Sunday, December 15, 2013

Photo album: Going Garden, June 2013

I created an album of photos taken by Jasmine van den Heuvel in June 2013, of my old forest garden in Portland. The new owners have changed a few things around in their first year and a quarter:
  • Replaced half to two-thirds of the zone 1 perennial beds with annual beds
  • Removed the double row of failing raspberries near the house and mostly left it open (at least for now?) as a big path
  • Ironically, after we removed the herb spiral which didn't work very well and dug a catchment pond, the new owners filled in the pond and made a little herb spiral in its place
  • Replaced the dead olive in zone 2 and its perennial understory with annuals
  • Replaced a large swath of the former driveway, including a sickly or dead pawpaw circle, with a strawberry mound
  • Planted some new trees: figs on west side of house, pawpaw in back yard
  • Removed the backyard chicken paddock fences
  • Replaced the wood shed in the backyard with a second chicken coop (or run?) next to our original coop


View the album

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Notes on some small seed crops

A few years ago, I sent an email to the Portland Permaculture Guild list with these notes on various small seed crops:

Of the small seeds, fennel seed comes the closest to meeting my overall food forest goals, as a perennial insect nurturing weedy multi-use plant, with seeds providing good calorie yield per square foot. However, it misses my goal of being edible in large quantities; I'm eating about 50 calories per day of it, and don't think I would want to increase that beyond 100-200 at most. Read a more detailed write-up.

Good King Henry works well as a perennial, decently yielding low-maintenance seed crop. But it bears seeds even smaller than quinoa, which require processing to get off the chaff. My limited experiment suggested the labor time:calorie yield is good, making it worthwhile to process them if you're serious about growing your own calories, but it does take a while. GKH seed requires the same sort of soaking as does quinoa, but I don't find that at all time consuming or difficult. I find the cooked seeds hearty and delicious, and everyone else who's sampled them has liked them as well.

Sunflower seeds have a lot of potential, though we've had trouble direct seeding due to slug pressure, and we've consistently failed to harvest and/or process the seed heads in the autumn to actually eat them.

Favas and early peas also have a lot of potential for us in winter-rain Mediterranean climates, though again we've had trouble with slug pressure. Our slug problem also means we've yet to successfully grow, let alone overwinter, scarlet runner beans, but I'd love to get that going as a perennial large-seeded legume.

We tried Lupinus perennis, the perennial lupine from the east coast which native americans supposedly ate. I found that the seedpods ripened unevenly and if I waited too long to harvest, the pods ejected the seeds in the garden while if I harvested too soon, the pods never really opened up to easily release the seeds at all. As a result, I had trouble effeciently separating the small seeds from the pods. And then I had trouble with the soaking process; apparently lupines need thorough leaching to get rid of the bitter toxic alkoloids. If I recall correctly, I followed a method where I scalded the seeds first, then let them soak in cold water for a few days. Many of the seeds swelled up properly, and tasted fine, but enough of the seeds did *not* swell up that they acted as nasty little rock-hard, bitter landmines amongst the deactivated beans. I gave up on these as a human seed crop and transplanted them into the chicken yard.

We've been growing evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) as a root, leaf, flower, and seed crop, but I find the seeds pretty much unusable. They're easy enough to harvest, but they're so tiny that I can't run them through our grain grinder or just sprinkle them on food and expect to crush them up in the course of eating. I have to deliberately eat a pinchful at a time and chew them up really well. Sadly, the seeds have no flavor at all; it's like eating tiny crunchy nothingness. I don't enjoy eating tiny crunchy nothingness, so I've given up on these as a seed crop.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Temperate staple crops: plants (and critters) for a future

In my review of Carol Deppe's annual-based The Resilient Gardener, I expressed disappointment that no one has created a comparable blueprint with perennials. Now that I've moved to Hawaii with its abundance of well-documented perennial crops, I've dramatically eased my own task of synthesizing perennials, animals, and wildlife into production of a low labor, landbase supportive paleodiet. But I still want to see similar systems develop in temperate areas. I can offer some hints and glimmers of hope based on my experiments in Portland, for others to develop further. My previous post, Low-Maintenance Temperate Staple Crops, established a broad framework. This post gives more specific suggestions, heavily biased towards a Pacific Northwest climate with its winter rains and summer drought.

