Friday, June 29, 2018

Exactly Where I Should Be

Sun, rain, wind, tent, squirrels, possums, raccoons, 5 incredible landmates, chiggers, fish, ducks, scratches, cuts, bruises, aches, welts, wood, fire, smoke, bark, knives, axes, chainsaws, bows, arrows, hides, skinning, tanning, butchering, clay, flies and their larva, ticks, mirrors to check for ticks, fresh air, trees, birds and their beautiful sounds, soil, poop and pee outside, wigwam build, planting, grafting, harvesting, picking greens immediately before a meal, once-a-week dumpsters, new friends of all species and connecting with old ones, farmer’s market, deep sleep, waking up early with excitement for the day, day’s activities determined by the weather, time for reflection, self-care, growth, peace, and clarity. These have been just some of the many parts of my life for the past few months, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I am positively thriving, and I feel better than I ever have before. I am truly healing and connecting to the sources of my life. I am living out what my mind, body, and soul have known for several years but that I didn’t know how to do. Though I miss my friends and family in faraway places, I have no questions that I am exactly where I should be. I am grateful to everyone who has helped me to grow and get to where I am, and I wish that those who want to live similarly were here with me. You see, I left Washington DC at the end of March after leaving the ol’ EPA in early March. Leaving the Environmental Protection Agency was simple (and was made all the simpler when I was instructed to literally walk throughout several buildings to have people sign a piece of paper that I didn’t have library fines, etc., like a third grader), but leaving DC was quite challenging, choking back tears while saying goodbye to close friends. I certainly do not miss the city itself or what it stands for, but the earth-minded community that I was a part of there was nothing short of incredible. Where was I going? Well, I was going to go on a wigwam build, and then to visit family in New Jersey, and my current location in Western North Carolina.
The beautiful pond.

It all happened seamlessly fast. When I had some downtime after eye surgery, I was listening to podcasts and heard a fellow speaking about his and his partner’s homestead. He was talking about healing traumatized land, ecology, rewilding, the virtues of going feral. I commented on the podcast, as I try to connect with people who are trying to un-domesticate themselves, and we ended up connecting over the ether. He posted an opportunity to come live, work, and be with him, his partner, and their newborn on their homestead, and I knew immediately that this was what I should do. I wrote them a letter, we talked on the phone, and they invited me to come. I'm now a firm believer that life can work out in amazing ways if I expand my comfort zone and find people that support me in doing so.
I've been on the land here for almost 3 months, but it feels like an eternity, in the best of possible ways. My old way of life melted away very quickly when I got here. I feel as if I've connected directly with my ancestors, who lived in a more village-like setting, close to the land. I believe that this connection is why everything feels so right: I am finally doing what I'm supposed to be doing after 31 years. I am forever grateful. Sometimes I have to remind myself, especially when something about living this way feels hard, that I have been welcomed with open arms to an absolutely magical place by amazing people.

I live primarily outside. I have access to electricity and modern appliances and have a car, but I sleep in a tent, I cook with wood, I'm building a wigwam to live in, and I work to directly support myself and my landmates. There is no boss, no schedule, no TPS reports, no bullshit. There are the complex human relationships that exist anywhere, but we are open in our communication and all love where we live and want to see the ecology of the place thrive. Our common goal guides decision making and makes living here so wonderful. A common goal certainly does not make life easy, but, in a real way, makes it clear and simple. Every action affects the land. There is no “away” and no hiding ecologically irresponsible behavior.
Wigwam inner frame - a big kid jungle gym!

I’ve had some friends ask me what a typical day is like. There is no typical day, and that is part of the joy of this life. I might plug mushroom logs, take part in stripping the bark off of a huge tulip poplar tree for building a wigwam, weed garden beds, plant, collect firewood, fish in the pond, skin and eat a squirrel, write, read, learn about plants, let my curiosity drive me when necessity does not. One day, I sat and meditated and watched asparagus grow. I saw a change in the length of the asparagus spear in 45 minutes. I checked back 8 hours later, and it had grown over an inch! I felt calm, peaceful, connected. I understand that this could be viewed by a certain culture as a waste of time and some hippie bullshit. Well, I don’t really know about that, but it felt right. Sitting still in that spot made sense that day, just like somehow, sometimes it seems to make sense to stare at a screen, work for a paycheck, call a friend, dance, or watch sports.

My stove.

