Category: Journal (Ph.D) (page 1 of 2)

Guest speakers at a Health and Wellness Fair

Emma and I were guest speakers at a Health and Wellness fair yesterday at Falcon Rock, a lovely ‘country venue’ at the base of a small mountain called The Lady’s Slipper. It’s about a 5 minute drive from our acre of land on the Van Stadens gorge.

There were stalls where people were selling goods or food, or advertising and showing their services: reiki, music therapy, massage, etc. On arrival, a meditation session was underway, which I joined briefly before setting up for the talk.

Emma started, focusing on the current dominant global food production system and the massive issues with it. She then spoke about permaculture as an alternative.

I then picked up from where Emma left off and took a conceptual approach to the political state of affairs that underlies the global systems that have resulted in the eco-crisis. I used a few quotes from sections of my Ph.D. that featured in this blog over the past year, so I was worried that this would bore people, but everything was received with attentive nods.

I moved on to speak about some of the specific things that we have done to regain sovereignty is a system where it is simply assumed that governments have the right to sovereignty. They do not. As it states in the declaration of human rights, the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. But consider this quote from Nadar, something everyone can see from brief investigation into the state of political/business affairs today:

Government has been hijacked to a degree beyond anything we have seen in the last 70 years. It’s been hijacked by corporate power, the multinationals mostly. They have their own people in government. They run [for elections] their own people, they appoint their own people, they get corporate lawyers to become judges. And when that happens you no longer have a countervailing force called government arrayed against excesses of what Jefferson called ‘the moneyed interest’. Instead, you have this convergence, almost a phalanx, of business controlling government and turning it against its own people.

The will of the people is not the basis for the authority of government; rather, it’s the protection of business interests that secures government’s authority. This has nothing to do with the liberty of the people, and everything to do with private business interests. To quote Mill, the people have historically had “political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which if he did infringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable.” Rebellion hey? Food for thought.

Please see the chapter 4 posts that are already up on the blog for more info in this regard, especially this one: https://perspectivepro.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/democracy-in-a-neoliberal-free-market-capitalist-system/

We’ll be talking more in the near future: at the march against Monsanto on May 23rd.

General update after extended absence: autumn equinox 2015

December and January: living a little!

At the end of November last year, after a very busy end to the academic calendar, I looked around the homestead that Emma and I had been creating for 2-and-a-half years and suddenly realised that there was no more ‘building’ that urgently had to be completed (or, more aptly, started from scratch) for the first time in, well, 2-and-a-half years! So I spent the first two weeks of December focused on my Ph.D research, gradually getting used to the notion of simply living in the place, as opposed to constantly working on it.

Mid December came and I stopped even the academic research and writing and took it quite easy. Several good friends were ‘down’ from out of town or abroad; they visited us, we went to the beach together, and the general festive season spirit generally kept us going with that flow. I had been on holiday a few times since my return to SA in mid-2012, but there was always driving or camping or hiking etc. involved. During the past December-January holiday, however, there was a considerable amount of ‘taking it easier’ at home – and this certainly further established home as home, to me at least.

It was during this time that I decided to abandon the computer for all but essential tasks, and I never really found myself rushing back to it. Academic writing had to be done here and there during the holiday, and pretty much constantly since February, but this is the most severed I’ve felt from the internet for many years – and it is a good feeling. Hence not posting anything for ages, other than a final bit to chapter 3 of my research, which preceded this post.

Hike and more meditation

In mid January we did do a hike – the Otter Trail, along the garden route. A very beautiful hike and highly recommended (I believe it is rated as the top hike in SA; I see why – beautiful and relatively easy and accessible). It set the scene for a peaceful and tranquil state of mind I was lucky enough to keep nurturing when, after the hike, I went off to Worcester to serve at a 10 day Vipassana meditation course.

This marked a year since my first meditation course, which I sat as a student. It was great going back and doing 4 – 5 hours of meditation a day, and then still being ‘practical’ in the kitchen, where servers obviously have to talk. This seemed more realistic as a preparation for meditation in the ‘real world’, where innumerable distractions can linger in one’s head when going off to meditate after a busy day. 10 days of mindfulness and awareness about how one responds to ‘kitchen logistics’ is remarkably helpful at bringing a meditative state of mind into ‘normal’, day-to-day awareness.

Academic progress

I returned from the meditation course and had to get straight to teaching first year philosophy again, a job I really do love. I share the work load with my friend, who happens to be professor of Philosophy at NMMU (and therefore my boss!!). Next semester I’ll do as I did last year and solo-teach the second semester philosophy module, something I also look forward to. The move back to SA from the UK definitely paid off work-wise for me, seeing as I get by on a completely manageable amount of part-time work.

Of course, my income from the part-time work is supplemented by an academic bursary, which is certainly an opportunity not afforded to many people. Yes, maybe luck played a role in getting the bursary. But looking back, the hard work started in first year university, during which time part-time informal work led to part-time formal work, then to further studies and for a long time two part-time jobs at once, followed by full-time slavery in the UK, followed by very frugal living back in SA, during which time I wrote a proposal on top of everything else documented in this blog while working more part-time jobs, and then applying for the bursary, and only then did the bursary come about.

And the study is progressing nicely. I have just finished the fourth of eight chapters, though admittedly it is a draft in a very early phase and needs a few weeks’ more work. So it’s not really half-way! Nevertheless, I am celebrating the completion of the draft with this blog entry!

Emma and the garden

You may have read between the lines and gathered that I’m not doing too much ‘plot work’ lately. This wouldn’t be entirely true: just living here is constant daily work, like making rocket stove fires, washing dishes, doing hand-washing (though this is not a daily task luckily), dealing with the compost toilet every week, and making compost every 5 or 6 weeks (which is always quite a task). But yes, I have stopped with the building/wood-work and raised-garden-bed making that largely defined my contributions to ‘plot-life’ for so long here. My energy since the start of February has so far instead been mostly on academic commitments.

