MY (DELIGHTFUL) DAY
Many now recognise that the alarming global problems confronting us cannot be solved unless we move from a society committed to affluent Òliving standardsÓ and economic growth to one based on very frugal, self-sufficient and non-affluent ways. Unfortunately at present most people would see this as involving accepting great deprivation and hardship in order to save the planet. This is totally mistaken: The Simpler Way would not just be a liberation from the stress, insecurity, over-work and other problems inflicted on us by consumer society, it would make possible a far higher quality of life for all.
Following is an indication of how enjoyable things could be. Mostly I describe the way I spend my day as a homesteader-peasant on my isolated bush block. But my quality of life could be much higher if I lived on the edge of the localised, highly self-sufficient and self-governing community The Simpler Way envisages and these benefits are noted later.
It is important to stress that it is not being argued that all should live as I do, or that this is necessary to solve global problems. My preferred lifestyle would not suit most people as it is rather isolated, and involves coping with a somewhat difficult site. At present our access problem with the local council obliges me to be the only family member on the property most of the time. Above all my lifestyle is more frugal than most people would want, but it will not be necessary for people in general to live on my low levels of non-renewable resource consumption when we transition from consumer-capitalist society. Nevertheless I hope the account indicates the kinds of benefits that all could derive from living in simpler ways.
Wake up early, but not very early. Listen to the birds. Look through the big windows to the light in the trees. I could lie there all day if I chose to, but so many interesting things to get at. Chat to the dawg and give him his breakfast. Put the porridge on to simmer. Get changed into scruffy old clothes; in winter just crawl into heavy stuff and change at morning tea time. Almost never buy new clothes; repairing and patching the many old ones on the shelf in the shed is a much valued hobby, especially for winter nights by the fire.
Porridge ready; take pot, spoon and dawg for a walk ... where to today...letÕs have a yarn with the chickens. Happy friendly lot, eager for their breakfast. We discuss various issues. Notice that their gate needs tightening; must come back with a spanner. The local fox is a wizard at finding the weak spots. You fix promptly or heÕs in and got the lot in one go. Homesteaders fix as soon as they see a problem, or it will be a bigger problem when you get around to it. You give thanks to yourself when that pipe fitting you put in decades ago unscrews because you had the sense to grease it well back then. Things that are not in good shape are an aesthetic affront; they are ugly, not ship-shape. You wouldnÕt want anyone to see that you have a crumby fence or a leaking tap. You want to fix them up. ThatÕs how we should look at our social machinery, as mechanisms that we feel an urge to fix if theyÕre not working well. But in consumer society you donÕt have to fix anything; at best you phone the council or the expert. Our new local communities will have to be run by us, by responsible citizens who want to make our systems run well for the good of all.
You never get everything fixed properly, but it is good to walk away from something you have got going again. I find that homesteading is very much about watching for things that need repairing, or improving, or totally remaking. ItÕs about design and rethinking and revising, getting your devices and gadgets and systems into good shape. It took me four years to get the open fire to work well; now itÕs a dream. But after several decades I still donÕt have a satisfactory water supply system for our difficult site...and nothing is more important than water. My home-made washing machine (70 watt car fan motor, 5 metre long chasis, 2 metre diameter rickety flywheel...) is now marvellous ...(and connects to two water pumps, and will soon cut firewood.) Doing the washing is a cheer up. Dump a few things in, flick the switch, slosh slosh, and go off to some nearby job for five minutes.
Meander back towards the kitchen, detour to carry some empty pots to the nursery, enjoy the garden, the sunrise through the big gums on the river flat, see two more jobs to put on the list (is there room?), move the PV panels to face the sun, pick up some fallen sticks to take to the kindling pile, stop to kick a ball for dawg, turn on a drip irrigation tap, enjoy looking at the garden. There, several little jobs done while having breakfast; it all adds up. Use up all the scraps, including left over bits of time, and do two things at once if you can. Notice a little fog, so it will soon be a sunny day. When you have lived in one place since you were three you get to know its habits and moods. There are many ways you become connected to your patch. See those big fellows there, 20 metre spotted gums ... I planted them decades ago.
