references as a resource is The Sciences of the Artificial by Herbert Simon.  I hadn't heard of it before but McConnell says it "draws a distinction between sciences dealing with the natural world (biology, geology, and so on) and sciences that deal with the artificial world created by humans (business, architecture, and computer science).  It then discusses the characteristics of the sciences of the artificial, emphasizing the science of design."  (This book looks like something I will probably want to read.) Again, comparing this to Ben Falk, Falk points out the difference between natural systems and human created structures (like buildings) and the different care needed to give to each.  We can help natural systems evolve (and can design things to do this), but we need to actively design artificial systems like buildings, etc.  (And I think that communities have aspects of both.)  McConnell's book focuses on the design and construction of artificial systems--and it's important to understand that artificial systems are necessary, we just need to get them to support natural systems and not vice versa.

McConnell has a whole chapter entitled 'Measure Twice, Cut Once'.  That's advice I've often seen in books about construction and design.  Nevertheless, when I built a shelving unit at my cousins' house, I put it up fast, and then had to redo it, not once but twice.  We built a second shelving unit and this time we measured multiple times before we put it up--and it went up without a problem.  Yes, this stuff is important.

The book claims that growing is a good way to describe natural processes, but for design of artificial systems terms like accretion, building, and construction are more useful.  ("...building construction suggests careful preparation is needed and illuminates the difference between large and small projects.") McConnell point out the importance of problem definition and the problem with moving too quickly toward solutions before adequately defining the problem.  He covers design challenges such as 'wicked problems' and dealing with the fact that 'Design is a Sloppy Process (Even If it Produces a Tidy Result)'.

Here's another good quote from the book: "A study of great designers found that one attribute they had in common was their ability to anticipate change... Accommodating changes is one of the most challenging aspects of good program design."    McConnell even talks about the personality characteristics of good programmers (or, I would say, any good designers), which he claims are humility, curiosity, intellectual honesty, creativity and discipline, and what he calls 'enlightened laziness'.  He believes that the two ways to make laziness work for you are  1) "Doing an unpleasant task quickly to get it out of the way" and 2) "Writing a tool to do the unpleasant task so that you never have to do the task again".  (Or creating a process that does the task.)

There's lots more in here but this gives you an idea.  This is a book worth browsing if you want to get ideas on the basics of systems design and construction.

Quote of the Day:  "You need to experiment throughout the development process...  To experiment effectively you must be willing to change your beliefs based on the results of the experiment.  If you're not willing, experimentation is a gratuitous waste of time." - Steve McConnell

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Functions of Sex

Every so often, as I cover every subject I can think of in the belief that everything is connected--and everything is related to social change and community--I occasionally come to the subject of sex.  I've mentioned several times that I am pansexual (I used to use the term bisexual--but that implies that there are either only two sexes or that I'm only interested in two of them) and polyamorous.  These days I sometimes think of myself as panamorous--I'm learning to love everybody and everything.

I'm very aware that sex is only one way (out of perhaps zillions) of loving another person, but it's a very important one and one that's quite lovely to me and many other folks.  I'm also very aware that this isn't a useful way of loving for some people and actual talking about it upsets some folks, so I don't talk about it much.

I am also not surprised, and can understand it, when certain religious people claim that the only function of sex is for procreation.  I am much more surprised, and rather dismayed, when I hear that claim from more science-oriented folks.

In my last post (The Body's Wisdom), I reviewed Sherwin Nuland's book The Wisdom of the Body.  I really liked it, as I said in the review, and want to point out that he covers many of the body's systems in some detail: the circulatory system, lymphatic system, the nervous system, the hormonal system, the alimentary (gastrointestinal) system, and the reproductive system.  And I learned from and enjoyed almost everything he wrote, except when he was writing about the reproductive system.

Here is a condensed (and, I think, representative) sample of what he wrote:

"Our reproductive organs... contribute nothing to our survival.  ... they contribute everything to our ability to reproduce ourselves.
"...The entire female reproductive system exists to serve the needs of the ovary.  The whole complex of uterus, tubes, vagina, and external genitals has as its sole function to ensure that the ovary's primary product, the ovum, is properly cared for. ...
"The ovum's blind quest... is one of the most powerful primordial forces in the creation of what we call human nature. ... We know that the urge to reproduce is a prime mover in all other animals--why not ourselves?  Were it otherwise, our species would die out.
"... We seek a course toward  reproducing our own kind through the maze and morass of contradictory drives... The complex and uncertain journey is not made one iota easier by ... being directed toward what is ultimately, under its many-layered raiment of sexuality, the simple need that an ovum be fertilized."

There is no question that one of the main functions of sexuality is reproduction.  For many creatures, from earthworms to aardvarks, that may be the sole function.  (Although I strongly suspect that earthworms, not to mention aardvarks, enjoy the process.)  I don't believe that's true when we are talking about primates.  Sex has a whole bunch of functions for human beings and even for our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and the bonobos.  (For a bit more on this see my post Bonobos and Chimpanzees, 7/30/08.)   As primatologist Frans de Waal once pointed out, "Chimps use violence to get sex, while bonobos use sex to avoid violence." No one who studied bonobos would believe that their only use of sex was for reproduction.

