Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Our Religion

A few years back, I was perplexed by the broiling anger a lot of women had at even the mention of the name "Martha Stewart." Her phenomenon hadn't touched me much. I've always been fairly disconnected from popular culture and didn't even have a television that worked then, but that is not to say I was unaffected. Human behaviors can be positively contagious. The Martha Stewart Way was all very refined, for a rabid frenzy. When I bumped into my best girlfriend in line at Wal-Mart  --  at 4 a.m. on a work / school night, both of us with craft objects in our hands  --  a veil was yanked from my eyes and that was the end of that for me. My excursion with over-homemaking was short-lived enough that I didn't develop a grudge, but I've grown to understand others' anger better now. With no small amount of corporate backing and marketing savvy, Martha Stewart took advantage of women's desires to want the very best for the ones they love. She lied; her way wasn't easy, women would fail and exhaust themselves in the process, to the point of pitchfork-wielding fury. We are growing tired of failing expectations, publicly, and paying for the privilege.


If I think of how to explain the description "Half Homesteader" from my Blogger profile, you'll be the first to know. So far, all efforts have yielded no complete theory. What does it mean to be a "homesteader" in this day and age, with blended families, the near absolute requirement of motorized vehicles to get to full-time jobs and lots of other essential places, so much information from everywhere that a person could suffer a breakdown from overload? Most of all, what does it mean when we have so much wealth  --  in the form of both dollars relative to most of the rest of the world, and a disproportionate share of the world's finite oil supply? (I don't mean we personally are rich. I mean in this country  --  yes, with notable exceptions  --  money problems usually mean stress, even grave stress, but not starvation.)

A partial explanation for the "half" in Half Homesteader is that there are no dire consequences for half-finished projects around here; we need not remember that some Native American cultures know the February full moon as the "Hunger Moon." Regarding my too numerous homemaking "works in progress," I blame Martha Stewart for a degree of burnout, and myself for a childish tendency to become distracted by just about any beautiful, pleasure-inducing thing. My eccentric, wildly painted dining room will be gorgeous  --  just you wait  --  sometime around Spring, 2021. See, because, my very existence does not depend on the dining room’s completion.

But there's another, less carefree side to what we are doing, too. An exception that proves the rule of half-finished projects would be canning the harvest. The job always gets finished because the vegetables won’t wait until 2021. The visceral satisfaction of knowing the fruits of our labor could save us during the time of the Hunger Moon is probably evolutionary, and immediate enough to carry me through the work.

Another exception would be our compost pile, an altar to all that we believe. Visiting is a form of prayer. I mean it. We pour sacrificial gifts onto it  --  you may say kitchen trash but I say carefully sorted nutrients, virginally perfect if "free of chemicals and metals" is the test. That altar holds life and the essence of life. We imbue it with all the hope and faith we’ve got in next year's garden, thanks for the lifetime supply of sustenance that we are about to receive. Years ago, taking the compost to the pile was a punishment I gave naughty children, a replacement for barbaric practices of past generations like hitting. We didn't have many material things to take away from our daughters, and they weren't quite old enough for social lives so "grounding" was useless. They hated the compost pile, though, or learned to. In hindsight I realize that was a mistake. Religion, if it's to stand its best chance of sticking with your children beyond the years you can strong-arm them to an altar, should not be used as punishment.

Despite the “Get Out of Jail Free” card that we use too often with our homesteading efforts, we are deadly serious. We are learning. I'll not go into the details of the seething, stinking mess we humans as a species have made of our planet and our climate, and the fact we're in deep shit. (I'll not mince words, either.) Plenty of others have done a bang-up job of trying to get the message out, and I commend them for their tenacity when so many people hold their fingers in their ears singing la la la la la and refusing to accept the veracity of the science. Multiple disciplines in science, I might add  --  biology, chemistry, meteorology, archaeology, geography, paleo-botany, etc. etc. etc.  --  all of whose results are in accord and dovetailing into one whoppingly terrifying conclusion. Those who believe it’s all a hoax are working awfully hard to ignore the evidence.

All I feel I can contribute is to tromp around the confines of my life, peeping quietly on occasion: "Please. Learn how to grow your own food. Learn how to preserve it. It takes more than you may think." I hope our family's efforts amount to at least that  --  a bank of stored knowledge for the future. Somehow or another we dodged a bullet with "the compost punishment" mistake. My grown daughters looked around on their own, said OM-EFFing-Gawd and commenced to devoting their lives to sustainability and, unspoken but equally important, adaptability. Making plans in sync with the mess they've inherited. They are the amazing examples to me. I'm still trying to work out what it is to be sustainable, after a lifetime of making choices from so much societal wealth, and the contagion of my human group's behaviors.

Suggested reading: 

First, Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, for the solid science of it, and a beautifully written, thoughtful consideration for what to do next. (Or check out his website at

Second, Dimitri Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects. In this case I would caution that the man, who incidentally is an engineer, is extremist for my taste. I don’t particularly like his politics. But for those who can look past that, he has a sparkling intellect very worth reading, and a truly fascinating hypothesis comparing the current U.S. corporate-government monolith to pre- and post-collapse Russia. I don’t recommend his website, however, mostly because it’s too disjointed.