Walden Pond Updated – The modern “Good Life”

As a college student bout 40 years ago, I read Walden; or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau. Like most people of my generation, I spent many years out of the woods, behind a desk, on planes, in endless meetings.  But, Thoreau’s message stuck.  From it, I learned ideas like

  • the importance of living deliberately
  • your stuff will own you, not the other way around
  • the true economics of Life
  • self-sufficiency is both possible and desirable.
  • the importance of living in and learning from nature.

After a career that paid well and exposed me to wealth and society, I have tried to live more simply and deliberately. In this excellent TED talk, Adam Baker does the best job that I’ve seen of recapturing Thoreau’s ideas for modern times. In the fragile, frenetic and uber-materialist world we live in, these ideas are more relevant than ever.

Inspiring experiences and memories are the rewards of a life well-lived. The stuff we accumulate gets in the way of real life.

If you are seeking to live “the Good Life” in the company of like-minded, well-informed, good and intelligent people, you might want to join us.  Inquire 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.

Socialism Fails as Free Markets Flourish In the Village

In 1620, the Pilgrims tried socialism – and utterly failed at it. For several years, the colony raised crops in “communal service.” It didn’t work. So Governor Bradford instituted one historic change that was to ensure the flourishing success of the colony and change American history ever afterwards. Communal agriculture was abandoned and private planting was established. Here is Bradford’s own account from the original source documents:

“This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times–that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.”

This story from our American heritage explains why private property ownership is so important. Let me give you another example of how we learned the same thing that Governor Bradford did. Those who have visited my website at sewaneecreek.com have seen that we tout our community garden.  This garden was never intended to feed Villagers, but rather serve as a place for training and social relationship building. But, even on that level, I proudly admit that the “community garden” has failed. The good news is that we recognized this early on and, like Governor Bradford, changed to something better. I built a nice raised bed garden and brought in good topsoil for the community garden.  But, because everyone in the Village has enough land to raise their own crops, it’s simply more convenient to farm closer to home. That fact, combined with what the Pilgrims discovered long ago, that socialism discourages real work, doomed the community garden even though it’s still there, ready to be worked by anyone who wants to.

What works better? Letting natural law take its natural course. We began assisting one another with gardening on our own land. That practice evolved further to helping one another with other projects. The key is that there is always a project sponsor who has a vested interest in getting something done with or improving something they own. An enlightened sponsor, interested in optimizing value, getting the job done effectively and efficiently, puts extra effort into organizing in advance. By managing it well, needed tools and materials are readily available. Know-how is acquired by study in advance of execution and necessary training is given.  This happens naturally when the objective is efficient production, not just hanging out together.  Not only does value-added work get done, but leadership and management skills are developed in the process.  The tangible results?

Example 1. Last winter, three families contributed real labor in the planting, tending and harvest of crops from the greenhouse that my family owns. The productivity of our assets increased as needed labor hours were contributed. We felt good about sharing the products of our combined labor. We had an abundance of winter vegetables including cabbage, kale, lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli and cauliflower.  At times there was much more than the three participating families could consume, and much more than our family had the prior winter, when we operated the greenhouse by ourselves.

Example 2. is actually many examples. As each family realized the benefits received when others contributed labor to THEIR sponsored/owned projects, there developed a free market of labor exchange based on trust that value given would be returned and amplified. A free market requires that kind of trust and it encourages all to give their best efforts in return SO THAT they can earn the trust and contributions of others. An essential part of FREE MARKET is FREEDOM.   No one is forced, coerced, or even made to feel guilty if they don’t opt to play in the free market. But there are natural consequences, in the form of benefits.

Here is a partial list of the products of these many small projects.