Livestock

Small parcels

  • Most importantly, experiment with ways to integrate small animals such as ducks, chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs into perennial gardens in such a way that the animals benefit the system, require minimal care, and produce high quality eggs & meat.
  • Keep bees for honey for moderate consumption. They'll gather incredible numbers of calories for the space required.
  • If you have a pond, try growing fish, even if just goldfish for slow-growing, very occasional eating by yourself or poultry.

Larger parcels

  • Keep grazers such as geese, sheep, buffalo, and cattle where the land wants to grow grass.
  • Keep browsers such as goats where the land wants to grow trees. Manage them carefully to ensure they don't make the land grow dead trees and sad scrub.

Tree crops

  • Plant nuts. Chestnuts, acorns, english walnuts, black walnuts, filberts, and ginkgos have all proven themselves as reliable abundant croppers in the PNW.
  • Plant fruits & berries. Figure out how much you can realistically eat, and how much is healthy for you.
  • Grow olives if you can, for low-PUFA, oil rich food. Our olives failed to grow, but others in the Portland area have had success. We may not have given our plants good enough drainage.
  • Use the seed kernels from Prunus and other fruit species as bonus seeds for your own or livestock consumption.

Herbaceous seed crops

  • Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus): needs breeding work for increased seed production (larger and/or more seed.) We found it a very low maintenance and tough crop, though we didn't perfect a ground cover situation to eliminate the need for spring weeding. Seed yields never got very high for the land involved - perhaps partly from competition following our neglect in weeding, and partly from inadequate irrigation in the summer.
  • Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus): try growing them as perennials. We never succeeded in growing them well even for the first year (slug pressure?), and the few healthy plants didn't overwinter. Someone in my neighborhood grew them as perennials on the west side of his house for summer shade, so maybe giving them a similar warm microclimate and/or heavily mulching would help. Breeding for hardiness may help. Supposedly you can dig up the roots and store them in a root cellar, then replant in spring.
  • Experiment with recently developed perennial grains for humans (assuming you can digest them OK) and/or animals.
  • Integrate minimal maintenance legumes like overwintered favas and early spring peas (we had minimal success with these - ducks to keep down our slugs may have helped). As with the grains, humans can eat these in moderation if they don't have bad reactions, and/or they can feed livestock.
  • Perennial flax (Linum perenne). We grew this on our ecoroof and got a few seeds the first year. We didn't stay long enough to know whether it produces well once fully established. If not, maybe it could benefit from breeding work. Like its annual relative, perennial flax oil is rich in omega-3, highly beneficial for us and for livestock.
  • Find other perennial seed crops for minor or major production. For example, we found fennel extremely easy to grow and harvest for ourselves and for the chickens, but we could only eat a small amount of seed each day because of its strong flavor. Perhaps a variety of minor seed crops could add up to useful caloric inputs.
  • Breed other perennial legumes for larger or more useful seeds for humans, or just plant them as livestock fodder - Lupinus perennis, Vicia cracca, Vicia americana, black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), pea shrubs (Caragana sp.), and ...?

Root crops

See my notes on perennial and self-seeding roots for more information on specific species: part 1 and part 2.

