Category Archives: environment

My Evil Pellet Stove

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Dear Reader:

I live in Maine, and in Maine the winters are cold. Correction, the late autumns, winters, and the biggest part of springs are cold. In order to survive, humans who live in Maine need a source of warmth in order to thrive. So it has been, I believe, ever since the first people took up residence in our fair state.

Over the past five years, I have explored various issues pertaining to sustainability, localism, and culture. I was inspired, first of all, by the notion of “Peak Oil” which is really “Peak Energy” or–to be more colloquial–“When the Juice Runs Out.” I read about the End of Suburbia and the Geography of Nowhere and about how we need to Powerdown.

Throughout the book reading and eco-film watching, I heard much about weaning off oil and using, instead, renewable energy. Things like wood, geothermal, and solar were touted as better options. I was cool with that.

I grew up with a wood stove. I am fond of that dry, heatier-somehow kind of warmth that is thrown out by a wood stove compared to a forced hot-air furnace. Plus, you know, it is traditional, and I like traditional.

It took a few years to make the switch, but eventually hubby and I decided on a pellet stove. We bought one last fall, used it all winter, and were pleased. We rarely filled the oil tank (for the hot water heater; replacing that is a future consideration), and I was warmer than I’d been in many years since I had taken to reducing the thermostat down to 60 degrees–way too cold for me to be comfortable, even with a sweater and knit hat. I was thrilled that the pellets were made out of a local resource–wood from Maine or neighboring Canada–and would burn more efficiently and cleanly than a traditional wood stove. Yay! We were doing our part for the environment!

Or so I thought.

Today I learned of an article expressing shock and dismay that some major corporations are–gasp!–producing pellets, shipping them overseas, and making a profit! I went in search of the article and think this might be it. OUTRAGEOUS: U.S. Forests Logged, Pelletized, Shipped Overseas in the Name of Renewable Energy. (from EcoWatch.com)

It does seem rather appalling.

Sigh.

I get it. Trees are beautiful. They are a wonderful resource, and we should manage them with care. Burning them throws carbon into the air. But wasn’t the whole idea of switching to “renewables” dependent on, um, actually USING the renewables? And what other choices do we have? Solar? What about those solar panels? What are they made of? What kind of energy is used to manufacture and transport them? What about batteries and storage of energy for when you need it? And if we all switch, will we then be told by the likes of EcoWatch that we are evil for supporting a corporation that is profiting from the production and sale of the technology?

I’m not saying “going solar” is wrong or in any way a poor choice. I would love, love, love to see our communities transition to using solar, but please don’t act as if 1)sustainability advocates are blameless in this burgeoning market for wood pellets and 2)there is no environmental cost to ramping up solar energy solutions.

Human beings use resources and make an impact on the environment. Period. Perhaps the only way we can TRULY reduce our impact is to stop making more humans to warm, feed, clothe, inoculate, and hydrate.

In other words, don’t throw out your pellet stoves. Instead, buy some birth control. Or just say NO to sex. (WARNING: CRUDENESS ALERT! 31 Ways to Say No To Sex)

Whatever works best for you.

ps: Just watching the national news and learned that China is lifting their “one child only” rule. And so it goes and goes and goes…

May Flowers & Other Nice Things Around the Yard

Red Hawthorn --Crateagus iracunda

Red Hawthorn –Crateagus iracunda

So I’ve become interested in learning the names of plants growing wild around me. I “blame” (in the best, most thankful way) this on a local herbalist/organic farmer, Cynthia, at Piper’s Knoll Farm just over the town line in neighboring Newfield, Maine. Cynthia has begun offering monthly foraging and identification walks, and after participating in the first one a week ago, I’ve been compulsively LOOKING.

A simple walk up the road now becomes a wild-things expedition. This week I was drawn to the white flowers on this shrub, and, looking more closely, I was captivated by the dark pink anthers clustered in five pairs of stamen on this red hawthorn. NOT that I knew it was a red hawthorn. I had to go home and look it up. Which is fabulous fun, kinda like a treasure hunt, so thank you, Cynthia!

I don’t even have to walk up the road to explore the wild things and not so wild things around me. So what else is growing around my yard right now?

Two days from Memorial Day, the garden boxes begged me to plant something even though it is risky here in Maine to jump the gun. At the Newfield Farmer’s Market this morning, I couldn’t resist purchasing the first few plants–a lavender perennial to go next to the French tarragon, three varieties of tomatoes (going into the box over the septic tank in hopes the heat will appeal to them), a green bell pepper, and a sage. Except for the lavender, they all went into that same box so I could cover them with a sheet last night. I may be impatient, but I’m not completely out of my mind.

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Neighbor Debbie was kind enough to give me a lemon balm from her garden, so I stuck that in the garden box as well, right next to the chocolate mint. That mint will be watched, of course, as we all know how they like to spread and spread.

Now for Mother Nature’s garden beds. These plants live near or beneath the beech trees in front of my house. It’s a forest in miniature!

Wild Strawberries, Fragaria virginiana

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Partridge Berry (Squaw Vine) Mitchella repens

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Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule

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Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia

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Starflower, Trientalis borealis

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Canada Mayflower,Maianthemum canadense

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False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum

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It is so much fun to walk around the property now. I am determined to get myself a plant identification guidebook, though the internet is a great resource, as is Neighbor Debbie who has documented many of the native plants species over the past couple of years.

