Monday, April 30, 2018

High Spring

It’s the eve of May, a time the pagans in the US call Beltane.

I have written about this before often spelling it Beltaine.  (Which the internet says is the traditional Celtic spelling.)  Whatever the spelling, this is the time of year when everything is bursting into bloom.  It’s high spring. If Samhain, which I’ve written more about, is a time of acknowledging darkness and death, this is a passionate celebration of light and life.

It was a fairly mild winter here in New York City, but it was also cold, raw, damp, and dark.  Spring has been oh so welcoming. As I’ve written, with the collapse of Point A, I had been wondering what to do with myself.  That's not a problem anymore.

Our community, Cotyledon, is connected with a bunch of urban agricultural projects, like Smiling Hogshead Ranch and Hellgate Farm.   There wasn't much to do with them in January and February. Now I need to be careful not to do too much. (See my last post.)

Spring won't last.   One of the reasons I follow the pagan calendar is the reminder that the seasons flow into each other.  Spring will become summer, summer will become fall, and fall will become winter. Beltane is just the opposite pole from Samhain.   Life and death are intimately connected, as are light and dark.

The point is that I am going to enjoy all this while it's here.  Everything is in bloom and it won't last. And I am not getting any younger. I want to enjoy each season fully while I am here to enjoy it.

I hope you are enjoying your spring.

Quote of the Day:  “The most dramatic part of the Beltane celebration was the community bonfire.  People would gather around it, often bringing chairs or stools in order to ‘sit out the wake of winter.’  … The fire was usually lit on May eve - fed by whatever a village could spare - and was kept going until sunset on May 1st.  In general, most people extinguished all fires in their homes on May eve. … In keeping with the old ways, ‘new fire’ had to be brought back into the house from the Beltane flames.” - Bridget Haggerty

Monday, April 23, 2018

Self Care

I guess we all need this kind of reminder once in a while.   I got mine recently.

The first and most important piece of social change is taking care of yourself.   I’ve heard this as the oxygen mask strategy. When you fly in a plane, they inform you that in an emergency, an oxygen mask will descend from overhead, and when it does, you are to put on your own first before helping anyone else.  Really, you can't work on changing anything or helping anyone if you aren't able to function. You are one of the most important parts of social change--whether you are building a community or out in the street committing civil disobedience--and you need to be in decent shape to do this.

My own reminder came after several hours of working hard with others on a compost project--mostly shoveling compost out of piles and into bags.  Like I said, I worked pretty hard and was happy with the job I did, but the next morning I was in rough shape. For anyone new to this blog, in spite of my name, I am not a young woman, I am an old man.  I’d like to pretend that I am thirty but I am well over twice that. And I don't know exactly what I pulled, but I was hurting.

As I said in my last post, I have stopped doing things like Point A and Commune Life--a lot of which was internet work.   I spent much of the winter reading or on the computer. Now that spring is here, I want to be outside doing stuff. But not having done much over the winter, I think I overdid it.

Usually I get away with things like this because I stretch every morning. So there are certainly things that I do to take care of myself. Obviously I need to do more. I need to slow down and pay attention to how I move when I am working. I have not had a very physical life and now there is a bunch of real work that I want to do, and the only way I am going to get to do any of it,is to be careful and take care of myself.

I often support others in focusing on taking care of themselves, first.  Now I get to follow my own advice.

Quote of the Day: “If I wished to defeat those who wanted to use their lives to make a difference, this is exactly the way in which I would go about it.  Few such people would be tempted from their purpose by fame, or power, or even wealth. … I could use their own dedication against them, driving them to work until they became so depleted and empty that they could no longer go on.  I would make certain that they never discovered that blessing life is about filling yourself up so that your blessings overflow onto others.” - Rachel Naomi Remen

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Trip Gets Longer and Stranger

The title of this post is a play on the title of a previous post, A Long Strange Trip, which in turn was taken from the lyrics of a Grateful Dead song, Truckin’.  And I have been putting off writing this post for quite a while now.

