What Do We Do Now

What Do We Do Now

At a certain point last night I went from shock to mourning to asking myself, what do we do now?

Now, a few hours later, I’m starting to piece that together. One thing has become painfully clear. We can’t move America forward in a progressive direction without moving all of America forward including rural America, America’s non-college educated whites, evangelicals, the inhabitants of coal country, and the midwest. The challenge has never been greater and that is why the need to be inclusive is greater than ever.

Embrace The People Who Elected Trump

I’m not suggesting we rush to embrace the prideful white nationalist or the self-sequestered white family in the exurbs beyond our reach and unwilling to meet us. I’m talking about embracing the small town high school graduates that never left home. I’m talking about the aging church going couple who are tired of politics-as-usual who are afraid for their grandchildren’s future. I’m talking about the coal miner who has served in combat and whose retraining as a truck driver has left him just as underemployed giving him lots of time to watch the heroin epidemic decimate his already suffering home town.

We need to embrace these people because we must understand what pushed them away from progress and into the arms of an authoritarian demagogue. We need to understand their pain and we can’t do that by talking over them on Facebook or by feeling superior to them or writing them off because they’ve demonstrated what happens when we do.

What Do We Do Next?

We need to listen to these people because they’ve spoken and even if they don’t understand the full extent of what they’ve done they’ve done so with purpose and for reasons we need to understand. We must meet them with understanding and genuine concern. We must listen and we must understand their fears, their anger, their reasons for voting for Trump. We need to know who they are as individuals. We must understand them as people with hopes, dreams, needs, and concerns, fears, anger but not as a voting bloc or in the abstract. We can no longer view them from afar.

We need to listen so we can understand. We need to understand so we can build a relationship. We need to build a relationship so we can help them ease their fears, quiet their concerns, speak to their anger, find ways to meet their needs, and to realize their hopes and dreams.

It is critical that we act now. Embracing, compassionate listening, and genuine understanding creates friendship and bonds us together. It also gives us the opportunity to share our stories, our concerns and our needs. It gives us the chance to educate each other about who we are and what we must do and it ensures that we will think of each other and consider each other when we make choices and choose candidates for office. It gives us a chance to make our argument for moving the country in a progressive direction while forcing us to understand how to apply that progressive vision to the world that our new friends inhabit and within the framework of how they see the world.

To be clear, I’m not talking about compromised vision. I’m not talking about abandoning the movement towards social justice or moving towards the center. In fact the most radical among us should be the ones leading this coming together or at the very least participating because it’s fear of the most radical among us that drives the wedge deeper and separates us more and more.

The Future Depends On Us

This matters because the future depends on us and the longer we wait to do this the longer we fight alone. The future of so many people, of the climate, of humanity rests on our shoulders. We can mourn and cry today but tomorrow we must begin this work. We must go to these people where they are and hear them. We must become friends.

Only then can we begin to show them how we can address their problems with small progressive solutions that can still be implemented even under the absolute Republican control we’re going to face for the next two years at a minimum. Only then can we bring them into future with us as partners, countrymen, and friends. Only then will we be able to start a fresh progressive movement that is radically inclusive and large enough to move America and the world in the direction that we all know it must move.

Why This Works

We know that Trump is a snake oil salesman, a shyster, a grifter, a con artist. We also know that he has made promises that he can’t keep even with total Republican control. Most of those promises were made to these people and it won’t be long before they begin to feel the sting of those broken promises. That will not be the time to say “I told you so” but will be the time to engage our new friends in a sustainable movement towards progress. It will not be the time to tell them that we knew this would happen. It will be the time again to listen and to find progressive leaders in their districts, their states, etc. who have progressive but more importantly workable ideas about how to solve their problems.

If we can do this in two years we can take control of Congress and in four we can take back the white house and we can do it with a coalition of working people, college educated people, radical leftist, new urbanist, rural and small town whites, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. We can do this, we must do this because the future depends on it.

The Alternative

The alternative is that we lick our wounds, talk disparagingly about rednecks, hillbillies, white trash, etc. in fly-over country. We make fun of these folks and call them backwards, we unfriend them on Facebook and feel smug and superior all the while the world burns. We lose more and more ground, the ACA, SCOTUS, LGBTQ protections, medical marijuana and stem cell advancements, climate change goes unaddressed, and time will drag on and on while more and more progressive gains of the past are lost.

Heart and Soul

I’ve hear the phrase “poured our heart and soul into ___” several times recently and it occurs to me that each time has been in relation to a failure that could have been prevented if the person who did the pouring was less emotional and was more analytical.

That is to say, sometimes its best to pour a little bit of brains in there with the heart and soul.

