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What Does “Living Green” Really Mean?

November 21st, 2008

The coldest day of Autumn arrived last night with temperatures around 15 degrees F.  The wood stove is a constant roar of fire and warmth, and the little birds outside are clustered around the feeders.  Have I said how much we enjoy the wood stove?  I think it’s my favorite “investment” I’ve ever made… (better than a lot of others recently!). But the thing works really well and we get a lot of use out of it.  Of course it also helps to lower the heating bill and save on electricity.  And it’s a low-carbon emission stove… so what’s not to like?  I figure in four more years, the money we’ve saved on electricity will have paid for the stove itself.

    Buck Wood Stove

I bought a frozen turkey yesterday and since we didn’t have freezer/fridge space, I just left it outside.  Nice to have winter temps to keep things cold.  Along with a pot of venison chili I made yesterday… yum!  It was a little thin, so I’m going to thicken it up today- it was frozen when I brought it back in.   No, I haven’t taken a deer yet this year, but this finishes the last of the frozen ground venison for the chili.  

Venison chili

Speaking of wild game, this morning was funny- the boy and I are having breakfast and he says, “Daddy, guess what so-and-so brought to school yesterday?”  “Ah, I’m not sure, what?” I reply.  “Well they brought in a deer hoof and a deer tail, and the hoof was kinda bendy,”  he says.  “Hmmm…interesting… What did the teacher say?” I wonder out loud.  “She thought it was really cool!” he said.  I was impressed- his 2nd grade teacher didn’t think it was some weird or strange thing.  

I can’t help but wonder what a teacher’s reaction would have been in a more suburban environment?  For me it was a reminder of the difference between the schools here in the country and those an hour down the road.  In some places they would probably freak out if a kid brought not just a wild animal to school, but parts of that animal, still fresh!  Around here it’s just part of life and the food that feeds the family during the year. 

Living in the country and in small towns is awesome in so many ways (and inconvenient at times and a lot of work). I wouldn’t trade it for anything, at least while I can handle the work.  But in many areas the landscape (of people and places) is changing.  People are buying up the land and building bigger houses in rural areas.  Sometimes it’s called sprawl, with a negative view for unchecked population expansion.  And some of the people moving to the rural areas have a different mindset about a lot of things.  Not necessarily bad, just different.  

Leaves in the barn gutter

 

 

(Gutter cleaning time for the barn!  Need to find those gutter helmet thingies to keep the leaves out some day… but the leaves make great compost.  I got lots of exercise on the ladder. Those are the beehives in the background, wrapped for the winter.)

In some cases that population growth brings positive change and affluence to formerly depressed areas.  For now development is coming slowly in our area with the downturn in housing.  I’m certainly not against growth or the choices people make for where to live.  I am definitely for strategic planning and zoning based on community needs and considering local needs and interests in complying with state and federal law. 

I don’t think we should all be closeted away in clones of planned communities near the cities.  That’s fine if you choose to live there (and I might too one day), but I think it’s also okay to move out and find your own place in the country.   Last time I checked it was still a free country, though there’s some debate about what it will be like in a few years…

 

 

It also seems like there is a movement of people who want to live a simpler life, with sustainability as the theme.  Gardens, some livestock and natural living- a choice to find balance in life, maybe to “live green”, or to seek a more frugal and independent lifestyle for one’s family.  It makes me wonder how the contrasts and dynamics will play out between suburban and rural values?  Being “green” is quite fashionable these days.  Who doesn’t want a healthy planet?  We all do. But I think some people simply embrace the idea and fashion of a cultural change in being “green” while many others actually make hard choices about living it everyday.  

(Isn’t this a cool picture with the contrast of sky and trees?  The leaves just came off last week, and I’m still getting used to how open the sky feels.)

Treetops bare of leaves against November sky

Sure, lots of folks choose “green values” and adopt the “green movement” with recycling, organic and sustainable food production, and low-carbon transportation choices as leading themes.  And yet I think a lot of folks living in the country do the same thing everyday in ways that present challenges and choices that our more urban friends often don’t understand.  I wish I could speak more for myself in terms of sustainable living or homesteading like Ron’s and Karl’s families do.   We’re not there yet by a long shot, but we’re focused in other ways on growing food naturally, canning, planting trees, managing resources for wildlife, recycling materials on the land…

But the dynamics are so different from that of our friends an hour down the road.  Many of us also use bigger vehicles, engines and fuels to support family, agriculture and farming, we burn wood for warmth and even for reducing the fire hazard of too much brush around the property.  And we have to drive longer distances for schools, shopping, medical care. 