ThatÕs earth bonding. I belong here, IÕm built into this place and its part of me. After decades here I know its soils, animals, moods, problems, delights. I know the kinds of fires and floods and autumn sun sets it brings. I look forward to the coming season, open fires in the winter, the variety of colours in the Autumn skies, the calm cool relief of Autumn after getting through the hot summer with its water shortages, that brilliant yellow sunlight on the glistening gum trunks that exists for only half an hour a year if you are lucky, when the low sun drops below the cloud to the west after a late afternoon shower. I could write a long list...the first crackling of the Sea Eagles or the Plovers on the river mud flats, evening call of the black swans, the yip yip of the unseen sugar gliders after dark, the first black snake sighting in the Spring, the smell of the rain, the rich soil it has taken me thirty years to build up in the southern paddock... A peasant lives pretty close to Nature Bonds to place and community can take a long time to develop, they require patience and long distant future thinking. In our poor soils those minute spotted gum seedlings just up in the greenhouse will take thirty years to become self-respecting trees. We had to drop a big old ribbon gum across the chicken pens; heÕll rot away in a decade or so, enriching the soil and producing worms and slaters for the poultry.
My house is the best in the world. It was built from scrap army materials in 1946, the floors creak, thereÕs no new paint anywhere to be seen, and itÕs typically judged to be spooky, because of the vines all over it...and drab. But it is sufficient. I donÕt need anything more expensive or elaborate or new or stylish...and I would not want to live in a house that was. The local real estate agent and the council would see my house as way beyond due for KDR (Òknock down and rebuildÓ). They donÕt understand that my house is superior to theirs, mainly because it is resource and dollar cheap, recycled, humble, full of history and meaning, much loved and appreciated. In fact I feel guilty having such a good one when several million people done have a house of any kind.
My mulch barrow is another good example of this principle. It is dilapidated, rusty, weather-rutted handles, holes in the bottom, wonky, scruffy ...and itÕs drab too...but it is perfectly sufficient. It is a great mulch barrow. Why would I want a more expensive or stylish or painted one? And IÕm saving resources keeping this one going.
My clothes are the same, all tattered, darned, odd socks, lace-less shoes (or laced with wire), winter warm gloves and beanies sewn from socks and old jumpers...and not just sufficient but custom-made comfy and durable and repairable. I kept one jumper going for thirty-five years, until a bushfire got it hanging on the line. I think I have not worn a suit or a tie more than once in twenty years. It would be hard to find any unchipped crockery in the cupboard. I trim my own scruffy hair via the mirror. I have only one pair of going-out shoes. This is of great revolutionary significance; growth and greed society cannot be transcended until the mainstream comes to opt for what is good enough, not for what is the best, most stylish, swish, new and expensive. They see luxury as attractive. They admire and envy Bill Gates house, built for $100 million I believe. ItÕs not a matter of accepting deprivation and second class things in order to save the planet; itÕs about coming to see things that are old, unpainted, repaired, home made and rough-and-ready as nicer, admirable, and superior. In general I see new things as morally disturbing and indeed unattractive, repulsive. Give me a well worn old jumper or chisel or garden fork any day.
This is the problem of ÒstandardsÓ. People in consumer society think they have good standards. But what they mean by a ÒniceÓ house is just an expensive house, and itÕs one that is resource and ecologically appalling; itÕs far too big, not built to last and badly designed. Their standards lead them to purchase clothes, cars, entertainment, holidays etc. that are far too dollar and environmentally costly.
My hands are another good example. They are gnarled, puffy, scabs and split skin, jagged nails, and ingrained with irremovable dirt, rust and windmill grease. I like the way shop assistants recoil with horror when I reach for my change; I say to myself, ÒLetÕs see your hands – hmm, not very self-sufficient are you?Ó My hands are the best part of me. They can clean out a bucket, hold a pen, swing an axe, pat dawg...but, another design fault here. I only have two and when youÕre up a windmill at night in a gale clinging on with one hand and holding a bolt through a loose blade with the other you really need a third to operate the spanner. Lots of jobs are three-hand jobs unfortunately.
Just walking around is one of the homesteaderÕs delights...looking at and enjoying your patch. I walk all day, back and forward across the maybe 3 ha that keeps me busy. But often at lunch time IÕll take a sandwich and go for a stroll...around where IÕve been several times already that day, but this time slowly and just to look and enjoy. This has the added benefit of coming across a plant just starting to flower, or things that will need fixing soon, or seedlings to transplant or places that could be tidied up, or landscaping ideas. The homesteaderÕs most valuable tools are his boots.
So you can understand why I never go on holidays. I ÒworkÓ here every day of the year, except when I go to the city (once a week by train to the part-time job). But of course it isnÕt work. In fact the work-leisure distinction has no meaning here. Just about everything I do is productive but itÕs only done because I enjoy it and would chose to do it even if I won the lottery. Winning the lottery would be such a distracting bother. I donÕt need any more money. IÕd have to find some subversive cause to give it to.
