Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

To everyone who has ever touched my life, or to the people whose lives I might have touched a little bit by writing this blog, Happy Solstice (four days ago), Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus, or however you might celebrate, I wish you the best.  And Happy New Year as well, may 2010 be a bountiful year for your health and happiness!

Friday, December 18, 2009

How "Self-Sufficient" Do I Want to Be?

I have devised a little project for myself. I want to quantify (perhaps a little vaguely) how "self-sufficient" I want to be. Why do I put self-sufficient in quotes, you ask? Well, I am a believer that self-sufficiency is somewhat of a myth, and certainly an egotistical way to try to go about life. Community-sufficiency or local-sufficiency is a more appropriate term, and my project will address these.

So, enough preamble. What is my project all about. For a month, starting tomorrow, I want to keep a small journal of everything I use in my personal life on a day to day basis.  I will exclude materials I use at work, because it is doubtful I will be in need of venti cups or syrup pumps on my homestead.

So, what types of things will I be cataloging.  Basically everything.  Books, my computer, toilet paper, food I eat, paper towels, every object I interact with in my personal life.  The reason for this is that I want to calculate exactly how self-sufficient I can and want to be, and what areas I'd rather be community- or locally-sufficient.

To give a few quick examples...
  1. I washed my clothes today using laundry detergent I purchased from a store.  It would also be possible for me to grow some soapberry bushes on my homestead, and use these to produce my own laundry soap instead.  This is a product with which I can be self-sufficient.
  2. As anyone could guess, I also used toilet paper today.  It is possible that I could make and use my own toilet paper, but I have not yet discovered or devised an efficient way of doing so.  Most likely, this will be something I will rely on a specialist in the community to provide for my acquisition.
  3. Clothes are my final example.  I wear clothes everyday, and while I probably could make my own, I prefer not to.  Purchasing or bartering for clothes manufactured by a responsible, ethical company will not only support good business practices, but will also probably last much longer than anything I could make for myself, therefore reducing the amount of "stuff" I'm using in my lifetime.
At the end of the month, I will not only be able to evaluate what percentage of items I could provide or manufacture for myself, but it will also be a good catalog of ways I can reduce waste from my day to day life.  I will try to post a list every week starting next Saturday and running until January 15th, when I will evaluate the overall results and discuss what I've learned about where I want to be self-sufficient, and where I want to rely on my community to help me with the items I need or want.

Would anyone like to join me in quantifying how sustainable you can/want to be?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fuelwood Gathering for the Winter

The Coronado National Forest near the US/Mexico border offers a free downed fuelwood permit every year.  Their intention is for citizens to aid in fire control while collecting fallen dead trees, mostly oak and manzanita.  My roommate and I decided we would take advantage of this offer yesterday, and we had a great time.

We got started at about 630am when we left to meet my friend's husband and buy a couple of chainsaws from him.  After that we headed down to Nogales to pick up the permits from the Ranger Station, and stop in Home Depot to pick up a couple of parts for the chainsaws.

After that, we finally were on Duquesne Road to Washington Camp and Loquiel, which is where most of the wood for collecting was located.  Here is a Google Map showing the area we were collecting in.  Most of what we collected was on the road between Washington Camp and Loquiel, but we found quite a bit north of Washington Camp as well, on the smaller roads that split off to the east.

View Larger Map

Naturally, when in a beautiful setting, doing something awesome like using a chainsaw, I couldn't help but snap a few testosterone driven pictures, and film some short videos. I include them here for your enjoyment and/or ridicule.

Old equipment from an abandoned mining operation west of Washington camp.


The wood we had collected along Duquesne Rd. between 
Washington Camp and Lochiel.  This picture is just north of
Washington Camp.

Brian and I wielding our chainsaws.

Our final take.  We estimate that to be just over 0.5 cords of wood.
Our permits are still good for another 1.5 cords.  We will definitely
be making a couple more trips.

When you have two chainsaws, how can you not pose like this?

The following YouTube videos are of us chainsawing some massive branches off of a dead oak that was so big it fell over on its side.  Getting these branches required us to climb up onto the tree, so how could we resist being awesome and dangerous at the same time?

And here I am getting the second one.

So as you can see, it was an awesome day yesterday.  Collecting firewood, using chainsaws, preventing intense forest fires in the area by removing some of the fuel.  We even encountered a local who said his name was Desert Arizona.  He tried to slyly trick us into cutting down a huge oak tree that was dead, but wasn't fallen, and wasn't quite on his property.  Since we weren't allowed to cut trees that hadn't fallen, we took off after he left the area.  But, with his semi-drunken ramblings he managed to stall us for the better part of two hours.  Annoying because I wanted to be collecting wood, but awesome because he said some crazy things.  Maybe someday I'll go back there and try to find him when I don't have something to do, and we can split a 12 pack and talk about the random stuff you talk about with an old guy who lives out in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, I want to tie this in with permaculture somehow. Obviously, I know that fires are a natural part of a forests lifecycle, and that all out prevention of them isn't necessarily healthy.  By never letting small fires occur, large amounts of fuel are able to build up, causing the massive fires you hear about on the news.  Well, if you're not going to let small fires happen because you're worried about them becoming massive fires, why not let people come in and remove that extra fuel that causes massive fires?  The free permits the Forest Service gives out to do so are a very permie solution, in my opinion.  