What do you have growing wild in your yard? When you find a minute to take off the gardening gloves and set down your trowel, drop me a line. Remember, it doesn’t get more local than your own back yard.

Vegan or Paleo or Something In Between?

Green Smoothie

Green Smoothie

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite bloggers–Shane at GroundtoGround.org–recently wrote about a “new” protein option: mealworms. Yes, mealworms. Of course, eating insects isn’t really a new concept at all. It is very, very ancient. And this leads me to a topic that I’ve been contemplating the past couple of weeks, human diet.

http://groundtoground.org/2013/01/30/how-prepare-eat-mealworms/

What is the optimal sustainable diet for human beings? Can diet cure disease, especially those pesky autoimmune diseases that seem to be arrowing through our populations with debilitating, even tragic, effect? Will a diet that includes plenty of animal product ultimately destroy the planet? Or, looking at this from another angle, will a diet that restricts meat in favor of water-and nutrient-sucking monocrops like grains destroy the planet? Is it wrong to eat something with a face? And how does all this relate to the goal of living locally?

Obviously, I can’t answer all these questions in a single blog post. Heck, I probably couldn’t even scratch the surface in a single book. Here is what I’ve been reading and watching and thinking and doing this January:

1. Started out by watching the film FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD at the local library. This is basically the story of a man who was overweight and suffering from an autoimmune skin disorder who healed himself on a juicing fast. Theory: concentrated nutrients in the juice plus cleansing allows the body to heal itself. http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/

2. Watched the film FORKS OVER KNIVES which explores the idea that diseases can be eliminated or controlled by rejecting processed foods and animal products. http://www.forksoverknives.com/

3. Watched the film FOOD MATTERS which attempts to show that our highly-processed, chemicalized diets are causing health problems and gives solutions for healing. http://foodmatters.tv/content/about-the-film

These three films pretty much advocated for a diet VERY strong in minimally-processed, plant-based foods. Diabetes, heart-disease, hypertension, cancer, inflammation, etc. were all cited as consequences of our unnatural diet. I have a pesky asthma problem that I’ve been trying to heal for years now. I was excited to watch these films, and thought…well, maybe. I knew I wouldn’t go to straight juicing, at least if I could help it. For one thing, I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a good juicer. For another, it just seemed a tad drastic. So I decided to give the vegan way of eating a try.

No. I have to go back even further.

A few years ago, I tried a macrobiotic diet which is almost vegan. It does recommend fish and shellfish products in moderation. While I liked the weight-loss that occurred and the energy I felt, my asthma did not seem to respond at all after seven months and my skin took on a rather sickly pale, yellowish tone. Soon I added meats back in my diet while continuing to eat a lot of veggies and fruits. I also began the process of trying to eat from local sources, including eggs, milk, and meat.

Cut to the present. So, vegan eating would be a challenge for me on a philosophical level. Rice isn’t grown in New England, right? But I went ahead and started cooking some of my old macro foods and tried some new vegan recipes. They were delicious, but no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t feel satisfied. This was different from the macro…because I was getting no seafood? Really? And as I continued to cook some local meats for my family, I noticed how those foods began to smell better and better to me as time went on.

Then, almost two weeks after giving up animal foods, I came down with a rip-roaring virus. I ached from the deepest part of my bones all the way out to my skin. As soon as I had some appetite back, what did I consume? Homemade chicken soup and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream! I either craved those animal foods because there was something nutritionally necessary in them or else I was still detoxing and craving what was bad for me. Which was it? As my grandfather used to say, damned if I know!

I thought I’d continue with the vegan diet for awhile, treating my body like my own little pet test rat. I sat down to watch an episode Peak Moment Television (check it out…very cool!) while eating a vegan lunch of mushroom/garlic/onion fried rice on a bed of arugula, and pow! A title caught my eye: The Vegetarian Myth. Wait a minute, I thought. Myth?

4. Scarfing down my rice and greens, I watched while the host of Peak Moment Television interviews Lierre Keith on her book, The Vegetarian Myth. Then I downloaded the book to my Kindle and have been reading it as voraciously as I had eaten that pint of Chunky Monkey ice-cream a few days before.

Talk about blowing the vegan theories out of the water! It wasn’t exactly all new to me, either, as I had read about Weston Price and his studies on traditional societies and their diets years ago. The skinny on the myth? Humans need meat. Oh, and civilization and agriculture are going to ruin the environment. Hmmmm. http://www.amazon.com/Vegetarian-Myth-Food-Justice-Sustainability/dp/1604860804

5. Because I just can’t leave well-enough along, I had to google “vegetarian myth debunked” and discovered a plethora of counter-arguments. Try it! Oh, the fun we could have arguing about diet, nutrition, sustainability, civilization, animal rights, and justice.

***************** long pause*************

What did I eat today? Steel-cut oats cooked in a slow-cooker with chopped dried apricots and dates and a banana. Coffee with soy milk. Baby spinach, leftover rice, and macrobiotic nashime veggies: onions, squash, carrots & kombu (a seaweed) cooked slowly on the stovetop with a couple inches of water (really, really delicious, I kid you not).

Oh, and a natural ground turkey burger that tasted heavenly.

Between all the information about fat-soluable vitamins only found in animal foods to endothelial cells that heal only in the absence of animal foods I am a mixed-up, don’t-know-which-way-to-look-for-my-food human being.

