Kung hei fat choi! This traditional Cantonese greeting means “May you have great wealth!” and is expressed at Chinese new year often followed by Lai see dow loi, meaning “Give me me lucky money” ;-).
are many new years celebrated around the world starting from October
(eg Divali in India) to the ancient Babylonian new year, Akitu,
celebrated at the first new moon after the spring equinox (i.e. around
March). Our focus is usually on the solstice, but, hey, any excuse for a
gathering of fun is welcome 😉 .
Here’s a quick round-up at the beginning of this solar cycle …
Thank you to everyone who joined our Walk in the Woods on 29 December. Niall, generous as ever, lifted our spirits with a shot of whiskey to toast the new year! Then, Richard and Jaspar, who had spent the previous day hacking at the brambles, led us all through the woods. It was a glorious day as the lovely photos from Milena on facebook show.
in the meantime, here are a few of our snaps scratched from a video
Everyone knows that fuel is used to grow our food and that petrochemicals are used to feed and protect food. But it’s probably worse than we realise. Most food has more fossil fuel energy in it than natural, current energy. It takes about 10 fossil fuel calories to produce and transport each food calorie in the average American diet. That’s about three times as much fossil fuel as we spend on transport.
We’ve been trying to take fossil fuel out of food we grow here for a couple of decades now. If you’re realistic about it, there’s hardly any chance to make fossil free food these days. In the garden here we make a pretty good attempt. There are organic or self-grown seeds, no sprays, no artificial fertiliser, etc. We do use a two-wheel tractor (diesel so can use biodiesel), chainsaws, cutters, mowers etc, but we use a lot of Tommy Power!
There are always fossil fuels involved somewhere. It’s hard to avoid. Starting with me. I eat food that comes in a bag. Paper or plastic that bag was made with energy from fossil fuel. And of course I drove to town to pick it up, and it came to town on a big truck running on fossil fuel. And the food was made almost entirely with fossil fuels – big tractors (possibly with auto-satellite drive), loads of chemical fertiliser, pesticide, herbicide, transport, sorting (by machine) etc etc The saga of our reliance on, our addiction to, fossil fuel continues. But if you want food with less fossil in it, buy local, organic, or grow your own. 😉
Where the rubber hits the road, or the spade hits the soil, we do a pretty good job. We use a lot of physical effort, sowing, weeding, harvesting. Here is a little glimpse of what it’s like to grow natural food avoiding fossil fuel and fossil chemicals.
There are three tools on show here: spade, 3 prong hoe, and swivel hoe (aka hoop/stirrup/oscillating hoe).
The spade, being used to dig and turn between rows of carrots. The ground in the patch is very weedy because it was broken, turned and planted for the first time this year. (The ground above and below has been cultivated for over a decade.) You can see the physical effort and technique employed. You can get an idea of the rate of progress – much slower than a big ol’ tractor! But no fossil fuels are being burned and no chemical sprays are killing the soil.
The 3 pronged hoe is being used to drag away the couch grass, and other weeds turned over by the spade.
The swivel hoe … ahh the swivel hoe. What would we do without the swivel hoe? It was one of the first tools we bought 20 years ago when we started. We have a 175mm (used in the clips) and 125mm. They are still going strong. The blades and handles wear out. We’ve replaced the handle on the 125 but had to use a broom handle replacement. The 175 handle is still original and we like it because it’s long and has a concave taper which enhances its handling. We replaced blades on both. (Check Dunmore Country School for them if you’re in Ireland.)
The clips are an example of light weeding potatoes, weeding tomatoes in the greenhouse and one of heavy weeding along the back wall of the greenhouse.
In 1999 we guessed that we had 20 years to change systems if natural cycles were to be protected from anthropomorphic destruction. Our guess was pretty good – nothing changed and here we are with climate breakdown …
Now we reckon we’ve got 20 years of fossil fuels left. They’ll always be around, but only in small quantities, as was the case before the industrial revolution. Why do we think they’ll run out? Because we passed peak oil some years ago and consumption is increasing. When everyone realises oil is running out, things are going to be very difficult as food supplies will shrink, transport capacity will shrivel and no one has any useful life skills any more – like carpentry, gardening, metallurgy, … Infrastructure will disintegrate as all those little plastic washers, valve, osmotic barriers etc which allow high tech to function will not be available …
So in the meantime, we’re enjoying growing fossil free food and eating and sharing it.
