Planted from the Heart

Witless Wanderings of Nibbling Sheep

It is the sufferings and insecurities of our lives that, although painful and distressing, teach us not to cling to the impermanent things of this world. Not even the greatest master could teach us so well. We should honor and respect them, not shun their company.

~ Dongshan Liangjie (9th Century Chinese Ch’an Master)

 

Kristin placed a dollop of peanut butter carefully upon each round of sliced banana and then artfully arranged it all on a plate in the shape of a smiling face with eyebrows raised in a quizzical look. The girls devoured this dessert like ravenous wild dogs until there were only two pieces left. Juniper, the younger, grabbed one piece and quickly popped it into her mouth and then grabbed the second one and as I was saying, “that’s for Maddie” popped it in too. As Maddie bounded down the hallway to where we were…

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Values – Family, Home and Creativity

My dearest girls,

As we embark on a year of transformation, Papa came up with the idea of writing letters to you, so that someday in the future, if you ever wondered how we chose the direction to take our – and your – lives, you could have these letters. As I sit here on our couch, in Arcata, California, I am not sure where to begin to tell you how we got to where we are – readying ourselves for a major life change, moving out, quitting a permanent, stable job (in Papa’s case), simplifying, downsizing.  Beyond those changes I don’t know what will happen – I don’t know what we’ll do for income, or where exactly we will find our home place (we think it’s somewhere in the Methow Valley of Washington, so we’ll start looking there!), or how our lives together will unfold after this change.  What I can tell you is why we are doing it, and perhaps, in this first letter, that is the best place to start.

What do you value? A question that is rarely asked, and difficult to answer sometimes, because we so rarely stop our busy lives to ask this very simple thing. Honestly, I don’t know if I’d have stopped to ask myself this question if your Papa hadn’t asked me!  I find that in answering it I am always a bit hesitant – it’s almost as though the answer is precious to me alone, and that sharing it somehow makes me vulnerable.  I suppose it makes me feel that I’m showing someone my “soft spot” to tell them what REALLY matters to me.  So now I’m finding that the more I can share this with others, the more confident I feel about what my values truly are at this point in my life.  Right now, today, what I value most is Family, Home, and Creativity.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  I feel like the values we have is really more like a web – where everything is connected somehow, and there are no clear categories or separation. My three core values are all attached to each other, and to the greater world around us, it is hard to talk about them individually.  I value you girls so much, and so we are choosing to change our life so that you can live in a way that we believe will foster your confidence, creativity, and understanding of yourself and others. My sense of family has deepened so greatly since having children, and I find at times I am so intently focused on you both I can almost forget that there is so much else happening in the world. Luckily for all of us, the world has a way of getting our attention, otherwise I may become far too tunnel-visioned! The world we live in is such a dynamic place, perhaps now more than ever, as we watch the very climate we live in begin to change in ways we cannot ignore any longer. It is this world that draws me out of becoming entirely focused on my family, and brings in my sense of home. Home refers to both our individual place where we feel connected to the earth, as well as the earth itself. At the small end of my sense of home, I want to live in a way that makes anyone who comes to our home feel welcome and to be a place where we can all feel free to be who we are. In the broader sense of home, I want to live in a way that minimizes our negative impact on our beautiful world. I have always loved nature, and from an early age I was concerned and troubled by the way in which we humans have treated our planet and the fellow beings that inhabit the earth with us. Having children has only intensified these feelings, because now I imagine what the world will be like for you as you age – what kind of world will it be when you are my age, perhaps with children of your own? The over-consumptive lifestyle that has become the norm in today’s culture is completely unsustainable, and at some point we will run out of resources to support such consumption. We can choose to change our habits now, however, rather than having complete resource depletion finally force us to severely limit our consumption. In today’s culture, houses are bigger and bigger, while families are smaller than ever; people have more stuff, gadgets, toys, clothes, devices, etc but far less happiness and contentment. I want to explore the boundary where “not enough” meets “just right”, and find out how little stuff we can have that allows us to live simply, yet also richly. The riches will not be expressed in new cars, the latest cell phone technology, and unnecessary gadgets, but rather in the relationships we have with friends and families and our connection to the earth. Our riches will show in the food we grow, the skills we learn, the network of people who we have worked with throughout the years to build our lives. To have this dream realized, we will draw on our creativity. Our innate creativity is often untapped, or maybe it’s been squashed down over the years, as we are told in subtle and overt ways that we should all act a certain way, according to some assigned values that are given by Mother Culture which change depending on the color of our skin, the amount of money we make, and who our parents are. What Papa and I hope to create is our own life, apart from what our Mother Culture is telling us we should be doing with our lives.  According to Mother Culture in the early 21st Century, Papa and I should both be working full time.  We should have a couple car payments and credit card debt.  We should have a TV.  We should buy all our food at the supermarket.  You both should be in full-time daycare/preschool.  And we should most definitely never question why we all live this way.  So instead we are being creative – starting with the way we think.  And once you start to think creatively and questioning…, it’s like going down the rabbit hole – there’s no going back!  We want our life to be of our own making, and this idea spills over into so many different things.  We want to grow our own food, raise our own meat, build our own houses.  And we want you to help us in all these things, and by doing all this, to learn about the world around you, to be confident in yourselves and your creative gifts, whatever they might be and wherever they might take you.

