Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Work and Dignity

Seventy-seven degrees today, maybe. It's supposed to be 70 all week. If that is the case, we here in Minneapolis are going to break or tie the record for the daily high temperature just about every day this week. Most of the soil that has water in it is still frozen in most places, though the soil is very dry. We are in a dry period, going back to last July, hardly any snow this winter, after a very wet, cool and cloudy spring 2011. This is supposed to be our most snowy month. Wherever you are, you probably have your own story about erratic weather. If you follow the GOP, you know at least, that this has nothing to do with humans.

I'm glad for it, if only that I can spend time out of my house comfortably. I shaved off the winter beard, and ordered a dumpster to clear out the driveway and the garage. I spoke last week about the dignity of work. I had about five-six cubic yards of sand, class-5, concrete and asphalt, piled in the driveway, from last years tearing up of part of my driveway, for the orchard. The sand is partly clay, and that was wet, and heavy. I also spoke of energy slaves, the last two weeks. Here is a way to put the energy slave concept in context.

The total weight of the material is probably 4-5 tons, or 8000-10,000 lbs. The walls of the dumpster are four feet tall. It is going to take me about six hours to throw all that into the dumpster. A skid loader (bobcat as ex.) could do the job in three minutes or less. There are 60 minutes in an hour, 360 minutes in six hours. 360/3 = 120. Thus, it would take about 120 slaves with shovels etc. to move all that material into the dumpster in three minutes or less, approximately. But that does not account for all the energy that went into mining the material for the skid loader, or the manufacture of the thousands of parts, or the assembling of them. Or the energy for the shovels. Or feeding and housing the slaves.

Of course, I couldn't fit 120 slaves into my driveway. Nor do I own any slaves, nor do I know 120 regular people who would be willing to come to my house to wield a shovel. If I did, they'd have to drive here. You probably get the concept.

Why not just get the skid loader? They exist. Might as well use 'em. But I love this work. This is part of the process of turning this yard into a garden, and so there is a purpose. That, and after this winter in my 55 degree and less house, this is exactly what I need right now. I gained about 25 lbs since last summer, eating poorly, and my body storing fat to combat the cold. My lungs need to open up too. This is vigorous work, demanding. I woke up this morning earlier and feeling more alive than I have in the last eight months at least.

Would I love this work if I had to do it every day, shoveling and carrying and throwing heavy weights? Probably not. That sounds like early debility and death. But as a process, at this time, it is ideal.

I bought eight fruit trees, three apple, two pear, two cherry and a peach. I can't afford it and I might not have the house by the time they take root, but it was all part of the plan. I had been putting it off all spring, knowing it didn't make any sense, but I visited Fed-co's web site Monday evening, on a whim, to find that Monday night was the extended deadline for ordering trees. I took it as a sign. The cards told me the other day, nature removes obstacles if a true commitment is made, that the impossible becomes possible. I have found that to be true, at times. I don't know that the trees are truly a commitment to this house and land. Another winter in this unheatable house? In this square neighborhood? But if by chance I'm here this time next year, I will be glad I planted the trees. And maybe someone who would cherish them will buy the house.

It seems impossible, to keep the house. I have no idea where the money to pay for it would come from. I refuse to prostitute myself, doing something I despise, to pay for it. My father, who has been paying the mortgage, has other ideas. He said I was in no position to decide what I despise. My thought was, which I did not say because my Father does not know what I think, nor does he particularly care to know what I think about anything, nor has he ever – if we are not in a position to decide for ourselves what we despise, where is the dignity in this life? Despise is a strong word. I don't really despise anything, except perhaps the human desire to dominate nature and other humans. I walked away from this house in 2008, when I could no longer pay. My father has not needed to continue to pay, except to maintain good credit he doesn't need, and to maintain what control he has over me. I am grateful for the house and especially the garden. I am not grateful for the debt bondage. To say that I own the house because my name is on the title is a farce. The bank owns it, and I lease the land from the county, and if I stop paying so much as one of the utilities, the City will take the house away.

I clipped the grape vines. I prepped the grape starts, and checked the forty or so Frontinac vines I started last year, some of which I will plant in the yard, and the rest I'll sell. I need to start the veggies today, and maybe build a cold frame. Whatever the case with the ownership of this house, I am still steward to the land. I want to see how much food I can grow on this lot. Because I do not share my Father's faith in the economy. He is sure, in his boomer faith, that in a few years the house will be worth what it was, even if we do nothing but maintain it. I am of the opinion that a global economic reckoning is imminent, and the price will never be what it was, in the condition it's in.

I'd be grateful for some paid work. As I've said, I don't have any problem working. My difficulty is, work I don't believe in. I don't know what I believe in anymore for work, except what I'm doing, writing and gardening and building things. Most of the people I know earn money doing things they do not like. We've always been told, you do the work you've been given, don't complain. How is it we have come to a place where so many of us feel empty in our work? And I'm the one who's crazy, that I refuse to prostitute myself? This is a strange world I live in, getting stranger by the day.