I want to look at three of what I think are the main functions of sex for human beings.  (I suspect that there are others, but this is what I want to focus on.)

And, yes, the first is reproduction.  If we didn't have sex and reproduce, we would, as Sherwin Nuland pointed out, die out.  The Shakers are an interesting example of that.  On the other hand, what Dr Nuland and many other advocates of sex as reproduction fail to observe is that we are now in a situation of population overshoot. We don't need to always reproduce--in fact, increasing reproduction may also cause the human race to die off.  (For more on controlling population see my very early post Five Simple Things You Can Do to Reduce Population, 8/21/08.)

This also fails to observe how important sex is for same sex couples and even heterosexual couples that don't want children--or couples who have had children and don't want more or are beyond the age of child bearing.  (Not to mention for people who engage in non-couple sex like masturbation, threesomes, etc.)  This is one of the main reasons heterosexual people practice birth control--they want to have sex without reproducing.  And I've never heard even religious groups say that couples beyond their reproductive years have to stop having sex.  Sex must have a purpose beyond reproduction.

Here's one.  Pleasure.  Sex is pleasurable and there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I think that one of the nicest functions of sex is to give another person pleasure.  Yes, we ourselves get pleasure from sex, but what a gift it is to give pleasure to another person--hopefully making them very happy.  I think this is a wonderful function of sex.

And here's another.  Connection.  Sex is one way (but hardly the only way) to help people feel closer.  It literally can be a way to connect very closely with another human.

There are many, many people using sex for pleasure and connection, as a way of being loving with another person (or with themselves) who have no interest in using it to have children.  While reproduction is important (and problematic as well) it is hardly the only function of sex.

Quote of the Day:  "Sex is for pleasure, a complete and worthwhile goal in and of itself. People have sex because it feels very good, and then they feel good about themselves." -  Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Body's Wisdom

I'm still in Virginia with my cousins.  The house has an extensive library with books very different from what I usually read (religious books, libertarian books, books on English history and things about Virginia and the southern US, books on computer security systems, etc).  Even so, I've found a bunch of books on different topics that I've been reading through.  I've also been reading through some books that I brought with me, including Thinking in Systems (which I mentioned in my last post).  And I have been thinking about systems.

Some of the books from this house have given me views on systems from angles that I don't usually think about them from.  So my next three post (hopefully) will be on unusual takes on systems.

And why should I write about systems on a blog devoted to social change and focusing lately on intentional community?  Community, as I alluded to in my last post, is a system.  And social change is systemic change.  I remember in the sixties people fighting against 'The System'.  I'm not sure if people were talking about the political system, the economic system, or the cultural system, but they're all systems.  And, in doing social change, we want to create new systems.

A lot of things that we don't usually think of as a system, are systems--and sometimes, systems of systems.  Take the human body.  One of the things about my cousins' library was that, while there were science books, they were about mathematics, and logic, and computers, and electronics.  I complained to one of my cousins that I was more interested in the biological sciences.  And then I found a book called, The Wisdom of the Body.

The Wisdom of the Body is the name of a book, well known in some systems circles, written in 1932 by Walter Cannon, which focused on the body's control over things like digestion, circulation, and temperature.  This book introduced the term homeostasis, which is about mechanisms that keep things constant.  While Cannon mostly focused on body processes, the term is also used to discuss things like the thermostat in most houses, which maintains the house at the temperature you set. This was one of the early writings on what led to systems thinkers talking about feedback loops (something Donella Meadows discusses at length).  However, the book in my cousins' house wasn't Walter Cannon's book.  It was a book by the same name by Sherwin Nuland, (who was a surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital), who says that he took the name to honor, not only Walter Cannon, but Ernest Starling (who gave a talk by that name in 1923 and apparently influenced Walter Cannon) and Charles Sherrington (who also gave a lecture by that title around 1938).

Nuland's book is an idiosyncratic blend of discussions of the anatomy and physiology of many of the body's systems, with stories from his time as a surgeon and philosophical musings, which occasionally were about systems thinking.  One very pertinent section (right after he talked about Cannon's book) is a paragraph that doesn't directly mention the body at all, but is about how systems function, particularly around change:

"A stable system is not a system that never changes.  It is a system that constantly and instantly adjusts and readjusts in order to maintain such a state of being that all necessary functions are permitted to operate at maximum efficiency.  Stability demands change to compensate for changing circumstances.  Ultimately, then, stability depends on instability."

This could have been a quote from Dana Meadows or from one of the complexity theorists.

Beyond this, there's lots of good information about how the body operates, and it's been a good review for me.  I've studied anatomy and physiology and this has been a good refresher.  And his surgeon stories have been mostly entertaining and many of his musings thought provoking.  All and all I'd recommend this book as either an introduction for someone who wants to learn a bit about how the body operates (and isn't too squeamish) or someone with a health or biology background that can always benefit from another take on the human body.

In fact, I only had one major disagreement with the book.  That (hopefully) will be the subject of my next post.

