When Carol Deppe wrote The Resilient Gardener she really got me thinking about what I wanted to plant in the garden to truly provide real food for the longest period of time. Her formula consisted of duck eggs, beans, corn, potatoes and squash. This would provide her protein and carbohydrates and lots of calories over a long period of time. Beans, corn, potatoes and squash all being foods that store well months if not longer.
Her squash of choice was a sweet meat, the Oregon Homestead squash, a large, rich tasting winter squash which, I believe, she developed. She claims that this squash will keep until the following summer if stored properly. I have no reason not to believe her. Following her storage recommendation (against the living room wall) our sweet meat squash are still delicious. We may not last till summer as there are only two left.
The first year I tried to grow this squash I ran an experiment that didn’t work well and only ended up with one squash. I replanted those seeds, also gave many away, and this past season ended up with about a dozen sweet meats. This actually seems like an adequate amount for us but am going to try and increase the number of squash produced. Expect if we had more we would eat more.
This really is a terrific squash. And, as Carol Deppe points out, one squash produces a serious amount of food with flesh that can be three inches or more thick and a small seed ball producing a copious amount of fat, white, nutritious seeds.
We prepare it in a straight forward manner, steaming it and eating it with a bit of butter. It has a wonderful creamy texture and we don’t seem to tire of it.
Extending the gardening and eating season is the next challenge. Growing veggies using the Carol Deppe formula works for us and food stacks up in the pantry for eating during the winter. It’s fun to be able to put a meal on the table in March that consists primarily of garden food. Last night: Oregon Homestead squash, steamed nettles/kale combo, shallots and cabbage in a stir fry. We could last a long time on squash, beans and cornmeal with a few potatoes thrown into the mix. And this winter we had volunteer arugula for the entire season along with some corn lettuce for salads.
If the mineralization that I’ve been blogging about works as advertised, the resilient gardener’s diet should help us survive many winters to come in good health.
The modern diseases of cancer, arthritis, chronic infection, diabetes, lupus, fibromyalgia, etc. are essentially symptoms of malnutrition brought about by insufficient nutrition in the food that we eat. Big agriculture treats their fields with chemicals and gene splicing. Medicine treats disease with drugs (chemicals) and surgery. It’s curious that every natural food store also has a large section of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, enzymes and other potions designed to supplement the organic food that we are purchasing in the produce section, the organic dairy products from the refrigerator case and the free range, hormone free meats from the butcher shop.
Why would we need all this supplementation if the food was good to start with? Why not put the nutrition back in the food? And, why isn’t it there in the first place?
The concept of mineralizing soil isn’t new at all. In the mid-nineteenth century Justus von Liebig invented nitrogen based fertilizer and the concept known as The Law of Minimum which postulated that plant development was limited by the one essential mineral that was in the shortest supply. Von Liebig’s theories generated the fertilizer industry and moved farmers away from using manures and humus to feed their crops.
In 1893 a chemist named Julius Hensel published a book called, “Bread From Stones.” Bread From Stones advocated using stone meal (ground rock or rock dust) in place of chemicals to vitalize the soil. Hensel claimed that plants needed more than Liebig’s nitrogen, phosphorus and potash and stressed the importance of trace minerals which were ignored in the Liebig system. According to some, Hensel’s book was suppressed by the chemical industry and he was forced out of business by unfair competition. Years later his work was rediscovered and the rock dusts have become commonplace in organic fertilizers.
Starting in the late 1930s, William Albrecht was Chair of the Soils Department at the University of Missouri. Albrecht determined that animals would be healthiest if the grass they ate came from soil with a balance of 68% calcium and 12% magnesium. Albrecht believed our soils had become depleted. “Albrecht was outspoken on matters of declining soil fertility, having identified that it was due to a lack of organic material, major elements, and trace minerals, and was thus responsible for poor crops and in turn for pathological conditions in animals fed deficient foods from such soils.”
Victor Tiedjens was a contemporary of Albrecht and was another soil scientist who believed that calcium was the key to rehabilitating worn out soil. He went farther than Albrecht concluding that the calcium saturation should reach 85%. “Tiedjens found that, once the soil was saturated with calcium, he could grow a huge crop of corn or soybeans using about one-tenth the quantity of fertilizers a typical farmer thought was needed to produce a similar result. And that is why the fertilizer industry made sure you never heard of Victor Tiedjens—lime is cheap; fertilizer is not.”(The Intelligent Gardener, p. 91).
Dr. Carey Reams was a biochemist and biophysicist who, “…demonstrated that all disease is caused by mineral deficiencies and when a person remineralized, the symptoms of those diseases disappeared, and the remineralized person would no longer have that disease. It was so simple that the medical community of the day could not accept the fact that their drug, cut and burn way of treating people was the completely wrong way to treat disease.”