Emma, on the other hand, has not been teaching for the first term this academic year – her contract for teaching first year Sociology at Rhodes University starts again in 3 weeks or so. She has been a star in the garden though – we’re eating at least a few veggies and/or leaves from the garden daily, which makes all the difference to a vegetarian diet. Obviously it takes loads of attentiveness to plan, maintain, and ‘rotate’ a vegetable garden, so she is doing a fantastic job – especially for someone who 3 years ago hadn’t done any gardening to speak of. Her knowledge of what grows when and in what conditions is staggering, something that has come with experience and dedication and having hands in the earth. She has also just registered for a PDD – a permaculture course that will enable her to teach PDCs, permaculture design certificates.

Custodians of an acre of land

Last year we became custodians of an acre of land in an area I visited a lot and became fond of in my early-twenties. It is a hundred metres away from a beautiful gorge that contains some cascading pools accessible within an hour’s walk. There’s a lot of walking to be done in the area actually. The plot itself is on a gentle slope, and contains mainly indigenous bushes at the moment. We have so far only visited this ‘gorge plot’ for observation purposes, and will continue to do so until the path forward there presents itself to us.

We were able to pay for the land outright – as far as land prices go, this acre was very affordable. Of course, the frugal living and minimal expenses of the previous 2-and-a-half years meant that we could save money and add it to savings from previous years to make this kind of move. Hardly land barons, but it is still difficult to come to terms with the notion of ‘ownership’ of land – hence thinking about the role as custodianship rather. It was important that we didn’t get ourselves into debt for reasons to do with our views on the banking system, so we went with a small and comparatively cheap piece of land using money that we had saved over a long period of years, versus taking out a loan.

What was immediately clear was the need to cut paths into the plot so that one can get into it. After a lot of research I ended up buying a strimmer/weed-eater, heavy-duty, quite expensive, but a good machine. This was a big move for me, because I’d prefer to have acquired a scythe and avoid fossil-fuels, but realistically it would not have worked with the bush being so dense on the plot. I take refuge in the notion that it is a necessary tool that can be used for a greater good – namely, the creation of a permaculture food forest homestead. And of course, it depends on how one uses the tool – mindfully.

A set rhythm

At this stage of our time living ‘rustically’, it has become clear that rhythms develop over time. If, like me almost 3 years ago, one enters a scene and wishes to impose an idea of what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, one will likely suffer from the huge shock that the world does not work like that. There were huge ebbs and flows of energy and activity along the way, but with the groundwork now done at the current abode, the routine of previous months has been fairly consistent.

This is definitely something that one needs to be aware of when starting a venture like ours. A rough plan is obviously needed, but if starting from a blank slate like we did, then the initial stages are going to be tough and ‘hectic’. But there will come a point when the groundwork is complete, and a base develops on which to establish patterns of activity and behaviour. I think we’ve only been in the latter phase for a few short months. It’s interesting to think that, after 2-and-three-quarter years, these are still early days!

Who cares about all of the above?!!!

I suppose I post the info above for various reasons. Most importantly, between 3 and 4 years ago it was reading blogs like this one that partly helped me make up my mind that serious change in one’s life is not to be feared but instead encouraged – especially if the change is from a constricting lifestyle to one of comparative ‘freedom’. It took me a while and a lot of pointless worrying initially to really believe this and see it as true, so I hope to allay the fears of others by being able to say hey, look at the blank slate that was there to be worked with at the start, and look at all that has changed since then.

Then there is the necessity of recording information for journalling purposes. I’ve tried keeping paper journals before but I’m no good at it. In a few years, I imagine I’ll be able to look back and see the person I used to think I was and reflect on the changes – seeing as change is our only permanence! And of course, for my Ph.D I said I would keep such records for reflection upon in the final chapter of my study!

Still grappling with the broader context

Finally, I still frequently find myself pondering the broader context where, ecologically, things are certainly deteriorating, and I try and make sense of what we’re doing here, i.e. on the ‘alternative-living’ mission. We have made considerable moves to a lifestyle that, I believe, is very in-tune with the sustainability song. But, while typing the above, I received an Azaaz email reminding me that our oceans are dying. Last week I attended a talk by the chief NASA scientist who reminded her audience that there will be no ice at the both poles (possibly Greenland too) by 2050. I look around the city and see endless expansion. Business as usual prevails.

I could write a list of all the things that we don’t do and don’t have and it would be a formidable list that shows a resistance to the consumer capitalist lifestyles of instant gratification that seem to be the norm in ‘advanced’ industrial society. But even we now have two laptop computers in order to affectively do our academic jobs. We have a car, and a motorbike (we use the latter more due to fuel-efficiency), both of which use fossil-fuel, and both of which are constituted by resources that were mined at the expense of the environment; the same can be said for many of the resources that constitute parts of our humble abode.

I suppose the point is that it feels like a bit of a losing battle when looking at the broader context. I still believe that one must, as an ethical imperative, fight the fight (not that I see it as a fight, but rather an ethical venture) whether or not it is going to make that much ‘broader’ difference in the long run. When I first decided to embark on this mission, it was about making a difference in the broader scheme of things, hence a kind-of depression when I realised that people look curiously at what we’re doing, acknowledge its relevance, but simply go about business as usual. And then, of course, I still buy into (albeit marginally) aspects of the system of which I’m very sceptical. I think we’ve achieved a considerable ‘freedom’ in doing what we’re doing, and that combined with not being huge parts of the problem seems like it will have to be enough, for the foreseeable future at least.

Or maybe, as I’ve already mentioned somewhere above, these are still very early days, and in a few years the path will involve ‘broader changes’. Who knows?

Early spring garden pictures… and a few comments, of course!