(Sadly, Wikipedia informs me that Sherwin Nuland died in March of this year.)

Quote of the Day: "... the stability of this self-regulating organization that is us achieves its stability through the unique nature of its very instability.  Its instantaneous readiness to react and return to constancy's baseline makes possible every restorative response toward maintaining the delicate balance of homeostasis that is the foundation of life.
"Always on the alert for the omnipresent dangers without or within, ceaselessly sending mutually recognizable signals throughout its immensity of tissues, fluids, and cells ... inappropriate alterations are balanced and changes are either accommodated or set right--all in the interest of that equilibrating steadiness that is the necessary condition of the order and harmony of complex living organisms.
"... Our lives march to the molecular beat of our tissues.  Our spirits sing to the music of our biology." - Sherwin Nuland

Monday, September 22, 2014

Where's Weirdo?

I just sent out an email to friends and family with the title "Where's Waldo?"  One of my cousins misheard me briefly and thought I said "Where's Weirdo?"  I liked that enough to use it for the title of the post.  It's fitting enough.

I'm currently in Hanover County, Virginia, in an extended stay with cousins.  I had a good time at the Communities Conference on Labor Day weekend and then came over here where I am helping my cousins set up a small business.  It's been fun and I'm planning on staying here until the middle of October.

My current plan is to return (very briefly) to Boston and then turn around and leave for New York City.  I'll be in NYC until the next week.  After that I'm hoping to be in Boston for a little while.

What's going on?  At the moment I'm in a situation that some of you will recognize from job hunting.  I'm pursuing several community leads and right now I'm focusing on two of them.  Like someone pursuing job leads, I'm going after both of them, in the hopes that one of them will end up as community for me.

The first is with some of the folks from the group that I was involved with this past year, trying to build community in upstate New York.  There are some people that I liked that are still trying get something together up there and I'm in dialogue with them.  We'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, at the Communities Conference I met a woman who is trying to start an urban community in NYC and that's where I'll be going mid-October.  Again, I want to see how realistic this is.

So my two prospects at the moment are in NY state--one in urban NYC and the other in the more rural upstate.  Of course, neither of these may work out--and I may well end up pursuing something completely different.  I'll just have to wait and see.

All this leads to my current thinking on community. I now believe strongly that it needs both a clear mission and vision and strong, positive connections among the members.

The group I was part of in upstate NY had a very compelling vision and a direction I really believed in, but the organizer wasn't good with interpersonal skills and ended up discouraging and alienating folks.  My cousins, who I'm currently staying with, are wonderful people and the energy here is very positive and encouraging.  This house is a lovely, loving environment.  I really hope I can bring the kind of positive energy they have here to whatever community I end up with. However, this is suburban America (far from simple and sustainable) and while I'm enjoying being here for now, this isn't anywhere I'd want to live long term.

What I wish is that I could take the kind of strong vision of the NY group and merge it with the loving positive energy my cousins have here.  I think a bold clear vision and a very supportive atmosphere are what a community needs in order to have a good chance of success.

Of course, having that loving positive atmosphere depends on having a core of people with those attitudes and a strong determination to remain positive no matter what is happening.  The vision is incredibly important but it can be developed and even borrowed from other sources in a way that basic attitudes can't.  How to find people who have those attitudes and can sustain a clear vision, that's the question.

I can see several things supporting all this from a more theoretical viewpoint.  First of all, Donella Meadows in her book Thinking in Systems (which I've written a bit about in my posts Leverage Points and Graphs of the Future, 2/15/12 and Thinking in Circles, 1/6/13) says that "...a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose."  Also, in my post on Equality and Leadership (10/2/08), I talked about Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey arguing that leadership functions could be broken down into two major catagories: 'Task Functions' and 'Morale Functions' and that in order to survive any group needs to pay attention to both.

Now I have some visceral examples of all this.  The elements of a community are the people, but it's not a community without the interconnections and these need to be paid attention to.  This is Kokopeli and Lakey' Morale Functions, and it's what my cousins excel at.  But it's not enough.  A group, a system, a community needs a function or purpose.  This is what the Task Functions address.  The NY group was a clear example of focusing on the task and purpose and neglecting the connections, the relationships, the morale.  My cousins have the interconnections down pat, but I'm not on board with their purpose.  Now for something where we do both and we do them well.

So.  Knowing all this and doing it are two different things.  We'll see what's next.

Quote of the Day:  "The path is uncharted.  It comes into existence moment by moment and at the same time drops away behind us.  It's like riding a train sitting backwards.  We can't see where we're headed, only where we've been.
"...Now is the only time.  How we relate to it creates the future. ... What we do accumulates; the future is the result of what we do right now." - Pema Chödrön

Monday, August 25, 2014

Resilient Farm

Ben Falk's book, The Resilient Farm and Homestead, has, like Darrell Frey's book (see Bioshelters, 8/15/14) and Sepp Holzer's (see Permaculture--Austrian Style, 8/5/14), a little bit of everything.  The subtitle hints at how much is in it: 'An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach'.  In fact the farm that Ben Falk runs is called the Whole Systems Research Farm.