ROTATING COMMUNITY PROJECTS
(by sponsor/beneficiary – in order of arrival in Village & participation)

Family #1

  • Raised Bed Gardens Built
  • Greenhouse Built
  • Back Garden Clearing, Plowing, Planting
  • Orchard Irrigation Water Tank – overflow from RWCS
  • Deep Cycle Solar Battery Charging
  • CONEX Guest House Built
    • Insulation
    • Exterior Siding
    • Interior paint & Paneling
    • Plumbing
    • Roof
  • Power Shed
    • Concrete Foundation
    • Shed Re-Roofed
    • Lister Generator Installed
    • Wood Gasifier Installation & Training
  • Micro-Hydro-Electric Generator @ Miller’s Falls
    • drilled for Re-Bar above Waterfall for Small Dam
    • Install Weir
    • Install pen-stock

Family #2

  • Dam for Driveway and Pond Built
  • Driveway Built, Rock Surfaced
  • Outdoor Wood Furnace Installed
  • Raised Bed Gardens Built
  • Chicken Coop designed & Built
  • Rainwater Catchment Tanks installed
  • Solar PV System Installed
  • Roof Repair – Main House
  • Seed Lawn
  • Move In: Unload truck and move furniture
  • Kitchen Cabinets Finished
  • Special House Cleaning for guest visit
  • Solar Fence Installed
  • CONEX containers for shop installed,
    • Ground work, leveling
    • Windows installed
    • Trenching for electrical connection to shop

Family #3

  • Storage Shed Built
  • Raised Bed Garden Built
  • Garden Leveled and Plowed
  • Stone Retaining Wall & Garden Bed Built
  • Fallen Tree Removed
  • Chicken Coop Built
  • Installed 2 TV Antennas
  • Move In: Unload truck and move furniture
  • Rainwater Collection System Installed

Family #4

  • Put Out Large Brush Fire
  • Built Goat Shelter
  • Re-Mapped New Lot perimeter for Solar fence and Dam

Family #5

  • Raised Beds for Garden Installed
  • General Yard Clean-up during Construction

COMMUNITY PROJECTS

  • Tile Fired and Installed for Face of the Village Sign – Donated by a generous Villager
  • Planter at the Village sign, maintenance – Family #3
  • Winter Greenhouse Garden, Cabbage harvest & Kraut Processing
  • Bee Keeping
    • Monthly bee club potluck And instruction
    • Continuous learning & sharing of info re: bees
    • Hives built
    • Bees installed
    • Regular weekly rotation of bee care & feeding
  • Food Service Equipment donated for Commons, pending installation – another generous Villager

SOCIAL / CULTURAL & EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES

  • Weekly Monday Family Home Evening get-togethers for games, discussions, lessons, etc.
  • Pot Luck Dinners
    • Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving
    • Monthly Village Potluck – Rotating Venue
    • Ad Hoc – too many to count
  • Preparedness Fair (with over 15 expert presentations)
  • Preparedness Workshop (with gourmet outdoor cooking demo and feast, rock climbing and rappelling and more
  • Annual July 4th Celebration (potluck, entertainment, movies, fireworks, pig roast)
  • Summer movies under the stars @ the Village Amphitheater
  • Movies @ the Miller’s Home Theater – Too many to count
  • Plays attended together
    • Les Miserable – Nashville
    • A Mid-Summer Nights Dream – U. Of South, Sewanee
    • Julius Caesar – U. Of South, Sewanee
    • Picasso at the Lapin Agile – U. Of South, Sewanee
  • Movies away from the Village
    • Defiance – U. OF South
    • Atlas Shrugged
  • Educational presentations attended in Huntsville twice
  • Many gulf hikes, cave explorations
  • Stone Fort Park Tour – Manchester
  • Local Worm Farm Tour

Making Japanese Kaizen and American Individualism work together in the Village

If you have read my short bio, you know that I have some experience with the Japanese culture and speak fluent Japanese.  In the late 70’s, Japanese management philosophies were popular in America as our auto, electronics and optics industries were being decimated by Japanese competition.

Kaizen is a key word in Japanese philosophy.  A direct translation from the Chinese/Japanese characters “Kai” and “Zen” is “change” and “good” or in other words, to transform for the better.  As with most things Japanese, there is a deeper meaning, hinting of a unique, underlying culture.  To understand, one needs to add a few more words to the translation.  These would include patience, persistence, small, incremental and harmonious.
Deeply imbedded in the Japanese psyche is an understanding that perfection is achievable, but only in incredibly small, incremental steps, accomplished through cooperation.  Nothing great is ever achieved by a single genius in isolation or in one magnificent technical or ideological leap.

