Monthly Archives: March 2017

Mostly Not About Carbon

Mostly, we are not living how we live to reduce CO2. I could potentially reduce my emissions more by living in a walkable downtown and getting rid of my car; or, by rarely leaving the land, most likely giving up my friendships; or, to zero emissions by not living at all. We do get into analysis of embodied energy in choices like what car to drive, but only small questions like that are so linear and they are not the questions that make us come alive. Beyond ceasing to do so much harm, beyond the very important ‘living simply so others may simply live,’ there is something vital we are stumbling towards with each new day, following this intuition that we need entirely other ways of relating to the earth, ourselves, and each other than the ones that society presents us with.

Living out there, I want to ask what the nature of work and jobs are as automation and information economy makes us more and more irrelevant and abstracted. I want to question what progress is, what growth is, what happiness is. I want to learn from what is beautiful how to live beautifully.

I want to become completely independent from corporations, to me all essentially in the same business of destroying the human soul. It is the time for an enlivening non-participation, a replacement of our dependence on planet-devouring industries to an interdependence with each other and the land.

I want to learn to create rituals – communal acts where we can root our existences into time and place in order to remember all-time, all-place.

I want to garden with others on a summer day, then swim together and then stay together through crankiness, despair, weirdness, confusion, and bliss.

I want to know that, in the time of the sixth wave of mass extinctions, I tried something as brave as I could that was also as gentle as I could.

I want to inhabit a life of enoughness, a life without any expectation that I can always rent a backhoe, see a doctor, jump on a flight, look up anything, become anybody or anything, eat any meal, buy a replacement for anything, or be continually entertained.

I want to belong to a place and a community, and I think that the power of fossil fuels only ever ultimately gets in the way of that. Over the engines we can’t hear each other. Atop the engines we can’t see the wildflowers. Inside the engines, we speed past each other as anxious faceless compartments. Beneath the engines, we are so much fuel. In the silence, I see you. In the slowness, I hear you. In the peace, I remember you.

Holding a magical orb of power tends to be distracting. There it is in your hand, promising you can do anything immediately however you want. It’s really hard to remember why if at all you ever even wanted the glowing magical orb, but now you have it. Because the magical orb lets us travel fast, we make our homes far away from each other, we move far away for work or school, we jet around, we change places constantly. Because the magical orb makes music for us, we forget how to sing. Because the magical orb constantly gives us updates on our friends, we stay busy at home reading them. Because the magical orb tears open the soil and fills it with fertilizer, we deplete the soil each year and let the life all run off to poison the streams.

The magical orb was neat. Remember it? When it ran out and returned to being an empty glass ball, we used it as a planter. Around the charcoal fire, we drank mead and put on funny plays for each other about the time of magical orbs. Even in our comedic exaggerations, we couldn’t really get to how crazy it all was. None of us even knew how to explain what a search engine optimization person is (even I forgot), but when we comically try to pantomime one, it has us rolling as we imagine a twenty-something in a business suit earnestly trying to find a hundred different synonyms for ‘dog shirt.’ After that, someone starts to play banjo. We all know most of the words. They make some of us cry. The songs are unreviewable, unpromotable, undownloadable, perfect. The wheel of the stars turns.

Opening the Sky


This weekend four people came to help us continue clearing the place where we hope to grow most of our initial food. Long term, we want to rely more and more on perennial and forest foods, but we begin with, and will probably always keep some place for, annuals. For most annuals, we need sun and the disturbed soils they grow best from. For this, we need to clear a place.

Opening up anywhere in this young forest has for me been one of the most challenging and instructive acts in our work so far. There is nowhere on this land that is not of value, as it is, to some other beings. A thicket of greenbriar, scratchy impediment to our human passage, is home to birds, small mammals, insects, others. Even moving to remove an individual tree involves severing unknowably many invisible relationships. I am only beginning to learn about plants like the Rattlesnake Plantain, feeding with delicate root hairs on the decomposing pines around it. No change in the forest does not affect a weave of beings beyond our knowing.

Still – I choose to remove trees. Hundreds of small sweetgums. I’ve stuck to noiseless hand tools. By working without machines, I’ve been able to disturb small patches at a time. I hope that going slow gives some of these beings the chance to reknit the relationships I sever in the absences I cautiously carve. Working slow also gives me the chance to learn continually. My initial ideas have changed so many times. The slowness lets the land root into me. Each time I work to clear specifically, I say a small prayer for exactly this.

Today, a small answer: I walked down to the field where our friends had come to work and was struck by beauty. The sun was pouring through the place we had opened, but the forest still stood everywhere around it. In that moment, I could glimpse it: ancient corn growing tall, leaves and vines and berries and roots and flowers, edible weeds dancing through the beds season after season in their self-directed rotations, stropharia mushrooms blooming in the mulch, and some small trees just starting to grow that will one day shepherd the field back to forest. I could see, too, a group of us gathered around the charcoal trench long into the night as we turned the gift of the sweetgum bodies into soil carbon, into long term fertility for the land.

The eigth of an acre or so of land we opened feels like a just-right beginning for me. One person can handle it. If others decide to live with us and grow food with us, we can increase it; but for now, it feels almost finished and somehow already perfect.

