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… to a new url!

Hi everyone. The time has come. I finally got around to moving this blog over to fishinthewater.net. It is the exact same blog- and just about everything seems to have transferred nicely- so never fear! You will continue to get the same jumbled up mix of rants, thoughts, and pictures of food over on the new site. Now I just have an easier url to type. Alas, fishinthewater.com was already taken by some kind of weird research site, so I got stuck with .net, but what are you going to do? This is the way of the world. The new site has some exciting features, and allows me to actually put money making things on the blog (no ads, just paypal and amazon). So all around pretty exciting.

I don’t have the subscribe button working yet on the new site, so I hope the subscribers will bear with me as I get it figured out, and will follow me over to the new digs!

All the best,
fishinthewater

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So I’ve been catching up on the C-Realm podcast, and in his recent conversation with James Howard Kunstler he brings up the concept of nostalgia for the present. Now this is a concept I had never heard of before, but apparently it’s what happens when many people find out about peak oil. If you aren’t up on these things, peak oil is what happens when we run out of oil.* Which is happening (or has probably already happened, and now we’re just using the last dregs) right now. And when we run out of oil, all the things we’re used to go bye-bye. Cars. Things from opposite sides of the country, such as tomatoes from California, and computers, and all kinds of other fun things.

Nostalgia for the present is what happens when you start thinking about a post-peak oil future, and start missing the things you have now that won’t be possible after whatever collapse is coming, you know, happens. Apparently most people freak out when they first hear about peak oil, and this is one of the symptoms. I’ve been thinking about peak oil for a really long time, so I never had a freak out. But I do have the nostalgia.

I started laughing when I heard them talking about this in the podcast, because it’s another thing I don’t really think about. It’s one of those things that occasionally crosses my mind: maybe other people don’t think about these things. Maybe other people don’t constantly go through their day thinking things like, “I wonder what would happen if I didn’t have a blender?”

More common forms of nostalgia for the present tend to be about more basic daily items. Ah, I wonder how hard it will be to get by without hot showers whenever we want them. Man, wouldn’t it suck to have to walk outside in the cold to go to the bathroom? How do we store food without refrigeration? And what did we do before high speed internet?

My most common thoughts tend to be more about the unusual things. I spend a lot of time wondering how we’ll get by without scissors. And how to make knives. And shoes. I’ve lived without hot showers, or heaters, in places where you have to walk outside to go to the bathroom and have to haul water if you need it for cooking. I’ve peed in buckets and emptied it out in the morning because it’s too cold to go outside. I’ve slept in all my clothes in an attempt to stay warm, and woken up to wash my face with frozen water. I’m choosing not to live that way at the moment, and every night before I go to bed (especially at this time of year, when it’s fricking freezing outside) I am very thankful for gas baseboard heat I don’t have to pay for. But I know I can do it the other way if I have to.

Other people are going to have a much harder time. It fascinates me endlessly when people start freaking out about not having the internet. I kind of love not having the internet. I dream of being able to go away to places where there is no internet access. I get so fricking tired of being chained to my email server. I want to be in a place where no one can contact me except the people I like very much, who don’t want much more from me than to know if I feel like coming over for dinner. I kind of look forward to a life not complicated by all this… stuff. Except maybe the heat. And my sewing machines. And the immersion blender.

I do feel a constant pressing need to learn how to do other things, however. Like make some kind of tool to cut things with, because eventually my scissors and knives will give out. I don’t even know how to start a fire. I was watching the neighbor build up their woodstove the other night and thinking, wow, I really have got to figure that one out. Because there you have your heat and your cooking covered, all in one. But how does it work? I know there’s a trick to piling up the logs, but hell if I know what it is.

And how about those shoes? What do we do when boots wear out, and it’s snowing? Native Americans must have had something on their feet to keep their toes from falling off. It’s the same imperative that makes me want to farm so badly. I want to know how to grow food without the inputs. I want to know how to skin an animal, so we have something to eat. I want to know how to cook a beaver if necessary, dammit.

But that doesn’t mean that in the meantime I’m not going to be really, really thankful for my laptop and baseboard heat…

*It has been pointed out to me that this is an inaccurate description of peak oil. Peak oil is actually, as you could imagine, when we surpass the peak amount of production we could ever have. So about half of all the available oil in the world. When this happens, oil will become more and more expensive to extract and eventually will become so prohibitively expensive that it will be as if we have run out of it. Though we can never, in theory, actually run out of it. Comes down to the same thing though. Look it up!