And then there is Shane with his mealworms. Sigh.

A quick poll of my social media friends yields practical advice. Eat in moderation. Every body is different. Do what works for you. We are designed to be omnivores. Put bacon on everything (Good one, Scott C!)

Finally, I have to also think about my localista endeavors. The most local diet I can get in Maine is going to have to include animal foods, plain and simple. My local area is rocky and hilly…suitable for grazing animals but not necessarily for raising a lot of rye and wheat. Definitely no brown rice. I also have come to understand (or believe) that a sustainable agriculture necessarily includes animals in order to create a closed-loop system. In other words, we need something to eat the grass we can’t digest, to turn that grass into food we can digest, and to provide nutrients in the form of manure back to the earth. On this point, I have to agree with Keith rather than the vegan-diet proponents.

Perhaps–in order to heal a chronic condition or to detox from a western-style diet high in processed foods and chemicals and too much meat and cheese from nasty feedlots and meat-processing facilities, antibiotic-pumped cows and debeaked chickens and pigs laying in their own filth–a juice fast and vegan approach is a way to reboot. Then, when health is restored, eat foods from local, sustainable, organic farms similar to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Nix the processed stuff. Go extremely easy on the sugar. Eat lots of vegetables and local fruits. Meats and fats in moderation.

Like Michael Pollan concludes in his book In Defense of Food, perhaps the best prescription for a fairly healthy individual is “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Perhaps.

What do you think?

Journaling on a Misty Morning

The Lake on a Misty Morning

Journal Entry July 30, 2012

I have dressed early–6 a.m., in sweatpants and hoodie–to stave off the morning chill. Yesterday was rainy, all day drizzle interspersed with sudden heavy downpours. When I wake this morning and see skies clearing, I know I have to get down to the lake to watch the white tendrils of mist rise from the glossy, rippled surface of the water. I bring a blue chair and a mug of coffee, a camera, and my journal.

The tiny community beach–one of over a dozen–is a short walk from my doorstep. For the first eight years we lived here, the beach was nothing more than a weedy opening in the scrub brush lining the lake. A pine needle- and leaf-covered path slopes down to the water’s edge from the gravel road.

We leave our canoe here, red and tipped upside down, most of the summer and fall. A neighbor borrows it, using his own paddles. He and his family–brothers? sisters? parents? There’s a whole tribe of them–moved into the house behind us two years ago, and they began to clear the opening on their own. Last summer, the community grounds-crew finished the job, cutting more brush, hauling in sand, positioning large boulders across the path to discourage illegal boat launches.

Cove


The water here is shallow, only just past my ankles many canoe-lengths out and suddenly deep toward the middle where the current runs. The lake was once a stream, dammed-up for electrical generation about a hundred years ago. It is all coves and curves and fingers reaching in to the land–swampy in places, steep sand cliffs in places. When cross-country skiing in the winter, you have to be careful for weak spotswhere the warm run-off thins the ice from below. I’ve seen guys on snowmobiles rev up and skim over circles of open water.

It is quiet on this Monday morning, the weekend whine of jet skis and power boats as distant as the line of Massachusetts plates heading south out of Kittery on I-95. As I trudge down the path, a heron splashes down, stands. I stop. We watch each other warily. I try not to breath, but he is distrustful and flaps away.

I take a few photographs of the pearlescent mist still hovering over the predawn lake. The water is all shadows here, lake rimmed with tall, close-set pines. Just now the sunlight slices a thin crescent along the eastern-facing shore.

These moments I feel fortunate to have found this place despite my misgivings about its viability in a low-carbon world.

Before the out-of-state developers and the homeowner’s association and the lots plotted on a grid of winding roads ending in numerous culs-de-sac; before the griping and bickering between towns and association; before the housing boom in the 1990’s and milfoil and aging water pipes and the eventual housing bust in the 2000’s, there were only a few scattered camps along this lake. Before those, there were farmhouses and hay fields and pasture for dairy cattle–fieldstone walls running through pine forest a testament to the area’s agricultural past.

Blue Boat

In the early 1970’s, in spite of controversy in the two towns out of which our community was carved, the developers developed. The out of state weekenders came first to the lakefront lots. They built summer camps and weekend homes. Later, in the 90’s when real estate prices soared, building contractors scooped up lots of lots. They built and sold spec houses for cheap to the young, middle-class families priced out of the Portland suburbs.

The towns gaped as the school population bloomed. Education costs skyrocketed. This wasn’t the “taxes without the costs” deal they’d been promised. Weekenders’ kids get educated out of state, but these new families bought “off-lake” and stayed year-round and their children entered kindergarten right along with the kids in the villages.

“It was supposed to be a gated community,” one angry school-teacher said to me six or seven years ago. “And there’s never once been a gate!”

Wince. One has to wonder if they wanted the gate to keep us “in” rather than to keep themselves “out.”

So here we are, living in the exurbs, an hour and many gas-powered miles from the jobs in Portland and Biddeford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Association rules drafted in the 1970’s prevent many of us from cutting trees to create garden space, prevent us from raising a few chickens for fresh eggs. Mortgage defaults are up. Some roofs of abandoned homes have already caved in. There are no corners stores in our not-zoned-for-business community. We drive to get anywhere (or sometimes we bike, hard.)

