The Future is Insight

The title of this blog works on many levels- it plays off of my belief in hybrids being a critical step towards our future, the fact that introspection and mindful planning are critical to our future, and that the future is literally in sight for those that are willing to see it. Here I chronicle my attempt to Be the Change I wish to see in the world-and to help make that Future a Reality.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Am I a Druid?

That might seem like a ridiculous question. Perhaps it is. Regardless, it is one I have been pondering of late. Following a link on M.E.O.W. last week over breakfast, I found myself on the blog of the Archdruid of the US. Heady company! Mia has had Wiccan leanings thru much of her adult life, but for some reason I had not realized that there were still (or again) Druids among us. I spent an intriguing hour or so running around the Ancient Order of Druids of America (AODA) site and then this weekend jumped over to the even more informative site of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) for another hour or so of research.

Ever since we rejoined a Unitarian congregation this fall, I have find myself waxing more religious. I find myself using religious metaphors, quoting scriptures, and when the Jehovah Witnesses came by a few weeks ago I had them in and talked shop for over an hour before their refusal to discuss philosophy on a non evangelical level frustrated me into asking them to leave.

One result of that conversation is that in trying to explain my beliefs to them I came more to terms with just how pantheistic my worldview had become of late. Perhaps it was watching several thousand pounds of organic waste turn into life again the next year in my gardens thru my compost piles, only to soon become compost themselves. Or in witnessing the miracles of so many seeds sprouting in my gardens, and caterpillars turning into butterflies in my home, but the Web of Life has become very, very real for me. When the J. Witnesses asked what I thought would happen to me when I die, I said I wanted to (with all due respect) become part of God. In explanation I said that at the very least I found comfort in knowing that my body would become part of the trees and worms, but at most I hoped that I could finally share in the universal consciousness that links all living things... my version of God.

The OBOD site explains Druidry (they end it with a -ry and not -ism on purpose. Think Freemasonry as a philosophy/way of life vs Hinduism as a religion) like this:
It’s an attitude, an understanding, an exquisitely simple and natural philosophy
of living. For a great many it is a rich and ancient religion, a mystical
spirituality. For others it’s simply a guiding way of life. It is absolutely
open and free for anyone to discover.

Much like Unitarianism, there is no sacred text of Druidry, there is no, or very little, dogma and theology. But, again like Unitarianism, there is a unifying set of very broad beliefs and ethics. Reading through them I found almost nothing to disagree with, and much that struck deep cords of familiarity-like someone else putting pen to my ideas, or as if I had just remembered something. That is when I started asking myself that question... Am I a Druid? Or more precisely, could/should I become one? I found the symbolism of the Ogham strangely inspiring, and the sections on planting a Sacred Grove fascinating. I want to plant gardens to mimic nature and sustain themselves, planting one to sustain itself and others on a spiritual level as well is intriguing to say the least. When I plant a tree I truly believe I am healing the Earth... Am I a Druid?

I guess that will remain to be seen. I am certainly becoming a pantheist and am developing a reverence of Nature that is bigger than just environmentalism. But do I need another label? More importantly, though the sites ring true, I suspect strongly that the first time I showed up at a Beltane festival my Yankee Skepticism would be very concerned about running around and jumping over fires wearing very little clothing, but alot of woad. Meditation is good, but I am not at all sure I am willing to believe that I can achieve communion with the Otherworld by doing so. So for now I will continue to revere nature, honor the Solstices, and fight to protect the Earth, but will not call myself a Druid or be initiated into an Order.

But I bet I will whisper a prayer over the next tree I plant.


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Plant Propagation Update

So a month ago we were in a sobering warm spell that had me restless. The incredibly warm temperatures were adding alot of energy to my need to get our gardens more self sufficient. I know (hope?) that Global Warming will have a lesser effect here (though we are already warming in a Big Way-the Arbor Day Foundation just moved Zone 5 100 miles north in WI from just 15 years ago) than in coastal regions or the western Mid-West (which should become much drier), but I still felt the need to do something. With the weather warm, I chose to go out and take root cuttings from one of my 3 Comfrey plants.

I took those cuttings and packed 2-3 into good seed starting mix and some nice decorative pots that we had left over from some indoor plants I had killed last year (my green thumb turns brown indoors). I kept them moist, but time marched on. And on. And then three weeks went by. I moved one to the front window hoping that perhaps the sun would help warm the soil over the 65 degrees we keep the house at during the day. Then a month had passed with no growth. I consoled myself that the roots were probably sinking feeder roots, or that perhaps taking cuttings on Dec 30th wasn't exactly a recipe for success.

