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Some Impact Man #17: Post Walden Experience

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Blog entry by daltxguy posted 07-30-2013 01:22 AM 2729 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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1 year on from my Walden experience of living off-grid in 100 sq ft for 1 year in 2 countries, 2 continents, 2 hemispheres, I have returned to living in a house.

The experience influenced my choice of house and it is a modest 1500 sqft, which is still too large but was the smallest I could find at the time. Houses have gotten larger and nothing under 50 years old seems small.

But what I have retained from the experience? what have I discarded as impractical?

Thoreau spent 2 years, 2 months and 2 days in his (not so secluded) cabin in Emerson’s back yard near Walden Pond. It then took him 7 years before he redacted his experience into the book ‘Walden: Life in the Woods’.

So, while the experience of living in a small space stays with me and has influenced me, the full effect of it is still developing. The lifestyle which showed its possibilities to me may take some to fully weave into a practical version of everyday life.

There are some practical points which I retain:
Use of energy.
I am ever so aware of what it takes to gather and/or produce one’s own energy – or how much it takes to run a simple thing like a refrigerator. I had a propane fridge, but had to cart the 20lb propane tanks from town – how I wish there was an easier way to keep food cold! I generated all my own power and though I found it was possible, it wasn’t without finding lower powered ways to do things and cutting things out like toasters, microwaves and electric stoves.
I have shunned all unnecessary appliances since then. I still live with no tv, no washer/dryer. I have AC and a dishwasher but never use them. I did welcome back the toaster and microwave, however. Of course there would be substitutes for these but I do like my toast and the convenience of the microwave, which, of course, in some cases, is a most economical appliance to use. I have a stereo but find I never use it now. I have a bunch of power woodworking tools but still reach for the handtools whenever possible. Basically, I’m afraid of becoming reliant on an unsustainable solution. Learning the skills with handtools empowers me to make and build things independent of the availability of and price of power. I like the idea of being plunked down in the middle of the forest and being able to create the comforts of a home with nothing but my skills and some basic tools. ( I often think of the genesis set of tools to own – what set of tools would you need to recreate civilization?)

The chainsaw, however, is indispensable. I only lament the day when fuel is not cheap. I wonder what will run it in that case. Fossil fuels are incredibly fuel dense. I wish we would all understand how powerful it is and revere it more and see how wasteful we are of this precious resource. What will we think when there is no fuel left to do useful work and think back on how we squandered it driving a powerboat, or atv or SUV, or cutting useless grass etc.

I am also having a woodstove installed this fall, so I can reduce my reliance of stove fuel, seeing as I have abundant access to wood. It’s also a backup in case the power goes out (in which case, you have heaps of fuel but no way to run a furnace!)

Reducing trash/composting.
The lesson of having no garbage pickup for 1 year stays with me. I recycle everything I can, I compost almost everything else and what is left over is always, always, unrecyclable plastic packaging! I am conscious of this when I shop but also I had learned the lesson that basic ingredients is the most important thing to have around the household and learning to make things yourself, such as bread, soap, pies, soups and so on. Consuming little to no processed foods helps to cut down trash tremendously but also adds to your flexibility. No need to panic if the pancake mix runs out – I know how to make my own and there is always flour, water, eggs and milk on hand in the fridge or pantry. (Some might say, why not run out to the grocery store? Well, once again I am about 50km (30miles) from the nearest store of any significance – you think twice about running out to get a gallon of milk!)

What does this have to do with gardening you say? Well, a lot, actually. Gardening, plants, trees, nature plays a huge role in the ability to live a simpler lifestyle. After all, it is nature which gives us an abundant source of resources, from which everything in our modern lives is derived.

I recently watched a short video on a couple living in California, who are homesteading on their tiny plot of land in LA. It resonated with me. A lot of what they do, what they have discovered and the lifestyle they have carved out for themselves over the years seems to fit all of the same conclusions I have come to since then.

Several poignant points from the video (paraphrased- watch it to get the actual transcript)
Self-sufficiency is an impossible goal. Humans are by nature, social and we will always work together and trade to have everything we need. Stop worrying about doing it all by yourself – it’s impossible.
Home economics was a basic thing we learned in school. Only since after WWII did Home Economics become lessons on how to be good consumers, rather than how to run an economic household by learning how to be frugal and DIY. This is changing now.
The most poignant thought: We have to relearn and return to making the home, a household of ‘generation’ rather than a household of consumption. The household should be a factory of production, not consumption. It should be producing water, food, energy, abundance.

The video says it so well, that I leave you to watch it – it summarizes the direction I think we must all head in in the age of decreasing growth, consumption and peak everything.

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau



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daltxguy

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8 comments so far

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MrTom

1 post in 456 days
hardiness zone 7b

posted 07-30-2013 04:59 PM

Thanks for sharing. More people should be doing more things like this rather than spend all their money on crap food. I don’t do as much as you guys do but I try to make use of everything and waste very little.
Tom

-- Tom Godfrey Landrum South Carolina (tom@thcww.com) 864-384-4938

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daltxguy

882 posts in 1755 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 07-30-2013 05:49 PM

Thanks MrTom. Each person will find the level that will suit them, their lifestyle and their budget. But the key is that we are not doing any of this to ‘save the planet’ (as I’ve said before, the planet is fine, it will take care of itself and digest us in the process – it’s got a few billion years of proven resiliency), instead we do this because it makes sense, it costs less, it’s healthier and it makes us more resilient to shocks in the current food/consumer business and it makes us happier. The experiment of the last 60 years has failed and we all know it – but we struggle what to do about it. The answer is ultimately, save yourself and everything else will fall into place!
Find your niche in the whole matrix and find the people around you who will fill in what you can’t – and you’ll live longer and be happier. Who wouldn’t want that?