It has been difficult for me to write a post on this blog because I have simply been enjoying living far too much. I’ve been “busy.” Not the hustle-and-bustle type, just in that I see and notice so many things and I want to know more and connect. Life is full. My list of want-to-do’s is unending and I just have to prioritize and take opportunities as they come. I’ve had several realizations, which I hope to continue to share over time. First, I’ve realized that I do not want to be a lone mountain/country/homesteading man. I’ve known this intellectually for some time now, but now I get it for real. There is so much to do, and it can be lonely when done alone: collecting firewood, killing other beings, cooking food, taking care of ailments, getting clean water, maintaining a shelter. There would be no time for anything else if I had to do these things all the time for myself. There would be no time for writing, taking up interesting projects, connecting with people, lounging for a little bit, sleeping, taking it all in, reflecting. I have no doubt we are meant to work together as a species. I learned this in a real way when one of my landmates felled a tree and we stripped the bark from it. We used a chainsaw, but it was still hard work! I tried to do some of the bark stripping myself, and just eventually gave up in exhaustion and due to an ache in my arm from a past injury. I got back together with my landmate and we finished the job. I can only imagine what the effort would have been like if the two of us tried to do the work without a chainsaw. It truly takes a village! However, in this day and age, humans can bypass the village with a lot of machines. Machines support the individualistic culture that exists: MY car, MY computer, MY cell phone, MY money. These things do connect me to the wider world, and sharing some of them is a catch-22 that I’m still sorting through.

Flattening 7 foot long pieces of tulip poplar bark for the wigwam.

Second, I must take care of my body at all times. I’ve had so many bites and scrapes and cuts and I work with sharp things often. I’ve had a few infections. Luckily, I live with herbalists and they have helped me with different remedies. I’ve been really empowered by exploring what, for me, is a new avenue. When I had a swollen eyelid, I immediately thought that meant I needed to see a doctor and get antibiotics. But, I tried a compress of usnea and calendula instead. I religiously compressed that eye and the swelling and itching eventually subsided. I read an interesting passage in an herbal book about how I should support my body during the infection, because it has the tools to fight it. What a different approach than trying to knock everything out with an antibiotic all of the time (though there are some herbs that will do that too)! I look myself down from head to toe a couple times every day and check out what’s going on. If I don’t take care of my body, I cannot be what I want to be and do what I need to do. Plain and simple.
Teaching fire making. Local newspaper picked it up at

And so I am looking forward to continuing the construction of my wigwam, which will be my primary residence, continuing to better connect and integrate with my community, and to learn and teach my ancestor’s skills as they become my own skills. I want to see ecosystems as my ancestors did. I want to develop relationships with everything around me to keep me alive. It is no easy task, but there are a determined few of us trying, even as the inertia of the dominant human culture on this planet is encouraging disconnection, order, and profit. Onward and upward, live, thrive, and be!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Imagination and Liberation

In Grandpa’s Walking Stick, Chad K. Slagle sings that his Grandpa taught him to close his eyes when he really wanted to see. Two weeks ago, I had the great fortune of having (seemingly) successful laser eye surgery to correct my vision, and realized during recovery what he meant in a deeper way. I’ve known for quite some time now that a key to "modern" life, or at least to peace and joy in it, is to be intentional and consciously cultivate peace, stillness, and clarity. I encounter so many distractions on a daily basis, and it is an act of great strength to sit quietly with myself and others, perhaps with eyes closed, or to walk out in a peaceful landscape. I see most clearly in the times when I’m being intentional with my action and inaction.

There was nothing like stinging, itchy, teary eyes to convince me to keep my eyes closed. My family and friends were so generous with their time and energy during my healing, and I would not have healed as well without their care. What struck me was that they came to see me even though I couldn’t really do anything, just to check on me, be with me, and take care of me. I’ve reflected on how my own focus is often on doing something with someone, rather than just being with them. Of course, both can happen simultaneously, but I could definitely place more emphasis on just being with someone, fully present.

In the times when I was alone, eyes closed, my other senses came alive. I used touch to feel around for eye drops and eye shields. I unfortunately tasted the nasty eye drops that made their way through the channels of my eye down the back of my throat. I had queued a few podcasts up in anticipation of my recovery, and so I also used my hearing to an uncommon degree. I’d been meaning to listen to these particular podcasts for some time, and only then, when I absolutely could not do anything else, took the time. This is how life often goes for me; circumstances force certain situations which often yield benefits that I could be getting every day, if I only made the time. I know that I won’t always make the time, and so I cherish these reminders and times of realization, where I’m grateful for warmth and a warm bed, friends and family, the time to reflect on and assess where I am and where I want to be going.