Then about 4 days ago a miracle happened. Comfrey leaves poked through the mix on the window pot, and yesterday the other 4 pots had shoots emerging as well. Success! I now have at least 6 new plants, and am expecting another 4 within the week. Enough to provide Grow Your Own Mulch for the 4 fruit tree guilds planned for this spring.

If these work out I will provide them via my Someday Gardens site hopefully by June since not even Forest Farm and their 500 page catalogue offers them. Readers that are interested just shoot an email under Someday Gardens "contact us" link and I will hook you up cheap-barter or plant exchanges encouraged!

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

CFL's-the Gateway Drug to a Greener Future

So I have had cause lately to consider the merits of some of the different paths to Sustainability of late. On the one hand you have the Gee Whiz items like recycled paper towels that save 200,000 trees or CFL bulbs that save the equivalent of 1,000,000 cars worth of emissions. The "do a little, and do a lot" camp. Then there is the simplify movement and their imperatives. Eat Local! Grow your own food! Bike to work! Compost! Still another camp works to tweak the system itself thru Natural Capitalism, the Natural Step, or Green Development in an attempt to have our cake and eat it to. In the Mia/Beo household we are doing most of these in some form or another (less than some on the simplify, perhaps more than others in the system change) and the merits of them all come under fire at times.

The Do a Little camp runs the risk of slacktivism attacks from those that have a more fatalistic, if perhaps truer, view of the future. Saving 1m cars worth of emissions just makes global warming only slightly less ominous if you believe that we already have 100 million too many cars to begin with. Of course these attacks rarely achieve the intended goal of inspiring the budding greenite to actually do more, and are much more likely to have them do nothing by scaring them off, leaving us all worse off.

The Imperative Camp has the virtue of passion on their side and can get wonderfully clicky. Organic gardening really is fun, Farmers Markets are a great way to meet people in your community, and reducing your impact by cutting back pays big dividends in the pocketbook as well as garnering psychological benefits like the aesthetics of old. We really care... look what we've sacrificed for our cause! But we loose the mainstream real fast. Our society has force-fed us a steady Fast Food diet of Entitlement for two generations. Dammit I worked hard and I have earned my 70" LCD TV! Good thing I have my Explorer to take it home in too! Look honey-we're saving money on delivery fees! That change will take time and even the best homemade bread pales in the hypnotic light of the latest techno wonder.

The Tweakers have their work cut out for them, but frankly have the best chance for Real Change in the near term by harnessing the powers of Capitalism-basically using Greed for Green Ends. I don't care what you think of global warming-gas is expensive, and if Wal-Mart can pull of its initiatives and actually save 100's of millions of gallons of gas in the next 5 years that is some serious ching-like $310million a year by 2015. The industrial benefits of efficiency are clear, but legislative changes can have huge effects too. Sweden just might be off oil by 2020 using the Natural Step, and even raising the C.A.F.E. standards by 1mpg would save enough oil to save the ANWAR. In one year (why are we doing this again? Oh right...). Heating entire blocks with the waste heat from the local McDonald's like they do Sweden's Green Zone might not sound sustainable-but it is a hell of a lot better than that heat literally going up in smoke. The obvious downside to this is that if Walmart has 100's of millions of gallons of gas to save it is the pinnacle of unsustainability to begin with...

So which path do we pursue? Well, we are doing them all. Everyone starts somewhere, and we all bought our first CFL at one time. Think of it as a gateway drug to a greener future. But careful there. Just because we have taken the trip into the Imperative Camp doesn't mean everyone is ready yet. One trap that I know we have fallen into is scaring the hell out of people with our passion-they aren't there yet. If all they ever do is buy on CFL-or install the one we gave them -that is one step closer for us all. The Imperative Camp can be dangerous-you get so addicted to cutting back that you can have a break down. Look-we all need to shower and if people are noticing your cutbacks in a personal way you've gone to far ok? I am personally pushing the Tweaking Angle in a big way. I am now a trained study group facilitator in The Natural Step for Communities, and we are making real change in our village with the Green Committee. I believe that the darker future could be real and all the compost I make in my lifetime won't save my children from the fate I foresee. I need to take (alot of) others with me.

But that is the rub. Sustainability can take on a fervency akin to religion. And religion scares off a lot of people or leads to nasty Us v. Them thinking. We will win this fight by being the Good Samaritan quietly practising random acts of kindness, not thru mimicking the nutjob on the corner frothing over his Bible.

Find your path to a more sustainable Future...

Be the Change.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

The Sing Along Song. By Bird, Sprout and Kitchen Aid

What happens when the kids help bake bread...


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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Just How Far?

