Monday, September 24, 2012

Reviewing the motivation: Plan B 4.0

Sept 23
A Challenge Without Precedent
Given the need to simultaneously stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth’s natural systems, our early twenty-first-century civilization is facing challenges that have no precedent. Rising to any one of these challenges would be taxing, but we have gotten ourselves into a situation where we have to effectively respond to each of them at the same time, given their mutual interdependence. And food security depends in reaching all four goals.                                from Plan B 4.0, Lester Brown

Let it be recorded that this year our first real rain, with thunder and lightening, and significant downpour, occurred on this date. A typical time for the rains to start. Now the trees and other plants will respond with flowers and fruit, and new growth everywhere.

What will happen with our unfinished house?There is still some plastering to do on the outside of the building, and the floor must be cemented and glazed, after which it needs to dry for three or four days. We’ve moved back to my son’s house – about 1000 feet away - for the week, to keep my daughter company, and it’s just as well. We don’t know yet but the straw hut may leak with this kind of rain.

Have you read Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, by Lester Brown? Published in 2009, while I was walking from New Orleans to the Canadian border along US Route 11 (“For All the Grandchildren”), Plan B first summarizes the major catastrophes threatened by climate change and continued population growth. Food, says Lester Brown, is the weak point that may very well bring down our civilization. In the second part of the book, Brown offers the major solutions that could mitigate the devastation that looms over humanity.

When I read Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas, in the Fall of 2008, I absorbed the predictions of major and worldwide devastation due to climate change. I found these forecasts frightening. I worried especially about my own grandchildren and then all the little ones of the world, the anawim, including the poverty-ridden peoples who would be affected the most and the soonest by rising sea-levels, droughts, forest fires, desertification, and food shortages. My outrage at the indifference and greed - that were, and still are, keeping world leaders from enacting the changes required to allay climate change and its consequences - led me to take the 1,100 mile walk.

I needed such a walking meditation, an action that allowed me to calm my own anxieties while communicating with people along the way, sharing the message, a wake-up call that may have been a tiny part of the shift in consciousness among Americans who now rate climate change as a major concern.

Now, four years later, I read Lester Brown’s account of the situation described by …  - same scientific data, same predictions – and realize that many of the events they forecast have already come to pass, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the increase in forest fires in the US Southwest. However, Climate Change conferences come and go and still the world refuses to mobilize to the degree that’s necessary to avert catastrophe. It seems ever more likely that immense suffering, especially for the anawim, lies in the close future.

But I am no longer overly anxious.

The effects of my walking meditation linger on. Guy and I have come to a place where we can do our small part: lower our carbon footprint, plant trees in a sensitive area, grow our own food, join others in experiments with solar cooking, building with earth (bio-construction), and other alternative tools and technologies. Permaculture and agroforestry hold promise for the recovery of soils, water, and habitat and the sequestering of carbon.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Preview of Guy's privy

Have you been wondering what Guy's up to? Perhaps he'll write about it but here are the pictures. The privy will be complete in a few days. It's a race to see which will get to use first, the house or the privy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Sept 19    Last night was cold – in our tent inside the straw hut, we slept in our clothes under three blankets. I remember such nights here in the middle of winter – late June thru mid-August – but by September the nights were always warmer and the days were hot. People around here are saying that it’s hotter than usual – high 80’s, even 90. I suspect this is our version of climate change. As long as it keeps raining we’ll be fine, but we’re on the edge of the region where desertification is likely to occur with advancing global warming. This is why we plan to build cisterns and rain catchment systems despite the fact that the local people consider it unnecessary.

We have no piped water yet – all our water is brought up from the stream in buckets.