  • Jerusalem artichokes AKA sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus): Fantastic drought tolerant, persistent, low-to-no-labor abundant yielder. Due to high inulin content, these only work well as a staple crop if you can either:
    • Digest them OK with minimal cooking (many people ferment them).
    • Cook them long enough on a wood stove running in the winter anyway.`
  • Skirret (Sium sisarum): breed for increased root production. We found yields quite reasonable at 1/2 pound/year in good conditions, and 1/4 pound/year in shade or poor soil. We experienced enough variation in yields between different plants to warrant selecting for larger and more roots. Skirret also deserves experimentation with different lengths of multi-year growth before harvest to maximize its potential as a perennial; we generally found the roots larger and less woody if we let the plant grow for two or three years, but never quantified this precisely.
  • Grow mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), oca (Oxalis tuberosa), and yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia) as perennials, deep mulching as needed to overwinter them.
  • Where conditions allow, try aquatic crops like cattail, water chestnut, and wapato.
  • Develop and refine perennial polycultures such as my experiments with skirret/oca/potato and yellow asphodel/oca/lily.
  • Cinnamon vine (Dioscorea batatas): great potential as a no-dig staple carb from its aerial bulbils. Set up on a permanent trellis such that you can lay a tarp or sheet under the vines to easily collect lots of bulbils at once.
  • Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides): summer available root with mild flavor from an aggressive ground cover. May work well under jerusalem artichoke.
  • Yellow asphodel (Asphodeline lutea): summer-available root adapted to summer drought and intercropping well with many other plants. Try to breed it for larger roots (perhaps at the expense of its flowering, which though beautiful and providing tasty nibbles presumably diverts a lot of energy from the roots.)
  • Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica): experiment with how long to leave in the ground without having to dig too deep for the taproot. I tended to dig the top foot or so of the root, but snapped it off and lost it below that point. Experiment with replanting a portion of the tops instead of needing to resow from seed. I have successfully transplanted individuals with 6-12" of root, but suspect you could plant even less, and therefore get to eat more.
  • Asiatic lily (Lilium sp): I assume Asian growers bred these over thousands of years to select for larger bulbs from these gourmet crops. Seek out varieties with maximum food yield instead of showiest flower.
  • Camas (Camassia sp.): Another inulin rich root, requiring experimentation in a solar cooker to evaluate as a summer staple root. Otherwise it may not be justifiable due to the large amount of fuel required to make it digestible.
  • Garlic (Allium sativum): pseudo-staple (since you can only eat so much of it per day.) Super easy to grow and supposedly high in calories per pound, though I wonder whether the high inulin content means we don't actually digest all the calories.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Low-Maintenance Temperate Staple Crops

During my last two years in Portland, I began focusing on calorie crops, those which can actually provide substantial daily energy. I wanted to create a perennial polyculture analog to the annual-based system described in Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener. My criteria for a crop included being regenerative for the earth, healthy for humans to eat, low maintenance, able to be consumed in fairly large quantities, and providing decent yields. I didn't get far enough in my research and experiments to say anything conclusive, but I can share a few findings. For the purposes of my harvest logs and for my Self Sufficient Diet drafts (temperate and tropical), I organized foods into categories, presented here from most to least valuable for these purposes.

Animal Products

Ideally, we can convince chickens, bees, and other livestock to spend their copious free time eating food of low value to humans, then eat them and their eggs, meat, milk, and honey. In a well designed system, our critters self-harvest, according to their preferences: small seeds, bugs, grass & other leaves, and pollen & nectar. This maximizes our efficiency, and provides us with some of the healthiest human food possible.

Calories per pound: Eggs - 650, Meat - 525, Milk - 300, Honey - 1400
Black walnut

Nuts

Nut trees can provide easy, reliable oil-rich seeds year after yaer. The fact that it takes a decade to start getting big yields just means we need to plant them *now*. And of course we can underplant developing nut trees with faster growing crops to use the space in the early years. Besides the usual nuts, oaks for acorns should get some attention. Oikos Tree Crops has some interesting naturally dwarfish seedlings which could fit much more easily into urban & suburban yards.

Possible nuts include walnut (black & english), butternut, filbert, chestnut, ginkgo, acorn, almond, pistachio, pecan, hickory, and pine. Many of these can be foraged easily.

Note that paleodiet circles warn against excess consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA); most oil-rich nuts have high levels of PUFAs. I'm still trying to sort through this issue for myself.

Calories per pound: About 900 for chestnuts, 1800 for ginkgo, and 2700-3300 for the more oily nuts.
Good King Henry seed heads

Small Seeds

Though most of these work best as self-harvested livestock fodder, some may yield abundantly enough and process easily enough to be worth harvesting ourselves. Possible species include good king henry, fennel, Amaranthus sp, Chenepodium sp, perennial grains, dock, perennial flax, sunflower seeds, squash seeds, and various legumes including peas, favas, runner beans, and Carol Deppe's breeds adapted to the Willamette Valley. Not all will be palatable in large enough quantities to truly serve as staple crops: for example, fennel. But we should definitely explore those that do meet all three criteria of good yields, efficient harvest & process, and non-overwhelming flavor.

