Heroes

I never thought I’d regard the First Nations as my heroes.  But I am right now.

Don’t get me wrong – anyone is eligible for my hero designation.  No races, creeds, colours, religions or the now-multiple-choice genders are excluded. To me a hero is a hero.  All you have to do is stand up to bullying, tyranny and prejudice against others weaker.  You just have to be a champion.  You don’t even have to win.

First Nations have been whining a long time about a lot of things mostly justified and they have also stood up strong now and again but most of that has been in their own self interest.  They have not been the champions of others.  They don’t even legitimately have the mythical track record of defending the earth as often claimed.  At least not so far as I have been aware. But that changed with Enbridge and Northern Gateway.  The First Nations seem resolute about protecting the planet on that score.  And it is spreading to other issues as well.  Truly, they are idle no more.

Everyone said – whites and First Nations alike – that Enbridge and the oil pipeline should not travel across BC and spill poison into the sea.  But it is native land the pipeline has to cross and the industry is throwing money at them at irresistible levels.  But they are resisting.  Strongly.  And that is pretty good.  It is very good, in fact.

But that was not what tipped me off to the new aboriginal chutzpah.  That came more subtly.  Seems no one wanted herring to be fished up north for conservation reasons.  Gail Shea, the minister for the DFO (Destruction of Fisheries and Oceans) over ruled public sentiment and fishermen and ordered the fishery opened anyway.  First Nations (and the Green Party) fought back and won.  The fishery was not opened.  Gail Shea and DFO lost.  Now that is very good indeed.

And then it went even further.  Seems our own provincial government was in consultation with FN over some projects that first required consultation with FNs (and environmental studies) and yet the government went ahead and approved the projects for go-ahead by order-in-council and when the natives heard about that, they threw the provincial reps out of the meetings. Physically.  In our modern way, throwing people out of meetings is the equivalent of a punch in the nose.

Normally all you would hear is, “Well, we are going to have to sit down at the table and, at the end of the day find a way to go forward.”  Translation: give me more money.  Which is enough in itself to make me want to punch someone in the nose!

In a way, it is a revolution.  Of course, the Indians have been revolting for ages (an old phrase from literature and not intended to offend) but, as I said, it has mostly been about them.  But in defending the coast against oil spills and defending the herring fishery against a geocidal government policy, they have stepped up for all of us.  And by throwing the bastards out of meetings, they have signalled ‘enough is enough’.

Put another way: the First Nations are actually doing something to change the way the government is mishandling just about everything.  Your MLA and MP could take a lesson from them.  And they should.

If I could, I would vote for them. First Nations are my new heroes.

‘blink’

Set prawn traps and a day later, reeled them in.  Got about 100 of the little crawlies – emphasis on little.  They were too small to keep (baby finger-sized) and so they went back in.  Disappointing but the right thing to do.  My neighbour goes out, lays out traps and the next day hauls in.  He has about 100, too.  All of his were the size of bananas!

How is that even possible?

Another neighbour goes by and drops off a log at our beach.  So we have officially begun our quest-for-fire season.  There are two logs down at the beach right now and there seems to be a rule – you can ignore one and just wait.  But, if there are two, you have to get at it!  So, we’ll be on the logging job pretty soon.

A buoy floated by.  Mid channel.  We know what that is.  It is a buoy with several hundred feet trailing out and one or two or even three traps attached to it.  All laid in too deep water so they floated off.  Could be a gift from the prawn gods.  Sal goes out, reads the name and pulls them up.  Belongs to a neighbour.  Sal calls. They’ll retrieve their traps tomorrow.

Another neighbour is over.  He has a pneumatic nailer.  Sal and I are finishing off the interior of the studio/workshop and need to borrow it.  We just finished doing the vapour barrier yesterday.  Interior ceiling and walls soon. So, we’ll get it, do the ceiling and return it before the big Easter dinner for ten the next day.  His house.  But Sal makes something potlucky. I’ll make the potatoes.