Today at Church we had a guest speaker give an award winning Unitarian sermon. The sermon was to be about Doing Your Part-titled Just How Much. The theme was to be just how much inequality and oppression do you take before you take a stand. This is a great topic and the psychological discussions alone would be enough to interest me. Plus this sermon has won awards and we Unitarians are a skeptical bunch so I was excited. I was entranced and inspired by Dr. Groth's stories of her great, great, great grandfather's fight for liberalism on the front lines of the Abolitionist movement. But by mid way thru the sermon I was very ill at ease, and by the fourth time the Reverend has used the term fascist to describe President Bush or a Right Wing Christian I was ready to leave in protest. THIS was liberalism? To me it was fundamentalism, not liberalism. Where there is no room for compromise, there is plenty of room for error; where there is only us and them, there is little room for me. I can get very passionate, but to me, this was not a Sermon, but a hate filled speech that stemmed from a viewpoint that once looked like mine. This goes back to my often held view that left wing fundamentalists, and right wing fundamentalists both have their backs against the same wall but are facing different directions. Many found the speech inspiring. In a way-so did I. I am inspired to never let the hate get into me that badly. I can't shake the belief that this speech was given in a dozen other "fascist" Church's just with "Right Wing" terms swapped with "Left Wing". Hate is Hate.

So Just How Far do I need to be pushed until I stand up for what I believe in? I think I answered that question a year ago when I sold my sports car and started this wild journey into a more sustainable lifestyle. I almost never attend rallies. Rallies in the 60's changed the world. But today the world itself has changed and most rallies seem to me to be more slacktivism than something that will actually change anything. I have chosen a different path-it was intended to be one of action, but in the light of today's sermon I think it is religious as well.

Mia and I have chosen to lead by example where we can, and are building our lives from our clothes and food, to our yard and our cars to be something that others can look to and say-I could do that to! But lately we are taking more active roles. Take this week for example. Today I attended a training seminar with Sustain Dane to become trained in facilitating study groups for The Natural Step which is the Sustainability Model our Village has chosen to follow. This Spring I will be leading groups to help educate our community to start to change. Tuesday I will working with our Green Committee to begin the process on managing the stormwater in our community. And then Thursday I will be at the kick off meeting for the Smart Growth Steering Committee for our village as one of 3 chosen to guide our village through the planning process to hopefully avoid anymore sprawl here. I may not be standing on a corner with a sign, but I also think I am doing more good.

Am I angered by the actions of our Federal Administration? Hell Yes. But I refuse to dirty my mind with hate for them. I said earlier that I am coming to view our decision to change others through our actions as a religious act. Jesus very rarely got angry (I certainly can't see him saying this speech), instead he helped thousands learn to live better lives by living his life as a servant-meekly helping his fellow man. Perhaps it was my recent attending of a Green Sanctuary meeting, but I am thinking that environmentalism is a religious and moral act. And I choose to follow in the steps of the service oriented love of Gandhi, Buddha and Jesus, not the hate and fundamentalism of Dr. Groth.


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Friday, January 12, 2007

StormWater Update

Well the engineering proposal's are in and I have 4 days to read through about 300 pages of what can at times be some pretty technical stuff. For the record I am not an engineer. I have never studied law, and do not know how to implement a utility from the ground up in accordance with state law. So that meant the first 20 pages took me 2 hours as I taught myself about GIS (think Google Earth but with demographic data) mapping, ERU (Estimated Runoff unit?) measurement and allocation, IDDE plans (Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination) and a dozen other things that I had no concept of until yesterday.

However, in the next 4 days I will be forming an opinion on which engineering firms can best meet those challenges as we are choosing the top 3 this coming Tuesday. Then we will be interviewing those 3 firms to make the final recommendation to the board. Crazy.
The end goal of this huge project will be that we will allow ourselves to backcast our development for the next 10 years, and install a Storm Water Utility to hopefully install a fee-bate system to encourage the promotion of stormwater best management practices (BMP).

Backcasting? Think of it as the reverse of forecasting. Instead of saying "in 10 years we will have x acre feet of runoff" we instead plan for "in 10 years we want to have no more runoff than now-what do we need to implement now to achieve that". The difference is subtle, but backcasting gives the planners the power to set goals instead of letting sprawl gain inertia that becomes uncontrollable.
FeeBate? I love feebates. Basically you tax the behavior you wish to control (excess runoff) and use that money to fund initiatives that promote the behaviors you desire (BMP's). Think of it as taxing the Hummers to pay for hybrid rebates. You legislatively modify behavior in a budget neutral fashion. Sweet!
BMP's? These are legion, and include various practices to promote infiltration and water holding to both limit runoff and control pollution. Bioswales are a great example. Instead of draining large impervious surfaces like a commercial parking lot into a stormsewer, you direct the water into a bioswale which increases percolation to recharge aquifers and contains plants that trap and neutralize non point source pollution. Basically they are rain gardens on a much larger scale. The crudest example of a BMP would be a detention basin that hold runoff to meter out the runoff-we are thinking much broader than that.

