Work and Pollution

“Where there’s hard work, there’s pollution.” This quote, which I heard from my permaculture design teachers, is one of my favorites from Bill Mollison.

Someone on the Permaculture Facebook group (a worldwide and very productively lively group) just started a post by asking, “Is work a Type 1 error?”

A Type 1 error, in permaculture technology, is a fatal design error. A Type 1 error can bring about the demise of your organization, or flat-out kill you. One simple example of a Type 1 error is planting a row of pine trees along each side of a path that leads gently uphill to your front door. You’ve basically created a giant box of matches leading to your house. Another Type 1 error is if we manage to kill off all the bees and other insects. Humans will go bye-bye if we do!

But what is meant by hard work being a sign of pollution?

I divide work, in the human sense, into two categories: work-for-money, and home chores. And I find that “work pollution” can arise in both categories.

For example, doing my laundry by hand in a tub, the very few clothes I own, and just using water and a bit of mild soap to get them clean enough, feels like a pleasant outdoor interlude. Yes there is exertion and effort, but it feels wholesome, not burdensome. And the pollution is minimal; there is relatively little disruption to ecosystems. The mild soapwater is fine for trees, shrubs, and even some of the cultivated veggies.

On the other hand, owning far more clothes than I need, doing mountains of laundry by machine with aggressively scented detergents, to some advertiser-defined standard of “clean”; and then drying it in a dryer with aggressively scented dryer sheets, would feel like WORK to me, in the sense of drudgery. And not incidentally, the pollution factor would be greater. Damage to ecosystems would be far in excess of what’s needed to get my clothes clean enough.

I have had housecleaning clients who were constantly having to do laundry because they had too many clothes! (The endless piles of clothes would sit around and get musty and need to be washed even though no one had worn them since the last washing.)

I notice a similar contrast between landscaping work to regenerate the soil, meet my food needs, etc.; and obsessive “vanity landscaping” where every weed is pulled or poisoned, and the grass is required to look as pristine as a livingroom carpet. The latter type of work may command a lot more money in the mainstream economy, but it causes great pollution!

Another thing that makes work feel vibrantly pleasurable rather than drudgey, is when it’s done in community rather than as solitary toil. Washing a bunch of laundry, or doing a huge task like building a house or bringing in a harvest, for instance. “Many hands make light work” not only in the sense of reducing the amount of work per person, but increasing the joy. And, if people are getting joy from productive work, they’re less likely to need to seek pleasure from “escape” vacations or harmful drugs (which would increase pollution and other burdens on ecosystems).

Although needlessly hard work is a form of pollution and a symptom of bad design, work to meet our basic needs is necessary. And if a person is not able to join in that work, the consequences to physical and mental health can be devastating. Look at how our modern industrialized society sidelines kids and elders.

I have seen an old man chase the same leaf around the driveway with a leafblower for an hour. I wondered why he didn’t go fishing instead. Don’t many men work hard all their lives just to be able to someday relax and go fishing? But it just now occurred to me that maybe when a person gets to be that age, there’s no joy in just fishing. You want to have someone to teach it to! And if there are no grandkids or they live far away … there you go. Robbed of your natural, mutually joyful work. (Just one of my thought-tangents on this topic.)

Another thing that I see happening is unnecessary work robbing resources from work that really needs to be done. Oftentimes the unnecessary work is out-and-out harmful. For example, a church congregation has “no money” to pay for recycling, but plenty of money to pay for the unnecessary and damaging operation of pruning sabal palm trees (the state tree of Florida is self-pruning and its crown has a graceful spherical shape, but the persistent landscaping vogue is to scalp it til there are so few fronds left that it looks like what I call a “sick rooster”).

Another example (as it happens, this one is at a church also). The church has all the money and humanpower in the world for mowing and edging its grounds, and pressure-washing its walkways, but “no resources” for fruit trees or a vegetable garden.

If you can bear yet another landscaping example: An empty lot owned by the city is excessively mowed, to the point of creating large areas of bare ground. Then, fertilizer is applied to it. How much more effective, and how much less work, would it be to allow the lot to revert to meadow (it could be a “managed meadow,” with a swath mowed around the perimeter to indicate that it is being cared for, not abandoned). At the very least, they could reduce mowing frequency to once a month. They’d save gasoline, and could stop applying the fertilizer that isn’t doing any good anyway. But the madness persists, and meanwhile there is “not enough money” for the city to (for example) refurbish an old community center, which will instead probably be torn down. Or to operate its environmental education center, so the center has to limp along depending on outside grants (with the various strings that tend to be attached to grants, imposing inflexible rules and limiting creative leeway).

If you want to check out the discussion thread on work and pollution that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, and maybe chime in, I encourage you to join the Permaculture Facebook group and do a search for the thread. Hope to see you there!