I listen to the pocket radio most of the day. That keeps me in touch just about enough with the world out there. Never buy a newspaper, but I do read a lot of books, and current affairs and back grounders via the net and subscriptions to periodicals. I use the laptop about two to three hours a day, mostly to type and edit. IÕve never played a game on a computer, or used a credit card, or bought a new car, or sought promotion. I have bought one suit and gone on two holidays and had two paid jobs and lived in one house since I was five years old and would never travel overseas...that is seriously morally problematic. I fret about driving as far as the shops.
Now where is that job list jotted down last night. To me life is about jobs, making things, growing things, fixing things, looking after the animals, planning, designing, revising gadgets and systems. Others might have a different view of the good life but to me it has to be very active and productive. I realise this is challengeable and actually links to one of my faults, which is not being good enough at appreciating things, taking the time to smell the roses, being content with what IÕve done or with my good fortune. I do a bit too much doing and not enough being...but thatÕs another job IÕm working on.
I often start the day with some fire break clearing, to the west where the danger side is. Gets me some exercise and warmed up, and a barrow load of mulch to trundle over to the vegetable patch. I compost the juicy weeds and make another stack with the woody stuff out on the sandy paddock IÕm gradually enriching. It rots down slowly there, making homes for bugs and worms and retaining moisture. In a year or two IÕll plant more grass on the far side of the heap and pile the new loads on the near side, gradually moving this soil-enriching machine to the East. Long ago almost nothing grew out there in the sand but now weÕre on the way to more nice pasture for Billy the goat and Smokey the Shetland. They are our chief fire officers. Billy eats the tough weedy things, and Smokey deals with the grass, and between them they keep the vegetation in that fire-danger area low. ThatÕs a permaculture principle; get the job done by something that also does many other things. Smokey is an interesting person to have around, he can carry things, he increases the leisure resources of the place ...and he produces highly treasured manure for the garden. One of our most prised leisure activities is taking a couple of buckets to collect it.
Onto the main event; working on the new pump, again a small car fan motor geared down by bicycle chains to low revs driving a water wheel to lift grey water to garden level. I use four or five types of water, and they all involve pumps and taps and fixing...and remaking and improving from time to time. The reticulation is via polypipe and TÕs and elbows I braze from 12 mm copper tube. So, carpentry and metal work, and a little 12 volt wiring, for an hour or so, using mostly hand tools, listening to the radio. My best tools are seventy years old, saws, chisels and planes with good steel in their blades, unlike the oneÕs they sell today. Wish I knew a bit more about blacksmithing, especially how to harden and temper. For years IÕve been trying to get around to making a good set of wood turning chisels, from the old car springs stored in one of the sheds. There are five shed roofs out the back, covering all sorts of recycled treasure, and connected up with gutters and pipes to add to the rainwater collection area. Mostly I can make something new without buying materials; just scrounge through the old bits and pieces, much of it collected from rubbish tips and roadsides. Then there are the resources the bush provides, wattle saplings and bark for binding, plenty of earth and clay for pottery and building, wood for bush carpentry, vines for basket weaving, red ochre pebbles from the ridge top for mosaic work, reeds, and further up the hill the toffee coated laterite stones for paving and other stone work. IÕm bringing up bracken from the swamp to make cushions for the tea house sofa.
Oops, done it again. Race over to turn off that drip tap I forgot. Major design flaw here; brain was fitted with a sub-prime memory. I keep a piece of light chain in my left pocket and hang it around my neck when I need to remember something like a tap turned on. Trouble is I usually forget to put it on, or forget what itÕs on to remind me about.
Jess drops in to borrow a drill and to chat. We set up a time for her friends to muck around in the pottery tomorrow. We prepared some clay a week ago, dug up from our favourite pit about a kilometre away in the bush. Almost purple red, so it will be interesting to see what colour comes out in the firing. The pottery was built from that clay. I must remember to check the forge and the furnace out there too they might like to get them going. We sometimes do candle making, aluminium casting and paper making on the benches under the Scribbly gum.
I do many jobs at once. Usually you can only take any one some distance before you find something you need to rethink at the next morning tea, or you have to wait until the cement sets enough, or you realise you need to buy bolts you donÕt have in the shed. This means thereÕs a lot of variety in a day. Fancy having to do one thing all day, five days a week. So while doing the pump IÕm happy to side track into little tasks here and there as they catch my eye, putting the high tank pump on, tidying up the pipe rack, pulling out some weeds, dismantling something. If you are walking from A to B you look for anything that needs to be taken towards B from around A.