The most encouraging aspect of all of this is that we have almost a dozen large, well funded engineering firms with great track records vying for this project-and we are only a village of 2000 with a small ($ qtr million) budget. Again, the technology and infrastructure are there-we need only the political will to do it. The Utility will be self funding, and the entire project was funded by a state grant-this entire process will be virtually cost neutral to our community, and in the long run will save literally millions in avoided infrastructure improvements as we no longer need to build massive conduits to handle excessive unplanned runoff.

Being Green isn't hard. Deciding to be Green is the most important step-be it for an individual, a business, or a city.

Be the Change!

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Greening Religion: Unitarian Green Sanctuary

For many years now Ecomama and I have been practising Unitarian Universalists. The liberal, inclusive, honestly moral congregations fit our worldview very well and provide us fertile ground to develop spiritually while allowing us to contribute and fellowship as a community.

Recently our Congregation has reaffirmed our conviction that this is our spiritual home by choosing to start down the path to becoming a Green Sanctuary. In a nutshell the program is a statement of conviction that the congregation will include sustainability and care for the Earth and its creatures as a core value. Specific focus in placed on increasing awareness, personal accountability and the incorporation of an environmental ethic into the spirituality of the congregation. I have long believed that Environmentalism is a moral choice with its roots established deeply in the persons ability to empathize with others, make unselfish decisions, and live a life of compassion to others and future generations.

Plans are flying at a furious pace right now including everything from installing green roofs to hosting monthly seminars on environmental issues in our building that would be open to the public and actively marketed. If this sounds right up my alley, your spot on!

Sustainability is edging more and more into religious circles, be it Buddhist, Christian, or others as congregations awake to the fact that our current economic and societal behaviors are destroying creation and leaving the world in a sad state for our children which conflicts with the core ethics of most major religions.

Religion is often at the forefront of societal change-and I am honored that our congregation is doing its part in Being the Change.


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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Insight Update: Return of the Hypermiler

So I am continuing to try to make the best of the heat, this time in getting back to hypermiling in the hybrid. Back when the weather was actually seasonal, I accepted the reality that my mileage was going to be crap (55-60mpg) for the winter as the warm-up mode of the engine took half my commute. That combined with the absence of the sun was enough to convince me to return to taking the freeway to work-the mileage was about the same even with the higher speeds, and the scenery the same.
But now its 50 degrees again, and yesterday I had to make 2 extra trips home during the day to care for my sick family (influenza all around and my 3yr old has mild pneumonia). So on the first trip home I decided to take my time and hit the backroads again.
Results? 91.4mpg on the trip out, and 88.7 (damn my lead foot!) on the way back in. So for my 34 mile round trip I used barely more than a 1/3 of a gallon. I am off my game though, (severe cramping in right calf) so if I mean to hit 100mpg this year I need to get serious again.
The kicker is that the 91.4 was probably a record run-but I had run a few errands in town first which hurt the trip mpg. The fact that I was hitting 125mpg in stretches I typically can only get 110 in was very encouraging. The new ecu and synthetic oil may do the trick!


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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Too Good to be True?

So I got what basically amounts to an advertisement today on one of the yahoo groups I track.

On it was a blurb and link to the Citizenre Corporation rep in my area.
The long and short of it is that Citizenre is offering a lease for a fully equipped, installed, and maintained PV system for your home for either a 1,5, or 25 year lease. For any of the leases you will give a one time deposit of $500 (seems reasonable for $20k in equipment) which is refundable at the end of your lease. At the lease signing you will also lock in your current energy rate per KWh, which will be held for the duration of your lease. Citizenre will then bill you monthly for the any PV power generated on your site. Cloudy for the month of December? Small bill. Make surplus energy in July? You get to keep the net metering offset from your Utility.
If this sounds to good to be true to you, then I am with you. I have contacted the corporation to get the skinny. If this is legit, and I saw nothing funny in the terms in conditions after reading it through, it could be a very real solution for those of us unable to front $25k to install a full PV system ourselves, but desperately desire to produce our own 100% green energy to protect our families from the vagaries of the petroleum energy market and save tons and tons of CO2.
If you have heard anything about this company please post a comment. I would love to hear it.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Mulching in the New Year