We are only in the beginning of this adventure, at the point where we have realized that the role we’ve been assigned to play by Mother Culture is not one we feel moved to perform. So we have begun to question why we have to do all the things that white, middle-class, educated Americans have to do. What happens if we don’t? What happens if we go a completely different way? We do not want to move away from people, away from communities, and be hermits in the woods. But we do want to take a step back from the current status quo, and then maybe another step or two after that. This path we find ourselves on has been years in the making, and now we find ourselves on the brink, making preparations for taking the big leap, and having faith that the net will appear. How exactly this will happen is the adventure, the journey we are on together, as we take the “road less traveled by”. For a long time now I’ve been excited to think about my future with Papa, and now, as your Mama, I am even more excited that you will be along with us on this adventure.

Your loving,

Mama

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written by Kristin

Letters to our daughters: Values

A note to the reader: Kristin and I have started an endeavor whereby we are writing a letter a month to our daughters, who won’t be able to read these letters for many years. Our desire is to capture some of what we are going through and thinking now and to pass that along to their future selves when it’s the right time to do so. What a gift to give our kids – (some) of the understanding of why their parents did what they did way back when. Kristin and I are writing separate letters and we wanted to share them with you all. This first one is from me but there will be others to follow. I must admit that I am a bit nervous about hitting the publish button as this is a seriously transparent window into who we are. “Leap and the net will appear”, it has been said, so here goes!

 

Dearests Madeleine and Juniper:

Mama and I have decided to write a letter a month to you both for the next year or so. The reason we are doing this is two-fold: First, we want to do something that forces us to write more frequently creatively, and second, we want to explain a bit of our thinking that is going into our decision to take what we are calling the Great Plunge. This Great Plunge is our term, although we will use others also, for making seemingly dramatic changes to our life that will include me quitting my job and all of us all into a bus that we are converting into small home. We also seek out land to live on and a rural community to become a part of. On the one hand these changes are not all that dramatic because they are based on our core values and include changes that we have already begun to make. On the other hand, they are a radical shift away from mainstream living in America (the “Industrial Growth Society”, as Joanna Macy coined), and toward what we hope is a more life-sustaining way of living.

I am writing to you in an attempt to explain to your future selves the why behind the life that your mom and I are intentionally deciding to live. It’s a life that we hope to design in the best sense of that word, not to control but rather to cultivate and culture. I hope that through these words you will understand that a lot of soul searching and thinking has led us to these next decisions. Because nothing is static, everything is always changing and everything is connected, we don’t and cannot know where this will all take us. Each decision causes myriad effects, which then become causes themselves. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we do know that our actions radiate outwards in never ending circles like a pebble dropped into still water. It is our vow to act in ways that cause positive ripples throughout the world.

In a single sentence, the following quote from Gary Snyder (poet, teacher, Buddhist and mountaineer) sums up how I want and vow to live: with simplicity, boldness, gratitude, strong and generous work and play, and with lots of walking and laughing:

Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.

