Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The guy who writes the soil minerals blog I love (I think his name is Michael Astera) finally had some new posts this month.  He doesn’t post often, but when he does it’s always good stuff. (He also has a website which has a lot of good info too.)

Anyway, one thing he said caught my attention. In previous posts he’s pointed out that one of the (few) benefits of conventional agriculture is that if a consumer eats some broccoli that was grown on minerally-deficient soils from one location, he’ll also likely be eating, say, peppers that were grown on mineral-rich soils somewhere else.  Because conventional agriculture brings foods in from such far-flung places, as long as you’re eating a good variety of foods, you’re unlikely to become deficient in essential minerals. But if you’re growing all of your own food you stand a very good chance of developing deficiencies since the spot you choose to farm is unlikely to have optimal levels of everything you need. That’s why re-mineralization is so important. What he mentioned in his recent posts concerned grazing animals. He said that in the past we used to hunt grazing animals who regularly migrated vast distances, thus eating from a wide variety of soils. Now all of our animals are confined to relatively small acreages and so they can’t achieve a healthy mineral balance.
Think about it—all of the vast herds of animals that once covered the earth, now dwindling and dwindling and confined by human developments and fences, limiting their range. Unable to freely migrate, they can’t become the fullest and truest manifestations of who they’re meant to be, and earth and sky can’t fully meet within them. And then we eat them and we’re imbalanced too. Animals instinctively know what they need for optimal health, but when they’re penned in they can’t migrate to find it.
Then someone in the comment section said the following, “I read recently in Charles Walters’ Eco-Farm that test after test has shown that hybrid corn is not even able to take up trace minerals from the soil.” This sort of ties in with my question of whether sweet corn is sweet because it grows on minerally-depleted soil. Would it be less sweet on optimal soils? Apparently not. It seems that hybridization has so damaged it that it can’t even access the soil minerals now.
All very interesting stuff. I want to learn more.
Next year I want to test my soil and re-mineralize it and get a Brix refractometer so I can chart my results. It would be fun then to start a garden service to test people’s gardens, write soil prescriptions and help them maximize nutrition in the things they grow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

I’ve been sick the past few days with the flu bug that’s been going around, so I’ve just been bundled up in bed with a stack of books.  Two of the books seem very important and I need to spend more time reflecting on what I read.  I caught myself dreaming about the one book last night, so my mind is definitely trying to work something out.