Though waning, the heat wave is still here. So yesterday while Bird slept, Sprout and I continued to make progress in the garden. With the passing of the holiday's we have a surplus of cardboard in the house and it just so happens that I have several beds to put in. Plus reading Ruth Stout's No Work Garden she scolds the reader continuously in case they have forgotten that Fall is the best time to mulch. Okay, Ruth...Sheet Mulch Time!
In a moment of pride I hesitated to post the picture, but then figured no garden looks good in January so why not? The bed at right is not new, but we are extending it out several feet to match the expected drip line of the apple tree at the center and make room for more nitrogen fixers and another Comfrey. The area under leaves was basically bare earth this year, planted to spring annual flowers, and then in July the strawberry patch in the background was allowed to send suckers in. The Strawberries will become the groundcover in the guild. The large plant that is difficult to see on the right is a giant native Bee Balm that was covered in pollinators and hover flies this past summer so it will fit into this Apple Tree Guild just fine. Behind that is one of my existing Comfrey plants.
Later today, I will go make another Compost Run to our coffee shop and gorp 15 gallons of coffee shop slop onto the cardboard, then top dress that with 8" of leaves from our municipal yard. I will probably need to cover it with fencing to keep the dogs out of it until it freezes, but I am hooked on sheet mulching. Total time spent is about what it would have taken to rip up the sod, but by March's thaw (I am assuming we will freeze first) we will be well on our way to a thick 5" layer of humus teaming with worms instead of having to truck in Compost. Sweet!

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Back To Basics Gardening

In the spirit of the New Year I am waxing reflective today. I recently was asked to join the inspiring Team at Groovy Green, and posted some of my "Green" resolutions there, but wanted to spend some more time on them here.

Last year was a fantastic year for us in our gardens. Our initial Rain Garden came on in full bloom, attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds to its blooms while providing drinking water for robins and doves between rains. In the drier times, the bountiful sedge seeds provided food for a family of voles. We installed a second, much larger rain garden, installed a small 600sq ft prairie, and built another 200 sq ft bed of native perennials. Our raspberries gave us their first fruit, and the strawberries peaked at 2 quarts/day during June.

However, spending so much time installing new gardens, left little time to manage the less established annual gardens-in many areas the weeds won. Also, in a spectacular way I made a common rookie mistake by planting my veggies way to tightly, completely smothering several crops. So this year I am vowing to get back to basics ad hopefully accomplish more with less.

  1. Plant less cultivars Last year I had 6 kinds of tomatoes for Pete's sake! This year I want to practice some seed saving to start fine tuning the genetics of my site. In open pollinated crops like Tomatoes that means I either need to go to extreme measures to isolate the crops, of only plant one kind. We were extremely impressed with Amish Paste last year. Good enough for salads, and great for sauce. Up close to the house will get some Yellow Pears for the kids.
  2. Deep Mulch I am not going to give up my compost bins-they serve too many other purposes for me as I take waste from some local businesses, but the veggie gardens are getting a 6-8" layer of mulch as an ally vs the weeds. Also the soil in my beds still needs massive work (I started with subsoil backfill) and the organic matter will be a huge asset. We had 6" of mulch on our flower gardens with virtually no weed issues, why I didn't so this in my veggie patch is beyond me!
  3. Sheet Mulch I intend to start at least 2 Fruit Tree Guilds this year, and have vowed to leave the sod lie as much as I can. Chunks will come up to plant the trees and some core perennials like Indigo and Comfrey, but the rest will wait a year as the sod turns into humus under a thick blanket of cardboard, coffee grounds, and straw.
  4. Seed Beds/Seed Saving As Someday Gardens ramps up, I will have need for (hopefully) hundreds of transplants. So I am dedicating at least 2 beds for perennial starts to keep my over head low. I can start dozens of plants for a few bucks vs $4 each at the nursery. In many cases I have already saved seed from our native plants, and split others, like the Comfrey to keep it as local as possible. It also seems that everywhere I turn, I am coming across more reasons to save my own vegetable seeds to strengthen my plants.
  5. Successional Planting Last year I planted several varieties of each vegetable to spread the harvest out. I may still do that in some cases (i.e. spring & fall spinach), but in other cases such as lettuce, corn, and carrots I plan on sowing smaller amounts over a period of weeks to achieve the same results.

Non of this is groundbreaking, but learning from experience and nature is what this is all about. Hopefully losing some diversity in my vegetable garden will help make it more manageable in the long term allowing me to increase diversity in my perennial food beds.

The over all thinking is to do less-but to do it well, before doing too much and failing or falling behind which is discouraging.

Happy New Year!


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