Posts Tagged ‘eco’

Midsummer Foraging Fun with Garlic Mustard!

[Editor’s note: I originally wrote (and promptly forgot about) this back in June. Ah well, better late than never!]

If you’re not involved in invasive species control, you might not be very familiar with garlic mustard. Which is too bad, because everybody should know about it—this European plant is a major problem in North America these days. Luckily, unlike a lot of the nastier (usually Asian) imports, this one is at least good for something!
In fact, g.m. is one of the oldest known cooking spices—its use dates back all the way to the Old European Neolithic!

Since we’ve just passed the summer solstice, now is the perfect time to get out in the woods and kill two birds with one stone—help rehabilitate our local environment, as well as harvest a tasty seasoning! Earlier in the spring, g.m. can be gathered fresh and the leaves used to flavor dishes, but by now most of the plant has died back, leaving the seed pods for easy identification.

I took a quick barefoot woods-walk this afternoon, and in about twenty minutes managed to gather a good bundle of dried stalks:
Garlic mustard plants (June)
Because the delicate dried pods (or “siliques” for all you botanists out there) that contain the seeds will break open if you look at them the wrong way—and since we’d also like to prevent the spread of g.m.—it’s best to take extreme care while you pull the plant up by the roots to keep the seeds from shooting everywhere.
Garlic mustard pods
Once you have your bundle of plants, you can ‘shuck’ or strip the pods off the stalks; from here, it’s a simple matter of agitating the pods to release the seeds (I ground them around in this stone mortar before rolling bundles between my hands, and then winnowed away the chaff:Garlic mustard chaff
Garlic mustard seeds Now that I’m left with an ounce or so of pure seeds, I’m going to experiment and keep some plain and roast some others (to facilitate easier grinding), and then do some living history and season some venison with it. The seeds by themselves smell deliciously savory, with a hint of horseradish!

The Suburbs: The Wilderness Downtown

As smart and innovative as the Sprawl II dance-video is, Arcade Fire found a way to top themselves, with The Wilderness Downtown web experience.

wilderness_downtown

note the use of fractal-based ‘roots’ to form the words—
the sublime wonders of Nature!

This amazing interactive is based around the song We Used to Wait and therefore ties deeply into the underlying themes of The Suburbs—roads, connection to place, escape, youth, the wild, and interaction with technology—while at the same time being a potent showcase of digital wizardry (it was designed to highlight the capabilities of Google Chrome and HTML 5).

Unfortunately, TWD is custom-made to each user’s environment, so I can’t put up a video for you to watch; you’ll just have to try it yourself (although this page provides a decent overview). It’s recommended to use the address of your childhood home, which works really well if you grew up in the ever-shifting sprawl of American ’burb-land, because it’s quite likely that said environment no longer appears as you remember it (“this town’s so strange/they built it to change/and while we sleep we know the streets get rearranged”). Me, I grew up way out in the country, which doesn’t pack nearly the same punch.

Once your experience is compiled, we open with an anonymous, hooded young person running through the streets of The Suburbs. Based on the urgency expressed, he’s clearly not just out for a jog. What is he running from? As we’ve seen throughout the album, when the prevailing narrative of Modern Kids raised in the ’burbs is to seek escape by fleeing to the city only to return to the ’burbs as ‘adults’—who wouldn’t blame him for wanting to Get Out?
wilderness_downtown runner
Throughout, we follow our running figure from high overhead, drifting along with a flock of birds, as well as at street-level courtesy of Google.
Eventually, the video culminates with some very-likely eco imagery as the trailing birds begin to divebomb into the ground, causing trees to grow up beautifully and cover the map in a sea of rewilded green. Of course, this is really only effective if the map—and therefore your childhood home—is in a deforested suburb.
This all transpires over the song’s final section, in which Win implores us to “Wait for it!” As I’ve said before, the song is all about cultivating patience in the face of a technologically-increased pace of life, which brings us to The Wilderness Machine.
Now, back during the middle section of TWD—over the “I’m gonna write a letter to my true love, I’m gonna sign my name” verse—we took a break from watching our harried runner and were invited to “Write a postcard or advice to the younger You”, using super-cool fractal-roots. Now, while Arcade Fire was still touring to support The Suburbs, their concerts would coincide with appearances of said Machine—a steampunk-y contraption which would print out postcards submitted from TWD. While that alone is a great way to play around with the back-and-forth between digital and analog suggested by We Used to Wait, here’s the best part: the postcards that the Machine printed out were embedded with tree seeds!—so that you could take someone’s former self’s postcard home and reforest your own environment, thus bringing TWD’s video experience full circle into the real world.
And believe me, nothing cultivates patience like growing a tree.