The book I finished last evening was Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators, by William Stolzenburg. It documented many examples of “trophic cascades”—chain reactions initiated by the loss of top predators, spreading throughout the food web and bringing down entire ecosystems. It’s very scary stuff.
For instance, when we eradicated the deer’s predators we created a cascade leading to the loss of countless other species in those habitats: songbirds, bears, orchids, trillium lilies, cedars, whole forests…. In many places which have been studied, up to 80% of species have been lost due to the overpopulation of deer. What remains is a severely altered and dying ecosystem—only the ‘deer-proof’ species, like “poisonous snakeroot and stinging nettles”, can survive at ground level. And the density of deer is also responsible for the epidemic of Lyme disease in the human population.
One of the most interesting parts of the book concerned the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone. The whole ecosystem had been disturbed once wolves were eradicated in the 1920s. The elk population skyrocketed, causing massive damage to the ecosystem.  No new groves of aspen, willow, or cottonwood had been able to spring up in seventy years—any new shoots would immediately be grazed.  Riverbanks were eroding with no vegetation to hold them in place. Bird habitat was destroyed, beavers were driven away.  But once the wolves were re-introduced all of that began to change.  The willows began to spring up in lush thickets along the river, surprisingly quickly. The number of wolves seemed too low to account for such a rapid rebound—they just weren’t killing enough elk yet to have that kind of impact on the vegetation.
What the researchers figured out is the most interesting part of the whole book.  The willows were coming back because of fear.  When the elk had no enemies they browsed indiscriminately, everywhere. Once they had an enemy again their old survival instincts reawakened.  They recognized certain types of terrain to be dangerous and thus began avoiding them.  Mostly these places were river bottoms, stream courses, or other incongruities in the land that would cause them to slow down during a chase. A wolf, who is so much lighter and more agile than an elk, doesn’t need to slow down nearly as much to accommodate changing terrain and can catch up with an elk more readily in such places.  So when the fear returned, the willows returned—in river bottoms and other places that posed a hazard to the elk.  Once the river bottoms repopulate with willows it’s expected to have a (positively) cascading effect—halting erosion, bringing back songbirds and beavers, fish and amphibians and aquatic insects, etc.
In another part of the book a French ecologist, Jean-Louis Marten, studying an archipelago in which some islands were free of deer and others overrun by them said, “For me it was sort of a major light bulb which came on.  Suddenly what I realized working there [is] that carnivores are mainly not animals which eat prey but which change the behavior of prey.”
Fear is the glue that holds the world together, or used to. No critter likes fear, and all creatures seek safety, but only we humans have developed the power to eradicate fear. By wiping out predators we feel safe, yet it is a false sense of safety because it is untenable. Without anything to fear the world falls apart.
We’ve wiped out the predators, thus changing the behavior of vast numbers of species, including ourselves. We need to occupy niches constrained by fear. How can there possibly be hope for us or the planet now that we have the technology to make guns and other extremely efficient weapons of death? Our instinct is to create safety for ourselves, and if easy technology is at our fingertips to do just that, we do it. Eliminate the wolves, the big cats, giant raptors, bears, etc. No need to live in fear. But no fear, no world.
What is fear? Beyond emotion, beyond a chemical response in the body, what is it? It seems to be a necessary part of the metabolism of Gaia, a key regulatory function.
It seems ridiculous to think we could bring back fear to the human population. Not without total societal collapse. That’s what the world desperately needs though. Without it we’re doomed.
When I imagine the world full of predators again, it’s a beautiful world. We would live like the !Kung again, a part of the ecosystem, participating, being both predator and prey, co-evolving.
We humans don’t co-evolve anymore and what does that do to the intelligence of the planet? It dumbs it down. Eventually it will kill the planet.
Imagine if we had fear again. If we had fear we would learn how to be present again. Our powers of direct perception would be honed. Our ecosystems would have natural constraints and limits which we would easily recognize. Our human endeavors would arise from the land, co-expressions of place.
A more bizarre thought wants to come through too. Something about the co-evolution of us and predators. We co-evolve by behaviorally influencing each other and by jointly influencing our environment. My bizarre thought is that maybe by us never being preyed upon anymore, the predators miss out on something vital they need.  I’m thinking about the food web and how human bodies are the only bodies largely exempted from passing through the gut of carnivores. It gets to my thoughts about the energy of foods—how I learned that herbs each possess unique energy which changes us when we ingest them and how easy it is to extrapolate that everything we consume, animals included, imparts a unique energy or unique qualities to us. So likewise for the predators—everything they ingest helps to form their identities.
Humans (largely) are no longer ingested by anything other than microbes. It seems intuitively important to me that human bodies inform the bodies of other animals by passing through their gut, and by transforming our flesh into their flesh. I realize no science yet exists to show that this matters—the closest “science” would be the field of nutrition—but I think there’s something here. Each living thing concentrates its own unique interactions with the environment into its flesh—that flesh is consumed and it impacts the consumer. Yes we can reduce it all to calories and fats and proteins and carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals and maybe in an elementary way that’s all it is—but maybe not.
What do we know about what happens in the gut? We know that most of our immune system resides there. Why is that? Our immune system has the job of recognizing and responding appropriately to our environment. I’m sure what it finds passing through the gut can trip epigenetic triggers that turn gene expression on and off. I believe we are profoundly shaped by what we ingest.
Back to the issue of fear again. Fear creates diversity—more niches and more species. An elk-free thicket of willows is a pocket-sized niche—a diminutive ecosystem which evolves its own flora and fauna. Humans on the savannahs of Africa knew to avoid thickets, which might be hiding lions, so those were human-free thickets. What evolved in the thickets was surely different than what evolved in the surrounding open lands where humans modified the environment with their hunting and gathering activities and their mere presence. Diversity is a direct effect of fear.
It seems like humans have never come to terms with physical manifestation and what that entails. By physically manifesting we enter a compact that requires us to participate in the intricate dance of eating and being eaten. Life is a process of energy being transformed by death. We try desperately to opt out of that compact—killing off all the predators so we can’t be eaten and even trying to stave off the microbes as long as possible after death by shooting our corpses full of preservatives. But if we’re here in physical form, that’s the compact. Without it, life isn’t possible.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I had a dream last night that we were moving to a new house—a large beautiful log house nestled among forested hills, with a huge yard with plenty of room for gardening and for some animals.

Moving to a new house is a recurring theme in my dreams. The dream is always set in Pennsylvania, and the house I’m moving from (my house) always ends up being Mom and Dad’s house.

In this dream at varying points I was my adult self, my seventeen year old self, and my twelve year old self.

The only odd thing in the dream was that in the old house we were leaving behind a lot of stuff I thought we should be taking. The attic was full of stuff, mostly toys. I thought if we were selling the house to a family it would be nice to leave the toys for them, but we were selling the house to a baseball association.  I found some of Grandma's afghans in the attic as well. I wanted to at least keep an all-white one, but had trouble getting to it because I spotted a huge black widow spider. Grandma was there in the attic with me.

