Monday, March 26, 2012


This picture pretty much sums up my life in my house. A fridge serving as a notepad, in front of a window surrounded by cheap eighties paneling. That's a Glenmorangie bottle on the far left, empty, and an empty Madeira bottle. They have a cork cap easily removed, so I like to use them as water bottles. (I did enjoy the original contents.) That rubber hose you see on the right is connected to an MSR water filter, which I use when the city water starts leaving a chalky taste in my mouth, as it does some times. Two coffee bags, Stars and Stripes, a cast iron pan, a bottle of canned peppers which never properly set that I haven't composted, and some of last year's seed in glass jars. That's unknown carrot on the left, then radish, then rattlesnake snap beans, and then another bean on the far right, I think Kentucky Wonder, or something like that. I hope they didn't cross pollinate. Rattlesnake snap are my fave. They bloomed twice last year for six weeks of beans, in two three week segments. Joyful Divine Delicious Bliss does not necessarily describe the interior of my fridge.

Seeds are such an amazing thing. These plants are rattlesnake snap, of which only one was breaking the soil when I saw it in the morning. The seeds hung on the vine in their pods outside all winter. It was a warm winter, but there were several very cold days. How a seed doesn't freeze, is something like a miracle.

The blogger over at The Long Ascent reminded me about Jeff Jeavons in a recent post, and the Jeavons inspired bio-intensive soil prep I did last spring. I thought I might try a little test. This is a somewhat pointy broomstick, measuring the depth in inches, me leaning my weight on it, in the middle of the path. One inch.

This is where the brussel sprouts will be. I forked this area up with a couple of inches of compost. Twenty inches. I am obsessed with brussel sprouts, but when I see them in the store, all I can think is, a leafy, many layered pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, ammonium nitrate sandwich.

This is a bed that I did not fork, but simply poured compost on. 17 inches.

Asparagus! On March 24! I counted twenty seven stalks yesterday.


A little baby rattlesnake master, a curious wildflower like a succulent but not really. I have two older ones in the yard, each about ten years old, once removed from an old residence. This one is emerging in an excellent spot. Though this was a melon mound last year, it's right on the corner of the bed. If a plant pops up on it's own, I assume it likes that spot, and I let it be if it's not otherwise awkward in relation to the rest of the garden. I'm excited about this little one. She gets to stay.

This is an example of something that doesn't work. These are four evening primrose in an arcing line. The evening primrose loves my yard, but there are probably twenty-five or thirty in the second year of their biennial existence. They can be up to six feet tall, and there might be room for five or six, total. These four would be like a primrose wall. Two if not three will have to serve the compost. Maybe all.

A plethora of wild onions, popping up underneath last years growth of mature little bluestem, next to my young Kentucky coffee tree.

I can't remember what this is. It looks like an onion, or a leek, but it's not, I don't think. I wondered about it last spring too, and then I realized what it was, and I have since forgotten. It and the other like it in the garden will stay for now, at least until I figure out what it is, again.

Blue Flag Iris, my favorite flower.

A very happy western sand cherry. It's neighbor on the left is not so happy. I'll propagate some of the cuttings from this one, and replace the other if I'm still here in the fall. Two like this one would provide just about all the fresh cherries I could eat.

My black cap vines.

Red elderberries. Thriving on the north side of the house.

Smoke on the prairie, next to the fire hydrant.


By contrast. my poor, anemic veggie starts. Most of which, especially the tomatoes, I subsequently burned, this morning, putting them inside a little greenhouse with a space heater set on low, and walking away from them for two hours. I should have learned last year with the failure of my potato harvest, not to treat my veggies like wild plants. I planted these a week earlier than last year, and now I'm restarting a week later than I did last year, though it feels like I'm six weeks late already.

I was sitting on my back step a few nights ago, watching Venus and Saturn, one atop the other as on a pole, thinking about the matrix as described by the blogger at Epiphany Now, and peak fatigue. It was about a month ago now I stood on my back step and called out to Venus, asking to find in myself the ability to write female characters. I followed that up with about forty thousand words, the first draft of the first ten chapters of a novel in about eight days. It was around that time that Saturn made it's appearance so close to Venus in the evening sky, and both apparently about as close to the Earth as they get. In astrology, if Venus represents the feminine mysteries, Saturn represents masculine focus and drive.

The blogger at Eighth Acre Farm bought me lunch the other day, at the Seward co-op. I've been eating frugally, mostly eggs, carrots, apples, potatoes and bread and peanut butter, and not much, training my body I guess, this being historically the hungry time, when the vegetable cache is low and mostly rubbery. But it was the Seward co-op, and I feasted, the total of the buffet hot plate coming to $12.22. I had just told him earlier I was thinking about releasing my first two books for free on-line, and the novel in installments for a subscription, on Beltane, May 1st. The number 222 stands out for me, a wake up call of sorts; if you assign a chronological number to the letters of the alphabet, a=1 ~ z=26, and add up all the numbers of my name, the total is 222. We spent most of the day together, remodeling his family's four-plex rental, talking peak, and plants and building. He can't quite understand how I can plant my garden and tend to it the way I do, only to potentially let it go.

