In Harmony with Nature and People

Permanent residents in “the Village 1.0” are delightful neighbors.  The trust and camaraderie and personal insight we share is deeply enriching.  Then there is what I call “the Village 2.0”, made up of hundreds of equally delightful, endlessly diverse and interesting people from all walks of life who visit only briefly, stay in one of our vacation rental cabins and share their unique talents and interests.

This week, a couple on their honeymoon stayed with us in the container guesthouse for four nights.  Little did we expect that honeymooners would reflect the Village motto, “In Harmony with nature and people”, so well.

Double Capped Mushroom

I was fortunate to spend hours with newlyweds, Scott and Stephanie, learning about mushrooms that fill the forest floor of our property.  You see, both are highly accomplished mycologists.  They were able to point out, name, categorize, and identify many edible and medicinal mushrooms right in our 45-acre back yard.

So, I asked them to write something for this blog.

Stephanie wrote,

“There is nothing to describe how beautiful the area here is. The wide variety of mushrooms, plant life, and animal life was amazing. I couldn’t believe how many waterfalls are in the area. We saw four different waterfalls, one being on Grant’s property.  There were so many more we didn’t get to see while we were here.  I can see why Grant and his wife, Becky would choose to build their community here. I loved seeing how much Scott’s face would light up upon seeing new species of mushrooms he had never seen before. It was a truly spiritual experience for us. Thank you so much for having us.”

I think I was even more thankful to have them come and share their love for mushrooms with us.

Scott meticulously documented many of the mushrooms in the forest with beautiful photos.  Here is what he sent me.

A mycological survey conducted in the area surrounding the eco cabin between July 29 and August 1, 2019, finds the following:

The area is rich with fungal activity, amanitas, russulas, and boletes, are seen every few yards.
Found:

Amanita Varieties

This type appears to grow out of an “Egg”

1. assorted varieties of amanita including white, yellow, orange, blush and black

Russula Assortment

2. assorted russulas- mostly red and green, some purple

boletellus betula

Boletes

3. boletes- many varieties, most notably ‘boletellus betula’.

‘leotia lubrica’ (jelly babies)

4. ‘leotia lubrica’ (jelly babies)
5. ‘scleroderma citrinum’ (pigskin puffball)

tapinella atrotomentosa

6. ‘tapinella atrotomentosa’

cinnabar chanterelles

7. Both golden and cinnabar chanterelles
Delicious sautéed in butter.

calostoma cinnabarinum

8. and the coolest one of all ‘calostoma cinnabarinum’
9. a few types of coral mushroom, and many many more.
-Scott Ulrich
It was a day spent with two lovely honeymooners who were clearly in love with each other and the beauties of nature.  That’s Harmony.

Ikigai – A Hero’s Journey

My quest for existential JOY began early. First memory: probably one or two, lying on my back on the lawn, in summer, gazing into the clear San Diego sky and feeling amazed that I exist. The beginnings of a profound sense of gratitude, which I later learned is foundational to a sense of existential Joy – the joy of being.

Existential joy, as I define it is independent of outside stimuli. It therefore can exist even in times of stress or pain. It simply exists. It is the ultimate form of self-reliance.

A bit later in life (1971) at the age of nineteen, I volunteered to serve a two-year mission for my church. I was sent to Japan, a place I knew absolutely nothing about. My mission to the Japanese revolved around a central message, “Man’s Search for Happiness” which was the theme of the church’s pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair of 1970. During my two years in Japan I experienced existential Joy at a level most never experience in a lifetime. I learned infinitely more than I taught, as teachers always do. Others experienced it too.

That 2-year period was anything but easy. I struggled to learn the Japanese language like nothing I had ever done, often crying myself to sleep, discouraged and mentally exhausted. Yet in the depths of despair, I found purpose and meaning, something the Japanese language has a unique and wonderful word for. It is “ikigai” and before I learned that word, I experienced it.

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.[1] The word translated to English roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”[2] Each individual’s ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. It reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which the individual feels at ease. Activities that allow one to feel ikigai are never forced on an individual; they are often spontaneous, and always undertaken willingly, giving the individual satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. Wikipedia

The loving, passionate energy I put into those two years paid back incredible dividends throughout my life. Because I had achieved a level of mastery of Japanese, I was given more opportunities to serve in senior level business positions, developing big American retail brands all over the world, starting with Japan. Today, there are tens of thousands of stores (ihop, 7-eleven, Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s to name a few) that I was instrumental in establishing. Those stores provided jobs and income and customer convenience to millions of people. My heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to serve and impact the lives of so many. IKIGAI.

But, along my journey, I became disillusioned with some of the selfishness, greed and politics that go along with functioning in large corporate environments.