In the following paragraphs I will attempt to explain and weave together our core values with the life that we envision. This is no way means that this is how it will always be because even our core values will change over time. Above all else we envision a dynamic life that will evolve with our changing selves and the changing conditions around us – a life that will be responsive to the conditions and needs of the world around us and that is part of “….the great adventure of seeking solutions as to how best to live” (William S. Coperthwaite).

Harmony. We are doing this both for ourselves and for you with the full recognition that we are not separate. We cannot simply make self-centered decisions without causing harm to you and everyone else; and we cannot sacrifice our own lives solely for your benefit without causing great harm to ourselves and others. We aim for a balanced and harmonious life and will use that, perhaps more than anything else, as our yardstick for a life well-lived.

Simplicity. We endeavor to “live among the enchanted: enchanted by the possibility for simplicity and beauty for all” (William S. Coperthwaite). Living a simple life opens up a world of possibilities for all of us. By not letting our life be taken over by too much debt or too many things and by limiting unnecessary distractions, we open up a world of possibilities for ourselves and others. When we take too much from the world we take away the possibility for others to live healthy, vibrant and fulfilling lives. And the same is true for ourselves; when we fill our lives with unnecessary stuff, we limit ourselves. Living simply means to live a less distracted and more wholesome life where we can discover the wonder and joy that exists both within ourselves and throughout the world. And to allow others this same possibility.

Adaptability/Resilience. In addition to cultivating harmony, we aim to create a resilient existence that is highly adaptable to current and future change. It is also an existence that encourage grace, beauty, joy and love in the world and that ensures others have this opportunity as well. Resilience is characteristic of strong individuals, families, communities and societies and this is something that we foresee as crucial in our rapidly changing world. We don’t know what the future is going to entail but things are changing so quickly that I don’t think the past will be much help in predicting the future. Our hope is to create a resilient and strong family by learning ancient skills in living that we have forgotten, by re-wilding ourselves in thought and action, by knowing how to grow food and tend the land, by learning to build housing and by honoring our interconnectedness with the world. By learning how to provide for our own basic needs and encouraging others to do the same, I believe that we can create resilient communities that are self-supporting and that add to the world rather than take away from it. Another aspect of resilience is adaptability which very much includes the ability to think for oneself. I do not want to cultivate the mentality of a sheep, looking for a shepherd to follow. I would rather encourage free-thinking and inquiry as practices of adaptability and resilience. The ability to change with changing conditions and to bounce back from setbacks will be crucial in this rapidly changing world. Through building relationships, honing practical living skills, and tending the earth we can ensure that the world continues to take care of us, all of us, while we continue to take care of it.

There is so much more to say and not time enough to say it all. I hope that future letters will give you a window into my actions and the thinking, feeling and core values behind them. For now, simply know that I love you more deeply and widely than I knew was ever possible and that this love continues to grow each and every day!

Your Loving Papa

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Written by David

Scraps of Paper Come Alive

Here is one I wrote on Witless Wanderings that I thought was appropriate for this site as well. Its about the delight of the moment and the beauty of warm chicken eggs on cold hands. I hope you enjoy it!

Witless Wanderings of Nibbling Sheep

I just found a half-sheet of yellow paper ripped off a legal pad, stained with coffee and displaying the beginnings of what looks like an excellent round of crayon doodling by a toddler. The title says, “Blog Post” and under that I wrote a list of things to write about:

  • The warmth of eggs on cold hands
  • The crescent moon slowly slicing its way across the western sky
  • The huskiness of coastal dusk

Finding this list this morning stopped me in my tracks and brought a smile to my face for it is a brief glimpse into my life, into a day in my life showing something about the richness in which I live and the mind that I try to cultivate – a mind without walls that can be present, aware and appreciative of whatever is occurring in the moment.

How wonderful is it to know the delight warm…

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Sprung, Well Sort Of

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Peach blossoms and the sweetness to come.

 

Spring here on the west coast in northern California sprung some time ago. The verb to spring isn’t exactly the best descriptor of it in this mild, maritime climate, however. Emerge might be better, like western coltsfoot (a flowering plant in the aster family) and the horsetail which seem to be able to push up through anything including asphalt. Spring here, seems to emerge softly out of the middle of winter or else flow forth, continuous and subtle. Winter and spring merging as one before spring emerges out of it. Pacific chorus frogs are the very definition of this: they started singing with the heavy rains of fall and I can still hear them singing their nightly chorus now months latter.

