Sunday
Apr012007

« Roll Over, Gramps »

ed and tara tearing up the grassy yard in prep for the gardenMe and Tara weeding and prepping the soil at the new gardenHah. A long time ago when my grandfather used to have me help him tend his tomatoes, he used to mock my avoidance of the dirt part of the work. In his Ohio farmboy-tinged speech, he used to remind me I'd have to get my hands dirty in that line of work. I guess he might be rolling over in his grave on Fort Rosecrans now because I just took the initiative to start a second garden project at home, but this time instead of being the helper boy on someone else's project, I was the one who went and fetched $90 worth of all the soil components (organic compost, chicken manure, and worm castings, based on the first project from last year at Calabrese West), and with the superb help of Kelli and Tara and Kalyn, a mother-daughter pair of friends from our church, we converted about 170 square feet of dingy, fallow soil into the basis of a nice organic garden. This took a lot of shoveling to break up the old soil (pleasantly easy to spank out with a shovel), which had been fallow for maybe six years or more, so we gambled on putting some enriching components into it and hoping for the best. There were weeds and Bermuda grass to shake out of the shoveled clumps. The dirt itself was a good base. We've been into composting for the last three years or so, at the various places we've lived, and this place is no different. So far we've never been able to really employ much of the compost in any gardening projects, but I have generally kept a bin that has done pretty well considering my novice level of expertise.

So we are thinking of planting tomatoes of one or two sorts (this year we will do it on time in the spring), beans, bell peppers, jalapeno, chiles, broccoli, and lettuce, and maybe a few other bits of herbs. Last year there was squash and cucumbers in abundance—and maybe over abundance—and two types of eggplant too, none of which was really my thing. But I did enjoy the beans and peppers a lot. The tomatoes at the old plot were apparently planted too late, and when they did come ripe it was getting too cold to carry that far. But that's because we planted in mid June. This year, it looks like we will get at least two months' head start and have more summer season, and would plant second round plants sometime later.

This project has come after about a year of reflecting on many of the world's problems, and has been one tangible way to practice something of the change I wish to see in the world. The past year too has been a time of my stepping away from electronics more and more, and embracing things that don't send me to fits of anger when things are out of my control. Gardening (or attempting to) can really do wonders for one's world view, I have come to find. Of course none of that was taught to me as a kid. To the younger me, it was a way to get my two dollars an hour so that I could go out and buy toys. (In the mid 80s, it might have been Voltron or The Transformers—sci fi fighting machines from a future age when war was still not abolished or abandoned or seen for the futile and wasteful consumption of resources and life that it is.) No, my grandfather, of Ohio farming stock, didn't really pass on much in the way of lessons on how to cherish life, though in retrospect maybe a bit more attention to growing his tomatoes would have probably filled that bill as much as anything. Can I blame the guy? His life and future was saved by the Navy during the depression years and San Diego and the growing military-industrial complex which turned my desert town into a paradise where he spent more than half his life. While he himself was not particularly a warrior, the military, vast leaps in technology, sustained post-war economic growth and the Republican party were his world. I guess he was happy to not have to do the Ohio farm thing, simply because other systems enabled him not to need to in his age.

ed and tara offloading the truckload of compostOne cubic yard of this compost stuff overflows my truck. Good to have help from Tara!From where I stand, it seems like a lot of that has potential for losing its glory or falling apart altogether. So the effort at gardening—or at least learning enough to be genuinely sympathetic to those who do—is but one part of my willingness to see the world very differently than he. I think his generation and mine are on two different sides of the same peak of technology's life cycle. For his generation, they were the witnesses to the growth of all that would change their lives for the better, at least as they saw it. Technology was something of a religion, it seemed, and that of course is still where we are at now. It is an imperialistic religion. But like all the imperialistic religions that impose their wills on the people who do not need nor want it, it will convulse or possibly die when all the nasty things are brought to light and recognized for what they are. I call this deeper understanding of the dark side of technology by a word of my own coining: "techgnosis". Many people don't have it, or they reject it because the "techno-messiah" is ever-changing and chameleon like and people always find some new techno messiah to anticipate. But the logic is flawed; each techno messiah has come to defeat the other techno messiahs that came before. All our problems are because of the failure of a long line of techno messiahs. Indeed, as Richard Heinberg has said (probably quoting Joseph Tainter), civilization grows ever in complexity, and the old problems of complex social and technological advances are solved with further complexity. But how far does that go? It would be hard to imagine living a life that is any more complex than what we have now, but I know the march will continue on until we use up resources, or suffer from pandemic diseases, or global climate disaster, or something. The point is, the march forward is a march backward because we will never get to the technological promised land while simultaneously growing our population past the point of carrying capacity, and trying to get the entire world to a "developed" state. There is more to life than technology.