Nearly morning tea time. Check the new honey cabinet; for solar melting the honey out of the frames taken from the bee hive. ItÕs working pretty well, but still gets too hot in full sun and melts the wax. Must remember to re-think at morning tea. Move the solar panels on the way to the kitchen, and switch on the inverter at the battery bank to charge a few devices. The sunÕs now out fully so I should try to get some of that drilling and sawing done later, via the 12 volt electric motors. In my life after next IÕll do an electronics course and finally make an automatic sun-tracker for those panels.
Morning tea; nice to sit on the veranda, dawg on knee, book, manuscript and scrap paper pile handy so new jobs, repairs to do, and brilliant ideas can be jotted down. Feet are already keen for a rest. Gaze out at the forest, the Forest Red gum thatÕs as old as I am, the new pencil pines and the pansies recently put inside the stone path border. Simple stone work is another of my highly prised activities. Over many years I have collected several tonnes of broken up council concrete pavements in the old trailer and these are now footpaths, walls, bridges and shed foundations. When we dig up most of the suburban streets for gardens weÕll have so much fabulous building material.
Daydreaming rudely interrupted by the arrival of Chook, the Currawong. Have to get up and go into the kitchen for sultanas to throw to him one by one, from half a metre now. IÕm creping up on him, with the goal of getting him to take them from my hand. I marvel again at how he can pick them out of the air. He inspects, decides and delicately catches each one, all within a split second. If I try to dud him with a bit of flatbread heÕll check it out but let it go through.
I find homesteading very intellectually stimulating. There are always things to think about, problems to nut out, designs to improve, especially to do with gadgets and garden, and observations to reflect on and think on from. I try to remember to look up the books in our library at lunch time or at night, to find out a bit more about something that caught my interest during the day. Listening to ABC radio prods a lot of thinking too. I cannot understand why anyone would watch TV, or listen to music all day, let alone play IT games; a criminal waste of the gift of life, and a refusal to think about things that matter. I detest the massive preoccupation with trivia, celebrities, sport, pop idols, fashion, spectacles etc. etc. which is at the core of the pathology bringing down consumer society. Why donÕt they get a garden.
It would be misleading to say that I live in my house. I live in my patch, in and out of the house, the shed, the gardens. I walk all day, zig-zagging across the gardened area and paddocks we occupy most of the time (within 100 ha of wilderness, containing a Heritage Listed 10 ha open wetland.)
Home-made honey in the tea. Should check the bee hive soon. Time to work on that manuscript revision, but itÕs hard to get to it with all the autumn sunshine on the bush and the gum tree trunks down the slope to the wetland to gaze at, and the chatter of the parrots in the eucalypt tops ... my feet up on a stack of nice dry firewood. Now firewood is real economics ... itÕs ÒoikosÓ, to do with running a household well. Plenty of fire wood in is wealth and security, and a sense of self-sufficiency, competence, indeed power...I did that, I can provide, I have the fire wood stacks well organised for winter...and it didnÕt have any cost in dollars or non-renewsable resources. Will I read a bit more of that new book, or edit another page, or do a bit more sewing, patching up that beanie...or just sit?
Apologise to dawg and finally persuade him to get down off knee. Rinse out a few things in hot water from the solar panel. It should be moved a bit higher because itÕs now partly in the shade in winter. That Grey gum shades the house and is getting bigger, but weÕd never cut him down; heÕs part of the family now. One of my best paintings is of his trunk.
After morning tea is always for religious ritual, that is, vegie gardening. Does wonders for the spirit. Check the greenhouse first; not much more than watering to do really, but itÕs a favourite place so itÕs not difficult to find an excuse to dither around in there. Lots of re-potting overdue in the water trays outside. I like water plants and IÕll be making more concrete tubs before long. I make them, from tray size up to 6,000 litre tanks, by plastering cement over chicken wire and 6 mm rods around a tin form. Slow process, sometimes add a bit each day for months, but the tanks are very strong and will last for ever.
Rake a bed level for the cabbage and lettuce seedlings that can go out soon. Smell that rich soil. A compost heap was broken down and spread here the other day ... fabulous wealth. Accidentally dig up a fat worm, so relocate him. HeÕs got as much right to enjoy life as I have. Is he conscious? Of course he is. How does he think? He does make decisions. What the hell is consciousness anyway? IÕm made up of material created in supernovae, so how does that stuff generate consciousness? The peasant life is full of challenges. Water a few things. Pick some odds and ends for lunch...parsley, garlic and mint, plus a couple of chokoes and some of the last outside beans. We will soon have more in the greenhouse.
Look at that tidy row of spuds. I like tidiness ... a bit. I like mess too ... a lot. Most of the garden, and almost all of the workshop, looks like a mess, but never confuse order and tidiness. My workshop works well, it produces a lot, and I know where to find things. A highly productive forest garden wonÕt look neat and tidy. Tidying up takes time, and thatÕs scarce stuff.