Pandemic-Friendly Gatherings

Copied from my Facebook feed:

“Copying this great idea from a friend’s status: After this corona period is over (one day … say in about four years), I would like to have a drink on my patio with the first twelve people who like this status. A glass of rosé, vodka. Jd. gin, rum, whiskey, wine, beer, bubbles, coffee, soda-pop or whatever. All you have to do is like this status and put the same text on your profile page. Curious who my first twelve campfire mates may be present! (Those who do not paste it themselves will not be counted in the 12.) I will count and keep a list. It will be an amazing gathering.”

And, my addition to that post:

***P.S. Really everyone – My personal feeling is that it’d be OK to do this now or anytime. Outdoors in a park or the beach; or if you have a patio or yard. Adjust number of people appropriately. Stay outdoors. Use common sense; even a small outdoor gathering is best avoided at times when there are crowds of visitors in town for special events etc. If you are among those who Liked this post, stay tuned – I will be inviting you to a mini gathering of 2 to 7 people sooner rather than later!

And for you, readers of this blog, a “Post Post Script”:

Personally I don’t believe in the mentality that prompts phrases like “when this Covid period is over.” Rather, I’m a strong believer in adapting in a healthy way to circumstances in the here and now. Assuming that there’s going to be a “back to normal” is never a good idea. If something is worth doing, find a way to do it now!

On that note, I want to put in a special plug for a band I love. Their name is Railroad Earth. I would categorize their genre as “bluegrass jam” (which is one of my perennial favorite genres).

I first became acquainted with the music of Railroad Earth sometime back around 2004, when I attended an intimate (maybe 300 people?) campout-style music festival at Jacobs Well. Jacob’s Well is a super deep clear spring in central Texas, not far from Austin (where I was living at the time), that is well-like in shape.

The weather was downpours most of the weekend, but as far as I can recall, the band never let it get in the way, nor did we audience members! I remember dancing for hours to epic longplaying jams. Muddy feet, warm heart!

With none of my friends able to join me that weekend, I technically attended the festival by myself but I totally forgot that I wasn’t with anyone, as I felt totally merged with the crowd, music, earth and sky. And all of our tents made for a cute little ad hoc nylon/canvas bubble city.

Thank you for that beautiful weekend, Railroad Earth! And thank you so much for offering this pandemic-friendly, eco-friendly edition of a festival! Cannot wait. (If you are unable to view the poster I screen-shot, you can get info & register by visiting the “Hangtown at Home” festival website ; or on Facebook, type “Hangtown at Home.”)

And be sure to visit Railroad Earth! Website and Facebook

(Note, there is an in-person festival too. While I wish Railroad Earth and other bands success and prosperity, I am not promoting in-person festivals at this time, nor supporting long-distance travel to festivals. That said, do your own research. If it’s outdoors and you feel the number of people is safe, and if you don’t have to drive more than a couple hours, I would not fault you for attending. In those circumstances, I might also! (For reasons of public health and ecosystem health, I am no longer advocating air travel under any circumstances, except in cases of extreme family emergency, and possibly not even then unless there’s an ocean separating you from your family so overland transportation isn’t an option.)

P.S. Post-pandemic gathering tips: Covid caution has generated a lot of single-use plastic, disposable packaging etc. If hosting a gathering, you could ask everyone to bring their own cup, spoon, cloth napkin etc. Or if you want to be the hostess with the mostest, you could give each guest a reusable cup, cloth napkin etc to take away as souvenirs. Or just go old-school: Have your guests use your dishes and cloth napkins, and then you wash them.

The Original Internet

No, I’m not talking about ARPAnet here. The original internet is … us. People, connected by social relationships, by affinities — and by mysterious invisible etheric links (if you believe in those, which I do).

The internet (the network of computers, servers, devices, apps, and so on that I’m using to post this blog and you’re using to read it) is an indispensable tool for me. I rarely go a day or even half a day without getting online.

As a self-appointed “sustainability educator,” I feel a lot of pressure to share every eco-related post, event, webinar, group, news article that comes into my social-media feed or email inbox. And there are SO MANY now. (It’s a good problem to have — far better than the alternative: few or no events, classes, etc. happening out there that can help us get on the same page and help Mother Nature repair ecosystems.)

Not only do I feel pressure to share every eco item; I also sometimes worry that I will miss something, or not find what I need, unless I am constantly plugged in to the internet.

The fear of failing to social-media-share something that needs to be shared, or the fear that I might miss something I need personally, can bring on an unpleasant inner state in me: clogged-up, harried, frenzied, frenetic, overwhelmed — are words that come to mind.

At such times, I have to step back and remind myself of what the real, original internet is. It is all of us, naturally and organically connected. What we call the internet, that electronic network of networks, is just one of our tools. A wonderful tool, but it is just one.