During this time, we cleaned up the big back deck, cleaned up the worksite and Sal did our taxes.  Today, we’ll also ’burp’ the freezer as it seems to be not-so-cold these days.  That will take a while.  I also finished a couple of books and started a third, we’ve had three sets of visitors and Sal had to go into town for a dental issue.

Started the Longmire series.

None of that counts the first five days of schlepping stuff up the hill or the peat moss and steer manure that still has to come up from the beach.  Did I mention the propane fridge repair, the water pump repair?  Or the first dinner party, the doctor’s visits and the trips to the post office?   We’ve been home ten days.

And people wonder what we do all day?

Lucille Ball cloned

My wife’s idea of a marital aid is an electric winch.  That is how old we are getting.

“How can a winch be a marital aid?” I ask.

Well, if we had to carry all this stuff up the hill, we’d get tired and eventually bicker and fight.  If we fought, I’d walk away and leave you to do it all, you bastard!  You’d be furious and we wouldn’t talk for a long time.  You are so immature that way.  So the winch is a marital aid.  We are still talking, thanks to that winch.”

“I’m immature?”

Of course you are.  You know that.  Now don’t be silly as well.”

“I’m not talking to you!”

See!” 

Sal and I have known each other 45 years.  Circular illogic is the cornerstone of our relationship.  Well, that and sex, of course.  These days there is slightly more emphasis on circular illogic.  Mind you, when you think about it, sex and circular illogic have a lot in common.

When I first met her and asked her out to lunch the next day, she answered, “Of course.  I’d love to!” 

“Great!  What’s your phone number.  I’ll call you tomorrow.”

I am not giving you my phone number.”

“Why not?”

“You are the type of guy who gets phone numbers and doesn’t call.”

“How will you know that for sure unless you give me the phone number and I then don’t call?”

“I already know for sure.”

“But you’ll go for lunch?”

Of course.  I said so, didn’t I?” 

Getting past that weird-as-hell little challenge was a portent of things to come. (Her girlfriend eventually gave me the number and, to be fair, I didn’t call.  I watched a football game on TV instead and, when it was over and I did call, she just was just going out the door and barely heard the phone ring.  It was that close). 

Forty-five years of living with Lucy.

 

Sustainable?

Sustainable – our favourite buzzword these days may be in disrepute.  Well, as it applies to the natural world, anyway.

Growing wheat organically may seem like a sustainable and noble activity but if the farmer turns his/her back for a few weeks, weeds and bugs and all sorts of natural invaders will try to take the field back.  The way of nature is to resist monoculture regardless of how green it is.  In fact, the way of nature is to resist almost all our ‘modified foodstuffs’.  An orchard will wither and die and another orchard will not grow up in its place.  Wilderness will prevail in the long run.  The natural world wants to sustain only wilderness.

Most of our so-called natural foodstuffs aren’t natural at all.  We have domesticated them and adapted them to grow where they would never have grown before.  We change the natural way of things in almost every thing we do.

So, how is that sustainable?

The only humans who were ever in total sync with the environment were hunter gatherers.  The primal guys.  They exploited what was there and, when it was there no longer, they moved on and let their impact areas heal naturally.  Then they would exploit another ‘garden’ and do the same until the first one was healed enough to receive another assault.  And they remained small in number, stature and limited in their impact on the planet.

Now that’s sustainable.  Smart-phone living?  Not so much.

“Dave, don’t be ridiculous  We are not going to go back to hunting and gathering.  And, anyway, farming is sustainable.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years!”        

Well, firstly I am not saying that we should go back to primal living.  We’d all die trying to do that.  Healthy young people die all the time just hiking in the forest or skiing out of bounds.  Hell, most old people would die without their TV or their car.  Individually, we are not all that tough.  So my best advice is to NOT go primal.  We wouldn’t last long enough to get good at it.

My point is that no ‘human modified’ way of food production will ultimately be sustainable….at least not on an industrial scale and that is what is required if we are to remain a population of billions.

In the long, long, long run, we – as a species – may not be sustainable.  Not in any kind of numbers, anyway.

Just a thought…

Start-up all over again

The water system wouldn’t start up.  It just kept building pressure until we thought it would burst!  Had to shut it down.  So….no water.  ”Hmmmm…..something wrong with the pressure switch. I’ll have to go into the manual.  Read.  Try to fix it.”

