From my morning trail walk.
Over at Mastodon Jason shared this article about living a simple life. The post offers up some helpful, worthwhile suggestions about being more thoughtful in life choices in terms of the usual practice of keeping up appearances, consumption-based living, etc.
I looked at a few other posts from the site which offered similar good advice. But it is the packaging of minimalism and simple living that has become a bit of a meme on the internet. And while such sites might serve as an introduction to questioning consumerism as a way of life they often have something to sell. I wasn’t too surprised to see that, indeed, these folks offer a paid course. Even the simple life has a price. 😉
But yes, it’s increasingly obvious that our modern way of life is putting strains on our mental and physical health as well as on the ecosystems of the planet. In the developed nations the top 10% have built a way of life based on hyper consumption of resources which requires constant work and a focus on income. For many the vision of the “American Dream” is playing out as something else entirely.
We’re living in a time of persistent crises. The climate crisis serves as the background and it alone represents an existential crisis. But on top of that there are many others that surface as a result of the world we’ve built. The “simple life” and “minimalism” offer up a glimpse of something else. They hint at a calmer, quieter life with reoriented values like time spent or experiences a relationships rather than stuff. On the surface this sounds good because want to feel better, we want relief from the crises of modern life.
But let’s not just go for relief. Too often our drive is our physical and/or mental comfort and often that means a quick fix or band aid. So, let’s not just stop at the notion that our problem is too much stuff. Yes, acquisition of too much stuff is a problem but really, it’s also a symptom of a deeper cultural problem.
Let’s dig deeper.
Capitalism is the basis of modern, western nations. For decades it’s been sold as congruent with democracy, almost as though it is the other half of democratic society. It’s been assumed by many to be normal, natural and the way that economy should function. Certainly this is the commonly held view in the United States. But at the base of capitalism is insecurity, the never ending drive for increased profit through increased growth and consumption. These are fundamental, foundational to the “American Dream”.
The problem with simple living and minimalism as commonly discussed is that they serve is a temporary balm but leave us with problems. And so we just continue in long crisis. We experience it personally as perpetual longing for the unknown thing that we think will help us feel more secure, happier, content. It’s always there over the horizon. It’s to be found in documents like the US Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Happiness. Dare I say that perhaps a part of our problem is our focus on our happiness? It seems normal enough, to want to be happy and to search for what makes us happy. But happiness is ephemeral. It’s not a permanent state. And we live in a time and culture when it’s a fairly common message that what brings us happiness is the purchase of that next thing. Or, even, that next new experience. It might be a concert, movie or a trip. But no matter what we consume, the “happiness” is fleeting and within hours or days, we’re onto the next thing we want.
My suggestion is that we consider shifting our focus away from our pursuit of happiness. And don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to be happy, to experience joy. But I would suggest that we need to go deeper in our search. That it would be more helpful and meaningful to ask other questions. To begin, what is our purpose as humans. How can we contribute to the well being of not just our families but our communities? Will our life on the planet leave a it degraded or even severely degraded to the degree that future life will suffer?
I’m not going to claim to know all of the questions we should be asking or to have the answers. But, rather, that we should be asking more of ourselves than we have been.
I’d like this to be a series of posts because it’s the kind of exploration that can and should branch off into side explorations. For example, what is the result of a culture that encourages a focus on the nuclear family as many of the wealthy nations do?
Thinking living simply, there are practical considerations of how we think of exercise and physical labor in a time when many work in offices. Which is a subject can then branch off into the tools we use and how they may be measured in terms of longevity, repairability, carbon footprint, and requirements for use.
There’s a lot to explore and I’m planning follow-ups.
I'm not doing the Micro.blog September photoblogging challenge but thought I'd share a photo for today's Date in the life. For the past 22 days I've been working on our gravel road. Moving 5-8 wheelbarrow loads a day from our dry creek bed to fix a few washed out sections. 100+ loads total, 2+ hours of daily exercise, about 1,100 cal burned as a workout. I like getting actual, needed work done as a workout. Several more sections to fix, another few weeks of exercise. The road actually looks messier because now its a mixed up conglomeration of the original, uniform gray road gravel but with lots of dirt, sand and creek gravel all mixed in. In the process of digging out the shoulders to resurface the burried gravel, adding the creek materials I've raised the whole section of road an inch or two while also lowering the shoulders for better drainage.