Start by eating healthier and growing your own food – and so the garden is the ultimate expression of revolution!

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

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justjoel

1063 posts in 2038 days
hardiness zone 7a

posted 07-30-2013 10:08 PM

Methinks the peasants are revolting.

-- "We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." Joni Mitchell

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justjoel

1063 posts in 2038 days
hardiness zone 7a

posted 07-30-2013 10:28 PM

For me, this idea of self-reliance as a concept or way of life, began (in my adult life) at the Burning Man (BM) festival (http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/) when I went for the first time back in 2001 (I think it was). Part of the idea of this thing is, at least while you are there on the playa, is about “radical” self-reliance. I’ve been camping and on long backpacking trips, where you essentially are on your own for everything, but at BM there is nothing there, you have to bring everything. The only things you can purchase there are ice and coffee (and the coffee is part fund raising for the event, I believe), and they provide port-a-potties. And even then, most people stay in camps, where people share things like electricity, shelter, food, water, beer, etc…

Since then, I’ve come to the same conclusion, that there cannot be complete self reliance. Even the couple in the video had to get their lumber somewhere, had to get the metal 5 gallon bucket for their Rocket Stove from someone. And all of that is okay, as long as you realize that and you are making the most out of the resources that you have, like the dirt in you your yard, to grow a garden. True, complete, self reliance would be walking in to the woods, bare handed, naked, and walking back out several years later, alive & healthy, with clothes on your back.

-- "We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." Joni Mitchell

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MsDebbieP

14683 posts in 2658 days
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posted 07-30-2013 10:35 PM

I look forward to watching the video tomorrow.
In the meantime, THANK-YOU for posting this update. I’ve been curious about what “conveniences” you re-included in your life.

for your chainsaw – in the tv show, The Colony, they made a gasifier from heating wood. That should help you out if you get it made before the cost of fuel skyrockets out of control.

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

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Radicalfarmergal

4305 posts in 1921 days
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posted 07-31-2013 11:43 AM

Everything we learn and experience, we carry with us as we go through our lives. Not only did the experiences change you, but your example helps change others as well.

At one point in the video you shared, the narrator suggests that people can just start to change their lives somewhere where they have an interest and it will lead to another change and another because self-reliance oriented changes are all related. I do think that is a great way to start, building on what is learned. I started with growing my own food and it has lead to preparing/cooking my own produce, canning, fermenting, milking, making cheese and yogurt, raising chickens, baking my own bread and grinding wheat at home. Having the end goal to eliminate trash and significantly reduce that which needs to be recycled has led our family to use to cloth napkins, dishcloths, stainless steel water bottles, reusable leftover containers rather than plastic or aluminum and home-made cleaning supplies. To have less plastic packaging, we simply buy less and weigh each purchase carefully, considering whether there is an alternative that will not generate the plastic packaging. With mindfulness and changed habits, it is amazing how much less our family consumes. As we have changed, we are constantly coming up with ideas about how we can continue to change. In my opinion, these changes have improved our lives by bringing us new experiences and pleasures. Living simply is not about deprivation; it is about mindfulness.

We have extra space in our house too. I often wonder about how we could use it better, perhaps offering to rent/barter an extra bedroom to a foreign exchange, college student or intern.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View daltxguy's profile

daltxguy

882 posts in 1755 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 07-31-2013 01:43 PM

MsDeb – I’m aware of the gasifiers. It works for a vehicle because it can carry the gasifier ‘on its back’ or pulled behind in a trailer. It’s a tricky technology but doable (don’t crash!) – it was used all through WWII.
The chainsaw’s portability means a liquid fuel is essential. If small engines can be adapted to run on ethanol, then I can make ethanol from grapes. As it is however, there are now a lot of complaints about E10 being sold as regular gas in the US killing small engines as they weren’t designed for it (my question, however, is why aren’t they?)

RFG – Thanks for sharing your evolution. Agreed, that one things leads to another. If we are, by nature, competitive, then what a better competition than trying to reduce waste, energy, consumption while saving money and having fun at the same time! I didn’t mention that in the 1 year I’ve been here, I’ve thrown out 1 bag of trash and 2 bags of recycling.

I didn’t include everything in my list either but you are way ahead of me! I have yet to produce enough to can and don’t have any animals..yet. Perhaps a future topic for this blog series: – why Vegetarianism is unsustainable and unhealthy.

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

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Radicalfarmergal

4305 posts in 1921 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 08-01-2013 01:00 AM

I wouldn’t say that I am way ahead of you, I just started in a different place. : ) Wow, only one bag of trash and two bags of recycling in one year! As a family of four, we generate around ten gallons of trash/recycling a week. Compared to you, we are still generating too much waste, but compared to where we were, we have made great progress and we are still improving.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

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