I wrote this, this morning. I'm going to go move another couple tons of material, and work on my garden, and then I'll probably write another few thousand words tonight. Singing much of the time. Dancing as I go about the day. Rumi said something about wanting to sing like the birds, who most of the time do not care who hears. That is how I mean to live. That is the commitment I make. It seems impossible, to do that and make money, but we'll see if that obstacle is moved out of my way.


Luciddreams said...

I believe that possibly Post Petroleum Seer's is an accurate description for what we are.

Brothers from the same Earth Mother even.

The work you are doing has to be done for the prosperity of the human race that is to proceed into the ecotechnic future...if we are ever to make it there. I know one thing that is true...without you...and I...and the rest of the Post Petroleum Seers doing this won't get done.

William Hunter Duncan said...


Thank you. I don't think I have ever thought of myself and the word seer at the same time, unless I was laughing at myself. But I do know, all I have to do is read HuffPost, and I know there is a vast gulf between what I spend my days thinking about and doing, and what most of my fellow Americans are preoccupied with. That, or Facebook.

Planted the early veggie starts today. Got bit by a mosquito tonight, harassed by several others. Never been bitten by a mosquito in March in Minnesota in my life.

Jeff Z said...

Seer is a good word- and pretty accurate. Seeing what others don't- or what they refuse to see.

BTW- I was doing something similar this evening- re-laying a flagstone path in the yard from my pile of salvaged/leftover stone. A mosquito buzzed past my ear, and I couldn't believe it was real. Damn thing even tried to bite me.

This is going to be a weird summer if it stays this mild all March, as they're predicting.

Maybe you'll get peaches after all.

petere said...


I love reading your blog and hearing about all the human things you express and feel. I agree with your assessment of the world and what is wrong with it. I like what you are doing with your house and garden. I respect that about you, but you are now being a whiny wimp. Your father is right. You do not have the right or choice to not work just because you despise this work or that. You have some financial obligations that you agreed to, that your father has apparently taken on for your behalf and now you don't want to deal with it? If you don't want to help your father that is helping you, I think that is wrong and that you need to abandon the house now and be homeless. Is that really what you want? What do you think other people in this world have to do to eat and survive? Maybe they do things they despise because they have to live? What in the human condition is so unique about that? I believe in ideals and higher thinking, but sometimes reality has to slap us in the face. Why don't you ask JMG what he thinks about this. I know you respect and follow him as I do.


William Hunter Duncan said...


I appreciate your honesty. The house in fact will likely be for sale May 01, unless I come up with a means to pay for it before then. I am simply at a loss, as to how. Part of the back story is, I bought this house in part because I was living a life my father wanted for me more than the life I wanted to lead. I am now living the life I want to lead, gardening, writing and building things, except that I have failed utterly to secure any kind of income, though I am ostensibly the Creative Director of HD Masks. From a certain vantage point, the entirety of my life looks like one long series of failures, so I assume no right to object to my being misinterpreted. Basically, I have zero creditability at this point, and wouldn't presume JMG would care to comment. And perhaps it will be my fate to lose the house to a developer who tears out or kills the two hundred or so species of plants I propagate here, that we can add to my list. And if I seem to be straying into self-pity, what is more contemptible than that?

I am appreciative of every reader I have. I hope I don't lose you. Though I can presume, if you feel this way, there are others. I'll be thinking about it. Thanks for letting me know.

William Hunter Duncan said...

Actually, I'm kind of loving that I got called a seer and and whiny wimp in the same comments thread.

William McCracken said...

Being out of work at the moment, I can relate to the unemployment vs home issue. The next few years will be a confusing time for people seeking work, especially people wanting to make the transition to a post-oil occupation. I have the feeling going for a petrol free based career is a bit premature. Unfortunately, the taxation system assumes people still have petrol based levels of productivity. So, it may be if you want to stand your ground successfully in your area, you may need to take at least a part time petrol based job to cover taxes and home expenses.

I haven't found anywhere that humans don't need to "pay" to live in one form or another. In fact, I just posted an article about that.

William Hunter Duncan said...


The trick is, living a post peak life, and keeping the house. Trouble is, I had the house before I started living the post peak life. It is probably best done the other way around.

Charles Edward Owens Jr. said...

I'd have used the concrete as a base for a greenhouse, if you could have used the whole width, you'd have had a large heat sink built right into the space. I live in the south, but it is hot for march, we've had 80's, totally odd. My biowebscape design concepts try to use what we have and less on getting rid of the things we have to open up space. Lots of things you can do if you only have an apartment, or only have a small sunny space. Your choice to do with what you had. But either way you'd have had to bring in good earth to transform your bedrock concrete to soil, or greenhouse space to growing. I try to use vertical spaces as much as I can, training fruit trees to ladder like growth in thin areas, to letting them grow in others. Pots and containers on hard rocky or clay filled ground, raised beds, greenhouses, cold frames and hanging bottle growing setups, rainwater harvesting are all amoung the things I use currently. I even let the grass grow where it can, as it takes organic matter and goes in the compost bin when mowed. But my yard must have 20 species of grass at least, I do dislike lawn nazi's as I call them, a bit of wasted effort. Enjoy yourself.

William Hunter Duncan said...


If I can manage to stay, I'll convert the garage into a greenhouse.