This is not sustainable. It will not work in a low-carbon world where energy costs suck up ever-larger percentages of our disposable income. Am I crazy to worry?

There are mornings like this one when I walk, coffee in hand, down a pine-needle path to spend an hour or two writing beside the lake, and I think maybe I am worrying about nothing. Maybe I should simply I enjoy the scenery, the mist, the heron and let the future take care of itself.

Trees/Mist

And, if the world moves on, perhaps we can change fast enough to keep pace. Trees can be cut, livestock can be brought in, and we can muddle through, creating a kind of exurban agricultural village on our acre and half-acre lots.

Or else, like that heron, we’ll stop a moment, assess the danger, and flap away, leaving the lake as it was before…quiet, serene, barely inhabited but for those scattered camps, and the only thing that will remain of us will be the caved-in husks of our spec houses mouldering beneath these towering pines.

Day 40: Some “Catch-Up” With Those Fries

Dinner at the Austin Grill

Dear Reader:

With about three weeks left to go on our great Outside the Box in D.C. adventure, I’m beginning to wind down from my hyper-touristing. With the ‘Rents in town this past week, I got a little behind on my blog posts, so today is all about the Catch-Up.

July 23–Sustainability Symposium at NMAI

Sustainability Festival Pamphlet With Corn & Squash

Back on July 23, Hubby, the Teen, and I attended the Living Earth Festival at the Museum of the American Indian. I was determined to get to the “Creating a Climate of Change” symposium, where Jeremy Rifkin, a business consultant to multinational corporations, heads of state in the E.U., and other global entities, spoke on issues near and dear to my heart: global warming, peak oil, sustainability, localization, renewable energy resources and technology. Although he painted a grim picture, he also outlined a pathway to move forward. For me, it was almost a relief to hear someone “in the know” about world and business affairs affirming what I’ve been reading and learning about for the past three or four years. Peak oil is not a myth . . . it’s a reality we have already crested. Sustainable, renewable energy is not just for “greenies” and environmentalist hippie throwbacks to the 60’s and 70’s . . . it’s the wave of the future, if we are to have a future.

Symposium Poster

Heads of state are listening. From Rifkin’s website:

Mr. Rifkin is the principle architect of the European Union’s Third Industrial Revolution long-term economic sustainability plan to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change. The Third Industrial Revolution was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007 and is now being implemented by various agencies within the European Commission as well as in the 27 member-states.

Granted, this is his own website, and self-promotion should be looked at with a skeptical eye. However, if you are interested in learning about what Rifkin thinks we need to do in order to survive in a low-carbon energy world, check out the NMAI blog post.

Beautiful, Living Earth

The two speakers following Rifkin were also knowledgeable and insightful. Gregory Cajete spoke passionately about the indigenous perspective on global climate change, comparing the indigenous communities to canaries in a coal mine–they feel the effects first. Melissa K. Nelson then spoke about the importance of re-indigenizing our food supply, talking about such issues as food sovereignty, the negative health impacts of our modern diet, and urging a return to slow, local foods.

After the symposium, we strolled outside to listen to some music by Native performers. The concert opened with a blessing performance by the Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team. This may have been the most powerful student performance I’ve ever seen in my life. The emotion rolling off these young people through their strong voices was palpable in the air. When they finished, the group went to the side, and, crying, threw their arms around each other forming a tight ball of support and celebration. I strongly encourage you to click on the link above and see what I mean.

Plateros T-shirt

Later we heard the Plateros, a young blues rock band whose lead guitarist, Levi Platero, along with his brother/drummer Douglas and bass guitarist, Bronson Begay, seriously rocks with the sound of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

I went home from the festival thoroughly inspired. Thanks MOAI for putting on this important event!

July 24–Dance DC Festival Downtown Battleground

Graffiti Artists

Hubby and I visited the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery on July 24 and luckily ran into the Downtown Battleground event outside between 7th and 9th Streets. It was hotter than Hades out there on the wide sidewalk, but we were thrilled to join a large crowd listening to drumming and watching some very talented African-style dancers. I don’t know how those young ladies kept going in that sweltering heat!

Dancers at Dowtown Battleground

The graffiti artists were hard at work with their spray cans on large pink “wall” set up for the event. These artists were up high on metal ladders, scooching down to the bottom of the “canvas”, and all over the spaces in between creating some very jazzy, bright, cool art.

Orange Image

Detail from Painting

American History Museum

These Boots Were Made For Leading

I already wrote about the visit with the ‘Rents to the American History Museum in my previous post, but time and theme did not permit me to add these boots to my Great D.C. Shoe Scavenger Hunt. Take a look at George Washington’s boots in the The Price of Freedom: Americans At War exhibit.

Chinese Lady's Shoe

I also found this bound-foot shoe tucked away in the Transportation exhibit. I won’t tell you exactly where. When you visit D.C. you’ll have to scavenge this one out on your own!

Metro

Waiting for the Train

Of course, we wouldn’t get anywhere without the Metro, man’s finest invention, IMO.

Typical Metro Station

All of the underground Metro stations look almost exactly alike, which I find reassuring. You find a Metro post, take an escalator down to the platform, and you know exactly what to expect . . . except for the passengers, of course. People always add the spice of variety.