If he has one focus to the book, it's to encourage others to be regenerative and resilient.  In the appendix to the book he includes a test to assess your own resiliency.

While the book covers the gamut of what he does on the farm, including extensive sections on food crops, animals, water, soil, fuel, shelter building, and the design process, one of the things he includes that I found particularly useful was that he listed 72 'Resiliency and Regeneration Principles'.  Some of my favorites include: "Biological Complexity, Technological Simplicity" ("Resilience is greatest when living aspects of a system are complex, diverse, and connected, while the nonliving aspects of the system are simple"), "Two is One, One is None" (things always fail, it's important to have backup systems), and "Solutions = Alignment" (solutions emerge when you are aligned with natural forces),   A lot of the principles seem obvious but are helpful reminders: "Simplest Solution Is the Best Solution", "Increase Diversity, Don't Reduce It", "Good Design Always Empowers", and "Storage Always Runs Out".

A good bit of why I find Ben Falk's book useful is that he's writing about doing permaculture in Vermont--and I've lived my life in New England and came close to being part of a farming community in nearby New York that would operate much like the Whole Systems Research Farm.  Permaculture started in Australia and, while I got the principles and how useful they were, many of the applications that I first saw were for hot or, especially, dry climates.  In New England, there is water everywhere.  If you leave a patch of land alone for more than a few years, a forest will grow out of it.

Falk's book (like Frey's and Holzer's) is permaculture adapted to a cooler, wetter climate.  As I said in my post on Holzer's book: "the application of permaculture be different in each place."  Almost everything in The Resilient Farm and Homestead is applicable to the land that I live in.

Quote of the Day:  "This book is not a rehashing of information found elsewhere but only of direct experience. ... It is written with the hope that people all over the world will find value in it as they take back control over some measure of their own lives, empowering themselves and their families in the pursuit of resilience and regeneration and revel in the health, freedom, and fulfillment that is a natural outgrowth of such a life."   - Ben Falk

Friday, August 15, 2014


The first half of the book, Bioshelter Market Garden, by Darrell Frey, is your standard tour around a permaculture farm.  (In fact, that's the subtitle, "A Permaculture Farm".)  It isn't that different from  Sepp Holzer's book (see my post, Permaculture--Austrian Style, 8/5/14) or the book by Ben Falk that I hope to review next, except that Sepp Holzer's farm is in Austria and Ben Falk's farm is in Vermont, USA.  Darrell Frey's farm (Three Sisters Farm named after the Native American and permaculture 'guild' of squash, beans, and corn growing together) is also in the US, in what he refers to as "northwestern Pennsylvania".  He seems reluctant to give a more exact address, probably to discourage unwelcome visitors.

But what makes this book stand out is what he focuses on in the middle of the book, the bioshelter of the title.  Bioshelters were developed at the New Alchemy Institute, which ran for twenty-one years on Cape Cod in Massachusetts (1971- 1992).  According to Frey, "A bioshelter is a greenhouse managed as an indoor ecosystem.  ... they represent a synthesis of energy-efficient architecture and ecological design."  The bioshelter is the centerpiece of the farm and book has two chapters devoted to 'Bioshelter Defined and Designed' and 'Bioshelter Management'.  It goes on to chapters on 'Compost and Biothermal Resources' (both within the bioshelter and outside of it) and 'Chickens in the Greenhouse' (a part of their bioshelter ecosystem).  He also includes an interesting chapter on 'Permaculture for Wetlands'. 

There's lots and lots of useful stuff in this book--especially if you want to learn about bioshelters and how they could be helpful for commercial farming.  I'd strongly recommend it.  About my only complaint about this book is that for some reason the author included the exact same picture that he took of the "Composting greenhouse at The New Alchemy Institute in 1988" three times in the book--twice with the exact same caption--something that's odd but doesn't negate anything in the book.

Quote of the Day:  "Biodiversity and environmental quality are not just nice things to learn about on cable TV or in magazines.  The natural world is the foundation upon which we all depend.  Stewardship begins in our yards and gardens, and it extends to the choices  we make in what we consume.  The decade or two ahead are critical.  Humans have managed and impacted bioregions for tens of thousands of years.  But the choices we are making now have a stronger and longer-lasting impact on the planet than at any time in human existence." - Darrell Frey

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Different Kind of Blog

As of today, I am starting a second blog.  It's going to be quite different from this one.   In fact, it's less of a blog, and more like an humorous adventure serial that is being carried by a blog like thing.  What it shares with this blog is that it's all about community (and growing food).

With the demise of the community effort that I put my life into over the last year, I have been feeling adrift.  In addition to all the nonfiction stuff that I'm still reading, I've started reading fiction again, especially fantasy and comic fiction.  I've been watching Doctor Who clips on YouTube and reading an online webcomic.  I've been feeling a need for a little escapism.  And out of all that fiction and nonfiction reading and the stuff I've been watching, combined with my knowledge of community and other stuff, came an urge to write.  Like other people, I've been trying to write the sort of stuff that I've wanted to read. 