I guess my point (yes, I think I have one) is that it bugs the heck out of me when some ninny half a country away thinks they have all the answers based on the context of their lifestyle choices.  Living a “green lifestyle” can mean different things to different people, with many of the same goals in mind.   While the choices I make might be different from the choices another person makes, we can work toward those same goals for a healthy planet and find a balance with the reality that exists for our family’s needs.  

Now it’s time to go stir those “green” chilies in the pot again…

Remembering Those Who Serve

November 11th, 2008

Remembering Veterans and the American Flag 

There are many ways to serve, yet today we salute those Veterans who have served in the military and all those still serving the nation today.   There are far too many to remember, and yet we will not forget.  Who among us doesn’t know someone who has served?  So many years, so much hope and faith, so many friends. 

 

A New Day, The Journey Continues

November 5th, 2008

It is a new day in America, and one that many will talk about for years to come.  So many questions, hopes and dreams, and for now we can take a deep breath and move forward. I suspect that the next few years will not be nearly as bad as some have feared, or nearly as good as many might wish.  Perhaps somewhere along a middle road where we take a deeper collective look at overcoming the challenges we face.  I have little doubt we’ll find ourselves struggling with new challenges, but I also have enormous faith in the strength of the nation and its people.  And I respect the good intentions of those who will serve to lead this great democracy.  Of course you know what they say about good intentions…   Yet change and renewal is healthy, and in many ways vital to the growth of people and institutions.  The nation too will grow and change- we must.  

We may not always appreciate the direction the nation takes, or the choices of those with whom we disagree, yet simply participating in a peaceful election in a free democratic republic is an amazing thing.   For now we can appreciate the wonder and beauty of the world around us, and marvel at the hopes and dreams realized for so many people.  Just think of the inspiration that so many throughout the world must see today.   The American journey continues, and we get to be a part of it. 

A new day in America and at Fox Haven

Life Happens, Seasons Change

October 25th, 2008

Time for taking care of outdoor chores with colder temperatures on the way.  The warmer weather has been nice this month, and the annuals and garden plants have grown longer than usual.   There are still green tomatoes to pick and bring indoors until they ripen up.    And the eggplant has been flowering again!  There’s even a little eggplant growing… wonder if I dug it up, if it would grow indoors?

Green tomatoes growing in October before frost arrives

The fall season seems so busy with conflicting goals and desires… getting outdoors, family time, holidays, school, sports, cub scouts, homework, hobbies and more. But I love it… and it gives us the chance to be involved and to embrace life.  And not to forget  that even among the confusion and frustrations, it’s all part of living.   “Life happens while you’re busy making other plans…”  Remember who said that?  It reminds me to live in the present too.

A New Day, and a Tiger On His Tail

October 8th, 2008

Sometimes the world seems so small, especially when fog blankets the landscape.  At dawn we see the glow of light, and the sun rises, becoming brighter through the gray curtain of cloud.   On days like this the world awakens more slowly, or at least we may feel a closer, measured pace to the presence of life around us.   What does the sunrise represent?  Hope?  A new day, or a new future?

Sunrise through the fog in Missouri

Does it hold meaning for you?  I once read a story that framed the context of challenge by saying,  “In America we get up in the morning, we go to work and we solve our problems.”   And that’s pretty much a testament to action.  So often it’s that first step that is the most difficult.  But as we begin, as we move and as we take steps towards our goals, we are moving every aspect of our lives toward that new day.  With our action, opportunities will come, doors will open and circumstances will gradually shift toward our goals.  We don’t have to solve everything at once, but as we begin everything changes.   And we’ll get there.

Speaking of action, it seems the kitten and the yellow lab have become playmates.  The lab doesn’t quite know what to make of this little ball of energy.  The kitten romps and pounces, darts in and out and generally uses the retriever’s tail as a chew toy.  Instead of a “tiger by the tail,” this dog has a tiger on his tail.

 Kitten playing with Yellow Labrador Retriever

The kitten chomps and wrestles until the lab puts a big ‘ole paw on top of him.  Then a little  “reeoow!” screech and the cat darts away again.  We watch them closely, but he is amazingly restrained to the needle sharp teeth and claws of the kitten.  It will be interesting to see their relationship as they grow older.   When I imagine friendship between dogs and cats, I think of Sparky, no longer with us, as he walked with Justin.