Calories per pound: around 1600
Mulberries & Serviceberries

Fruits & Berries

Everyone loves nature's candy, and the existing permaculture literature does a great job giving species options and describing how to grow them -- perhaps to an excessive extent, to the detriment of other important calorie crops. I found that I could eat about one pound of fruit per day, and half a pound of berries. Though I could probably push myself to eat more, Sébastien Noël of Paleodiet Lifestyle suggests limiting fructose intake to 50g/day, meaning no more than about 1 1/2 pounds of fruit and berries per day assuming no other sugars (including honey.)

Calories per pound: About 300 for fruits, 200 for berries
Mashua

Roots

Perennial, low maintenance root crops provide a moderately dense calorie crop. I found that I could eat about one pound per day, so they only provided a supplement to daily total calorie intake. Greatly increasing this intake may result in too many carbs for a healthy diet.

Root crops, of course, have the inherent ecological and labor drawback of requiring digging, but appropriate polycultures can mitigate some of the disadvantages.

My notes on perennial roots: part 1 and part 2

Calories per pound: around 300

Winter Squash

Though annuals, these don't require much soil disturbance considering how much space they take up at maturity, and can self-seed themselves (though we may have undesirable results from uncontrolled crossing.) while summer squash have the calorie density and uses of other vegetables, winter squash occupies a gray zone between calorie crop and vegetable. I can eat a lot of it in one sitting, but it has fewer calories than roots or fruits (but more than most other vegetables). It has more nutrients than many staple crops. It yields abundantly when happy, and stores well into the winter without processing. Unfortunately, its season of availability coincides with the primary availability of the super easy perennial roots, somewhat diminishing its staple crop value. Still, it adds diversity to the winter meal options, and can definitely provide a substantial number of calories.

Calories per pound: around 200
Goumi

Bonus Seed Kernels

We can eat the seeds from many fruits, giving us a small calorie-dense bonus. Species include all Prunus species (cherry, plum, peach, etc), Elaeagnus sp (goumi, autumn olive, silverberry), Cephalotaxus sp, and grapes. With the exception of almonds, a Prunus, no one grows any of these specifically for the seed kernels, but they're worth utilizing if we have them anyway! I used to eat some myself, and fed some to our chickens.

Calories per pound: guessing 1500-2500

Greens & Other Vegetables

Though not calorie crops, these add important nutrients to the diet. I found it very easy to meet our needs of 4 oz/day/person from perennial greens, shoots, stalks, and flowers.

Calories per pound: about 100

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lost in the Food Forest: rampant growth in Portland

I sent this email years ago to the Portland Permaculture Guild, offering some tips and discoveries from our experiments with dense interplantings in zones 1 and 2:

In zone 1 we have a pretty easy time keeping growth balanced as part of the once or twice daily gathering of greens for salad and omelets, plus occasional dedicated large-scale whack-backs.

Prune/whack ruthlessly where needed. Leave in place as mulch wherever you can.

Designate your paths, at least 2' for main access routes, at least 1.5' for keyhole paths. The plants will invade the paths no matter what, so don't be afraid to make the paths "too big"; you can decrease the frequency and/or severity of your whack-backs if you find you don't mind the plants taking up some of the path. If you make the paths too small you'll guarantee an unpleasant walk through the garden and/or increased maintenance.

Place plants far enough from the paths that they don't interfere.  It can be difficult to determine spacing for perennial veggies based on book data alone; we find that tall plants may fall over into the path after summer rains since they haven't grown up accustomed to the weight of water. I used to want to plant a 3' wide plant (based on book data) exactly 1.5' back from the path to maximize the plant packing. But I now think you need to give a large buffer - maybe 2.5' from the path, and fill in the gap between the large plant and the path with a low-growing plant. You can easily trample the low-grower if it exceeds its allotted space. This makes for easier harvesting anyway--you can reach the large plant in the middle of the bed, and the small plant(s) at the edges.