Authors Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird (authors of the well-known Secret Life of Plants) wrote a less well-known but more fascinating book called Secrets of the Soil. They cover many alternative agricultural and gardening practices and spend a lot of time on mineral rock and the remineralization of soils.
Michael Astera took the work of Albrecht and Reams and wrote The Ideal Soil which explains how to test and analyze for soil minerals and the proper balance of cations and anions. It was Astera’s work that got Steve Solomon interested in the subject resulting in his book The Intelligent Gardener.
A backyard gardener can experiment with nutrient dense food at quite a low cost—$20 for a soil test and perhaps $50 for a supply of minerals to begin balancing the soil. After a few years, perhaps as soon as one year, a gardener should be able to taste the results. Using plant tissue tests, an additional expense if one insists on being completely scientific, the gardener can verify increased minerals in the tissue of plants.
Improving nutrient density of our garden produce should not only improve taste and reduce disease in our plants but increase our own ability to withstand disease.
In organic gardening circles compost is sacrosanct. So when somebody with a resume like Steve Solomon says we can use too much compost, as he has in his new book The Intelligent Gardener, organic gardeners recoil in horror.
JI Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine introduced organics to North Americans.
Steve Solomon summarizes Rodale’s approach as follows: “To grow an abundance of highly nutritious vegetables and fruit, make and then dig in compost. Lots of it.”
Rodale encouraged bringing in or importing lots of organic material and putting it in the garden. And then his recommendation was to counteract acidic soil to by adding crushed limestone to bring the pH close to neutral. Roedale said if you’re going to add lime it’s better to use a sort called dolomite because dolomite contains both magnesium and calcium and magnesium is as much a vital plant nutrient as calcium is.
Some compost in the garden is, of course, good. Making composts satisfies our desire to recycle the plant material from our garden waste. Compost increases the organic percentage of the soil and turns to humus which helps the garden hold moisture. And, it does provide some nutrients but, at a point in time, the benefit of compost is lost. And, depending on the materials used to build the compost there might have been much nutritional benefit to start with.
The real problem with using the composting method of organic gardening is that we don’t know the mineral or nutritional makeup of our compost. We are flying blind. We don’t know exactly what our inputs consist of. Thus, if we just keep adding compost we don’t really accomplish very much.
Excessive inputs of compost will usually imbalance the soil’s profile with the result that nutritional outcomes will be degraded. And if, in addition, one adds dolomite as one’s lime source the magnesium in the dolomite will change the behavior of the clay in the soil making it stick to itself and you’ll end up with tight or clumpy soil in your garden beds.
In the Puget Sound region the soil already holds huge supplies potassium but insufficient calcium and magnesium to properly balance that potassium. Plants concentrate potassium into their structural parts. So if we import lots of grass clippings, straw, spoiled hay, tree waste, etc. into our compost we are adding enormous additional quantities of potassium which will have a devastating effect on the nutritional quality of our food, even though it makes plants seem to grow great.
Here’s the problem with potassium: If potassium gets out of balance, that is top heavy in relation to the other important minerals like calcium and magnesium, plants grow differently. Instead of making proteins they make more carbohydrates. The bottom line is this. Crops on high potassium soils produce about 25% more carbohydrates. At the same time their protein content is lowered by around 25%.
By continually adding compost we end up with the situation where our food looks good, grows well but we’re producing more calories and less proteins. Plus according to Steve Solomon the nature of those proteins changes.
In the Intelligent Gardener he writes, “Proteins are long complex chains chains of about 20 different amino acids. A few amino acids usually are scarce. In plants grown with excess potassium these are even scarcer lowering protein quality and leading to diseases in all the animals eating them including us. Another shift occurs in the food’s mineral content. As soil potassium increases the mineral content of the plant growing on that soil also shifts. Excessive potassium in the soil results much higher levels of potassium in the plant tissues but correspondingly lower levels of calcium and phosphorus and minor nutrients. Our bodies can hardly get enough calcium magnesium phosphorus but
We do not need high quantities of potassium.”
We need some potassium, yes; but not lots.
We don’t have naturally balanced nutrient rich soil in our region. Part of this is because of constant winter rains which leech nutrients particularly calcium from the soil. If we bring in fertility by importing local vegetation we further imbalance our soil.
So this is why the composting method isn’t necessarily the best method and why getting a simple soil test and balancing the nutrients in your garden makes all the sense in the world.
We’ll take up this subject in more detail and learn an easy way to build a customized fertilizer for our particular garden at the Gardener’s Network meeting, Feb. 11, 6:30pm at the Lummi Island Grange.