Procrastinatus and Shouldering the Boulder

September 23rd, 2008

As summer came to a close this past weekend I found myself catching up on “things to do.”   Sometimes that list of things we want to accomplish is so overwhelming.  But I had to laugh the other day while musing about all the things I hope to do before winter this year.

We were fortunate this summer that the electric utility company has been trimming trees in the area.  Several ice storms over the past few years have knocked out electricity for days at a time in the cold of winter, and trimming the trees back helps protect the electric power lines from damange.  I’ve been watching and trimming a few of our trees where I could, but they were too high and overgrown for me to reach.  Last year some ice laden branches even bowed down our electric lines but fortunately didn’t break them.

One day last week I saw the tree trimmers along the highway down the road, and walked through the woods to talk with them.  We talked about their work and I asked if they could come on the property to trim the electric lines closer to the house, but they didn’t know if or when they would be back.  I planned to call the company and follow up, but lo and behold the next morning they were there! I walked out to see the large trucks and equipment, and one guy high up in a bucket trimming our trees.  Near the driveway there was a familiar message.

Lots of work to do in the country!

They left the sign near the trees overnight and came back the next day to finish up.  As I looked around the landscape that afternoon, I laughed at how appropriate the message was.  It was a stark, bright reminder of how I place myself too often in the mental state of “getting things done” instead of “appreciating what is.”  And in that mental state, either the process becomes too cumbersome, or I go from one job to another seemingly getting much accomplished, but instead spinning the proverbial wheels of my lawn tractor throughout the day.

Other times I’ll walk the property and everywhere I see “Work Area Ahead.”   I look at the weeds, the grass or fallen branches, motors needing repair and see “Here’s Work Too.”  I head inside for something to eat, look out the window and think “More Work Ahead.”  And I wonder if I’ll ever get it all finished.

But what am I trying to finish really?  Why am I in such a hurry?  What is it about the things I plan to do that may keep me from enjoying the beauty of the day or taking my time with something?   All questions I ask myself during either the more lucid, or more exasperated moments.

It must be the same for others whether at the office, business or home.  Maybe it’s our nature, and we have that intrinsic desire to get our work finished, and to achieve things professionally and personally.  Certainly it can be a good thing too, harnessing energy and motivation while seeking achievement and growth.

But if we aren’t careful we find ourselves thinking too much of our “Work” and it becomes an unconscious burden we carry around.  Ultimately, instead of harnessing a more productive energy, we look for subtle ways to avoid thinking about it, and find ourselves immersed in other things to do that are not quite so productive. My old friend Procrastinatus comes to mind.

I’ve often wondered about the human tendency to procrastinate, and perhaps I’m struggling to express some relationship between doing the work we must, procrastination and enjoying life along the way.  But I couldn’t examine the issue any more beautifully than Dr. Stephen Diamond has done recently in Existential and Mythological Perspectives on Procrastination.

“Another existential aspect of procrastination is what I call the Sisyphus syndrome. As punishment by the gods, Sisyphus, if you recall your Greek mythology, was fated to eternally roll a huge rock up a hill each day, only to have it roll back down just as he neared the top.”

“We all share a similar existential fate. We are each required to roll our metaphorical rock–whatever that may be–uphill every day, only to do it all over again tomorrow. It is arduous, difficult, tedious and laborious work.”

“This tedious aspect of life is something many people try to avoid via procrastination. We refuse to accept the difficult, dirty, tedious tasks in life, distracting ourselves instead with more amusing activities so as to avoid them. We avoid shouldering the boulder. But it should be remembered that for existential philosopher Albert Camus, Sisyphus found meaning and even contentment in accepting his fate. As must we all. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it: amor fati. Love your fate.”

I’m not sure about the fate part… and believe we can turn to God for reassurance of our ability to move forward.  But the article explores other aspects of procrastination and our daily life.  The author emphasizes living in the present, and that procrastination is an avoidance of the same.  And he speaks of passionately embracing what we do today.  In whatever way that I rationalize the things I need to do, or the priorities of the day, I know that unfortunately we can often find more exciting things to do rather than the mundane, repetitive tasks that really need done.