When all of us worked out there, no chainsaws or skidsteers or bulldozers or weed whackers, I thought we would speak a lot more. Eventually, we did share deep and satisfying words; but for an hour, there was nothing but the wind, the crows, the swishing of a swing blade, drawing of pull saws, clipping of pruners, bailing and hauling of hands, and a little joke, an observation, a thought. Out there in a small sunny patch within a bigger forest, we fell into one of the oldest human dances as if it was all we’d ever done. This is why when I returned to the field today, it felt as if it were smiling. After all the trees I cut alone, the forest had been waiting to see what I was getting at. Watching us work together explained a little: we are here to try to learn to tend you as you once taught us to long ago. We are sowing peace as much as food. We are willing to go slow, to pray, ask, and give thanks, and to learn to belong to you again.

Deep gratitude to everyone from Mutual Aid Carrboro and Durham who worked with us. In just one day, you helped us tremendously.


Another night certain a tornado – or, if not that, some other event that changes the color of the night sky to green or orange or red – was coming any second now. Our mostly woven home is shelter in the old sense. There is only a membrane of difference, fragile as skin. Just as I can hear everything outside when I am in (coyotes singing in the morning? was that real?), so I, sitting outside, can now hear that one of our bunnies is almost certainly destroying the foundations of our home inside; just being bunnies.

Dreams, too, seem to have a somewhat thinner membrane between themselves and wake. Pickle woke me last night with a dream that sounded like magic or prophecy, complete with a question for me I had no idea how to answer.

The interior of our home was set up with the four elements in mind. Our hearth is fire; our wash area is water; our lofty cloud-like bed is wind; our small shrine is for earth. Last night after Pickle’s dream, we realized we’d coincidentally set these elements in exactly the cardinal direction that made the most sense on the land. In our forest, the blazing sun is in the south – same as our hearth; the spring we hope to take water from is in the north – same as our wash stand; the powerful winds that keep me awake so many nights come here mainly from the west – same as our lofty bed; and the earth we tend hoping for the gift of food is to the east – same as our earth shrine.

When I was younger, I decided that coincidence means, ‘Pay attention.’ A few years ago, I decided that in some sense, attention is love. This is part of why I finally rejected social media corporations that view the world as an ‘attention economy’ and sees our attention, as well as our friendships, memories, and identities, as commodities to be captured by subtler and subtler, more and more integrated into our life addictions; and conversely, this is why relearning the simple act of attention changes so much for me. There are lessons in everything that are not accessible through logic. There is a limit to what you can logically learn from watching a pair of vultures dance in the sky. The work that I think we’re here to do requires profound, non-linear, non-verbal, taking in of the entire gestalt and producing a response from a patient, liminal place. I am grateful for how much help this forest gives me in finding my way back, again and again, to that boundless home.


the end effect
of apartment ceremony,
my old friend,
his twenty smokes,
my constricting lungs
and loud heart rhythm,
us up until five
taking the history view

i wake at 1,
news addiction cured,
chest tied taut,
all day breaths
fought for, each
mindful and scarce,
remnant of the sense
that we get it now,
our words made a seat
sittable through
this specific quake.

I tidy,
still no power,
looking forward
to a sunset walk.

Pipe in hand,
white sage, mullein,
holy basil, damiana,
uva ursi, marshmallow
coltsfoot, red clover,
peppermint, passionflower,
the creek trickles,
the sunlight too,
I breathe the smoke,
offer a prayer.

Silent wings unsubtle
drop a shadow
into a blind
behind a trunk.
I stay still
then lean look
around trunk
for wings. Wait
then giant unfolded
dusklit thunderbird
reperches next to me,
stares into me,
face I imagine human,
conference of predators,
making me a new seat
made of no words.

The owl flies away
tearing the cord
around my lungs.
I bless his hunting,
bless his medicine,
bless the daring
of every forest
that remembers clearcut,
and of people
getting out of bed
at all, even at 1 –
then, he flies
to the tree
on the path
in front of me,
sharing communion
in no way accident
silent shouting
no words
all we share,
then paths part.

That night the woodfire
ties my lungs again,
Owl hunting
quick claims
while my heart pounds
while I beg each breath
while stars
scatter blessings.

New day, I sleep
too late,
search for scraps
to make a new seat
to ride today’s quake.

Gratitude Ceremony

maple flowers on the dinner table

Pickle and I invented something to help us. We called it a Gratitude Ceremony.

Where it came from was we had both worked crazy hard on this dream for months, even years. Often we were mad at each other, feeling stuck or afraid because of one another’s different approaches to difficult or scary problems, or just too exhausted to be supportive. We both knew this whole time that the other person was doing so much, but there was no time to stop and appreciate it. We were beings having to make a warm home before the Winter came. Everything was focused there. We were as likely to bring up something the other person needed to be concerned about or hadn’t been able to finish yet as we were to say thank you for what had been done.

For the Gratitude Ceremony, we bought an entire carrot cake. We loaded up a picnic basket with box wine, cheese and crackers, and cake. We went down to the creek in the late afternoon amongst the oldest trees around us and sat on the ‘beach.’ For the ritual, we took turns naming something the other person did to help us get here that we were grateful for. Then we said, “YOU GET CAKE” and fed them a piece of cake. Sometimes we’d alternate cheese because it was a lot of cake. To break it up, one could also force a wine toast to a plant or animal on the land (eventually including imaginary animals).

As it went on, we could feel a lot of the rawness of all those overwhelming and hurried months healing, dissolving into genuine thanks, memory and laughter. We ate almost half the cake, which is good because we don’t have refrigeration.