  • It follows the 5th principle, "Use and value renewable resources and services."  By only removing wood that has already fallen and is dead, we are not harming any trees still comprising the forest.
  • It follows the 9th principle, "Use slow and small solutions."  Ok ok, I know the chainsaw is not a slow and small solution, but it's fun and effective.  But, by only allowing one person one cord of wood each, you are removing small amounts of fuel slowly over time.  And to be honest, if Brian and I retrieve our full allotment of one cord each, we won't need to go back for several years.  That is slow and small.
  • It satisfies the concept that the problem is the solution.  What is the real problem that the Forest Service is trying to address?  Huge forest fires.  What causes those?  Too much dead wood from never allowing small fires.  What's the best solution?  Get rid of the extra wood.
  • The permits to remove the dead wood also serve as a stacking of functions.  The Forest Service doesn't have the budget or the manpower to remove all of that wood.  So they issue free permits for citizens to remove it.  This does several things all with one action.  1) It helps remove the wood., which helps prevent massive forest fires. 2) It serves the public by providing them with extremely low-cost fuel to heat the homes or cook with (essentially only the cost of the gas in your vehicle). 3) It reduces the man-power and budgetary resources involved on the part of the Forest Service in preventing forest fires.  4) It gives me an excuse to use a chainsaw. 
If more people became involved in taking care of our National Forests, rather than just enjoying them, I doubt that we would have some of the massive forest fires that have happened in southern Arizona in the last decade.  If the Forest Service can find more solutions similar to the free permit we used yesterday, and make the public aware of those solutions, I think there could be some serious progress in that direction.

To wrap it up, yesterday was an awesome day.  Fun productive, and just a little taste of what life might be like for me on my homestead once I finally realize my dream.  I have to sign off now, because I have some firewood to split.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nature, with a Side of Butterflies, Hold the Machismo

Every year, the Tucson Botanical Gardens holds a "special event" called Butterfly Magic.  Butterfly pupae are shipped in from around the world and raised at the Gardens so people can experience their beauty.  This post is not about the event because I have not gone yet, but for more information click this link.

Last night, I was discussing going to this event with a friend, and during our conversation we began to reflect on the fact that quite a few men might object to attending such an event due to a misconception of what does or does not constitute "being manly."  In this post I hope to at least make my views clear, and add some thoughts that might help to set the record straight.  Naturally, many people have many different views on what it is to be manly, masculine, etc.  This post is not about lifting weights, eating steak, drinking as many beers as possible in the shortest amount of time, or anything else like that.  It is about having a healthy sense of awe and appreciation for the beauty and mystery of nature, and that doing so is truly a "manly" quality.  (Ladies, you can probably even go ahead and skip this post if you want to.  You are already much wiser than us, and know the importance of appreciating nature.)

To start, I would like to make an argument that I think anyone can agree with.  Masculine men should have a certain ruggedness to them.  Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, all men can agree that these guys are masculine.  They have an air about them that says "put me anywhere, anytime, and I can be fine and enjoy myself while I'm at it."  Well, any nature enthusiast will instantly know that I also want to put a couple of other guys into this category.  Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau.

Edward Abbey is probably most famous for "The Monkey Wrench Gang," but he also wrote a book called "Desert Solitaire" which is about time he spent alone in the Utah Desert, as well as stories from his past.  In this book, he shares adventures such as helping to wrangle stray cattle, hiking some of Utah's more dangerous canyons, canoeing (or was it kayaking) to the Rainbow Bridge, and various other tales of intrigue.  And of course, he used to blow up dams and destroy construction equipment with his bare hands.  To describe him in a single phrase, he's basically the Chuck Norris of outdoorsmen.  And to share a quote with you...

All we have, it seems to me, is the beauty of art and nature and life, and the love which that beauty inspires. –The Journey Home (57)

Edward Abbey, most certainly, would have delighted had a butterfly graced him with its presence.  And he was, unquestionably, one of the most manly nature enthusiasts of all time.  If you don't believe me, you go spend years alone as a park ranger in the harsh Utah high desert and then tell me he's not.  For a final piece of evidence, here is a photograph of Ed Abbey.

As rugged as they come.  With an awesome, manly beard.