Hero’s JourneySo, about thirteen years ago, I left to develop an intentional community with lofty goals that involved my ikigai based on self-reliance, integrity and mutual love, service and an abundant lifestyle within a closely bonded community. In October 2006, I purchased about 750 beautiful, remote acres on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, the Grand Canyon of the Southeast. It was just three months before the sub-prime mortgage Real Estate bust. It was my personal version of the “hero’s journey”. It was filled with all the elements of such a quest – challenge, failure, loss, disappointment, betrayal, fear, forgiveness, redemption and more. My life came into question as did my quest for existential joy. I fell into a state of depression as we teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years, living in a state of lack. We now live simple, debt-free, peaceful, abundant and happy lives, but it was a rough road getting here.

There is a place in the iconic hero’s journey where the would-be hero falls to a low state. Then, through another mighty struggle with his own demons, overcomes. In the next stage of the quest, he returns home to teach what he has learned. This stage solidifies his learning and sets the stage for his next adventure. This is every brave man or woman’s journey.

And so was my struggle to recover existential joy. I have always been a deep-thinking introvert. My mentor boss at Dunkin/Baskin, upon his departure to head up Red Lobster, which he turned around and then took private, gave me a memento that still reminds me of my strongest talent. It is a brass giraffe because he said I always had my head in the clouds. It’s true. I am a big-picture visionary. I see trends and opportunities coming long before my peers and I develop detailed plans in my head to take advantage of those opportunities. One of the guys on my team once told me that I was exceptionally self-aware. I wasn’t sure how to take that at the time, but I have come to appreciate what a wonderful gift that is as well.

Over the past two years, I began an earnest quest to understand and recover existential joy – to define all of the principles that contribute to it and to develop self-mastery in applying those principles. Because of earlier life successes, I wasn’t in unexplored foreign territory, but I was beginning from the bottom of a pit that, in my hero’s journey, I had fallen into. Thankfully, my gifts of self-awareness, introspection and vision enabled that quest. I am now prepared to share the results of a lifetime of seeking existential joy.

My previous post speaks of some of those principles – productive creativity, meditation and gratitude. As described in the above Wikipedia link that defines Ikigai, the path to finding it is unique for each person and cannot be dictated or forced. It requires a great deal of self-awareness to discover one’s unique talents, gifts, passions and so forth. But, I believe there are solid principles beneath all that messy uniqueness. These are universal. They apply to everyone. My daily discipline involves testing these principles against the rigors of life to see if they hold up – always – and figuring out where and how the unique pieces fit into the universal principles. To date, I have identified and tested over a dozen discrete yet inter-related principles.

In coming posts I intend to share my discoveries. I hope to find a larger audience who will seek, test, find, validate and share joy that leads to wholeness of their life and then share it with others. If you are interested in the discipline that brings ikigai, or what I call existential joy, please subscribe and share my posts. Then share your experiences by commenting.

For those serious about accelerating your path to joy, come to my place in the Village. I will teach you my personally proven methods of practical, applied meditation. In peaceful, private natural places for deep meditation, like our waterfall,

the Beech Treehouse,

huckleberry point lookout

Overlook #17

or several ancient Indian rock houses on the property.

Discover who you are, your talents, passions, demons and opportunities to thrive. I will personally coach you how to practice the discipline necessary to change your life against your will, habits and addictions, to become your best, most joyful and prosperous self.

Call or text for an appointment or a stay-over. (931) 450-2426.

Be Water; Be like God

This morning I have been meditating on Lao Tsu’s verse #8 of the Tao Te Ching.

It gently invites us to be like water.

I considered two translations. Each is quite different. Without consulting the original Chinese, I did my own translation. I drew inspiration from the two translations, adding my own insights about life and the nature of God and water. Truths I learned from my own life’s path, my Tao

I hope to become more like water and God. Wrestling with my own poetic version of Lao Tsu’s wisdom helped me think more deeply, clarifying my water. I recommend the exercise and, should you give it a try, would love to see your version. Post it as a comment for the enjoyment of all. Share your living water. In a time of division, contention and darkness, this is something we can all do. Perhaps the best thing.

“Be Water, my friends. Be Water.” Bruce Lee

I include the two translations, from which I drew inspiration, below.

I hope this brightens your day in some small way.

With love, Grant

———————————————————————————
“True goodness is like water, 
it benefits everything and harms nothing. 
Like water it ever seeks the lowest place, the place that all others avoid. 
It is closely kin to the Tao.

For a dwelling it chooses the quiet meadow; 
for a heart the circling eddy.
In generosity it is kind; 
in speech it is sincere;
in authority it is order;
in affairs it is ability; 
in movement it is rhythm.