Nice to go back to the house carrying some produce. Put the chokoes up on the pantry shelf beside the pumpkins, which are such works of art we hate to cut them up. We still donÕt have a very well stocked pantry and thatÕs a major goal. It testifies to a well run household economy, and to many enjoyable hours that went into the bottling, checking the solar fruit dryer, threading the onions on strings, writing the labels and it says, look at all the skills and knowledge we have accumulated, now being able to do all this. Remaking the solar dryer is moving up the short list of possibles to go on the priority-five list of jobs waiting to go on the current list...which is under the urgent list which is under the must-do-today list.
I should point out that the main reasons why thereÕs so much to do here are because itÕs a difficult site, with poor soil and scarce water, a lot of time and energy is going into developing Pigface Point as an educational site, and because we have to provide all the electricity, fire wood, house water, garden water, and waste recycling for the main house and the caretakerÕs cottage, as well as care for the animals, maintain entry tracks, deal with bushfires and floods, etc.
Gardening is very much about organisation and responsibility, making sure you have things done in time, a steady stream of seedlings coming on, the beds ready, things watered well enough. ItÕs difficult to avoid the gaps. This year I left it a bit too long between carrot plantings so there wonÕt be many for a month or so. I like the paper work, at cuppa time, listing new seeds to buy, when to plant what, looking through records for clues about how to organise better, putting notes in the big file.
Back to the shed but this time to do that drilling thatÕs been sitting there waiting for a sunny day. The other night before tea I marked and centre punched all the parts for the pump brackets that will bolt on half way up the windmill tower (...its 17 metres high and home-made.) I did all the 12 volt electric wiring for the house, shed, pumps and the caretakerÕs cottage (which I build with hand tools in 6 months spare time...for about $16,000 in todayÕs dollars.) I must also run the electric pumps while the sun is high, to top up the tanks. I do all the plumbing. I can cut glass, solder, braze, weld, paint, sculpt, draw, spin, sew, blacksmith, build a house, swing an axe, make ship models...well enough but not with great expertise. I am a Jack of All Trades and thatÕs what weÕll want around the new communities, people who can make many things, grow many things, make do and improvise, trouble shoot, get it going, patch it up. ThereÕs a place for experts and professionals of course, but most of the things weÕll need done to live well despite the intense scarcity of post-consumer society will be done by ordinary people with a wide range of practical skills.
Food is the best illustration. In consumer society itÕs produced mostly by people in suits with tertiary qualifications sitting at screens, managing gigantic warehouses, ships, insurance companies, trucking networks, packaging corporations...while depleting energy, resources, soils and ecosystems. Ridiculous! We can produce far better food than they can, just by home gardening, community edible landscapes and local mini-farms which wonÕt use a computer or any diesel or packaging or advertising.
Lunch starts with a big bits-falling-out-everywhere sandwich mostly made up of home made goodies, including too much copped up society garlick and parsley and lettuce and cucs. Gingerly set it on a plate, call for dawg, and set out to ramble. Where to this time? Maybe down to the swamp, detouring to the new Blue Gum forest on the way back to see how theyÕre going. They havenÕt changed much since the last visit, two days ago, but they appreciate being admired again.
We have lots of arts and crafts to potter at, although I do far less than I should. In addition to the main events, painting, drawing and model making, thereÕs sculpture or modelling in plaster or wax, lead light window making, basket making, candles, mosaics, concrete garden pots, blacksmithing, paper making, wood turning, and casting of lead and aluminium using our mini-furnace. WeÕve also made our wood and fibreglass canoes.
Another major interest is landscaping, continually adding to the garden and the bush paths, ornamental pots, ponds, statues, water tubs and trays, castles caves and pagodas. One of our pagodas is about five metres long and we have double storey one some seven metres tall. ThereÕs a flying fox and a seven metre (cement) crocodile. There is no limit to the things we want to put into the main Peter Pan area, including a big cave with elves at work, a pirate ship made from the old launch we have, tree houses and Tarzan ropes. A sign near the statue of Peter Pan says heÕs laughing at us for working so hard when we could spend most of our time playing as he does.
After another go at the pump I get onto the new wringer at the washing machine. ItÕs been quite a puzzle, getting the top roller to turn and not slip while under a lot of weight. I got the knock-out solution at about 3 a.m. one night, and jotted it down on the pile of scrap paper beside the bed for such purposes....use a bike chain around sprockets on top and bottom rollers and down to a pulley with two house bricks hanging from it. Lots of old bike wheels an chain in the top shed.
