2018 Weather Summary

Another year complete, a new one just begun, and time for Mark’s annual weather summary.

The big story of 2018 was drought, which is still listed as “severe” as of this writing.

Although 11 of 12 months had below average rainfall, the overall departure – 83% of normal precipitation – is not that extreme.  As a recent example, 2013 had a much lower annual rainfall at 24.02″.  While 2013 had a relatively wet summer and very dry winter, 2018 had the opposite pattern: 92% of normal rainfall Jan-April and Nov-December and 44% of normal rainfall May-October.  We really missed those five inches of expected growing-season rains.

On the plus side, the long dry fall was a boon to seed farmers bringing in late harvests, and a relative paucity of lightning storms, power line failures, and human idiots in our part of western Oregon spared us from a repeat of the 2017 wildfire season despite tinder-dry conditions from July into October.

Aside from the drought, 2018 was somewhat lacking in weather headlines.  It was neither exceptionally cold nor exceptionally hot, and the final average temperature – 0.6 degrees above normal – is par for the course or even a bit on the cool side given the current status of global climate change.  There were no major windstorms, floods, or other forms of damaging weather that will be remembered into the future.

January was unusually warm, only dropping below freezing on two days and topping out at 63ºF on the 17th, leading buds to pop early and humans to harbor unreasonable expectations of an easy winter and an early spring.  Though not exceptionally wet in total, the month had only three days without measurable rainfall.

February continued the warm trend at first with highs around 60, then cooled stepwise after the 8th, first to a week with highs around 50, then to deep winter temperatures with highs around 40 and our coldest morning of the year: 20.6ºF on 2/23.  Feb. 22 brought our only snowfall of the year, a short-lived inch or two.  Early-blooming trees like apricots and peaches really suffered from this return to cold and wet, setting little if any fruit.

March continued the cool trend, with many highs around 50 and one 70-degree taste of spring on the 12th that would not be equaled for more than a month. Rainfall was near average but sporadic, with a fair number of dry or mostly-dry days.

April was the only month of 2018 with above-normal rainfall – 172% of normal to be exact, and more than would fall in the next six months put together.  If a farmer were to pick one month to be wet, April would not be it.  Despite the overall drought pattern, fields stayed wet into May and farmers were forced to plant late or to deal with muddy clods.  That said, these abundant April showers were essential in helping plants survive the next six months of drought.  June-blooming blackberries provided abundant nectar for bees, and established fruit trees set a bumper crop in September thanks in part to this April blessing of moisture.

May marked the transition to warm and dry.  Rain fell on only four days, totaling 0.42″ or 21% of normal, but thanks to last month’s rains no one yet lamented a lack of moisture.  Mostly it was a month of beautiful days to be alive and outside.

June brought summer about a month early.  A tenth of an inch of rain on the 11th would be the last for three months, and the monthly total came to half of normal.  After the 11th, we settled into a pattern of peak Oregon weather, with highs mostly in the 70s.

The joy ended in July, also on the 11th, with the arrival of summer heat.  From that point through August 22nd, we would have 16 days above 90 degrees and many more in the upper 80s.  Those of us who worked outdoors got used to it, with help from typically cool nights and mornings, and were thankful that we were spared the 100s this year.

August was a month of smoke.  Though our air quality only measured “unhealthy” on a few days, the high-altitude plumes arriving alternately from the north and south dimmed the sun, reduced the output of my home solar panels, and saved us from reaching 100 degrees on more than one occasion.  I wonder if any climate models include the cooling effect of smoke from increased wildfires in their calculations.  Wind off of the ocean finally returned on the 23rd with a high of only 66 degrees, and ushered in a return to pleasant summer weather that continued into September.

September had a wet week in the middle, from the 11th to the 16th, which broke our three-month thirst and caused minor headaches for quinoa harvests.  That week brought this weather station to 90% of normal rainfall for the month, but the the showers were extremely localized and most areas saw less than half that amount.  Warm and dry returned later in the month.

October brought the second and third false starts of fall, with three days of rain on the 3rd-5th and then a moist two weeks beginning on the 23rd.  In between was half a month of pure autumn bliss, with drying winds, low humidity, daily temperature swings approaching 50 degrees, and the first light frosts on the 14th and 15th.  Total rainfall came to 1.50″, slightly less than half of normal.

Against all odds, November - usually a full month of stormy rain – had two rain-free weeks from the 7th through the 20th.  At Wild Garden Seed, we were threshing late-maturing fennel and parsley seed outdoors, marveling at our luck.  This was the same stationary high-pressure pattern that brought a devastating wildfire to Paradise, California, but here it only brought frosty mornings (11 days below freezing in a month when it seldom freezes) and sunny, 50-60 degree afternoons.  The rainy season finally arrived for good on the day before Thanksgiving, and we were more than ready for it.  The long-delayed rains were generous, bringing the monthly total to 5.58″ or within an inch of average.

December brought a bit of everything: a cold snap at the beginning down to 21.8ºF on the 6th, a surprising amount of sunshine in what is often a dreary month, and nearly seven inches of drought-busting rainfall capped by a two-inch atmospheric river on the 18th that stopped just short of causing flooding problems thanks to the not-yet-saturated ground continuing to absorb moisture.  Most of the rain fell in the early morning hours on that day, and I will remember it as a bright warm windy day of near-constant rainbows as the sun shone through drops blown from distant clouds.  For some reason, the fog always lifted earlier than predicted or failed to materialize this December, and we were thankful for the bright mornings and clear sunsets in between days of rain.

 

 


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2018 Garden Report

Overview

Our home garden began in 2016 when we purchased this property, and while it is tiny from a farming perspective it somehow manages to occupy a fair proportion of our free time.  All of our beds are four feet wide and 50 feet long.  There are two blocks:  six beds running E-W in our front yard (with somewhat gravelly and compacted soil from past activities) and seven beds running N-S in our side yard (with very good soil, but with a low section that is soggy in winter).  The total area is 3250 square feet (7.5% of an acre), of which 2600 square feet is beds and the remainder is pathways.  Our rotation scheme involves moving back and forth between the two plots and between the sides of each.  We only manage a 2-3 year rotation for brassicas and 3-4 years for most other crops.  Each year, one side has a winter garden which transitions to May-June planted warm season crops and then eventually garlic and winter cover crops, while the other side has garlic and cover crops that transition to early spring plantings and eventually the next year’s winter garden.  We initially tilled the sod with a BCS tiller, but since then have done all of our ground prep with a digging fork, a rake, and a wheel hoe.  Irrigation is entirely drip tape (plus hand watering for germination) and operates in four zones overnight at a rate of about 4 gallons per minute from our well.  We follow organic practices for fertility and pest control.  We don’t use any black plastic or hoophouses for added heat.

 

Weather

                This year will be remembered by most as a drought.  Between June 11 and September 11 we had no measurable rain – and the mid-September rains were quite localized.  As I write this on October 18, many areas are still waiting for their first significant rain of fall.  We had no deep cold in the winter, with lows of 19.5ºF in December and 20.6ºF in February, but we may forget that late winter was unusually chilly, with the March average temperature the same as January and February two degrees colder.  Those with early-blooming fruits like peaches and apricots suffered very poor fruit set.  April had 16 days of rain, limiting early bed prep and preventing the bees from gathering much honey from the bigleaf maple bloom.  Then with only 20% of average rainfall in May and 50% of average in June, the stage was set for a parched summer.  We are thankful for our reliable well as others dropped or ran dry.

The May-July period was much warmer than normal – especially July at 3.1º above average – but despite 17 days above 90ºF we didn’t have any truly oppressive heat waves and the warmest day was August 9 at 97.9ºF.  We may have to thank the shading effect of wildfire smoke for keeping the temperature bearable in August.  After a few early fall rain teases, we settled into an extremely dry pattern over the last two weeks that also brought our first freeze (31.0ºF) slightly earlier than average on October 15.  Aside from the drought and distant fires, this has been a comparatively benign weather year in our part of the Pacific Northwest, with none of the major windstorms and flooding that have affected much of the rest of the country.

 

Challenges and blessings

Overall 2018 seemed like a good year in the garden.  We had no crop failures, but it was not without its challenges.  Light leaf spot – a recently established brassica disease – ended our overwintering Brassica rapa and B. juncea mustards prior to bolting in February.  Our garlic was in a location with substantial compaction/poor drainage, and the soggy April weather allowed a basal plate rot (we think Fusarium) to take out roughly a quarter of the crop.  Small gray slugs were abundant in the spring and forced us to replant some of our direct seedings including carrots and quinoa.  Aphids had a banner year thanks to the lack of spring rainfall; after two seasons with no spraying we brought out the Pyganic to save our transplanted cabbage and broccoli.  Root maggots affected a minority of our brassica transplants.  Flea beetles arrived in force in mid-July; our early July seeding of fall cabbage survived but our next seeding of fall/winter brassicas later in the month was completely wiped out.  We replanted in the greenhouse and transplanted after the “fleabs” were less of a problem.  Thrips and downy mildew were hard on many local onion crops this year.  Ours were a bit smaller than past years but still generally successful.  Deer are just problematic enough that we consider fencing occasionally, though it would be rather unsightly to cage in our front yard.  We fenced the orchard (which doubled as a chicken run) and used repellent sprays successfully on the grapes and raspberries.  In the garden they mowed off the fall peas, snacked regularly on chicory and peppers with little impact on yield, and mostly left other things alone.  We’ve been attempting to trap a lone very large gopher for the last month, so far without success though the only casualties have been a few leeks.  We even upped the ante with the exploding Molecat trap, and the gopher set it off seemingly without injury.

On the plus side – probably thanks to the dry weather – we had almost no powdery mildew on our cucurbits until late September, and no disease problems in our potatoes or tomatoes.