I've owned this house six years. I moved in May 01, 2006. I spent two years here, I spent two years away, I've been back two years. When I moved into this house, I was at the low nadir of my life. The house and garden looks like it will be for sale May 01. I've been wondering how to justify my walking away from the house four years ago, my inability to pay for the mortgage since, and the possibility that my father could lose a lot more money on the sale. What have I been up to all that time? All I have is the writing. I found out just this week that the Halloween store I've managed the last two years sold to a buyer in Yankton, South Dakota. I helped load it onto trucks Saturday. The Thursday before that I found out my position as Creative Director of HD Masks, such as it was, has been effectively eliminated, and all the copy I wrote for the website has been undone.

I tend to cut on this neighborhood I live in as square, but Saturday evening I had the opportunity to listen to one of my neighbors sing with fourteen others, accompanied by a small orchestra, Bach's The Passion of St John. Living the life of solitude I do, I forget sometimes what an extraordinary creature the human being is, what great gifts we have. And what an incredibly beautiful and seemingly protected life I have lived. It seems time to emerge more fully, to justify my existence, to myself at least. I no longer have any fear around what will happen to me. Doing that soil test in those pictures, I thought: I did that. I'm living the post-peak life, I realize. Precariously, just beginning to emerge, but I'm just fine.

Even happy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


In the eleven days leading up to the equinox, we in Minneapolis broke high temperature records eight of those days, missing by just a few degrees on two other days. While I cannot confirm it, I would challenge weather record keepers to look anywhere to find a ten+ day stretch in which weather records of any kind were consistently broken. Most people in Minnesota are thrilled about it; temperatures have been between 60-80 most of that period, when they should be between 25-40. I have enjoyed every minute of it, but I am also leery. The weather the past year has been radically different season to season, as it has been for some time now, increasingly so, and I fully expect it to become wilder and wilder with time, season to season. But like so much else, be it the economy, or oil, or water, or population, Humanity seems content to maintain the status quo.

I've been working on my yard and house and garage. Here is some work I did on my compost:

Getting started. Last year's compost on the right, some scavenged lumber and wire fence. If you look close, there's a Laphroaig bottle on the left, but sadly, only filled with water. And a music box, for singing to.

Two posts pounded in, the door, facing the other bin at an angle, for easy movement one bin to the other.

Nailing the cage to the posts with electrical wiring clips.

Do not be an idiot and put said clips in a broken glass container.

I lined the new bin with coffee bags scavenged from Peace Coffee, to keep the pile moist and to prevent the mostly finished compost from falling out of the cage.

Water until moist throughout.

Notice there are two doors for each bin. This makes for easier piling and removal.

I removed the remainder of the first compost pile, and then piled rough plant stems in the center, lining the edges with leaves.

In the wheelbarrow is the kitchen compost, in the plastic bin, the remainder from the compost bin. I mix a little of both, with some regular dirt.

This is three layers, I put two more on the following day, to fill it.

In addition this week, I removed all the strawberries and pulled out the grass runners that had invaded the strawberries, the western sand cherries and the asparagus; replanting the strawberries in the freshly mixed soil. I filled the dumpster, cleaned much of the yard, house and garage, planted the early vegetable starts, and wrote a few thousand words a day. Trying to live the post-peak life, but alas, there will either be income, or the house will have to sell. All this would be easier with a partner, but a job is easier to find than that, and neither a job nor a partner is guaranteed to please. I might be content to let the house go, and lead the vagabond life, moving from farm to farm, doing what I am most useful at, learning as much as I can.

Though a reader last week suggested I am a "whiny wimp", and it may be also that I will take whatever job that pays the bills, pour all excess money into the house, and then sell, to save my father some money. Then again, maybe all the global economy will collapse this year, and nobody will have any money? Perhaps a few billion tons of methane will rise from the bottom of the seas, and all the ice on the poles will melt, displacing 3-4 billion people? Perhaps the sun will knock out the grid? Perhaps the poles will shift? Perhaps the military/industrial/banking complex will expand the holy war of terror, and the nukes will fly? Perhaps at the end of this year, life will shift from a material state to a spiritual state, like the most radical of the 2012 folks are saying? If any of that happens, making someone else wealthy is going to seem like a ridiculous thing.

I don't know. I'm just gardening, writing, makin' compost. Trying to stay open to whatever comes.

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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Musings On Pending Insolvency

I've written about 40,000 words, the last seven days, of a novel that popped into my head about two weeks ago. I've rarely written fiction, and I've never been very confident in my ability to write living, visceral characters, though I can say I've fallen in love with the characters of this latest effort, and they are leading me in directions I hadn't seen when I started. I'm estimating there are another 100,000 words to this story, maybe more, so we will see if I can maintain the momentum, and steer the book away from the shallow waters of the illogical and inconsequential. Whatever the case, I've never had this much fun writing.