The Beast from the East came and stopped spring for a few days. We treated it as a special occasion. We had to. We couldn’t drive out for a couple of days. So we fed and watered the animals, checked on guests in the cottages, thawed the pipes that needed thawing, and took a lot of photos! You can see a selection of snaps here. It was also a good excuse to stoke up the fire and enjoy a quiet evening or two at home … 😉
Yoga, yoga, yoga. It was never my thing. In fact I’ve always thought it was a bit weird since it didn’t seem to actually be exercise and took a lot of time. Living with a yoga guru meant that I got a bit of an inside look and started to appreciate its challenges. I even did a couple of lessons over the past two decades which were both cathartic. The philosophy of yoga, at least as I’ve picked it up, has always appealed. At its essence it is about unity and the oneness of existence is an idea that has great appeal and increasing foundation in science. But I never really tried yoga. Until last November when Pam launched Yoga for Men as part of Movember. I let the beard grow a bit and joined the class. It has been good for me.
It reaches parts of your body you didn’t know existed.
Pam guides you to stay in touch with your breathing which helps adapt breathing techniques to other spheres of life and is a foundation of meditation.
Pam’s technique encourages mindfulness so you practice that at the same time, with its consequent benefits of reconnection and stress relief.
I don’t need to mention relaxation because that’s what everyone loves – shavasanaaaaa!
So I’ll definitely encourage yoga for everyone. If you’re a guy you might be more comfortable with more men in the class so you might prefer Yoga for Men, but you can go to any yoga class. BTW, there are women in the Yoga for Men class.
I feel lucky that we’ve got such a dedicated, experienced teacher in our midst. I would have served myself better by trying it sooner, but better late than never. Check out the class options here.
St Patrick’s day was special this year. Ireland beat England to win the Six Nations Championship. You can imagine how quiet it was in the afternoon. The St Pat’s parade at 2pm in Tullow was only 20 minutes long – it used to be a couple of hours. Then after that few people could be seen in the streets, unless you went in to the pub. Here’s the crowd at the Tara Arms:
And the snow began to sprinkle down, so that the following day there was a gentle white blanket covering the countryside. We ventured in to the woods and explored parts I’ve not walked in years. It was magical. We quietly found our way to the “pulpit” and “altar” overlooking the river. (You may wonder how this sanctuary got its name.) Many trees were down, which is sad, though more will grow. There is plenty of work to be done removing them and if you would like timber for the fire, please drop a line. And if you would like to reconnect with nature and enjoy the ancient woodlands, please join the club, drop me a line and ask for a tour …
The weather even brought down timber in the garden. A huge cedar dropped another branch under the weight of snow and wind over the St Pat’s weekend. We started to clear it and then decided to trim the whole tree severely. We did that on Saturday after I guest hosted a slow chat on Nature vs Artificial Intelligence which reinforced the benefits of exposing yourself to nature. (Storify archive here.) There’s a brief article about that little logging experience here:Nature’s the Teacher, including a video some of the cutting. (BTW, please be cautious about climbing trees and using tools, especially a saw.)
The cold weather in March slowed things down. I’ve only planted a few garlic and germinated tomatoes. Hopefully I’ll catch up this week and put in the potatoes, onions and broad beans… So much to do, so little time … 🙂
Looking forward we’ll probably have a walk on Easter Monday so watch out for that. And if you want to escape the city for a while, check out our cosy cottages for a holiday – clean air and water, plus nature, included free!
After the opening hour of #edchatMENA “Nature vs Artificial Intelligence” on Saturday 24 March 2018 I went outside to my other “office”.
A large branch from a cedar tree had fallen during recent snow and wind. We had cleared much of it in the past few days, but, because it was now looking a bit lopsided, we’d decided to trim the other branches.
Without realising it you think, and learn, a lot when playing with nature. There’s the physical aspect of simply walking over fallen branches, or climbing up to get at the branches that you want to cut or carrying the saw. Then there’s the care that you want to take to avoid getting hurt. This is learning where failure can be terminal. I’ve had a couple of close shaves, and have the scars to remind me, so I’m not as audacious as I used to be.
It would be wonderful if you could also hear the birds and smell the wood. Fresh cedar has a powerful aroma. Its sap is sticky and stays on you. When you’re up close and personal with the tree you also notice the differences with the other fir trees nearby. With a guide book in hand you can accelerate your understanding of the trees and their different habitat.