From Holocaust Museum to Harry Potter Deathly Hallows

Holocaust Museum

On Saturday, the ‘Rents, Hubby, the Teen and I visited the Holocaust Museum off 15th Street. We were unable to get passes to the permanent exhibit (will have to do so before the end of my stay), but we had an excellent tour guide that ushered us through the Propaganda exhibit with all the old Nazi political posters, pamphlets, recordings, and timelines showing Hitler’s rise to power and the eventual horror of the Holocaust.

From National Holocaust Museum Website

Please go to see this important exhibit if you are able to get to D.C. Otherwise, click on the link and visit the museum online.

I was reminded how we have to be vigilant when watching one-sided news stations, when looking at legislation that blocks freedom of speech, press, and assembly in the name of safety (anybody thinking about the Patriot Act anymore?), and when reading blogs and other pieces of “journalism” . . . even this one! Check things out for yourself. Read. Think for yourself. It is so important–crucial–in a democracy.

3-D for Harry Potter

It might seem a bit of a jump to go from the Holocaust to Harry Potter, but when you think about it, there are some similar themes in the Hogwarts Saga. The “Dark Lord” wants to rid the magical community of “mud-bloods” and eventually takes over education and the press, uses torture and kidnapping to terrorize regular magical citizens into allowing his evil takeover of the government, and creates an “us against them” mentality in order to accomplish his ultimate desire for ultimate power.

We caught the movie on the Imax screen at the Museum of Natural History. The first floor of the museum was a madhouse before the show. A hot Saturday afternoon in the Dinosaur Exhibit? Don’t recommend it unless you are also one of the two thousand other families with small children under the age of eight trying to find something for the kiddos to do on a blistering hot pre-dinnertime afternoon. {{Shudder}}

(As an alternative, I’d suggest the hotel swimming pool. Take the kids out of school in the fall for a day at the museum instead. You’ll thank me.)

Like Neanderthals hiding from a predatory beast, we hid out in the Fossil Cafe for a half an hour and then gratefully entered the dim calm of the theater.

Dinner at Austin Grill

Outside Dining at Austin Grill

After the show, Hubby and I wanted to share our favorite D.C. restaurant (so far) with the ‘Rents and the Teen, so we trotted up 7th St. to E St. and the Austin Grill. This is a franchise, but so really good. The service is attentive, the Tex-Mex is delicious, and the prices are reasonable.

Austin-tini

The Austin-tini wasn’t bad, either. Think Cosmopolitan, in pink.

Chalupa Salad

Everyone ordered burgers except for me. I had the Chalupa Taco Salad with Grilled Chicken. It comes in a deep-fried tortilla bowl with sour cream, tangy vinaigrette dressing, and guacamole–yummy!

And that is the “catch-up.” Yesterday, we browsed around in Alexandra again, and I’ll post some pics of new, fabulous finds–just wait until you hear about the Torpedo Factory!–over there in quaint Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I absolutely love the place!

If I ever had to move . . . well, no need to think about that now since we are already here, Outside the Box In D.C.

Day 13: Museum of the American Indian

Outside the Museum

Dear Reader:

After another slow start to our day (this has been a lazy summer schedule for sure) the Teen and I visited the Museum of the American Indian. The curvy, light-colored stone exterior is surrounded by native plantings and some outdoor structures that look like teepees and other dwellings. When we entered the building, we were struck by the sense of space and roundness, very welcoming and soothing and wonderful. The rotunda is open all the way past the four floors of exhibits to a center dome with a sky light and displays four examples of boats–birch bark and seal skin kayak and woven reed and a beautiful wooden example from the Hawaiian Islands.

Boats "Floating" in the Rotunda

I loved this carving “The Beaver and the Mink, Susan A. Point (Coast Salish), 2004.

The Beaver and The Mink

Our travels have this way of connecting. When we visited Seattle, we were exposed to the Northwest Indian art like this carving. When we visited Hawaii, we saw examples of native Hawaiian boats. Now in D.C., these and many, many other examples of American Indian culture are brought together under one dome.

Allies in War, Partners in Peace

I was struck by how important this city is as a repository of American culture and history–defining history in this case as the history of the land. We can go all the way from prehistoric mammals of North America in the Museum of Natural History, through the history of the native peoples who have been here the longest of all of us, up to the pivotal (and certainly destructive for the American Indians) moment of discovery and exploration and settlement by the Europeans here in the Museum of the American Indian, and on to the birth of our nation and the subsequent timelines and historical moments in the American History Museum–including the lives and times of the colonists, the founders, the African peoples brought here as slaves, the immigrants who came here for more opportunity, and even the current popular culture that we all swim in today regardless of when or how our ancestors arrived on these shores.

We decided to start on the fourth floor in the Our Universes exhibit which focuses on Native belief systems. Most of these beliefs revolve around the idea of connectedness between the Earth and everything on it. Communion with nature, not conquest.

Mayan Calendar

The Mayan Calendar on display was beautiful and fascinating. . . and I’m thinking this must be drawing more interest as we head toward the year 2012 and the supposed “apocalypse” or “change” that is to come based on this calendar. Click HERE to read a basic article about the end of this particular Mayan “era” in 2012.

Beautiful Drum

The objects on display were so beautiful and artistic, from exquisitely embroidered clothing to drums such as this one.

In The Garden quilt by Marie Watt, 2003

The third floor houses the Contemporary Art exhibit.

"Weh-Pom and the Star Sisters", Judith Lowry, 2004.

We were struck by the beautiful blue color against the dark background and the swooping lines of the images.