Fall 2014 Straw Bale House Update

houseslideWell design #305 (or so it seems) is currently being discussed by the wife and I. After some attempts to spread beyond our borders became a bigger challenge than expected we’ve decided to take another look at sticking to what we’ve got and building on the just over a half acre that we already own. We finally met with our timber framer who is helping me with the design and we’re really looking forward to working with him, Teresa is especially happy since he talked me into the idea of a basement. He wasn’t able to talk me out of the idea of keeping the solar on the roof as I still maintain that there will be far too many trees in the way if it’s set up on the ground.

This design goes back to some previous ideas and if you’ve been reading the blog long enough you’ll likely recognize some things about the exterior of this design. No longer is the garage on the north but it’s now on the west which suits me a bit more since it can act as a buffer in the warmer months. The biggest difference (aside from the basement) is how we’ve spread the house out a bit more on it’s east-west axis.

I struggled for some time with where to place the steps in order to not only have access to all of the rooms upstairs without a hallway being in the very center of the house and thereby being dark and uninviting. In this design, (as you’ll see below in the layout images), we added another bent but this one is not a full 10′ on center as the others are, it’s only there to accommodate the stairs and the bathrooms. It also serves as a great place to put a front door (out into the bioshelter) as well as a door onto the deck above the bioshelter that isn’t inside someone’s bedroom. We still have a set of french doors in our bedroom with-which to get onto the deck but they’re not the only access point now.

One detail I’m still not 100% happy with is that the only place for a door that leads directly to the backyard has to be inside a room on the second floor. We’ll use it as Teresa’s office or my office but it will be weird if it one day becomes a bedroom though it shouldn’t ever need to as there are two other bedrooms in addition to our own and we have no desire to have that large a family.

Here is the layout for the first floor:
FirstFloorTo the left is the garage but just to the right of it is the kitchen, it’s a large U-shaped kitchen that is separated from the rest of the first floor by the steps. This suits Teresa very well as she likes to listen to music while she bakes and she likes to do both of those when I’m watching things like football or hockey. Despite it being separated there is still a fair amount of visibility beyond the steps into the space to the south of the living room furniture which means when we have kids they won’t be out of eyesight unless she’s at the fridge (which is on the north wall) or back near there.

Behind the steps is a 3-piece bath and it’s just off of the dining room. We played with the idea of a second door from the kitchen into the bath but it didn’t seem to leave enough room for the bathtub. The dining room and living room being adjacent (versus putting the steps on the other side of the dining room means that we can host large family gatherings and holiday meals. We added 3 bar stools to the kitchen area as well so we can also hang out there when the other one is cooking if we so choose.

Here is the layout for the second floor:

SecondFloorAt the top of the steps is the door to the deck. To the left of that is a small bedroom behind which is the laundry nook and beyond that is Teresa’s office (with the door to the backyard). On the other side of the steps is the door to our bedroom behind (or above in the image) is another bedroom and just behind the steps is another 3-piece bath.

We will add a “Pittsburgh toilet” to the basement near the wash-sink because I expect to have a bit of a work area down there and we’ll likely use part of it as a recreation space/”man-cave” area but for now there really isn’t anything to it.

After talking with Aaron (our timber framer), Amy (our financial advisor), and each other we’ve pushed the build date back from this coming Spring (of 2015) until probably the same time in 2016 or possibly even 2017. We’ll need to see how things go but if we wait until 2017 we’ll have a lot more money put away with which to build.

So that’s it, that’s the latest news. If you’d like to ask a question or leave a comment please feel free to do so, you can also email me, or hit me up on social media, I’d love to hear from you.


Hillside Hugelkultur Revisited

Steep Slope Stabilization 6 Month Check Up

So its been over 6 months since we started our first hillside hugelkultur test and I’m happy to report that the results look good. If you’re unfamiliar with the process take a look at this post here.

Over the summer the hillside was clearly very damaged with little more than rocks left on most of the hillside. There was some pioneering vegetation but if you looked under the leaves more and more of the roots on the downhill side were being exposed and as long as the slope was allowed to remain as steep the problem was only going to get worse.Read More

Small Engineered Wetland & Climate Change

The Global Power of Wetlands: The Absorption of Carbon

There is a lot of data out there about how important wetlands are to the safety and future of the planet but there is little emphasis placed on the ability of wetlands to capture carbon. Wetlands absorb carbon at a higher rate than more dry land for a few reasons.

