29 August 2009

I'm doing nothing to save the world

I'm not known as a hard worker. I am known as an opinionated, argumentative, critical person, and it has been suggested to me on numerous occasions that I might have made something of myself if I had applied some hard work to those qualities and become a lawyer or politician or activist of some sort. I might have been able to change the world.

Work for me is generally preceded by a whole bunch of thinking which looks suspiciously like not-work from the outside. Work also ends when good-enough is achieved, usually well short of perfect. Then there is the period of admiration of said work, and the basking in the glow of having worked. This process takes a lot of time during which mostly nothing appears to be happening. Somehow, I managed to marry a workaholic perfectionist, who can be observed to be working at almost any moment of his waking hours. I like to think our relationship is mutually beneficial, as I have been spurred into more action than would otherwise be natural, and he has been conditioned to sit down to eat a family meal at least once a day.

I'm the child of Dutch immigrant parents and I endured an authentic Calvinist-brand upbringing. No generic protestant work ethic for me. In spite of that, I have a lazy streak and it goes beyond mere personal work-avoidance. I regard much of the work that goes on around me as trivial and wasteful of time and resources. I admire the publicly idle.

Most certainly, and like most people, the world is not a better place for my having been born. I hope that my footprint is not so large as to make it a whole lot worse. The fact is, though, that I am a physical being and I take up space and consume energy and materials just to stay alive, as do the other 7 billion or so other inhabitants of this planet. Some of us have a vague awareness of limits and the tendency of populations to crash when they are exceeded, unlike say, goldfish, who keep growing and eating and shitting in their dirtier and dirtier water with no anxiety whatsoever about the future (or perhaps they are anxious, but they hide it well). But goldfish, at least those with whom I have been acquainted, have at least some hope that a giant hand will occasionally emerge out of the murk and clean things up. Some religions offer a similar deal to their adherents, or at least the promise of a clean tank after death, but in exchange for lot of obeying, praying, paying, proselytizing or slaying infidels. In other words: a lot of work.

I don't have any solutions to the overcrowded aquarium problem. We humans seem hard-wired to consume as much as possible which makes a lot of sense evolution wise. Those of us descended from Adam and Eve I have no explanation for. I expect we'll consume and excrete and reproduce until we can't anymore, and then we'll stop. I'm trying to do less of all of that, but quite honestly, I haven't the energy to do more than chip away at the edges of my consumption and I am not certain it makes the slightest difference anyway. I know I have at times been preachy and prescriptive on this very blog, but it all seems a little much for a fat goldfish in the top of the bowl to be squawking about consumption at billions of other goldfish, most of whom are taking up much less space in the bottom of the bowl, and I regret any distress I may have caused.

This is why I'd make a poor politician, activist or clergyperson. In addition to all the hard work, there's that professional optimism I wouldn't be able to maintain. I wouldn't generate very many votes, or dollars or converts with my "why bother" message. Even though reducing consumption is hard work I'm not likely to abandon my efforts in that direction because earning money to support consumption is even harder and way less fun than my current subsistence activities.

25 August 2009

Our precocious chickens

Our 6 chickens are officially laying hens now, on their 17 week birthday! We were expecting to wait another month for eggs, but we found 4 eggs today. Two of them were broken, but two are absolutely perfect. Luckily, Madeleine had a hunch to look in the nest boxes today, because I wasn't thinking eggs yet at all. We saw Lisa, one of the white ones, in one box, and the other nest box was used as well. I have no idea how they know to lay in the nest boxes but I'm glad they do as I was worried they would leave eggs all over.

Back in May, Madeleine crocheted this little egg basket from twine. Cute, eh? She's precocious, too.

I love you, Dolly Freed

I've been a huge fan of Dolly Freed since reading Possum Living: How To Live Well Without A Job and With (almost) No Money a few years ago. Dolly wrote it when she was 18. She describes her life since dropping out of grade 7 and living with her dad on a half-acre lot outside of Philadelphia, raising and foraging much of their food. I knew there had been a documentary made about her but had not been able to find it at the library or online, until today (Oh, happy day). Unfortunately, the free download of her book is no longer available*, but there is a new updated version being released in January.

I was very interested to see what Dolly and her family and house look like, and I have to say they are all much more normal than I expected. She even looks like me (er, what I looked like when I was 19). I would love to know what became of Dolly, and I suppose I will have to read the updated book to find out.

Dolly and her dad don't quite live within the letter of the law, and certainly don't comply with modern building codes, and they have chosen to live without a lot of stuff, but appear to be more content than most with their lives. They're more hillbilly than hippie, but in full possession of their teeth, and with a very deliberate approach to living. Dolly was an unschooler before the term was even invented.

If you google Dolly Freed or Possum Living you'll find she has a lot of admirers and folks who see her approach as reasonable. I expect lots of people will be forced into a possum lifestyle over the next few years as we start really hitting limits and some might even enjoy it.

Update: I did find a video online which shows a much more recent Dolly giving some tongue-in-cheek outdoor tips. She doesn't look quite like I expected.

Update (2): I found the following paragraph from the new introduction to the updated version of her book, which is on the publisher's web site.
Following her success as an author, Dolly Freed grew up to be a NASA aerospace engineer. She put herself through college after she aced the SATs with an education she received from the public library. She has also been an environmental educator, business owner, and college professor. She lives in Texas with her husband and two children.
*Update (3): The older version of the book is actually still available at the Internet Archive online here and I've updated the link in the text above. Thanks to commenter Anonymous for the tip.

So now you know what became of Dolly Freed.

14 August 2009

Eastern Smooth Green Snake

This beautiful and aptly named little snake was hanging out in the driveway this afternoon. It had moved into the weeds by the time I fetched the camera, but moved slowly enough for me to capture a few shots. They are known to move quickly if they feel threatened. I don't recall ever seeing one before and I feel privileged to have seen this elegant fellow today.

Click on the picture to see his amazing forked tongue.

12 August 2009

It's a dog eat dog world (almost)

This morning Meg and I were looking for a ball to play with. Meg was looking at the edges of the mown area where the balls roll out of sight. I looked up to see Meg trotting towards the vegetable garden followed a few feet behind by what at first glance appeared to be a playful dog, but what I soon realized was a coyote stalking her. It was the size of a lanky German Shepherd and the colour of a dark Golden Lab. When it saw me, it stopped and looked for what seemed like quite a while, perhaps evaluating the threat I posed to it, before heading into the long grasses towards the woods. I had the distinct impression that it did not find me to be threatening, it just didn't feel like sticking around. When Meg realized what had been so close, she put on a short brave show of some weak barking and lots of sniffing, then came running to me.

I admit that I've not been terribly sympathetic to the people who are occasionally featured in the paper calling for the extermination of the local coyote population because their cat or small dog was killed by one. In fact, I always side with the coyote whenever they come into conflict with pets. Now I have to refine my opinion slightly. Now I side with the coyote, except if it's eyeing my pet for breakfast.

Update August 13: Meg was spayed today and when we picked her up we mentioned the coyote incident to the vet. Our vet is also a sheep farmer so I respect his opinion on coyotes. He said it is possible that the coyote wanted to play with Meg as this is not unheard of. Apparently, they will also mate with dogs, but that potential has been removed as of this morning. I think it is always safe to assume the coyote's intentions are not honourable.

Meg is recovering comfortably at home.


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