Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shedding Hopelessness

Through Blogger's own focus on earth and sustainability blogs, I found myself reading Earth Meanders, and a post completely infused with the despair that is hard to hold off if you have any inkling at all of what the words "peak oil" and "global warming" really mean for the earth and for humanity as we know it. It's a sad conundrum that the very people who care so deeply about the earth and who understand the joy and beauty that surrounds us are often plagued by depression and actual pain as we contemplate the coming debacle.

Coincidentally, on our Crunchy Unschoolers list, we're discussing the novel Ishmael, which I admit I haven't read in over a decade (note to self: re-read this most excellent book and see what it has to say to you now), and the discussion turned along similar lines: why bother pursuing a sustainable existance when all around you are Hummers rocketing towards WalMart to buy the latest shipped-from-China unnecessary products? How do we hold onto joy and yet simultaneously hold the knowledge of what is happening to the earth?

Our family is currently watching Ken Burns The War and so my thoughts have turned often recently to Nazi Germany, to what people endured there, not to mention the frightening parallels to our current eroding democracy and the almost willful giddiness and faith in the rightness of their lives that ordinary people seem determined to stick to in the face of all evidence that we have tipped over the brink of the cliff. I am reminded of the stories of the ordinary German people reported by Milton Mayer in his book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 , people who proclaimed their days under Hitler as the best in their lives. And of Sebastian Haffner's amazing observations in his (unfinished before his death) manuscript Defying Hitler. Written in 1939, before most of the rest of the world even understood the tragedy that Hitler would wreak, he writes about people retreating into a "small, secure, private domain" and of this individual withdrawal contributing to the ease with which Hitler took control.

Such historical examples make it clear to me the importance which even a few dissenting voices can hold. And a read-through of Corrie Ten Boom's amazing auto-biographical book The Hiding Place shows a path to maintaining serenity, love, and grace even in the face of unspeakable horror. Clearly these historians show us that we do have a choice that does not include despair and descent into depression over our current circumstances. The choices we make hold importance, and even the emotions with which we make them can strongly shape our experiences and those of others around us.

As I have been reminded strongly by events over the last week or so, none of us knows the number of our days here. So living a joyful life in congruence with our values seems to be to me the only path that makes sense. I feel a qualitative difference about the things I can do, make, cook by hand or by cooperation with others. Things feel more blessed, more infused with joy. If there is any path out of the current madness, I think the light will have to be held high by people who are already starting to walk down that path. Others will be thrust upon it, scared and angry. A serious environmentalist I know sees herself as one who is learning so that she can show the way to others. Perhaps some pockets of sanity will remain, perhaps there will be good born from all of this, maybe a new society will form. I have to think that these things are still possible. Some of my relatives left their homes in Germany and moved to Russia over 100 years ago. Then war came to Russia and they packed up and came to South Dakota. They farmed, a hard life on the plains. Built a sod house. My great-grandmother who was born there was one of the most joyful people I've ever known. I have to think that joy can survive such hardship.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hooray For Oregon's New Bike-Friendly Laws

Ride of Silence 2007 #5This year's legislative session saw several new laws that should help make bicycling safer in my state. The one I am happiest about was Senate Bill 108, which requires drivers on rural roads to stay far enough away when passing a cyclist to prevent contact if the rider were to fall into the traffic lane. This should help prevent what I call "skimmers" (cars and trucks that come so close to you when you're cycling that you can almost feel the vehicle brush your legs) and should also help protect against the wind or draft vortex created by larger vans and trucks if they pass too close and can suck you off course.

Also passed this year was House Bill 3314, which ups the penalties for drivers who kill or injure a "vulnerable roadway user", and Senate Bill 789 which created a "Share the Road" license plate, whose proceeds will help fund the Bicycle Transportation Alliance , which does such excellent work helping cycling be safer, more convenient, and more fun in Oregon communities.

Hip Hip Hooray!

Tomato Sauce Recipe

Amy asked for my tomato sauce recipe. My neighbor was making some and explained her process to me, so this is straight from her kitchen.

Place your tomatoes on a baking sheet (I recommend one with sides to catch the juices) and slow-roast them at 225 F until they are mushy inside. Take them out to cool a bit, and the skins just slip right off of them. After removing skins, put the rest of the tomato into a big saucepan, remove any core if need be (or presumably you could do this before roasting. I just got my hands in the goop and took out the cores that way.) Cook the tomatoes down until the sauce is the consistency you want - longer cooking times for thicker sauce. Season however you'd like (I use garlic, basil, rosemary, and oregano).

If you're going to can it, most sites recommend adding vinegar or lemon juice to increase the acidity and prevent problems, especially if you're using a sweeter variety of tomato.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Night Magic

One thing I like about having chickens is it gets me out of the house in the morning and evening, even when it might be cold and rainy and I would otherwise stay indoors. Sometimes on these evening walks down by the creek, magical things appear. This week it was a single leaf, hanging by a spider's thread in mid-air and lit by my flashlight.

The kids and I have been working hard to clear the ivy and blackberries from the creek and it is really starting to look beautiful down there. I love that the kids have a magical place to play in the woods, even if it is not very large. I remember from when I was a kid that even a small stand of trees seemed like a forest, and a creek was a river. They build dams or small forts down there. It's been hard work, but we've got about a quarter of our 1/3 acre cleared and will try to have it half done before winter sets in. This is one of my self-portraits for the 365 Days project. When I'm down there by the creek, it feels like I can remember the magic of childhood and the beauty of imagination. We just watched Bridge to Terabithia, and that is a book I remember fondly from my own childhood because we had such places in the woods full of magic.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Tomato Sauce!

We made our own tomato sauce, for the first time ever. We didn't have quite enough ripe tomatoes at one time to can any, but we've been using it this week in bean stew and pasta. We've still got a pile of tomatoes ripening in the basement, so more on the way. I love each of these little steps toward self-sufficiency, and I remind myself that while we're not totally there, every big pot of tomato sauce I brew up is eight more cans of it I won't have to buy. That's eight cans that don't have to be manufactured, filled, shipped, stocked, and sold. And ten dollars we don't have to shuck out for something we can grow ourselves. Now I'm off to make some applesauce. Yum.