When I think about it seriously though, writing seems a peculiar thing to pursue, considering the difficulties humanity is about to face, in the ongoing decline of global economics and modern civilization. But writing is about the only thing that has ever been almost entirely my own, outside of my body. It's not like I make the paper, or build the pens I use, but I don't require anyone's permission to write, and it's about the only thing I have ever enjoyed unequivocally, aside from gardening and otherwise engaging with nature. It may be a stretch to say, that is why I'm here, the reason I was born, but it seems as good a reason as any I know - other than to simply be, in communion with people and the earth. Then again, I am so far afield with so many of my ideas, and nothing of mine that I have ever written has ever been officially published on paper outside of one regional, obscure journal (and that was edited beyond recognition), that at 38 I hesitate even to call myself a writer.

I suppose this latest writing splurge has been a partial response to necessity. There is no logical reason I should not be hunting aggressively for a job. If the current trajectory holds, I could be both broke and homeless by the summer solstice. (It rhymes!) I make light of it because what else is there to do? Aside from job hunting being about the most demoralizing, depressing thing I have ever experienced, it is also the case that about 98% of the jobs available, I am either technologically unqualified for, or I'm qualified but the job is merely to be a cog in some great machine churning the earth into consumer goods and mountains of garbage, or I am ridiculously over-qualified and the work is demeaning and/or not offering a living wage. Throw in my attitude about impending collapse, and it all seems like a whole lot of a waste of time.

How many different jobs have I had? 35? 40? I've worked on flat roofs, in warehouses, in a foundry, in a bait shop, in landscaping, in houses as a home remodeler, in a Fortune 100 as a copy writer, in a Halloween store, etc. I work as hard as anyone I've ever worked with. No one can rightly accuse me of not having a strong work ethic. I know one hell of a lot more about the dignity of work, than most of the fool suits running the global economy. Working is not the problem.

The problems is, those 160 energy slaves I mentioned in last weeks post. It's not like I feel guilty about it, especially as, if I am to be compared to the average American, I have about – and I'll be generous to myself – maybe twelve energy slaves. Mostly because I do not drive a car, I could heat my house better with a hand saw and a wood stove than with the very little natural gas burned to keep the one room I heat at 55 degrees, and my water hot, and I eat and drink my own and local as I can. Still, natural gas is burnt to run the lights and my computer and radio, the coffee I drink ain't anywhere near local, nor all the food I eat.

My point about that is, if I take a job that pays for the mortgage to this house, and the taxes and the bills, in all likelihood, I'm going to have to be a lot more like average again, in terms of energy consumption, and I don't do average well. Not anymore. I don't mean to disparage anyone, for their energy slaves, though I'm not not going to use that phrasing, just to make people feel better about it. Because every energy slave I use is one that won't be available for future generations, and the energy slaves we are using the way we are using them, may be making the future climate inhospitable, for those future generations.

There's all that, and then there's some recent work, spurred by Dimitri Orlov at Club Orlov, which Ugo Bardi has called the Seneca Cliff. Those who are familiar with peak oil are familiar with the bell curve, popularized in the field by M. King Hubbert. Taking a cue from Seneca,

It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.

Bardi leads himself to assert that the collapse of modern civilization could resemble not a bell curve, but a quite literal cliff. Most in the Peak Oil scene, lean toward a step-down process taking two or three centuries, which John Michael Greer has called “catabolic” collapse, sharp contractions in the economy, followed by periods of relative stability, in cycles, until we are living a kind of proto-Middle Ages lifestyle.

I've long suspected collapse could come in one great unraveling, in a very short period of time, from a few years to less than a decade. I can think of any number of scenarios by which that could occur, and I wonder sometimes if all the talk about 2012 being a time of prophetic apocalypse, is merely the outward manifestation of an unconscious understanding, of ecological limits? I'm also aware this could be something like twisted wishful thinking on my part. If a collapse is to come, part of me would like to see it happen in a short bit of time, and then we can be done with it and move on. Another part has zero illusions about what such a collapse, or any, is likely to look like, and that part of me is a little like most everybody else, wanting to avoid it. But then, maybe even the bell curve model of collapse is a kind of wishful thinking. I'm inclined to think, anyway, the only truly wishful thinking in this regard, is faith in progress, that no collapse can ever come in my lifetime. (We are already in it's vise-like grip, in case you hadn't noticed.)

So I write. And as to paid work, I haven't had to look for it the past four years, it has found me. Not so often or enduring as to fully afford my own house, but enough not to starve, or freeze to death, or have my house condemned because I didn't pay my utilities. Such is the virtue of real skills. No matter where I am, no matter what happens to the culture or how, I will be useful. And as long as I know what I love, and how to love, then potential reduced circumstances are not such a concern. Thinking about it, I may be even more free to truly love, if I'm not working so damn hard to be average, or Goddess forbid in this regard, above average.