I've been thinking that for a man, maybe the closest he could get to being God or a woman (not necessarily saying there has to be a difference!) might have to be in his ability to garden—the role of creator and sustainer enacted as much as possible for mortal men. Men are notorious for destroying things, sometimes just to do so. The men in my formative years had that tendency. They stopped short of hunting for fun, but on the whole, they took more than they gave, or participated in institutions that worked along similar lines. I find myself marveling at the intersection of my current interests in life-giving and sustaining systems—interestingly enough they are Christianity and gardening/permaculture. I guess I have to find the beauty in such things, else I'd be dead because of all I witness in the world, and having to admit that I am a product of a lot of things I loathe. I happen to have a wife who understands and supports all that too, and often leads the way, but we both reinforce each other's findings as we learn about how to be better humans and life forms in general. The people that we hang with more and more understand that critical intersection between the seemingly abstract notion of Christian life and the tangible world of permaculture. If we really are what we eat, then does that make us just industrially produced garbage that moves further and further from the natural world? Is that what God intended for us? Sooner or later, along that path, we can expect to lose more and more of what makes us human, and recklessly embracing that "machine" is sure to spell our doom. And we shall march to our deaths, referring to it as "progress."

We can scientifically show that we aren't particularly made from clay like the Bible says, but the etymological connection between human and earth exists: human and humus. Adam of the Bible had a name that played with the Hebrew word for "earth" in a way that makes it clear that he is an EARTH-ling. Whether or not he was made of earth, the point is made that we are in an inextricable relationship with the earth. It would be good to remember that being of the earth, of the natural world, is not a bad thing. It is not a sin. And when we can subscribe to that belief, maybe we could step back from the endless march to destroy the world with our evermore complicated technological "progress." Sure, we don't call it a march to destroy the world, but why not admit that is what we must do in order to prepare the way for the coming of the techno messiah? I won't be so arrogant to say that Jesus is the only messiah the world will ever know, but I think it is safe to say that the endless march of technology can safely be seen to be a false messiah now that we can see how we must destroy life to save it. That is of course the sort of skewed logic that made the bloodbath of World War One permissible: "The War To End All Wars." A war fought, not insignificantly, with the latest and greatest technology available at the time—some of which were powered or enhanced by the remarkable energy or chemical building blocks available from oil and natural gas. One interesting bit of technology that was employed in that war was certain natural-gas and nitrogen- based toxic chemicals that later were turned into commonly available fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that could help people grow more tomatoes in their back yards or massive agrigoliath farms—but at what cost? Shall we poison the earth and hope that we would remain immune to all that in our food and water? How can anyone's soul rest easily if one takes the time to really reflect on what it means? Living under such conditions is something that some might call HELL. It makes me perfectly ashamed of some people in this land who call themselves Christians but believe that Christ will come when the last tree is felled and the last gallon of oil is burnt to fuel a terrorist fighting war machine or SUV. I assure you, I don't march under that banner. My grandfather probably viewed his little tomato project as a hobby. Of course, it could be just that. None of it was productive enough (even with all his chemical products he used) to really do much, and there was a whole industrial agriculture machine that was growing by leaps and bounds during his life. But folks like me are finding out what a lie all that is, and what we have to do about it. I'm pretty certain I am not doing enough, but considering this stuff isn't in my blood, I have to believe I am off to a start. I can't help it. It is compelling me away from the computer, giving me something real in my life, and if I ever need to, I will have something to pass on to another generation, maybe something useful, unlike some of the technological things I learned twenty, ten, or even five years ago. In 20 years, if anyone even knows the difference between Mac and PC or Ford and Chevy or Coke and Pepsi, they probably won't care because they will want to eat, and people who can help facilitate that will be the real stewards of life's knowledge, just as before. I don't care how great a web designer you are, or a system admin, or an ad executive, television personality, or a fashion model or car detailer, your professions are worthless, or will be in just a few years or decades. Add to that the fact that much of the stuff we surround ourselves with is just our beautiful natural resources turned into junk. Our labor turned into disease, divorce and social meltdown.

Realizing that sort of thing has changed my priorities a lot as of the last year or two. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. A friend from my early days in the music biz told me, "you can live around people who will invite you to live, or around people who will invite you to die." So thanks to Tara and Kalyn, Kelli, and all the people in Lee's orbit who are latched onto something deeper in life and who believe enough is given for all to enjoy.

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