slow glowing » glowing, slowly

“sustainable hedonism”

(i put this in my mouth, ants and all. it was delicious.)

(monday was kyle’s birthday.)

(a mistake was made with some of the hives some number of weeks or months ago. this is part of the damage. in a couple of weeks a local bee expert is coming out to teach us how to set it right and give our bees some love. that’s how it’s written on the big calendar in the bunkhouse: “bee luv.”)

* oh my goodness i am so full of delicious food. last nights’s dinner: lentil and chickpea patties, fresh baked naan, sauteed chard in a creamy goat milk and butter sauce, raw hummus made from sprouted chickpeas, and AMAZING goat cheese. we made the goat cheese monday and tuesday. we split it into three batches and added rosemary to one, red and black pepper to the next, and garlic, green onions, and thyme to the last. yummmm.

* my hands are tingly. yesterday i worked with soupy; we destroyed a cob bench in the back of the greenhouse (pick ax and shovel), sifted out the gravel from the foundation (shovel and bare hands), troubleshooted the kitchen/bunkhouse greywater system, and dug out the system’s gravel trench in order to widen it and replace the gravel (with gravel from the cob bench!). it was a full and satisfying day. and i need to get my hands on some well-fitting work gloves.

* i really like being here. it feels right to have dirt under my fingernails, to listen all night to the rain fall on the tarp over my tent, to watch the chickens run around the garden, to push heavy wheelbarrows up and down the paths. (i am also pretty excited to have the day off today, and to drive over mt tam and then over the bay to berkeley for the weekend in a couple days.)

the meat chicken

when i got here, there were five very young meat chickens sharing the coop with the two dozen or so laying hens (and one rooster) who spend their days clucking around the garden. when i say meat chickens, i mean the kind of chickens bred to be eaten—designed to fatten up and be killed in eight weeks, sorta top-heavy for big juicy breasts and thighs, and with patchy feathers for easier postmortem plucking. now there is one, with a small bloody puncture wound in her side.

the chicks were encouraged to stay in the coop, under their heat lamp. when the last round of farm homies trained us, they suggested that if we saw one outside the coop, we should put it back in. i guess the chicks were donated by someone, which makes me feel better about the whole thing—i mean that a place like this didn’t seek out chickens who aren’t supposed to do happy chicken things.

the first three were killed a couple days ago, sometime in the morning, after the chickens had been let out of their coop but before they’d been let out of their larger enclosure to free-range in the garden and meadow for the afternoon. we all assumed that some predator, a fox or a raccoon or something, had gotten them. then the fourth died, again during the day, with a bloody puncture wound in its side, and we started suspecting the other hens. (one of the first three was more mangled when it was found, but it may have been attacked by another animal after it was hurt or killed by the hens.) when i say we, i mean the general buzz in the community here. i am a little unclear on what exactly happened in what chronological order. i know the remaining chick(s) started spending the day in a little chicken wire cage inside the chicken enclosure (with food, water, and heat lamp) and their night(s) in the chicken coop with the other chickens.

at the end of every day, just before or at sunset, the chickens gather in their coop, and we close the gate to their enclosure and the door to the coop. last night, the last few chickens were still milling about the enclosure when we closed the gate, so the door to the coop was left open until a little bit after dark, when someone went down to shut it. this morning, the last chick was found underneath the coop, with a spot of blood on her side, still alive. seems like the hens kicked it out of the coop last night before the door was closed. she was carried in a box to the kitchen, where i watched her for a few minutes while jason set up her little cage in the greenhouse, a warm place far from the other hens.

i hadn’t really thought a whole lot about the whole thing before jason asked me to watch the chick for a moment, but i stood in the pantry with her and stroked her feathers and she peeped and preened and was a suffering animal, just like the rest of us.

i don’t know what will become of her, if she’ll survive in isolation, if she’ll grow up to be eaten or if she’ll end up in the compost like the others. i have no conclusions.

have i mentioned that it’s outta control beautiful here?

* there’s a big beautiful redwood tree behind the kitchen. i climbed it the other day. i stood on top of a cooler at the base for a few minutes with my hands on the lowest branch and then i jumped up and got my belly and then one knee over the branch. i didn’t climb very high, but next time i’ll climb higher, and the time after that i’ll climb higher still.

