These short and misty-morninged days around the winter solstice and turn of the year seem made for the purpose of reflecting, stock-taking, planning for the next year …
It’s one of the things that helps prevent overwhelm, this business of looking back over the last year. With the enormity of the So-Much-Still-To-Do towering over me, it’s easy to forget what’s already been done; those small daily steps that one by one make life here just that little bit more easy and comfortable.
But then I’m brought face to face with the fact that the enormity of the So-Much-Still-To-Do is entirely my own creation …
In some ways this journey I’m on seems to be a kind of fast-forward microcosmic reflection of the development of western society since the Industrial Revolution. Having turned my back on ‘modern comforts’ to start living in a yurt with no electricity or running water (at least initially), it often feels like I’m effectively going back to retread the basic steps that brought us to the present day. I don’t know why it feels like that, but I’m guessing there may be some grand lesson here about when it’s appropriate to say “Enough!”.
The first steps are to do with simple time and motion equations. If you want to do ABC (eg. build a house), then it’s less achievable if you’re spending all your time doing XYZ (eg. chopping wood and carrying water). There is that Zen proverb – “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” – and chopping wood and carrying water are profound things to be doing, not least for reminding you daily about where your water comes from and what price to the environment your comforts come at, but these daily requirements for the maintenance of physical existence take time.
The fact is, I could have said “Enough!” right away. Yurt living is comfortable. It was very easy to adapt to. Space is at a premium, but that’s an effective means of discouraging the acquisition of too much ‘stuff’.
Storing the quinta produce is another matter – if we’re to be mostly self-sufficient then a good root cellar and larder is needed – but I could have constructed these very simply and easily somewhere on the land. An outside kitchen would solve most of the constraints of the yurt’s at times maddeningly small kitchen. And etc, etc.
The yurt won’t last forever, but replacing covers every few years would likely still work out much cheaper in the long term than building a house. Or I could just proceed with my cunning plan to disguise it as an Iron-Age roundhouse, surrounding it with insulated walls and a more durable roof …
So what is it about this drive to build?
I’ve spent some of the last few days working on a Sketchup model of the main building and as I’ve worked with it, more and more cunning plans – heating, plumbing, etc – have been hatching in my head, getting more and more complex as they go. The end result should be highly efficient, demanding far less time and expense in ongoing maintenance, and create a very comfortable internal environment. A no-brainer, surely? But there’s a sneaking suspicion that at the end of the day the time, expense and materials costs – even using recycled and ‘environmentally friendly’ materials – might amount to about the same overall as carrying on as we are now. What I save in ongoing wood usage, I expend in a matrix of firebricks and metal and so on. So why?
The most simple and obvious answer to the question is that the buildings are there already. Short of allowing them to slowly collapse into piles of rotting wood, stone and rubble, they need some work to halt that process.
Then if we are to make good use of them, they need some more work to make them fully wind and watertight. Then if we are to use them for a specific purpose, they need some work to make them fit for that purpose. Then to be truly fit for purpose and justify the effort and expense, they need to be as efficient as it’s possible for them to be. Then to be truly efficient, they need an infrastructure to support them. Then to create that infrastructure, we need to build other structures … and so it goes, until before we know where we are, we’ve arrived full circle back at where we were just before our starting point.
What’s more, in doing so, we’ve succeeded yet again in insulating ourselves to some extent from Nature, despite spreading the ‘house’ all over the quinta. Water storage tanks smooth out the vagaries of flow and availability, power creates light in the dark, insulated buildings keep us warm and dry, stored food keeps us going through the winter, and always there’s that thought of a-little-bit-extra-just-in-case … and pretty soon it becomes clear how and why we’ve ended up where we are as a society today. The moment we start creating these buffer zones between Nature and our needs, the moment we start taking things more for granted.
So should I let the buildings crumble and fall, much as some aspects of our society clearly need to? “Just because it’s there” is really not a sound reason to unthinkingly perpetuate something which might need to change and I don’t want to lapse into taking things for granted. That’s part of why I’m here doing what I’m doing. Is a ‘civilised’ compromise possible? Can we step onto this ride without going full circle with it? Or can we only maintain a proper connection with Nature by a true ‘back to Nature’ lifestyle, submitting to it fully and living as indigenous peoples have lived for millennia? Is it this concept of ‘efficiency’ that’s the real culprit, or is it the little-bit-extra-just-in-case in its present insanely obscene extreme manifestation? Or does it all just boil down to the choices we make?
Am I going round in circles? Undoubtedly …
(All thoughts on the subject welcome!)