This is a brief visual update on what’s happening with parts of the garden, with the main focus being vegetables (versus, for example, the orchard). Followed by, of course, my 2 cents’ worth 😉

First, a reminder of what this area looked like two years ago:

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And the adjacent area one year ago:

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Then after a bit of this ‘n that:

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And quite a few more steps later you get this:

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To some it may seem a bit of a mess, but everything has its place within the greater totality of things  (a totality we try to observe and align ourselves to). For example, the wood piles may not tick boxes for those with orthodox aesthetic views, but the piles are great for wildlife and serve several other purposes – walls and windbreaks, growing area for plants, long-term fertility as the carbon decomposes under the manure that has been thrown on top; etc. And in less than 18 months, the woodpiles have gradually been covered by pioneers – mainly nasturtium in the pictures, but a different creeper also does fantastically on them, and this all makes them more appealing to the orthodox eye. In 2 more years, the woodpiles will be large but smooth mounds of compost hidden by all sorts of plants and vegetables, providing nooks and crannies for wildlife, storing energy by way of nutrients and moisture. No doubt by 5 years the piles will be earth mounds out of which trees and bushes grow, under which vegetables self-seed.

Note the wide variety of plants and vegetables working together as companions. No chemicals have been used (as a rule) nor needed to be used because pests are mainly manageable – they tend to be focused on one or two plants that are usually last season’s annuals and should have been pulled but but were given mercy in a moment of unjustified optimism: annuals should be pulled when they are done fruiting. But once pulled, they go into the compost and re-enter the fertility cycle from whence they came: compost to compost; earth to earth; life to life.

Okay, yes, there have been times when aphids did cause Emma to lose her usual outdoor optimism – she is after all the main gardener – but again these spread because of last season’s anachronistic annuals (as explained above). The past 3 months have been aphid-free; the only pest issue has been, well, whatever has accessed the sweet potatoes from underground, presumably moles. I am sure that this too will be a problem for which we eventually have time to find a solution.

Notably, Damian is having a fruit-fly issue this week: they are hatching in his baby marrows (courgettes). However, the cause seems to me to be the tonne (literally) of fresh horse-manure and wood-chip mix that has been spread throughout his orchard and growing area. Expect pest issues when using fresh organic matter. But as time passes, as the organic matter becomes compost, the pests are no longer attracted to the area. We are seeing this more and more to be the case, which is not to say that we will not add some aged manure in various places shortly before topping with compost; as the garden becomes more of an entity constituted by various cooperating parts working synergistically, fewer will be the ‘pest’ problems, and where there are bugs eating things, it will be an appropriate part of the functioning of the overall natural system. Already, this is how I feel about our past ‘pest’ issues: not a problem! Sure, I say this from the perspective of one who has spent more time making the garden beds and then disappearing into miscellaneous building projects and chores etc. etc., while Emma is the one who has spent more time and energy facilitating the existence of the occasional vegetable that is taken out by ‘pests’. But I knew it intuitively when it occurred more frequently last year – ‘early days; not a problem; part of the process; give it time’. Oh, and let me add: those baby-marrows with a few fruit flies hatching from them – well, the baby flies emerge from one minuscule area that can be cut away, leaving 90% of the marrow completely fine for consumption.

I have focused entirely too much on the ‘pest’ aspect, despite the fact that currently we have no pest issues!!! So let me conclude by saying that the proof is in the pudding: we are eating very fresh, chemical-free vegetables from the gardens daily; our health is excellent; our food bills are manageable, even for part-time employees; and the garden/plot-time is incredibly therapeutic (unless you get a bit OCD about finishing a project by a self-imposed deadline, like I do, but that’s not the case with the gardens). ALL of our organic waste goes into the compost (albeit in a very controlled and systematic manner) so the fertility process here is a loop rather than linear – with the exception of several bags of horse manure that we bring in from 1 km down the road. So all that said, let me end abruptly and go take a refreshing garden-stroll…

‘In good time’

I’ve occasionally written about the different kinds of cycles one can become aware of when adapting to a lifestyle that is more attuned to the rhythms of the seasons and the weather. I’ve also commented on the growing awareness of the cycles that I tend to go through, an awareness I attribute to the ‘permaculture’ lifestyle I’m partly responsible for trying to implement since mid-2012. This post follows a similar theme and briefly reflects on the activity of past months.

Out of the past 5 months, three were largely focused on writing the first chapter of my Ph.D. study – I posted the content as I went along. During those Winter months I continued to do the regular plot ‘chores’, such as dish-washing, tidying and sweeping, compost-making and compost material ‘management’, etc. That’s where the physical energy went, but it seemed that my calories were mostly burnt on mental energy, and my focus was more or less exclusively on researching the ecological crisis and compiling the info into the relevant formats.

As Spring was approaching, however, the focus became the living environment Emma and I used to call ‘the shed’, an area that was born by felling some trees and throwing an old truck tarp over it, which then grew into a car-port style roof with carpeted ‘walls’, and which now boasts rustic cladded wooden walls, a neat kitchenette (cupboards, with doors!!!), shade-cloth, comfortable chairs, etc. I worked on multiple side-projects in order to get this all finished, because around here one job leads not only to another, but to a dozen others!

It seems appropriate that Winter was a less physically and logistically demanding time, while Spring has been exactly that; this is in keeping with the character of the two seasons, Winter being slower and a time for rest, Spring being a time for fresh activity. What increasingly interests me is my reaction to such seasonal aspects, seasonal aspects not only of the year, but the ones I accordingly find myself going through.

For example, for the previous few weeks I have felt the need to get back to researching and writing for my academic study; there is a deadline for the end of December, and I need to be researching and writing daily if I am to make that deadline. I also have lecturing and marking commitments, as I have had all year, so I have recently felt quite stressed when thinking about the need to finish ‘the shed’ renovation, the current academic demands, and the future academic deadline.