 

Crop summaries

Thanks to our connections in the seed world and our love of diversity, we are always trying new varieties and planting a wide diversity.  We don’t always keep the best notes on our results, but this is what stuck with us…

 

Beans

                We grew the same four snap bean varieties as last year from our own saved seed:  Wade (green), Beurre de Rocquencourt (yellow wax), Robert’s Royalty (purple), and Sequoia (purple romano).  Wade seems especially susceptible to cucumber beetle damage after germination, but otherwise all did well and we made around 20 quarts of dilly beans and quite a few bags of frozen romano beans for winter stir fries.

We had three small (~6’) blocks of dry beans: Nora’s Baudette Baking (white) and Tiger’s Eye from our own seed, and Black Coco thanks to Hank Keogh.  Black Coco was the highest yielding, 25-30% higher than the others and probably around 0.4 lbs/bed foot, while also drying down uniformly in early September.  We may finally have found the black bean we have been looking for.  (Last year we tried the Alubia di Tolosa pole bean from Uprising, which was a bit too tall and too late to mature.)

We grew our perennial favorite Annie Jackson pole beans up the stalks of our popcorn and flour corn as part of an experimental Three Sisters arrangement.  Yield, though lower than a monocrop, was satisfactory (~4-5 lbs total) without noticeably affecting the productivity of the corn.  Overall we were happy with the arrangement, though we will have to weigh the time savings of avoiding a trellis against the increased time required to pick the bean pods individually vs. cutting down the trellis in one piece and stomping whole plants.  I think we will try it again next year.

 

Beets

                We always grow too many beets, as we simply don’t eat them that often.  The cylindrical Formanova (Sero Seeds – Territorial) is still our favorite, but we grew some Chioggia (Adaptive) for variety.

 

Broccoli

                OSU Grex (Siskiyou Seeds) produced central heads of varying sizes and abundant side shoots over a long season, while Belstar F1 (Johnny’s) grew a single large head as advertised with no side shoots.

We have Red Arrow Sprouting Broccoli (Adaptive) heading into winter as another spring hunger gap crop; we’ll report on it next year.

 

Cabbage

                This was our first year growing winter cabbage, and January King (Adaptive Seeds) did a wonderful job of holding through February and providing us with fresh cabbage all winter.   Our planting for the coming winter was set back a bit by flea beetles; we’re hoping they will get big enough to make winter heads.

Quick Start F1 (Territorial) produced solid early summer heads from spring transplanting, while our beloved Kalibos (Fruition) proved less suited to spring-summer growth and rather vulnerable to root maggots.  Our fall Kalibos is sizing up nicely for harvest in a few weeks, and the Filderkraut (uprising) is coming along.  Filderkraut would benefit from planting in June for fall harvest, but in our current rotation scheme we don’t have any fall crop space until the fava beans come out in late June/early July.

As with many of our crops, we’re not quite as good at eating cabbage as we are at growing it; we still have at least a gallon of sauerkraut left from last year’s Filderkraut to eat…

 

Carrots

                We picked up a free 10,000 seed packet of Dolciva (High Mowing) at the OSA conference in February, and we’re happy with the carrots but especially pleased with the near-100% germination as carrots can often be spotty.  Aside from that we mostly planted a variety of holdover varieties from our seed stash and haven’t really compared them side by side.

 

Cauliflower

                We were disappointed by the germination rate and seedling vigor of Goodman (High Mowing); Snow Crown F1 (Territorial) was somewhat better.  Roughly a third of the plants failed to produce a normal head after stress from aphids and root maggots, but we had enough cauliflower for our needs.

In our winter garden, we especially loved Purple Cape (Adaptive Seeds), which produced abundantly in March and April when we had very little else from the garden.  The curds are a bit different – more like micro-broccoli-florets – but beautiful and delicious.  We’ll have more next year, along with All the Year Round (Uprising) as a comparison.

 

Chicory

                Chicory is the secret to the winter salad, particularly if one doesn’t wish to eat only brassicas and especially now that Light Leaf Spot tends to kill off the winter mustards by March.  The trick is to plant enough of it in August so that it is well established by winter.  Trieste Sweet (Adaptive) is an exceptionally good lettuce substitute with its big mild green leaves and indeterminate growth after picking.  We even had a few plants from an early spring planting that lasted through the winter and the following spring.  Palla Rossa (Wild Garden) and Gremulo Rosso (Adaptive) both have a diversity of colors, forms, and patterns for winter salad excitement.  The radicchios are a bit trickier for winter as they tend to rot eventually once they form a head, but we have enjoyed Varigata di Chioggia (Adaptive) for several years, and this year added Rossa di Verona Arca (Adaptive) which has the most beautiful  fuschia-maroon green-veined leaves.  Deer nibbling has to some extent prevented heading, but that is OK as the loose leaves are just as delicious.

 

Corn

                We grew a lot of varieties thanks to the OSA conference seed swap, knowing that they would cross but not too worried about it.  For sweet corn, we went back to our old standard sugary enhanced (SE) hybrids Bodacious and Silver Queen (Territorial) after being disappointed by the yield and eating quality of open-pollinated sweet corn last year.  Planting them in early May, we found Bodacious to have better cool soil emergence and vigor, and overall better yields.

The other corns were all planted in a pattern with beans and squash in our three sisters block, roughly 15’ square.  Painted Mountain has amazing cold soil vigor and was twice the size of any other corn by the end of May.  Yields are impressive (and beautiful!) for the size of the plant, but it is not a good choice for three sisters planting as the stalks are not tall enough or strong enough to support beans.  Robin’s Egg, from the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, matured a bit late for our climate but made beautiful large ears.  Of the three popcorns, Nash’s Black has a maternal dark color that came through uniformly while the other two (Confetti and Cassiopeia) intercrossed so completely that the ears were identical at harvest.

We now have a bookshelf full of beautiful dry corn, and will be grinding and popping it in the months ahead; we can’t report on eating quality as of yet.  We have been enjoying the lavender-colored corn flour we ground from last year’s Glass Gem corn.

 

Cucumbers

                We love Shintokiwa (Fruition) as a long-season non-bitter slicing cucumber that continues almost until frost despite cool nights.  Last year powdery mildew seemed to trigger bitterness, but with no disease this year we didn’t have that problem.  For pickling cucumbers we again grew Homemade Pickles (Hudson Valley), National Pickling (High Mowing), and Vorgebirgstrauben (Uprising).  The first two are not distinguishable and the vines intertwined, so we can’t compare except to say that we enjoyed the cukes.  Vorgebirgstrauben produces a very heavy early flush of cucumbers which is great for pickling; however the skins are a bit softer so the pickles are not quite as crunchy.  Overall, pickling cukes have only a 1-2 day window of ideal picking time, and they don’t store well once picked.  As picklers, we would love to see a variety that can hold in the field at an ideal size/maturity for up to a week.  I don’t know if that’s possible…

 

Eggplant

                Eggplant does surprisingly well for a heat-loving plant.  At Elizabeth’s request, we grew Fairy Tale F1 (Johnny’s) which was amazingly productive on tiny plants; we mostly grilled the little fruits whole.  Long Purple (Botanical Interests) gave us many stir fries, and our two large varieties Black Beauty (High Mowing) and Black King F1 (Territorial) gave us many grilled slices and plenty of frozen baba ghanoush.  The hybrid does not appear superior in any notable way.

 

Garlic

                We grew the same 13 varieties as the previous year, when Helen’s connections to garlic growers landed us a sampler pack.  We lost a fair number to a basal plate rot in spring, we think Fusarium of some sort.  Overall, I have to say that I have a hard time discerning nuance to garlic flavor beyond the gradation in heat; only Chesnok Red had a discernably different taste for me in our fresh/roasted comparison last year.  We love Russian Red for its giant, easy-to-peel cloves and St. Helens and Oregon Blue softnecks for exceptionally long storage life.  Basque matures extra early for the season’s first fresh garlic, and Ajo Rojo has exceptionally beautiful cloves.  Aside from that, we seem to be preserving diversity simply because we have it.

 

Greens

                Wild Garden Seed has an endless diversity of greens, and most of them have found a home in our garden.  Belle Isle Cress for foolproof, disease-proof, freeze-proof winter survival.  Arugula whenever the fleabs are away.  Bekana mild mustard if we can eat it before the slugs do.  Vibrant Ultraviolet mustard for beauty.  A bit of Green Wave and Pungent Mix for heat and braising greens.  Chard for winter salads.  Fennel for spice.  Spinach year round, best in the fall.

 

Ground Cherries

                We much prefer the flavor of Goldie (High Mowing) to any other ground cherry we have grown.  They have very high weed potential, and while we usually start them with tomatoes and transplant them we found that some of our volunteer plants looked healthier and produced larger fruits.

 

Kale

                We still favor Dazzling Blue (Wild Garden) as the ultimate four-season, aphid-resistant, heat-resistant, freeze-resistant kale.  We have a 4’ tall patch transplanted in early spring that is looking healthy going into winter, having survived the aphids and flea beetles of summer, as well as a new batch of September transplants.  We’re also growing regular lacinato, Winter Red, Red Ursa, and

White Russian kales from fall transplants, all from Wild Garden.

 

Kohlrabi

                We finally grew some this year (Kolibri), but then we didn’t eat it and gave it away to all takers.  I don’t think kohlrabi is for us.

 

Leeks

                Last year we transplanted Blue Solaise and Belgian Breeder’s Mix (both Wild Garden) along both sides of the pole bean trellis.  They were mostly shaded in the summer but took off in fall sun.  The Blue Solaise were far superior in flavor.  This year we’re growing Blue Solaise around some new asparagus that is establishing.  They’re currently serving as gopher bait in the ongoing battle that will hopefully conclude before garlic planting in the next few weeks.

 

Lettuce

                Wild Garden has a nearly infinite selection, and we often just grow the mix for a variety of types.  For individual varieties, we have been enjoying Platonic Romaine for sturdy non-bitter heat-resistant leaves, 21st Century Fire for salad beauty, Flashy Trout Back for all seasons, Winter Density, Maraveille d’Inverno, and Blush Butter Oak for overwintering.