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Taking It Slow

I have a lot of very wise people in my life, and I count myself fortunate every day to know them. To them I am constantly posing this question of “how am I going to farm? I can’t afford it.” And have been getting some very wise responses, especially in light of this stupid S.510 thing.

The first made me question my reasons for wanting to start a farm in the first place. I hate making money on things that I love, after all, which is why I’ve never gone full fledged into a sewing business. It ruins the joy of making things. And I can only imagine that the stress of trying to make enough money at farming to keep the land and pay the mortgage, combined with the stress of trying to meet all the FDA regulations and fill out all the paperwork and be prepared for inspectors would just completely ruin the joy of growing things and feeding people. All of that seems rather obvious, but I’ve been in denial about it, because to live in this country, and to live in the manner of your choosing (and many people will disagree with me over this next statement) you need to have some manner of occupation. Yes, I know it is possible to find some land to squat or a place you can crash for very little money. But goddammit I really like having my own space that I can arrange to my liking, and my cats, and my four sewing machines, and being able to afford as much raw milk as I can drink. I stubbornly refuse to give those things up and so yes, I am trapped in the cycle of needing to have some sort of job to pay for it all.

In addition, if I am farming to make money, I am going to end up making all sorts of compromises on the way I want to farm- again, especially with these new regulations that are sure to come out of S.510. And who wants that?

My other reason for wanting to start a farm has always been to give my friends a place to come and live and work and do their thing, even though none of them have ever been the type to ever save up money or figure out how to pay taxes properly or fill out paperwork. I figured I could take on the responsibility of doing those things so they wouldn’t have to, mostly just because I miss all of them so terribly when they are off wandering the world, and I wanted to build a place where I could have them near me. The unfortunate downside of this plan is that the same things they are shunning by wandering the world are killing me, literally, I think sometimes, based on how much my body has been protesting lately. And none of the friends who I have supposedly been building this farm for seem the least bit interested in maybe taking on some of that burden, or necessarily even in coming back home and settling in one place. They have taken to the wandering life. I’m the weird one who loves to settle.

Which leads to the conclusion that if I only wanted to farm (as a career) to avoid a desk job and to build a space for people who don’t seem all that interested in it, I’ve been on this path for all the wrong reasons.

The other piece of advice I’ve recently received was just as simply beautiful: you don’t have to do it all at once. I’ve heard this many times before, but she put it in terms of the diet we’ve both adopted. I didn’t start out eating all local, whole foods. That’s for sure. I started with a few things. I canned some tomatoes. I froze some peppers. And now I store almost everything for the winter, and buy nothing at the grocery store except paper towels (and that’s only for cleaning up cat vomit, there is really no better method) and coconut milk. I’ve still got things to work on- I’m still buying a lot of pasta, even though I’ve learned how to make it, because that’s just one I can’t seem to make the time to get to.

And it could easily be the same way with farming. I’m looking for a place to live anyway, and if I find one with an acre or two where I can start planting trees, I can always just “sell” fruit to neighbors. I bet that would get me around the new stupid laws that are coming into place, as well.

Now I just need to find a place to live…

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Originally posted to George Goes Green on March 24, 2010.

I was reading the book Cunt (Inga Muscio) again last night and had a thought. If you aren’t familiar with the book, it is a feminist book that attempts to reclaim the term “cunt” as a woman-positive word. I was reading the chapter on rape and abuse, and she finished it by suggesting that if women loved their vaginas, really loved them, they would not be so inclined to allow the silence and shame in regards to rape and abuse continue. The thought is, that if you really love something, you will stand up for it. What allows women who suffered rape or abuse to remain silent, and not to run out trying to find their attacker and kick his butt to kingdom come, is often a feeling that somehow they are at fault, or that they deserved it, or some kind of convoluted psychological analysis that leaves them feeling helpless and victimized but blaming themselves, not the perpetrator.

We have this problem in general, in our culture. We blame the victim. An author whose book I am in the middle of reading was attacked last week while in the middle of giving a talk- attacked by people who were supposed to be on her side. On the radio and online, people blamed her for the attack. Oh, she deserved it. Oh, she brought it on herself. She is a slight, middle aged woman with a spinal disease that renders her body very fragile. She was talking about the harm that agriculture does the environment. And for that, she deserves to be attacked? Really? She brought it on herself?

