5 06 2013

I have been aware of the looming collapse of our ecosystem for over thirty years now.  In the early 80’s, my friends and I concluded that, at some point, humans would cause the extinction of some species that would later prove to have been vital for our own survival.  We’d heard of the Club of Rome, and thus were also aware of the possibility of peak resources and the “Limits to Growth” that they might dictate.  Nevertheless,it seemed to us that, unchecked, humanity would turn the planet into one vast, and ultimately starving, city.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, climate change crept into our discourse, but at the time it seemed like something that our great-grandchildren would experience.  Well, we were wrong about that.  Things are happening at an increasing rate of speed, and the rate of increase is increasing, but not in quite the catastrophic way we expected.  Call it the collapse of a thousand cuts.

Some of them are certainly huge, catastrophic cuts, like Hurricanes Sandy or Katrina,  (not to mention the Pacific typhoons that have been devastating Southeast Asia, although we have heard little about them in the USA news bubble), or like the new breed of supersize tornadoes that have been bulldozing the American Middle West.  But every one of those mega-disasters is composed of thousands upon thousands of individual human stories:  homes, businesses, and neighborhoods destroyed, with every family and every person in them trying to find a way to cope and recover, far from the boundaries of their comfort zone.

My wife and I had long felt secure here in our hollow, with hills on all sides that protect us from strong winds, yet elevated enough to avoid flooding.  “No more water, the fire next time,” according to the old spiritual, and so it was for us.  Our home caught fire, possibly due to old, faulty, shoddy-to-begin-with aluminum wiring, an old, cracking, shoddy-to-begin-with chimney, or a gnawing rodent with a taste for insulation, or some combination of those, and substantially burned down on the night of April 16th.  A month and a half later, we are living out of a genuine, certified (albeit privately purchased) FEMA emergency trailer, clearing what’s left of our stuff out of what’s left of the house so it can be torn down and rebuilt, and slogging through the slow process of our suddenly dislocated and disorganized daily life…far from the boundaries of our comfort zone.

Our only source of hot running water is letting the hose sit in the sun.  We haven’t gotten it together to run water to the trailer, or to run wastewater away from it, so, while we cook there (and, when we can, in a solar oven), we are doing our dishes in the grass at the edge of our garden.  After nearly a month, and at the cost of nearly a thousand dollars, we had a temporary electric pole erected and hooked up in our driveway, and now have a freezer, refrigerator, and computer center rigged up in the basement of what remains of the house.  So, like many people in far more dangerous situations than I, I am writing this from the cellar of my burned-out house. We are working with Howard Switzer and Katey Culver, who specialize in ecological architecture, to develop a plan for an affordable, more energy-efficient house   in place of the poorly designed structure that had to go, sooner or later.

Those are the material details  That’s the easy part.  Emotionally, it hasn’t been so easy.  I spent the early 70’s roughing it on the Farm, living without electricity or hot running water in our home, but I was in my twenties then, and embarked on a grand adventure.  We were out to save the world–nonviolent guerillas disappearing into the bush to build a new culture in the shell of the old.  I have always told myself I was willing to go primitive again if I had to, but I guess I always thought I would choose and plan just when and how to step off into the simple life.  The night of April 16th gave us scant notice.  Although we found shelter f at the home of friends, after a month it felt like time to jump back into our Rabbit Hole, plumbing and electricity or not.

Through the years, I have become quite fond of hot showers.  I don’t like going to bed unwashed.  And let’s be blunt–sex is much more fun when you and your partner aren’t sticky, sweaty-smelling, and dirty.  I also have become used to having a kitchen that was big enough, and well-organized enough, to cook my meals “from scratch” and that was fairly easy to clean up afterwards.  After a few days of sponge baths, cooking by flashlight in a kitchen that was designed to heat food, not prepare it, and walking around and around the ruins of our house to drop off or clean dirty dishes, fetch water, or use the refrigerator and freezer, not to mention budgeting enough time to reach the portapotty, I found myself short fused, angry, and full of invectives at every slight delay or inconvenience.  I fumed at how this detour prevented me from spending the summer as I had planned–writing, playing music, and finishing a building project that has been under way for about 8 years now.  Some Buddhist!

Well, it’s not about whether or not you screw up, it’s about how well you recover, and a couple of incidents, which I will relate in the next post, really put it in my face that I had to adjust to the situation, because the situation was not going to adjust to my wishes.  Physically, life is just about as difficult, but I focus on solutions, where they can be found, and enjoying what is, rather than wishing for what is not.  Maybe I’m learning to be more flexible.

An empty dumpster, awaiting the detritus from the house, meanwhile catches about a foot of rainwater.  The frogs have found it, and their mating calls echo off the steel walls.  The rich scent of blossoming trees hangs in the night air.  I’m glad it’s Summer, and not Fall!  We hear a fox barking in the hills, and every once in a while we even see him, or her.

Like many people who have been swamped one way or another on our increasingly hostile planet, we’re not totally sure how we’re going to fund the better world we can envision, and we hope we don’t have our personal conundrum compounded by too many unforseen complications.  We thought Cindy had been bitten by a brown recluse spider, but it turned out to just be poison ivy getting out of hand.  One of our cars and two of our (hand-me-down, free) computers have ceased functioning.  But we’re just taking it one day at a time, one chore at a time, talking more (since we are internetting less!)  to keep in our common mind what our priorities need to be.  Yesterday I hauled a pickup load of our stuff out of the house and stashed it, mostly in our barn.  Today I got our internet hookup functional, and helped Cindy and a couple of our friends plant a good-sized sweet potato patch in another neighbor’s sunnier garden spot.  Once we empty the house , we will have some kind of funeral service for it.  Many people have had a lot of insights and good times here, and it merits a pause and a little ceremony.  Just gotta keep on at a steady pace.

music:  JGB, “Sisters and Brothers”

Kate Wolf, “Brother Warrior



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