Imagination, creativity

In one particular podcast I listened to, A New and Ancient Story, Charles Eisenstein and Satish Kumar discuss how many of us have lost our imaginations in industrial society. This statement really hit home for me. The lack of imagination and creativity is a huge reason why I have been so dissatisfied with my societal academic and income-earning pursuits. While they have earned me praise and money, they have been almost entirely devoid of imagination. My employers tolerated just a small amount of “outside of the box” thinking, but, in the end, they called on me to produce quality-assured, uniform-grade “products” acceptable to the institutional gatekeepers. Society gives license for imagination to children and inventors of fanciful profitable technologies, and perhaps also to starving artists, though, by the name, one can tell that this is a license with a huge caveat. As a starving artist, one can gain respect in name, but that respect is not met with the rewards of society, such as the ability to afford the best or any health care, and the luxury to spend freely on things like laser eye surgery. It is the fear of not having the seeming certainty that an employer provides, once I’ve had it, that has kept me going so long down a dull and uncreative path. To be fair, it also took me many years to gain the confidence to live an unconventional life (by East Coast U.S. societal standards), and I have so many to thank for helping me on that journey. In talking with many of my friends and acquaintances, this fear of leaving behind what appears to be certainty and comfort is common and has kept many stuck in bad places.

No imagination, no creativity

What a shame. What is the point of having our brain capability if we are not able to exercise our imaginations, express our emotions, live out our desires in a way that meets our needs? And I mean truly meets our needs in a meaningful, imaginative, way, without pre-designed boxes within which imagination must fit? Every day that I wake up, the ecological integrity of the planet continues to be ransacked, despite the efforts of many to make things less bad. This fact assures me that imagination and new relationships with all of the beings on this planet are needed. The way the dominant culture operates does not work. What excuse do I have for not participating in helping to create a different way?

Over the past couple of weeks, partly as a result of my limited vision and having to slow down, partly as a result of the inspiring conversations I’ve listened to, I’ve been repeating to myself that I must not allow myself to be broken. No, I must not allow myself to be broken by the societal machine, the talking heads on repeat saying that society is the way it is for good reason, that things will get better in the future (they just have to!), that “someone’s working on a solution for x,” and so on and so on.

I’ve realized how close I have come to being broken. I’ve nearly crashed on several occasions: bad relationships, questionable mentors and advice, denial, escapism, workaholism. I educated my mind for 26 years and sadly neglected my soul and mistrusted my feelings and experience. I was nearly broken into a drone repeating the tired, cliche phrases, like, “that’s just the way the world is.” I was almost broken into embodying the belief that everything can be explained scientifically and broken down into reason and logic. Though I actually have come to accept the world (read: industrial society) as it is, there is a critical, damaging message underneath “that’s just the way the world is.” The purveyors of this phrase mean that you should step in line. They are telling you to play the game, because the structure of society is the way it is for good reason, and it can be made better, and even great, with small tweaks. They are trying to make you feel powerless and complacent. 

This way of thinking and being is wrong and very damaging to those who see that a new, sane way is possible, those who see clearly that the dominant system is not serving most people and is most certainly not serving the majority of beings on this Earth. I have been profoundly liberated by accepting that the world is really messed up (more specifically, that the human collective has messed it up) and that I want to participate as little as possible in the parts of society that continue messing it up. It is naive to think that those of us able to write and read on the world wide web will be able to escape the throws of global civilization completely, but there are several ways to move toward that end. There are many people doing so, and I am so excited to join their ranks in the coming months and years.

Bad imagination, no creativity, delusion

Last week, after half a day spent staring at a blurry screen at my job (subjecting myself to such torture for blurry reasons altogether), I ran home from the train stop in my work costume. I was exhilarated. The world was blurry, as my eyes are still healing, but liberation felt, and still feels, so near. I’m thankful for the time in which I needed to heal, in that it allowed me to close my eyes and see at a time in my life when my eyes are constantly being taken by many distractions. In my recovery and rest, I’ve been given a taste of what life will be like when I am more free, when I have more of a say in my own daily activities. That time, in fact, is not even a month away! My needs will remain the same: shelter, water, food, nature connection, close relationships. Each day I will wake up with a mission to meet those needs in the best way possible, in a way that can go on for thousands of years. I will lose many of the societal advantages I have been given, like all the things and services I need to stay alive and (at least physically) well always at an arm's reach. However, nothing brings me more joy than using my skill and imagination, and all of my senses (not the least of which my vision!) to live justly on this Earth, and to be my best for myself and everyone I encounter. I will not allow myself to be broken, because, in the end, it is really only me standing in my own way.