The point I am aiming for is that this happens in the environmental field, too. Environmentalists very often blame themselves for allowing the environment to be destroyed, or something. Like somehow they are personally responsible for deforestation, because they use toilet paper. They may be against deforestation, they may dedicate their entire lives to eradicating deforestation, but somehow it must be their fault that it continues. I myself am often guilty of this supposition. I have dedicated my entire life to trying to stop the destruction of the environment, but it hasn’t stopped, and there are many times when I despair and blame myself.

There are two reasons, I think, for this tendency. First, we are taught to take it personally. Recall the ending to An Inconvenient Truth. If you haven’t seen it, basically you are given a list of things you personally can supposedly do to stop climate change. They include things like changing light bulbs. I have spoken before on this blog on why I don’t believe for a minute that changing light bulbs will stop climate change. But this is common: most environmental books, most documentaries, most news reports, all end with what YOU are supposed to do to end climate change. Not once (at least in conventional circles) does someone say, you know what, I bet there are some things major industrial polluters could do to stop climate change. Not once does someone say, wow, I bet if those big polluting factories shut down, that would really help at least slow down climate change. Because it is clearly our fault. It’s because of what we’ve done, not because of what the big polluting factories have done.

The second reason is related. I’m reminded of the scene in Grapes of Wrath where a neighbor comes along and tells the family they have to leave their farm (and I am majorly paraphrasing here, because I don’t have a copy), because the land has been foreclosed or something. A company owns it now. The family asks, well, who is this company? Who are they, so we can go shoot them? And the neighbor answers, they are no one, they are just a company. There is no one to shoot.

We have this idea that companies, or corporations, or the government, or NGOs for that matter, are these entities that have no faces. How can we hold them accountable, if we can’t find someone to shoot (metaphorically)? When people first become conscious of environmental devastation (for many of us, this happens when we are children), they want to lash out at someone, anyone. And they realize that major corporations are a pretty big source of the problems. But how do you stop a corporation? Who are they? And so we blame ourselves, because the prospect of attempting to defeat a corporation is just too much to handle.

But it is not your fault. It is not my fault. It is THEIR fault. And a corporation is nothing but a group of people acting together. They have faces. They have names. They have no more power than they are allowed- and by hiding behind an “entity”, as they call themselves, they have an awful lot of power right now. But we have NO reason to remain silent and shameful, about rape or about the rape of the environment. If we love our environment, truly love our environment, and stop beating ourselves up because we sometimes have kind of a shaky relationship with it, we will do anything in our power to stop the abuse. Won’t we? Or are we too afraid of a bunch of random people who are too afraid to make their individual identities publicly known?

Rapists get off because they are sure the women they rape will not speak out against them, and that even if they do, they will not take matters into their own hands to make sure that rapist can never rape another woman again. Corporations get off because they are sure people will not actually speak out against them, and that even if they do, they will not take matters into their own hands to make sure that corporation can never rape another woman, I mean the environment, again. They are so certain of their power that they count on our fear and our own sense of powerlessness to keep us from acting.

But we are not powerless. If we really love our land, if we can love ourselves enough to stop blaming the victims and start blaming the perpetrators, it’s just a matter of finding the right person to shoot.

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…what I mean by liberal. Let’s consult some of our favorite songwriters. First up, the original version by the legendary Phil Ochs:
I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

I go to civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every colored boy becomes a star
But don’t talk about revolution
That’s going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
My faith in the system restored
I’m glad the commies were thrown out
of the A.F.L. C.I.O. board
I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
as long as they don’t move next door
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

The people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can’t understand how their minds work
What’s the matter don’t they watch Les Crain?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

I read New republic and Nation
I’ve learned to take every view
You know, I’ve memorized Lerner and Golden
I feel like I’m almost a Jew
But when it comes to times like Korea
There’s no one more red, white and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

I vote for the democratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
I’ll send all the money you ask for
But don’t ask me to come on along
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

Followed by the version by Jello Biafra:
I cried when they shot John Lennon
Tears ran down my spine
And I cried when I saw “JFK”
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X and Ice-T had it coming
They got what they asked for this time
CHORUS
So love me, love me, love me
I’m a liberal

I go to pro-choice rallies
Recycle my cans and jars
I’ll honk if you love the Dead
Hope those funny grunge bands become stars
But don’t talk about revolution
That’s going a little bit too far
CHORUS
I cheered when Clinton was chosen
My faith in the system reborn
I’ll do anything to save our schools
If my taxes ain’t too much more
And I love blacks and gays and Latinos
As long as they don’t move next door
CHORUS
Rush Limbaugh and the L.A.P.D.
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can’t understand where they’re at
Arsenio should set them straight
But if Neigborhood Watch doesn’t know you
I hope the cops take your name
CHORUS
Yeh, I read the New Republic(an)
Rolling Stone and Mother Jones too
If I vote it’s a Democrat
With a sensible economy view
But when it comes to terrorist Arabs
There’s no one more red, white and blue
CHORUS
Once I was young and had an attitude
Stickers covered the car I drove in
Even went on some direct actions
When there weren’t rent-a-cops to be seen
Ah, but now I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
CHORUS

And finally, the much more recent Evan Greer:
I trade Internet jokes about Dubya
They sure are funny to me.
But don’t even think about asking
Me to give up my new SUV
I don’t know what you mean about oil,
I just wish that gas could be free,
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal!