Foods Based on Native Plants

Downstairs on the first floor, just outside a cafeteria offering Native foods, was this case full of food products based on plants native to North and South America.

Another Outside View

We browsed for a bit in the museum store (I found a pretty red glass bead/juniper berry necklace) and then headed outside to look at the fountain before going home for the day. Of course, I want to go back and see some more exhibits. There is so much to learn!

Precious Substance: Water

I came away with my convictions about the need for sustainability, the interconnectedness of life, and appreciation for the world with all its diversity strengthened. If you are ever in D.C., put this museum on your “must see” list.

Days 9 & 10: Five Things I Do Differently In D.C.

Flowers in the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden

Dear Reader:

Riding home from the American History Museum yesterday, I began to think about what sort of things I do differently here in the city versus at home in the country. It hit me, then, the truth in a statement my good friend, Sandi, made before we left Maine.

“No matter where you are,” Sandi said, “your life is going to be pretty much the same because you are still the same person.”

Wise words! Sandi’s philosophy lines up quite nicely with that of Confucius who wrote, “No matter where you go, there you are.” It’s so true. I do find I am still me here in D.C. I’m reading my books, drinking my coffee, and thinking my oh-so-deep thoughts (she says, self-mockingly).

There are, however, a few things that I’m doing differently.

Ironing Board

# 1: Ironing. I haven’t done this much of it since Hubby quit teaching ten years ago and no longer had to wear dress shirts to work. When I was a kid, my mom taught me the proper order for ironing men’s shirts. Collar, yokes, cuffs, arms, side, back, side. The smell of damp, hot cotton steaming beneath the iron brought back some good memories. I didn’t like ironing at age 11 or 12. Now 43, I discover I rather enjoy it. Go figure.

By the way, engineers wear jeans and tee-shirts, while teachers wear shirts and ties. Why is it that teachers have to dress like executives and get the same amount of schooling as executives but do not get paid like executives?

And can anyone tell me why this program is giving me a spelling error underline for the word “men’s.” Isn’t that the proper plural possessive? It’s bugging this English major. Thanks.

Dishwasher

#2: Using A Dishwasher. When moving into various apartments over the years, Hubby and I never made a dishwasher a priority. In fact, only our Westbrook, Maine apartment had a dishwasher. When it was time to move into our new house, I nixed the idea of a dishwasher and opted for an extra cupboard instead. I figured I’d save some electricity. As a housewife, I had plenty of time to wash the dishes by hand. Now I find out that using a dishwasher MAY be more sustainable (click HERE for a sampling of what seems to be a consensus). I don’t know. Pre-scrubbing before putting the dirty dishes into the machine, I really think I might as well wash the darn things. Anyway, the water here doesn’t get very hot from the tap, the Teen’s summer job is to clean the dishes, and so we’ve been using the apartment’s washer.

Water Filter

#3: Filtering the Water. If the water from the tap doesn’t get hot, it must get cold, right? Wrong. It is tepid. Always. And yucky. After a few days lugging home bottles of water, I bought this Britta water filter pitcher. It only holds about five cups, which is about what I put in the coffee pot every morning, but it is easy to refill and the water is so much better after being filtered and refrigerated. It may even be healthier. I will say this for my community back home–we have the most excellent, clean, good-tasting water.

Metro Smartrip Card

#4: Using Public Transportation. This is a big one. I haven’t driven a car in ten days, and I’m not missing it one tiny bit. NOT ONE TINY BIT! There is nothing easier than popping over to the Metro station and getting around the city. Granted, it is summer and not a frigid day in January or a pouring wet day in March, but being able to read while getting across town? It is easy with the Metro’s Smartrip cards. You just press this up against a reader on the turnstiles (they are called turnstiles, but they slide in and out now, not turn) and voila! Hop on the train to Chinatown or Woodley Park or wherever. The trains here run on electricity, and 70% of the electricity in D.C. is generated by coal, according to a Greenpeace volunteer with whom I chatted in Adams Morgan the other day. So, this mode of transport isn’t perfectly sustainable. However, you can move many more people with a train than in individual automobiles burning precious oil, sending carbon into the atmosphere, and enriching Middle Eastern countries. Public transportation is a little bit tougher to figure in rural areas, but it is definitely a no-brainer in the city.

My makeup "collection."

#5: Makeup. I confess, since moving to the country and giving up work outside the home, I’ve let myself go in the cosmetics department. It just doesn’t seem necessary to put the on the “face” before going to the Limerick Supermarket for a quick run to the popcorn aisle. I always wear lipstick, feel quite naked without it, but now I’m lining my eyes with a navy pencil, picking just the right coordinating color from the palette of eyeshadow I picked up at the Dollar Store in Sanford, and even–gasp–spreading a light, SPF-15 foundation all over my face!

SPF is good, especially since I’m walking in bright, southern sunlight to the grocery store or to the Metro or all around the National Mall, and I admit that I look better in photos. However, I’m not sure if all this personal grooming is really “me” anymore. I’ve grown to like the woman who slaps a little lipstick on her mouth, sticks her hair in a ponytail, and heads off to the public library to volunteer. Or tromps out to the garden boxes in her beat-up “croc-a-likes” with the broken straps. Or pulls on a pair of wrinkled shorts and a tee-shirt to go biking with a friend.

