Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sustainability and the Weather

"It is infinitely more "sustainable," to use the currently popular buzz word, to let life's activities revolve around the weather, rather than to expect the weather to bend to mankind's activities." Me, February 15, 2017

If you live in the northlands -- or any other climate where extremes of weather happen -- sooner or later you are bound to have plans that get derailed by it. Here in Maine, of late, we have had some serious ice storms (not necessarily typical winter weather and certainly not on anyones "most favorite" list) and more recently, some serious snowfalls, nor'easters and even a blizzard. Regardless of some of the memes on social media, we DO close schools, town halls, businesses and reschedule meetings at these times.

Yes, there are those who must go to work, regardless. My mom was a nurse; I understand this. Essential services are, well, essential and folks working in those fields figure out ways to cope. Sometimes they stay nearby to their work place, take extra shifts, crash in the break room or whatever it takes. My hat is off to them.

"Back in the day" I sometimes ventured out just to see if I could. I took buses when I lived in towns that had them, and at times ended up walking a few blocks to my destination or to a different line, when a bus couldn't make it up or down a hill. Sometimes I drove (with chains on and very carefully) to a friends house for a "snow day" party... but regardless, life did not go on as usual.
View down the 200' driveway
after the February 13 blizzard
Feed and water sled
going down shoveled path

Path to chicken coop is
3' deep and not at
ground level!
Recently we had a major snow storm/blizzard that dumped up to a couple of feet of the white stuff, with winds that re-sculpted the landscape. Since we accumulated the layers of ice last month, our trusty old tractor, Fergie, has been unable to get traction. We were blessed to have a neighbor plow us out after one
Ducks, in a row, led
by Newton, the old
red rooster

storm. After that, I opted to park my old pickup, Artie, out closer to the road so that at least we could shovel him out for town trips.  A previous year's BIG snow, like the one shown in these pictures, took the use of heavy equipment from a local dairy -- with a $100 price tag -- to get it cleared. Lacking the big bucks, we won't be doing that in the future. Instead, Tractor Guy shoveled paths for chores, and then we attacked the end of the driveway . While I can do chores with snow shoes, getting IN the gates is often an issue.

The town plows had thrown snow and filled in the entire area between Artie, the truck, and the road, including throwing some onto his hood. Working together, we managed to clear a large enough space to pull out and headed into town for our monthly provisioning run for staple foodstuffs that we do not grow and to top off the stash of kerosene, since the forecast at that time was predicting more blowing snow, up to an additional 12", to fall today.

Well, the "weather guessers" have changed the forecast several times since then and the snow is supposed to start tonight and end mid-day tomorrow.

And this is where my opening quote factors in.

Because of the major storm last week, a monthly meeting that I usually attend was rescheduled for tomorrow. I had already taken the initiative to contact the meeting organizer and let them know that I would not be attending. I knew, from previous experience, that regardless of additional snowfall, after helping clear after the big blizzard, I would not be up to either clearing again the day of the meeting (even if the snow stopped near nightfall, as was predicted) and then heading to a meeting. And, at that time, additional snow was supposed to fall during the time I would be traveling to, and attending, said meeting. There is NO place to pull off the road anywhere nearby and with folks still taking this road at fast, unsafe speeds, and a turn quite nearby, I was not going to park our only vehicle IN the road to shovel at 9 pm.

As the forecast for today/tonight became more firm, another attendee asked if the meeting was going to be rescheduled yet again. Seemed to me to be a reasonable question, as many attendees have a ways to travel over country roads to get to the location. A third member of the group shot back a smart alec comment, as apparently their area is only being quoted a couple of inches of snowfall -- or so they claim -- and seriously put down the previous questioner.

I might have just written it all off to "some folks are just jerks, regardless" but the organization calling the meeting is one in which the word "sustainable" colors many of our discussions and decisions and whose members skew towards those living in rural areas, farming and even living off-grid. . Giving the "smart alec" the benefit of the doubt that their forecast does call for only a dusting of snow (in "Mainer-speak") I would think s/he might realize this is not the case for everyone. Living in town with a 10' driveway is one thing. Living in a more rural area, with a longer drive is quite another.