“Not now.  Let’s keep lifting crap while we have the light.” 

“Hey!  The fridge isn’t working!  Can’t get it lit…not sure if it is getting propane.  We’re gonna have to fix it.”

“Right!  But let’s finish getting stuff over.  Get to that later, OK?” 

Two days later, we pull the fridge out of the alcove, flip it upside down and start to examine the workings.  Everything seems in order.  Clean it all up, blow through pipes, even check Piezo…put it together and back into the alcove.  Still won’t fire up.  So, I use the BBQ flamethrower to do the job the Piezo lighter did while upside down and WHOOSH, the gas lights and the fridge is working.  Seems the Piezo works better upside down.  Who knew?

Go down under the house, repeat similar process with pump.  Find a small blockage on the pressure switch.  Clean.  WHOOSH, we have water pressure that stays within range.  The switch works again.  Showers all around.

Genset won’t fire up.  Weird.  I am pretty sure I did all the winterizing crap right…………hmmmm……part of that was to drain the fuel completely – even the carb.  So, I make sure the whole system is full of fuel and it fires up quite nicely, thank you.  We are good to go.

Shutting down an off the grid home for the winter is not an uncommon thing.  People with cottages do it every year.  It is part of the lifestyle.  But just as much a part is the fact that glitches, blockages, disconnects, and various kinks somehow get worked in to your systems over the down time and you have to weave your way through the mysteries of things mechanical to get up and operating again.  And make no mistake – it is always a mystery!

I admit that most things are simply following the steps you took to shut down only in reverse – so as to start up.  Part of that mystery, tho, is to remember what those steps were.  The second level of mystery is that there is always a glitch that occurs that defies logic.  The pressure switch pipe was blocked.  It was not blocked when we left in November and the system was shut down and drained.  So, how did the pressure switch pipe get blocked up?  And a third part of the mystery is the fact that none of this is stuff you will ever know intimately.  Every time feels like a new challenge.

I once had a rusty, built-in fuel tank in an old boat.  Most of the rust got filtered out by the filter and so, when the boat stalled, I could jump below, clean the filter and have it back on before the boat had fully stopped.  Some rust would still get through so I became equally as adept at ripping off the carb, taking it apart, cleaning the jets and getting it back on and operating well under ten minutes!

Those maintenance habits came from having done it a hundred times.  Most systems in houses do not have to be as frequently addressed and, to be fair, when we do have to address them, it is usually easier and cheaper to buy a new one than have to learn how to fix, say, a microwave or vacuum.

We went to get our mail yesterday and were sharing our start-up up difficulties with a young mother (30′s) living solo out here most of the time (her husband works up North).  “Yeah, I know.  I can’t tell you how many times I have taken apart, fixed and put back together my washing machine.  I can do it now with my eyes closed.  And, anyway, it is a lot easier to fix it than haul it to the boat and take it to town, that’s for sure.” 

The point? People continue to ask me: “Hey!  Now that you are retired and living off the grid, what do you do all day?  I mean, don’t you get bored?  Do you get cable?”     

“Nah.  Got a washing machine and few pumps.  That keeps me busy.  That and chopping wood.”

“Oh.  I see.  I don’t think that would be enough for me.  And my wife really needs her Starbucks, ya know?  I don’t think we would be stimulated enough.  But it must be nice, eh?  No worries, no stress.  Just sittin’ around sippin’ mint juleps and readin’ all day, eh?”

“Yeah.  All that and naps, too.”

Home Sweat Home

Home!  No place like it!  I am very happy to be back.

We left on the 6th.  Got most of the stuff up the hill to the deck today, the 9th.  We have five more heavy loads (gensets, heavy tools, scaffolding, steel) and a few not-so-heavy others before we are really done with the schlep but we have broken the back of it.  We are mostly done.  Everything is out of the car and on our island.  A few long yards more to go.  And our backs are nearly broken from the effort.  I guess it is true – we are getting old.

It's a dog's life...