Dyed-in-the-wool American that I am, it’s hard to practice this philosophy.  By nature, I tend to be visionary, impetuous, strong-willed and impatient.  We Americans pride ourselves, above all, on rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, independence and personal initiative.  We idealize strong-willed individuals, while the Japanese idolize an amorphous group who toil upward silently in the night, never seeking or receiving personal credit but collectively achieving greatness through an uncountable series of small innovations.  That’s kaizen, or change(s) for the better.  While American heroes are individual people, the Japanese draw their heroes from nature – ants and bees.

Polar opposites, there is genius in BOTH Japanese and American world views.  Where quick, bold action is required, Americans win.  Where absolute excellence of quality, nearing perfection, is required, the Japanese approach excels.

Is it possible to practice both in a symbiotic balance?  That is the challenge of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  We are striving for a balance between opposites.
Consider our motto, “In harmony with nature and people” One might say it has a Japanese, Zen-like ring to it.  A number of Villagers even work together harmoniously to raise bees.       Bzzzzz, sounds like “nature and people in harmony”, doesn’t it?  I actually hadn’t thought of the symbolic nature of our beekeeping collaboration till just now.

On the other hand, a top stated value for the Village is self-sufficiency, independence and personal liberty.  One practical application of that value is the absolute requirement for private property ownership. Within one’s personal sphere of control, ownership begets personal accountability.

On yet another hand, we believe that collective, cooperative work optimizes effectiveness, efficiency and positive social relationships.  We observe this in action nearly every week when we rotate projects, one Villager sponsoring and leading the project and the rest chipping in.  A few weeks ago, it was my turn.  My project was framing up a new car port.  It is instantly clear as you struggle to lift both ends of a heavy beam into place, level it, and secure it, that a team of 2 or more beats a single laborer no matter how skilled or determined.  Where there is clear leadership and willing follower-ship, once again there is harmony as well as efficient achievement.

Both Leaders and followers are important in any task involving more than one person.  But, we find that achieving long-term harmony requires that all who want to lead must have a fair opportunity to do so.  By regularly trading project leadership, each participant grows and is built along with the building projects we undertake.  Each participant has an opportunity to improve their people and relationship skills including both how to lead and how to follow.

Each also has the opportunity to express their creative side on the property they own and control.  That brings out the best of our American spirit of ingenuity, vision, and can-do attitude.

One of the big lessons I have been forced to learn is that quality takes time and continuous improvement.  Through the contributions of many, both in physical labor and inspired ideas for improvements, each day is a challenge to make things a little better.  In the Village, we enjoy the pleasure of seeing our personal labors translated into physical improvements before our eyes.  No doubt, it’s nice to be able to call up a professional and order a nice improvement done.  But there is a special satisfaction that comes only by being able to say, “I did that”.  Even better if you can say, “We did that.”  At the end of a productive day, working together on something that will be yours for a long time, the tired smiles are priceless.

If this is the kind of harmonious, productive life you have always dreamed of, drop me a line here.

The Power of Small Moments

I have often blogged on the importance of making a difference by thinking small, or rather, local.  Meaning, if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.  Gandhi’s “BE the change you want to see” is the universal starting point.  Failing to do so has delivered to us a shallow culture of hypocrisy and deeply ingrained corruption from the highest levels of boardrooms to the shop floor, from congress and the presidency to the local planning commission or school board.  Epidemic corruption makes for profound distrust, breeding systemic, deeply ingrained cynicism.

The longing for Values and Integrity is why many Friends of Sewanee Creek have told me they are drawn to the dream of living in a community of people who genuinely care for one another, hard-working people of strong, traditional core values, people who are civil and respectful to each other even, or especially, when they don’t agree or have conflicting interests.  That dream can only be realized when each of us commits to be the shining example of the community we want to be in.

That starts with me.  As the obviously imperfect founder of the Village, the self-imposed burden of self-examination can be daunting.  The worst kind of cynicism can be the loss of trust or self-respect that comes from failing to meet one’s own standards to perfection.  And . . . nobody wants to hang out with cynics.

While each of us does our best to live to high standards and values, it is important to think SMALL as well as local.  We need to recognize that it is often the small acts of kindness or civility that can make the biggest difference.

This morning, I ran across an article titled, “The Power of Small Moments”. It got me thinking of the huge task I have set for myself of building a culture of goodness in the Village, let alone the daunting task of being a shining example of what I want to see.  I found it oddly comforting.  I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.