* there are several shelves in the pantry stacked with mason jars full of preserves of all sorts… jams and sauces and chutneys. they were made months ago by folks who are no longer here to enjoy them. in our time here, we’ll eat them and we’ll make more, for the people who are here after us.

* yesterday was poop day! we use composting toilets here, rather than waste precious water (i mean right now all our tanks are overflowing and there is plenty falling from the sky, but just wait until late summer) and human resources (installing and maintaining that kind of plumbing) to send our waste to treatment plants where it’ll be added to various chemicals and eventually pumped into the ocean.

the toilets are emptied into ~50 gallon bins, and when enough of those fill up—and the previous round’s pile has done it’s thing for long enough—they all get trucked (or, more accurately, tractored) down to the piles that have been built for them… poop day! this happens about every three months. there are currently 16 full-time residents here, and lots of folks come through rdi for workshops, classes, etc.—lots o’ poop. yesterday we emptied 19 bins. we shoveled out a pile that had been goin’ for six months or so and no longer at all resembled human waste matter, and replaced it with our new pile. the older compost will be left in a big heap to “cure” for a while longer.

the piles are bordered by stacked straw bales for insulation and containment, and straw is sometimes added in layers to the pile itself if the carbon-nitrogen ratio is off. (the waste already contains toilet paper and wood shavings or saw dust, which toilet users add by the handful after they’ve done their duty. happy little bacteria get to work immediately, and the toilets are non-stinky.) the size and c-n ratio make the pile get hot. california regulations say that ~130 degrees for 3 days is enough to kill pathogens, so we’ve got a thermometer in there and we’re monitoring it to make sure we get that.

rdi has only been using this particular humanure method (which is joseph jenkins’, of the humanure handbook—he uses this method for waste management at large festivals and events!) for less than a year, so the resulting compost hasn’t been used on anything yet. though it will theoretically be safe to use just like you’d use any compost (i.e. on annual vegetables, etc), i think folks here do feel a wee bit weirded out by the idea of it. it will probably be used on perennials and trees. and the humanure composting process will have turned our waste into a resource.

* harvested, weeded, prepped a bed today. was planted in tatsoi, a sorta-spicy asian green; will be planted in strawberries! later in the day we all stood around a counter outside stripping the best leaves off the tatsoi; we filled two enormous mixing bowls. we’ll be eating it for a few days.

hippie camp

last friday A bought a car from a friend of his and named it bikey junior. (bikey senior is, of course, his bike. bikey junior is quite a few years older than bikey senior. details, details.) on tuesday afternoon we drove bikey junior to the oakland airport to pick up a woman named tori, and then we drove across the richmond–san rafael bridge and through the woods in marin county. found the unmarked turn to bolinas and arrived at commonweal gardens just a few minutes before the last light of the day disappeared. A stayed for dinner and then we reverse-engineered the directions we used so he could find his way home to berkeley again.

i live here now. i am one of eight work-traders (a.k.a. farm homies) who will be living, learning, and working here until the end of the august. i have been here for three days. they have been PACKED. my brain is full. i imagine that soon my muscles will be sore. i am not sure where to begin and i am TIRED, so here are some small bites of the big meal i’ve been cooking and eating (and soon, growing).

* goats will mistake their reflection in the side of cars for other goats and headbutt them. haven’t witnessed this, but penny’s car i guess is a little banged up. we have to make sure the goats stay on the other side of the fence.

* kyle knows lots about wild and native edibles, so every once in awhile he’ll hand us pieces of plants and we’ll stick them in our mouths and then ask, “so what was that?”

* owls hoot and frogs sing all night.

* we are totally off the grid as far as water goes. we are also at the top of our watershed—or near the top, and above us is all national park land. this land is leased from the national park system, in fact. anyway, we’ve been shown the springbox and the filters and the tanks and the piping and the shut-off valves. later in my time here we’ll be running pipe from a pond in the next valley over to the east in order to make water a little less tight at the end of the dry season.