Thus, the wacky world of Lagoon Commune.  It's the story of a young woman who starts a commune in an unnamed state with Green Mountains and New Hampshire neighbors.  I intend to publish a new chapter every Wednesday.  (I know, today is Sunday, but all the rest of the chapters will be published on Wednesdays.)  It's, maybe, a very humorous, in fact, over the top, look at community building.  Hopefully, it has some insights into community as well--but snuck into the humor.

And I hope Beatles lovers will forgive me for completely massacring one (and maybe more in the future) of their songs.

Quote of the Day:  "You can get through very serious and sometimes horrible and sometimes embarrassing and very awkward situations with humor." - Janet Evanovich

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Permaculture--Austrian Style

Permaculture is from Australia.  Sepp Holzer is a farmer in Austria, halfway around the globe.  He inherited his farm in 1962 and began experimenting and doing his work his own way.  In 1995, he was told that what he was doing was permaculture.  Herr Holzer said that when he then read a bunch of books on permaculture, he agreed with all the principles.  He was surprised to find out that what he had been doing was basically the same as the methods of a world-wide movement, a movement officially begun in 1978, sixteen years after he had started his experiments.

Sepp Holzer's Permaculture is a useful addition to a permaculture library, focusing on how a farmer in Austria independently discovered the same principles that Bill Mollison and David Holmgren came up with.  What's important is that, as Patrick Whitefield points out in his foreward to the book, is that just as each place on Earth has its own ecology, so must the application of permaculture be different in each place.  Whitefield says that "An important part of permaculture is getting to know your own individual place.  Every patch of the Earth has its unique personality and character, just as each person has."

Sepp Holzer developed his own take on permaculture, a version adapted to the Alpine region he lives in.  And he came up with some methods different from what other permaculture farmers were doing.  One thing that he is known for is the development of Hugelkultur, a technique that uses the idea of burying branches or logs to fertilize the soil, add carbon, and retain water.  I found it interesting that the word hugelkultur is not used in the book--I suspect that this is a case of overtranslating the book. (Originally in German, of course.)  However, the concepts behind hugelkultur are clearly spelled out in the section of the book on raised bed gardening.

While the book concentrates on land design, alternative agriculture, and gardening (permaculture mainstays), Holzer devotes one chapter to fruit trees and another to cultivating mushrooms.  There's lots of useful information in this book, especially if you're doing permaculture in a temperate landscape.  It's interesting to me that Holzer's farm, Krameterhof, is another place not included in Birnbaum and Fox's Sustainable [R]evolution (see my last post). Holzer also devotes a chapter to other projects that he's working with in Scotland, Thailand, and in a section of Austria almost two hours north of his farm.  He also mentions consulting on projects in Brazil, Columbia, and Montana (USA), which he says that he talked more about in his previous book The Rebel Farmer.  I think this book is worth reading if you want one more version of what is possible.

Quote of the Day: "You must see and understand this technique as a whole, so that it can be used profitably.  Only those who practice permaculture can also understand it and pass it on to others.  This is why it makes no sense to simply create a permaculture system just like mine.  You must learn it for yourself like learning the alphabet at school." - Sepp Holzer

Friday, August 1, 2014

Worldwide [R]evolution

Charles Reich's The Greening of America was published in 1970.  Marilyn Ferguson's The Aquarian Conspiracy came out in 1980.  Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest was published in 2007. In my post in 2009 on The Great Turning (11/15/09), I critiqued all of them.  It's easy to see mass social movements--but what becomes of them?

Not quite a year later, I said something that I didn't see connected all of this at the time.  I ended my post entitled From the Ground Up (9/20/10), talking about how various social movements were "pointing us toward something. Something new and radical, something that guides us in an alternative direction, toward a different kind of world. A blueprint, if you will, for building a new way of living. From the ground up." 

For my Quote of the Day, I chose lines from Chellis Glendinning, including:  "This urge to wholeness is with us still; ... Many of the social and cultural movements of the twentieth century are expressions of it: Gandhian nonviolence, the worker's movement of the 1930's, the kibbutz, Martin Luther King, Jr., the anti-war efforts, the hippies and yippies, the women's movement, the human potential movement, back-to-the-land, natural foods, Earth Day, permaculture, bioregionalism, the men's movement, voluntary simplicity. So too is the vast arising of passion for spiritual pursuits: Tibetan Buddhism, drumming circles, wilderness quests. And then there are today's social and psychological uprisings: the call for democracy and environmental justice, ... the rising of indigenous identity and self-empowerment." 

Another way of looking at this is to see Reich's, and Ferguson's, and Hawken's work as ongoing documentation of what Chellis Glendinning is calling that 'urge to wholeness'.  There is something going on outside the mainstream press, with many failures, but continuing on.  I've been documenting some of it in my posts on communities. 

Recently, I've read a bunch of books that look at permaculture related things, some in the form of communities and some as farms or other projects.  My next few posts will review some of these books focusing on attempts to create permaculture stuff around the world.  I want to begin with a book that focuses on these projects all over the globe.  The book is called Sustainable [R]evolution by Juliana Birnbaum and Louis Fox.

