HOW WE ARE SURVIVING THE GREAT POLAR VORTEXES OF 2014

30 01 2014

When I was a kid/teenager, growing up in a safe, quiet suburb, I loved adventure novels and movies, stories in which the hero/ine had to deal, not so much with evil people, but with the impartial force and majesty of nature. I loved the histories of South Polar expeditions, Robinson Crusoe and similar novels, and the writings of Jack London.

Then I became a hippie and moved to the country, jumping from a small Vermont college to a series of communes in the California foothills to The Farm in Tennessee, and life became an adventure novel.  Vermont got this city kid out into the country, and acquainted me for the first time with weather that could kill me.  California introduced me to horizons I could scan and find no trace of civilization, and my trajectory at The Farm provided me with a life close to the earth, marrying and raising a family while living in a series of school buses and 16’X32′  army surplus squad tents, far from the normal trappings of American culture.  This was back when Tennessee had serious winters, folks.  There would be snow on the ground for weeks, because the temperature would stay below freezing for weeks, and there was nothing between us and that weather but an inch of school bus roof or a fraction of an inch of canvas.  When the ground wasn’t frozen, it was likely to be very muddy. We chopped lots of wood, hauled lots of water, had two home births in those school buses, and helped turn a couple of square miles of Tennessee back woods into a thriving community, as well.

In fact, the community thrived to the point that the adventure of life was no longer so much about surviving the weather as it was about growing the community.  Our family moved into a real house, with wood floors and walls, insulation, and even running hot water and a shower!  The roof no longer flapped in a strong wind, nor did a heavy rain storm  drip from the ceiling, flood in through the door, or drown out conversation.  That happened around 1975, and, for most of the nearly 40 years since then, my dwelling’s ability to withstand the elements has not been much of an issue.

That changed in the Spring of 2013, when we moved back to Rabbit Hole Hollow after the fire.  During the summer, apart from the occasional rainstorm, it was no big deal.  We did our eating and dish washing outside.  During daylight hours, there was plenty of hot water for showers and kitchen cleanup from the two hundred feet of garden hose we ran up onto the roof of what remained of the house.  As the days grew shorter, the availability of hot water diminished, but we didn’t really think much about winter. The last several winters had been ridiculously mild–we are in the early stages of global warming, after all–hey, some winter soon, it might not even frost!  Ooh, the bugs will be really bad the summer after that happens!

But this winter, which is shaping up as one of the coldest in decades, is still a global warming, climate-change sparked season.  We are getting all this cold weather because the polar vortex, which is commonly centred in the Canadian Arctic, has weakened due to the warming of the North Polar area, and so is behaving more erratically, slipping down over the Eastern U.S. before returning to its normal position.

Enough with the meteorological theory.  What it means for us is that we were not well prepared for cold weather, but, in early January, as we realized what was heading our way, we started hustling to catch up.  A carpenter friend came over and finished the insulated box that Cindy had designed to shield our exposed water outlet.  Another friend with a 4-wheel drive pickup came and hauled a couple of loads of dry wood from down by the old barn up the steep and sometimes muddy road to the barn/greenhouse, where we sleep.  As a precautionary measure, we turned off our city water down at the meter.  A precautionary measure we should have taken but didn’t would have been covering our car and truck with a tarp, to prevent the doors from freezing shut.  As it was, we were only immobilized for a couple of days–the car is dark-colored and, even though the air temperature stayed below freezing, the metal heated up enough so that we could open its doors.  The truck took a little longer…simple living types that we are, we don’t have a hair dryer, the preferred tool for thawing frozen car doors.

As the temperature dropped, we found out what the limits of our equipment are.  Food in the refrigerator didn’t freeze the first day the temperatures didn’t rise above twenty, but the second day got to them, and in our FEMA trailer, which we had neglected to skirt, things on the floor (like jugs of drinking water) started to freeze.  We got them off the floor, which prevented further freezing.  The temperature in the trailer on the days when the high temperature was in single digits was somewhere in the low forties.  Cindy gave up and did her cooking on the flat top of the wood stove in our greenhouse (the stove top also maintains a couple of gallons of hot water), but I bundled up and went down to the trailer for my meals.  (Since I’m predominantly vegan and she is allergic to most beans and to wheat, we mostly cook separately.  Call it a “mixed marriage.”)  To wash dishes, I heated up a teapot full of water and stepped outside to our sink, where I enjoyed the snow, the brisk weather, and the hot water on my hands.

That’s most of the technical details, but the important part was our attitude.  This was not a hardship so much as an adventure.  These were engaging, real-life problems to be solved, with genuine satisfaction of one kind or another as the prize. And yes, there are times when one or the other or both of us wanders into the “hardship” attitude, but we don’t stay there long.  Being unhappy about our situation will not do anything to hasten change.  Enjoying it may not bring about a quick change, either, but feeling happy definitely makes life easier.

And that’s the entry into the “Deep Green Perspective” on all this.  Times are tough,not just for us but for lots of people, and they are only going to get tougher, in many respects.  The weather is going to get crazier.  The environment will continue to deteriorate. The rich are likely to keep getting richer for a while yet, and the poor are likely to keep getting poorer.  Electoral politics, demonstrations, and petitioning those in power will have little impact on this.  As spiritual teacher E.J. Gold once said, “you can’t change what is, but you can learn to like it.”  And, if you like what is, whatever it is, it is more likely to change than if you attempt to reject it, but…no promises there!

A person can be happy, or unhappy, with access to all the things that make life in America materially easy (“hot and cold running orange juice,” as Stephen Gaskin used to say), but it is important to remember that happiness ultimately is a state of mind and not the result of possessions, circumstances, or power.  In our last post, we talked about “energy slaves” and how attempting to cling to them will prove ruinous in the long run.  Here’s another thing about energy slaves:  they make us ignorant and lazy, because we don’t need to know how to do all the things they do for us, nor do we need to expend energy to do the things they do for us.  We are, in a sense, the slave of our slaves, because we are so helpless without them.  And have they “made us” happy?

It is up to us whether we lose our energy slaves voluntarily and it liberates us or whether they are torn from our grip and it devastates us, but it’s not an intellectual decision.  From birth, we have been conditioned to depend on them, and to believe that our happiness depends on their presence in our lives.  We need to consciously decondition our subconscious beliefs about this.   As Jonathan Swift said, quoted in Charles Eisenstein’s brilliant “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible,” “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of something he was never reasoned into.”  There are lots of ways to do this, and different methods work better for different people.  You’re welcome to do your own research on this.  I do what works for me and Cindy does what works for her, and the forms we use are pretty different, but the essence is the same–we tap into the reality that we are not separate from our environment, and that realization, regularly repeated, refreshes and inspires us.  Material preparation is important, too, but without a flexible, open mind, material preparation does not suffice.

I began writing this in the aftermath of the early January Polar vortex.  My writing time has been irregular of late,so it is nearly a month since then, and we are now in the grip of another blast of Arctic air.   You know what?  It’s just business as usual here in Rabbit Hole Hollow.  And I’m happy thinking that, due to all this cold weather with no snow cover, there will be a lot fewer ticks in the woods this coming summer.

music: Monty Python, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and “Galaxy Song”

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