* the other day we walked from the farm through pasture and along the stream to the ravine where it drops down to the ocean—the other end of the watershed. we walked along the foggy cliffs above the sea. i found a piece of raccoon jaw.

more more MORE soon. and i’m going to start taking photos.

where is freedom?

so i’ve been trying to write this zine thing since march about life post-graduation and spiraling possibilities and love and struggling and bikes and everything else, and the amount of stuff i want to say keeps getting bigger and bigger, and the content of the stuff i want to say keeps getting more and more varied, and if i ever get around to finishing the thing it is going to be less a zine and more a manuscript–a messy, badly-organized, imperfect manuscript. which is cool, but not really what i’m going for, and i think the whole project is getting too big and/or ridiculous for its britches. with that in mind–well, that and some other stuff–i want to go ahead and share one of the biggest (and first) chunks of writing i did for my zine thing. it’s a narrative of the time i spent in spain while i was backpacking through europe last november and december. with some photos for your enjoyment!

thing is, that question and its various cousins (what is freedom? how is freedom?) have become the defining questions of this stage in my life, and i admit that, though i recognize life’s tendency to surprise, from my current perspective i am expecting the freedom question to be The Question that my life is in some way lived as an answer to. since it’s important to me, i’d like to start exploring the question with words and such more deliberately than i have been (’cause so far it’s mostly been tipsy conversations with friends and rephrasing the question a thousand ways). this is how i’m starting. i thought about adding a blog tag for “freedom” and then realized, naw, it’s all about that. so.

in my zine thing, i planned to preface spain with this brief summary of my whole trip:

on halloween i got on a plane with my turquoise boots, my winter coat, a backpack full of clothes and a eurail pass.

in England i walked all day through fields and forests and over fences to reach Stonehenge as the sun was setting.

in Ireland i danced with D. to an irish band playing “sweet home alabama.” we made cheese crepes and drank murphy’s stout. i slept on his floor.

in the Netherlands we got really excited about bikes, hitchhiked from amsterdam to den haag, found friends and smoked on a windy beach.

in Belgium we ate waffles and sat around in train stations, mostly.

in France we walked everywhere in paris. later, i celebrated thanksgiving on the riviera with pumpkin pie, m&m cookies, wine, baguettes, guinea fowl, an old friend and a dozen europeans. i reread candide and thought about “il faut cultiver notre jardin.” i stood alone on a bridge over the loire just after dawn. back in paris, the eiffel tower disappeared into fog and i disappeared into art museums.

in Spain i found the question but not the answer.

in Germany they plugged in christmas lights everywhere the day i arrived, and i drank gluhwein and rode the u-bahn and made soup. i talked for hours over hot chocolate with a stranger i will never see again.

in the Czech Republic i made myself sick eating trdelnik, which i never learned to pronounce.

in Austria i imagined walking down wide cobblestone viennese streets in my winter coat, snow drifting gently downwards past the streetlights. instead, it rained and i missed home. on the train to salzburg, i stared at the snow-buried countryside and came back to myself.

and spain went like this:

1.

D. and i are a funny story, but it doesn’t matter. i hug him goodbye and give him my map of paris. it’s folded all wrong and falling apart at the seams. i’m off to barcelona and D.’s holiday is over later that evening, but he’s going to make the most of his afternoon. he’s good at making the most of things. i stare out the window and wonder whether i’ll be able to tell from looking that we’re in spain when we cross the border. across the aisle, two american backpackers sip water out of bottles bearing the insignia of the swiss hostel those girls in amsterdam who taught me how to roll a cigarette told me about. they scribble diligently in their thick, black-bound journals. mine’s got a magritte print on the cover, a home lit from inside, viewed through dark trees. i scribble some notes, mostly about D., a little about my boyfriend back home, a few requisite sentences about the tuileries, the pyramid of the louvre, the dirty seine.