One reason is that there are delicate and personal issues involved with the direction my life has been moving in and this limits what I can say here.

What I can say is that I really didn't expect to find myself quite in the situation that I’m in.

On the positive side, I am now living in the income-sharing community that I came to New York City to build and I am building it with a couple of wonderful people (DNA and Gil) who I have known for almost three years now and who are every bit as committed to this as I am.  On top of this, we just got a fourth member who also seems really interested in our community. We're calling the community Cotyledon and it is a real joy being here. (And if you follow the link, you can see pictures of the place, DNA and Gil and me, and Smiling Hogshead Ranch--which I will write a bit more about later.)

The first strange piece is that I came to NYC solely because I was doing this work as part of Point A--and now I am not involved at all with Point A. (This is the difficult and very personal part of the saga that I can't go into.)  I'm also (for related reasons) no longer managing or in any way part of the Commune Life blog--which, sadly, seems to be floundering a bit since I left.  (Or, at least, the posts seem a lot more sporadic.) I would still strongly recommend looking at it, since it has an enormous amount of information on what communes are, how to build them (and how not to build them), and a bunch of information on particular income-sharing communities around the US and around the world (or at least in Canada, Spain, and Israel).

Leaving Point A and Commune Life has been a real loss for me, but with spring here, I am preparing to dive into several urban agricultural projects, some of which are connected with Smiling Hogshead Ranch, which I’ve been slightly involved with for nearly three years (and DNA and Gil are very involved with).  So, in a real way, my losses have opened up space for me to take on these new things.

Another strange thing is that I started working on this community project in New York City after I left working on a rural community farm project in upstate New York back in 2014.  But there are plenty of connections between the two. The guy that I had difficulty with ended up at Ganas while I was living there.  The community farm project did happen and is now called East Brook Community Farm and we have talked about building connections between our community and them.  And, in another strange interconnection, our newest community member is someone I knew from the upstate project.

This may be the strangest part of this trip.  I think I am done with something and yet I find myself reconnecting again and again. I'm learning that I can't say I am completely finished with something. I just don't know. So who knows, I may yet reconnect with parts of Point A or Commune Life.   I’m absolutely not planning on it, but I am learning that I can't know.

Quote of the Day:  “Collaborative groups that last over time reinvent themselves periodically. They may need to change their structure, organization and ways of working as they grow and develop.  They are not static, but dynamic, not artifacts, but living organisms.” - Starhawk

Monday, April 9, 2018

Studying Nutrition

Many, many, many, many years ago, I was ever so briefly a nursing student. (Yes, among many things, I am a nursing school drop out.)  I did well in the academics but I was a disaster doing the bedside work. One of the things I enjoyed learning about was nutrition.

And nutrition is still one of the things that I’m interested in. When I think about agriculture, a question arises.  What should we plant? Which leads me to the question of, what foods are better for people? How do we know? And one way of knowing is by studying nutrition.

I have been looking in libraries for a really good nutrition textbook.   I’m not interested in the latest diet or food fad, I want to know what mainstream nutritionists currently think.   (Okay, my nutrition education was from the 1970s, some things have changed since then.) I finally found one that I liked this winter, but then I left town for some traveling and returned the book.   Since I got back, I have been looking for that book, but it's no longer in the library and, stupidly, I didn't write the name of the book down. I went looking in the Queens library system catalog and did find something that looked okay in the catalog but turned out to be some kind of outline rather than a text.  (The book itself has the additional heading, “Student Note-Taking Guide”. Unfortunately, that part wasn't in the catalog.) Rather than just return it and try again, I decided to use it in conjunction with one of those ‘Idiot’s Guide’ books (which generally have decent information, even if the format is very commercialized and silly).  I figured between the two, I should get some halfway decent information. In the future, I may go looking for that good textbook again.