Here’s how it looked a couple of years ago after one of several main trunks had fallen backwards leaving a bit of a gap … You can see a “monkey” in the fir tree to the left, which helps indicate scale. The tree is about 30m high.
Bounce, wobble, spin – the solstice is here. And so the cycle continues.
Today is the day we’ve been looking forward to for a couple of months now. In the northern hemisphere, it’s the shortest day of the year and within a few days we’ll begin to notice the days lengthening again. Solstice is the root of the various festivities that occur at this time, like Christmas and Hanukkah, and increasingly it is celebrated for its own sake as more people reconnect with the natural cycles of our planet. That’s a good thing and it offers a contrast to the frighteningly consumerist nature of this time of year. Adverts on TV, emails asking for donations or promoting consumption and an extraordinary pile of “items” in the supermarket which will join the landfill before long are ironically in direct contrast to the spirit of the Christian Christmas. We are lucky to escape some of that commercialism as we live in a remote place.
The good side of this season is that family and friends gather, which we should do more regularly during the rest of the year. This gathering and goodwill is a wonderful opportunity to do things other than the daily grind, reflect on one’s situation and the coming year and liberate the better qualities of humanity. We are playing that game today as we tidy up and prepare for the arrival of family and friends over the coming week.
This is the time of year for reflection. It’s natural to do so since the earth is cool and quiet, birdsong is muted and the slowdown in natural cycles offers the opportunity to prepare for the coming spring. In many ways the past year has been “sad” to use a comical expression popularised by the Tweeter in Chief as nature has been further brutalised, environmental protection has been deprioritised and our economic and political systems have continued to widen inequality among people and between humanity and the rest of nature.
There might be a positive side to the regression that has been seen in the headlines: People are a beginning to notice and even change a little. Simple things like avoiding over packaged and out of season food, a bit more exercise and mindfulness (Pam really is a good yoga teacher who will help you feel parts of your body that you didn’t know existed, as I find out more and more!), and becoming more aware that a top down control model of society is not what we want, even if we are higher up the ladder than others. We are finding out that democracy without thought cultivates demagogues (as Socrates warned) and capitalism’s dark side is becoming ever more present as organisations amass control over public resources and our personal choices, even in rich countries – who would have though that the standard of living for those with less opportunity (say the lower 25% income bracket) has declined in the past decades!? So perhaps in the coming year more people will look up and ask “what is it really all for?” “how can I be more human?” “what can I do to make a difference?”
Our connection to nature is smothered by the technologically advanced virtual world we have chosen, from climate controlled buildings, to cars, planes and trains to whisk us hither and thither, to mod cons, to packaged food, to computers and mobile phones which allow us to communicate without facing another person. It seems normal, but it’s not natural – we’ve adapted well. But to live, rather than merely exist, our spirits need succour and that means connecting to real people and touching real nature. Enjoy that while we can.
So, if you want to touch nature, join us next week when we’ll host our Walk in the Woods here. We enjoy the gathering of people who we otherwise might not meet and many of whom we see too infrequently. The atmosphere in the woods and along the river seems to lift everyone’s spirits. Children enjoy clambering over logs and squishing through mud. Tea afterwards is accompanied by chat and laughter as friends catch up. We love it.
My excuse for being lazy is thinking up new ideas.
So why would I admit to laziness?
Guilt. It’s increasingly clear that people are amazing. Not just celebrities on TV, also regular people. People who make our lives better,. People who work hard for family and friends and good causes. Shop owners, tradespeople, “employees”, and people who don’t have work, resources, maybe even friends, who share their talents and energy to help others. Real people. That’s a challenge to follow. So I’m feeling a bit guilty.
Yesterday was an unusual day filled with seemingly inane chores that had to be done. I was arriving back home in the afternoon with groceries for guests and planned to turn the hay. I drove past a field adjacent to our where a tractor was spraying and turned in to the drive to be greeted by a distasteful, though recognisable, toxic smell.
Usually I’d just accept that that landowner had to spray to make a living, but I didn’t like the idea that our hay was being contaminated while it was looking so good. Unusually, I decided to take another angle, dropped the bags on the kitchen floor, said “Hi!” to guests and spun the car around back up to the field.
After working out which row the tractor was in I walked up to the driver, who kindly stopped and helped me get n touch with the landowner.
The driver said the spray was only to stop “disease”.
The landowner said it was only to stop “disease”.
They both said it was “OK”.