part of me is already lonely. there’s a group of english-speaking kids somewhere in front of me and i can hear them laughing. but i’m staring out the window counting yellow houses. i haven’t seen a yellow house since i left portland. i like spain already, and we’re only in the south of france. barcelona, it turns out, is full of things i haven’t seen since portland: pierced boys with dreadlocks and dogs and tropical fruit juice smoothies. i can’t find the subway station–an american girl living in the city helps me out, takes me all the way to the street at my stop, points me in the right direction—and suddenly i’m staring up at gaudi’s casa battlo. in the darkness of the night, artificial light shines through the balconies’ eyes staring back at me. i trudge to my hostel a block down the street and climb the wide, spiraling staircase in simple awe.

the gaudi buildings are really pretty boring on the inside, except for la sagrada familia, which completely blows my mind. but that’s later. first, there’s americans. i meet one, P., at my hostel. he’s from seattle and we talk about the northwest. he’s been traveling longer than i have. i spend a morning walking up montjuic with him and another american guy and an australian girl. all of them are the kind of backpacker i like to think i’m not, who talk about countries in terms of what they drank there. maybe i’m being unfair. the four of us together are louder than i’ve been in days and it starts to hurt my inner ears. the view from here is unbalancing, but beautiful. the sun and (relative) heat float above barcelona, hazy and translucent. it’s mid-november and i’m in a t-shirt. i can see the mediterranean from here. i keep thinking “this would be just as beautiful if i were alone,” and so when they descend towards the ocean, i head another direction to stare at paintings by jean miro and repeat their titles over and over in my head until they make some kind of sense. in french, if possible. i try to look as un-american as possible.

2.

P. and i are in a crowded tapas place. i’m increasingly tipsy and refilling my wine glass. alone is one thing when you’re on a hill looking out over the whole world, and another when you’re down in it in the fading evening, passing bars and restaurants full of friends boisterously greeting one another. so this morning i wrote an email to G. 5000 miles away: “wish you were here to eat tapas with me”–and there was P. at breakfast, wishing me a good morning. “hey,” i said, “you wanna get tapas with me tonight?” we made plans to meet at 6. we’re laughing and talking about the home we share–the beautiful, lush, green pacific northwest (where surely it is raining; today in barcelona i walked barefoot on the sandy beach) and he tells me why his face is crooked. something about a fight; i don’t remember but i know he was the good guy. “before i went into surgery i asked them to make me look like brad pitt.” he grins sideways. “i got this instead.” i giggle and flush, sip my wine. i feel awkward and fill my glass again. he suggests gelato for dessert. “oh!” i say. “let’s get gelato and walk on the beach!” then, for the hundredth time today, i think, shit. is this a date?

my gelato is delicious. the beach is chilly but the sand feels so good between my toes. i walk close to the surf; P. walks next to me. what are we talking about? he tries to put his arm over my shoulders. i shrug it off self-consciously. how did i get here? it’s the best night i’ve had in ages and i’m mucking it all up trying to be friends with this guy instead of just letting the wine and the ocean and him get the best of me. we should be making out right now, these things are telling me. i curl my sandy toes and think about my boyfriend. i refused D.’s bed for him last week in ireland, and i will refuse this boy now. i wade ankle-deep in the sea. P. puts his arms around me again. “wanna go for a swim??” he asks, half-lifting me. “haha, no, let go!” i giggle, but he doesn’t let go. for a moment i despair, utterly. i wish we could be comfortable, strangers in a strange land together, rejoicing in it; just that, nothing more. i think about how i’ve wondered all evening how to mention my boyfriend without making things a worse kind of uncomfortable. i don’t mention him. “seriously, let go of me,” i repeat. he does. i move away from the sea. we walk on, back towards our hostel, where, meeker, he tells me he had a great time. i did too, truly. i step into the bathroom with my toothbrush and close the door.

3.

i’m on a night train bound for granada, 11 hours away from barcelona. why granada? i don’t know. i went to the train station earlier today, showed my eurail pass to the man at the counter and asked for a ticket to paris. “no trains to paris, there is a strike.” he said. i’d guessed as much—”a ticket for granada, then, por favor.” he nodded and handed it to me. granada sounds nice. i don’t know anything about it. on the train, two japanese girls are asking me, do you have tickets for alhambra already, like us? alhambra? i wonder if this is some word that doesn’t translate well, or that they can’t quite pronounce in english. later i will feel embarrassed for myself in this moment. i furrow my brow. “no?” i say. they are shocked. long lines await me, they are sure! they smile sympathetically.