Friday’s Community Project

Just getting around to recapping and thanking all those who helped out in Friday’s community project. We successfully framed the carport on our CONEX guest house. Two hours of good fellowship and work followed by delightful conversation over lunch. Everything went smoothly. The timber frame is up, plumb and square. Experience is a great teacher. Still a lot to do before the carport is finished, but we’re well on our way now. The 800 square foot steel roof will provide a platform for solar panel installation and shelter for four vehicles. The combined roof space of carport and guest house is about 1,460 square feet. That more than doubles my effective rainwater catchment area, increasing the margin of water self-sufficiency with our 7,500 gallon Storage tanks.

For newbies here, the Village has a rotating voluntary shared project tradition. Every week a different household chooses and organizes a project. The community pitches in to help. One incentive to give time and effort is the expectation of the same when your turn comes around. But, there are others. The opportunity to learn from others with different skills and the comeraderie that goes with good people working productively together toward a common goal are others.

Together, we have built a storage shed, raised bed gardens for Several families, temporary shelter for goats, planting, caring for and harvesting produce in the greenhouse, installing drip irrigation systems and many other gardening projects, electric fences and chicken coops worked on our guest house, framed the carport, cooked a pig in the ground Hawaiian style and much more.

I want to thank all who have participated so far and invite everyone else to join us. Tradition is Thursday 10 AM start time followed by lunch, but we’re flexible on days and times. Some need to leave to get back to their work after lunch, but there are often several who keep working long after that. All voluntary.

Kind of like the famous Amish barn raising tradition without having to be Amish.

FEAR DEFINES YOU

FEAR

You may not want to accept the fact. It’s not the ONLY thing that defines you, but it does define you.

Notice the little things that motivate your behavior. There is a reason everyone is familiar with the carrot/stick metaphor. We DO things either out of desire or fear. Both define us because fear and desire are the two prime motives for thoughts that lead to action.

Many years ago, I received a piece of advice that stuck. “Never run away from things you fear or dislike, only toward things you want.” In the context of career advice, it made sense. When we react out of fear or negative feelings, we are apt to make knee-jerk, thoughtless moves that are self-destructive, leading nowhere positive. Moving toward positive goals is generally the course that results in a steady, upward climb.

You have probably heard similar advice. Having learned to reject fear, we try to reject the notion that we might be motivated by it. Pride says, “fear and negative emotions don’t drive me”. Don’t kid yourself. It’s there. Sometimes for good reason. Thank God, most people have the sense to move away from a rattling snake.

We fear things we don’t know. Recently, I attended a meeting where a bright, aggressive young attorney at the top of his game was directing the discussion. Suddenly, he stopped in mid-sentence to warn me that a tiny spider had strolled across my shoulder and disappeared behind my back. I shrugged. “I guess I’m part of its habitat.” Later I thought, how interesting that a guy with so much self-confidence in his world would be freaked out by a tiny spider. Apparently spiders don’t live in his world. They do in mine, and I hardly give them a second thought.

Today, I mentioned to my friend, Joe, that I’m writing about fear. Joe doesn’t live in the attorney’s world. I’ve never seen Joe in a suit. His world is horses, dogs, hunting or trapping raccoons in the back woods of the Cumberland Plateau. He grew up with critters of all kinds, knows them intimately and is their master. There’s not much in the outdoors that he’s afraid of. But Joe acknowledged that he would crumble if he had to leave his world for my other friend, the attorney’s. He acknowledged that everyone must deal with fear. Then he proceeded to tell me how his rugged father had taught him at a young age to deal with fear.

Near their home was the remains of an old strip mine, with a deep, blue-hole pond, maybe ninety feet deep. Joe’s family was dirt poor, so a swim in the blue hole was a good substitute for a bath. At a very young age, his Dad brought him to a cliff above the edge of the pond, dove in and swam to a rock in the center, where he climbed out to sun himself. Calling back to Joe, he commanded him to jump in and swim to him. Joe cried, “Daddy, I don’t know how to swim. I’m scared.” The gruff reply came, “Do you think I would let you drown? Leave your fear in the mud and get over here!” Trusting in his father, he leaped in, flailing like a puppy and found that he could, in fact swim. By focusing on reaching the rock where Dad was, he managed to leave his fear in the mud. “That’s how I learned to swim”, Joe beamed.
“But, you know, fear will kill you”, he said. “If you tense up, you drown”.