That person is still here. So is the more citified me. I realize it is okay to be both because deep inside, wherever I go, there I am. Thanks Confucius and Sandi, for the reminders.

Tomorrow: Off to Celebrate the 4th of July in front of the Capitol Building!

Where the Wild Things Are

Wild Thing?

Dear Reader:

Seven years ago, my house did not exist and the lot on which it now sits was covered in forest–mostly a bunch of tall, scraggly pines with an understory of small hardwood trees and saplings, ferns, and ground-cover plants. A developer cleared a small portion of the lot and built the house. Weeks later, we moved in and began the process of creating order from the wilderness, albeit on a really small scale.

Wild Bee

We have a one-acre lot. Over the course of seven years, I’ve created several perennial garden beds. Last year we installed four raised garden boxes for growing vegetables. We’ve cleared out a few dead or dying pine trees. I’ve lopped off encroaching alders and blackberry brambles. We’ve piled up fallen branches and created huge brush piles. Last summer we chipped two brush piles and now have a nice supply of mulch for the garden beds.

The front lawn covers the septic field. A strip of lawn in back of the house is maybe twenty feet wide. Outside the lawn is forest. In between lawn and forest, we have something interesting ecologically and aesthetically. We have edge. And edge is where the wild things are.

An ecological edge is where two environments intersect, creating an area that is more diverse than either of those environments. (Hemenway, Toby. GAIA’S GARDEN: A GUIDE TO HOMESCALE PERMACULTURE, pg. 7) In my case, the edge is the area between forest and lawn. Lawn is basically an artificially created prairie, and when rigorously maintained is also a monoculture. My lawn is not quite a monoculture–it is now mostly clover and dandelions and other opportunistic weeds that thrive in soils that are not rich enough to support wide swaths of perfect, lush, green grass. In other words, Mother Nature is trying to heal the wound that is my lawn.

Hemenway writes,“When humans make a clearing, nature leaps in, working furiously to rebuild an intact humus and fungal layer, harvest energy, and reconstruct all the cycles and connections that have been severed. A thicket of fast-growing pioneer plants, packing a lot of biomass into a small space, is a very effective way to do this.”

Basically, a forest environment is self-regulating and self-stabilizing. Nutrients are taken, used, and released by one species to be taken, used, and released by another species. Sunlight is filtered through the upper story trees which capture the energy. Smaller understory plants grow in the humus created by falling leaves and branches of the upper story. Beetles, fungi, etc. break down the fallen leaves to create the humus. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the process, but the point is, things in a forest environment are fairly stable even as changes take place incrementally. Eventually, the pine trees give way to hardwoods, for instance. But when we come in with chainsaws and bulldozers, things change too fast. Suddenly, sunlight reaches newly bared ground, and the edge explodes in a biological frenzy. Weeds, shrubs, vines and other quick-growing plants take advantage of the sudden bounty of sunlight. Nature goes wild!

I noticed this effect most dramatically in two places on my lot. Some of the old pine trees in back of the house were dying off. It seems pretty obvious to me that this land was once cleared pasture. Farmers don’t build rock walls through forest, after all. These pines must have been the first seedlings to spring up, crowding each other and crowding out the brambles and weeds. Now they are towering columns bristling with broken-off lower branches and creating a thick canopy of upper branches that manage to get some sunlight way up there. Their life-cycle nearing completion, they begin dying and falling, allowing the hardwood saplings to gather the resulting sunlight and to grow. Left alone, eventually this would be a hardwood forest of maples and oaks and beeches.

In the meantime, we don’t want old pine trees to fall on our heads, so we cull the dead and dying which creates, you guessed it, edge. The ground is now covered in blackberry brambles and other colonizers. Left alone, the edge out there would soon be impassible. This spring, I cut down blackberry stems as wide as my thumb and as tall as the top of my head. Already new suckers have shot up from the undisturbed roots.

This is life on the edge, baby. If I don’t figure out how to take advantage of this vibrant area, planting it with fruit trees and shrubs and berry bushes and ground covers, Mother Nature will continue to plant for me. A few blackberries might be a good thing. Yards of blackberry thicket? Not so much.

Yellow Flower Carpet

Last summer I inadvertently created another edge–this one behind my garden boxes. Cutting down the one big pine out front, clearing a spot for the boxes, putting a nice layer of mulch all around the veggie area, I left a nice strip of previously-shaded ground between the garden and the oak and maple saplings that guard the the older pine stands. To my delight, a miniature wildflower field grew up there this spring (a welcome change from those ubiquitous blackberries). Over there is a carpet of yellow flowers and over here a bunch of pretty, light-green grass.

Clover and Chives

I threw some chives into a bare spot last summer, and this summer waving purple heads of clover nod with the waving purple heads of those chives. Monarch butterflies flit and feed on both clover and chives, creating a pretty backdrop to my garden boxes. Wild blueberries have spread and flowered in the corner near the compost bin. Deeper in the shadows of the pines, delicate pink ladyslippers hang on sturdy, green stalks.

ladyslippers

Buttercups are blooming on my lawn. The manual push-mower didn’t chop them as efficiently as the old gas-powered mower, and I kinda like seeing them nodding out there in the breeze.

Wild strawberries have taken over the rock wall that was shaded by that old pine in previous years. Were the seeds lying dormant there all these years? I’m waiting for the rosa rugosas to bloom among the tumbled rocks of the old fieldstone wall.