It's OK to plant the plants more closely together inside the bed--they'll work things out if they crowd or fall onto each other. So I would place two plants with expected 3' maximum width 3' apart from each other. Dedicated trample-tolerant very low-growing ground covers help delineate the path, keep bed plants from spreading into the path, and can fix nitrogen, accumulate nutrients, etc. We're having good success with:
  • prostrate bird's food trefoil (Lotus corniculatus plena)
  • "Treneague" variety chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • what I think is dutch white clover (Trifolium repens)
  • Pacific silverweed (Potentilla anserina)
Those cute little squash volunteers that look so harmless in late spring will take over 6' or more in every direction if you let them grow. Don't, unless you're really OK with it. Similarly, be realistic that squashes you deliberately plant will want lots of space.

Give climbing plants something to climb, or be aware that they will sprawl across the ground. Tomatoes, squashes, beans/peas/groundnuts/hog peanuts, and mashua will all sprawl if they don't find vertical supports. Some of them will sprawl anyway, and require deliberate guidance to minimize horizontal spread.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Crisis: Personal & Planetary

I just experienced the worst, and weirdest, illness of my life. I went from fully healthy to not breathing in a week and a half. It began with some headaches, double vision, acute hearing sensitivity, and fatigue, which prompted me (with Jasmine's insistent and wise encouragement) to check in to the emergency room in Hilo. As my condition deteriorated, they decided to fly me to a Honolulu hospital on the island of Oahu, where they found encaphalitis (brain swelling) and brain lesions. The next day, I stopped breathing so they intubated me, sticking a tube down my throat to keep the air flowing.

The doctors sent out more than 70 tests, but everything came back negative, so the cause of all this remains a mystery. They hit me with antibiotics, antivirals, and steroids to carry out a broad-spectrum attack against the mystery, and something seems to have worked. My brain swelling and lesions have decreased, and after a little over a week in the hospital followed by a week of rehab I can walk and do most tasks well enough to feel confident about my release today back to the jungle.

As I understand it, times of personal crisis are supposed to prompt deep self-reflection and reevaluation of life. Interestingly, my experience leaves me thinking I'm more or less right where I want to be, doing what I want to do. As I wondered whether I would die or be left permanently incapacitated in some manner, my biggest concerns revolved around the effect on my resistance work. My own human life doesn't matter much in the big picture, but the earth sure as hell needs every one of us fighting for her with as much commitment and energy as we can bring. I've positioned myself in a wonderfully low-maintenance and healthy lifestyle, requiring less than 20 hours a week to meet my basic needs in an environment I enjoy. This leaves me a lot of free time to devote to activism, mostly tech work for Deep Green Resistance, and possibly some local campaigns as well.

Time is short, so I'd better make the most of whatever time I have.   Will you join me?


Thursday, June 20, 2013

From Subsistence to Resistance

I cried today. Not once, not twice. Maybe I cried eight times. I'm not even sure how to separate one cry from the next, when my heart carries sadness and anger in waves from peak to ebb, ebb to peak.

The exact number doesn't matter.

I'm not used to crying. As a male, socialized into masculinity, I learned to suppress grief and most other strong emotions at an early age. I remember the last time I cried in front of my mother, at perhaps 12 or 13 years old. I don't remember why I cried, but I do remember (and this is why I remember) my guilt and shame around breaking down in such a way, mixed into my sadness and into the comfort I received from her. I haven't cried much since then.

I can give an easy proximate cause for today's release: two heart-wrenching movies. But I need to explore some background for it to really make sense.

 

Portland

Many of you already know about my years living in Portland, where, after an initial period of frustrating and ineffective involvement in national and local politics, my then-partner and I embarked on a path of "disconnecting from civilization." We aimed to develop the practical skills necessary to eventually move to land, create a "tribe" of close-knit community members, and establish self-sufficient subsistence via homesteading and hunting & gathering. I learned how to integrate some of my "waste" products of humanure, greywater, and kitchen scraps into my food system. I learned enough basic construction to build simple shelters. I planted food forests and a perennial vegetable garden to learn how to feed myself efficiently while creating wildlife habitat and sequestering carbon. I learned about those other cohabitants of our landbase, and even learned to listen to them in my attempts to understand the non-civilized world. I played with "rewilding" crafts skills. I talked with three successive groups of potential tribe-mates, and learned some of the difficulties of communication, of connection, of finding shared purpose, of resolving conflict.

At the same time, I engaged with the larger community, trying to share what I was learning and inspire others to disconnect, in part or whole, from the destructive systems of industrial civilization. I offered free tours and presentations and classes, blogged more (or less!) frequently to document my experiments and findings, and provided edible and useful plants and seeds at low cost. I was something of a "food activist", specializing in advocacy of perennial polycultures.