Having grown up in upstate New York, where seasons are distinct and often sudden,I have been slow to catch on to the minute differences in the seasons here. With a temperature that doesn’t vary much throughout the year and conifer dominated forests that are ever-green, I have to notice subtler details to indicate season. Wind direction, rain fall, the return of salmon, an the angle of daylight all tell me something important about seasons.

Here there is no great profusion of wildflowers (except perhaps out on the coastal dunes where invasive beach grass has not take over) as I remember years ago living in Texas, where the roadsides were a riot of bluebonnet, paintbrush and blanket flower, but still there are flowers here. On a recent hike in old-growth forest, I was delighted to see the subtle, brown and green flowers of the fetid adder’s tongues nearing their end and western trillium, with its triad of showy white blooms, just beginning theirs. Milkmaids, redwood violets and western coltsfoot added their color to the forest floor.

Here at the old homestead, signs of spring abound and have been for a month or more. The elderberries were the first to leaf-out, followed by the red-flowering currant, the gooseberry, blueberries, alder and now the fruit trees are just starting to show signs of waking up. On the animal front, the chicken’s rate of egg laying has picked up from a mid-winter slump, and on nearby farms (where Kristin is working) lambs, kids, and piglets are being born.

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The backyard flock – Buff Orpington, Americauna, Silvery-laced Wyandotte, and breeding pair of Muscovy ducks.

At the same time as all these signs of spring, the Aleutian geese are starting to stage here in vast numbers. In the mornings and evenings we hear there high cries and see their long skeins and Vs leaving no trace as they traverse the sky. To me they are the transcendence of season for they are of both winter and spring. Here in this small corner of the world, the Aleutians come here at the very end of winter to stage and fatten up before their long migration north to the islands that are their namesake. Suddenly there are thousands upon thousands of them in and around Humboldt Bay and I wondering when they all came and from where. Their numbers are so vast, that they define this time of year, this season for me more than any other plant or animals. And just as suddenly as they had appeared, one day soon they will all get their mysterious cue from nature and start their northward migration. In their absence, I will stand outside with my eyes gazing skyward and notice unequivocally that spring  is almost gone and that summer is nipping at its heals.

The promise of summer to come – home grown veggies!

 

~written by David

Going up the wall

We rode the excitement of having the floors done for awhile – we had a dance party, we slid around in our socks (the bamboo is very slippery!), we hosted our first guests by throwing a futon mattress on the floor and a string of white lights… And then got back to the work at hand.Getting the walls in.  It was a long process – we found a deal on old-growth redwood tongue-and-groove paneling (pulled from under an old house in Eureka!), and began the slow process of sanding each board and treating it.  Not an easy feat when it’s October in Humboldt and the rains have started.  We treated the boards with a mixture of tongue oil and lemon extract – it looks beautiful, the grain of the wood really pops, it smells good, and it is non-toxic, so our girls were able to help in the process.

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Redwood boards drying in the sun (photo taken by Madeleine, our 5 year old)

While we waited for sunny days to sand, we also worked on the “framing” of the existing walls of the bus.  We needed these to have something to attach the paneling to, and it was, I have to admit, a pretty tedious process.  We used 1×2 boards and attached them vertically every 15″ (or so) with self-drilling drywall screws.

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Then we put some type of insulation in between, either the foam insulation we used under the floor, or some double bubble reflective insulation we had from another project like in the picture below.

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And the final step was using a table saw and cutting the panels for the top sill. Yay the corner came together nicely!

 

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And the nearly finished walls! The gap in the paneling on the right side of the bus where a woodstove will go to heat the bus (it will sit on top of the framed in wheel-well).IMG_5834

We have a couple things to finish up on the walls, such as the baseboards, some finishing edges, and caulking the gap between the paneling and the windows.  Our next mini-projects are built-in shelves (one of which you can see the framing for in the above photos on the right hand side of this picture) and the next major project is the wiring of the bus!  We hope to have more photos soon, but we’ll see how things progress….

~Kristin