it is late, or maybe sometime in the very early morning. most of the train car is sound asleep, tongues lolling, mouths wide, or else coughing their moist smoker’s coughs. we’re at the front end of the car, close to the door. it opens, a woman walks briskly through, the door slides closed again. almost. it opens again. slides closed—almost, opens. a mechanical grating every time, as the train noise lessens and then returns. the spanish man on the other side of the aisle gets up and the japanese girls and i smile big at him. this isn’t the first time tonight that he’s done this, and it won’t be the last. he rubs his palms together, moves towards the door. as it closes, he throws his weight against the latch. it slides open again. and again, and again—and then it sticks. he looks at us again, sighs. we grin and nod our heads. he sucks on his cigarette beneath the no smoking sign. we won’t tell.

4.

i’m in the albaicin in granada, lost in unlabeled streets with the worst map i have ever seen (and will see, until amboise, france, where the man at the train station will hand me a photocopied 8.5×11 sheet of paper with two or three streets drawn in and “LA LOIRE” the only thing labeled). i decide i will Go Up. upwards i march. i pull off my jacket, then my sweatshirt. the crisp, clear november sun feels good on my back. i am higher and higher. the streets are wider, then gone on one side of me as i look out over granada. oh, over there. that’s the alhambra. i stare. an ancient fortress, then the sea of the city, and then distant blue-tinged hills like sharp rolling waves. i’m walking along a wall, now, eager to get past for the better view, the expanse of it. here’s a gap—i slip through—there is the alhambra, there is the city, here is the sun, here is this dirt path i follow, downwards now on the open hillside. i pick my way down the networks of paths.

i don’t know why i chose granada. i think i’d picked up a guidebook somewhere, read something about the albaicin and cave dwellings up on a hill. i’d imagined something ancient, petroglyphs maybe, and put the book down again. i’m not thinking about that when i pass the first opening. a gate with cracked yellow glass, a chair. i smile and walk on. but then there are more of them, and in the distance a shirtless man going about his morning routine. suddenly i feel uncomfortable. i am in someone else’s front yard. i scurry down the hill. on the other side of a fence, dozens of backyards. i climb up again, and over, and down through the albaicin. no one speaks to me except one man who asks me if i’m looking for the mirador de san nicolas (but i don’t understand him yet). “no hablo espanol,” i tell him helplessly. he throws up his hands and smiles at me.

down, then up again, following a hundred other tourists towards the alhambra, where i buy a ticket no problem, then a cup of tea at the cafe. i watch a cat snatch up tourists’ dropped crumbs and wait my turn to enter the gardens. i sleepwalk past fountains and flowers. i look out a window at where i was, that other hill. i stare in open-mouthed awe at the nasrid palaces. back at my hostel, i climb to the roof and lay somewhere in between.

5.

i’m sitting near a fountain in a park in the modern part of the city, writing in my journal, thinking about what parks say about cities. barcelona has gaudi’s dizzying parc guell; amsterdam and den haag have endless forested parks it’s delightfully easy to get lost in. the sun is still shining. i’m okay listening to myself. then an old man sits next to me, says something in spanish. i look up and smile apologetically at him, say “no hablo espanol.” i expect him to laugh, nod, walk away, like everyone else i’ve said it to has. instead he persists, says something else. “no hablo espanol,” i repeat. “no comprendo.” he talks more. he takes my journal and pen and writes something on a blank page, but i can’t decipher his handwriting, much less his words. i shake my head again and again. he puts his hand on my shoulder. he laughs at me, speaks spanish. “no hablo espanol,” i say. i put my things in my bag. i walk away. i don’t look back.

6.

in a tiny cave-like bar down a tiny street and up a tiny set of stairs, i sit on a tiny stool while the room fills with flamenco music and stomps and the most amazing voice. it drowns out the americans around me gulping down beers (i am one of them) and i want to belong here.

in the streets of the albaicin, none of the shopkeepers speak english. finally, i ask one hopefully: “francais?”

“oui, oui, je parle francais!” he says. “vous etes canadienne?”