This red flower (a wild columbine, maybe?) popped up near the strawberries. Ground-covers surprised me with tiny pink or white blossoms. I’m ashamed that I don’t even know what these wildflowers are called. Perhaps a guidebook is in order. And a sketchpad.

I confess: I’m loving the edge. The trick will be preserving the best of the edge while using it to create a sustainable, functional, aesthetically-pleasing landscape around my home. In the meantime, the arugula in the garden box has provided me with an overabundance of salad greens and is now flowering and going to seed. Next year, I’ll plant the first row one week and the second row a week or so later so I can have a continuous supply instead of one big crop. The peas and kale are up and growing. I’ve planted tomatoes and brussels sprouts and peppers. A rogue red leaf lettuce and a rogue kale plant popped up in a garden box, and I’m just letting them do their thing.

Even the the “square” garden boxes have a wild side, I guess.

Dumpster Diving Part Two

Dumpster Chair

Dear Reader:

As promised, here is my one and only literal dumpster find–my office chair.

I’ve done a quick bit of research regarding the price of a new wood + cushion armchair (okay, I looked at three websites) and found THIS example. Regularly priced at a little over $400, it is on sale for $309.80. My wood + cushion office armchair cost me much less, however–nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I picked it up outside a dumpster eight years ago, a cast-off from some apartment in the married-housing development at the University of Maine at Orono. Its 1970’s gold and rust-colored crocheted cushions caught my eye, and when I walked over to investigate (seeing if the arms wobbled, the legs fell off, etc.) I was delighted by the chair’s sturdiness. Yes, the cushions were butt-ugly, but I could easily re-cover them. I really, really liked the shape of the thing, and it was being thrown away. Could I possibly take something from the trash? Yup. Looking furtively around me, I dragged the chair across the street to our apartment and tucked it inside. It was my first (and, okay, last) dumpster dive.

I never did re-cover the cushions. Instead, I’ve thrown a blanket over the top and stuck the chair in the corner of my office where it is the perfect, and I mean perfect, chair for reading. Why? Flat arms. I can set my coffee cup close at hand while slouching against the cushioned back. The chair is low enough that my shortish legs bend at just the right angle. The seat is wide enough that if I want to curl my legs beneath me or sit cross-legged, I can do so with ease.

Snagging this chair saved me three to four-hundred dollars, and I reduced the amount of waste going into the landfill at the same time. Brilliant!

Apparently, I am part of of a trend called Freeganism. The term is derived from “veganism,” the type of vegetarian eating that nixes all animal products from the diet. The New York Times published an article about the trend in 2007, interviewing various Freegans, including a former communication director for Barnes & Noble who gave up her corporate job, bought a one-room apartment, and began foraging for a living. Click HERE for the article.

Although Freeganism seems to have begun as a DIETARY lifestyle (dumpster diving at restaurants, bakeries, etc. for free food), it seems to have morphed into broader lifestyle philosophy–one branch of the anti-consumerist tree. While I have my doubts that I would ever, except in the most extreme necessity, dig in the trash for food, I have no qualms about using someone’s cast-off non-food items. The money I save on a chair produced in China, for instance, can be spent on a locally-produced item instead.

Not only that, I’ve patriotically reduced the embarrassing amount of trash generated by Americans every year.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Between 1960 and 2008 the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.5 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place. Click HERE to read the entire article.

The way I see it, the best way to prevent waste in the first place is to stop buying so much! The less you buy, the less you have to throw out. Simple. And if you need something, why not use something someone else has thrown away? Not only are you reducing the cost of raw materials, packaging, and shipping of a new product, you are keeping waste out of the dump, the landfill, and the ocean.

Think garbage doesn’t end up in the ocean, or if it does, it simply biodegrades and disappears? Think again. There are at least two “islands” of broken-down plastic floating in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. These tiny bits of plastic ride in on currents and get caught in a sort of vortex, accumulating into a giant “garbage patch.” Read THIS article from the National Geographic Magazine to learn more. Recycling our plastics–better yet, refraining from buying it in the first place–would at least help prevent the patches from growing and spreading and further messing up the ecosystem of our oceans.

First Edition!

So, what if you just can’t bring yourself to use used stuff? Do not fear. You can still take part in the Freegan phenomenon–as a contributor. Instead of throwing your old chair away, take it to your local Goodwill store or another local charity. Inquire at your local dump to see if there is a swap area . . . and if not, start one! Check out the Freecycle organization.

Donate used items to second-hand stores. Mom’s groups, churches, and other community organizations often host Swap Parties. Participate in a community or charity yard sale. Now that spring has finally arrived, it may be time to clean out the basement and the closets. Remember, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Your used items could find new homes and new uses rather than add to the average American waste statistic.

This weekend I checked out the local Swap Shack and was amazed to see how empty it was. Apparently, I’m not the only one who likes free stuff. Ironically, on the rather bare bookshelves, I came across two textbooks: THE ECONOMIC WAY OF THINKING and MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING. Now I can learn all about economics while practicing economical, sustainable, local living. Thank you, to whoever brought them in! When I’m finished, I’ll bring them back in so someone else can read them.

I WON’T, however, be bringing back the Anne Rice book pictured above. It’s a hardcover first edition by an author I adore. It will reside safely on my bookshelves . . . just above my dumpster chair and the Swap Shack reading lamp.

Ah, life is good.