In my book, I include a quote from my friend and fellow author Chip Furlong. This is from his book Bohemian Road Trip: “I swear, the more I accept the miracle of universal consciousness, the more I see electronic connectivity as a kind of booby prize.”

Have you ever had a person just phone you out of the blue, or you bump into them on the street after years of no contact, and the timing was eerie? Or you magically stumble on a pamphlet for just the course you were wishing someone would teach? Original internet.

I have other examples which I’ll add to this post later.

Later: Here’s one example. Back in the late 1990s, when I was living in Austin, I went to a big sprawling outdoor party where, late in the evening, three exotically costumed young women did a dance performance with fire. It looked like they were swinging balls of fire on the ends of chains. And it turned out that’s exactly what they were doing.

Back then, the internet was nowhere near as pervasive as it is now. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist; websites and email existed but were not a major thing. You didn’t assume anyone had an online presence. Search engines such as Yahoo existed, but not to the extent that I would have been able to run home and google “Austin fire dancers,” even if it had occurred to me to do so. (Google didn’t yet exist, by the way.)

But I just knew I had to find one of these women and learn fire dancing. The very next day, I was walking in a part of downtown Austin where I didn’t usually walk. And as I was enjoying a path through a quiet park, I practically ran into one of the firedancers!

Long story short, I told her I’d seen her perform, she said she’d teach me, and I ended up getting into fire performing. I did it for fun and even had paid gigs for awhile.

The interesting thing was, when I ran into that firedancer, seemingly randomly, in that park, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised deep down. Because that kind of thing happens.

Further Exploration:

Usually in this section I offer links I’ve searched and found for you. This time I’m going to switch things up, and invite you to google a couple of really cool terms. They are “quantum entanglement” and “spooky action at a distance.” (You might already be familiar with them or at least have heard these phrases.) Enjoy! Let me know what you find, and how it relates to your personal experience and observations.

A Deeper View of Footprint

“In calculating how ‘green’ a product or technology is. One must calculate not only the carbon footprint of manufacturing and transporting it but also of recycling it. Further yet in a capitalistic society one must also calculate the carbon footprint of what it took for the buyer or user to earn the money to purchase it.”

(Wise words from Climate Change Gardening. In my book, and elsewhere on this blog, I encourage people to include their own very precious and finite human energy, and that of others, in considering the cost and footprint of a thing. Human energy includes the time we spend working to earn the money to buy this or that. It also includes the mental overhead of something we’re choosing to put our attention on.)

When you take this deeper view of footprint, does it change anything for you? Are there things (tangible or intangible) in your life that might not be worth keeping around? And are there things you don’t have, that you would want to bump up higher on your priority list?

Shark! Shark!

My adopted hometown, Daytona Beach, is located in a region that’s known as the “Shark-bite Capital of the World.” I know a lot of people who surf and swim, and yes, a few of them have been bitten. (Usually the bites did not need medical attention.)

My neighbor J. is an avid surfer (actually several of my neighbors are). Recently he and a fellow surfer met up with a four-foot shark out in the waves. It swam around and toward them. Both of them quickly paddled to shore; neither was bitten. It’s said that surfers look like food to sharks (something about the underside of the surfboard looking like the belly of a fish or seal).

I asked J if he really felt the shark was after him. He said no. “It was an adolescent, they’re like any adolescent — they will try anything. And what’s more, the area we were in was full of fish.” (From what I read and hear, most shark bites, at least around here, do seem unintentional — the sharks mistakenly biting something that turns out not to be food.) I really appreciated J’s knowledge of, and compassion toward, the creatures whose environment he visits. So many of us humans lack that.

Knowledge, awareness breeds understanding and compassion. Most people who scream “Kill it!” when they see a supposedly “scary” creature like a spider or snake — don’t even know the creature’s name, let alone its habits. Education is key. As I’ve often said before, I think all of us have an obligation to learn the names and habits of the critters and plants wherever we live or visit. Plus which, it’s such a joy to learn about them. Really awe-inspiring.

On the subject of awe, David at Raptitude (one of my favorite spiritual writers) just wrote this beautiful piece on awe: “The Healthy Emotion We Don’t Get Enough Of.” David writes: “I suspect awe is, for humans, an essential spiritual nutrient, one our modern lifestyles don’t provide nearly enough of. Our pre-modern ancestors would not have been able to avoid awe, and its benefits, because of how frequently nature would have humbled them, in the form of deadly storms, combat with beasts, pristine wilderness, and nightly starscapes. We already know modernity doesn’t provide [what] we humans need to thrive, which is why we do absurd things like running in circles …”

It struck me, as J. spoke about the adolescent shark, that his tone also bore the kind of affectionate understanding one might have toward a nephew or grandson — or toward a younger version of one’s own self. We could use a lot more of that kind of understanding in today’s world.

