Journal entry 4 – rain, electricity, periodic work cycles (a.k.a. seasonality), raised bed revitalisation

I begin this week’s journal entry to the sound of heavy rain on ‘the shack’s’ zinc-allume corrugated iron roof. At times the rain has been so heavy that the room is filled with what seems to be a sustained roar. My heartbeat cannot help but rise at these crescendoing moments; they remind me of the raw power of nature. These downpours don’t last for too long – maybe for five to ten minutes three times an hour. Then the rain settles into a gentler, far more calming presence, with which I associate the softer side of nature. It’s quite strange drifting off peacefully to sleep to the haze of one, and then being startled awake to the roar of the other!

My focus on rain to begin with is due to the fact that it has rained a fair amount during the week past. On Tuesday night alone we had 43 ml, which filled our tanks in no time. It also managed to play a part in ‘shorting’ the electricity cable that brings power to ‘the shack’. This happened just after dark on Thursday night, and strangely enough I’m quite grateful that it happened at all. We lived without electricity for the first five months or so of being on ‘the plot’, and when our extension cord was plugged in it seemed like something was lost as much as something was gained.

Don’t get me wrong: having power at ‘the shack’ has made it possible for both my partner and I to prepare and work with academic materials using the computer and thereby not only earn money ‘down the line’ but also integrate in an academic environment in which we both find considerable meaning. But I certainly spend a lot of time on the computer that could otherwise be spent further developing the permaculture side of things. Balance is key, but from mid-January through to a week ago I have had to sacrifice the ‘outside’ work for the ‘inside’ work due to various deadlines (lectures, Ph.D. proposal, Master’s students supervision, etc.). I do not, however, get frustrated by this kind of periodic ‘inside’ work intensity, because I know that it always only lasts for short periods – the balance in this regard at times gets lost on a day-to-day time-scale but sight of it is regained when looking at longer time periods.

As of this past week, as a case in point, I have finished the bulk of the lecture preparation work I need to do, and the final draft of my Ph.D. proposal has been submitted. Consequently, I managed to get into the garden frequently since the previous journal entry and work on different maintenance tasks. One of these tasks is revitalising the raised beds in the vegetable gardens. I have done this by adding a layer of aged manure to the beds, then a layer of compost, then the layer of soil between the beds – i.e. I dig up the paths and break the spread the soil over the two initial layers. This last part may seem a bit confusing, but it should make sense when one considers that the whole area that is now the relevant part of the garden was heavily covered in fresh horse manure less than a year ago (there is a picture in a previous post of a friend helping me do this – see the final picture of the lot here). I built the raised beds on top of this base layer, but now that layer is very fertile and is being used as a new layer in the revitalisation phase.

It seems fitting then that something that took so much energy for me to do a year ago is paying off nicely now. In much the same way, some of the academic work I have done over the past two-and-a-half months should pay off next year when I can (presumably) reuse the materials in lectures; the proposal is also very well structured (thanks to one of my promoters, who has spent a lot of time guiding me in this regard), which will make the writing of the Ph.D. flow so much more naturally. Besides, I am realising that I am not too eager to do too much heavy manual labour during the Summer, which is excruciatingly hot at its peak in South Africa, so it makes sense that I shift the type of work I do around the changing seasons.

Permaculture has made me especially aware of this kind of ‘seasonality’. Undoubtedly it was something all human beings had to be aware of only a couple of centuries ago, when they weren’t wired up with electricity like we are today. The bulk of us can get away with living the same routine everyday, whereas without electricity, this routine would have to be adjusted to the changing seasons. I am grateful that we have only gone as far as having lights and a computer in this regard; we are constantly and intimately aware of the changing seasons, temperatures, daylight hours, rain intensity, wind strength, etc. There are obvious challenges that accompany such a closer relationship between person and ‘environment’, but there are also great rewards – these can only ever come together considering the balance that is required for everything that exists.

When ‘the shack’ light went off due to the fried electric cable on Thursday night, I must admit that I first experienced a jolt of dismay. I thought something along the lines of, ‘but how will I power the computer?’. This is due to being so reliant on the thing for the previous few months. But with the awareness of seasonality, I quickly (i.e. within minutes) felt no concern for being cut off from the mains. As I said in the previous journal entry, if the grid goes down, we would survive – we were without electricity for several months to begin with, and I’m sure we will be without it sometime in the future again).

This reminds me, however, that I should add a brief after-thought to my response in the previous journal entry. I said there that I’m sceptical of alternative energy sources like wind and solar power because they are currently produced in a very messy manner, and that frugal living is more my centre of focus. I stick by what I said there. But isn’t it ironic that less than a week after having said it, I found myself looking at the solar panel that has been given to us and thinking, ‘it would be quite nice to have the thing rigged up!’. It would be able to charge a battery that would run our lights permanently, and the computer occasionally. Note that I am not saying that I would like to install 10 panels to charge 10 batteries to power my 20 appliances – I don’t have ‘appliances’! But it would be interesting to take a step closer to ‘off-the-grid-living’ and what this does to further my awareness of the ‘seasonality’ I have been on about – possibly at too much length in this post!