Near the end of his new book, The Intelligent Gardener, long-time garden guru Steve Solomon makes a significant point: “There is no place on this planet that remains free of toxic residues.” He then suggests we would be far better off if we quit worrying so much about toxicity and, instead, concentrated on growing and eating nutrient dense food.
I’ve been able to follow, and participate to a degree, in Mr. Solomon’s metamorphosis from expert “organic” gardener to expert “nutrient dense” gardener. Solomon, in my opinion, has long been ahead of the pack as evidenced by his books “Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades” and “Gardening When It Counts.” Through his early gardening experiences and from starting the Territorial Seed business he devised his Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF) which was an attempt to balance garden soil. COF is still a good way to go for people who don’t wish to go any farther and the formula is easily found on the internet. (Also in The Intelligent Gardener pps. 84-85).
In the last half dozen years through association with Michael Astera’s Nutrient Dense Project and a re-study of the work of scientists like William Albrecht and Victor Tiedjens, Steve Solomon has become a convert to the concept of “nutrient dense.”
The concept of nutrient dense food is pretty simple. The gardener works over time to balance the soil with the proper mix of minerals. The result will be soil that encourages the life forms (worms, bacteria, etc.) that help with soil symbiosis and soil that provides the nutrients plants need to grow properly. Balanced soil will mean healthier plants, resistant to pests. Balanced soil will result in food that is nutrient dense, providing us with the vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy.
Steve Solomon spends a lot of time debunking the concept promoted by J.I. Rodale that compost would solve all problems and that by continuing to heap organic matter on a garden a garden would only get better and better. This is not the case as Solomon explains in detail in a chapter titled: SAMOA (The Shit Method of Agriculture). More important is bringing calcium and magnesium into proper balance. When garden soil is properly balanced, according to Solomon, the garden will create its own nitrates.
Balancing calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur, sodium and other minerals is the key to nutrient dense food. Getting this balance correct begins with a $20 soil test. Then, with a copy of The Intelligent Gardener in hand, one can use the worksheets provided to come up with a prescription for a custom fertilizer designed for one’s own garden. Solomon’s colleague and co-author, California gardener Erica Reinheimer has developed a website where you can find copies of the worksheets found in Steve’s book. On this same website you will find a link to “OrganiCalc” which allows you, for a small fee, to compute your custom fertilizer prescription on line.
The Lummi Island Grange Gardener’s Network will have a discussion of The Intelligent Gardener at their Febuary 11 meeting: 6:30PM at the Grange Hall.
Hawaii is on a mission to label GMOs. More than that, the pure food groups would like to kick Monsanto right off the islands. A big demonstration at the capital on Jan. 15 coinciding with the opening of the legislative session got things going followed up by the Vandana Shiva tour.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is one of the rock stars of the food movement world wide and we were lucky enough to get seats for her talk Wednesday night at the amazing Salvation Army Joan Kroc Community Center in the Kapolei area. This $133 million community center was something to behold and it’s too bad that MacDonald’s Joan wasn’t into healthy food. Then, perhaps, her $1.6 billion gift might have gone to an organization like Hawaii Seed. It’s ironic that a hamburger-funded facility hosted such an event which also featured the very impressive Andrew Kimbrell from the Center for Food Safety and Walter Ritte the guy who got the military to stop practice bombing the island of Kahoolawe.
In many ways, the GMO issue is the most important political issue of our time. Topics like Right to Life and Gun Control get more press but are side shows. Because, everything is about food. And, as it is with so many other things the public has been sold a load of crap by corporate interests to modify our behavior so they can make more money.
Both Dr. Shiva and Mr. Kimbrell made the point that our modern food system of chemical monocroping is a continuation of WWII. The big chemical companies did really well with explosives. Sadly, the same materials used for bombs can be turned into fertilizer. Farmers were convinced to use these modern methods to increase yield. Shiva pointed out that it’s all about control and the strategy of the chemical industry has been to “Occupy the Seed.” If you control the seed you control the farmer and the food and the public will be forced to eat what you present to them. Patenting seeds, plants and animals and genetic engineering are tactics in the stategy of occupying the seed. (The chemical industry has succeeded in morphing the phrase “genetic engineering” to the less inflammatory GMO or “genetically modified organism”).
All of us need to learn a lot more about the hazards of GMO. There are no studies to determine the side effects. Modern agriculture has convinced most of the world that to feed the billions their chemistry will be required. The sad truth is that chemical agriculture makes us sick, destroys the soil and affects the culture and local economy by undermining traditional food systems.