Yet somewhere in the back of my mind there was a new-ish awareness that everything happens ‘in good time’. Maybe it has something to do with learning several valuable lessons about patience over the past two and a half years, lessons that can’t be avoided when starting to build a physical living environment from scratch and when trying to establish sources of income – not to mention trying to find a healthy balance between the two!

Such an awareness, of things happening ‘in good time’, has made my occasional period of stress quite short-lived, especially compared to the person I once was, the person who worked a full-time academic job in the UK for four years where there was often no end to the trudgery. Here, the activity never ends, but it is inherently a process of continual change. I do have to remind myself of that sometimes, especially when it’s been six weeks of, for example, woodworking, only to still have another few weeks of it staring me in the face. But I’m getting better at letting that occasional bout of frustration blow-over and instead just getting on with things.

Would I have been able to react in such a way had it not been for my transition to ‘this’ kind of lifestyle? An impossible question to answer. Maybe! Maybe people do become more accepting of gradual processes and less impatient as they age – though I know plenty of people who render the comment inaccurate! I do feel, however, that this is not just about patience, but an additional layer of awareness that is less egocentric and possibly more ecocentric. The artificial linearity of contemporary society – where everything seems to move on endlessly in almost exactly the same fashion (i.e. business as usual) – can create a picture of a monotonous ‘reality’ where seasons are only noticed because of the need to change clothing due to changing weather. But there is a different seasonal aspect to human beings, one I’m clearly still trying to understand, but one I’m directly experiencing because of ‘plot-life’.

Woodwork / building update

Much time and energy lately has been spent preparing for and building these walls…

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…and creating this new kitchen work space:

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Not finished yet, but it’s been a while since the previous post, so this is just an indication of the continuing process at ‘the plot’. [Garden processes not commented on here; Emma has done excellent work to get the gardens buzzing with Spring activity – subject of a later post].

All of the wood used is ‘recycled’ – I buy it from a wood-lot a few kilometres away from the plot, from someone whose business it is to dismantle and sell pallets and crates used in industry. I sand the wood so that it is free from splintery pieces, but it always maintains something of its ‘used’ appearance, which generally adds character to the abode. There are also a few slabs of recycled vibracrete in the mix (seen in the second picture, bottom right), which lines the inside of a bottom cupboard in order to keep perishable food items cooler in that section.

It’s been super-busy, with all awake-time being directed to part of this building process, other plot activities (such as compost making), and academic work (lecturing, prepping lectures, marking). Accordingly, I have hardly been able to think of a blog post; I have spoken about ‘seasons’, literal and metaphorical, before, and this has been a fairly intense one. Once completed (a week or two away), the old shed area will be a comfortable open plan ‘lounge’ and kitchen area, which comes in good time for the busier Summer season.

I should add that the pictured kitchen nook (etc.) is a manifestation of many months worth of preparation and material accumulation, as discussed in this post. The progress is incredibly slow to begin, but at some point recently the hard work started paying off, with the area being more and more accommodating and functional.

Mid-August update and a few musings…

More than two weeks since the previous post but I’m learning that such is the nature of ongoing projects. No use in fighting or resisting but instead going with the flow and recognising it as such – a flow, which means expecting ‘calm’ periods as well as, at times, the rapids, and everything in between.

I’ve spent a lot of the ‘plot-time’ in recent weeks staring at the current structures pondering how to do what needs to be done. Spring is very near and so are the rising of temperatures and the accompanying challenges keeping perishable food stored at appropriate temperatures. A fridge is not an option – too heavy on leccy and too many unsustainable materials used in its construction – so an earthbag cold storage area looks imminent.

This cold storage area will be part of a kitchen rebuild, which happens to be part of a ‘shed’ outfitting of sorts; the current kitchen was built on the cheap and quick and was never meant to be permanent, while the shed area is also one in transition. The kitchen and the shed will come together under the same roof, because time has revealed this area to be most sociable and central to activity in general; the old kitchen will be left to become something else – a second room for guests, or whatever (more observation needed!).

So the previous few weeks have partly been ‘planning ones’, and I’ve been out and about driving around to find appropriate materials. Some have come for free from a saw mill down the road, while other materials have been paid for, though these are still off-cuts from a different saw mill, so they are recycled, and very cheap. The materials are stock-piling and I’ve started cleaning and preparing them; then the shed will be ‘cladded’, a work area therein refined, a ‘lounge area’ reorganised, the kitchen then incorporated. Many steps!

At the same time, horse manure has been collected during the ‘plot days’. Emma has done a great job of using, partly, the previous aged horse manure to maintain and prepare garden beds, but the supply needs to be kept constant. I use the bakkie to transport the big bags of manure, as is the case with the wood I get from the saw mills, so fossil fuel is still an important part of bringing materials to the plot. However, the rate at which this occurs is marginal compared to the second year of being on the plot, and the second year was marginal in this regard compared to the first.

It should be mentioned that the ‘plot days’ number 5 days per week – plot work is constant during this time. 2 days of the week for both Emma and I are spent at the University, our formal employer at the moment (I spend some time every day working on my academic study as well). Some people have commented that we are lucky to work only 2 days a week this semester – I must point out though that we work 7 days a week, because the ‘low-tech’ lifestyle we live is very labour intensive. But it is enjoyable labour, free from anyone telling us what to do, and mostly removed from economic priorities that seem to dominate the days of even the self-employed.

I feel increasingly ‘lucky’ to be able to partake in this kind of lifestyle, this kind of experiment, and I find me reminding myself that it is more than just luck that got us to this point: it started with a choice, a very tough choice that seemed to fast-track us to an initial work-period that was very, very intense. It took a year for the physical aspects of this permaculture project to come together into a liveable homestead, but since then synergy of components has occurred and guides the process forward.