So what did I learn?   Here's some basics. First, there are six categories of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.   Yes, water is a nutrient. The first three categories all have calories--as does a seventh non-nutrient, alcohol. Something that I did remember from my nursing years is that carbohydrates and proteins have four calories per gram, alcohol has seven calories per gram, and fats have nine calories per gram. All of the first six categories pay important parts in your diet.

Most of this stuff is common knowledge.   You want to get enough calories to thrive but not much more. Exercise as well as nutrition is important in maintaining your weight as well as your health. You need to get all your vitamins and minerals.  Eat plenty of vegetables. (Really. Probably the best piece of dietary advice I can give.) Drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest.

But a couple of things that aren't so obvious.  Your body needs sodium as well as potassium, but the ratio is important. You need to make sure that you are getting more potassium than sodium.   Fruit is a good source of potassium. Likewise, some fatty acids are essential, but you need to get more omega three than omega six. Fish is a good source of omega three, but for vegetarians like me, nuts and seeds (especially flax seeds and chia seeds) are also a good source.

Not all vegetables are alike.  I am a strong advocate of leafy greens (like kale, collards, spinach, and dandelion greens) and the orange veggies (like carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, and pumpkin).  And, of course, you can never go wrong with broccoli.

Finally, for vegetarians and vegans, make sure that you get enough B12.  Unfortunately, the best way to do this is to take a supplement, since B12 is only found naturally in animal products.

Social change depends on strong, healthy people, and since the society I want to create is one that meets everyone’s needs, knowing what we need nutritionally is important.  And thus I study nutrition.

Quote of the Day: “... nutrition is the science of how the body uses food. In fact, nutrition is life.   All living things, including you, need food and water to live…. If you don't eat and drink, you’ll die. Period.” - Carol Ann Rinzler

Monday, April 2, 2018

Radical Lichenology

I’ve talked about lichens before in a post about viruses, lichens, and slime molds, all things that don't easily fit into the usual biological categories. The easiest thing to say about lichens is that, although they aren't a single species, they act as if they are.  What lichens really are is a relationship.

In the book, Radical Mycology, which I’ve referenced in the last two posts,  there is a chapter on lichens called, naturally, Radical Lichenology.  It's written by Nastassja Noell, who apparently has a degree in Lichenology from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She defines lichens as being at least “a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and algae and/or photosynthesizing cyanobacteria.”  She goes on to point out that a lichen often contains more than that--sometimes including many other microbes and even fungi, becoming a “miniature ecosystem.”

According to her, there are three ways of looking at lichens.   The first is the ‘Reductionist Perspective’, seeing a lichen as just a fungus and a photosynthesizer working together.  The second is what she calls the ‘Mycocentric Perspective’, seeing the fungus as being in charge and treating the algae as if it were a plant that the fungus is raising.  The third is the ‘Systems Perspective’, where the lichen is an ‘emergent property’, an ecosystem that includes all the living things that make up a lichen, as well as the light, and temperature, and gas levels, and nutrients involved.

Lichens grow very slowly, at the rate of perhaps a millimeter a year, but some of them last for thousands of years.  In dry times, they can go into a dormant, desiccated state in which they can survive for more than a hundred years only to revive when rehydrated. However, they are very sensitive to pollution, so much so that they can be used as indicators of the environmental health of an area.

The chapter contains a lot more about lichens, how to harvest them, how to cultivate them, and how to use them for food and medicine, but what interested me was the fascinating relationships involved in a lichen as well as the systems perspective  that Nastassja Noell takes in looking at lichens and talking about them.

Quote of the day: “Lichens are expressions of pure joy.  … Inside the ecosystem of a lichen are most of the primary components of life: fungi, bacteria, algae, and cyanobacteria, all living in a discrete synergistic system that can rarely be synthesized in vitro but can withstand the extreme conditions of outer space….  The fungal symbiont creates a thick protective skin around the algae to protect it from desiccation.  In exchange, the algae gives the fungus photosynthesized sugars. And together, they form shapes and pigments that help them survive and thrive in their other-worldly surroundings.” - Nastassja Noell