Well I’ve signed about a thousand petitions,
And my golf score is six under par.
I keep myself up on the issues
By listening to N.P.R.,
And you know that I’m changing the world
With these stickers all over my car!
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal!

Well you know that I’m not a racist
Been on the side of the blacks all along.
And I always give a few extra dollars
To the young man who mows my lawn!
And I’ve never read Emma Goldman
But I know that she must have been wrong!
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal!

I went to that pro-choice rally,
I think women should get equal pay.
But it’s sure nice that my wife cooks me dinner,
And puts my clean laundry away!
And maybe our country ain’t perfect,
But revolution is never the way.
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal!

You know I support Gay marriage,
And I want the environment clean.
But I’m too busy at work to take action,
So I’m just voting for Howard Dean.
I know we must work inside the system,
It’s the best one that I’ve ever seen!
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal!

I cheered when they caught Saddam
I knew that the news wouldn’t lie,
Thank god that the war is now over,
And my 401-K is on the rise!
Because you know that I love my country:
best democracy money can buy!
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal!

Get it?

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Gettin’ ‘Er Done

One of the strangest things about organizing is the first time you realize there is nothing fancy about it. There is nothing unattainable. You are not doing anything special. I think in my case I realized this one day as I was sitting in the preschool room of a Unitarian church in Baltimore, perched on a chair several sizes too small, listening to a debate on what to do about energy monopolies in Maryland. All of the people in the room seemed to speak with a sense of authority- as if their discussion mattered, and the rest of the world outside this room would of course listen to what they had to say. Or, at least, they would develop a strategy to bring their ideas to the masses. Who would then listen.

Sitting on a chair made for a four year old and listening to the very formal discussion, I had to keep myself from giggling. It was so ridiculous. Everyone in the room was an average person- we all had other jobs, we all had lives; we would all go home and forget about the meeting for a while as we did laundry or cleared up the kitchen. After the meeting we went out, every week, for drinks at a nearby pub, and everyone would relax and chit chat and what I considered to be the real conversations, the ones where we actually made decisions that might be acted on, would begin.

So it is with all meetings. I have yet to be to a meeting, except a very select few for work, that were not held in unlikely places. A one room house that was only one step above a barn. The basement of a library. A storage room. More churches. At each of these meetings, everyone spoke carefully, formally, as if their words were of greatest importance. As if they weren’t sitting on standard grade school issue chairs, with a bug buzzing somewhere above around the fluorescent lights, as if they were in fact sitting in the grandest halls of Congress, not in some poorly lit back room with no temperature controls.

The funny thing about this isn’t that we can’t find better places to meet. It isn’t that we talk as if we are making grand and important decisions that will affect the entire world, because our decisions will in fact affect the world, even if it’s only in some small and as yet unnoticed way. What’s funny is that we probably will have quite an effect- that these people, or at least some of them, are going to make things happen. Not because they’re going to go into politics, because if they were they probably wouldn’t be sitting in one of these poorly lit rooms. But because these are the people who have decided they’re going to do something, and they’ve taken the first steps toward action. They act as if they’re in a state of the art board room because they know (or pretend they know) their actions are just as important if not fundamentally more so: because their actions are going to change the world for the better.

The funny thing is that the humble surroundings only serve to make you realize, if the thought eventually occurs to you, that these people are not so grand after all, and that by extension the people in those board rooms aren’t so grand either, they can just afford better digs. What once seemed an intimidating, impregnable hall of people who Knew What They Were Doing, became revealed to me as a lot of people who have learned to speak with authority. It suddenly occurred to me, sitting in that preschool room, that I was one of the movers and shakers, as they say. People listen to me. I’ve been to a number of meetings in the past few months and when I say things, people actually say things like yes, that’s a great point, what do you think we should do? And they listen, and then they do the things I suggest. From my point of view, this is insane. Why is anyone listening to me? I’m making most of this stuff up in the car on the way to the meeting. But the same is true for the rest of the people there. None of us are particularly special. We just decided to get together in a back room somewhere and see what could be done about at least one aspect of the mess we’re in.