Anyone can make such choices, though for every person the exact details of what the choice involves will be different. For now I still carry water, chop wood, drag bags of manure around, etc. – the choice entailed such consequences; but they are consequences that, in my case, have come alongside a freedom from the mania that seems increasingly to characterise life in more ‘conventional’ scenarios. Sure, by all means, if your choice is to embrace such conventions and proclaim that there is no consequential mania involved, go ahead – no judgement from this side. But if you, like us, decide that such conventionality is not for you, then you too can make a choice to change your situation.

The power of such a choice – to explore routes ‘alternative’ to the more conventional (and in my view, manic) ones – cannot be downplayed, at least in my experience. When I chose to break away from a kind of convention that I saw breaking me, and indeed eating away at the ecology of the planet (from what my research revealed and still reveals, at least), I did not realise it at the time but I was choosing to prioritise something other than the physical, material details of my life. I still thought initially that I had to worry and stress (as I had in my full-time job) to get the logistic details of my life sorted out, which, ironically, never seemed possible. But now I realise that such logistics always sort themselves out; indeed, when one, from what I can see, makes the choice to do what one feels is right and important for them to do, all of the practical details do sort themselves out naturally, as a consequence of of making such a choice.

The irony is that so many people seem to spend a lot of time, like I used to, worrying about the details, planning the physical and material and economic aspects of their lives, in order to get to a point of being able to make room for the ‘other’ aspects of their lives to come together. I have found the situation to work in exactly the opposite way: one can choose to sort out one’s headspace, for example, first, and in so doing the physical and practical matters of life get sorted out too. I am not saying that one can make a decision to prioritise headspace and sit back and do nothing – on the contrary, much hard work will be required after the choice is made. But the counter-intuitive order of things is crucial here, to me at least. Definitely worth experimenting with if you are at all interested.

Another call to change. (A.k.a. Writing about an ecological crisis while trying to live ‘alternatively’)

It’s just before 2 in the morning – I’m lucky enough, and possibly strange enough, to be accustomed to staring at our view of the Milky Way and pondering our place as cognitive human beings at this serene time of the day (or morning, or night – whatever) due to my polyphasic sleep pattern – a pattern that now seems to involve ‘proper’ Everyman 3 polyphasic sleeping every second day (look it up if you are unfamiliar with it and some other content on this blog).

What is notably different about this mid-winter night/early-morning is that the temperature is 20 degrees Celsius, which is somewhat unnerving considering that we awoke to frost about a month ago. Sure, this is a notoriously schizophrenic part of the southern hemisphere generally, and I have been surprised by the undulating weather patterns frequently, but I did feel rather alarmed when I stepped outside in my scarf and the several layers of clothing I am used to putting on at such a ridiculous time of these winter mornings, only to be slapped by a wave of heat when I opened the door!

Maybe it’s due to to my current research into the ecological crisis that I’m sensitive to notable deviations from weather ‘norms’. I won’t get started on the topic of climate change here – I’ve done that in other writing for my PhD recently and it is clear that I have reason to be sensitive to such changes. I have also focused on loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, deforestation, loss of topsoil, water issues, landfill waste, associated pollution, and toxic and chemical waste, and genetically modified organisms. FUN! It is the groundwork for the following 6 chapters of the study, so a necessary evil – a very eye-opening one. Not that I am finished this part of the research yet; more awaits.

It is very weird writing these sub-sections for chapter 1 of a 7 chapter study, realising that we all really need to be involved in actualising considerable lifestyle changes on a massive scale, or, having made personal changes, equipping other people to do the same. This is not an opinion, by the way, for those critics who always start ‘umming and ahing’ about the attitudes of environmentalists or ecologists and then start talking about life in the ‘real’ world versus the ideals of the greenies‘ (the ‘green’ revolution, by the way, is bullshit; it has been kidnapped by capitalists, the same people widely responsible for the eco-crisis; a brown revolution is needed, where people get their hands properly dirty, and reconnect to the Earth – for a start!). The research I have done, which is only a tip of an ice-berg, and which I intend to start posting to this site soon (despite the widespread availability of the information, if only the masses could be bothered to stop paying attention to the ‘news’ of the corporate mass media), shows unambiguously that change to ecologically-sensitive, cooperativeand restorative systems is imperative if we are to survive as a species. It is crystal clear to me now: when someone calls me or ‘my’ ecologically-focused imperative ‘idealistic’, it is indeed the critic who is idealistic, in the sense that they have fallen hook-line-and-sinker for ideology that has resulted in the widespread alteration of our fragile ecosystems for anthropocentric material gain; in posting the research I have done so far in the near future, I will substantiate these claims – it will be a 2-and-a-half year process though, so be patient.

The paradox is, of course, that while I’m sitting and researching and typing, I am not directly involved with helping people achieve the necessary realisations that precede physical changes to more sustainable lifestyles. It is the case, however, that when I think about this paradox, I remember also that I have been on the protesting and activism band-wagon for a long time, for example, in the Occupy movement in the UK. I have brought up the ‘serious’ topics with my family and friends, well, too often since being back in South Africa – almost 2 years to the day. All of it may have resulted in a lifestyle change in a person here and there. My actions, I hoped, spoke louder than my words – my frugal, mostly-sustainable lifestyle has been well documented on this blog. Yet looking at my family and friends, and at the too-many strangers I see when I’m in town, business as usual prevails – for now, at least.

The research I am doing into the ecological crisis at the moment implies, in my view, that we are screwed – even if everyone stopped business as usual right now, or even 5 years ago, we would still have to deal with the combined massive consequences of widespread ecological destruction that has been part-and-parcel of industrial consumer society. (Good luck to your kids; and theirs; I am certainly not having any!) Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should keep up the mad lifestyles that currently underlie the eco-crisis; rather, it elevates the call to act from a shout to a scream. Knowing that I have done what I can, for now at least, I am happy to be behind a computer a lot these days; I feel like I have achieved a good balance between the use of technology (this laptop and the internet) and an ecologically-sensitive and healthy lifestyle. It might all be pissing-into-the-wind considering that the numbers of people voluntarily and knowingly living such a lifestyle are negligible when compared to the 3 or so billion people in the developed world who consume far more per person than ‘we’, the converted, ever will. And to be honest, I’m tired of the usual responses of ‘Yes, but the reality is that…’ and ‘At the end of the day…’ – no no no, your reality is that, and at the end of your day blah blah blah; take a bloody look around mate – we’re really screwing things up for more than just ourselves.