Inasmuch as it is always peaceable it is never rebuked.”

———————————————————————————
“The supreme goodness is like water.
It benefits all things without contention.

In dwelling, it stays grounded.
In being, it flows to depths.
In expression, it is honest.

In confrontation, it stays gentle.
In governance it does not control.
In action, it aligns to timing.It is content with its nature,
And therefore cannot be faulted.”

Stay in our Amazing CONEX Tiny Home

Back in 2011, I finished my tiny guest house, built out of two forty-foot CONEX shipping containers.  It’s a comfortable, fully functional house with one-bedroom + sleeping loft, a large kitchen, living area, full bath, laundry and extra storage.  I was pleased with the results.  You can read my original post, including my floor plan design and original photos at Build a Great House for under $10,000.

We used it mostly for convenience and for family and friends that would visit from time to time.  Over the years, I couldn’t resist making lots of improvements.  That, of course added cost, but it has been so worth it.

 

My latest improvements included:

  • A generous covered deck with deck chairs and a large gas barbecue that overlooks our little pond, filled with catfish, bass and croaking bullfrogs.
  • Covered parking for one vehicle in addition to the carport that handles four of ours.
  • French doors opening onto the covered deck
  • Newly Steel Framed Massive windows looking out into the woods and creek behind the house.  The house is so much more bright and cheery.
  • Fresh, natural re-sawn pine wood paneling in the living / dining area.  Wood is so much more cozy than corrugated steel.
  • New Kitchen Cabinet faces
  • A kitchen bar, re-purposed from a big oak conference room table salvaged from my days at Baskin-Robbins corporate.
  • A new heat pump that cools and removes humidity in the summer and makes the place toasty warm in winter.  The original low cost insulation, added to the exterior under the wood siding, has been great.
  • A gas fireplace for some extra cozy when “the weather outside is frightful”.

A few months ago, we began offering the space for short-term rental on Airbnb.   The response has been amazing.  You can see the listing at Mountain Waterfall Cabin in Eco-Village

We also listed another one bedroom log cabin at Log Cabin on Miller’s Falls

The experience hosting and getting to know lots of great people has been fabulous.  Many of the improvements were prompted by suggestions from guests.  It’s still a work in progress.  Between guest visits, I can usually be found either making improvements to one of these two houses or making plans for the Village 2.0.  that I’m calling the “Enchanted” Village on Sewanee Creek, or Enchanted Village for short.  I’ll write more about that later.

So, if you are interested in seeing what it might be like to live in a tiny home or a container house built from Conex shipping containers, come stay with us in one of our comfortably small houses.  While here, I’ll be happy to give you a tour of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  You can meet some of our self-reliant Villagers and learn about rainwater catchment systems, off-grid solar, bee-keeping, gardening, the benefits of chickens (even harvest some fresh eggs for breakfast), Ham radio communications, raising mushrooms or foraging for edible woodland foods, the slower, more satisfying life-style we enjoy here and much more.

Wander over to the amphitheater and enjoy a cookout in the fire pit under the satellite dish gazebo.   If you are a singer/song-writer or musician, this is the perfect place for a songwriter’s retreat.  How about an awesome place in nature to perform for a few appreciative music-lovers.  Our amphitheater offers a great outdoor stage with a covered backstage.  You can book it for free (as long as Villagers are invited to enjoy your music).  I’ll take you on a tour of the surrounding area where you will meet the rangers at the Visitor’s center and arrange for a guided hike through one of our eight nearby state parks.

Take a short walk along the creek to the top of fifty-foot Miller’s falls.  Then follow the gentle trail to the bottom of the falls.  Go behind the falls and enjoy contemplating God’s wonders on the natural stone bench in the grotto.

If you enjoy the unique satisfaction of being creative and building things, I can always use an extra pair of hands in the wood and welding shop.  By the way, I’m looking forward to many more years building tree houses in the enchanted village and love to share creative ideas with others who are similarly motivated by the urge to create magical things.

Dream, Choose, Live: The Good Life

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately.”

Henry David Thoreau

I think the first, most essential thing one must do to accomplish that is to build one’s own house as Thoreau did. He built from leftover scraps of an old shanty. We have many other choices.

 
The mere fact that when people come to the Village, they can’t buy a finished home means that every one of us shares that journey. The journey enriches each of us individually and collectively, as a community.  One’s home is the ultimate expression of self, one’s capacity to dream and do. Even if you hire a contractor and never lift a hammer, you will learn, mostly about yourself. So many choices, it can be overwhelming. In the process, you are forced to come to terms with your personal values. There is no faking it.

What is really important to me?

