Friday, July 9, 2010


I awoke yesterday to footsteps in my house. It was my sister. She was in a state of panic. Her water heater was spraying water, and she nor her partner know enough about the water in their house to know how to shut it off. She doesn't have any money to pay a professional plumber. There is little a professional plumber can do that I can't, so I dressed quickly and jumped in her fifteen-year-old SUV for the mile drive to her house.

The problem was an 18" flexible hot water hose running from the water heater to the main copper lines. Made of steel wire mesh and I presume fiberglass re-enforced rubber, available at a national home improvement big box retail store, I installed the thing about three years ago. It failed completely; there was an inch of water on the basement floor.

So I spent the day resolving her water issues, which included cutting and re-routing copper lines running to the utility sink, the valve of which had been leaking severely. Also, the removal of moldy sheetrock around a basement shower. So much in a house to worry about. So few people capable of the maintenance a house requires. I was happy to help. It also gave me the opportunity to borrow her SUV and gather six cubic yards of wood chips, one for my sister, one for my neighbor, and four for myself. That, and I purchased and retrieved a vinyl 20x30 billboard from a local company, my new pond liner (I was down to exactly one paper dollar before a three hundred dollar blessing appeared.) The birds have been wondering what happened to my old pond. I will unfurl the thing later today, to find out whose advertisement I am covering with mud and water.

Wandering around my sister's yard, I realize that even if I lose the house, I can always squat in her garage. Cut a hole in the roof and use it like a lodge, a fire pit in the center of the dirt floor. I can turn the basement bedroom into a root cellar, keep the veggies there that I would otherwise have kept at my house. I'm sure I can grow enough veggies in her yard to keep her, her partner, her daughter and baby (in eutero) in veggies for the year. Her soil is all clay, an old wetland - I've seen cracks in the yard in late August an inch thick. She will require heavy soil amendments, raised beds and about twelve cubic yards of compost and soil. That work has to start now, for next springs planting. She has a few tree problems, a silver maple next door and two linden on the south boulevard, but they aren't as much a problem as the trees I have to deal with in my own yard. A note to my readers: when natural gas shortages manifest, cut down the silver maple first. They are a non-native menace. We are probably going to deforest most of the continent, but we might as well try to be discriminate about it to start.

While speculating about how to transform my sister's yard into a garden, I dreamt again about renegade gardens. The city has so much parkland, so much of it nothing but sod. Such a ridiculous waste. Sod is a reflection of our affluence and the abundance of fossil fuels, as in, "see how affluent we are that we can waste so much land." I got to thinking about it because the big patch of currants I've been looking joyward to gathering, in Minnehaha park just off Hiawatha, turned out not to be currants at all. The leaf looked like a currant, the berry was about the right size. I was so excited by the prospect of so many currants that I didn't really scrutinize the plant. I should have known better. The city plants many different kinds of berry producing shrubs, but they don't plant many that you can actually eat. Again, a symptom of our affluence, our disconnection from reality. There are probably a dozen or more different kinds of berry-producing shrubs planted in Minnehaha park, but the only kind you can eat are the serviceberries. Don't want to compete with the grocers, even though most grocers don't carry any fruit that was grown within five hundred miles of Minneapolis.

Renegade gardens. I would need a few acres of land, several hoop houses, the raw material to make copious amounts of soil, lumber to build raised beds, and trucks to transport plants, soil, lumber, tools, water barrels and a few dozen accomplices. Slip into a half dozen select spots in parks around the city, plant those gardens surreptitiously, and force the city to make a decision either to let the gardens be or tear them out. I relish the idea of city government ripping out vegetable gardens. That would make a great You Tube video (as would the renegade planting). I relish more the idea of free veggies for anyone who wants them. Is this public land or not? I know there is a process we are supposed to go through to set up community gardens, but we don't have time to waste on nonsensical bureaucratic tedium, to plant a small percentage of what we could if we just went ahead and did it ourselves.

Gathering wood chips yesterday, I had an opportunity to listen to NPR. So much talk about the economy. Some are saying it will never return to the peak we knew around the turn of the millennium. So true. Much talk about oil as well, but not its end. We are being told the oil sands of Alberta are the new Saudi Arabia. We are not told the mining and processing of those sands is considerably more energy intensive than the extraction of Saudi crude. At some point long before those oil sands would be exhausted, the extraction of that oil will be an energy push. If you're holding an eight-jack and the dealer has a pair of nines, the hand is done and you deal again. A push in the game of oil extraction (using one barrel of oil to recover one barrel of oil) means you go looking for another oil field. Eventually, in cards, you run out and shuffle again. You can't take exhausted oil fields and shuffle them to make them new.

There is much I will miss about cheap and abundant fossil fuels. There is much I will not. I will not miss lawnmowers, or gas water heaters and cheaply made attachments. Curious thing about not having running water in the house, I don't miss the daily shower, though by cultural standards I need it more than most people. None of us really need a daily shower. The daily, even twice daily shower is a pampering out of all appropriate proportion. To say so is akin to heresy, I know, but you will recognize it as a fact some day too, if you don't already. Enjoy those fifteen minute, 30 gallon showers while you can. Eventually, you're going to have to heat that water with sunlight or wood. The sun doesn't shine every day, and it can't heat your water at night for a morning wake-up. We will deforest the continent right-quick if we expect to heat water with wood for a daily pampering.

1 comment:

Magic Mama said...

There are some things Minneapolis (and all the rest of us) could learn from Madison. More solar going on, lots of wild natives and edibles everywhere. Though the city has been diluted by the corporate/market mentality, it still seems to be in the new paradigm lead.