The Suburbs: ‘Month of May’

Man, when was the last time you heard a real rock-and-roll song that started with such a solid and sincere, “1, 2, 3, 4!”? It’s funny, while I’ve heard so many of Arcade Fire’s songs described as ‘anthemic’, not too many of them are real fist-in-the-air singalongs. Month of May, however, is definitely one:

Gonna make a record in the month of May
When the violent wind blows the wires away

This isn’t the first time on this album that we’ve heard about a wind blowing things around; the first time this thread was touched upon was in Rococo, which seems to serve as a companion piece to this song. However, while last time the wind was simply blowing around ashes, this time the wind is explicitly violent. Which begs the question: What is the violent wind? Is it a primitivist social movement, tearing down our culture’s machinery of enslavement (wires, &c.) like a force of nature? Is it a blast of radiation from a nuclear mushroom cloud (the EMP produced by high-altitude detonations could fry electronics and effectively “blow the wires away”)? Is it a massive solar flare, playing havoc with our unshielded power grid? Hmm…

Month of May, it’s a violent thing
In the city their hearts start to sing
Well, some people singing sounds like screaming
Used to doubt it but now I believe it

I believe the band has spoken in interviews how May is the time when Winter finally ends in Montreal, and everybody is full of an almost-violent energy with the promise of Spring. I’ve spent some time in Montreal, and it’s definitely the kind of place that would make my heart start to sing.
However, singing that “sounds like screaming” doesn’t sound too pretty. Is this the same as the “horrible song” being sung in Rococo? Butler has explained in interview that these songs were inspired by the Baroque period, and the notion that a beautiful piece of art could become “hideous and grotesque” by ‘turning it up to eleven’; the same could be said of the modern music industry, that it’s possible to take something decent and beautiful “and overdo it” into a rococo mockery of itself.

Month of May, everybody’s in love
then the city was hit from above
And just when I knew what I wanted to say
The violent wind blew the wires away

Traditional associations with May as ‘the lusty month’—all those young people’s springtime hormones—juxtaposed with violence. Once again, Butler’s songwriting exhibits a subversive undercurrent dealing with the destruction of our modern built environments.  I wonder if the city destroyed in this song is the same as the San Francisco of Half Light II?

We were shocked in the suburbs
Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Now, some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
So young, so young, so much pain for someone so young,
Well, I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

Why were they shocked in the suburbs? As hinted at previously, is it because the ’burbs are designed to artificially insulate their inhabitants from the blows of Life? A city being “hit from above” is the kind of event that seems impossible (until it happens) to middleclass suburbanites. The rest of the verse is—like much of Rococo—another jab at that “certain breed of pseudorebellious youth”, the cynical hipster-types who are too-cool-for-school to uncross their arms to just get up and DANCE!

First the built they road, then they built the town
That’s why we’re still driving around and around and around…
(At least once at this point, Win has observed, “I don’t know where we are, but I know that something ain’t right”)

LLipton-Round&RoundAs brilliantly illustrated by pencil artist Laurie Lipton, it’s hard to break out of this vicious cycle of consumption, disconnection, and environmental destruction when the whole System is designed and built to encourage and reward those very evils.

2009, 2010—wanna make a record how I felt then
When we stood outside in the month of May
And watched a violent wind blow the wires away

Another reference to recent history (see Half Light II’s crashing markets) as Butler seems to break the fourth wall. So now we’re in the realm not of future dystopia but something that actually happened?

If I die in the month of May, let the wind take my body away,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Don’t leave me down there with my arms folded tight?
Start again in the month of May
Come on and blow the wires away

There are several songs on this album that speak of finally being able to start or begin, or starting again—this time, with fried wires. The destruction of the powergrid (or whatever) in the Springing of the year has given us an opportunity for a fresh start when we might connect with ourselves and the world—perhaps this time we will build the towns—if we build them at all—before we build the roads.

Why I Do What I Do.

We interrupt our regularly-scheduled programming…
While I normally reserve my non-television-related posts for the off-season, I have to share this while it’s still hot off the presses.

A great bit of weekend reading is just out from Robert Jensen, taken from his recent print publication and entitled “Rationally Speaking, We Are All Apocalyptic Now“. It’s a tight, less-than-1,000-word essay, and it’s absolutely spot-on.