Here’s the exciting thing about the food issue: it’s a political issue that you can do something about immediately. This minute. You can decide to never eat genetically engineered food. You can decide to grow some of your own food. You can decide to boycott any store that sells unlabeled GMO products. You can decide to support local agriculture and local farmers. You can contribute to organizations working to defeat Montsanto and the other four or five giant chemical companies who have worked so diligently to turn their war chemicals into fertilizer and who are determined to control the world’s seed stock.
Makana, one of our favorite Hawaiian performers opened the show. He’s written a number of anti GMO anthems and sung for us last evening. Here are the last few stanzas:
Monsanto and the others all make great claims
Of feeding the world… and pests they overcame
But yields are shrinking and the pests are getting bigger
And no one knows what’s coming cause they pulled an early trigger
Remember the butterflies and bees that all died
And the quarter million farmer suicides
You think you might start asking why?
So many living things would die from a thing that’s meant to save the world
The makers of Agent Orange and Roundup too
Were all excited over a new breakthrough
Just before their patent on herbicide was up
They found a way to keep farmers drinking from their cup
They built their product right into the crop
Turned Mother Nature into their own shop
Now they can patent your food
While family farmers are sued for the crime of saving their seeds
And all the cheerleaders talk of ending world starvation
But it ain’t from lack of food, it’s from economic segregation
They say Genetic Engineering is old as growing food
But we know it ain’t the same in fact it’s way more crude
It ain’t science when you’re aiming a gun
And praying the DNA don’t come undone
They’re playin’ cowboy with our genes
Ignoring all the unforeseen risks, they made a laboratory of the world
50 nations label transgenic food
But out here in the US the consumer’s gettin’ screwed
It didn’t change the price of food to label it elsewhere
Now they’re spending millions just to keep us unaware
This is the story of the GMO
It’s on your plate and you probably don’t know
There never was a dry run
Put on a grocery shelf, not one test to prove the safety of the food
The recent discussion on Nextdoor about UFO’s reminds me that I haven’t covered everything that could tip the balance of the way we currently live. Obviously, alien invasion/infiltration should be included in my list of possible crises that could change our society. And, I had no idea that Lummi was a hot spot for alien spacecraft.
Back in the very early fifties my friend Dicky and I were avid UFO investigators checking out every book the Vancouver, Washington library had on the subject. We would lurk about Lake Vancouver as late as Dicky’s parents would let us, trying to spot a UFO or, better yet, get abducted. That sounded like a lot of fun. This kind of curiosity and sense of adventure no doubt served Dicky well in his career as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I lost track of Dicky and am guessing that he might finally have been abducted. I expect the aliens would like to know what Dicky and I knew.
I continued to pay some attention to the UFO phenomena, never discounted the possibility, watched some X Files, etc. but never could be certain that it was something I needed to worry about. After all, what can be done against civilizations so advanced as the ones who created the UFOs we occasionally read about?
For a period of time in my life, one year to be exact, I was in the thick of things as part of Project Blue Book. This was an effort by the US Air Force to systematically study unidentified flying objects. The way this worked was that if a UFO sighting was reported it was channeled to the closest Air Force Base where the report was assigned to one of the Wing Intelligence Officers to investigate. That’s where I came in. We used to fight over these assignments. We’d get to check out a government vehicle, put on our class A uniform and go interview the person who made the report. I was enjoying a delightful year in Tampa, Florida and Project Blue Book was one of the year’s highlights.
Two officers went on each call. Lt. Billy Joe and I got to visit a very weathly and attractive young woman in St. Pete who served us coffee in bone china cups as she described her sighting which turned out to be Venus. The whole thing should have lasted five minutes but Billy Joe and I stretched it out to a couple of hours, standing where she stood, drawing diagrams and getting her to tell it a couple of times while we stared attentively.
In another case we were in back country Florida on a set out of Deliverance with a bunch of crackers who talked all at once and presented us with a 3′ x 5′ drawing showing the space ships and how they hovered over the telephone lines.
There was the case of obvious fraud where we drove for hours to determine that someone, possibly the reporter of the incident, had made a device to imprint what was supposed to be landing gear marks in the dirt. We saw the device leaning up against the side of the house.
My favorite has always been this description: “Ma’am, can you tell us what it looked like?” Response: “It looked like a despondent woman’s bosom.”
Our experience as a Project Blue Book investigators was pretty much as the same as the Air Force’s final conclusion: ”There was no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as “unidentified” were extraterrestrial vehicles.”(Obviously, some kind of cover up).
I will be interested to learn more about Lummi Island UFO sightings. I expect they may be interested in us because of our excellent ferry service. More likely, they have heard about the Willows Inn.
