I am reading your book, Walking Away from Empire.

Why is it categorized as fiction? Is that some legal thing you had to agree to in order to get it published?

Then, there’s your dedication:

For the remains of the living planet,

and the humans who will witness its comeback

That is not fiction. You are describing the shape of the future.

It seems you were more optimistic when you published this book (2011) than you are now – a mere year later. The decline of your hope is because society has made no tangible progress in regard to the full-scale dismantling of industrial civilization that is required. I had hoped to get more of my peers reading about Garrett’s energy consumption constant and letting the math sink in, but I keep encountering motivated reasoning – all the ways our minds convince us not to know what we do not want to recognize.

Time for Motivated Living

Between reading your book and talking with Greg Robie about “growing a collective will,”  I came upon this notion, motivated living, as a possible counter to motivated reasoning. Because it seems to me this is what you’ve been doing, since that first realization in 2002 when you “mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed” (p. 61). I have been in mourning for a long time but did not have clarity as to why. I bet there are hundreds of thousands like me, who have been in need of the hard boundary to clarify, the one that sets the ultimate limit on individual freedom and easy luxury. You are like James Balog: while he was chasing ice, you are chasing the most meaningful conversation humanity will ever have.

We, entering into the realization now, do not have spans of months to come to terms with the changes coming upon us. I watch myself hesitate to do as you have done, to “simultaneously offend my colleagues as well as the public” (p. 54). Even though I share your “commitment to relevancy” (p. 54), and have dabbled in dangerous education: the personal desire to belong and be cared about is strong. As you say, this new life is “tough on the mind” p. 55) and I confess I am not excited about life becoming “even tougher on the body” (p. 55). But this is going to happen, I now understand, and the sooner I can accept and adapt the better.

I drank what?  (p. 73)

You’ve been more successful with your students than I with mine. I haven’t (yet) been able to adequately frame what I have aimed to help them learn; largely because I was (and still am) trying to learn it too. It is internal and subjective, yet invoked by relationships with others. How do we together address this “daunting moral question” (p. 77) in order to engage “the difficult and meaningful work associated with stewardship of the lands, waters, and communities that support us” (p. 64)?

“Relationships are far more important than accomplishments” (p. 46)

You’re way ahead of the curve, although it seems you’ve brought a ton of folk along with you through your blog, Nature Bats Last, and your Facebook page. (Two tangents: I have a friend who works with bats, which caused a temporary glitch in comprehending the baseball metaphor in your blog title; and I did not realize Facebook has set a limit on Friends. Thank you for letting people subscribe to your public feed.)

Guy, you’ve been modeling a mix of humility and leadership for a long time. You confess to your “tiny role in this grand play” (p. 50) and that you “still struggle every day to find meaning in a universe without meaning” (p. 50). Sharing your personal journey is action and artifact of “the decisions we make in light of an ambiguous future” (p. 53). It seems to me you have laid out a good path. There are other teachers out there, many of them indigenous. Not to mention whatever ripple effects may yet accrue from everyone associated with your far-flung network, and those who haven’t yet found yours but have also been building their own.

Tuning in: “Will reality intervene in time to save the living planet, including our own species?” (p. 67)

You named some goals for gathering us together:

  • fully engage the collapse, and act as if you will survive it (p. 44)
  • generate our own hope, one person at a time (p. 52)
  • power down with the tranquility of Buddhist monks (p. 52)
  • get along with access to far fewer materials (p. 52)
  • occupy small communities in harmony with the Earth and our neighbors (p. 52)
  • face reality without showing fear (p. 11)
  • don’t rely on belief, instead – think (p. 42)
  • question the system, instead of raising minor questions within the system (p. 8)
There may be more guidelines for gathering motivated living communities in the rest of your book. You may even have coined a motto (p. 44); here I’ve revised it slightly:

Given its rarity and splendor, this life is enough.

The inner and outer cycles reverberate
with each other.

