a post from Cindy and Martin…..
Our situation, living on our land, without normal North American housing, continues to fascinate me. I am intrigued by the adaptations we have to make, how habits created in a more “normal” living situation do (or don’t) continue to make sense, and the responses of friends and new acquaintances to the twist our life took when our house burned down.
Because I am in my mid-fifties and Martin is in his mid-sixties and has had major medical problems, some friends are fearful for us. Others simply want to know what our life is like. I realize that our situation stimulates the imagination of our listeners. They put themselves in our shoes … and all too frequently don’t seem to understand how we experience our daily lives. They focus on how they would resolve the situation and “get back to normal”.
One among many things we are learning is the influence of modern North American culture has on us and our friends.
When I say “culture,” I mean the interwoven interactions between us and our families, neighbourhood, city, region, and of course the natural world. Culture is how we live in context with the natural and man-made environments.
We get asked frequently “Where are you staying?” I have to ask “What do you really want to know?” Where do we sleep? Where do we bathe? Where do we eat? Where do we wash dishes? Where do we do our laundry? Where do we cook? Where do we use computers? Where do we read? Where do we hang out? Where do we watch TV?
“We don’t watch no stinkin’ TV. Life is just too interesting.” (Martin interjected that statement!)
A normal North American house is the usual answer for most or all of those questions. We live on the land indicated by our street address. We sleep in one place, bathe in the back yard during hot, warm, or cool/not cold weather, and at the homes of friends or family when it’s cold. We cook and spend our computer time in one place on our land and sleep in another. We walk to go to the refrigerator or freezer or to get potable water. All those amenities are located in what’s left of our house. We sometimes “understand” we are living in a huge mansion with great distances between rooms and natural hallways decorated with sunlight and other star light, weather, plants, trees, and sky.
During Autumn, we were asked “How are you going to survive the winter?” or “How are you going to stay warm?”
Some of our friends worry about our walking out-of-doors in all kinds of weather. We make good use of umbrellas and layered clothing,
To improve indoor thermal comfort, we interact with one of the buildings that shelters us by covering and uncovering its six largest windows and two of its doors with large pieces of rigid foam insulation, which helps keep the heat in when it’s cold and out when it’s hot. “But that sounds like so much trouble!” one dear friend commented.
Maintaining indoor thermal comfort has been mostly automated thanks to the “energy slaves” of electricity and fossil fuels and thermostatically controlled heating and cooling. According to one estimate, the lifestyle of the average American uses the energy equivalent of about two hundred slaves. That’s two hundred slaves per person, not per household, far more than all but the wealthiest members of traditional slave-owning cultures. Even in our current forced simplified living, we are by no means “slave-free,” which is virtually impossible to do in America. We rely on fossil fuels to go the 4 miles to a grocery store and electricity from the grid to heat our office/kitchen and run the fridge.
Thinking about how life has been for most of human history: Less than 100 years ago, animal and human muscle power and human brain power were the main resources available. Human brain power created wood fires, windmills, and waterwheels for additional energy, but there were strict limits to all these. In 1850, for example, even with the industrial revolution in full swing, the average Briton used the equivalent of three and a half energy slaves. Europeans today use an average of about a hundred energy slaves. So much has changed in daily living routines for those who happen to be in the “first world” during the past 100 years. How long will the extravagant energy consumption be continued?
Before the advent of fossil fuel, people interacted with their dwellings and support systems very differently from the way we do now. The seasons and daily weather dictated work plans. People interacted with their dwelling in relation to the weather: opening and closing windows, curtains, flaps, shutters and or doors. In some cultures, communities even moved between summer and winter locations, according to the needs of the animal herds on which they depended, or the seasonal crops they grew.
Clothing (or lack there of) is the first line of defence in maintaining the human body’s safe temperature operating range. Heat sources, shelter from wet, damp, direct sun, or even dryness. When it’s cold, we wear a lot of layers. Since, for the most part, we are not “dressing to impress,” we may wear the same outer layers for days, to save ourselves from having to do so much laundry.
One of my daily practices is to sit for a while first thing in the morning and last thing at night, focus on my highest aspirations, and then simply be quiet and observe what arises. Before our house burned down, I did this in a small, windowless room. When that room ceased to exist, I kind of went to the other extreme, and usually sit on a roofed porch that hangs from the upstairs of our barn/greenhouse. I started doing this in the summer. At first, I wondered what I would do when it got cold, but, as it’s gotten cold, the answer has largely been, “bundle up and stay put.” I have found that I can be comfortable sitting quietly outside as long as I do even when the temperature is in the upper twenties Fahrenheit. When it’s colder than that, unless the sun is shining, bodily discomfort becomes too much of a distraction, and I sit inside. I’m not that hardcore!
My sitting spot is on the East side of our barn, somewhat sheltered from wind and rain, but more exposed to the world than the West porch. I sit facing south. Just over the hill in front of me lies the whole city of Nashville. In the mornings, I often sit with the roar of traffic, or the closer noise of a neighbour mowing his lawn or navigating the woods on an ATV. (Our neighbours, it seems to me, rarely leave the shelter of their homes without firing up a gasoline engine of some kind.) In the evenings, especially cloudy ones, our wooded valley glows with diffused city light. At any time of day, there may be the wails and roars of sirens and airplanes. In winter, even when the night is clear and Orion shines in the relatively dark sky, our neighbours’ “security lights” cut through the bare trees.
While I have come to understand sirens as a message to the monkey pack that a member is in distress, many of the sounds I hear cause me to wonder at our society’s peculiar values. Why is it that we as a culture so casually accept the intrusion of all this background noise and light? Why is it OK for an airplane or automobile to destroy the silence of many square miles? Why do we keep street lights burning on roads where there is virtually no traffic? Why is being wealthy enough to afford an automobile seemingly essential to full participation in our society? Why do people put up with long daily commutes?
I often recall a story I once heard about an immigrant from a small third world country who was observing his first big city “rush hour.”
“Why are all these people driving around so frantically all at once?” he asked.
His host replied, “Well, some of them live on the south side of town and work on the north side, and some live on the north side but work on the south side.”
The immigrant pondered this for a moment, and then offered, “Well, why don’t the people who work north of town find a place to live there, and the people who work on the south side find a place to live there, so they won’t have to spend so much time driving under such dangerous conditions?”
Indeed. The American way of life, which we all, us included, take so much for granted, looks completely nonsensical when viewed with fresh eyes. (That’s why the government has so firmly and decisively stamped out psychedelics, I believe.) May a whole lot more of us find some way, whether through psychedelics, house fires, or whatever form of intervention may be appropriate, to see our lives with fresh eyes and jump out of our old routines,
Meanwhile, some of us out here on the fringes are finding out what else life has to offer. We are so much more involved with our natural landscape and weather than we would be if we were living in a normal “American” house. We live with the heat and the cold. We learn to see, walk, and work in the dark. We are doing all we can to cut loose of our energy slaves, knowing that the price of trying to keep them will ultimately be our lives, as well as the lives of most complex organisms on the planet. One step at a time, we are returning to balance.
And we still need to get our selves organized in a house again! Please help by donating at http://www.gofundme.com/cindyandmartin-housefire
and a little music to go with the words….
Louis Prima, “Civilization
The Kinks, “Apeman”
Richard and Linda Thompson “Civilisation”
Kinks, “20th Century Man”
Material, “Hallucination Engine”
Richard and Linda Thompson, “First Light“