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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.