The contractor couldn’t come back on a still day because he had to empty the tanks since the pesticide had been paid for. The wind might die down so he could wait a bit. I knew the spray would still be sprayed, and would drift. Hopefully little would drift, though you could see a 20 metre tail behind the tractor and smell it quarter of a kilometre away.
I asked what it was. “I dunno. Let’s have a look.”
So we did. It was Imtrex.
“Wow. Look at the labels on it! Dead fish. Dead tree. Heart attack. C’mon! This can’t be good.”
It’s weird though. It’s being sprayed right on the ears of ripening barley, and we’re going to eat it. There’s poison on it , and we’re going to eat it. We’re killing ourselves and enjoying it.
We don’t make the connection between our demand for cheap, convenient food and lifestyles and the consequential impairment of diet and lifestyle. Our monolithic food chain, standardised automated production, controlled by capitalists is withering our soul and costing our health. Apart from the increased incidence of cancer which only affects a third or so of us, almost everyone is affected by the lower quality of food – processed, refined, packaged with a fraction of the dietary health benefits of real food, but extra poison.
Yet we all buy in to it. We all live the lie. The farmer can’t make ends meet if he doesn’t. (Ironically, I found out since that this “T3” third treatment for “disease” was being applied too late, as the ears were grown, and so wouldn’t improve yield, although the farmer could prove he sprayed the “treatment”.) We can’t make ends meet f we don’t play the pyramid consumption game. So we all turn a blind eye to our gradual suicide. It’s fairly painless anyway.
But it could be different. It would be different if we all chose differently. It doesn’t have to be much at first, but even little thoughtful choices make a difference. And they lead to bigger thoughtful choice. And when everyone starts choosing differently, the world changes fast. So whether you’re in the tractor, in the shop, regulating the chemical, making the chemical, or financing the chemical, don’t turn a blind eye. Think, and choose to change a little.
Because dying can be easy or hard, and withering from poison is not easy.
Before we begin the story, a brief but heartfelt thanks to those of you who helped make this adventure happen, especially Dad and Mum, Pam, Richard, Noel, Daniele, Kelly, Rhadames, Clara, Kate, Christian. THANK YOU!
The idea of getting the red car down to Malta had been passed around a few times, but no one seemed to have time. Dad had said that he thought it might be good this year. It could be shipped, so I looked in to that, but the idea of driving seemed more interesting. It would mean I could stop to see a couple of friends on the way.
The idea of taking someone had been booted around. Pam would be teaching so couldn’t come. The boys were in school. And I didn’t want to be slowed down. I was aiming for a maximum of a week and had to be back by 20 May at the latest and would be tied up in the garden and with hay making till late summer. So, if I was to go, I was leaning toward a solo drive.
When Dad visited with Romey and Anthony he confirmed he’d like to have the car in the sun, so I started planning and by the weekend had decided to go, but not whether to go on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday … On Monday, Pam encouraged me to take Richard, but I was reluctant. At lunch I decided to take Richard – it might be the last chance for me and him to get to know each other a bit before he was gone for good … We would leave the following morning.
The preparations had started in earnest a few days before the off. Padraig at Wesley James’ tracked and balanced the wheels. Wesley warned me about play in the steering. I said “That’s just how it is!”. Wesley told me to “See Noel!” at least five times. So I did. Noel is a wizard who keeps the cars, trucks and tractors of many lucky folk around here running and looking good. He had done an amazing job of “repainting” the car a year ago. The paint job was beautiful but he also waxoyled the frame inside and out and re-welded a few of the more gaping holes. (After picking it up last year, he demonstrated its roadworthiness by doing a few doughnuts on a country lane!) The car wouldn’t have been ready without his magical touch. On this occasion he gave the steering a clean bill of health but told me to replace the front driver side tyre. We swapped it for the spare in the meantime. I’d look for tyres over the weekend. Continue reading Zen Adventure→
This time of year has had special significance for millennia.
Because it is the end of the annual spiral to darkness and nature’s rebirth. Solstice is a time of rejoicing because it means winter darkness is lifting, warmth will return, and food will become available again.
Imagine you live 10,000 years ago, somewhere above latitude 45 or so, you would notice the lengthening of the days a couple of weeks after December solstice. That meant you might survive.
Even 5,000 years ago communities had invested so much in understanding the solar cycle that farmers in the Boyne Valley, Ireland built New Grange, an 85 metre diameter stone tomb, which has a light box which illuminates a 19 metre long passage and chamber as the sun rises on solstice morning! The solar bounce was important to their livelihoods.