Blogging has been light in the doom and gloom department due to the holiday season and many other distractions. Who knows what will happen in the coming year. There are still many predictions of collapse or at least decline caused by (take your pick) the economy, climate change, war, peak whatever. Whether you believe it or don’t believe it, it still makes sense to prepare for hard times.
Lummi Islanders rekindled Disaster Preparedness in 2012 and are much more organized than we were before. Recent earthquakes in Alaska, awful hurricanes and unseasonably warm winter weather in the PNW remind us that it’s good to be ready for anything. Our island Disaster Preparedness took a leap forward with a MURS radio network, CERT and First Aid Training, increase in the number of authorized Red Cross Shelters, additional disaster supplies in place and neighborhood organizations.
On a longer term basis everyone needs to make their own assessment on their personal preparedness. Here’s mine:
1. Location, location, location: I contend that if there is trouble of any kind whether civil unrest, shortages, etc. that an island is a pretty good place to be. The fact that it is difficult to get to will be more advantage than disadvantage.
2. Community: If you live on the island you are de facto a member of a club and one that is very supportive. All the writers about collapse (Dmitri Orlov for example) emphasize the importance of having friends, a group that has your back. Having lived several places in my adult life it’s easy to report that Lummi Island is the strongest community I have lived in. To summarize points 1 and 2, step one in our own personal plan was to move to Lummi Island.
3. Food security: Pretty much everything revolves around food and it’s somewhat ironic that the Willows Inn has put Lummi on the map because of food. What I like about the Willows is the emphasis on local and wild foods. It’s an important emphasis and everyone needs to pay attention to the imagination and creativity shown by Mr. Wetzel.
In the last five years vegetable gardening has taken a great leap forward on the island with a Gardener’s Network, an Edible Garden Tour sponsored by the Beach School Foundation, a community garden on the Curry Preserve, two community orchards, several new gardens and participation by many people in Whatcom County CSAs. Nancy Ging has single-handedly raised awareness of local food through her Whatcom Locavore blog and columns in her Bellingham Herald articles.
I’ve just added a 12′ x 12′ hoop house to the garden which, hopefully will extend the growing season.
It makes sense to me that, to supplement garden produce, we build up long term food storage in the Mormon style. It would be comforting to have about six months of rations available in the event that transportation problems develop over the short or long term.
4. Water: It doesn’t look like we’ll have a water problem of any kind this coming year. This rain should be giving everyone a good recharge. But it’s still important to practice conservation. People who water their grass should be mocked and scoffed at. Many people, including myself, have added rainwater catchment since the State changed the rules on rainwater collection. I am able to water my vegetable garden entirely with rainwater which would take pressure off the well in any drought years (assuming I get those tanks filled in the winter months). I could easily filter and pump this water to the house. Another benefit of living on the island is that we all have private water systems. This creates the added responsibility of using water conservatively and wisely.
We are well past Veteran’s Day, a day I always find myself conflicted, and could almost let this one pass. Almost, but not quite. Because I strongly believe that if we weren’t so military, that if making war on people didn’t seem to be our country’s primary business, we might have money to spend on getting ready for the many problems that face us instead of focussing on the the fake problems of “terrorism” and “drugs” and “Iran,” motives for our current wars since we lost the bugaboo of the “red menace.” Heck, there might be money for things like state of the art ferries.
“Supporting the troops” is a phrase that has no real meaning unless it means “shut up criticizing our wars.” Real support of the troops means making certain that contracts made with them for benefits are upheld. Instead, “Support the troops” leads to celebrations where school kids are subjected to glorifying military service. I realize this is a very touchy area. Veterans such as myself are justifiably proud that we were in the military. But we are proud for various reasons; not necessarily proud of the wars we were involved in or all the actions that took place.
The Petraeus scandal, among other things, demonstrates that Generals are pretty normal human beings. The modern general is much like any corporate CEO who fights or cheats his or her way up the ladder. Petraeus has been a master of PR for a good part of his career (most recent events excepted). All In:The Education of General David Petraeus is a pretty good example of how he co-opted the media. Now, having violated America’s standards he will finally be subjected to a no holds barred analysis of his career.
I just finished reading a book called, The Man Who Saved the Union, a biography of Ulysses S. Grant who ended up being the 1860s equivalent of a four star and then a two term president who presided over a very tough period of history called “Reconstruciton.”
Grant’s PR was pretty bad until he started winning battles and then won the Civil War. In the later part of the nineteenth century he was the most famous man in America and actually world famous. He hated to give a speech and was well-known for being self-effacing. This tradition continued through WWII.
Consider this photo.
Dwight Eisenhower, who actually won a war like Grant, wears a single row of ribbons. Petraeus, who sandbagged a President into authorizing a “surge,” displays some 30 decorations on his blouse.