  • How big should my house be?
  • How much of my life, in the form of money that I have exchanged my time and effort for, should go into this house?
  • What portion should I allocate for other things that are important to me and my goals?
  • In my house, do I want to emphasize efficiency and low maintenance or esthetic beauty? What do those things mean to me? Can I have both?
  • Do I want my home to make a statement about me or is it enough that it satisfies just me?
  • If I am taking this journey with a spouse and children, how will we use this experience to bring us closer as we discover and satisfy what is uniquely us?
  • What can or should I do without to have the things I really want?
  • My home will be a refuge, but from what? From the noise of the city, or from the discomforts of nature?

The folks in this video made some highly unusual choices in an environment most people would consider extreme. Yet, their home is a creative expression of who they are and how they choose to live.  And it is beautiful.

As you watch this video, notice the many trade-offs they made. I like to think “sacrifice” is what you give up to get something better.  A deliberate life is one of conscious choice. If one knows oneself and chooses well, a personal paradise is the reward. That personal paradise is within reach of us all, but we must choose.

For those who love nature and the joy of sharing with others, the Village on Sewanee Creek has all the necessary elements to build your dream with a little help from some friends.

Implementing Open Source Ecology in The Village on Sewanee Creek

Open Source Ecology, which aims to provide the blueprints and instructions to build the 50 most essential machines for civilization, promises to be one of the great industrial shifts in the coming decade. The promise of industrial manufacturing in garage and tool-shed not only permits low-cost solutions, but independence and security in the event of disaster.

P1030296

The 19th century industrial revolution eliminated the cottage industry through the development of assembly lines and division of labor. In the globalized economy, Western consumers have become dependent on imports to sustain our consumer lifestyle. Many products are no longer manufactured within the United States and other developed nations. While not an intrinsically bad system, the era of self-sustainability has gone by the wayside. Gone is the simple life, replaced by global supply chains and logistics solutions to get your toothbrush from the other side of the world.

The first taste of a return to the good life is exemplified by the excitement over the 3D printing revolution. For example, a company which aims to provide the next generation of manufacturing, 3D Systems, has had its stock price double due to investor expectations. The same excitement that surrounds the ability to manufacture your own custom plastics with 3D printers is magnified by Open Source Ecology, which provides the DIY designs to build everything from your own tractor to making construction bricks from compressed earth. The ability to have a plasma cutter, bioplastic extruder, and dimensional sawmill at your disposal offers the prospect of a rebirth of cottage industries. Manufacturing will only be limited by your imagination, not for the lack of tools or material. Your open source induction furnace will largely eliminate material constraints.

Sawmill
The open source movement is expanding into the physical realm but like the online sector, open source is only as strong as its community of contributors. The movement not only relies on its network of designers and prototypers, but communes and clubs to build and test the machines. One such community is the Village on Sewanee Creek, a sustainable community on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.  The property development has weekly projects where villagers come together as a group to build chicken coops and biochar gasifiers to support a self sustaining community. Groups like these are part of the development and the success of Open Source Ecology

For example, the Village on Sewanee Creek recently ran into a hitch when their tractor began to malfunction.  Open Source Ecology now provides the designs and instructions to allow the village to build a tractor of their own. One that they can fix on site should problems arise and made from materials locally available. The village not only brings together likeminded people interested in tinkering, fabricating, and sustainability, but roots its community weekly projects such as building an open source tractor.  Open Source Ecology will succeed best in a permanent setting where the community is already project oriented and dedicated to self-sufficiency.

Find out more about the Village on Sewanee Creek here.

Saving the World one person at a time … starting with me

“Teach them Correct Principles and they Govern Themselves”.  This is the foundation for a sustainable world.  This is my message to the world.
I was asked to give a talk to the Economics club at Sewanee, the University of the South on our independent local currency initiative, the Sewanee Dollar.  But when the sponsor, a student representing the Economics Club read my BLOG, he decided there is more to the story.

He admitted to being a closet Libertarian, an unpopular position at liberal Sewanee U.  But, he said he was having a hard time reconciling “sustainability” with some of the libertarian views I had written of on this blog.  In his mind, these were polar opposites.  To which I responded,

“I can’t imagine anything sustainable unless founded on true principles, including the freedom to act on them”.  

That led to a broader discussion of sustainability.  Sustainable extends into eternity.  It’s not just about restraining ourselves from destroying natural Eco-systems, although that is part of it.  It includes spiritual, moral, physical and economic sustainability.   It’s about being wise, good stewards.  It’s about being the change we want to see.

In other words, Saving the World one person at a time. . . starting with me.

PS:  For a list of some of the community projects referred to in the above video, see my post, Socialism Fails as Free Markets Flourish In the Village.