 

Melons

                We’ve been growing the Farthest North Galia Mix (Adaptive) for the past three years.  There is an exceptional diversity of flavors in the mix, and this year we lost the lottery with two vines producing inedibly insipid melons and another merely mediocre.  Last year we had one that we really loved; we should have saved the seeds.  Oregon Delicious (Adaptive) either has a similar diversity of flavor or else a very narrow window of optimum ripeness; a few melons were delicious but others were quite bland.  Early Moonbeam (Adaptive) performed well, and we love the small, extra-sweet, yellow-fleshed melons that store a surprisingly long time.

After falling in love with Sharlyn melons at the grange melon tasting last year, we bought some seed from Siskiyou Seeds despite having doubts that it would ripen here.  They were indeed very late, but the first ripe melon on September 12 was definitely the best melon we have ever grown, and the remainder of the fruits ripened through early October though the flavor diminished from mind-blowing tropical pina colada to merely delicious as the weather cooled.  Next year we are excited to try more of the Siskiyou melon offerings, particularly Galina and Haogen.

 

Onions

                My digestive system seems increasingly intolerant of onions, so perhaps we will need to grow fewer in the future.   We mostly stuck with our usual varieties from Adaptive:  Newburg for longest storage, Karmen for red storage, Cipolla di Rovato as a cippolini.  We added Siskiyou Sweet (Siskiyou) for summer fresh onions, and Red Marble – a small red cippolini type from the OSA seed swap.  Abundant thrips and associated downy mildew reduced size somewhat across the board, but all did well and we should still have plenty to last the winter (and maybe we won’t have to give 50 pounds to the food bank in May this year).

 

Peas

                Peas were not a success.  We tried Magnolia Blossom (Adaptive) and Oregon Giant.  Slugs hammered our March planting pretty hard despite Sluggo applications, and then about half of the plants appeared virus-infected at maturity.  We did get enough peas for fresh eating in June, but not enough to preserve.   Our first attempt at fall peas, admittedly started a few weeks late, has been stymied by deer browsing.

 

Peppers (sweet)

                Our favorite sweet pepper is still Liebesapfel (Adaptive), which is exceptionally sweet, thick-walled, beautiful, equally delicious roasted or raw in salads, and (most importantly) begins to ripen peppers nearly a month before any of our other varieties and continues until frost.  We enjoyed Pippin’s Golden Honey Pepper (Hudson Valley), mostly sautéed like shishitos.  Pappacelli di Nacimiento, a gift from Laura of High Desert Seeds at the OSA conference, was like a golden version of Liebesapfel, somewhat larger and even thicker-fleshed and equally delicious.  Unfortunately it is a bit too late for our climate, fully ripening only three fruits before frost.  We grew three Wild Garden roasting peppers:  Gatherer’s Gold, Early Perfect, and Joelene’s Improved.  They all began to ripen at the same time in late September, with Joelene’s Improved actually a few days earlier than the “Early”.  All yielded heavily, and we have many bags of grilled peppers in the freezer for winter soups and sauces.

 

Peppers (hot)

                We usually grow too many too-hot peppers, though we’re getting better.  Our favorite (and probably the winner of Best New Vegetable of 2018) was Aji Marchant (Adaptive), our first Capsicum baccatum pepper.  Peppers were ready to pick in late July, two months ahead of some varieties, and our three plants gave us seven jars of pickled peppers from their first flush and substantial quantities later on.  They have a unique and delicious flavor and fresh-picked aroma.  Heat increases dramatically with ripeness; the sweet spot seems to be at the yellow-green stage.  We would support selection for somewhat less heat at maturity.

We grew Korean hot peppers (Adaptive) for kimchi, Targu Mures (Adaptive) for hot paprika, and Early Thai Grex (Adaptive) for no particularly good reason, given that we have used less than 10% of the outrageously hot powder we made from them last year.  All performed admirably.  We grew two poblano types:  Caballero F1 (Territorial) and Ancho Poblano (High Mowing).  The hybrids produced larger but fewer peppers, and the OPs were very productive but all tipped over and required staking.  Our favorite use of poblanos is to grill them filled with a seasoned egg and cheese mixture.

 

Peppers (habanero)

                We fell in love with the flavor of heatless or low-heat habaneros after growing them in 2015, and we’ve been growing them ever since.  This year, thanks to a warmer heat mat, we got them off to a better start in early March in the greenhouse and ended up with ripe fruits 2-3 weeks earlier.  Our favorite is a line from independent plant breeder Doug Jones, given to us at the 2016 OSA conference.  His have slightly thicker flesh, ripen to a bright orange-red, and have the best fruity-sweet flavor of any we have tried.  We also grew NuMex Suave Orange (Johnny’s), which is slightly higher yielding but not quite as tasty and more likely to produce deformed fruit in cold weather, and Habanada (Fruition) which struggled all season and ripened only three fruits before frost with a watered-down flavor compared to the other two.  It seems that the Habanada really needs a climate with warmer nights.  We’re looking forward to trying Jim Myers’ habaneros when they are released.

We also grew a few hot habanero plants for hot sauce, but we underestimated the excessive productivity of Helios (Johnny’s) and we’re not sure what we’re going to do with three gallons of hot habaneros…

 

Potatoes

                As usual, we picked up our seed potatoes at local Shonnard’s Nursery, and our choices were dictated by their availability.  Some gnawing creature (rat? vole?) nibbled on many potatoes, though didn’t dramatically affect our yield.  We experimented with shallower planting, which provided more uniform emergence and early vigor though perhaps at the expense of some yield since tubers are only initiated above the seed potato.  Even so, we have plenty of potatoes for winter.  Cal White and Yukon Gold did well with plenty of large potatoes.  French Fingerling, with delicious red-hearted tubers, yielded more than many of our non-fingerlings.  Huckleberry Gold was a new variety for us; yields were average but they are beautiful.  We always grow All Blue for their color, but they are more mealy than most others.  Red La Soda was a bit disappointing with small plants and few small potatoes.  Purple Peruvian fingerlings were most interesting.  The plants were indeterminate, formed new plants by spreading rhizomes, and did not senesce at the end of the season.  The yields were not bad (though not as high as we expected given the size of the tops), and the long potatoes are deep purple inside and out, very dense, slow-cooking, and quite firm and mealy when cooked.  They seem a bit like an ancestral potato, closer to the wild version than most varieties.

 

Quinoa

                After being unhappy with the lower yield and higher saponin content of a black-seeded Kaslala selection last year, we returned to white seeds, a selection of Red Head (Wild Garden) that had been through nine days of rain in 2016 without head-sprouting.  We direct seeded around May 8, and had to replant some when they were eaten by small gray slugs at the cotyledon stage.  After that they thrived, and predatory minute piratebugs outnumbered lygus bugs until the last month, when the lygus managed to multiply.  Our yield came to 15 lbs from 34 bed feet, which is not quite as good as 2016 but still quite satisfactory.  (For comparison a half pound per bed foot is one pound per ten square feet or a little more than two tons per acre.)  On a calories-per-acre basis, that puts quinoa up at the top alongside potatoes.  We just washed it this week (in pillowcases in our washing machine), re-dried it, and filled five half-gallon jars which ought to be enough to keep us in quinoa for the next year without needing to import from the Andes.

 

Radishes

                We planted cherry belle and French breakfast type radishes throughout the summer for salads.  In late August, we planted daikon (Territorial) for kimchi and Shunkyo (Wild Garden), Misato Rose (Wild Garden), and Runder Schwartzer Winter (Territorial) for winter salads.  Misato Rose is exceptionally beautiful sliced thin, and Runder Schwartzer in particular holds extremely well; if rodents don’t eat it we can be eating radishes until they bolt in spring.

 

Summer Squash

                We planted Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop (Adaptive) and Dark Star zucchini (High Mowing).  The zucchini, even just one hill, covered a massive area and produced many monsters that got away from us, though we had plenty to eat.  It continued to set new fruits through 40-degree lows right up until first frost.  The scallop was similarly productive, and we pickled and stir-fried many of the cute mini-squashes throughout the season.

 

Tomatoes

                We grew nine plants each of Willamette and Siletz (both Adaptive) determinate tomatoes primarily for canning.  The Siletz set a few extra-early fruits for summer salads then ripened the majority along with the Willamette which was convenient for canning.  Both varieties are determinate in plant size but still set and ripen fruits over quite a long season.  Paul Robeson (Adaptive) is our favorite fresh eating tomato, though it is not exceptionally productive and tends to crack and rot quickly when the rains arrive.  Three plants of Sungold hybrid cherries (Johnny’s) provided more than enough for us and all of our friends and neighbors.  Damsel F1 (Earthwork Seeds), a free packet from the OSA conference, produced large, very firm pink tomatoes that colored up long before they were ripe: good for market perhaps but not our favorite.

 

Turnips

                Turnips are easier to grow than to eat.  Our Scarlet Ohno (Wild Garden) turnips planted in late August are ready now in October, and Aprovecho Hardy (Adaptive) is a bit slower but will be ready in a month.

 

Winter Squash

                Squash was the neglected little sister in our three sisters garden, as we didn’t leave it enough space to get adequate light.  The Nutterbutter (High Mowing) butternut and Rouge Vif d’Etamps pumpkin (Johnny’s) were particularly disadvantaged but still managed to set and nearly ripen some small fruits.  Our Sweet Meat (Carol Deppe/Moondogs) and Potimarron (Uprising) did better by actually climbing the corn, something that the corn didn’t much appreciate especially as the fruits got heavier.  Alongside the three sisters, our delicata (both Zeppelin-Wild Garden and Candystick Dessert-Carol Deppe/Moondogs) did well, as did the REBA Bush Acorn (Uprising).  We haven’t compared the two delicatas yet, though the Zeppelin at the end was shaded by our ornamental sunflowers.  As we have observed before, Candystick Dessert is relatively low yielding; we will have to see if the flavor is worth it.