Obviously working with just hand tools takes far longer than using a tractor or other motorized equipment but I need the daily exercise anyway. 2 hours a day spent listening to music and working out in the woods to fix a problem makes sense. With two hours a day through September, October and perhaps a week or so into November I should have it done before the ground starts to freeze.
Over the past 3-5 years we've been getting more intense, 7+" rainfall events each year. With each such event more excess gravel is left in the creek while more of the road gravel is washed off the road. Going forward I'll have to spend more time maintaining it but the work now should result in a more stable road and also better divert the excess water during storms. The goal is to have more water shed off the road rather than flow along it.
Over time a gravel road used by heavy vehicles will deform. The weight of cars and trucks will crush rock into smaller bits as they also push gravel to the outer sides of the road forming raised areas in the center of the road as well as raised shoulders. As the tire tracks slowly deepen, gravel being broken into smaller bits water begins to do more damage.
Add to the scenario a hill that sheds water to the road and a creek that floods and now you've also got extra erosion as water channels down along the tire tracks in the road.
In recent years I've watched as flooding due to more frequent 7-8" rain events do more damage to our private road each time. It's a project I should have taken on sooner. I don't have a tractor so all this will be done by hand using a few tools. It's a lot of work but I consider it my daily exercise. Though the final result will take much longer to accomplish it will be done just as well and with zero carbon emissions. And I'll be healthier for the exercise.
Broken down into 1.5 to 2 hours per day this section of road will take me 5 to 7 days, 10-13 hours. The photo above was taken after about 3 hours of work. Each workout has my heart rate average at about 140bpm which is equivalent to a moderate effort bike ride on the trail. Perfect.
The general idea is to cut into the shoulder and rake the top 3-4 inches of dirt and gravel back onto the road. It's messy but will all settle in. I'm only doing the low side of the road where water needs to shed to. With 5 inches taken off the top of the shoulder and added to the road, water will now shed properly off the road and into the lower elevation of the woodland moving away from the road (to the left side of the photo).
Once I get the dirt pulled onto the road for the full length of the area, I'll then spend a few hours raking it, mixing the gravel and dirt and leveling out any obvious bumps. I'll also make a bit of effort to break the center hump down a bit. Normally a raised crown on a gravel road is desirable but in this section of road I only have drainage on one side, hill on the other, and I want to have a nearly level road with just a very shallow angle off the downslope.
I've already completed one other section of road and there will be another two sections to do after this one. When it's all done it will amount to 4 sections, each about 50 feet, each about 5-7 days of work. So, a month of great exercise and when it's completed an improved road that will be more resilient, less likely to erode and loose gravel with each heavy rain.
Side note, while I walk and ride a bike on this road daily, I rarely actually drive a car. Most of the large vehicle traffic is family that visit.
My favorite and most eaten breakfast and snack is oatmeal. Simple, healthy, easy to prepare and so many optional variations. Most recently, it's blackberries because my bushes are covered. I just blend a cup of blackberries with a teaspoon of sugar, pour it over the uncooked oatmeal. Stir, add a wee bit of water if needed then microwave for a minute.
Living as though the future mattered
I write this in 2023 when our climate emergency has become increasingly obvious to everyone. No longer is it just climate scientists and activists that are taking note. But we’re all aware now aren’t we? Those of us that agree with science and who are observing nature are living in a state of constant climate anxiety. Personally, I can say it’s on my mind all of the time as a sort of background dread.
It’s hard to be honest and also find hope as our current trajectory is very much in the wrong direction and there are no signs that our political, cultural or economic systems are prepared to move us in the opposite direction. Truthfully, we’ve given up before we ever really started. Most of us see that our political systems have failed and we have no hope that they’ll suddenly shift course. But we ourselves are a part of that problem. We accusingly point our fingers at politicians, corrupted political processes, corporations and then we throw up our hands proclaiming there’s nothing we can possibly do. We put on a show of being frustrated and angry but then we go along with the convenient way of life we’re used to. We let ourselves off the hook. We take no responsibility.
