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I was just getting underway with the blog in 2004, so the entries are rough and unfinished. They read more like notes than like finished pieces. I promise… I will clean them up! [January 12: I’ve cleaned up about half the entries.]

Green vs Brown

I’ve been thinking about the difference between the Green and the Brown worldviews. I’m beginning to see a polarity, a conflict, that may be the big conflict of this century.

How could I describe the conflict concisely? Small, decentralized communities vs power and hierarchies.

Surprisingly, I don’t think that nature is the key factor. Few people seriously argue against nature. We all love nature. The argument is always: “We are sorry, but we need to sacrifice nature for the benefit of humans.”

I think the root motivation is social: to maintain one’s place in the human hierarchy or to climb higher. Greed, for example, is not the physiological desire for more food (there is only so much you can eat), or for the pure pleasure of owning clothes, houses, and possessions. It is the social status that accrues.

Slowly I seem to be recovering my enthusiasm for gardening and other projects.
I’m not sure why I got burned out. Maybe because I always tackle too much at once. In any case, I’ve been reading about traditional gardening and Gertrude Jekyll.

Gertrude Jekyll, aka “Bump”

One problem with Gertrude Jekyll and the English landscape designers — at least for me — is that their history is intertwined with the rich and privileged. Even that would be okay, except for the tremendous snobbery and condescension. The lack of any awareness that there is a problem with living off a peasantry. As her biography admits, she was a great snob.

On the other hand, one cannot avoid admiring Gertrude’s productivity and what she accomplished. Her taste is impeccable. Many of the values she held are good values (tradition, nature, etc.). Is this the Tory view of the countryside? I don’t know English history and culture well enough — thank God! My ignorance enables me to appreciate the good about Gertrude Jekyll without having the emotional reactions a native would.

Sometime I’d like to write about the way that Gertrude taught herself one craft after another. Amazing discipline and talent.

Apparently, she was quite a formidable figure. What humanized her for me was her long relationship with the much younger Edwin Lutyens, the famous country architect. With Lutyens, she was able to unbend; he called her “Bump” and teased her playfully. At the same time, they collaborated on many projects and influenced each other’s craft. It’s the sort of relationship that is unfamiliar to us in our cynical, overt times.

Some interesting facts about Gertrude’s family. Her brother Walter was a Church of England cleric who was unfrocked because of his radical views (I wonder what they were?). He moved to Jamaica, became a Buddhist, collected folklore, and served as mentor to Jamaican/American writer Claude McKay (“Jamica’s poet laureate”).

In England, he had been a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, and there is speculation that he lent the Jekyll name for Stevenson’s classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Also, there was a nephew, Francis Jekyll (nickname Timmy), who was a figure in the first English folk music revival and wrote a biography of his famous aunt. His personal life, however, sounds sad — dominated by severe depression.

Reculer pour mieux salter

Reading about Gertrude Jekyll makes me think about my direction. There’s something in her life that is a bracing tonic for us moderns. Her “environmentalism,” expressed as a love of traditional crafts and the countryside, came from within, from deep personal needs. It pushed her to productivity and creation. In contrast, the modern impulse might be to join a group, take a class, become an activist.

Is there anything wrong with the modern approaches? No, not in themselves. What’s wrong is what is missing — the personal, the family-ar, the unique point of view. One can’t imagine Gertrude Jekyll taking her opinions from the Web, from environmental magazines, or from anywhere in the media. There is a strength that comes from standing on the earth, from being in touch with something deep.

How does this look in practice? Staying in one place. Attachment to people, places, and customs, especially to the homely and non-commercial. Attachment to land. Gardens. Landscapes. One’s personal history.

Not being so quick to jump into group activities. Instead, commiting to a few connections of high quality.Not letting one’s life fill up with trivia and detritus.

The distinction I’m making here does not correspond to the environmentalist/mainstream, left/right or urban/rural dichotomies.

It’s an awareness of who one is, where one came from, what one’s place on earth is. It’s neither brash nor apologetic. As one begins to value tradition and nature, one becomes vulnerable, as so much in the modern world seeks to destroy or exploit these values.

Certain things kill these values: TV, modern movies, modern magazines,

Liquid Gold

This Saturday, I went to hear a talk in Berkeley on “Liquid Gold” by Carol Steinfeld. She’s written a book on the subject ( Liquid Gold),

“Liquid Gold: How to Use Urine to Grow Plants (Safely!)”

…Every day, we urinate nutrients that can fertilize plants that could be used for beautiful landscapes, food, fuel, and fiber. Instead, these nutrients are flushed away, either to be treated at high cost or discharged to waters where they overfertilize and choke off aquatic life. Join us for a lighthearted but practical talk about how urine – which contains most of the nutrients in domestic wastewater and usually carries no disease risk – can be utilized as a resource. We’ll discuss three ways to grow away urine – composting, urine-graywater system, and urine fertilizing – safely and without odors. We’ll make a small urine-graywater planter and look at ways to make easy, inexpensive urine-diverting composting toilets.