 

 

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Reflections on ten years in Oregon

On September 11, 2008, I broke camp at the mouth of the Deschutes River and drove the last 180 miles of an 1800-mile journey, arriving at my new Corvallis home at 10:30 in the morning.  Ten years and three houses later, I’m still here – less than two miles from where I started and still driving the trusty Subaru Forester that brought me here, and that Jean immortalized in her 2010 painting.

Ten years, out of 33 ¼ years of life, is exactly 30%.  In a way, it seems that not that much has changed – especially compared with the previous ten years that began in 1998 with 13-year-old Mark as an eighth grader and proceeded through spelling and geography bees, band and choir competitions, high school friends-achievements-shenanigans, four years of Carleton, working and teaching in the arboretum, bird banding, singing with the A Cappellicans, a semester in Ecuador, a summer in the Rockies, working for the DNR on fire, birds, and prairie, considering Cornell for ornithology, and finally a crazy idea about biosolar hydrogen and a fortuitous visit to Oregon State that launched me this direction.

That’s not to say that the past ten years have been boring, by any means.  I spent the first two years exploring as often as possible with Alija and Kelly, traveled to Sweden and met Elizabeth in 2010, moved to the cabin in 2013 and then to the forest homestead early the next year, graduated with a Ph.D. in 2014 and started working for Wild Garden Seed, developed the Winnow Wizard over several years, married Elizabeth in 2015, purchased a house and helped Ed transition out of physical existence in 2016, started my own business in 2017, and will see that business generate a majority of my income this year.

Though I haven’t been able to fully replicate the spiritual sense of place I developed during eighteen formative years in the Minnesota River Valley, I have come to belong to this land as well.  The scent of rain returning to the forest, with chanterelles pushing up from awakening mycelium.  The verdant richness of winter moss and lichen.  The midwinter unfurling of hazelnut and willow catkins, setting pollen free on winter storm winds and trusting in warmer weather to come.  The grand succession of wildflowers through our long spring, from the Snow Queen of early March through the Calypso Orchids of April, the wild irises of May, the tiger lilies of June.  The amazing “beehive” scent of poplars breaking bud.  The mercurial spring weather, where sudden hailstorms give way to rainbows and sunshine only to repeat 15 minutes later.  And Marys Peak, island in the sky – my sacred space for equinox and solstice nights beneath the stars, for sunsets over the ocean, for eclipses and meteor showers, for bright winter snow above the foggy valley, for our beautiful wedding ceremony three years ago.

If I have changed in the last ten years, it is to become less idealistic – less hopeful in a way that a suite of technological breakthroughs will solve all of our problems and more determined and ultimately excited to inhabit our planet as it is.  At first this was a struggle, seeing firsthand that my photobiological hydrogen – along with most of the other world-changing ideas being pursued in labs worldwide – might work passably well in a test tube but would never rival natural systems and existing technologies when scaled up and subjected to real-world conditions.  But then I started to ask myself what our world would look like if we freed ourselves from natural limits, and I didn’t like it.  I wrote an essay to this effect in 2016: “I do not wish to live on Coruscant.”  Since then my focus has been more on appropriate technology and appropriate scale – helping people to supply themselves and their communities with organic produce, seeds, and homegrown energy to begin to roll back the globalized capitalist structures that have sucked the human relationships and meaning out of human sustenance while neatly externalizing or ignoring the costs.

It’s impossible to say what my life might look like in another ten years, at age 43, but I do have a few goals:

  1. I would like to see a creation of mine – a product, design, or idea – take root in the larger collective to the point that I am no longer necessary to sustain it.  I think the Winnow Wizard is close to reaching this point; perhaps there will be others.
  2. I would like to find a small group of like-minded folks who are interested in deep discussions of possible futures, the nature of reality and human experience, and ways of living more in harmony with our environment without resorting to dogma, expecting technology to solve our problems, or anticipating imminent doom.
  3. I would like to live in a place where I can have a personal daily immersion in nature, a connection to unmanaged lands.  After years in the valley surrounded by my own trails through rock outcrops and wild forests, I find it difficult to feel connected in town – even on the edge of town on a half-acre with a giant garden.  I appreciate the house we have made and would like to live here long enough to see our trees bear fruit, but sometime in the next decade I envision a wilder home.
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It’s Time for a Change

We’re living in strange times.  On the one hand, the trend toward equality, acceptance, and accountability that can be traced from abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage through the civil rights movement, same-sex marriage equality, transgender equality, and #MeToo is continuing, weakening age-old patriarchal structures and giving me cause for hope.

On the other hand, we are living in a nation increasingly divided by hatred and fear, where ideologies and stereotypes metastasize in online echo chambers and dissenting voices are silenced.   We can no longer even agree on simple facts, let alone compromise on questions of values.  Our political systems are gridlocked, our infrastructure is decaying, and our collective response to looming crises such as climate change, dwindling fossil fuels, and topsoil loss has entered a pattern of public denial and blissful ignorance.

 

What is Going On?

In a phrase: systemic financial insecurity.

Roughly 50% of Americans cannot afford an unexpected $500 expense without incurring debt.  This in a time when car repairs frequently cost $2000, an unexpected broken bone can cost $10,000, raising a child to adulthood costs around $200,000, and a comfortable retirement savings – with enough to cover assisted living and long-term care – approaches $1 million.  We are a nation on the edge, surviving day to day with uncertainty filling both short-term and long-term horizons with anxiety.  In this state we can’t bear to think about larger challenges like climate change, so we simply ignore them.

When we are feeling afraid, we have a tendency to protect ourselves, to put our family first, our self-identified communities first, our nation first.  Fear is divisive; it is not at all coincidence that pre-war Syria, pre-war Germany, and perhaps a majority of pre-war states were marked by a high level of economic insecurity.  We become suspicious of anyone who appears to be competing for our resources and vulnerable to propaganda that would blame immigrants, minorities, religions, or other nations for our woes.  And there is plenty of such propaganda, released and encouraged by those who control the wealth (and the media), and who have much to lose should their prominent role in creating this situation come to light.

We have gone so far in our fear as to elect a master propagandist to lead our nation; one who is the very emblem of profligate wealth and who gives control of government to the richest of the rich while convincing those who are most insecure that he is their champion.

 

How Did We Get Here?

There have been books written on this subject; in being brief I will inevitably be incomplete, but I believe that the pattern is quite simple.  In short:

  1. Commodification.  With industrialization and improved transportation came economies of scale.  The local blacksmith who made plowshares now had to compete with The American Plow Company, which cast uniform plowshares by the millions.  Products that were previously custom-built or raised by craftspeople – from meat and vegetables to tools to furniture to garments – were mass-produced in assembly lines.  The craftsfolk could no longer compete, and were forced to “get big or get out.”  The commodification process has been happening for a long time – since our great-grandparents’ generation and before.  By and large Americans survived the earlier phases of this transition in good financial shape, because the United States dominated global manufacturing and employed workers to build goods for the world.
  2. Globalization.  More recently, beginning in the 1980s and 1990s with various free trade agreements, national commodities have become international commodities.  This presents a problem because, for reasons of financial imbalance among nations and varying regulatory environments, farming and manufacturing in some nations is substantially cheaper than in others.  In effect, the United States and Western Europe economically colonized much of the rest of the world, at huge cost to the citizens and cultures of the colonized countries.  I’ll gloss over that for now because my focus is on United States citizens.  The effect of globalization here was both to eliminate jobs as production moved overseas and to drive down wages in order to compete on a global playing field.
  3. Consumerism.  We have been sold on the idea that we ought to buy as much stuff as we can afford, and that the only worthwhile criterion for differentiating otherwise-similar stuff is price.  Thus we are in favor of commodification and globalization, even as we suffer for it.
  4. Wealth extraction.  As more Americans cannot afford to buy homes and vehicles and to cover emergency expenses, we acquire debt.  Debt that must be paid with interest.  We pay rent to landlords for the privilege of having shelter.  The interest and rent is, of course, collected by those who had extra money to invest.  As economic growth stagnates (which is inevitable as we reach the carrying capacity of a finite planet), wealthy Americans are transitioning from investing in the stock market (which reflects to the economy as a whole) to investing in loans and real estate that extract wealth directly from those who are already economically insecure.

In one sense, we are all complicit in getting where we are, in that we are a democracy and we have allowed money to buy power.  We have believed in “trickle-down” promises.  We have often accepted our plight while idolizing the wealthy.  We have looked up, toward those better-off, and aimed to get there ourselves without considering how our lives are already disadvantaging others.  I feel this myself as a duplex owner; extracting money from poorer student renters in order to pay interest to the wealthy investors who own our home loan.  We have accepted a tacit assumption that everybody could be as well-off as we are, and that if they are not then they have failed somehow, or they will get there someday.  We have focused primarily on individual access to opportunity, while ignoring the systemic problem that a majority of the job/career opportunities now available do not pay enough to provide any semblance of financial security.

 

What Can We Do About It?

There is much that we can do locally, if we have the resources.  We can choose to buy from local farmers, artists, and producers, even when cost is substantially higher.  We can buy through local retailers rather than big box stores or online outlets.  If we sell a good or service, we can offer a sliding scale to increase accessibility, or we can accept trades of goods or services in return for our own.  In wealthier communities, with enough commitment, we can create thriving local economies and fairer compensation in the face of a broken national and global system.