What civilians don’t recognize is that Petraeus’s awards are the equivalent of merit badges signifying that he has, “been there and done that.” He has one medal for valor, a Bronze Star with a “V” device. The rest are service ribbons or unit citations.
I don’t know when it started, perhaps in the Vietnam era, but there has been a lot of inflation where medals are concerned. You can’t even be certain about the hero ribbons. I would like to think that most are earned. For example, in the Air Force in Vietnam, if you flew 15 combat missions you received an Air Medal. You got this if you were a prop plane pilot flying low level night bombing missions or a B-52 pilot dropping bombs from 25,000′. I can’t speak for every combat unit in every service but in the last combat wing I served in in the Air Force you had to write your own citation to get most medals, e.g. a Distinguished Flying Cross. A DFC was important to a pilot on his career resume.
Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know about Islandia, the novel by Austin Tappen Wright. Both my brothers, for example, have read it. But that was back in their hippie days when I’m certain that the Islandian agrarian ways, the idealized simple life, the personal, nearly libertarian freedom of the Islandian concept had great appeal to people living in teepees and growing organic gardens. The blurb I read referred to the book as the “best utopian novel ever written.” I’m not sure I consider Islandia a utopia but it is a fascinating, attractive place—a complete fiction from the mind of an New England attorney who left a 2000 plus page typescript manuscript behind for his daughter to edit to around 1000 pages. (Apparently, Wright’s father and grandfather also created fictional worlds so perhaps this kind of thing is genetic).
Here’s the gist. (This has never been a film or mini-series). A young American befriends an Islandian student at Harvard in the early 1900’s and learns the language while on a summer sailing trip with him. The Islandian fellow returns home and later our American, John Lang, is appointed consul to Islandia, a country as xenophobic as Japan before Perry. (Foreigners can stay one year only if they pass the physical and have legitimate business). Islandians are xenophobic but almost neurotically hospitable. Lang arrives in the middle of a controversy and is welcomed by his old friend’s family who establish a room for him in their home to use whenever he might decide to drop by. The controversy involves the Islandian prime minister trying to talk the national council into ratifying a treaty he had signed with Germany which would open up Islandia to development. Lang’s friend Dorn is on the opposing side and the plot of the first part of the book involves the politics between the first families of Islandia as to whether or not it would be good for the country to have choo choo trains, telephones and combustion engines or whether the Islandians would continue to travel by horse and wagon. The xenophobes fear not only foreigners but foreign inventions. In the midst of this geopolitical intrigue is the concern that the northern farms might be raided by the quaintly named “Mountain Negroes” who live across the border. (The Islandians seem to be of a Caucasian persuasion though their skins are coppery from all of their outdoor time). There’s really not much to the plot. The book is more concerned with Lang’s interaction with Islandia, its geography, culture and people, especially its ladies.
Lang has an adventure with Dorn, and a legendary mountaineer named Don, and the lone wolf King (are utopias monarchical?) of Islandia (the King of Islandia apparently has no court or castle but roams the country dropping in on people) when they come across what appears to be a German border incursion. This is somewhat of a diplomatic embarrassment for Lang as counsel and because of his friendship with the Dorns and others who oppose opening the borders, and his failure to help American business corrupt the country, he is dumped from his job. In his remaining time in Islandia, Lang travels about visiting various families, working on a farm and then volunteers for the border patrol in a sort of ad hoc militia and circumstantially becomes a national hero by surviving a sneak attack of the …MN word…and warning the closest farms saving many, including the queen. Subsequently the treaty is defeated after a long, interesting and dramatic debate at the council. Islandia is saved from the pollution of foreign interests and Lang is rewarded with an invitation to remain in the country. He is also given permission to import a sewing machine as a gift—an exception to the Islandian preference to do every single thing the hard but natural way.
When his year is up he returns to New York to see if Islandia is what he really wants, goes to work with his uncle who got him the counsel’s job in the first place, and makes his best effort to be a successful businessman. He begins to call on a young woman who had corresponded with him during the time he had been away. In his absence she had read the book on US History which he wrote for the Islandians in Islandian. By this exercise she learned the language, and, conveniently, had become an orphan, allowing her to make decisions with no parental input and leaving her without financial resource. After a drawn out romance they decide to marry and return to Islandia where the Dorns have agreed to sell Lang one of their three farms. The rest of the book involves the rocky integration of the new wife into Islandian life, culture and society.