It's subtitle is 'Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide'.  The most notable thing for me about this book, which covers sixty projects, is how many amazing communities and projects that I know of that it doesn't cover.  None of the projects covered in the next three books that I plan to post on are covered in this book.  Neither is any of the communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities  (see my posts on Egalitarian Communities, 10/22/08, and Communities of Communities, 6/9/12) listed.  Nor are what I think of as two of the top eco-villages in the US, Dancing Rabbit (also see my posts on First Week at Dancing Rabbit, 5/28/13, and Thoughts as I Leave Dancing Rabbit, 6/14/13) and Earthaven. And one of the most amazing places outside of the US as far as I'm concerned, Gaviotas  is also not mentioned, although another place in Columbia (the Atlantida Ecovillage) has a listing.    At first I was disgruntled about all that they didn't include, but on second thought, I'm excited.  They have sixty projects and don't even include all the ones I just mentioned.  Maybe there is a ground up, worldwide [r]evolution happening.

There are a bunch of projects that I know of listed, although I wouldn't think of some of them as top tier.  Some of the better known include The Farm (in Tennessee), the Lama Foundation (in New Mexico), the LA Ecovillage (in California), the Ecovillage at Ithaca, New York, Growing Power (in Wisconsin), Findhorn (in Scotland), Tamera (Portugal), Damanhur (Italy), the Dead Sea Valley Permaculture Project (Jordan), Auroville (India), the Ladakh Project (India), and Melliodora (Australia), which is the farm run by David Holmgren, one of the founders of Permaculture.  I had also heard of most of the other North American projects, which included OUR Ecovillage (in British Columbia), the Bullock Homestead (in Washington state), City Repair (in Oregon), the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (in California), and the Greater World Earthship Community (in New Mexico).  (Actually, I'd heard of the Earthships more than the community on that one.)  However, the entry that really surprised me was for The People's Grocery in California.    I've been there and blogged about it (see my post entitled Update 4: Eco-Oakland, Riveting Richmond, and Groovy SF, 10/18/12).  It's a great place and doing really important work, but I didn't think of it as being well known at all.

The book also includes a useful introductory section that goes into basic permaculture concepts and some points about how the book is organized.  I got it out of the library, but if you want to get a taste of what seems to be a growing worldwide movement, this is a good book to get.

Quote of the Day:  "At the time of this writing, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have completed permaculture design courses, and the network continues to expand on the original ideas through thousands of related trainings, publications, garden projects, and internet forums.  There are projects in at least seventy-five countries in the world, and during the period we were doing the research for and writing this book, the number of these projects grew exponentially.  The approach is being used to design new sites, both urban and rural.  It is being applied by individuals and communities in existing towns and cities on every scale.  Permaculture design initiatives have achieved inspiring results, restoring degraded landscapes, reversing desertification, and creating self-sustaining food systems.  It includes hundreds of strategies that together begin to mitigate climate change, some directly drawing carbon out of the atmosphere through healthy soil-building cycles, no-plow farming methods, and tree planting." - Juliana Birnbaum

Monday, July 28, 2014

And Again...

Yes, I've been awful about posting lately.  I've been wrapped up working on a community that we were hoping to start in upstate New York.  I spent more than a year meeting and planning with these folks. And then it all fell apart.

The guy behind it had an amazing vision, clear and detailed.  He was also very competent, a skilled farmer and builder.  And, in spite of the fact that he insisted he wanted to do this as an egalitarian community, he was not very good with people.  He asked others interested in the community vision to also take leadership.  I thought that was very good.  But when someone did take leadership, he told them everything they did wrong or claimed they had no understanding of what he was trying to accomplish and were working on the wrong things.  Unsurprisingly, others became more reluctant to take any leadership.  He was very good at making others feel like they were useless and incompetent.  I finally realized you can't build community with that.

My part in all of this was that I was so taken with the vision that I tried to ignore the problems.  This isn't the first time that I've gotten so caught up in building community that I didn't pay much attention to the problems until they were insurmountable.  But most of the other times, I've been lead astray by people's lack of clarity (allowing me to see what I wanted to see).  This time I had things down in writing--I thought that would protect me.

My latest learning: A clear vision isn't enough.

And so, it's back to the drawing board.  As someone pointed out when I said that to them, "That drawing board must look awfully familiar." 

At the moment, I do have several alternatives, and I'm still hoping to be involved in community in the fall, but right now I've got a little time and space.  So, I hope to do a bunch of blog posts over the next month, focusing on stuff I've been reading and learning.  Oh, and if anyone is interested in building community in the northeast USA, let me know.  In spite of it all, it's still what I want to do.

Yes, I'm still chasing my dream of community.  It's a lifelong pursuit.

Quote of the Day:  "Make a list of the work that inspires you.  Don't be practical.  Don't think about trying to make a living; think about doing something you love.  ... What do you want to be when you grow up?  What brings meaning to you?"  - Brené Brown

Friday, April 25, 2014

Animal (and Human) Behavior

The community that I'm currently trying to help create is a farming community.  The problem is, I'm not a farmer.  The organizers of the community have been trying to figure out what useful things I can do. One of the things they came up with was animal care.