“Absolutely! I know that’s true”, I responded. I used to surf some good-sized waves on Oahu’s famous North Shore. A wipe-out can feel like you’re being tumbled in a monstrous washing machine where you have no idea which way is up. I learned early on to just relax. The wave soon passes. Then it’s usually easy to get to the surface to get a gulp of air. Sometimes you barely get a breath before being pummeled again by the next wave. Relax and go limp again. It too will pass. But if you panic, you waste valuable strength and oxygen. Fear will literally kill you. Or, it can kill the joy of life. It could have kept me from surfing, the one thing I enjoyed more than anything else.

English: Daniela Freitas doing a barrel roll a...

Banzai Pipeline during competition on the North Shore of Oahu,Hawaii. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Surfing large waves, it’s not just the fear of drowning that can kill you. At the point of take-off, you paddle to match the speed of the wave. Suddenly the bottom drops out and there is a moment of decision. Take one more quick stroke, commit, jump to your feet and drive down the face of the vertical wave . . . or pull back if your take-off is too late and too critical. Hesitate at the moment of decision and you’re likely to free-fall and be eaten by the wave. At a powerful break like Hawaii’s pipeline, that could mean an encounter with a razor-sharp coral head, just inches below the surface followed by tons of crashing, churning water. Is there fear? Hell, yes! Manage it. It’s all in the mind-set. Picture yourself driving hard down the face of the wave toward an exhilarating bottom turn. Take that last stroke with confidence and power. Allow yourself to think of free-falling, out of control? Fear, hesitation, panic and an over-the falls experience are sure to follow.

In situations where fear is a natural reaction, ignoring or denying it doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. You can’t manage something that you won’t acknowledge exists.

A few years ago, I witnessed a subtle, yet extreme example of denial. I was speaking to a group of preppers who were interested in joining a bug-out colony. Incidentally, the Village on Sewanee Creek is not a “bug-out colony”. I prefer to think of it as more of a “bug-in community” where long-term commitment to building a better, more self-reliant life replaces fear. I started my talk with an observation that attendees had probably come out of fear. One of the group took offense and became animated, even angry. His point, “I am motivated entirely out of positive desires to protect my family. Because I am prepared, I am fearless and calm in the face of danger.” His anger was telling. Turns out, he had a small business selling survival food storage items. None of us wants to think that we are motivated by fear. He ended his rant by observing that people don’t buy out of fear. A positive sales approach is more effective. And, of course, he was right. But, underlying the rant were two kinds of fear in the room.

First, it was clear from the discussion that followed, that these would-be preppers were petrified of a world they saw disintegrating around them. They looked forward to poverty, famine, social chaos, roving gangs of rioting thieves, cataclysmic climate change, tyranny, nuclear war, EMP’s, chem-trails, UFO’s, TEOTWAWKI and a myriad of other real or imagined threats. And they were seeking the safety of “like-minded” people who would band together in a time of crisis for protection. Tell me again that the prime motive was not fear?  Give me a break!

There was a second, more subtle, insidious kind of fear demonstrated that day.  Peering through the vigorous denial, was a palpable fear of fear itself.  I had called a spade a spade and was prepared to talk about it, reveal it and deal with it.  The objecting man was afraid that he might lose sales if the topic turned to fear.  Fear runs deep, denied or unnoticed.  Even when we project our most confident, happy selves, there are legitimate things to fear, to avoid.  When anger or other negative emotions bubble to the surface, fear often lurks in the depths of the soul.

As for me, I freely admit that, like the crowd I spoke to that day, there have been times when, absorbed in thoughts of what is wrong with this world, I have stared petrified down the vertical face of a violent wave as the bottom drops out of my deepest fears.  But as I visualize myself taking control and driving to a better place, fear evaporates, turning into an adrenaline rush.  That is the essence of my quest to become self-sufficient, independent of things that go bump in the night.  Better still, when I learn new skills, conquer new, unfamiliar worlds and open myself to creative expression, I am exhilarated by a sense of well-being and oneness with the natural world that God created and intended for me to enjoy.