Eventually we come back to those things we need to do.  Finally we start in on something, and before we know it we’re musing along immersed in our work, doing more than we expected and perhaps less than we wanted.  But that’s okay, at least we’re living in that moment.  Getting lost in our work can be a good thing, especially if it’s something we enjoy.

When I find myself too consumed with things that “need done,” I look for a way to step back, or into that place of appreciation. I remember how I enjoy things more when the work is finished, with even completion as a short-term goal.  I hope that whatever work I do, I don’t lose the joy and beauty of the moment because of the seeming enormity of it all.

I’ll probably remember that orange sign for a while.  And in so many ways, I’m thankful to be able to work at all.

Perspective is Everything

September 18th, 2008

If you subject yourself to the news lately it has been a bit heavy with so much going on in the financial markets. Not to mention our military and economic challenges.  But in large measure it seems to me we’ve created this mess and now it’s time to work out of it.  And I use the term “we” very loosely.  There’s a bit of an overhaul due on the economic front of course, and whoever wins the election this fall will have quite the agenda going forward.  I could just be uninformed of course, but I think we’ll turn the corner just fine.  I’m a fairly optimistic guy normally, perhaps because I just don’t believe in entertaining the negative hype.  There are good days, and not so good days.  But they are all days.

Fox Haven pond in the rain

In any event I always find the dynamics of perspective enlightening.  One minute you can be whistling pleasantly in the garden, walk into the house for a drink of water, and then hear the media describe how the world’s ending.   That gives just about anyone a good reason to head back into the garden!  Or you might be walking in cold drizzle and fog, and then an hour later find yourself at 32,000 feet in bright sunshine, looking out the airplane window at the bright, puffy clouds below, everybody cheery as can be.  Perhaps those are physical shifts of perspective that foster the mental shift.  But that mental shift is a choice for most of us too, isn’t it?   We can do the same thing wherever we are, if we choose to.  I know for me that choice isn’t easy at times, but it’s always there.

Really I don’t mean to make light of the challenges the nation faces, but I remember a familiar refrain of my mother while growing up: “This too shall pass.”  Whether she was reminding herself of that truth while rearing four boys, or helping us to understand the same I don’t really know.  Probably the former!  But it’s true really.  Looking back over the last 20-30 years, how well do we remember the challenging economic times for the nation?  There are a few highs and lows of course, and the market crash of 1987 comes to mind.  But even that was a short event over time, and the grand pace of history has a sort of rhythm to it that most of us remember fondly even with the challenges.

Fox Haven pond in late summer

I think my point is that it helps to look at the long haul, to gain a distant perspective, and to try not to give in to the negative extremes that pervade so much of our media’s reality.  There’s a lot of good in the world, and many of us know first hand how lucky we are to live where we do.   We have much to be thankful for, and much to work for positively in our lives.  “This too shall pass” helps frame events in that larger perspective.  Hope and faith are important.  And there are always so many ways to look at things.

When I look at the landscape, and think of the history we’ve traveled, I know my lifetime is simply measured as one part of a greater whole.  I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I hope to make the most it.  And there’s another great secret about shifting perspective if you can find it.  Many of you already know this, or remember it.  Take a walk with a young child, through the woods, or in a park, and place yourself in that beautiful, imaginative place they know so well.  It’s really, really neat.  At least until they want you to start climbing trees and playing in the mud.  Then it’s time to fix a mower or something!  Have a great day.

Dawn in summer at Fox Haven

 

Ike’s Aftermath

September 16th, 2008

The past week has been challenging for so many people, especially those who live along the south Texas and Louisiana coasts, or are essentially refugees after Hurricane Ike.  The rain from that storm made it’s way up through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri leaving flooded homes and rivers yet to crest in its wake.   The storm’s impact was felt even further through Kentucky, Tennesee, Illinois, Indiana and states further east.   And let us not forget Hurricane Gustav a couple weeks ago- many along Louisiana are struggling to recover there as well.

I have not experienced a hurricane, personally riding out the storm in a home on the coast. That must be frightening, and I hope never to be caught in such an event.  One would hope to have enough foresight or means to leave and find shelter somewhere else. 

I remember standing on the deck of a ship in sideways rain and 60 mph winds trying to avoid the fringe of such a storm, and watching the pitching, rolling seas build and build.   I’ve flown over a super typhoon, watching the swirl of clouds spanning over 600 empty miles across the ocean, cruising along at 37,000 feet.   It leaves one fairly speechless to look down into the eye of such a maelstrom knowing that not much separates your little pink body and the immense forces of nature taking place far below.  It’s humbling. 