However, to really effect change – and to help impoverished communities where few have enough wealth to vote with their wallets – we must change legislation at local, state, and national levels.  There is much we can do; here are a few ideas:

  1. Universal Health Care.  This one is a no-brainer, and is finally gathering enough political steam that it stands a chance at success.  Every other developed country has some form of universal health care, while we in the United States pay three times more for care that is not functionally or qualitatively better, and in many cases we are forced to declare personal bankruptcy or to forego potentially life-saving treatments for lack of financial resources.  Nearly every analysis agrees that we would pay less overall in a single-payer system, which would cut out a substantial amount of bureaucracy (i.e. administrative jobs that do not contribute to better health outcomes) while allowing elected officials to negotiate rates with providers in a transparent manner.  Health care expenses (both skyrocketing premiums and unexpected injury/illness) are a leading cause of financial insecurity, and solving this would go a long way.
  2. Living Wage.  It used to be that dirty and dangerous jobs in mines and factories paid enough to support a family.  Now they barely pay enough to pay rent for one person.  Rather than a federal minimum wage, we need a locally-variable minimum wage based on a minimum standard of living.  I might propose enough to raise a child as a single parent while owning a vehicle and paying a mortgage on a modest house/rent on a modest apartment and not relying on any federal assistance programs.  In places that might be double or more the current minimum wage.  Such increases would shock the economy and drive inflation so would need to be implemented gradually, but any job that requires a full-time commitment ought to compensate workers sufficiently to live comfortably.
  3. Price Floors.  Along with living wages, and especially in areas such as farming where many are self-employed and not earning a wage, price floors could be calculated as the lowest value for a product that allows its producers to earn a living wage.  Price floors must be accompanied by a mechanism to manage overproduction; I won’t go into it here but Wendell Berry has some excellent examples of how that has been and could be done in an agricultural setting.  Tariffs on imported goods become essential so that these do not undermine price floors and living wages for domestic producers.  This may be the lone concept on which I agree with Mr. Trump, though I suspect he is only thinking about benefits for corporate leadership and privileging some industries at the expense of others.  In the absence of legal price floors, voluntary ones could be established and marketed in much the same was as “fair trade” coffee and chocolate.  Some consumers would willingly pay more to ensure that all workers in the chain of production are fairly compensated.
  4. Maximum Wage.  A much more controversial idea; I believe strongly that no one person’s hour of work is worth indefinitely more than another’s.  As a start, I would envision a maximum wage set at roughly ten times the minimum living wage, though the exact ratio could be adjusted.  Trimming high wages and equivalent compensation (e.g. stock options) would make room for a rise in low-end wages without a proportional increase in product cost to the consumer.
  5. Flexible Working Hours.  There is no divine rule that says every able adult needs to work 40 hours a week in order for society’s needs to be met.  As jobs are lost to automation, we keep creating jobs – often fairly meaningless or unnecessary ones – in order to maintain full employment.  Perhaps we will reach a state of automation in which we only need to work 25 hours a week on average.  Would that be a problem?  I envision pinning the federal work week to the unemployment rate such that when unemployment rises, working hours decrease until the unemployed workers are hired.  When unemployment drops below a threshold, working hours could increase back to a cap at the current 40-hour week.
  6. Debt Forgiveness.  There may come a time, in economic recession, when a large number of financially-insecure Americans are facing bankruptcy due to unpayable debts.  Rather than allowing bankruptcy on an individual basis, it may be preferable (and much better for those indebted) to declare a partial debt jubilee, in which a percentage of all debt is simply wiped away.  This represents a wealth redistribution from debt holders to debt owers (i.e. from the financially secure to the financially insecure), and it has historical precedent in a number of societies.

 

So…where to start?  Bernie Sanders had the right idea in many ways, though he is too old to really lead a movement.  I’m a personal fan of Tulsi Gabbard or Tammy Duckworth as presidential options.  But it’s not only about a president, and we can’t invest too much hope in a political savior.  We need to build a movement on all political levels.  We can’t ignore the atrocities of the Trump administration, but we also can’t let his wham-bang shock doctrine tweetstorm distract us from building a coherent strategy in time for the next election cycle.  We don’t need to allow the current government to set the terms and acceptable limits of debate; we can elect a new Congress that will change the terms entirely.

Women are wise in many ways, less willing to accept the winner-take-all, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, “individual responsibility” story that is parroted as an excuse for the status quo.  I’m hopeful that the rise of women with #MeToo and #TimesUp will bring about a corresponding influx of feminine wisdom into political discourse.

The news – in the various national media sources – is not fake, no matter how much some would like to believe it.  We have not stooped to that level, and I hope that we don’t.  The news is, however, selective.  Advertisers and media moguls alike belong to the privileged classes, and we can expect that movements to reclaim wealth and power for the masses will receive biased coverage or no coverage at all.  For that reason we need to create unbiased media outlets, carefully moderated and purged of conspiracy-type or speculation-based stories but also not beholden to corporate money.

Things seem to be getting worse at present, but as long as we maintain our democracy – one person, one vote – then we stand a chance of driving change for the better.  I haven’t been especially politically active to date, but I’m thinking it might be time to change that, to raise my voice and help to build a chorus demanding a nation in which Americans are truly free.  Not just free from foreign invasion and government incursion into daily lives, but free from the anxiety of not knowing where the next rent payment will come from, free from choosing between food and essential medical care, free from living from paycheck to paycheck at age 60 and doubting if retirement will ever be a possibility.

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2017 weather summary

In keeping with my dad’s tradition of publishing an annual weather summary, I thought it would be worthwhile to say a few words about 2017.  Here are the data:

In some ways, 2017 was an “average” year – in terms of overall temperature, length of growing season, total number of days with measurable rainfall.  However, looking at seasons separately, some anomalous patterns emerge – and these are the same patterns predicted to be the “new normal” for our region by climate change models.

  • While the whole year averaged out to normal temperature, May-Sept averaged 1.9 degrees above normal and the cooler months (Jan-April, Oct-Dec) averaged 1.2 degrees below normal.  2017 had a very hot summer, parts of two cold winters, and near-average temperatures for spring and fall.
  • Rainfall, at 120% of normal, was a bit above average, driven primarily by an extraordinarily wet February and March.  Breaking that down by season, we had 135% of average rainfall during the wet season but only 69% of average from May-September.  Not bad for seed farming, but coupled with low humidity and dry thunderstorms in the Cascades we had one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory.

Climate change models generally predict an overall increase in rainfall though with drier summers and a slight increase in temperature with higher summer highs and more winter extremes.  Assuming they’re correct, then 2017 may have been a typical year in a new reality.  Can we deal with it?  This was not a bad year all told, though it is not so much the new average as the new extremes (droughts, floods, heat waves) that will drive changes in ecology and agriculture – and we won’t know what those extremes will be until they arrive.

A few of 2017′s weather patterns deserve special mention:

  • From February through April it rained on 74% of days.  If we subtract out one seven-day rain-free window from March 30-April 5, that increases to 80%.  At Wild Garden we managed to plant out some early brassicas and spinach in that one window, but everything else had to wait until May.  Despite the delay, it was a great year for lettuce and many other crops.
  • The heat wave from July 30 through August 4 topped out at 104.3 degrees, which is the highest my station has recorded since my records began in 2008 (though it has been in three different locations so the comparison is not perfect).  Later in August and September we had many days of forest fire smoke, which actually helped to moderate high temperatures somewhat.  We had 20 days above 90 degrees, which is the highest so far in my records.
  • We had 11 consecutive days of 100% sunshine – no morning fog, no rain, minimal high clouds – from December 4-14.  I can’t say exactly how unusual that is, but the phenomenon that produced it (persistent high pressure, near record-low atmospheric moisture) also created the devastating wildfires in southern California.  Quite possibly connected to climate change, though of course there is no way to draw conclusions from one event.
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Sustainable Religion and a Society in Crisis

Note: “Sustainable Religion” is the last installment of my “On Sustainability” series, published in late 2014 and early 2015.  “A Society in Crisis” below is a current writing.  They are thematically intertwined.

Sustainable Religion (2-9-2015)

In writing about sustainable energy, agriculture, economy, and population, I have laid out some of the many ways in which our current ways of being are unsustainable and will lead to crisis, and I have attempted to suggest constructive choices that will bring us closer to sustainability.  So far, however, I have not attempted to address why it is that those choices are being ignored; why, that is, we collectively choose short term comfort and economic gains over longer-term survival and stability.  These choices arise from our sense of identity, and in particular from beliefs about who exactly we are as humans and what our purpose is on this planet.  As there are no definitive answers to these questions, we have left behind the realms of science and fact and entered the realm of religion.

Religion means many things to different people.  In its strictest sense, it refers to codified systems of spiritual belief and practice.  However, each person must inevitably come to a sense of identity, regardless of whether she subscribes to a formal “religion.”  For the purposes of this discussion, I will define “religion” as a system of beliefs or vision of reality that seeks to answer the following three questions:

  1. Who are we?
  2. Why are we here?
  3. Why do bad things happen?

It is important here to note that a concept of “God”, or even a concept of a supernatural force, is not required to answer these questions.  It may seem strange that I choose to lump secular philosophies in with religion, but I hold that these philosophies ultimately serve the same purpose in terms of helping believers make sense of, and choose to interact with, the world we inhabit.

Ignoring a great many traditions that do not fit this mold, I find it useful to divide answers to these questions into three main groups:  Earth-based religions, major monotheistic religions (e.g. Islam, Judaism, Christianity), and beliefs rooted in modern technology.  I will call these groups, respectively, Earth, God, and Progress.

In examining the table above, keep in mind that sustainability refers to the ability of human beings on planet Earth to live in a way that can be sustained indefinitely.  Not surprisingly, sustainable societies tend to embrace religious beliefs that support such a lifestyle, while religions in unsustainable societies are compatible with unsustainable actions.  To clarify this, I need to add three concepts to the three religious categories and three questions.  These concepts are:

  1. The Shape of Time
  2. Deep Time
  3. The Domain of the Sacred

I realize that these sound like titles of a fantasy trilogy, but bear with me…

The Shape of Time

Modern industrial society views time as a linear thing.  We create timelines in our history books.  We see the past stretching behind us as a series of discrete events, and expect the same in the future.  Our own lives follow a line from birth through adolescence, adulthood, aging, and death.  Secular humanists view life as a one-time journey with no experience after death.  Those subscribing to monotheistic religions view life as a one-time journey beginning with the creation of our soul and ending with an eternal afterlife.  Those who believe in reincarnation often simply extend the line, with souls growing and evolving across multiple lifetimes to an ultimate state of wholeness or fulfillment.