Ecocide – the extensive damage or destruction of the natural landscape and disruption or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory to such an extent that the survival of the inhabitants of that territory is endangered. That’s where we are at. We all need to make drastic changes quickly; some of us have already done so, and are examples of the fact that it is possible. But nobody can force anyone else to make these changes – it is always a personal choice. Currently, the business-as-usual approach is the dominant choice, albeit one akin to sticking one’s head in the sand. It will not be an option for very much longer. For now I will continue to tread as softly as possible and step back from the ecological debate – there isn’t one, despite what the capitalists have allowed themselves to believe. Human beings are the biggest threat that we have ever faced (so far; maybe a threat of a comet impact or something similar could unite us). Again, the information to support such a statement is a few clicks away online, or alternatively, available from any ecologically-focused friend you have previously ignored.

So maybe I have reached the point where I have realised that it’s time to let people continue digging humanity’s grave; humanity in its current manifestation, at least – indeed, it might be a good thing for other life on the planet that we eradicate ourselves. The problem is that we are on track to take so many life-forms out with us, and the world we’ll leave behind might be inhospitable to the diversity of life as we know it for many millions of years into the future. So best ‘we’ change – but judging by the way that most of you act, it’s unlikely. My hope is that I can be proved wrong.

How would you prove me wrong? Well, I’m glad you asked! Permanently turn off your television, geyser/boiler, washing machine, dishwasher, any lights over 5 watts, refrigerator, deep-freeze, etc. Stop driving so much – in fact, drive only in emergencies; walk or cycle instead. Stop buying anything that you might have to throw away – ever. Stop using so much water; wash only when you are ‘dirty’). Stop supporting the pharmaceutical industry; alternative medicines abound. Stop believing that human nature is competitive, which means stopping competitive sports too! Stop prioritising money. Stop viewing the world as purely ‘material’. Stop voting and instead participate in democracy directly – its called direct democracy (look it up). Start a vegetable garden – convert your entire garden, street, neighbourhood. Stop eating meat and GMOs. Start planting trees, lots of them. Start composting your own human wastes (properly, of course!). Start building structures from recycled or sustainable materials. Start living slowly, appreciating the tiny and fragile things in life. Start remembering ancient knowledge, or at least ‘old’ knowledge. (Oh so many more dos and don’ts, but oh it’s getting late, or early, whatever.)

You don’t want to do any of the above? Well, unfortunately, it is now an either-or scenario: either you stop the kinds of problematic actions and habits I’ve only started to list above, and start adopting the kinds of alternatives I’ve also only touched upon, or you continue to actively participate in the acceleration towards the shitstorm that is currently unfolding globally, one which is only beginning. Technology will not save us, nor will political or economic reform. YOU have the choice, and YOUR actions are the only ones that matter. And no, there is no debate regarding this matter; there is only delay.

 

Journal entry 7 – slowing down, stopping, presence, progress.

I have found the previous several weeks to be very interesting and telling ones, which might seem strange to some people considering that their responses might be along the lines that ‘not too much has been going on!’ Ostensibly, such a response might be true: very basic maintenance and ‘plot chores’ have been the main activities. In contrast to the previous 23 months especially, June might look like a hibernation of sorts.

Some hibernating has been inevitable, what with a recent bout of the cold/flu that has accompanied the onset of winter proper. The physical acts of being indoors more, and ‘wrapping up warmer’, and doing less doing the days compared to during the summer, may indeed create the appearance that less is happening – and on a physical level this is true. But on a different level, a lot is happening.

This ‘different level’ is the internal, mental, cognitive, reflective one. With the permaculture homestead being functional now, albeit in a very basic manner where there is room for much systemic improvement, I have not had to plan (for examples) building or ‘landscaping’ projects logistically, freeing up a lot of mental energy for more cognitive endeavours. The academic research takes up a bit of this energy, but compared to my past, where I lived in an ‘orthodox’ house and pursued a career in an ‘orthodox’ manner, a lot more mental energy is freed up here at the permaculture homestead for different ways of thinking.

For example, my conception of ‘progress’ has changed entirely. A few years ago I would have not been able to let the homestead remain ‘as is’ for very long when certain features remain ‘unfinished’ – the lack of proper ‘walls’ to the shed area (it has a few big old ‘carpet walls’ still hanging that I’ve intended to replace with off-cut wooden strips), the solar setup that needs a few more parts before it can be experimented with, the lack of a cool food-storage area that will be needed come summer, the lack of a thermal mass heater integrated into ‘the shack’… etc. etc. etc.! Now, however, it seems entirely appropriate, if not mandatory, to step back for a while, slow down (stop if possible), and reflect on a few things.

This post is not about those reflections specifically, but rather on the process just mentioned – the slowing down and stepping back from a constant activity of sorts. My partner Emma and I realised that when we worked as full-time employees in a college in the UK, we would never get the chance to slow down, never mind stop, in any meaningful way. Sure, the illusion of a holiday was maintained with academic holidays always around the corner, but work stole these breaks almost entirely from us – this is another different topic. Having made the choice to ditch various aspects of modern ‘comfortable’, ‘click of a switch’ living, and thereby dropping most major expenses and therefore the need for full-time work, we find ourselves in positions where it is possible to slow down significantly enough to create the accompanying ‘head-room’ for a kind of reflectivity that I, for one, now realise I was never really capable of conducting in the past.