‘What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed’, indeed.
This is the reason why I continually espouse the genius of Max Brooks’ WWZ. This is why The Matrix is one of the most unappreciated blockbusters ever. This is why I just wrapped up a 12,000-word project on Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs (and I’m just getting started). This is why I read Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings is apocalyptic to its core: epic Life-affirming adventuring against Industry threatening to bring about the End of the World). This is why I have a very hard time listening to most music, watching most TV, or reading most fiction—I don’t like to turn off my brain; I like to think, and I like to think about these kinds of things ^ because they’re important.

Doomsday Preppers: Franco & Allen

And now for something completely different, it’s a double-header prep-off!
This segment looks at a pair of prepper buddies in southwest Missouri, Franco and Allen:franco-allenThese guys have similar professions (Franco is an electrician; Allen an electrical engineer), but their prepping style is really unique.
Allen, like most of the folks this season, is worried about an economic decline of the US economy. Franco fears backlash against GMOs, resulting in rising food costs, shortages, and “corruption of food supply through big business.Ever hear of Monsanto?

Franco wisely predicts that “people will riot with food shortages in this country”. Which is funny, because there’s plenty of it out there—I’d say about 80% of the food I eat is liberated from urban trash receptacles—recent studies I’ve read estimate 25 to 50% of all food grown in this country gets thrown out!

Each of these guys has an acre-and-a-half of property, and they’re not content stockpiling freeze-dried and dehydrated astronaut food—they’ve each put together an impressive greenhouse/aquaponics setup, raising tilapia, duckweed algae, &c. The big downside I can see is their reliance on electricity to run their pumps and such, but I’d guess handy guys like these could easily rig up some solar cells to power it.
Dunno if such a thing would be possible, but what I’d really like to see would be an electricity-free aqua system (gravity-fed?), floating plots of filter plants and such.

The guys have a good-natured competition to see who has the best setup; they supplement their fish-and-algae protein with Allen’s fly larvae versus Franco’s red wriggler worms (he eats one, to his daughter’s disgust).

Allen’s daughter (in a candy-apple-red convertible) doesn’t seem to get the point of dad’s preparations—exhibiting an exemplary civilized, domesticated attitude when she declares that “unless he’s making money at it, it’s kind of pointless” (I’m sure she’ll be the first one to knock on dad’s door when something bad happens).

The experts give Franco 49 points (for four months’ survival), and Allen 77 (15 months). Seems kind of lopsided, and maybe skewed: Franco’s mechanical skills only get him 7 points, but Allen’s barter-able fish net him 17 points? I dunno, I think the guys have a good thing going between them, now they just need to recruit some of their neighbors to get a network going.

Doomsday Preppers: Robert Earl

Season two’s second episode finishes up with a look at  Robert Earl & his wife Debbie.

Like Kevin O’Brien from last season, they’ve fled from Florida to escape rising sea levels, but they attribute it to the “collapse of the Greenland ice sheet” which is pretty specific. However, while O’Brien bought land in the green hills of Tennessee, the Earls move to the high desert of Texas. So, going from too much water to not enough. I’m not sure that an especially arid-looking part of TX is the best place, but we’ll see.

Robert describes himself as a combination of Mad Max (desert remoteness), Rube Goldberg (whimsical building solutions), and Al Gore (climate warnings!). This really comes across when he starts showing off his construction project: using glass bottles, tires, and plastic boxes, Robert is building some kind of earthship, which is smart: sunny, arid locations are ideal locations for earthships and similar alternative-type buildings (see noted barefoot survival teacher Cody Lundin’s sweet offgrid, passive-solar setup in Arizona:
Bottle walls are a pillar of permaculture building practices, making use of what would normally be trash to make funky houses with lots of thermal mass for carbon-free heating. As Robert says (displaying a healthy and necessary forward-thinking attitude), when things go south, “garbage won’t be garbage, it’ll be opportunity.”