No wind for the mills today, so a trip to switch on the house high water pump. Climb up and check the level in the big tank...must fit a float indicator on it someday. I realise that the cottage roof is getting nearer to needing a repaint. Clean out some leaves from the gutters. Coming back through the vegie garden I stop off to hoe the spuds and weed a bit more of the carrot patch. They are slow to get going so itÕs always a time consuming business getting them up to mulching height.
Now, letÕs braze those copper fittings for drip irrigating the new Kiwi Fruit in the greenhouse ready to be planted out.
Sometimes I focus on a few main premeditated jobs through the day, or between lunch and afternoon tea, and sometimes I just potter with no particular job in mind, just going from one to another as I come across something else. I rarely work at one thing for more than half a day. About a quarter to a third of a home day is spent reading or typing or editing, and I go to my city desk for a whole day once a week. Travel there is by bike, train and bus, meaning more reading time. So I get plenty of variety and apply a wide range of skills every day.
Although IÕm not good at remembering or appreciating whatÕs been done, a major source of satisfaction is the sense of ÒprogressÓ, of slowly getting the place into better shape. IÕm usually too preoccupied with the present, especially with the snags, breakdowns, slowness, but from time to time I look up and recognise that I have got things done. Economists talk about Òdiscounting the futureÓ; unfortunately I have a strong tendency to discount the past, to not think much about or give myself credit for whatÕs been achieved. We keep a diary of photos and notes on Pigface Point, beginning in 1942 when we bought the block, and it sobers me up when I occasionally glance through it.
Progress is a strand in my unrepentant Enlightenment mentality. It is very important to see things improving, developing, moving ÓforwardÓ, systems working better now, bare patches greening up at last, trees thriving, a gate that now works properly. When a problem occurs you ask yourself how can I fix that so that it wonÕt break down again. Again this is how I think about social systems; if they arenÕt working well then that is, among other things, an aesthetic problem...its ugly, so letÕs fix them right now.
Trouble is, to fix the gate properly takes more time, and you have to compromise a lot. In fact I think never do anything properly, really satisfactorily...because the only thing that goes smoothly around my patch is time.
Afternoon tea is another sacred ritual, in a seat on the veranda with a different view, but with the same kit of books and papers, and dawg on knee as usual. Feet usually more than ready for a sit down. Thinking about how the jobs are going and revisions that might make sense, what to do before tea time.
I usually try to Òknock offÓ and do some luxury landscape gardening before dark. Often this just means going around with no plan and doing whatever interesting thing I come across. While IÕm walking to find the mattock IÕll see something to re-pot, or a spot that could be weeded or a stone IÕve have been meaning to move. By the way thereÕs a sharp distinction between job categories. Gardening is not classified as a job; itÕs a luxurious indulgence you should stop soon and get back to the bench. I never do any art or craft during the day; thatÕs for after tea, if IÕm not typing or reading. I never read just for enjoyment. I read a lot, but I do it in order to find out more about things that I regard as important, sometimes about science or history but mostly to do with the state of the planet. I never read novels ... and I donÕt approve of people who write them; there are more important things to do. There are a lot of people I cont approve of. LetÕs get back to self-indulgence when that one billion people are not hungry any more.
Sometimes, too rarely though, late in the afternoon IÕll take the kayak 150 metres down to the river and go for a slow paddle into the sunset...dawg between my knees. Fishing is another thing we could do here...but it takes time. Lugging the trolley back up the hill makes me puff a bit. I value huff and puff exercise as I donÕt get much during the day. I am conscious of the exercise my day provides and I never regret having to bash away with the axe or dig a hole or lug stones or push the too-full mulch barrow; all that keeps me in better shape. I get a lot of exercise just by plodding through the day, but itÕs a bit uneven with too much feet and arms, so I go for a run before tea, ...well, maybe itÕs a slow jog...well, actually more of a pathetic shuffle. There I am wheezing and spluttering and I look down and thereÕs dawg walking with a bored look on his face.
WhatÕs for dinner. Tucker in all its forms is a big part of the good life. I eat better than a king, but all of my favourite dinners are very simple. Top of my list are a plate of boiled vegies, fried egg with native spinach from the river flat, and oat porridge for breakfast. And IÕm a bread addict; nothing beats fresh crusty bread, just out of the oven. I almost never go to a restaurant...or movies. CanÕt recall when I last went to a party.
Best thing about winter is the open fire. ItÕs taken me years to get a good design and next year IÕll work (again) on the 12 volt fan and the ducts to take the warm air from it to the colder parts of the house. These will connect with the hot air solar panel on the roof so that heat can be drawn in on sunny winter mornings. In front of the fire there is a thoroughly evil chair. It destroys my will every time. IÕm rather slowed down after tea and I sit on the edge to light the fire then lean back and IÕm gone...canÕt get up again.