And at the same time, I knew it wasn't enough: neither my own personal withdrawal, nor sharing my skills and encouraging others to move towards true sustainability. I couldn't escape the reality and the challenge presented most eloquently by Derrick Jensen: the culture of civilization is insane and intent on destroying everything on this planet, and it will not voluntarily stop. Withdrawal and teaching are both legitimate responses to the threats of social, economic, and environmental instability, but are inadequate without forming a serious resistance movement to halt civilization.

Although I knew at some point I would need to take part in some form of resistance, I tucked that goal away. I rationalized that I needed to focus on getting myself and a tribe into a stable position on land of our own before I could put energy into addressing the big picture, long-term struggle.

 

Hawaii

After years of preparing to jump from city to rural living, I finally moved to Hawaii last August. But not only had our third hope at pulling together a like-minded community dissolved, but I had broken up with my partner of all those years. I did have a new girlfriend, an acquaintance and then friend of several years, but we were new to each other as romantic partners.

We moved here with the idea of buying land in 6-12 months, developing a homestead, and building a community, which I assumed would keep me busy for several years. I had vague visions of sharing my knowledge and skills as in Portland, but not until I'd learned enough about this new tropical environment to have something worth sharing. I imagined us creating low-tech, truly sustainable lifestyles (or rather, recreating - Hawaiians had all this figured out before western invasion 200 years ago.) We would demonstrate to people the satisfaction, enjoyability, and practicality of living car-free, growing your own food in perennial polycultures, and paring down to perhaps one computer, one cell phone, and a solar panel without toxic batteries


But something funny happened about five months in. I felt increasingly dissatisfied with my priority of pursuing radical simplicity as quickly as possible. We'd achieved food self sufficiency (more or less) within a month of arriving, learned most of the basics we'd need to design a functional homestead, gone car-free, lived on a fairly small solar electricity budget, done 90% of our cooking over fire for a few weeks, done laundry by hand, taken cold showers, lived without refrigeration, and all in all gotten within spitting distance of sustainability. It turns out to take a lot of time and sometimes gets downright boring!

For a couple of years I've had the lesson of Scott Middlekauf's "A Word of Caution for the Permaculture Enthusiast" in the back of my mind: that after years of developing his homestead he realized that his goal in life is not to develop a homestead; rather, he'd been developing his homestead to support him in whatever he really wants to do with his life. Arriving as close as we did to self sufficiency, as quickly and relatively easily as we did, forced me to confront my own weighting of values: "lifestyle purity" vs using "good enough" as a support base to carry out my actual life goals. I now felt confident enough that we can adopt the necessary lifestyle changes down the line when we have to adapt to changing world circumstances. In the meantime, the use of compromising technologies and conveniences in the present would allow me to move ahead with my higher priority goals.

I started reading the latest projections of climate change, which terrified me; everything is spinning out of control faster than almost anyone expected. I got up to date on the actions those in power are taking to deal with the crisis, which all boil down to finding new ways to profit. I reread Deep Green Resistance by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Aric McBay, and was struck again by their well thought out and feasible plan - the only realistic response I've seen to stopping the destruction. They recognize that begging those in power to change their ways has never succeeded, and that far from being transformed by people "being the change they wish to see", the dominant culture has brutally crushed every sustainable culture it's encountered - we're talking about cultures extant for thousands of years and waaay groovier than even the most spiritual hippie permaculture commune you can imagine.

They lay out a strategy of simultaneously dismantling industrial civilization (primarily through underground activists sabotaging and disrupting critical industrial infrastructure), while networking aboveground activists to rebuild local alternative systems to take over as the global systems collapse (which will occur, sooner or later, whether or not an underground accelerates that collapse.)  I began checking the Deep Green Resistance News Service page almost daily, reading all the linked stories and absorbing the ongoing expansion of global domination and the courageous pockets of resistance fighting back here and there.