I did more research and found some good resources on web. The idea of re-using urine and feces is compelling. See eco-san.

SF Bay talk

Recently, I went to hear local geologist/activist Ken Lajoie talk about the formation of the San Francisco Bay. He’s a modern Jeremiah whose retirement from the US Geological Survey provably provoked a sigh of relief from the bureaucrats. He’s worth listening to:

Took a vacation

I took a vacation from blogging. Is this something I really want to do? Will I continue it? Do I have anything to say?

Visited family. Worked in garden. Read two old sf favorites: Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith and The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem. On the web, I read book and movie reviews
by Louis Proyect, an independent socialist and Marxist.

Found a good video on Organizing (organizing one’s possessions, that is, not the working class). Scroll about 40% down the page to the entry for REGINA LEEDS: “The Zen of Organizing: Creating Order and Peace in Your…”

Her key ideas for keeping yourself organized:

  • Learn to say No.
  • Take small steps.
  • Don’t make organizing a Should.

Small steps in secret

Trying Mozilla 1.7

As part of my effort to get away from Microsoft, I have downloaded Mozilla and am trying the Web page creator. It’s part of my effort to get my life and environment in order. To get my tools in order.

I have felt overwhelmed… just walking around the condominium can give me a headache, seeing all the things that are broken or need attention. What if I were to ease off gardening (theoretical gardening) and spend more time on actual cleanup and getting things in order?

Small steps in secret

An acronym — SSS — for Small Steps in Secret. I think this is the way for me to proceed:

  • Plot your own personal satisfaction, rather than working for abstract ideals or to satisfy a group.
  • Slowly make connection with the community.
  • Work from your center outward. Start with the things you do frequently, with those that give you great. Get those things in order, then move outward to things you have not done much or with which you are less familiar.

Perhaps I can write a paper on this strategy.

Bill McKibben strikes back

On the Orion website I found a hard-hitting video talk by Bill McKibben. On the same site was a piece by James Howard Kunstler, a rant about the Cargo Cult mentality of modern America. The pieces encouraged me — made me feel my path was not so isolated.

Shifting sands underfoot

Still wondering, what to do about gardening? The present approach is not right. Let me back off from studying gardening. It has been good and I will continue, but not at the same degree of intensity. The gardening world is not the world for me, not entirely. Besides I want to relax from my “mission,” enjoy life, clean things up.

I actually don’t want to change my life that much. I just want to slow down, make sure that I get things done. Take it easy. Establish routines and work at things regularly. As opposed to the intense efforts I have been making to establish a new direction.

I’m feeling down about gardening. I wonder why? For one thing, there is the frustration of having a large garden, falling behind in the work. The yield from the garden is large and continuous, and that is a strain on Ms P and me. P is overwhelmed by the cycle of produce (lots all at once), plus the challenge of learning how to make use of new vegetables.

In addition, it is hard swimming against the cultural current. Gardening with nature is definitely a minority viewpoint. Why not buy your food at the supermarket? Why not spray? Why not use chemical/organic fertilizers? Why not plant in rows?

For that reason, it is wonderful to find other people who share my values about this. At least we can talk.

But as I get further into this field, I see all the characteristics of a field which is not valued or rewarded by society. Systems and beliefs spring up which are superficial and opinionated. There is a lack of solid and continuous effort, e.g. scientific or professional. There is a split between jaded professionals and enthusiastic and idealistic amateurs.

And I am frustrated by my own lack of knowledge, lack of ability.

More Mel Bartholomew

Another system! People love it, I love it. Its limitation is that it only addresses the problem of Middle Americans who want simple reliable answers “Simple, easy, can’t fail” (like Your Money or Your Life, 12-Step programs, etc.).

To my eye, the square foot grids are as inspiring as a parking lot, as cubicles in a corporation, as prison cells. Uniform, efficient and sterile, though the plants — like children — can’t be totally stopped from their tendency to anarchy and freedom. The plan allows no surprises. Nothing unusual or unpredictable.

The downside is lack of curiosity, of deep knowledge. Complete control over nature.

Similar uniform systems are chemical row gardening, raised beds and corporate monoculture. In contrast, there are the organic forms of cottage gardening and forest gardens, and Fukuoka and Emilia Hazelip. The contrast is between the engineering mindset and nature/history.

The pluses of Mel Bartholomew’s system:

  • Mel B is inviting, open and generous.
  • His enthusiasm is contagious, and his confident evangelistic style inspires others.
  • The method itself is simple, effective, productive. It optimizes the production of vegetables for people who aren’t that interested in gardening and nature, who are pressed for time.

I think gardening lends itself to these Systems. Nature is very forgiving and will produce yields even with mistakes and strange inputs. On the other hand, it is complex and unpredictable.