Friday, January 24, 2014

Of Walden and Weather


I’m inspired by Thoreau, who journaled each day while alone at Walden, over his two years experiment living solely with nature. I wonder if he were alive today, would he allow himself internet just so he could blog? As for me, my Walden comes complete with cell phone, cable and most every other modern-day convenience of your typical American home, which is to say, this country-living farm experience I’m writing about is hardly me roughing it. But I must say days like today have me asking: “But if I had to, could I?”
I’m rereading Walden as I make this commitment to writing daily about first-time farming. Thoreau’s passion for simple living and his love of solitude resonate with me, and I wonder if what he did then could be done today. I recently saw a guy on the Today Show who went a whole year without getting online, texting or using his cell phone (something my farmer friend Thurman does without even trying), but for some reason, this dude was newsworthy because he did it intentionally just to see if he could. When asked what he did with all his leftover time, he said “I read a lot of books” (which made me laugh, as book-reading has to be taking the hit ever since texting gave us acronyms and emoticons).
I’d give anything to be as brave as Thoreau, but I’m pretty certain I would fail. The closest I’ve come is holing up in a monastery and not speaking for days. (But even at the monastery we had cots and 3 meals prepared by the monks.) Still, days like today have me asking, “If it all went away tomorrow, what basics would I wished I’d thought of?”
Thoreau pondered the same when preparing for his solitude. In his case, he recognized the value of “a knife, an axe, a spade and a wheelbarrow” obviously for food planning purposes. He factored in “a lamplight, stationery and access to a few books” to keep the writer in him sane.
But when breaking it down further, Thoreau looked to the animals and concluded living things need but four things: “food, shelter, clothing and fuel” (technically three if you count food as fuel for the body).
So you take a day like today where in Middle Tennessee, it’s freezing outside and nighttime temps will hit single digits. (How Northerners deal in this on a regular basis boggles my mind. I can’t even begin to imagine.) But here, in my little world, I have propane (classic country fuel). I also have a nice propane man who has a meter that tells him when things start to run low, but if that doesn’t work, well… I can call him. On my cell phone. And he’ll bring his big truck out with the big hose and refill my tank and I’ll pay him a small fortune and we’re both happy again. But if I did not have this fine convenience, how would I survive something as basic as a cold day like today?
Well…I’d bring in the electric heaters, of course. Got those everywhere. My goats have heat lamps. Rosey got her very own heat blower (the kind valet parkers use) for when she had her pups under the porch in the polar arctic blast last week. Why obviously, I’d just go electric.
But what if we didn’t have electricity?
Doesn’t take long to grasp the significance of those fireplaces in the cabins of the early pioneers. But sadly, in my creative desire to turn an abandoned church into what is now my home, I made the executive decision (in my 30s) NOT to have a fireplace. Why? Because a chimney sticking out the top of my roof would compete with my belfry and I was all about keeping the thing looking like the original 1890s version of the church is was, which used coal oil btw.
All of this to say, I wasn’t thinking about that then, just like most folks don’t think about surviving when there’s a Walgreens on every corner and a mall down the road.
But more and more, I find folks are thinking about these things. I’m thinking about these things. My friends are thinking about these things. Not to be an alarmist, but the visual of that tsunami that hit Japan awhile back is deeply etched in my memory cells, and the devastation from Katrina (a little closer to home) will always serve to remind that Mother Nature doesn’t care if we’re ready or not. Matter of fact, I’m not certain but that she’s not really pissed at us, and we all know what happens when moms gets mad. Maybe we’d be wise to factor a little more preparation in our daily conversations. I say now is a good time to be thinking these things through.
While I’m not apt to be adding a chimney anytime soon, I am researching solar panels (which I shall write about) and am intrigued by geo-thermal (which I shall also write about). I’ve been around enough farmers to share the notion that our country’s corn supply ought to be fueling humans and critters before fueling our cars, but the good news is, we are thinking. And we are hopefully, talking. 
For the better part of 20 years, talking was my profession, and when in that role I believed with all my heart that politicians and big business types would one day be called upon to lead us through some planetary crisis. With all due respect to those professions, I don’t believe that anymore. Today I believe it’s our farmers, our co-ops, our small town business types, our housewives and our neighbors that would pull us through. More and more I’m finding these folks know how to survive; heck, they’re doing it. Their definition of success is not tied to vast fortunes or leaving legacies. Their version of success comes from an honest day’s work, a home-cooked meal and a decent night’s rest before waking to do it all over again. These meek souls who have mastered the art of simple living are the ones I predict we’ll turn to first–giving meaning to the Scripture “The meek shall inherit the earth.” They respect nature already. They are growing gardens. They know how to can and preserve. What’s more, I’ve personally found them to be amazingly patient types, open and willing to teach others, who sincerely want to learn what they know.

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