I donÕt light the fire until IÕm a rather cold. On a winter evening I try to do heavier outside jobs before coming in for tea. That keeps me a bit tougher and more robust than I would be if I lived in an air conditioned house. I think it would be a mistake to be comfortable all the time. ItÕs important to experience (mild) adversity now and then, difficulties, discomfort and inconvenience...because it makes you more appreciative when you get through. When I sink back into that evil chair I think how nice it is and how extremely lucky I am. I get this feeling most strongly when I have a shower; it makes me think about the billion or more people who do not have that luxury. What gets me out of the chair eventually is the water boiling in the big pot I sit on a rack just over the coals, for the daily washing up. In winter that pot also heats up water for the hot water bottles, although sometimes I just leave a house brick on the top of the fireplace to get warm.
After tea I might read or type, listening to the radio. I often do some sewing, usually repairing or making up new bed socks or winter jackets for dawg. Then there is the ship yard, a door opening to a two square metre room where the ship models are made. We are way behind intended production schedule unfortunately, with a tug, three mast barque, trawler, Xebec, schooner and sloop crammed on the bench all suffering from serious and inexcusable neglect.
Last time I estimated my personal expenditure was way below the poverty line. One day working for money each week would be quite enough fore me. (I realise most people locked into mortgages etc. couldnÕt do this now, but after the revolution they will be able to.) I donÕt have much need to spend money, partly because I wish to live frugally and partly because my patch gives me most of what I want, most obviously things to do all day. I donÕt use up many of the planetÕs non-renewable resources. My per capita electricity use is about 8 Watts, probably under 3% of the national average. I estimate that the Australian ÒFootprintÓ of productive land used, around 8 ha per capita could be cut by 90% without people having to be anywhere near as frugal as I choose to be. (See How cheaply we could live well. http://socialsciences.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/HOWCHEAPLY.htm)
My days are very long and intense. Too much to do. Always too much to do. How lucky I am to have too much to do. My old friend Sartre got it wrong -- it isnÕt other people thatÕs hell; hell is not having far too much to do. Purpose is everything. Nothing is worse for a human than lacking purpose, being without things one is eager to get at, and consumer society condemns large numbers of people to that fate.
It is good to be tired, sleepy tired. In winter I go to bed like an arctic explorer, with layers of home-sewn beanies, jackets and bed socks. Dawg gets tucked into his basket, then probably the best moment of the day is flopping back on that pillow and relaxing every muscle. Only two more things to do; think back over what we got done in the day, and think about the things IÕm eager to get at tomorrow.
Then, drat! Left that last tap on. Grump out into the cold to turn it off.
Now add community.
Although I live less than one kilometre through the bush to McMansions suburbia I have no connection with my locality. Thus I have no access to what I believe are the most powerful and abundant sources of a high quality of life, which are to do with living in a self-governing community.
The most obvious benefits of community include access to conversation, advice, help, emotional support, friendship, care, security, skills, interesting people, activities and events. According to The Simpler Way perspective on our global situation a sustainable and just society must be built around highly localised and self-sufficient, cooperative, participatory and self-governing communities, and it must be based on values to do with frugality, friendliness, the public good, giving, and helping others to thrive. (The vision is detailed at and in my The Transition to a Sustainable and Just Society, Envirobook, 2010.) These are not options we can take or leave. Unless we organise around these ways and values we will not cope with the coming crisis of scarcity and breakdown. But they also enable liberation and fulfilment. Following are some of the aspects of this vision that would greatly add to the life satisfactions I would get in addition to those my homestead provides.
Contributing to working bees.
This most powerful institution can build and run most of the basic things our town or suburb needs, the premises for the bee keeper, the orchards and forests, the ponds and theatres and workshops, and the great cathedral that will be our community centre/workshop/ museum/art gallery/gift and recycling centre/ town hall/parliament house... We will pay most of our local tax in contributions to working bees, by maintaining the parks, windmills, water recycling systems, community forest gardens and edible landscapes, and helping a few professionals to look after old people and teach...
In important ways working bees contradict the economics and culture of consumer-capitalist society. They are cooperative and collectivist. They are about giving. Things are not done for money or profit. The concern is the public good, not individual gain. They build solidarity; a sense of comrades working together for mutual benefit. They reinforce our power, our knowledge that we have the skills, ideas, systems ... the capacity and determination to run our town well.
Contributing to the working bees would be a major source of life satisfaction.
Serving on committees.