It’s a dog’s life…

Still, not so old that we couldn’t get it done and that is the most encouraging part. Very encouraging.  I admit that I don’t like lifting anything any more and my limit is now about 100 pounds where before it was at least 150.  I don’t want to do more than 50, actually, but anything less than that doesn’t really count as heavy.  Under 50 is a pillow.  Pshaw!  Sal, too. She throws 50 pounds around like it was basket of flowers.  We don’t count under 50. So much so that when we lift 50 and do it easily, some people are surprised.

I am surprised they are surprised.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore we left I bought more solar panels.  They are 240 watts each and about 40″ by 72″.  Each panel weighs 45 pounds.  They were in the shop when I went to get them and the guy took the lid off the box.  I reached in and started to pull one out.  “Whoah!  Dude! Those are heavy.  Let’s get another couple of guys.”    

“They are 45 pounds.  Fuggedbout it.”  And I lifted out my six.

I bought a genset, too.  It weighs about 225 pounds.  The guy wheeled it out to my car.  “Just a sec.  I’ll get some young muscle.”  He was under 40.

“Don’t be a pussy!  Just lift it with me.”  And he did.  And we put it in the truck.

Now the truth of it is this: It is no longer easy to do that.  We feel the weight now.  Sal and I are stiff after a day of that.  We are tried.  We ache all over and we sleep like logs.  No question – we talk big and we are still able to do it but the talk is remaining strong while the ability is waning. We are getting old.

Had we stayed in town that ability would have lessened even more quickly.  Being away 4.5 months, I know.  It has already eroded somewhat.  We are 70% as able as we were when we left.  And, with a few months more of physical work, we may get back to 90+% of that.  So we are pretty good but out of off-the-grid-condition.

We will never be 100% again (say; last year as being 100% which is 40% of what we could do when we 30) .  And getting back to 90+% of even that  will become harder and harder as time passes.  And slower.  The key is to keep it up there as long as you can.  Give it up grudgingly.  Do not resign your abilities too quickly.  And stock up on Ibuprofen.

Because we have no choice.  Mind you, we chose to have no choice.  If I had a choice, I would take the elevator and have some ‘young muscle’ carry my luggage. I’d watch TV.  I’d go to restaurants.  And I’d sit in traffic.  I wouldn’t even count the martinis!  How do I know this about myself?  Because that is what I did before we left the grid and that is what I did for the last 4.5 months in the city. It was fun but we need the grind.  I do, anyway.  And now we have it back!

It is really, really, good to be home again.  Phew!

Release

My friend died today.

It was a long time coming.  Too long.  MSA is horrible enemy.  He will be missed.

Sal and I went to the house.  Friends and family were there.  No one really knew what to do except mill about and talk a bit about him.  All of it good, of course.  Which is just as well since there was nothing much left to do.  Not really. He was gone.

Mostly.

I have been in the presence of the deceased before and was always struck by the utter absence of the real person despite the body being present.  This time was different.  It felt as if he was still there.  Somewhat, anyway.

My friend was quite spiritually inclined.  You know, meditation, lots of reading, some groups, eating lentils……no booze or anything…..body-as-a-temple?  And, if one had to choose a ‘category’ of spiritualism, it would be Buddhism. Or Buddhist-like.  Kinda.  He definitely had a Zen thing going on most of his life.   In fact, he was the embodiment of the theme from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robt. M. Pirsig).  Even his motorcycle showed it.

Buddhists believe the spirit lingers for four days.  It did feel a bit like that………..

But, for our more earthly and prosaic purposes, he was gone and so, after awhile, we left.

Others were coming in as we were going out.  And sadly, his widow had to deal with that.  As if she didn’t have enough to deal with already.  Even sympathy can be hard to deal with.

And, really, there is nothing to say.  Death comes to us all.  And we all know it.  And it came to him this morning robbing MSA of yet another ghastly endurance test.  In this case, death is a respite.   And that’s the way I am going to look at it.

Good news

I saw a website where a couple was quoted, “We are pretty poor and have decided to live off the grid to make ends meet.  Can someone suggest a place?” 