Two reasons they may want me doing animal care are 1) it suits my personality--I like simple, repetitive, regular tasks, and 2) I think they like the irony of the vegetarian in the bunch doing the animal care.  (Especially since many of these animals may end up as meat.)

I realize that if I'm going to be taking care of animals, I wanted to start by reading about how to do it.  While I've now read a bunch of different things, I especially decided to read Temple Grandin.  Temple Grandin is famous for two things and one of them is animal care.  (The other is that she is autistic--and she usually relates her autism to the way that animals think and react.)

I've read two books by her now, Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation.  She bases a lot of her writing and thinking about animal emotions on the work of Dr. Jaak Panksepp at Washington State University.  According to her, he breaks the basic animal emotions down to seven: SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, PANIC, LUST, CARE, and PLAY. (He always prints these 'core emotions' in capital letters.)

SEEKING is about anticipations, curiousity, and reacting to novelty.  It is generally pleasurable.  RAGE, FEAR, and LUST are pretty easy to figure out.  PANIC is about suddenly being alone, like a baby separated from its mother.  CARE is about "maternal love and caretaking."  And PLAY is about the emotions that motivate animals playing with one another.

She talks about ways to get animals to approach new objects.  If you try to force them to encounter it, this stimulates their FEAR system and they will pull as hard as they can to get away.  If you simply leave the object there and let the animal deal with it, their SEEKING system gets turned on and they want to explore it.

I was a psychology major in college and I'm always interested in understanding how people behave and what motivates them.  (And, of course, if you're interested in social change, these are key questions.)  As I'm reading all this stuff about animal behavior,  I'm looking at how it applies to people. (Like if you want people to change, do you want to force them to look at stuff?  If it's rough stuff and you force them to confront it, I think you're going to mainly scare them.  Or do you want to put it out there where people can take their time and look at, and let their curiousity pull them into it?)

Reading this stuff makes me realize I have two goals.  I want to treat any animals in my care well.  And I want to treat any people in my care well.  Or maybe it's the same goal.

Quote of the Day:  "All animals and people have the same core emotion systems in the brain. ...
"People and animals (and possibly birds) are born with these emotions...
"Everyone who is responsible for animals ... needs a set of simple reliable guidelines for creating good mental welfare that can be applied to any animal in any situation and the best guidelines we have are the core emotion systems in the brain. The rule is simple: don't stimulate RAGE, FEAR, AND PANIC if you can help it and do stimulate SEEKING and PLAY." - Temple Grandin

Friday, March 28, 2014

Acorn, Again

I just got back from spending three weeks at the Acorn Community in Virginia.   Faithful readers (if I have any left) might remember that I began my community-seeking travels there back in September of 2012, a year and a half ago.  (See my posts entitled Update 2: The Acorn Community, 9/14/12, and Update 3: Life on the Farm, 9/23/12.)  At that time I went exploring the possibility of joining Acorn as a member.  This time I went for completely different reasons.

I'm currently involved with a group exploring building a community in the Hudson Valley of New York (at some point I will blog about this--hopefully when it's clearer what we are doing), and went to Acorn for several reasons.

The first is that I'd like to see our community become part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.  (I wrote a little bit about the FEC in my post on Egalitarian Communities, 10/22/08--basically these are secular income-sharing communities.)  The FEC was having its Assembly (a gathering of member communities) at Acorn this year and I came as an unofficial representative of our group.  (Unofficial because, although I'm not the only one in our group that hopes we can eventually be part of the FEC, we haven't come to any agreement about what kind of community we will be.)

Full FEC members  prior to this meeting, were Acorn, Twin Oaks (I've written a bunch about TO, including  Real Models 1:Twin Oaks, 9/30/10, Update 6: Life at Twin Oaks, 12/4/12, and Snow, Darkness, and Fire, 3/13/13), East Wind (in southern Missouri--I've never visited there but I hear interesting stories about them), Sandhill (in northern Missouri, I posted on them as Sandhill Farm, 6/8/13), The Midden (an urban community in Columbus, Ohio that I've never visited but would like to someday), and the Emma Goldman Finishing School (in Seattle, Washington).  All of these communities sent delegates except Emma Goldman.

There were also delegates from a bunch of other communities that were either Communities in Dialogue (and wanting to be full members) or communities wanting to be Communities in Dialogue.  These included Living Energy Farm (Which I wrote about as Update 7: Living Energy Farm, 12/8/12), the Possibility Alliance (I wrote about them in The Possibility Alliance, 6/11/13), Sapling (a new community--an offshoot from Acorn--just starting in Louisa county, and located halfway between Acorn and Twin Oaks), and CRIChouse (a community in California).  There were also some presentations from a project that a couple of folks at Acorn are doing to create urban communes along the East Coast, a project that they're calling 'Point A'.  (I briefly alluded to this in my last post, A Long Pause, where I mentioned getting into dialog with someone wanting "to create urban activist communities."  This was second reason I was at Acorn.)