Henry David Thoreau was perhaps the preeminent nature lover in America.  He wrote countless pages on the beauty of nature, and the importance of appreciating it.  He, like Ed Abbey, live alone in the wilderness for a long time, and took care of himself in a most manly fashion.  He also said...

Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

Now obviously he wasn't really talking about butterflies in that quote, but it demonstrates the kind of pleasure he found in them.  To use a creature as the literary manifestation of happiness obviously shows a keen pleasure in their existence.  Thoreau was a rugged individualist like Edward Abbey, but he held another quality that I consider to be very "manly."  He stood up unwaveringly for what he believed in.  Anyone who has read "Civil Disobedience" knows that he was as principled and dependable as a man can be, which is surely something all "manly men" can appreciate.  And this man, who should be admired and looked up to by all, was a lover of nature and its beauty, mystery, and intrigue.  And a lover of butterflies.  He also had one of the manliest beards ever grown, as evidenced in these pictures...

 Clearly a man (and a beard) to be looked up to.

Something else these two had in common is a quality I have always admired in the men I look up to, awareness.  A keen observer of the world around him is, in my opinion, more masculine than someone who bumbles through life without a clue.  The military calls it "situational awareness", and I'm sure most people can agree that men in the military are generally masculine.  Permaculture reflects this value in the very first Permaculture Principle "Observe and Interact."  And surely, anyone who truly stops and takes the time to gain an awareness of nature will develop a sense of awe and appreciation for it's mystery and beauty.  Anyone who is still enough to reflect on that beauty might enjoy a butterfly that alights upon their shoulder.  And in my opinion, doing so can only make someone more masculine, not less.  Failure to enjoy the butterflies, or "stop and smell the roses" out of some misguided sense of machismo is only cheating oneself out of an experience that is uniquely and preciously human.

For most of my readers, I'm sure this post was a no-brainer.  Especially my female readers... I'm sorry if I bored you.  But I am friends with several guys who need to know it is ok to enjoy a butterfly, even encouraged.  I know that some people, male or female, just aren't interested or intrigued by butterflies or nature, and that is sad to me, but ok.  But if you are someone (a guy) who would like to stop and appreciate them, but you don't simply because you are afraid of ridicule or a reduced feeling of masculinity, know that the people who might ridicule you probably want to stop and enjoy them as much as you, but are afraid to do so for the same reasons you have.  So go outside, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy whatever comes your way.  And bring a friend.  You'll be in the company of some of the manliest men who have ever lived.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A New Job Brings New Opportunities

I decided not to write about it until I had gotten started (just in case there was some way I might jinx it), but I got hired at a local Starbucks as a barista last Monday, the 23rd of November.  I started this Monday, the 30th, and have worked two training days of nine so far.

Starbucks is not necessarily my ideal career path (obviously, since I want to have my homestead), but it's not the worst place I could have been hired, and in this economy it's hard to say no to a job after being unemployed for 4 months.  The wage is not amazing, but the benefits are pretty great, and I get all the free coffee I can drink on shift.  Also, according to my roommate (who also works at Starbucks as a shift supervisor and put word in to help me get hired quickly) I will probably get promoted to shift supervisor very quickly thanks to my previous management experience, which would make the wage much more livable.

There is one more benefit that Starbucks has that I can only classify as a fringe benefit.  It is a national company.  Normally I would not be a big fan of this fact, since I'm very interested in localization, but in this case I'll make an exception.  Starbucks being a national company allows me to transfer to Portland with a job rather than trying to find one remotely, or moving there without one entirely and risking another long period of unemployment, which I frankly would not be able to afford again.

My 4 month long stretch of unemployment almost entirely drained my savings.  It might not have been noticeable over the 4 months I've had this blog, but my land fund started with significantly more money in it, and it will shrink some more before I get promoted with Starbucks.  So, I've made the decision to put planning for/thinking about internships on hold for a while until I can build up my nest egg again, and move to Portland and get settled there.  From Portland my options for learning PacNW specific permaculture techniques will be terrific, and I may not even have to take a long-term internship (though I still think I would like to).  My plan as of now is to work my butt off, save up some more money, and GOTu Portland.  (For anyone who doesn't remember what GOTu is, it stands for Get Out of Tucson, and is pronounced like go to.)  I'm hoping to make the move sometime during the spring or summer.  From there, I'll be able to proceed with my homesteading plans full-stride.  Of course in the meantime, I'm still going to learn as much as I can about permaculture, gardening, homesteading, and self-sustainability.

I have seen on my analytics page that I get a few visits from Portland readers.  If you are one of those people, and you or someone you know works at a Starbucks in the area, please leave me a comment or send me an email and let me know, because I have a few questions for you.  Actually, I'd love to get a comment or an email from any of my readers, so if you have any thoughts for me, please share!

Thanks for reading!