The funny thing is, you can too. It’s not hard at all, actually. Select a back room of your choice. Add some chairs. Get some people together. Start talking. Select an issue. Appoint titles, if you like. The key thing is, set goals, and tangible actions that you can actually achieve, and then just do them. There’s a lot less stopping you than you would think. That’s the secret. That’s what’s so funny. There’s no grand difference between you and the people on CNN, except unfortunately they have more people listening to them. But that can change. And you can make it so.

The really funny this is that I still think we get more done in the bar afterwards. Everyone in these meetings is always trying so hard to make their point, and make it sound very official and formal, that they usually don’t get much of anything accomplished. It’s in the afterward, when the few people out of the group (it’s usually 2-3 out of a group of 15) who are actually the action takers will sit down and say, ok, I’ll do this and you’ll do that and when we meet next we’ll report back and everyone will pretend they had something to do with getting all these actions accomplished, and that’s ok, because at least we’re getting things done.

And one day, you’ll turn around, and be surprised to see the list of accomplishments you’ve left in your wake.

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The other assumption was, of course, that land should be put to human use. This struck me when I was listening, again, to someone pose the question of farming vs. development. You know, that if we don’t have farms, we will have development. And I couldn’t help thinking well yeah, but that’s presuming we use the land for people at all. What if we just let it do it’s own thing?

What an argument that would be! Hey guys, rather than worry about development pressures, what if we turned the entire eastern shore into a huge preserve? It’s not such a mental idea. They did it with the Smokey Mountains. And a lot of the land on the eastern shore is just as uninhabitable, when you consider how much of it is below sea level and will probably cease to exist as soon as sea level rises, you know, at all.

But no, the real point is that it’s an automatic assumption for people that land has to be used for people. In other words, that if land isn’t used for farming, it will be used for development. No one would ever imagine that the land could just be left to itself, for other animals to use. Or just to be there. It is the biggest assumption of this culture, and by that I mean about 98% of all the humans on this planet, that land is there to be used by humans. Land does not have purposes of its own. Land does not get a say in the matter. If there is land, it needs to be used. This is how decisions are made. This is such a frakking narcissistic assumption that it makes me want to scream.

So many decisions that are made on this basis- no, scratch that, all decisions are made on this basis, so that’s not even an argument. All decisions related to the doings of humans are based on the assumption that land is to be used for humans. Even the creation of the National Park system was based on the need for humans to have pretty landscapes to look at. Aesthetic appeal and all that. Humans do not make decisions based on the good of other creatures.

And really, that could be ok. The problem is that most people don’t realize that we are dependent on the good of other creatures, and especially of the land. It doesn’t have to be a selfless act to realize that a lot of land would be better off left alone. Leaving some land be means a greater likelihood that humans will survive in the long run. Because, you know, maybe if we left some trees standing we could stave off a climate collapse or something. That could be nice.

But let’s imagine again applying this sort of thinking to the eastern shore. I’d be laughed out of a job if I even suggested such a thing. With the sort of development pressure we have here, and with land prices skyrocketing the way they are, to even suggest taking land out of some kind of development, even farming, would be considered ludicrous. It’s not economically viable. It doesn’t make sense, cost wise.

And there, actually, is the real crux. Why don’t we do the right things for the shore? Why do we continue to practice a form of agriculture that not only isn’t great for the land, but isn’t great for the farmers, and is putting most of them in so much debt they’ll be lucky to ever pay it off? Oh right. For the sake of the economy. Because the economy matters SO much more than people, and land. Sometimes the answers are staring us straight in the face, but we turn our heads because it’s not “economically viable.” I’m not saying I want people to go out of business, I’m not saying I want people to starve because they’re not making enough money, but the point, as I’ve said a million times, is that people have the right to eat and prosper and the rest, whether or not it’s “economically viable.” The economy is not what matters. People matter. The land matters. All the living things, animal plant and otherwise, that live on or in or around the land matter. And we can do all that without preserving the damn economy. No, really. We can. We can live without it. You don’t see elephants going around trading stocks, do you?

And the sooner we get that through our heads, the better off we’ll be.

PS: This is not terribly well written because 1. I have kind of exhausted the subject by talking about it so much and 2. I’ve had a crazy day at work and barely have time to shoot this off, much less make it sound very pretty. Apologies.

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