I’ve read that Native Americans and other indigenous people think of all creatures as their sisters or brothers. I once read about a tribe (I think it was on an island in the Philippines — if I find the link I’ll post it for you) who revered crocodiles as their grandparents. The people swam freely among the crocodiles. (Recently, according to what I read, crocodiles started eating the tribespeople; the ancient relationship was broken. My hunch is that some other humans, downriver or across the strait or something, taught the crocodiles that humans are dangerous.)

Surfing around (no pun intended) online, I found this article in the India Times about a village called Maharashtra, where the residents create space in their homes for cobras! If people can do this for a deadly venomous snake, maybe the people where I live can learn about our nonvenomous Black Racer snakes and stop wanting to kill them.

A final word about our status as “Shark-bite Capital”: The actual number of bites in 2019 in Volusia County was … nine. That number was 21 for the state of Florida, and 64 worldwide. Just to put things in perspective. How many people each year are hit by cars? Not to discount the pain of the people who got bitten, of course. Just to say we modern humans have a strong tendency to panic and magnify natural threats in comparison with human threats.

Summit on Homelessness

Last week I attended the webinar California Landlords’ Summit on Homelessness 2020. VERY worthwhile. The keynote address by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns was even more of a gem than all his other talks & articles & book that I’ve listened to/read, which is saying a lot.

The keynote is packed with powerful, economical solutions that are practical and do-able on a local scale, empowering local govts & citizens. And the various panelists from Kerns County California gave real-time nuts & bolts examples of things they are doing that are working right now. And can work anywhere!!

I am so grateful they have provided a recording!! You can watch/listen here.

Please share with your fellow local activists, elected leaders and anyone else you feel would be interested. Yes, we can house the homeless now! And some of the best solutions are closest at hand, and within the market’s ability to provide.

Who I Listen To

This morning I woke up feeling very pessimistic about the future of humankind. It happens sometimes. The road-widening plan (that I wrote about in my previous post) had me feeling down. And I just wasn’t quite feeling up to calling or emailing FDOT with my comments quite yet.

So instead, I called people who helped me cheer up. And I noticed which kinds of people I call when I need a shot in the arm.

There are pessimistic people who are not taking action. I never call those folks when I need a boost.

There are optimistic people who aren’t taking action. I don’t call them either, because I don’t want to be boosted into la-la happy denial land. I want to be boosted back into the land of willingness to take action.

And that brings me to the group who are my favorite to talk with when I need a boost: optimistic people who are taking action. I chatted with a couple of those friends/fellow civic activists, and felt miraculously cured of my sour somber sluggishness.

Finally, there are people who are pessimistic but are nonetheless taking action. I find those folks somewhat rare, as, in my experience, people who are taking action tend to be at least somewhat optimistic. This other subset of people does exist, though. And despite their pessimism, I can still get a boost from talking with them because they are, after all, taking action.

I really do get the most out of talking with my “optimist and taking action” friends, though, when I need a boost.

When I’m feeling centered, I sometimes reach out to the “pessimist taking no action” people, and invite them to join me in taking action. Or just encourage them to explore other viewpoints. They don’t always join me, and they’re not always willing to explore other viewpoints. But sometimes they do, and they get a boost. Circle of life! We can all be each other’s battery chargers.

On the topic of getting a shot in the arm from action-taking optimists … As it happens, I’ve just finished reading Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach To Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. This book is by Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist and ecosystems-restoration advocate who’s been getting a lot of press lately for encouraging people to “re-wild” their outdoor spaces. He’s a great writer; really knows his stuff and communicates deep joy and enthusiasm in his mission. He’s really optimistic and he’s taking action.

While I was reading his book, I felt gloomy at times, because the facts in the book paint a really dire picture in intricate detail. As just one example, I never knew that caterpillars, whose numbers have declined to a fraction of healthy-ecosystem levels, are such an essential food source for birds. It seems hopeless! But then I thought: Wait a minute! Here’s a guy who’s extremely knowledgeable about the problem. And he is very optimistic about our ability to fix it! The answer came to me: “Listen to the scientist who knows his facts and speaks with passion! Allow yourself to be optimistic! And keep on taking the actions he recommends!”

This morning I did a bit of relaxing work with scissors in my garden. I’m cutting back some nonnatives I planted when I first moved into this house. I’m making room for natives I’ve planted more recently (as I’ve continued to expand my native-plant knowledge), that have started to really take off and get big. Halleluiah!

I also signed up for a webinar that appeared in my Facebook feed this morning. “Communicating Insect-Friendly Landscape Value To Your Clients.” Organized by Florida Association of Native Nurseries; happening October 23 from 3:30-4:30pm EST. “Insects matter. Learn to educate your clients and others about the value of protecting insects through ecological landscaping practices. For landscape architects, landscape designers/installers, maintenance companies and estate horticulturists.” (I’d suggest it for educators, activists, and government officials also!)