Yes, most folks probably do practice the common, but much less "sustainable" options, to deal with winter: hiring a 'plow guy," or using their own large fossil-fuel powered equipment to quickly move the impediment to normal daily life. Some of the probably have to, in order to get to work. Or to protect their rather considerable investment in a late-model vehicle. Gods alone know, such a rig could not bear to sit, like Artie does, at the end of the road and be pelted with plow gift! But we -- all of us -- need to begin re-thinking everything. We need to find ways to live more lightly on the planet, to not just do as we always have done, to (I really hate to jump on the buzz word bandwagon) have more sustainable lives... especially when we are actively working for and with organization that promote these changes.  
Snow shoe and wagon path
to and from the truck. Even
an old woman can handle this!

I like this year's solution, and not just because it hasn't cost me a hundred bucks that I don't even have. Yes, it has saved money, and will continue to. While we won't see our driveway again until spring, we will be able to run necessary errands. We will get exercise and fresh air. And we will be living in closer harmony to nature.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Voting with your Wallet and Gowing Hope

It's a wild time out there in the larger world beyond the farm and
My sign, center bottom, in display
at local Women's March art show.
Photo by Gibran Vogue Graham.
hex central. Along with painting, growing fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs, this allegedly retired old woman has, of late, become an amateur lobbyist. Like many others, I joined in the Women's March and other actions in support of the Water Protectors, against the DAPL and in support of Medicare and Social Security.

I have instituted a practice I call my "15 minute activism" in which I write emails, post cards, letters or send faxes to my legislators, both federal and state, and to various legislative committees on issues that are important to me.

There are many, many actions going on everywhere. Many folks are upset because the president, already a wealthy man (as they all have been, at least in recent times) appears to not have divested himself or his family from their business interests and perhaps is even working to leverage political issues for his own profit. Backlash against the family has brought his wife's consumer goods to the battle lines, with some consumers and stores boycotting her lines of ladies wear and cosmetics and others urging their purchase. "Voting with your wallet" has been a thing for some time. And even if my wallet was sufficiently flush to afford what I consider to be the highly inflated prices for the goods that bear her name, they would not be on my radar. So my "vote" there is pretty much irrelevant.

However, the larger issue, to my mind, is the greed of the mega-corporations and conglomerates that have their fingers in almost all of the goods we buy and use. In case you didn't know, greed is built into the corporate structure; because of something called fiduciary responsibility, corporations are required to maximize profits and therefore returns on investment (ROI) of their stockholders.

As a small businessperson, I know that making a profit is important. There is nothing, in my mind, wrong with a reasonable profit for one's efforts and, honestly, all of the small business owners I know are on the same page. Stay afloat, keep your customers happy and make some money... we could all live with that. But that is not good enough for the corporate world.

So, I "vote with my dollar" in a little different way: I buy from local small businesses when I can and if I must patronize the corporate world, I do my best to stay as far down on the "value added" ladder that I can. If I buy the least handled products -- for example, grain or one step up the ladder to flour -- and add the value myself when I make bread or other baked goods, or pasta or breakfast food, as my grandmother called cold cereal, I feel that I am not only depriving the corporate world of a bit of profit (yes, it's probably negligible to their eyes) but I am also keeping more money in my wallet. To my way of thinking, buying prepared foods, just like eating out for every meal, is equivalent to hiring a chef -- or at least a short order cook and I don't have the budget for that.

Likewise, being conservative of energy and raw materials -- be it the electrons that come down our wires, or the water out of the tap and down the drain, even for those rural dwellers like me who have a well and septic tank -- is voting with your wallet, at the same time as conserving both resources and cash.

Long ago, in the first blush of the environmental movement, I heard the saying "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." And in my mind, that is the most radical form of resistance I can practice. Just 'cause someone advertises something on the telly, the computer, in a magazine or you just find something new in the store doesn't mean you NEED it. "Back in the day" those who did not grow their potatoes bought them from the farmer down the road or from the grocer in town... in big bags, most likely, 'cause they were a staple... at least in my family. We bought them by the 5 or 10 pound bag, or maybe bigger. Maybe we paid a little more for the nice big ones or in the summer we picked up a bag of slightly smaller, freshly dug "new potatoes." The small potatoes, typically, were... "small potatoes," unimportant, left to the last if you had grown them, hard to peel and not at all desirable. Thanks to the bright idea (?) of a marketing agency somewhere along the line, though, these same small spuds have become "gourmet" and are priced at three times, or more, the price of the just plain old 'taters. Why? They are really just small potatoes, still. Do we honestly need them, especially for the much higher price?