First, the plants that thrive in wetlands tend to grow at an amazing rate and their growth is carbon reliant. That is to say the structures that wetland plants create to help them grow fast are carbon heavy structures. Much like how skyscrapers are built of steel (a high carbon substance) wetland plants need to be able to be built tough to withstand the pressures of living in their chosen environment.Read More

Syria: An Open Letter to the President, Congress, and Leaders Around the World

Ladies and Gentlemen we stand at a crossroads. Before us is a choice that you’ll be making on our behalf. Despite what many of the citizens of the United States and elsewhere think and feel and no matter how vocal we are the choice is your choice and despite what you might feel about this Syrian civil war personally it will define you all. When you’re spoken of this decision will be at the top of the list, not a statement about global warming and how you choose to handle, or not handle it, not a statement about LGBT rights, of all that you have, are, and will do this choice will define you.

The Choice is Life or Death

Read More

Summer 2013 straw bale house building update

Building Progress Made or Where Are We Now?

It’s late Aug 2013 and summer (for those of school age at least) is coming to a close. Even nearly a decade removed from higher education I still have a hard time remembering that summer doesn’t officially end until most of the way through September but I digress.

So many people know about our project and so many ask where we are, what the latest news is, when we’re going to move in (some even assume we’ve done it already). The truth is we’ve not even stuck a shovel in the ground. The closest we’ve gotten to working on the property is to show it off to a few people and to trim back the thorns and aggressive pioneer plants.Read More

Permaculture and relocation

The Push to Move and Migrate

We’re very much still the same people we were over 10,000 years ago when we began to settle down. So when times get tough we often think if we just move we’ll be better off. While in the times when we were hunter/gatherers that was to find a place with more food today we do so more often because of jobs. Jobs are how we think we earn food today so it’s not a huge change but I was reminded of it when I read a post from a friend of Facebook. She said:

Need to figure out what states have all the jobs so I can apply for them Sure isn’t nothing here anymore, at least worth having. 2 steps forward and 5 steps back. sigh.

While I tried to post a comment right on Facebook I kept getting errors so I figured why not tell more people via my blog and just post a link to it for her since Facebook is failing to allow me to post it.Read More

Experimental Permaculture: Steep Slope Stabalization

Erosion Control

What do you do if you’ve got a steep bank, one that is already eroding away, specifically one that’s in a tight space where you can’t change the angle very much, maybe one below a road bed or some other already built up area where you can’t loose any more soil without risking collapse? There are a few ways you could address it. Nearly all of them require money, machinery, and some amount of engineering. Whats more most of those will eventually fail leaving you in a similar situation or possibly worse. Too those meant to last the longest often will fail the most spectacularly and will probably cost the most both to initially install and to maintain. There has to be a better way and there is.

Natural Erosion Control

So how can we control erosion naturally? We need to study how nature does it. On steep slopes in the forest a tree will fall even before it dies if erosion eats away the soil around it. When a tree falls on a steep slope it will usually be caught by stumps from previous fallen trees or by clumps of woody undergrowth, it’s own branches, etc. which will prevent it from rolling to the bottom of the slope. As it decomposes where it fell leaves and debris will pile around it and it will eventually serve as a catch preventing or at least slowing erosion in the area where it fell.

Swales & Hugelkultur

By now, if you’re familiar with permaculture you’re saying – why not use a swale?

If you’re not familiar with them swales are contour ditches that help infiltrate water into the landscape. They’re fantastic at preventing drought and flash flooding, at rehydrating the landscape, at reducing the amount of water needed to be put onto plants and gardens via pumping, they refill the aquifer, and provide balance in nature. They’re really remarkable. That being said they won’t work if the slope you’re working on is too steep because the downhill side of the swale will need to be even steeper than the slope itself was leading to it’s own erosion at a much faster rate.

Hugelkultur mimics what the forest does when a tree falls It’s primarily employed as a means of creating soil that holds vast amounts of water and creating soil that, do to being in a state of active decomposition, is warm, allowing for a longer growing season. It does this because logs are usually somewhat rotted before they’re used, then a bit of a ditch is dug, the log/logs are placed inside of this ditch, soil and compost is piled on top and cover crops are sewn on the soil.

Hugelkultur is a great way to slow the flow of water on a slope but like with swales it’s usually used on mild slopes because the downhill side could never be expected to retain the soil piled on top of it on the type of slopes we’re talking about.

If we’re on a steep slope that is surrounded by grass or little vegetative growth, (not a forested landscape), maybe one with compacted, hard-pan soil above it adding to the difficulty how do we tweak the swale and hugelkultur ideas to make them work?.

Raw Hugelkultur

To achieve stabilization and because the slopes we’re talking about are really too steep to expect soil placed on the down-slope side of a log or swale to stay in place we need to go back and look at nature and mimic what happens in nature on steep slopes. There nature piles loose debris, compost, some soil, etc on the back or uphill side of the log/logs but not on the front (where it won’t stick). Will this work on a steep slope outside of the forest where the soil has died and won’t hold vegetation? It should so we’ve decided to test it.