The real story of Islandia, however, involves the romances Lang has with two Islandian ladies and then, thus Islandized, his relationship with the American woman who will be his wife. It’s a Victorian sexual fantasy. Lang, a virgin in his late twenties, first falls in love with Dorna, Dorn’s sister. Wright brings this moody, ambitious, dark-haired, earthy beauty completely to life. It is obvious that ATW was a true admirer of females. For Lang, falling in love with an Islandian is no easy matter because they have three different kinds of love and American men have trouble with one kind of love. But Lang is up to the challenge and tries to get all three kinds lined up so that Dorna will be his. She is unlike any woman he has known. Wild and independent she goes barefoot on her little sailing craft after picking him up for a visit and they spend the night getting back to the farm and sleep in the same cabin! Unheard of in Lang’s day. Later she strips for a skinny dip as will any Islandian lass. Lang is smitten beyond description having seen no more than an ankle before landing on Islandia. But Dorna and Dorn and Nattana (we’ll get to her in a moment) all warn Lang against marrying an Islandian woman. Why this would be a bad idea we are not quite certain. But they are very clear that he shouldn’t do it. It involves the intricacies of the three kinds of love. In the end, Dorna opts to marry the gorgeous young king who has, apparantly dropped by her farm a few times. This decision also involves the three kinds of love, only one kind of which involves lust. Islandian girls are quick to admit their physical passion.
Lang, unrequited, ends up at the another farm that has quite a few daughters and becomes lovers with Hytha Nattana, the complicated, hot-to-knot weaver he had met in the early part of the book. Nattana refuses to marry him but weaves him a wardrobe (Islandians wear loose-fitting natural fabrics and comfortable, sensible shoes like sandals). The clothes are all she is able to save when the you-know-who’s attack and trash the farm. (Later on she gets that sewing machine as her handsome reward). And, then, romance number three—the wife—who after a couple hundred pages succumbs to the charms of utopia and the ardor of John Lang. We leave them on the farm, harvest completed, winter coming on, prepared to travel the country, visit Lang’s old friends while working on three kinds of love.
I wonder if the editors of Islandia were fair to the author. I wonder if they should have edited a word. Even at 1000 pages (the edition I read was 900) there seems to be much missing, or rather, much more the engaged reader would like to know about Islandia no matter how tedious it might be. There are endless descriptions of the natural beauty of Islandia, and enough about social customs to make you believe it is another culture. And, there is an attractiveness about the place. If it were to exist now we would want to travel there and ride horseback through the countryside and visit a farm or two and stay at an inn and revel at the backwardness of a 2000 year old civilization. (Lang introduced ice skating to the country!)
If you make it through page 250 you will no doubt finish the book. It would be a great summer hammock read and I wish I had saved it for those lazy days of summer.
“The sun shone hot and and the air was full of the warm fragrance of earth and of vegetation. It was a fertile region. Leaves of vegetables and grass in the meadows were lush and green; sprouting maize and grains held up strong stalks and full heads; and flowers in gardens glowed as though just watered. Even the road itself was invaded, and sometimes our horses’ hooves thudded in the grass.”
It’s quite an achievement to create a world and write it down and make it coherent, consistent and enticing. One ends up yearning for a more simple, open, physical life and where skinny-dipping is as natural as water. It’s no wonder that Islandia is a cult classic with many diehard supporters. A Google search will lead you to Islandia websites and more information about ATW, Islandia and the lost manuscript (the typescript survives).
A couple of years ago I did a post on doomsday fiction, a curious genre of science fiction books that attempt to describe a vision of the future after some apocalyptic event such as nuclear war, peak oil, viral plague, or electromagnetic pulse. These books follow a basic formula where there is 1) a horrific event that destroys or seriously damages large parts of the globe, 2) survivors divided up into good guys and bad guys, 3) a narrative on survival methods and the ethical problems survivors will face, i.e. “Could I shoot someone to protect my family?’ or, “Would I share?” and, finally, 4) in most cases some form of happy ending that demonstrates the resilience and adaptability of the human race.
In his new book Slow Apocalypse, John Varley pulls out all the stops: world-wide destruction of oil fields by an airborne bacteria, massive earthquake, floods from broken reservoirs and firestorm. His setting is Los Angeles. The protagonist is a TV writer who gets a heads up on the impending crisis and begins prepping which puts him ahead of the survival game. But the disasters come so fast and furiously that the reader is left a bit breathless waiting to find out what happens to his family and friends who band together to try and escape a destroyed and now unlivable LA. Escape routes are blocked by quake and landslide and surrounding communities are barricaded to stop the inflow of immigrants. So our small band must slowly work their way out of the city in a wood fueled bus to try and find a new promised land. Along the way there are gunfights and humanitarianism and the inevitable happy ending albeit one of hard physical labor.
Mr. Varley’s book starts a bit slow and contrived but in the middle picks up steam and ends up a page turner that will, no doubt, be made into a disaster flick.