These would monitor and research and organise many aspects of the townÕs economy and culture, such as energy supply, food supply, water systems, care of old people, the ÒwelfareÓ of young people, education, leisure, concerts, celebrations and rituals.
Contributing to working bees and committees would build strong cohesion, responsibility, public spirit, concern with the welfare of the town, and thus good citizenship. It would create a sense of mutual interdependence, and the knowledge that we can depend on each other. Community cannot be artificially or quickly created; it can only emerge from working together on mutually important goals that people give to selflessly. I would find it most gratifying to gradually establish a reputation as a good contributor to working bees and other community activities, a reliable, conscientious, helpful and caring, public spirited contributor, a good citizen.
Having access to public wealth.
My life would be far richer if I had access to a thriving locality, to a landscape crammed with little firms and farms, drama clubs, co-ops, workshops, ponds, fish farms, mini dairies, quaint architecture, ornamental structures, meditation retreats, skilled crafts people, lakes and forests...that I could use, or just visit and look at. The working bees would stack our habitats with many such things, making it leisure-rich. Then my garden would then be a kilometre across, with an inexhaustible number of things to look at, all fussed over by a thousand manic gardeners.
Enjoying a rich cultural life.
My ideal town would have lots of artists, craftsmen, authors, comedians, musicians, magicians, jugglers, dancers, acrobats...all eager to do their stuff at the free concerts. There would be plenty of painters, potters, blacksmiths, gardeners, poets, astronomers, historians etc. eager to teach me their crafts.
The committees would organise festivals, rituals, celebrations, and adventure and mystery tours, visiting lectures, discussion groups, dances, picnics...
Where would people get the time for all this? They would have about five days a week to devote to their obsessions because on average theyÕd probably have to work for money about two days a week.
Attending town meetings.
In the coming era of intense resource and energy scarcity central governments will be greatly reduced and will not be capable of governing every small town and suburb. We will, at last, (have to) take on the responsibility of governing ourselves. This will be one of the greatest advances in the history of human kind, moving from thousands of years of being governed to the maturity and sense to govern ourselves. Again this is not optional; unless we master this transition our localised settlements will not work satisfactorily. Out fate will depend heavily on our capacity to manage our own ecosystems, local soils and forests and social systems well.
As the Ancient Greeks understood, having to be involved in self-government brings out the best in us. It makes us think about the public good, take responsibility, realise we must think and plan carefully, because if we donÕt we will make bad decisions we will be sorry about. Self government is immensely empowering. We will take pride in knowing that we can run our town well. It would be very satisfying to me to think I was a member of a town that did run well and that I contributed to this.
Above all I would get satisfaction from helping to run my town in ways that provided for all and enabled all to thrive. To begin with we would make sure there was no poverty or unemployment or loneliness or depression...and that everyone had a livelihood, the capacity to make a valued and respected contribution through a job or small business. We would be constantly concerned about what problems people were experiencing and if and when we found a problem we would deal with it. We would make sure no one was struggling. We would not leave everyoneÕs fate to be determined by whether they could beat others in competition for scarce jobs and business opportunities.
Of course nothing like this would be possible unless we scrapped the present economy and replaced it with one in which we deliberately and rationally organised to apply our existing productive capacity to the meeting of needs, in a cooperative and planned way. (In my view it would be possible and desirable to retain much scope for private small firms; the community controlled economy need not try to run everything. It needs only to be concerned with making sure everyone is provided for and has access to the minimally necessary basics.)
To live in a community that had the sense and the resolve to do these things, to take the control of our own fate out of the hands of distant politicians, corporations and bankers, and to prevent it being determined by Òmarket forcesÓ, would be a source of immense satisfaction to me. Again it would be difficult to exaggerate the historical significance of such an achievement, of ordinary people finally refusing to be governed.
Living in the kind of community I have indicated would enable a far greater degree of peace of mind than I have now, knowing that I was living in ways that do not generate global problems.
As I see it, itÕs an open and shut case. The Simpler way would not only enable us to live on a minute footprint, and thus to defuse global problems, it would give us a vastly higher quality of life than consumer-capitalist society provides. In the terms of the present economy we would be very ÒpoorÓ, but that would not matter in the least. I live on a very low monetary expenditure, but IÕm very ÒrichÓ, even without the great benefits that community would add to my peasant-homestead experience. We would have security, support, perfect food, equity, beautiful landscapes, comrades, a society we could be proud of, time to devote to art, gardening, learning, or just sitting in the sun...and freedom from over-work, and fear of unemployment, poverty, loneliness, stress and depression. The paradox of course is that these riches cannot be gained unless the quest for endlessly increasing material wealth is abandoned. Our main task is to get people to see how delightful their day could so easily be.