“non,” i say, squeezing my lips together. “americaine–mais je parle francais.” i buy a pair of mittens from him—it is cold at night—and i am so happy to be communicating that we chat in french for a few minutes and he says “go to the mirador de san nicolas, it is beautiful.” in the dark, i go. somehow in the labyrinth of the albaicin i find it. i pass a kitten in a window, smile at it, and the young woman behind the kitten smiles at me. on a ledge looking towards the alhambra, couples cuddle, friends laugh, someone is smoking pot. i stand by a tree and look. it’s beautiful.

later i am tipsy and lost. my train leaves early in the morning and i have to get back to the hostel before reception closes tonight to get my deposit back. when i left my english-speaking friends-by-default at some tapas bar somewhere, i’d been so sure of where i was. but now nothing is familiar and my map is useless. i can’t find the main street i was so sure was right around the corner. “por favor,” i say desperately to passers-by, “gran via?” their replies are incomprehensible and i do my best to follow their pointing fingers. “gracias! gracias!”

in the train station an older man with an accent i can’t place sits next to me in the waiting area. “i’d like to talk to you, as a fellow traveler,” he tells me. he has been traveling for six months. india is next? something like that. he asks me where i’m from. i tell him. “oh,” he says. “no one i’ve run into in all my travels has had anything good to say about america. no one supports what you are doing.”

“i believe it,” i say. but i am homesick and i love my country. i do. i didn’t know it before right now. i miss evergreen trees and the utah badlands and white church buildings and the pacific ocean and parts of my country i have never seen or understood. graffiti on the way to the station asked me, “donde esta la libertad?” where is liberty? i don’t know. i don’t know.

7.

the train ride is calming. eleven hours of spanish countryside pass by. then, somewhere that isn’t barcelona yet, everyone gets up, collects their things, and leaves the train. i stand up and look around, dazed. a japanese couple further down the car look confused as well. “are you going to barcelona?” i ask them. they nod. okay. i guess we are the only ones going to barcelona. i sit back down and settle in again.

hah! the train begins to move again. a few minutes pass, and a train official comes down through the door. he freezes when he sees me and chatters at me in spanish, eyes wide. “barcelona?” i ask. i gesture at the japanese couple behind me. we widen our eyes at one another. “no, no, no,” says the train official, and pulls out his cell phone. oh god. you’re kidding me. he waves a piece of paper at me, one of which was in every seat when i got on the train. “RENFE INFORMA,” it says across the top. there’s been one of these on every spanish train i’ve ridden. they’ve never been relevant, have they? something about schedule changes? i know i tried to make sense of it on the first train. i thought this one said the same thing. the official speaks a few words of english and i speak a few words of spanish. he scrawls diagrams on the back of the RENFE INFORMA sheet until i understand that the rails are being worked on and we should have gotten off at the last stop and taken a bus to barcelona. i pick up the sheet, read the spanish words. oh. i could have figured that out.

i communicate the bus thing to the japanese couple (they speak even less spanish than me, and a hesitant, incomplete english) while the official mutters on his cell phone and lights a cigarette. “una americana,” he tells someone, and gestures at the japanese couple, looking at me. “japanese,” i supply. the two of them offer me a stale chocolate croissant. i happily accept. we grin at each other. i can’t help but laugh. how long do we ride this ghost train this way, going who-knows-where? i keep laughing. “muchas gracias,” i say over and over to the official. i think he’s laughing too. “muchas gracias.” i am so dumb, i think. i have never felt quite so american. by the time we reach barcelona, another official is waiting for us. he hands us his card and says in english, “so sorry. so sorry.” “muchas gracias,” i say again, a dozen times. we are lead to and loaded into taxicabs. the japanese couple want a picture with me, all of us grinning in the dark in some unknown corner of the city. my taxi takes me for free to my hostel. the man at the front desk recognizes me from last week. “ah, you again!” he says. “is this your home away from home?”

“i guess so,” i answer. i grin hysterically to myself and eat peanut butter. it is good that i was there, i think arrogantly to myself. without me, where might that poor japanese couple be by now? oh, i think. i wish i knew how to say “i’m sorry” in spanish. i’m sorry. the next day i take a bus to france.