Finally, in April, I joined Deep Green Resistance to actively engage in this struggle as a member of the aboveground, and am feeling simultaneously excited, proud, in love, scared, and uncertain. Excited and proud because I'm directing my energy to something so important. In love because even though I barely know them, I feel so much love for my fellow members in DGR, and for its allies, putting their time and energy and passion and money into this shared struggle for Beautiful Justice and thousands of new, sustainable cultures emerging from thousands of landbases (or just being left alone where they already exist). Scared because of the consequences if we fail. (Time Is Short.) And uncertain because I'm new to resistance and don't know how best to apply myself.

In part to address that uncertainty, I've been educating myself - about radical feminism, about racism, about indigenous struggle, about historical and contemporary resistance. Which brings me back to my crying.

So much of what I'm reading and hearing and watching is heartbreaking. I remember crying many years ago as I read Dee Brown's classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, one of the only such memories until I go all the way back to that childhood moment with my mother. I cried several times in more recent years reading Derrick Jensen's books. I cried three months ago when I read about the Russian prisoner of war "Sasha" who helped lead a successful mass escape from the German death camp at Sobibor, only to be thrown later into a gulag by Stalin. I cried two months ago watching Escape From Sobibor, the dramatization of that breakout. I cried three weeks ago listening to a Feminist Current podcast of Jackie Lynn's account of abusive grooming for eventual prostitution. I cried two weeks ago reading Patrizia Romito's A Deafening Silence and its analytic yet human exposure of the denial around male violence against women. I cried yesterday hearing about the extinctions of Hawaii birds that have occurred within my short lifetime, and the likely forced death march of several more before my own life is through.
Po'ouli, extinct as of 2004

 

Today

And of course, I cried today. I watched two movies: Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, and If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. I didn't expect either one to affect me as it did. Perhaps I primed myself to be ripped apart by Kanehsatake by reading Vine Deloria Jr's Custer Died for Your Sins and watching American Holocaust over the past week. More likely it would have happened anyway. The film, comprised almost entirely of on-the-ground footage in the thick of the action, shows the 1990 resistance of the Mohawk people of the Kanehsatake village to a planned seizure of their traditional land, disturbance of their cemetary, and the destruction of ancient pines to build new luxury housing and expand a golf course.

With amazing clarity and starkness, the film depicts the brute application of force against an already oppressed people; outright disregard for human rights; the repression of journalistic freedom; and soldiers and commanders and mayors "only following orders" and displacing responsibility for their roles in the violent violations. But it also depicts the strong spirit of the Mohawks and their allies, a resistance culture formed from longtime bonds of family and tribe, an integration of women and warriors and chiefs and children and spiritual leaders, unbridled expressions of anger and grief and love, a sense of humor, and an ironclad will to stand up to and fight back against injustice that I've never experienced in my white middle class life.

If a Tree Falls felt less intense. It's a more distanced documentary of interviews and vignettes centered around former Earth Liberation Front member Daniel McGowan as he awaits trial in 2007 for his role in multiple arsons of the property of environmentally destructive corporations (the original ecoterrorists.) I'd heard bits and pieces about his case, and those of the other defendants in the Operation Backfire roundup, but this filled in a lot of important detail, and made it all very human and real. The film drew me in and had me anxiously awaiting, with Daniel, the results of his trial. I'd already idealogically supported him and other ELFers, but I gained specific respect for this man who not only put his life on the front line, desperately trying to stop the ongoing horrors of industrial civilization after the approved political routes had failed, but stuck to his commitment not to turn state evidence against his comrades (even as most of them turned on each other and on him.) I broke down a couple more times watching his vilification and harsh sentencing.

I don't know what's happening to me, exactly. I've never reacted much to traditional tear-jerker emotion-manipulating films (usually about when I notice that I'm feeling something, I also notice the new musical score deliberately orchestrated to make me feel that something.) But the films I saw today are real. I guess I've opened myself up more and more to reality, to looking directly at the ongoing atrocities committed by the dominant culture. It's not as bad as one might expect; the grief hasn't led to despair, the anger hasn't led to some all-consuming directionless and distracting rage. To effectively resist, I need to operate from a realistic assessment of the situation - how others have resisted and succeeded or failed and why, how those in power have struck back against resistance and how they have succeeded or failed and why. I can handle the grief and anger; they're releasing and healing and authentic.

To misquote Steve Forbert: it feels good to feel again. I plan to continue.