Some highlights from the few sessions that I attended is that Living Energy Farm is now a full member, and Sapling, CRIChouse, and the Possibility Alliance are all now Communities in Dialogue.  Unfortunately, the FEC has not (as of this writing) updated their website to reflect all these changes. Hopefully this will change soon.  I'm personally excited that the FEC is growing--hopefully, in a few years, it may include the community I'm part of starting, and maybe a few urban communes coming out of Point A as well. (Point A folks are hoping to have their first communities up in running some time in 2015.)

Some of my other reasons for being at Acorn were to catch up with some of what was going on down in Louisa county (I got to find out more about Sapling and the current state of Living Energy Farm, for example),  to see how things were going at Acorn itself (after two major fires in the last year--see my posts on Snow, Darkness, and Fire, 3/13/13, and Issues in Community: Recruitment, 11/11/13, for a bit about these--and some major new construction, I wanted to see how they were doing), getting a hit of community living in a well functioning community, and learning some skills about rural living from living in a rural community.

I'm pleased that Acorn is doing well.  The building I stayed in and worked in didn't exist the last time last time I was there.  It's called the Seed Palace and, although it isn't finished, it's in pretty good shape.  Heartwood, site of the arson attempt, was in pretty good shape as well.  It, too, is still a construction zone, but they were finishing rebuilding the kitchen and were just starting to use it while I was there.  (The steel building, site of the first fire, was apparently only cleaned out and reused, even though it's not in very good shape.  It's mostly used for storage and what I heard is that it leaks but they have simply thrown tarps over stuff stored in the leaky areas.)

As for my plans to do things, I had been sick before I arrived and discovered that the more I did, the sicker I got.  Although I was able to help briefly with the goats there and got to feed a baby calf, mostly I worked with the seeds.  Acorn runs a major seed business (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) and I ended up doing a lot seed work--packing seeds, picking seeds, counting seeds, etc.  It wasn't very strenuous work, so that's how I ended up spending lots of my time there.

Overall, I'm glad I went.  I talked with a bunch of folks there about our community endeavor and got some good feedback.  I was also able to do some outreach, posting a flyer at Acorn, and sending flyers to be posted at Twin Oaks, Sandhill, East Wind, and the Possibility Alliance.  And it was good to get another taste of well functioning community.

Quote of the Day: "Being a thriving anarchist community (and consequently not having any bosses or supervisors) we are necessarily committed to a culture of personal responsibility; effective and healthy communication; and being serious about getting done what needs to get done on our farm. We are fairly hard-working ... We enjoy the hard work because it is our livelihood (that which provides us with direct connection to the healthy, cruelty & exploitation free food that we grow and nurture; as well as our shelter which we build), rather than a job which has no meaningful connection to that which we truly value in life and only provides money to buy things which we have no insight into or connection to.  Its the difference between making a life and making a living."  - from the Acorn website

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Long Pause

Yeah, it's been a while.  My last post was on the Winter Solstice, more than a month ago.  While I've certainly had longer pauses than that in my blog, this post is to let you know the pause is going to continue--perhaps indefinitely.

I'm currently trying to do much of what I've been writing about.  I'm in a period of 're-skilling'--learning about making sauerkraut, and sharpening knives and tools, and how to tie various kinds of knots, as well as studying how to grow mushrooms and take care of animals.  I'm learning farm skills--because I'm working with a bunch of folks to create a farm-based, rural, income-sharing community--one focused on being restorative, regenerative, and resilient. 

For folks who've followed me for a long time, this is where I want to put my interest in SECS--see my post on SECS (9/24/08), and posts on Simplicity (9/24/08), Equality (9/30/08), Communities and Cooperatives (10/6/08), and Sustainability (10/14/08)--into action.  Here's a chance to live what I've been talking about all through this blog: community, sharing, supporting people, growing food, survival skills, living beyond fossil fuels, etc.  I've talked about community as a microcosm of the social change we need to see happen and now I'm working to create that microcosm. 

In addition, I've also gotten into a dialog with someone who wants to create urban activist communities.  As I've also been saying since the beginning of this blog, there isn't one right way to do this.  My final Word for the Day in 2008 was  "Dissensus" a term I've picked up from John Michael Greer, another way of saying that when the future isn't clear, we need to pursue a lot of different paths.  We need to agree to disagree.

And, in fact, there isn't really any disagreement here.  We need to create rural and urban communities, communes and co-op houses and cohousing and ecovillages, family enterprises and tiny houses and co-op businesses and networks of co-ops and communities--many, many different alternatives all focused on creating a new world, one that meets people's needs and works with nature, one that build a future that is not only simple, egalitarian, communal, and sustainable, but restorative, regenerative, and resilient, one infused with love, compassion, joy, and serenity, and one built using love, planning, work, flexibility, creativity, and persistence. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get to work on doing just that.  Hopefully I'll be back with a progress report.

Quote of the Day:  "There's no single answer that will solve all our future problems.  There's no magic bullet.  Instead there are thousands of answers--at least.  You can be one of them if you choose to be." - Octavia Butler