So, if you want to change the world, start thinking "do I need this?" and then "do I really need this?" And don't loose hope, grow some instead. Spring IS coming!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Icy Dark Rain Moon retrospective

Over the course of this year, I am working with a local group, and the Perennial Course in Living Druidry. No, I am not abandoning my path, or my Gods; I am walking with friends to learn and sync even more with the natural world around me.
We observe and contemplate the changes from dark moon to dark moon, and then gather to share what we have seen and learned.

This past "moonth" -- a word I have coined for the moon cycle, ran from December 29 through January 27. One of the things were were taking note of was what one might call characteristics of this moonth that might be used to name it. Like many of my colleagues, I noted the preponderance of rain and ice during the past cycle. Normally we do have a "January thaw" so there is usually ice that happens, but this year it was very present both on the ground and as "icy rain" and sleet. I also noted that this period seemed darker than usual, not only because of cloudy skies (night and day) but also because of several, multiple hour long power outages. For me, the physical darkness echoed an emotional darkness that I felt from many around me due to the political situation in our country.

Mixed branches against
the sky in our NW grove.
Being a Druid thing, of course we have been paying attention to the trees as well. This time of year, I always notice the birch -- sacred to my lady Frigga -- and the beech as well; they stand out in the skeletal forest as I go by, with their light brown leaves still firmly attached to their branches. Many of the birches hae bent double in the wind, bowed by layers of accumulated ice and with their branches now firmly affixed to the frozen ground. Because they bend, and mostly do not break, once the ground thaws they will once again stand tall. Their lesson to me was "Sometimes you need to bend." The beeches, still holding leaves despite the wind and coating of ice, say "Hold on tight!" One of my colleagues noted that he saw the birch trees' bark texture as wounds, which goes along with their lesson to me: even 'beaten' they bent but did not break.

Another thing I noticed and have been watching is the play of the shadows of house and garage, with a shaft of light between them, which appear in the back yard as the sun rises over the trees. In order to document this, I have been taking photos out the window from my desk. It's not a terribly clear view, and I was not consistent in shooting even close to the same view, so only the first and last images in my small series (winter means many cloudy sunrises here) aligned well enough for video comparison. It has been interesting to note the changes, which are increasing rapidly. The rate of change of day length speeds up remarkably the closer we get to equinoxes and slows to a crawl closer to solstices. The rate of change of the length of the day is not constant but rather sinusoidal because of the tilt of the earth's axis, more extreme the closer to the pole. You can see a visual representation of this here.

 One of the other attendees mentioned that the hazel nut trees/bushes will be blooming soon and said one would have to look closely, as the flowers are very tiny. Since I have planted hazelnuts, I decided to do a little research and check out my plants. What I found was very interesting!  See those tiny lighter brown things hanging from two of the upward pointing twigs on the photo, above? These are the MALE flowers. Some plants have both male and female individuals (like American Bittersweet) and you must plant both to have berries develop. Many other plants have both the male and female parts in each flower; the wind or insects move the pollen from the stamen to the pistil. Hazel is a tricky one! It has both female and male flowers on each plant. The male flowers called catkins, develop in the fall and hang on the plant through winter, becoming more open and eventually developing a yellow tint. The female flowers look like small reddish brown buds, usually at the branch tips, through the winter. The blossoms, tiny magenta sunbursts, appear early in the spring, before any sign of leaf, and after the catkins have elongated and can move freely in the wind, which distributes the pollen to the pistils. See the entry on "The Natural Web" for more pix and information.

Despite the characterization of this period as the Icy Dark Rain Moon, I still observed, near the end of the moonth, the beginning of the cross quarter tide that some call Imbolc and I term Spring Finding. I do not use electric lights to extend the day for my fowl, as I choose to encourage their natural habit of winter rest. As the days grow shorter, egg production drops. This year I have been getting one egg a day thrugh the late fall and winter, as last year's spring chicks matured. During the last week of the moonth, the hens surprised me with two eggs on several days! So however inappreciably to us humans, the days are getting longer.