The concept of circular time is almost foreign to us, yet it was quite common in preliterate societies.  In a circular view of time, the present moment will return again and again in the future, with the endless turning of moon cycles, seasons, natural patterns, generations, and human lives.  A mother with a newborn baby in a tipi next to a fire on a cold winter night imagines her daughter someday having the same experience, and her granddaughter, and so on down through the generations.  To someone accustomed to linear time, this can seem depressing, as if nothing ever changes, but to one accustomed to a circular view, each time around the cycles adds a level of richness, with each summer solstice bringing back memories and stories of previous summer solstices and adding one more memory, one more story to the experience of that particular time.

It may be the development of writing and literature that spurred the transition from time-as-circular to time-as-linear.  There is a tendency, when recording events, to record what is different rather than what is recurring.  Gradually we came to focus on these discrete events and all but ignore the recurring cycles.  In recent centuries, advancements in technology have made our lives much different from our parents’ lives and even further removed from older generations.  We cannot imagine technology moving backward, and this sense of progress overwhelms the experience of natural cycles.

Perceiving time as linear does not automatically lead to unsustainability, but it does tip the dice in that direction.  In circular time, cyclical rituals take on great importance.  If we follow ancestral traditions of honoring the summer solstice in an ancient grove, we will be loath to cut down trees in the grove, to accept climate change that might cause the trees to die, or to allow our population to grow such that cutting the trees becomes unavoidable.  In linear time, we are freed from the concern that a future time will be unable to replicate the present.  Instead, we can blindly project trends, accepting progress as a given and assuming that if our lives are easier than our parents’, our children’s lives will be even easier.  If a forest is lost, we can justify it by saying that a city was built.  In so doing, we fail to attribute significance to the loss and depletion of parts of the natural world that are essential to our long-term survival.  If we don’t have an answer now, well technology keeps improving so they’re bound to think of something…

Deep Time

I have heard it said that burning coal is sustainable because we have enough coal to last at least two centuries at current consumption rates.  Similar statements abound with regard to economic growth, nuclear waste, and topsoil loss, to name a few.  When we think beyond the moment, we think only of our own later years, our children’s lives, and at most our grandchildren’s lives.  The past fades away in a similar fashion; we know our parents’ world, we can imagine our grandparents’ world from stories, and beyond that history becomes purely academic.

Sustainable societies, in general, look further back and ahead.  Some Native American tribes famously considered the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation.  Stories from the distant past teach valuable lessons, and any unsustainable decisions (and their consequences) are passed down in stories lest they be repeated.

Modern investigations in geology and evolution have opened our eyes to deep time, to ice ages experienced by prehistoric tribes, to the almost immeasurably long history of the planet before humans arrived.  This knowledge could be incorporated into religion: preparing future generations for a return to ice, seeking to maintain the human species across millions of years and Earth changes, creating stories of the distant past and future that play into our psyche.

So far, though, the opposite has happened.  As we have become aware of the true depth of time, our focus – the range of time that matters to our decision-making – has become ever shorter.  We see ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution, about to make the next great leap into artificial intelligence, space travel, immortality, etc.  We forget about our continuing dependence on the natural cycles of our planet, and we do not look ahead to ensure that those cycles will continue to sustain us.

The Domain of the Sacred

When I was a child, I was not given a religious doctrine.  My parents believed in a loving Presence, Source, what some would call God, but we did not go to church or practice regular rituals.  Instead, I explored.  I found small creeks and rerouted the waters, creating falls, rapids, and sweeping curves.  I learned the plants of the rock outcrops, identified trees in all seasons, and observed the birds through their migrations by sight and song.  I climbed trees to watch the sun rise and set, stuck my nose deep in fresh moss to smell the first green of spring, and chased fireflies on warm summer evenings.  I looked forward each year to the call of the Whippoorwill, the night song of the Ovenbird, the midwinter mating hoot of the Great Horned Owl.

As I learned and explored, using my senses as my guide, I also began to feel places in the natural world.  Whenever I would return to an area, I would feel an amalgamation of my memories from previous experiences in that place and sometimes….something else.  Something outside myself.  The existence, I felt, of consciousness in trees, in hidden valleys, in towering cliffs.  It was never so clear that I could have a conversation, yet it felt unassailably real.  These places, to me, became sacred.

My early immersion in nature was my choice, but in older, simpler, less technological societies this level of immersion in nature was commonplace.   I am not at all surprised that humans came to honor sacred trees, sacred groves, and sacred mountains.  The domain of the sacred was largely or wholly of this world.  As societies become more “domesticated,” with people spending their lives on farms or in towns and cities, deep immersion in nature became rarer, and nature became in some regards an adversary to be conquered.  In these times and places, the dominant religions placed the domain of the sacred beyond Earth: God or Allah in heaven, angels and demons in a non-physical afterlife inhabited by immortal souls.  Modern secular movements question the existence of the sacred entirely, or define the domain of the sacred as confined to humanity.

I cannot reasonably make the claim that one of these views is correct, that there is or is not a God in heaven or a conscious awareness in the forest.  I will, however, make the claim that including the Earth within the domain of the sacred goes a long way toward motivating sustainable action.  We are much less likely to clearcut a sacred grove than a timber investment property, and we are saddened by the decline or extinction of species that played roles in our sacred experience.  To this end, I would encourage anyone to spend time in nature simply observing and experiencing.  Not walking trails for exercise or skiing challenging routes, but letting your senses be your guide, stopping to peer into ephemeral flowers, observing iridescent native bees, catching a scent on the breeze, feeling the texture of the oak bark, listening to the songs of the warblers and grosbeaks establishing territories.  Even more, I would encourage those of you with young children to take the kids outside.  They might be bored at first away from their digital games and TV stimulation, but they will discover an immeasurable richness.

The Religion of Progress

Within the last two centuries, in concert with the explosion of technological innovation, a set of beliefs has evolved that emphasizes linear time, short-sighted visions of the future, and an absence of anything sacred within the Earth.  This set of beliefs also provides alternate answers to the three core mysteries (see table above) that are, to many people, at least as satisfying as the answers provided by conventional religions.  Because no deity is invoked, its billions of believers would not call it a religion, but it occupies the same place within the psyche and guides our collective decisions with regard to sustainability, among other things.  With a tip of the hat to author and blogger John Michael Greer, I will call it the religion of Progress.

Belief in Progress is widespread among atheists and traditional religious folk alike, and its alternative answers to the mysteries of our existence probably make it psychologically easier to abandon God-based or Earth-based religions now than in the past.  In general, devout Progress-ites believe the following:

  • The technological advancement of the past two centuries marks a permanent turning point in human history.
  • Technological improvement is the key to health and quality of life, and these things will continue to improve over time.
  • Impending crises (e.g. climate change, population growth, fossil fuel depletion) are not causes for concern but rather priorities for new technological solutions.  “They’ll think of something.”
  • Progress will continue indefinitely.  There is no “good enough” endpoint in sight.
  • Due to globalization and modern technology we are fundamentally different than past human civilizations and need not concern ourselves with the lessons of history.  “It’s different this time.”

Contrary to believers’ ideas, progress of any form is inevitably a temporary phenomenon, a transition from one stable state to another.  A new discovery spurs a wave of research, and a period of rapid change ensues until all of the useful applications of the discovery have been considered and adopted.  This has been going on throughout human history, from harnessing fire up through the information age.  Progress in this sense does not preclude sustainability, so long as necessary resources are sufficient to sustain to the new technologies indefinitely.

The problem is not so much with progress itself as with the religion of Progress which permeates so much of modern culture.  It is taboo to focus too much on the downsides of a new technology or to question whether adopting it is beneficial over the long term. It is tempting to extrapolate discoveries in a lab (e.g. algae producing fuel, bacteria producing hydrogen) to global scale solutions without asking important questions about feasibility, resource availability, energy balances, and environmental impacts.

Believers in Progress are not entirely unaware of the risks we face as we approach the planet’s carrying capacity and deplete essential resources.  There are two camps of Progress-ites: those who believe we will solve the most pressing problems  and spread out into the galaxy and those who believe we will crash and burn with a few survivors left to rebuild from the ashes.  We either keep moving up or we go off a cliff, fall to the bottom, and eventually start climbing again.

Level, Not Up!

There is a third option available to us, though it is rarely mentioned.  We can aim to sustain ourselves using the resources available to us, choosing to cut back rather than count on some new as-yet-undiscovered technology to save us from the resource shortages we have created.  To do this, we need to choose to stabilize or even use less despite the option of more.  This is anathema to the religion of Progress, and I think it is safe to say that the religion of Progress has outlived its time.  We are leaving the age of growth and entering the age of limits, and we have the option of understanding these limits (in energy, resources, and resilience) and living within them or ignoring the limits and either crashing when we hit them face-first or else finding a last-minute technological fix that only succeeds in raising the limit and postponing the crisis.  We need to let go of “more” and think instead of “enough.”  Enough food to be healthy.  Enough space to live our lives comfortably.  Enough stuff that we can pursue our passions without filling storage units and unused rooms with unneeded items.  Many of us need to accept that enough is less than we’re used to and may require some sacrifice.

If we are to let go of our need for more, we will need to once again find meaning in a world where change moves more slowly, where our grandchildren’s lives are not so different from our own.  I think it is wise to look to sustainable societies of the past, refocusing on the cycles of nature and the cycles of our lives, telling stories that connect us to deeper time, and exploring the planet with our senses until our very world, not something “out there,” feels sacred to us and worthy of our full energy.  There may be other, entirely different approaches to finding meaning in a world where more is not better, but this is my way.  I have hope.