The significance of the books like this is to make us think about worst case scenarios and to give some thought to some basic preparation that we should make for short and long term disasters.
Each doomsday novelist has a different take on what a post apocalyptic future might be like. But the common theme is that everything would be easier if one has some “stuff” put by.
When the Swiss Family Robinson was shipwrecked they were lucky to be able to recover an amazing amount of booty from their ship in the form of foodstuff, supplies and even animals. It made life on their island pretty easy. Right now we are like Swiss Family Robinson. Supplies are plentiful and easy to accumulate. After the shipwreck, if there is to be one, it will be much harder to find the stuff that will give our family comfort and security.
The New York Times website this morning has a front page story on Hurricane Sandy and the Disaster Preparedness Economy. Disasters like Sandy push preparedness up our list of priorities and give impetus to getting ready for what might happen.
The article points out that disaster preparedness has been seeping into the consciousness of Americans for some time now reflected in books, films, TV shows and documentary films. The business of making generators, gas cans, and even candles is booming as people begin to focus on a degree of preparedness that hasn’t existed since Y2K. Costco and even Walmart are selling foodstuffs for long term storage.
The news stories from New York and New Jersey demonstrate that people are still poorly prepared for emergencies and highly dependent on government to first warn them, then bail them out. Serious disaster events striking large population centers are no doubt FEMA’s worse nightmare.
In a rural community we have to recognize that in the event of any kind of disaster scenario (volcanic eruption, earthquake, tsunami, financial collapse) that we will be on the end of the food chain, so to speak, because of our low population and isolation. Even though Red Cross, for example, has a plan for the island with designated shelters, some food stuffs, cots and blankets it will be important that we are ready to take care of ourselves for the short term or the long term. Hopefully, some of the business that is making the disaster preparedness industry boom has been generated by islanders.
Short term the basics of food, water, medicine are key. Long term preparedness requires looking at growing our own food, making our own fuel, transportation alternatives, developing heat and power sources. The internet is a rich source of information with sites such as Natural News and Survival Blog leading the way. Many might find the political views of these blogs off putting as they tend toward Libertarianism and consistently denigrate Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party and sometimes the Republican Party. I suggest you overlook the politics and try to glean nuggets from the information they provide.
Survival Blogs Quick Start Guide for Newbies should get you thinking if you haven’t thought about this stuff already.
Hurricane Sandy seems a long way off but most of us know somebody affected by the storm. If you have experienced a disaster like Mt. St. Helens or the Columbus Day Storm or a California Earthquake you will no doubt be more inclined to pay attention.
October 30 is a day our family has been waiting for a year. Our youngest son Noble’s book, The Wisdom of the Shire, will be released today in the US. Editions in the UK, Brazil/Portugal, Finland, Bulgaria, Spain, France and Italy will soon follow. it’s a big deal to get a book published by a major publisher. An even bigger deal to sell foreign rights and have the work translated. So, we are proud as punch.
Prouder still of the content of the book because it has real value. The Wisdom of the Shire could be the guidebook for the entire Transition Town Movement. Briefly, the Shire wisdom speaks to the lessons to be learned from the small creatures (Hobbits) created by JRR Tolkien in his much read and reread book The Hobbit and elaborated in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Most people see The Hobbit and TLOTR as a fantasy/adventure packed with amazing heroes and villains and imaginative settings. Tolkien created an entire world, even languages, and piqued the imagination of generations of readers.
Sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious but Noble has shown some real genius in distilling life lessons from the behavior and habits of the Hobbits that would benefit all of us if we would pay attention and apply them to our own life. In a series of short essays, Noble details how Hobbits “walk the walk”—quite literally as Hobbits love to walk. They are connected to their environment and their locality (the Shire), to their food which they grow themselves, to friendship and community, to hearth and home. Chapter 1 is titled, “How Snug is Your Hobbit Hole?” You can read it here.
The Wisdom of the Shire tells us that “Your true home is inside your heart and stays with you wherever you go, but a nice snug room is a lovely thing to come back to.”
The Hobbits can teach us many things about integrity, dealing with others, managing our obsessions (“Bearing the Burden of Your Ring”), singing, partying and dealing with the more powerful.
In his introduction, well-known fantasy writer and acknowledge Tolkien expert Peter Beagle writes: “The Wisdom of the Shire reminds the reader that our world isn’t—or doesn’t have to be—all that removed from Middle-earth, the Shire and the Party Tree.”
You’ll find value in The Wisdom of the Shire whether or not you are a Tolkien fan. And, if you’ve been confused about what I’ve been trying to get across in this blog, Noble’s book will explain whatwe need to do as a individuals and a community to make ourselves ready for an uncertain future.