In the past, the reflective process was always tainted by what seemed to be unquestionable outcomes: I am doing this; I am doing this because I need to be doing that eventually. What I had overlooked was the vicious circle – when I got to the point of ‘doing that’, I was doing it because I needed to be doing something else thereafter, and something else after that, ad nauseam. This was a terrible hamster-wheel to be stuck in. Now I realise that what I am doing is something of an end in itself. Sure, it’s an end in itself that will inevitably lead to other ends down the line, but those down-the-line ones are not speculated about too much lest they steal the spotlight from the all-important present moment.

So maybe it boils down to presence. This is something I learned first-hand at a meditation retreat early this year, but life at our permaculture plot seems like it would have taught me lessons about presence one way or another, eventually. The bitter cold of some slow nights seems something of a productive formative presence when one embraces it and accepts it as part of the continuous fluctuations of life; the unfinished shed walls (that will remain unfinished for as long as they need to!) seem appropriate when looked at as part of a cycle of activity that must ebb and flow, because this is the nature of all things…

…All things natural, that is. Some discourses have been advertised over the course of the past few centuries to transcend impermanence. Hundreds of millions of people – dare I say billions? – for example, have fallen prey to the notion of ‘infinite progress’. Progress, in such a view, is something constant, and it is constantly ‘good’. Progress comes in the form of constant activity, it seems, a constant activity that produces the same globalised results over and over again – capitalist consumer systems that invariably devastate the ecology of given areas, to the point now that the life-support networks of many life-forms on our planet – including human beings – are threatened (where they haven’t been destroyed completely already).

Is it a surprise that such a ubiquitous form of ‘progress’ is oblivious to the continuous changes of natural cycles? That the physical constructs of such ‘progress’ demand constant consumerism, rather than a ‘being-in-the-moment’. Why am I not surprised that becoming more acutely aware of such cycles, and of becoming aware of presence – of being present – have made it seem mandatory to stop, to look at what it is I am doing, to ponder why it is that I am doing any of it, and ultimately really to look beyond what it is that is being done or why its being done and instead appreciate the background in which it is being done?

It is a beautiful background. And it is disappearing fast – this is confirmed to me daily by the academic research I am currently doing into the ecological situation that has arisen due to the maniacal marriage of capitalism, development, technology and consumerism (to name a few). It seems that all of us, no matter who we are or what our socio-political and economic positions are, could benefit if we simply stopped. Stopped and realised that our insensitivity to the natural rhythms of the natural world is killing us, as well as killing many other life-forms of the natural world as well. Be cognisant of this fact; embrace the reality of the present, and let this be your ‘ebb’; when the flow starts again, what you learnt in the quieter, more reflective times may just help avert future crises.

 

Journal entry 6 – I too am part of the project!

I often write about the development of the rustic homestead and gardens that feature heavily in the blog. The process is indeed newsworthy, as it never ceases to remind me, and Autumn has come with many signs that point towards the synergy of several parts that constitute the whole. For example, the established plants have not needed very much watering during the past weeks, dare I say a month; this is not true of the transplanted and in-situ seedlings though, which get watered from a watering-can often containing seeped-manure nutrients. The majority of plants, trees and vegetables are getting their thirsts quenched by the fairly regular rainy days; the moisture remains in the mulched, raised beds for quite some time after the rains.

Of late, however, the impact that this project has had on my life in general has been gaining my attention. I often get lost with the logistics of projects, especially considering that until recently every project has been a crucial system component – a room in which to live, an outdoor kitchen, a work area, gardens, watering systems, compost toilet,shower, etc. But 22 months later, these basics are done and a relatively comfortable home-base has unfolded, and the lost-in-logistics me has had a chance to take a look around. Sure, it’s still a home that requires a lot of physical labour to keep running – there are few switches; no fridge; no stove; no boiler/geyser; etc. This was the plan from the start – to become functional, but to do so with simple and rustic systems that do not require too many resources to establish or run. Now that such functionality has been achieved and the day-to-day running of the place has become habit, it is clear that my life has become something of a permaculture project.

As said, what has been done has been done over a 22 month period, during which time both Emma and I have worked part-time for an income. For the most part we had the good fortune to find work in our fields of expertise, both in the academic world, where pay has not been terrible. The money would not be sufficient to pay for rent of a small townhouse, all food, large electric and water bills, insurance, etc., but our choices to live as we do mean that we don’t have those outgoings. Indeed, my stomach turns at the thought of it! We do pay a relatively small rent, petrol is a big expense as it is for so many people, and we do buy some groceries, but this has proven to be easily affordable for 2 people working part-time ‘professional’ jobs.

Of course, the paid work must be part-time, because the unpaid work that is required to live as we do ‘on the plot’ is considerable, even if it were all we did. The days spent entirely on the plot are ‘sunrise-to-sunset’ days; i.e. we’re busy from dawn until dusk – at very least. Then dinner starts, which requires the lighting of the rocket stove and the fun of cooking on only that flame. Busy busy busy. But this is where I’ve recently noticed how this lifestyle has impacted my life: The academic work can demand my attention for sometimes long periods of hours, weeks or days, but suddenly I’ll have met a commitment and I’ll have a few days where I can choose what task to focus on at home. The chores still need to be done (manually, of course), the compost still needs to be dealt with, etc., but I’ll choose to do the compost on a cool and comfortable day, the dishes in the heat of the day, the tree-trimming in the cooler morning or evening, same with the digging… and the building tasks get done in shorter or longer spurts under my own time limits. This is not like life in a full-time job, where there never seemed to be time for anything but the paid work, and where I never felt like I was choosing tasks but instead following orders.