 

A Society in Crisis (1-29-2017)

I never published my last installment – “Sustainable Religion” – two years ago, as it felt somehow unfinished.  Now, as I sit down to reflect on current events, the words reflect my sentiments.  Yet there is more to be added, in an attempt to understand current events through the lens of the religion of Progress and the universal longing for a sense of meaning and purpose.

First, some observations on the state of our nation, which I hold to be factual (though many would argue):

  • Since 2000, wage growth has been stagnant or negative for the lower 50% of earners and strongly positive for the upper 20% or so.
  • For those with stagnant or declining incomes, new technology (especially in the medical field) is increasingly unaffordable.
  • Fossil fuels continue to provide the vast majority of humankind’s energy needs.
  • Climate change is accelerating in response to continued growth in carbon emissions, leading to increased mitigation expenses and human migrations.
  • Levels of anger and frustration are increasing rapidly.
  • Hate crimes, scapegoating, stereotyping, and internet attacks are all on the rise, as outlets for this anger and frustration.

In short, two things are happening:

  1. Despite continued technological innovation, progress – as measured by standard of living, economic growth, and financial stability – is slowing as we approach the hard physical limits of Earth’s carrying capacity.
  2. As growth and progress slow globally, the upper classes are seeing historical gains continue while the middle and lower classes see stagnation and decline.

This is a recipe for mass discontent, even revolution, and I am concerned – to say the least – about the direction our nation and world are headed.  The Bush and Obama years were a time of pretense, of believing that growth was still happening, or a return to growth and progress was just around the corner once we got over a temporary hump – all of this occurring while well-connected institutions like higher education and health care continued double-digit price increases despite slow or stagnant wage growth.  Trump, despite all of his failings and inconsistencies, won the presidency by admitting that progress had stopped while his opponents kept up the pretense.  He assembled a coalition of those who had suffered the most in the past decade, squeezed by layoffs, pay cuts, and ever-rising costs.  He pledged to “make America great again.”  He has ushered in an era when truth itself is vulnerable to attack, when facts and “alternative facts” compete for airtime.

For believers in the religion of Progress – and I think it’s safe to say that includes the vast majority of Americans regardless of their declared beliefs – the notion of progress is closely tied to a sense of meaning and purpose.  We don’t, as societies of pagans and Native Americans, find meaning in the cycles of the seasons and human lives, celebrating solstices and harvests.  Nor do we, as devout farmers and factory workers of a century past, find meaning in a simple life well lived in the hope of a joyful hereafter.  Instead, we find meaning in the idea that our lives will improve, that we can send our children to top-rated colleges, own a house full of the latest technology, watch astronauts land on the moon and then Mars, track our investments as they gain value, retire to a comfortable life of travel and hobbies, and envision our children in a world where disease and perhaps even aging and death are relics of the past.  Our belief in this vision of the future is so strong that we feel entitled to it – and lost, angry, frustrated when reality deviates from our ideal.

This is the great cognitive dissonance of our time.  After a century of unchecked progress, we have come to believe in it, but our lives no longer reflect our belief.  Instead we see jobs disappearing, rows of empty houses, retirement savings emptied or nonexistent, credit cards maxed out, and new medical breakthroughs and drugs that offer survival at the cost of bankruptcy.  We are hesitant to blame the wealthy – the fact that the dream of progress is still real for them serves not to foment resentment but rather to chart a blueprint for the rest of society.  The fact that the game is zero-sum – that excess resources claimed by some must of necessity be taken from others – has not yet entered our collective consciousness; we still believe that if only we could bring back the economic growth of the 1980s and 1990s, the dream would return for everyone.

So far as I can tell, Trump’s mission – in addition to simply stoking his very large ego – is to revive economic growth and improve the lot of the lower and middle classes without any redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom.  Anything that stands in the way of short-term economic growth – including environmental regulations, climate change action, refugee resettlement – is suspect.  The anger and frustration of unfulfilled entitlement needs an outlet, and so he has painted targets on illegal immigrants, on environmental activists, on social safety nets.  Most objective analyses show that these issues are not actually dragging down our economy and that targeting them will only cause suffering both now and in the future, but we are dealing in the emotional realms of belief and meaning, where facts matter less than blind faith and assertions.

We need to survive Trump’s chaos – ideally as an intact nation – and to do so we need to collectively recognize two things:

  1. We are not entitled to indefinite progress.  So long as we remain members of the religion of Progress, we will experience increasing cognitive dissonance, anger, and frustration.  We need to open ourselves to finding meaning, purpose, and happiness in the world as it is – a world where we are born, grow old, and die; a world where we celebrate the cycles of time and renewal, a world where we think ahead to the seventh generation and imagine their lives more or less like our own.  That’s not to say we might not discover a warp drive at some point and pay a visit to Alpha Centauri, but our vision of a positive future need not depend on it.
  2. As progress slows, resource distribution is a zero-sum game.  If progress stops on a global scale, it must stop for everyone, not just the poor and the middle class.  At least some of the anger floating around this nation needs to be directed upward, to question the private jets, the yachts, the mansions, the second and third homes.   We cannot idolize the rich and demonize the poor and disenfranchised and hope to improve our lives.

How can we do these things?  The first is a matter of personal growth, of grieving a belief that no longer matches reality and finding – through community and exploration –worldviews that better match reality.  This will take time, but it will happen: no one can hold a belief in the face of contrary evidence forever.  The second will be more difficult.  Historically, wealth inequality has been addressed by revolution and war, but I am not a fighter nor do I wish to see this happen.  I prefer civil disobedience.  We can create equitable economies in the shadow of the old, growing them until the profit streams dry up and multinational corporations collapse under their own weight.  As HMOs and hospitals drive the cost of care and insurance out of reach, local doctors are opening private practices  – “direct primary care” – that cut out the middlemen and still support themselves while offering care at a fraction of the cost.  More food is beginning to move from local farms to local tables without passing through the chain of distributors of and supermarkets.  More solar panels are appearing on rooftops, bypassing coal mining, gas drilling, and electricity transmission.  The movement toward community-level economies is growing slowly, but I believe it will continue to gain steam as more and more essential services are priced out of reach.   I still have hope.

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Trump: Right problem, wrong solutions

 

I am still struggling to come to terms with Trump’s election last week.  There is a part of me that would like to at least give him a chance to break the economic and political status quo, having been elected with a mandate to do so.  There is another, perhaps more intelligent, part of me that sees him as the ultimate actor, honed by business and reality TV, pretending to overturn the status quo while carefully avoiding the roots of the problem.

As I see it, the majority of the problems facing our country today – wage stagnation, spiraling costs of education and health care, increasing public and private indebtedness, declining quality and durability of goods, decaying infrastructure, increasing homelessness and joblessness, among others – can be traced to one simple reality.  In short, the real economy of goods and services has stopped growing at a meaningful rate.  This has many causes, but it can ultimately be traced back to resource limits, to the fact that human population is approaching (and probably exceeding, over the longer term) our planet’s carrying capacity.  It simply is not possible to continue producing more cars, refining more oil, allowing everyone to purchase bigger houses on more land.  These limits alone could be dealt with; it is perfectly possible for humanity to meet its needs and have an acceptable standard of living in a steady-state economy.

The major problem, or at least the one we can actually address, is that the upper class of society – the top 20% or so – continues to believe in economic growth and continues to see rising incomes.  The “trickle down” policies that supported increased wealth for the upper class on the basis that it would create rising incomes for everyone only work when the economy is growing.  When the economy is stagnant or growing very slowly, as is true now and will be true for much of my lifetime as we face hard limits to growth, then the game becomes zero-sum.  Increased wealth for the upper class means decreased wealth and loss of financial security for the middle and lower classes.

Examples of this zero-sum game abound, but I will list a few of the more obvious ones:

  • Hospitals, medical professionals, and pharmaceutical companies continue to increase their rates well above the rate of inflation, knowing full well that most of their patients cannot afford these rate increases or the resulting hikes in insurance premiums.
  • Universities continue to increase tuition at similar rates, providing both increased compensation and more jobs in their high-paying administrative roles.
  • As investment returns decline (due to a stagnating economy), institutions dependent on endowments maintain their wages and wage growth by charging higher fees to students and clients.
  • Governments borrow from future generations’ Social Security and general funds to cover exorbitant medical costs for retirees.
  • Quality of goods is gradually declining, so even if unit costs remain stable relative to inflation, overall costs increase as appliances, electronics, and household items must be replaced more frequently.

Wages and financial security have been declining for most Americans for some time, but until this last election the political class managed to avoid the issue, focusing instead on distracting Americans with the traditional right vs. left platforms – the wrong problems.  Ignorance is no longer possible, as a growing, angry populist movement is quickly becoming fed up with a government that fails to serve them.  Bernie Sanders arose out of that movement, and so, most unfortunately, did the president-elect Donald Trump.  I’m not sure if Bernie could have defeated Trump, or if he really intended to work toward the right solutions.  I’m sure, however, that Trump has none of the right solutions in mind.

If the problem is growing economic inequality and insecurity in a stagnant economy, here are some of the wrong solutions:

  • Blame illegal immigrants.  Illegal immigrants are not rapists, at least not any more than too many white men are rapists.  They are people in this country looking for a better life.  They are only here because the leaders of our zero-sum economic game have seen a benefit in employing labor at below minimum wage to enrich the upper classes, and the government has turned a blind eye to the practice.  While it is true that the policy of employing illegal immigrants at illegal wages is driving wages down and putting American citizens out of work, the immigrants themselves are not to blame.  If we change the policies allowing corporations to employ illegal workers without risk of prosecution, then the under-the-table jobs will dry up, the flow of illegal immigrants looking for a better life will decrease, and those already here will either seek citizenship to qualify for employment or else return to their countries of origin with whatever resources they have accumulated so far.  This can be done with compassion for the individuals affected, to be sure that true refugees and asylum-seekers are given assistance to become citizens and to make it clear that policies, rather than people living in poverty, are to blame.