 We’ve been drinking straight from the stream as there are no houses upstream and the spring is within sight, about a mile west of our homestead. However, two or three times a day cattle comes down to drink and muddies the water. The best time to draw water is early in the morning. And we will buy a water filter in the next few days. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’re not already full of parasites or other disease. No tummy aches so far. We took our cues from the local workers who drink straight from the stream.
Today the workers are treating us to a “galinhada” – a big pot of rice, chicken and corn. On the last day, hopefully day-after-tomorrow, we’ll treat them to a festive meal. They’re a good bunch – friendly, they tell stories and jokes, and ask hundreds of questions about the States, the English language, our former occupations, relationships, etc. They know that we’re environmentalists and make endless comments – both serious and humorous – about our food, our systems, and our attitudes. They talk about religion a lot, debating creationism versus evolution – were the first people Adam and Eve or were they monkeys, and creationism versus the big bang; and the true nature of Jesus, and of so-called prophets such as Muhammed. They ask me if I believe in God, if humans come from monkeys, if homosexuality is a sin against God. I answer honestly – no, yes, no – and all is well. 
One of them is the typical evangelical believer, so common currently in Brazil, replacing the complacent and easy-going Roman Catholics. They think that the world’s greatest preachers are American, starting with Billy Graham. It scares me.
Spring here begins officially this weekend, while for our friends in the northern hemisphere it will be the Autumn Equinox. Each holds its own beauty and promise.         

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A preview of our house

Today the internet is very slow and I'm having trouble sending much of a blog. So here's a picture of our house as it stood several days ago. By now it's covered and most of the walls are plastered. Hopefully it will be ready by the end of the week and if the internet cooperates we'll send more photos.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inspired by the Nearings

September 7, 2012

This is the big week – we’ve moved onto our own little piece of the property. Until now we’ve availed ourselves of Victor’s hospitality and stayed at the main house on the farm, built in the same place and style as the house my ex and I built in 1974, and lived in until 1980. Zeke was just a year old when that house was built, and Sofia and Victor were born while we lived there. Now the grandchildren visit.

        My daughter, Sofia, and granddaughter, Camila.

Helen and Scott Nearing inspire us as we begin our life in the country, and we hope to emulate them by living simply and sustainably. Back in the 60’s, when as retired professionals Helen and Scott moved from the city to the countryside in Vermont, the cutting edge of enlightened living meant back-to-the-earth simplicity, organic gardening and building one’s own house and infrastructure. Today we continue to value voluntary simplicity and organic gardening but look to permaculture, ‘agro-floresta’ and bio-construction as the means to lower our carbon footprint, and live in a way that could be shared by most of the Earth’s population (99%). We intend to inhabit our space in a way that will preserve the soil, the water, and the air for our grandchildren and their grandchildren unto the seventh generation.
For many reasons – because the rainy season will arrive soon, because we’ve never built a house before, because Guy is still learning Portuguese, and we’re both educating ourselves about the appropriate techniques for building and farming in this part of the world – we’ve decided to contract our first living space to a local building team. They will use mostly the conventional methods and materials for this area: a squared-off building of bricks and concrete.

We have no electricity or running water for now. The building crew must fetch their own water from the small creek that runs by our place, about one hundred feet down a steep path. We too will fetch our water every day, but we’re looking at building a bicycle pump as soon as we can. The model for which we have printed plans can pump 10 gallons a minute on a level area – water in a pond to a site at the same level – or as little as 1 gallon a minute on a steep incline. I expect our situation to fall between those two points. Eventually we plan to collect rain water, and to install electricity as a backup.

For cooking we’ll use my original solar cooker, which I’ve had for several years now, supplemented by a two-burner gas stove. The sun at this time of the year is always bright and hot from about 10 am to 3 pm, and will cook beans, rice, soup and even bake bread. Soon we’ll have a wood stove as well, built into the house, but I hope to continue to utilize mostly solar cooking.

Guy is completing two projects – our first privy and a kitchen table. He can tell you about them the next time we post.

This morning the macaws flew over our straw hut, chattering as usual in their rough cawing voices. As we drank our coffee, sitting outside in the sun, a brilliant turquoise bird with a coal black face alit on a tree nearby and sang a welcoming song for us. Last night, the first night we slept here, the stars were magnificent in the dark sky, and looking at it from outside the straw hut was magical as the light from the lantern shown through the lacy pattern of the palm fronds. We snuggled in our tent with three blankets to keep us warm because the winter air at 3000 feet gets down close to 50° F.