The answer, of course, is that it generally costs a lot more to move off the grid.  If you are poor, it is better financially to stay in the low-rent neighbourhood in a poor city.  Think Detroit.

OK, maybe your ammunition costs go up but food, transportation and gritty reality-type entertainment plays out on a daily basis much cheaper.  Cities can often offer up adrenaline spikes in traffic alone.  Bored?  Go to a demonstration or protest and get tasered, walk a few blocks late at night from your local community centre, stand outside the local emergency ward, get caught in the crossfire between youth gangs.  Move to Surrey.

It’s a rush.

The cheaper cost of living in the city is somewhat offset by the misery and danger but going off the grid is just NOT even remotely cheap.  Well, it might be if someone gives you a house and you can walk to town to shop….maybe.  But, generally speaking, everything is more expensive the further from the centre of the city you go.   Wanna go cheap?  Go urban.

Having said that, that is changing.  Some.  Small towns are getting cheaper to live in.  Overall.  Some are actually desirable places to live.  Especially if you are of retirement age.  The stats indicate that rural life is shrinking and that includes a large number of small towns.  But some small towns are actually growing.

Young people head for the big city and create vacancies of a sort (jobs, housing, activity) in the more attractive small towns.  Local rural industry is shrinking even faster than large heavy urban industry and the effects are showing up in lower small-town house prices.  And housing is a big factor.  Food is more expensive in small centres and so is transportation but small-town housing is a real bargain.  And there may even be a good community to belong to….

And people are noticing.  So much so that, in some places an equilibrium of sorts is playing out.  The housing prices in Courtenay/Comox and Qualicum Beach are actually pretty high by small town standards but still low compared to Vancouver.  Campbell River and points north are very inexpensive.  Small towns in the interior are even lower.  Life is actually getting less expensive if you live in a small town and don’t drive.

But stay on the larger grid.  It is the grid that makes it cheaper.

Craik, Saskatchewan, is one of those desirable places, it seems.  They sold building lots there for a dollar and then made a real effort to foster community.  And they made it a GREEN one as well.  As a result, Craik is a ‘happening place’  to be.  Who woulda guessed?

“Why are you telling us this?”

Because we don’t need to flood valleys or pollute oceans to make a buck.  We don’t have to rape the land, despoil the sea and harvest every living ounce of life off the planet.  We don’t even need bigger bridges, highways and airports.  We can create community and we can sustain it with a considerably smaller impact following something like the Craik model.

And Craik is not unique.  There are many small, resurgent communities working well on the small, sustainable level all over the developed world.  A leading segment in Britain refers to themselves as ‘transitional communities‘.  It is encouraging to read about even if it is hard to actually describe and define.  One thing is for sure: their economies are more local, the people are more engaged with one another and they are proving Green can work.

And it is nice to be able to write about that.

Evolution 101

The more I learn, the less I know.  Partly, of course, because I am forgetting stuff (my personal hard drive is full and, apparently, not expandable) but also because I learned to ‘live’ and ‘work’ in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s with a lacklustre foot dragging me into the new millennium.  I haven’t kept up.

I haven’t been a real ‘keener’ on ‘what’s new’  since I was around 50.  Excluding learning about off-the-grid living – it is the exceptions that justify the rationalizations – I haven’t learned a thing.  “I was too busy learning how to chop wood to learn how to use a smartphone!” 

I have one of those cursed smart devices now and I am slowly learning it (mostly because living in the city does not require wood chopping and the TV is the reverse of learning.  It sucks your brain right out of your head.  May as well play around with my phone).

I am nowhere near KNOWING my smartphone but I am learning more and more about how much I don’t know about it.

The other day a friend of mine (my age) saw me talking at my phone and telling Google to call home.  I didn’t dial or punch numbers, I just spoke at the phone.  She said, “Wow, you are so smart!  You can make your cell phone work.  I don’t use mine anymore.  Makes me feel bad.” 

For the record: my phone did not call home.  For some reason I didn’t do it right but I was not about to admit that at that point, now was I? 

“Yes, I know.  They can be intimidating.  Mine still intimidates me (disobeys me is more like it!).  Show me yours.  Maybe we can work it?” 