The thing that vexed me the most was that we hadn’t taken any of the dressers. I complained to Mom that I wouldn’t have anywhere to put my clothes in the new house. She suggested a cardboard box, but I was complaining how ridiculous that seemed when we had all of these dressers. Jamie had a gorgeous, tall antique chest of drawers. She was talking about how perhaps she could get $150 for it if she sold it. I thought it would make a perfect dresser for me if only I could convince everyone else to move the dressers to the new house.

The dressers obviously symbolize something. Mom and Dad’s house (my childhood home) has always symbolized my Self, and these moving dreams always seem to be about moving into a newer Self, in this case also a more expansive self.  Dressers contain our clothes, which we use to don different forms of self-expression. But it wasn’t that I’d be without clothes, it was that I’d be without a container to hold them. And a cardboard box wasn’t good enough. I wanted something beautiful, with character and the patina of age, like Jamie’s dresser. Even my dresser (from childhood) is probably, technically, an antique now. Any dresser would’ve been better than a cardboard box.

I was arguing vehemently that we need to have beautiful containers to house our self-expression, our various forms of self expression--but what does that really mean? If I move into a more expansive Self, I still want a beautiful container to house my various forms of self-expression. Each form of self-expression I don, each persona, is not me in my totality. All of those various expressions, together, should be a thing of beauty. But even all of those are not all of me. The whole house represents the whole Self. The dresser only represents the various aspects of self which manifest discretely.

The toys in the attic--they represent playful spontaneity. I wanted them to go to children who would fully engage with them—not to a baseball association—where play has become rigid and overly formalized.

And Grandma’s afghans….as far as I know, she never did crochet an all-white one. The color white contains all other colors, but is an absence of color as well. What does the afghan represent? It represents my connection to Grandma of course—to memories of my personal past, what’s gone before. It’s an item of warmth and comfort; it represents love. The purity of love. And how love contains everything. The afghan is made up of both matter and empty space—yarn endlessly looping back upon itself and interconnecting with other parts of itself. The form of it is created by the intersection of matter and emptiness. (Earth and sky?)

Back to the symbolism of the dresser. The dresser I was most drawn to was tall, wide, but narrow from front to back. In proportion and styling it reminded me of a Shaker piece—simple, and elegantly understated.  But the finish on it was not Shaker—it was very rich, had beautiful depth, perhaps it was a wax finish which had been painstakingly built up over many years of attention. This seems to represent myself as I’m currently manifesting—in this context of voluntary simplicity.

Another interesting thing was Mom’s cardboard box comment. It was implied that the cardboard box would be one left over from the move. So I would’ve been basically living out of a box, as if the move were only temporary. But it wasn’t meant to be a temporary move. There seems to be symbolism there about living outside of the box too. A cardboard box is ugly—that was a big part of my objection to it. I wanted to live in a beautiful space.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My newest thought today about how we might save the world?  Do nothing.

This paradigm has been about too much “doing” anyway. All of the activists out there, doing this, doing that—they’re acting from within the current paradigm and that never works.

Our destructive society has arisen as a natural process of the earth, and earth will always evolve back towards balance sooner or later. We’ve swung so far out of balance now—reached total unsustainability —that the only way for things to go is to swing back towards sustainability.

How will that happen?  We simply can sit back and allow it to happen. In fact the end of Western society is already underway. The financial system is utterly unsustainable—it may only have a few months left. Total economic collapse is what will bring us back towards balance.

All of our problems—greenhouse gases, peak oil, overpopulation, etc.—will right themselves when modern society collapses. No, it likely won’t be pretty, but the earth will eventually return to balance.

At the same time that I’ve been getting this vibe lately that we’re on the brink of collapse, I’ve also been getting a vibe that a new paradigm is about to be birthed.

I keep finding more and more people scattered across the web who are awake as I am and have learned how to be authentic and present—these are the people who will first express the new paradigm. It’s already staring to eke out through them. Our job isn’t to dismantle civilization—there’s no need. Civilization will dismantle itself. What we need to do is to birth the new paradigm—show people what lies ahead for us, lay the groundwork, create the vision.

But it needs to be a practical vision. Post-collapse, we’ll need to be practical. Re- localization, taking back control of our food supply, building community—these very basic things will be of the utmost importance. It would be really good if we could somehow manage to maintain global inter-connectivity—although I don’t know how likely it is that the Internet will survive. Without it, we run the risk of forgetting things, becoming alienated from each other and regressing to a sort of tribalism—us and them all over again.

We need global connectivity—that’s the only blessing to have come out of globalism. It should be a priority that of all things, connectivity is the one thing we preserve on a global scale.