Watching the news and stories about the aftermath of Hurricane Ike is also humbling.  I’ve seen seen the aftermath of typhoons, cyclones and other natural disasters by other names in different parts of the world. The sheer devastation and the impact on human lives is barely comprehensible. And the pictures from Ike’s aftermath are barely comprehensible.

Those of us at a great distance and unaffected by the storm’s wrath can often do little but say prayers and provide assistance with donations to such organizations as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army or a church or other aid organization. 

To their credit a few companies are donating funds;  Lowes and Home Depot are both making a $1 Million donation to the Red Cross and local aid organizations for relief efforts, and ExxonMobil has pledged $5 Million toward disaster assistance.  I’m sure there’s more, and for those inclined, here’s a link to the American Red Cross Donation page, and another one for the Salvation Army’s donation page.

Awake at Dawn on a New Day

September 6th, 2008

 I’ve always found a sense of quiet joy in watching the sun rise in the early morning. Not that I’ve always been up that early, but when I am it’s like a special show that I’m privileged to see. I find myself up early more often these days.  Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always bought into the old axiom about each day being the first day of the rest of your life.  I really believe it.  Every day is new, and presents a chance to see and experience life in so many different ways.  

 Morning in America

Maybe we’ve found that much of our life was spent with other pursuits where we didn’t have the ability to walk outside on a quiet morning with a cup of coffee, and watch the world wake up.   And at some point in our lives many of us awake to the sobering reality that there may fewer days ahead of us than there are behind us, or that others will never have the opportunity we have to enjoy that special morning.  Yes, that’s just part of life, but it does lend a certain sense of value to each day, and for me, each morning.  

Maybe when we see the sun rise, it just feels good to take a breath of fresh air and be part of the awakening of the world around us.  It can even be a humbling experience where we begin to understand our place in the world.  If you haven’t seen the sun rise lately why not give it a try?  Wake up early and get a good cup of coffee or tea.  Find a place where you can sit outside and listen to the sounds of the world as the sky changes color.  Sometimes those sounds and colors reveal things you haven’t thought of for a very long time.  Sometimes those mornings bring change and awakening.  Sometimes they’re just simple mornings, and you’re sleepy, but you’ve shared a few peaceful moments to prepare for the day.  Your day.  A new day.

Life and Ice Cream Dreams

August 31st, 2008

Why is it we surround ourselves with living things?   No matter where we choose to live, we seek life in the world around us.  We join with others to begin families, develop friendships and seek things greater than ourselves that inspire us and fire the imagination of the soul.

Sometimes it’s the simple things, and we choose kittens or other creatures to share our lives with.

Kitten drinking milk

Maybe we just appreciate the life that exists in the world, and go see it when we can.  Life is pretty simple when you think about it.  For all that we do, life is really about growth.  And age doesn’t matter.  What happens when something stops growing?   Can something stop growing and still be alive?  I don’t think so, at least not very long. 

Bullfrog at the pond

Sometimes we seek life in growing plants and flowers, and find joy in nature’s abundance.  Whatever choices we make in our lives, we yearn for something more, we seek to make our lives, and the lives around us, matter in some way.  It may be with fame and fortune, or it may be with simple moments and small kindnesses.

Sunflower and a butterfly

A few months ago one of our favorite ice cream stores closed at a nearby small town.  It was run by a family dairy for decades, and the patriarch of the family had passed away.  He could be seen quite often sitting behind the counter, smiling at customers who loved this home-made goodness.   It was his dairy, his ice cream store, and his life.   After he was gone the rest of the family didn’t want to continue operating the ice cream store and it closed.  But I still see his smile when I think of the times we visited, and the smile on my father’s face when he got one of those cones.  I’ve yet to find a butter-pecan quite the same.  What was so special about that place?   I don’t know.  Maybe it was sharing it with family, maybe it was the quaint little store, or maybe it was the ice cream.  Maybe it was all of that and more.

There are many chapters in our lives that close for one reason or another too.  But we don’t stop looking for more.  That seeking and questioning during the journey of our lives is part of our growth, even in the midst of our greatest confusion and challenges.   However complex we try to make it, life is simply about living. 

And maybe life is a little like ice cream too.  So many flavors, so many choices…  Now, what kind of life do you want to have? 

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