We are dooming not just ourselves but future humans. It’s deferred violence. Imagine stepping outside with an all powerful gun, aiming it up into the sky and sending a spray of bullets up into the sky. With this particular gun though we can be certain that every bullet will come down and every bullet will find a target. That’s our inaction. That’s our convenience. Our way of life is causing current and future destruction, misery and death.
And it’s long past the time that we stare into that deep, dark truth. It’s time we squarely face our role in it and stop making excuses about how we’re powerless. Our action has been to doom others. Children, grandchildren, other species-to not just suffering, but in some cases, to extinction.
We’ve already committed ourselves to 1.5 degrees of warming and all evidence is that we’ve likely committed to something much worse. The burning truth of our relatively near future will be human, ecological and planetary catastrophe.
All that said if 300 million US citizens lived as though the future actually mattered, if we would commit to real and yes, drastic changes to our lives, we could at least begin to turn the ship. We can begin the process of adapting and getting used to new realties. We, the people, must lead because waiting for the political process to fix THIS problem is folly.
I can see no higher purpose than to live as though the future mattered. To do otherwise, is to be complicit in the worst possible crimes. We can begin now. Our everyday choices can be choices based on restraint. We can do with far less and we can commit to being uncomfortable now, to begin to offset the worst case futures. We don’t do this alone. We encourage one another. We share resources. We talk and comfort one another. We can build a better world starting today by doing less, consuming less, driving less, flying less. Far, far, far less. Our goal and our commitment is to get to zero emissions. ZERO. Think about that. Really let it settle in. Reconcile with it. That is the necessity.
But even that isn’t enough. Frankly, those of us that live in the US, those of us that live in the “developed world”, we also owe the future, our fellow species and our neighboring humans in developing nations an apology and our humility. For all of our finger pointing at the rich, the politicians, the corporations, many millions of us have continued to insist on a convenient life as a right. And that’s a part of the crime we’ve committed.
Let’s take a step back from the brink. Pause in our lives and confront what we’ve done, what we’re doing.
Now let’s live as though our future matters.
Note about this post: Not surprisingly I recently shared a climate-related article and in the discussion that followed something I wrote resonated with folks. Patrick suggested I share in a stand alone blog post so, this is me doing that.
An older post from 2016 about the process of building my tiny house and the first few months living here. 192 Square Feet
I was lucky to get a couple of volunteer pumpkin plants this year so for the next few weeks I’ll be making a lot of my favorite winter soup: curry pumpkin coconut vegetable soup! Easy to make. 10 minutes to cube half a pumpkin then about 1 hour total cook time.
1/2 medium pumkin 1 onion Frozen mixed veggies 1 can chick peas 1 can coconut milk 1 cup macaroni or rice (optional) 1 cup lentils
Salt Garlic Curry Cayenne pepper
I cut a medium pumpkin in half. 1 half goes in fridge for the next pot of soup in a few days. The other half I cut up into cubes, remove the skin, seeds and stringy inside stuff. Raw pumpkins are pretty hard to cut and remove skin, be careful! I probably need a sharper knife.
Put in a pot with enough water to cover the cubes. Boil for 15ish minutes. Mash it with a potato masher in the pot with the water until it’s just a kind of mash. Set it aside.
Sauté one onion with a little oil and water till soft. Add it to the cooked pumpkin mash. Add spices to taste. I usually do about a tbsp of salt, tbsp of garlic powder (or 3-4 cloves, maybe more), 2 tsp of curry, 1 tsp of cayenne pepper. Alter as needed.
A half bag of frozen mixed vegetables… probably about 4-5 cups. Use whatever veggies you like… I like the standard mixed veggies because they’re usually the least expensive. Bring it to a boil, turn it down a bit and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
Add in a cup of elbow macaroni or cooked rice. And let it simmer for 10 minutes. Add in can of chickpeas (or whatever cooked/can beans you want). Add in can of coconut milk. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. Ready to eat when the macaroni is done.
My aunt often gifts me her extra homemade cookies. If they’re of the really crunchy or sweet variety I crumble one or two into a bowl of Malt-o-Meal (Cream of wheat) instead of adding any sugar. Works in oatmeal too. Makes for a fun, tasty way to reduce food waste!