 

  • Focus on “radical Islamic terrorism.”  Whatever name we choose to give it, terrorist acts carried out by followers of Islam are a problem, borne out of decades of intervention and “collateral damage” in the homeland of Islam and a religious doctrine that justifies martyrdom and religious violence – no different than some past crusades of Christianity.  The size of this problem is, however, very small: so small as to be a distraction from the real economic problem, though Trump has attempted to tie them together in his rhetoric.  The number of Americans killed in terrorist acts – 9/11 included – pales in comparison to the number of Americans who die each year because they cannot afford medical care, or who commit suicide because they cannot see hope in their futures after struggling for years without getting ahead or even getting out of debt.   The only long-term solution to Islamic terrorism is to cease our interventions in the Middle East for a generation or so while maintaining vigilance against radicalized individuals.  This can be done without alienating Muslims, the vast majority of whom are peaceful, compassionate individuals.  Indeed, the more we as a society accept Islam, the less likely Muslim youth will be to become radicalized, and the more likely the Muslim community will report budding terrorists within their ranks.

All of the right solutions begin with a simple premise.  In a zero-sum game, there is a loser for every winner.  Thus in order to stop the immiseration of the lower and middle classes, we must stop the enrichment of the upper class.  That alone will not be enough, however, as the current economic status of the majority of Americans is tenuous at best.  To really bring wealth back to the working class, we must – gasp – be willing to reduce the wealth of the upper classes.  That means lower returns for stockholders, lower bonuses for CEOs, and lower pay for hospital and university administrators. 

There are ways to accomplish this that would seem anti-capitalist – capping incomes, say, or imposing government limits on bonuses and profits.  There are also ways that would work within a free-market system.  As an example, an aspiring doctor must now obtain a lengthy education incurring deep debt, then seek employment with an accredited hospital system that negotiates arbitrary and ever-increasing rates with very little transparency or public accounting.  A president could offer debt relief to young doctors who set up a private practice with affordable rates.  Or intellectual property laws could be changed such that pharmaceutical patents expire sooner, encouraging competition.  Or anti-trust laws could be enforced to break up mega-corporations formed from endless mergers, encouraging greater competition and lower prices.  Any number of solutions are possible, and I really don’t know which would be the best.  That is a matter for public discourse and debate. 

From what I’ve seen so far of the Trump administration, I don’t expect to see any such discussion.  Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest investment banks, staffed by millionaires who have overseen and benefited from increasing inequality.  Bill Clinton chose a former Goldman Sachs executive as his treasury secretary.  So did George W. Bush.  Obama picked his chief of staff from the company.  So far, Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, is a Goldman Sachs alumnus, and another former company executive is one of two finalists for his treasury secretary.  Trump may be proselytizing to the proletariat about better lives, but he follows in the footsteps of his predecessors on both sides of the aisle when it comes to endorsing the financial system that will continue to enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.  (To be fair, I expected the same financial policy from Hillary, albeit without the scapegoating and hatemongering.)

This could be a long four years, and I fear for those who have been scapegoated by Trump and his supporters, in their wrongheaded hope for a better future.  My only solace is that perhaps we, as a nation, will see through his empty promises and misdirected anger during that time.  Perhaps next time we choose a leader, we will find someone who offers real solutions, who is willing to go against the interests of big corporations, big banks, and wealthy investors and offer solutions that work within a steady-state economy to increase equality and promote financial security for members of all classes.

 

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An open letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

Congratulations on your election.  You certainly surprised me and a great many others here on the west coast.  Normally I am not one to write to leadership, as it seems that positions are deeply entrenched.  You, however, have shown a willingness to modify your positions in response to your constituency.  As a repeal/revamp of the Affordable Care Act is at the top of your priority list, I thought I would offer my perspectives.

First, though, I would ask that you make a public effort to mend the rifts caused by one of the most negative campaigns in history.  Among your supporters there are those who are openly and angrily racist, white supremacist, homophobic, and transphobic.  These people are a small minority of American citizens, but they have felt emboldened by your election to bring their hate into the public sphere.  On behalf of my friends who are black, Muslim, gay, and transgender, I ask that you publicly denounce these people and their behavior.  For better or worse, the haters mostly gave you their votes, but you do not need their support to govern.  Every American has a right to feel safe in this country, and too many have been living in fear since last Tuesday.

With regard to health care, here is my proposal:

  1.  Keep the private insurance companies, at least for now.  The federal government is nearly collapsing under its own weight, and the added bureaucracy involved in federal single-payer health insurance may well be untenable.  I feel that single-payer insurance would be a positive step but that it is best administered at the state level.
  2. Change the individual mandate to an individual incentive, e.g. an additional tax deduction for insured taxpayers rather than a tax penalty.  People like carrots better than sticks, and the effect would be the same in encouraging healthy people to carry insurance.
  3. Standardize risk pooling.  Create a set of criteria that insurance companies may use to set premiums (e.g. age, tobacco use, local cost of care, chosen coverage/deductibles), and require insurance companies to charge equal premiums for equal plans to everyone.  No more special “large group” employer and institution plans with lower premiums and higher benefits.   My car insurance is the same whether I work for Google or run my own farm.  Health insurance ought to work the same way.
  4. Standardize costs of care.  An MRI has a specific cost in terms of labor, equipment, and overhead, and this is the same regardless of the patient.  So an MRI ought to cost, say, $700 for everyone, NOT (as is currently the case) $600 for in-network insurance companies, $900 for out-of-network insurance companies, and $1200 for patients paying out-of-pocket.  With cost standardization, we could greatly increase transparency while eliminating the in-network/out-of-network distinction and allowing (as you have suggested) for insurance companies to provide nationwide coverage and compete across state lines.

Thanks, and best of luck in governing our divided nation.

Sincerely,

Mark Luterra

Corvallis, Oregon

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Thoughts on a worrisome election

Well…this is strange. I never thought I would say the words “President Trump,” and yet it looks like we, as a nation, just made that happen. Never mind that more votes were actually cast for Clinton, which is a reminder that the Electoral College really needs to go away.

I had a fair bit invested in this election, and it feels like my team just lost. Not that I really love Hillary that much. The divides are striking, men vs. women, urban vs. rural, college educated vs. not.

My childhood county of Renville, usually a fairly even partisan split, elected Trump with a 2/3 majority. These are good people. People who cared for my dad during his last days. People who sang and played instruments and studied and competed alongside me in high school and who now have little ones of their own. People who employ illegal immigrants and work alongside them in the fields, who teach English to little Mexican kids.

These good people, and millions like them across the nation, just elected a man who promises to build a wall on the border, to deport all illegal immigrants. A man who is on film talking about grabbing a woman “by the pussy” and who promises to imprison his opponent. A man who says little about love and compassion and caring for one another and much about anger and fear and divisiveness.

There are parts of Trump’s philosophy that I can agree with. If he is to be believed, he will lead us away from our budding brinkmanship with Russia and perhaps free the Syrian conflict from a US-Russian proxy war which is threatening to extend it indefinitely. He will push back against free trade agreements and perhaps lead us away from our current situation where nearly everything we buy is made in China, toward a revitalization of US manufacturing. He might – just might – do something about the ever-rising income inequality that is fomenting economic insecurity and frustration among a majority of Americans. He might begin to tip the balance of power away from multinational corporations and back toward workers and communities.

Unfortunately, I don’t really believe any of these things will happen. Trump is, after all, an extremely wealthy CEO of a multinational corporation. He benefits directly from globalization and the very policies that have gradually immiserated his constituency. He is clever, extroverted, with a knack for saying the right words honed over years of business dealings and reality television. Exactly why underemployed, struggling working class families believe that a wealthy, manipulative CEO is “their man” confuses me to no end, though it is a testament to his power of persuasion.

We need change in this country. We need to bring down the cost of healthcare and education – there is no justifiable reason short of greed and profits why these expenses are rising at double or triple the rate of wage growth. We need to continue building a renewable energy grid that will survive the depletion of oil, natural gas, and eventually coal. We need to recognize that climate change is real (almost every summer is among the hottest on record at this point) and take real steps to address it. We need to overcome our fear of each other and our polarization and recognize that we all want the same things – fair pay for a day’s work, love of friends and family, acceptance within our community and society, enough cash on hand to cover emergencies and retire some day. We need to work together – by whatever means we choose – to ensure that these simple things are within reach of everyone and not denied to those of a particular race, economic class, religion, immigration status, or even to those who have experienced personal hardship or mental health challenges beyond their control.

So…here we are, with a President Trump. He is an outsider, new to politics, riding on a wave of frustration with the gridlocked status quo. He is, I believe, quite malleable. He has a history of changing political parties, changing positions on issues, and saying whatever brings him popularity. As much as I dislike him personally, I think that he will act upon the will of the people if it brings him success and a place in history books. I ask of you, good people of Renville County and everywhere in rural America: now that you have elected this man, let us set aside our anger and divisiveness and remember our love for family, for community, for society. Let us work together to force President Trump to deliver on his better promises and to set aside his anger, his racism, his willingness to use stereotypes to divide us. Let us begin…

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Tombstone Pass hike

This past Saturday we tried a new trail – setting off from Tombstone Pass on Highway 20.  Between the weather and the wildflowers, we had quite a show…

 

 

Final ascent to Iron Mountain summit (5430 ft), in wind and hail at ~40 degrees.

Sunbreak at the top.  It felt like we were on a floating island in the clouds.

 

Rock layers from the heart of an old volcano.

A midwest-esque stormcloud on our way back to Corvallis.  We missed several thunderstorms on our day away.

Elizabeth’s amazing honey cheesecake, served at our birthday potluck/bonfire after our hike.

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