“Oh, I never carry it anymore.  If I do, people think I should be able to use it so I pretend I left it at home.  I might have it at the bottom of my purse but it isn’t turned on and I forget how to even do that, too.  Let me see.”

She looked in her purse and, after rummaging deep, came out with an old flip-phone.  I tried turning it on but the battery was dead.  I knew why.  It had probably been there for well over a couple of years.

“How long have you had this phone?” 

“Oh, years.  Maybe ten.  Longer, perhaps?”

“The battery is dead.”

“Oh?  Should I get a new one?” 

“Probably not.  This is not a smartphone.  This is the old type that was just a phone.  The new ones are like command centres.” 

“So, that is old technology then?  And I didn’t learn it.  That’s good.  Thank God.  So, if I get a new phone, it will be a smart phone and I won’t have to learn anything…I can just talk at it?” 

“No.  The learning curve on a smartphone is much more difficult than this one was.  My advice is to let a few more generations of phone evolve until they put one out that you just have to talk to.  At the present rate, that should be less than a few years.  They may even just implant it in your head and you won’t even have to charge it up!” 

“Eeeeewh!  I wouldn’t want tubes and wires coming out of my head!” 

“Just a matter of time, sweetie.  Just a matter of time.”    

       

Criminal activities

Seems living off the grid is now illegal in some towns in Florida and a few other states.  People who collect their own rain water, grow their own food and don’t use the electrical grid are being ‘shut down’ by civic authorities. They are being called criminals.

Maybe Sal and I are living on the dark side of the force now, Luke?

Mind you, being on the wrong side of the law is pretty easy if you are poor.  Our judicial system comes down pretty hard on little people who steal a loaf of bread or sleep under a bridge.  Hang ‘em high!  Rip-offs on a grand scale get nothing.  Interesting system, don’t you think?

The world is going high-security on shopping centres, office buildings, airports and God-knows-what all (schools, even!) and it has had the effect of making life harder and not in the least bit safer. The people are herded and the advantages accrue only to the 1%. What a system!

Never mind.  It is best to duck under the radar, keep mum on everything wrong and try not to step on the cracks or the cops will break your back screaming ‘Get down!  Get down NOW!’  They might even taser you for good measure.  Bernie Maddof didn’t get tasered.  Hedge fund guys don’t get tasered.  Our Gestapo reserves tasering for mental patients and bums.  So, be careful out there.  Wearing a suit and a tie is now a pro-active defensive manoeuver.  Be safe.  Shine your Florsheims.  Wear a tie.  Think about it.

Fear of authority is now rampant in our society and, what with the taser-thing and the ability to incarcerate, impound and the imposition of soul-breaking fines the average person has been cowed into mousehood.  We are still somewhat short of a ‘locked down’ society (by far) but listen to the hue and cry over gas prices!  Well, there isn’t any, is there?

When oil was $147.00 a barrel the price at the pump was lower than it is today and the price of oil-by-the-barrel is hovering around $100 today.  It is gouging – plain and simple.  So, the country that produces oil charges their citizenry more than the one that does not and that lower-priced country buys from us.  Listen to the outrage!

(squeak)

And Enbridge is going to do that with Natural gas!  Hear the protest!

(half a squeak)

Occupy stood up.  Then sat down.  Idle No More stood up.  Then sat down.  The Port of Vancouver truck drivers are standing up and they will be made to sit down.  The teachers stood up, won in court and are still not gaining traction!  We don’t seem to have much in the way of staying power when it comes to standing up and making our voices heard and, to be frank, I don’t blame anyone for that.  To fight the system means to impose on yourself even more hardship than it is doing to you.  Fighting them makes it worse for you – not better.  And fighting seems to make it better for them!  Ergo, surrender and try to accept what is.  Lie back and enjoy it.

Or, alternatively, you could join the dark side, Luke.  Live off the grid.  Grow your own food.  Catch a fish.  Walk on the wild side.  Literally.  Live where the bears are.

‘Course, you’d be a criminal.  Who woulda thunk it?