Our Stabilized Steep Slope Experiment

Lets look at an example. This is a steep slope that is located in a community garden in Garfield. There are raised garden beds above and below it, the slope has seen a great deal of erosion and was in need of some emergency care to make sure it didn’t fail completely. Here is a photo of the slope:

Gator Garden Slope Garfield

As you can see it does have some vegetation but it’s not enough. The slope is eroding around this vegetation. In spots it’s already eroded back to rock. Worst still is the fact that this bank is fill and not a cut into a natural slope so the soil behind it is likely not very stable.

The photo below shows the area to the right of the previous picture. The slope in general ranges from about 40 degrees to as much as 65 or even 70. None of it is less than 45 degrees.

Gator Garden Slope Garfield

Raw Hugelkultur

Here is how we are seeking to solve the problem. We’ve used small logs from the site, from a tree that was removed. I wasn’t able to identify it but it was likely a pioneer species that took root in this abandoned lot some time ago. We used what was on site which I personally feel is the best option. The gardeners who cleared the lot had simply removed this tree and were letting it decompose out of the way so why not put it to use in the landscape?

Gator Garden Slope Garfield Raw Hugelkultur

We used a few old stumps as our stakes. The log was placed behind it, in hindsight we should have excavated some of the soil so it would sit flush but we put  some smaller logs behind it, covered those with compost, added some soil and piled some debris from the downed tree (small branches, twigs, leaves, etc) on top.

Just like with hugelkultur the log will decompose but probably not very rapidly and the front or downhill side will last the longest as it’s facing south and has little to no shade so it’s not going to be a popular place for fungi to grow.

Lastly we added some grass and clover clippings that came from the abandoned lot across the street. These have gone to seed and those seeds may help to establish some growth on the top which will further help with erosion control. Too the carbon in the log and branches should be balanced out with some nitrogen and the greens from what we threw on top there will help with that but really the clover (if it takes hold) will help fix nitrogen.

There’s another reason we added this debris. Though the compost is alive it’s alive mostly with microbes which will eventually break down the woody material but they really can’t get started until there is some fungus. All of these but fungus more so need shelter from the sun and living soil in which to operate. Since the soil on the slope had been baked by the sun and was almost certainly devoid of microbial life we needed to provide a shelter where water can get in but where the sun is kept out – just like on the forest floor. This debris will also help slow the water that will run across the area and that will fall like rain.

Testing Raw Hugelkultur

Will it work? Only one way to tell – to tested it.

Minette Testing

We simulated rain directly on the top of the area. We did this for over 5 minutes. Clearly this isn’t a true test but this was municipal water so we didn’t want to use a lot of it. They’re working on capturing water onsite but for now they’re exclusively using municipal water to water the beds.

Gator Garden Testing

You can see that the raw soil above the site is saturated, some of the soil has started to run down the hill but has stopped at the uphill side of the log. Below the grown is still dry.

The slope below the logs should not erode at the same rate that it was because only the rain falling directly on it will continue to erode it. There is a rose of Sharron bush growing around the stumps we placed the log against and another below, near the middle of the log and some other vegetation. This all should help keep the downhill side from eroding as fast. Too I’ve suggested that they consider changing the degree of the slope here (where there is some room to do so) and that they plant a small fruit tree there which will help not only the area below but also above (in that less rain will fall on it).

Long Term Results

Will this work long term? Honestly I don’t know but in the end it can probably be redone in a few years if it fails. The worse that will happen on this test site is that the log will rot away and the rich organic soil we’re creating from it may run downhill. Some of it may dry out and die but if we’re willing to go back and do this experiment again we’re only loosing the new material we’re adding and not the hillside itself.

That might not seem like such a great deal (needing to redo it in 3-5 years) but the alternative is spending a large sum of money and fuel and needing to continuously fight against nature to do what nature can do on it’s own given the tools to do it.

Too our process sequesters carbon, we’ve used no fossil fuels (the tree was cut by hand), and there is a chance we might not have to redo it especially if the folks who use the garden decide to plant trees or herbaceous plants on the slope once there is soil there to do it.

I’ll do my best to post some follow-up posts about it in the future. Please feel free to ask any question or post alternative ideas in the comments.

Straw Bale House Design #342

Refined & Redesigned House Design & Location

It seems like we’ve designed and redesigned our house so many times. Well … we have but then again it’s important to get it right if we’re going to spend lots of money on it, live in it for many years, and have it function properly so it’s worth refining the design over and over.

Part of the reason for this latest redesign is that we’ve changed the location. When walking on the property we found that placing the house so that the driveway would go straight into the garage with the rest of the house below it would easier for several reasons. First, that area is already terraced and has a bit of a swale at the end of it.Read More