Of course, Robert has decided to put off building their actual house until he finishes the smokehouse, so he can at least make jerky…out of any invading marauders! Haha. As for other things to eat, he proudly shows off his…wait for it…“poop garden”. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a big subscriber to the idea of ‘humanure’ (you can download a copy of the Humanure Handbook in my Reading Materials page ^). But the way he does it is just unhealthy: it seems he just pours a slurry of raw sewage into an underground pipe, and then plants his garden above it. Without balancing all that pure nitrogen with some carbon, he’s eventually going to cook his soil’s fertility, not to mention the fact he’s not doing anything about pathogens.
In a proper humanure setup, after each visit to the head, a scoop of cheap carbon-rich material (sawdust, peat moss, rice hulls &c.) is sprinkled onto the nitrogen-rich ‘human waste’ just like in a proper food-waste composting setup; the balanced carbon and nitrogen heat up—killing any microorganisms—and after six months or so break down into rich, crumbly garden food. Super easy to diy, and uses no water—an important consideration in the desert.
In fact, this couple’s water-gathering routine looks pretty unreliable—they’re shown sucking up water from what looks like an overgrown puddle. Robert needs to hook up some rain barrels to collect what little water is going to fall throughout the year. Where’s the moisture vaporator when you need it?

Because it looks like he’s relying solely on their little garden for food, Robert gets a visit from Kat Stevens, rattlesnake hunter, to teach him to catch and eat rattlers. I’m a fan of wild game, but I swear I heard the narrator say something about the Earls having 21 dogs. Robert shouldn’t worry about risking life and limb to find some scaly meat-tubes when they have that many four-legged protein sources running around. Hell, certain breeds—Chihuahuas come to mind—were designed to be eaten! They’re like, double-duty pets!

The experts give them 63 points, for 9 months’ initial survival time. Unfortunately there’s no after-filming update, which is too bad, because I would’ve liked to see how their bottle house was coming along.

Doomsday Preppers: Bryant Family

We continue with a visit to the Bryant family’s 24 acre homestead in Southern Missouri.
Wilma and Gary live with their son Tony and daughter Heather, and a grandchild, and are concerned with being able to survive EF5 (formerly just F5) tornadoes. Which is not unreasonable, seeing as how they live smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. Even less unreasonable is Wilma’s wise observation that “You can’t control nature…and we’re destroying it, so it’s kinda fighting back in a sense.” Correct on all counts. Personally, if I was worried about what seems like an increase in number and intensity of severe storms in recent years, my first order of business would be to hand-build an off-grid house that wasn’t all boxes and flat surfaces  (y’know, because they catch the wind like sails, which are great if you want your house to fly).

Because they seem to be into plain living and self-sufficiency (they live 30 miles from the nearest town), they have about six months of food on hand, mostly in the form of home-canned jars; their pantry is really impressive. However, for someone whose chief worry is violent tornadoes, their pantry is just waiting to be smashed by the first twister that comes through: the jars on the shelves were not protected in any way, whether by something soft to keep jars from knocking against each other, or anything to keep the jars from crashing to the floor. A simple one-by piece of lumber tacked a few inches up across the front of the shelf  would probably do fine.

So, all this talk of self-sufficiency is rather painfully ironic, because Wilma and her daughter Heather are…wait for it…diabetic. Which means that after their six-month supply of insulin runs out, they die. Yeouch. And naturally, because medical supplies are not only unnecessarily expensive but also disposable, the ladies stretch their stores by saving needles to reuse. They also hoard insulin, which leads to their next dilemma.
Insulin apparently needs to be kept cool, and in a long term grid-down situation, a refrigerator is going to be next-to-useless. What is one to do? First, remember: fossil-fueled electricity is a momentary blip on the overall timeline, and people did just fine without it for thousands of years. And how did those people keep things cold? By keeping their things in places that were always cold!—let’s call it ‘ambient temperature refrigeration’. In rural Missouri, the local spring-fed creek does just fine. But do y’know where else stays 50 degrees year-round? Underground! And because this is a prepper show, you know what that means. Bunker time!
So the family decides that they should bury a shipping container where they can keep their insulin cool, and where they (and their livestock (?!?)) can shelter during a big storm. So they get a demolition crew to come in and blow up a section of their front yard, and then they set about removing all the loose soil by hand with shovels and wheelbarrows.

The experts give them 64 points and ten months survival time, which isn’t bad considering they only have six months of insulin and no running water (they have to drive down the road to the creek to fill up their big tank). The experts also suggest getting ‘tactical training’ and building a root cellar – which I’m surprised they didn’t have already, being all homestead-y and such; I’d take a root cellar over a buried-shipping-container-bunker any day.

In the post-filming update, Wilma reveals that she and Gary have gone through a messy divorce, and that while she has been awarded “all the preps”, “they’re out there with guns.” The End.