There is nobody to give orders anymore. The compost pile calls for turning, the manure bags anticipate emptying, proper cupboards and a desk in the corner of ‘the shack’ need to be built. None of this is urgent – I may get to none of it tomorrow, but I’ll be busy from dawn till dusk, dealing with some academic commitments between the hours of 1:30 and 5 a.m. – the advantage of being a polyphasic sleeper, though admittedly I’m sleeping monophasically too some nights due to the serious difficulty of getting out of bed in the serious cold. But even in this regard I don’t feel like I’m not accomplishing something, because the mix of part-time work and full-time living ‘the rustic permaculture homestead way’ ensures that something productive is always being done.

It must be pointed out that we do not own the land that we stay on, so we are removed from some of the scary and serious things like mortgages. But it must be stressed that we actively made the decision to abandon the full-time work-for-money-to-pay-the-bills lifestyle. Maybe it would have taken a year or two longer to get to where we are now if excellent friends had not offered for us to do what we do on their land, a generosity for which I am eternally grateful. But we would have made it there eventually; already, now, after less than two years of working part-time, a future is foreseeable where a cheap piece of land could be financed if it absolutely had to be; or the network of friends that has developed could be the source of a similar offer, or alternative arrangements could be made through it. These are examples – I’m happy to be where I’m at, but alternative options are available for people to achieve alternative lifestyles.

So as I get used to the permaculture project taking things in its stride, so do I see myself getting used to taking things in my own stride. It’s been a wonderful and sometimes difficult journey, but one that makes me smile with the sense of being part of a sublime synergy. I could not entertain such a point of view while in the rat-race; there I sang the tune of industrial ‘progress’ without knowing it, thoroughly conditioned to need an authority of some kind (mostly in the full-time work sense) to give my life direction. I still find myself occasionally feeling like I should be doing something differently, like I should be focused on some deadline even if its days away, but then I realise it’s a hangover from 30 years of living largely as per the dominant go-go-go ideology of consumer-capitalism. Then I smile and continue with whatever it was that I was busy with!

Luckily such a weird thought occurs very infrequently; it draws attention to an old and new me. The new one has been grown alongside the simple and rustic permaculture system that is my home, a place that is proverbially cheap and cheerful. The money we earn is not all spent on bills and petrol and rent; we even save some most months. I stay busy, being one of two people needed to keep the homestead going, but this is a healthy and sustainable process – dare I say it is a necessary alternative lifestyle choice considering the massive ecological disaster that is the consumer-capitalist system. It is likely that many people in the rat race feel like they have no alternative, but they do; it requires planning, patience, imagination and hard work – these are some of the resources available for achieving sustainability on a personal level.

Journal entry 5 – changing routine, work cycles, daylight hour adjustment, permaculture lives…

Last week was one in which my routine changed yet again. ‘Computer work’ was dealt with mainly between my core nap and my first of three napes for the day, i.e. between approximately 1 and 5 a.m., (I’m a polyphasic sleeper; see previous blog posts for more info) and not throughout the day again, as was often the case in previous months. This work consisted mainly of general research for the Ph.D. I’ve found it rather slow going since submitting the proposal – it was a very specific little piece of work to produce, and as such had its own challenges, but now I face the proverbial blank page again and need to get into the swing of things in this regard.

With the new chapter of academic work being at the ‘drawing board’ stage, I’ve found that I’m not very productive research-wise during the daylight hours. These hours come with their own ‘distractions’ – chores, food, people, etc. – so any work done at this time is usually in short bursts and needs to be very focused. Not yet being in that kind of head-space, last week I found myself busy outside from dawn through to dusk, stopping mainly for snack and meal times, and my naps. During the heat of the day, I get out of the sun and usually see to chores in the shade, e.g. dish-washing and tidying. I need to work my meditation and some stretching exercise into the new routine though – I’ve been doing them sporadically but would like them to be part of a more consistent structure.

So last week the daylight hours were mainly dedicated to doing the topping up of the raised beds that featured in the previous blog post, as well as compost turning and making. This equates to a lot of wheelbarrow and spade work, which I tried to avoid for most of the Summer seeing as I find it too excruciatingly hot to do such heavy work in +28 degrees Celsius temps. There were other similar ‘heavy-ish’ tasks as well, for example fetching off-cut and reject wood for rocket-stove fuel and later projects, and several loads of horse-manure. The work has been physically demanding – I became used to such demands during the first year and several months of being on the plot, when every necessity of life required building something from scratch, and when organic matter had to be moved en mass, but I slowed down this year since the academic commitments had to be prioritised.

It’s been interesting adapting to the later sun rises and earlier sun sets; the latter occur at around 07:00 and the former around 17:40. This restricts outside work time considerably compared to the Summer. For the first time I really feel like a farmer, a figure with a reputation for being adapted to the patterns of sunrise and sunset. In this regard I also feel like I’m more in tune with a rhythm that comes more naturally – it is one that continuously changes alongside the seasons and accompanying weather patterns, a rhythm that our ancestors evolved with and which therefore played a crucial role in shaping our conceptual frameworks as a species. Unsurprising then that the bog-standard constant routine I lived by when working the UK eventually became too much for me to handle – it felt unnatural and sterile; the change to a more ‘in tune’ rustic life back home in South Africa has allowed me to be able to reflect on my life’s journey so far with added perspective, and this perspective has come about alongside a respect for and cooperation with nature.

Finally, things at the plot are coming along nicely now that both my partner and I have respectively dealt with the heaviest aspects of our academic commitments for the year. We both have to deal with large chunks of commitments in this regard at different times of the year; being slightly older now (early thirties), and having almost two years of permaculture-style living under our belts, it is much easier to have patience during the times when we cannot dedicate ourselves to the gardens etc. as much as we like. Sure, we could have had far more vegetables growing now had we been available to prepare beds and plant seeds etc. earlier in the year, but then again it was and is necessary for us to earn our incomes. It seems that it all balances out in the end, but it takes some time to realise this fully after rejecting the status-quo. In a sense, this permaculture project cannot be separated from the kind of lives that its participants lead: intimate connections are realised on many levels.

 

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