Bane’s model is well-organized. The outermost concentric circle presents a sequence of 12 actions that are described in two ways: the human behavior and the object of activity. The actions are organized more-or-less as a prescription, do this, then this, then follow up with this, etc. The actions do become more complex as one goes around in clockwise fashion, and they repeat, in endless ongoing cycles. One can intuit that each of the actions needs to occur more-or-less concurrently with each other, but since the aim of the model is to get people started, it’s laid out in a fashion that would allow a novice (like meto believe that I can just begin.

The inner concentric circle is more conceptual, dividing the 12 physical actions of the encompassing outer concentric circle into four sets of somewhat similar emotional or psychological ‘actions.’ This inner circle represents a cognitive development or personal growth cycle. Including this aspect is an extra that probably won’t resonate with everyone, as it outlines a culturally-specific way of organizing experience. The embedded breathing meditation goes even further by drawing attention to the body in order to link the practical physical actions with whatever subjective reactions occur as one thinks about doing any of this stuff. This deep layering of meta-awareness probably won’t work for everyone and some may discount the outer circle because of the inner circle’s acknowledgment of the touchy-feelies.

Source: Chapter 4 on “Permaculture Principles” (p. 28), in The Permaculture Handbook by Peter Bane (2012).

FYI: I searched for a link to an online image of this model; couldn’t find one. Someone could make a nice Prezi of it!

Balancing Act: “What systems are you feeding?”

On the flip side of permaculture’s emphasis on figuring out how to eat, Nance Klehm digs down to the deepest question.  As a counter to the usual concern in food debates, which focus on “what systems do you feed on,” Klehm essentially says, so what about that?

Who cares? What are you giving back to? What are you feeding your energy into? What economic systems, social systems, natural systems, political systems are you contributing your life force to?

I’m particularly drawn to the description (in the Nov-Dec issue of Utne Reader, p. 33) of Klehm’s work as the “roots-based study of the relationships between living things.” She teaches about plants in an urban landscape that are healing the soil, and how important it is to understand that “soil and water ‘are the only things we have to make our food healthy.'”

Nearly a month has passed since learning about the short time horizon for probable human extinction. This is twice as long ago as it feels to me: the associated emotions seem to have condensed my perception of the passage of time. Each day, in addition to managing fear and grief, I have done a few things directly related to one or more of the four survival essentials:

  • water
  • food
  • shelter
  • community

The big downer has been coming to terms with moving beyond storing a cache of emergency rations to establishing a permanent, renewable system that could sustain me (and others) for the rest of my/our lifetimes and provide a foundation for future generations. There does appear to be a chance that some humans will survive and adapt to a post-apocalyptic planet. At any rate, it makes no sense to me not to strive to be among them.

 Food and Water First

I attended a talk on permaculture and began to absorb the necessity of reinventing self-sufficiency: literally building the means for my own survival. Have had to ride out some intense waves of regret, and a round or two of the If Onlies: for instance, how far along I would be ‘if only’ one of several previous relationships had worked out. There has also been confronting the fantasy of ‘being able to do it right’ – as in, owning property and having the financial resources to bring in the right people with the right knowledge to craft the required systems and teach me how to use them.

Instead of the dream, my subsistence survival will have to be a piecemeal affair, hobbled together through a mixture of friends’ and neighbors’ resources as well as my own resourcefulness; largely contingent upon ethics of generosity, sharing and reciprocity; and my own will to learn and apply the principles rigorously.

I am not exactly starting from scratch (even though it feels like it).

Community Next and Concurrently

The real temptation is to procrastinate, let awareness slip out of consciousness, turn my attention to continuing to do the things I’ve always done, just as my friends around me continue on, with or without the dire realization, to do what they, too, have always done. In the bookstore where Peter Bane was giving his talk on permaculture, I saw a new book by Barbara Kingsolver, Flight BehaviorIt brought to mind fond memories of listening to The Prodigal Summer as I drove across country after a break-up some years ago. Kingsolver’s writing touches me deeply, I have requested her new novel from the local library. I observe myself and wonder, how many of my own flights of denial, avoidance and/or acting out has she covered?

Meanwhile, in addition to Bane’s permaculture book, I have begun reading Walking Away from Empire and  just received  a copy of the Deep Green Resistance Manual.  I also think I want to read The Day Philosophy Died by Casey Maddox.


Resources on seeds and gardening:

 Permaculture in general:




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