Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Kayak of Sanity

Well, now that the last firework has fizzled out, the hangovers have dissipated and the new year's resolutions have already begun to crumble for most people, we find ourselves looking down the long cold barrel of 2015. Let it be said, 2014 wasn't the best of years, unless you were a hedge fund manager, a member of ISIS or a Satanist, but on the whole it wasn't markedly different from 2013 or 2012. We still find ourselves desperately trying to stay afloat in the kayak of sanity on the white water rapids of media misinformation, bare-faced propaganda and other forms of cultural hysteria.

I mention kayaks because I've got them on the mind at present having recently picked up a bargain sea kayak from someone who bought it, tried it and didn't like it. It has holders for fishing rods in the back so I can head out into the bay and line-catch mackerel and, if I'm lucky, sea bass. This is just one manifestation of why, for me, 2014 was actually quite a good year. Because despite spending most of the year in a state of penury and having to endure calls from well-meaning but misguided relatives to 'get off my backside and find a job' I find that I actually achieved rather a lot — far more than I would have done had I been sitting next to a potted plant in an office and fiddling with a spreadsheet. A quick rundown of the highlights would include:

- Planting some 300 trees in my woodland and making some good inroads in turning a compacted and barren field into the early stages of a forest garden. I completed digging the pond by hand (it only took a year) and it is now lined and filled and ready to start receiving organisms.

- Digging out the basement of our house (also by hand). About 100 trailer-loads of soil was removed and transported to the woodland where I used it to build a level base for the poly tunnel that will be going up in the spring, gods willing.

- A plethora of small-scale experiments with growing, catching and preserving food was carried out. Cabbage was fermented, wine was brewed, cider was put in oak barrels, mushrooms were grown in coffee grounds, squirrels were shot and cooked in red wine, chestnuts were foraged and medicinal herbs were learned about and planted. Furthermore, we now get a weekly box of vegetables delivered from the local community organic farm, allowing us to move one step further away from the big box supermarkets.

- Chickens were hatched out of eggs in our incubator and are now roaming around in the basement. A coop has been purchased and will be put up in the back yard as soon as the chicks are big enough to live outdoors. Having adopted a more-or-less paleo diet for health reasons, we get through a lot of eggs so having a few chooks roaming around in the back yard is just what we need.

- I wangled a free trip to Denmark and Sweden courtesy of the MIL and spent two weeks roaming around in the wild by myself in Thoreauesque contemplation.

- As a direct result of said trip I have almost finished writing a book which uses that journey as a narrative framework to explore ideas surrounding the psychology of the long descent, with a special emphasis on experiential nature knowledge and the ideas of the Stoics. I ate hallucinogenics, got thrown out of a shopping mall, met a caterpillar and swam in a sacred lake. I've shown it to a couple of people and they have said positive things about it such as "It's completely uncategorisable". Expect to see it soon in ebook format and then in other formats soon after if I can raise enough funds.

- Also in writing, I saw my article on genocide in Laos published by Dmitry Orlov in his book Communities that Abide, and had a work of speculative fiction selected by John Michael Greer for the forthcoming book After Oil 3: The Years of Rebirth (in fact After Oil 2: The Years of Crisis has just hit the shelves).

- I attended the first meeting of the nascent Cornish Coppice Federation (the CCF — yes, I know. The organiser conceded "Every time a new acronym is coined in the field of forestry, somewhere, a wood elf dies.") The aim of this group is to create a network of small scale coppice workers across Cornwall to help revive this old and sustainable craft. As a result I have learned to make charcoal and have an order for 100 bags of it in 2015. It's a start.

- I discovered an ancient bronze age settlement partly straddling my land. Archaeologists came and looked at it and congratulated me on my discovery.

- I got to meet some inspirational people. Most of them were just regular folks doing their thing but being amazing about it. Ones you might have heard of are John Michael Greer, whom I cornered for a couple  of beers in Glastonbury one evening after a Druid celebration. And just a couple of weeks ago I was invited to a lunch with Natalie Bennet, the leader of the UK Green Party, who turns out to be very down-to-earth and not like a politician at all. Of nuclear power station she said "Let's just forget about whether people are for or against them, the truth is we simply can't afford them." Refreshing honesty.

So, purely from a creative and resilience perspective, 2014 was not a bad year for me. I continued to build my library of useful books, purchased a few more quality tools for maintaining my land and developing my crafts, and also gained greater depth of insight into what we might call the spiritual matters which I see as increasingly important to facing up to the present and future as the narrative of eternal scientific progress picks up speed in its unravelling.

And what applies to me applies to other too. One notices — and I'm generalising here — looking at the threads below articles in the collapse sphere, that reflections on 2014 tend to be maudlin and gloomy with the exception of people who have actually broken out of the mind prison, hot-tailed it out of Dodge and are building things up for themselves in the teeth of the prevailing system. For it has come to pass that even the simple act of growing a chilli pepper plant on your kitchen window is an act of defiance and a step in the right direction towards the kind of freedom that has been expunged from the over-developed, over-regulated and over-manipulated countries of the world.

I have to sadly contrast such acts of defiance with what is continuing to unfold here in Britain, where food banks are becoming commonplace, children are going to school with empty stomachs (or stomachs full of Red Bull because parents seem to be under the impression that it is nutritional) and a general feeling of bitterness has seeped into the public discourse. The mainstream media doesn't get it — all they can do is harp on about how great the growth is, not realising that it's a growth in debt as the real economy shrivels up like a banana skin left on a sunny windowsill. No doubt about it, there's plenty to be angry about. Fracking, underground coal gasification, the politico-banker vampire squid class, TTIP, a warmongering EU, road building, people getting their heads sawn off ... the list goes on.

And there's a rising anger too. Perhaps it's all the debt or all the crass media screaming about immigrants. Or maybe it's the creepy feeling that the good times are over which crawls around in the fetid basement of the collective psyche like a greasy rat gnawing on the electrical cables that light up the house. Maybe it's all the war propaganda, the empty promises of the scientific progressive narrative and the unspoken fear that everything could be taken away in an instant. I see and hear the anger everywhere. It's in the people bawling obscenities at each other in the alley that runs beside my house, it's in the white-knuckle drivers who overtake me on blind corners because I'm sticking to the speed limit and it's in the fingertips of the bedroom trolls who prowl the internet seeking to pour invective and hatred on anyone who stands out.

All in all it's not a pretty situation when one looks at the broader view. 2015 looks set to see the thermostat cranked up a few more degrees in the Dante's inferno of modern rage. I'm not a great one for predictions but knowledgeable people I know have said that various planets are aligned and the tealeaves don't look good. The plunge in the price of oil signals something momentous stirring. Whether or not the rickety financial structure on which the US fracking boom has been built can continue to support both the weight of a loss-making industry and the dreams and delusions of a nation remains to be seen. But if and when it comes crashing down it'll be one for the history books. The situation isn't that much different here in the UK where it has been revealed that 70% of North Sea oil projects are unprofitable and in danger of collapse. I made a prediction three years back that we would see some form of energy rationing in the UK before the end of 2016 and I am still happy to stick to that. Meanwhile the delusion-making spin machine churns faster and faster, spitting out dreams of colonies on Mars, bubble cities at the bottom of the ocean, fusion reactors in our iPhones. Otherwise intelligent people still send me links to articles that say we can have sleek cars that run off nothing but air, and that a global conspiracy is stopping us from harvesting the infinite energy the exists, er, somewhere just behind our left ear.

So, in 2015, gods willing, I'm hoping to build on 2014. My new year resolutions include taking up smoking and experimenting with drugs. Yes, I've bought a nicely-carved briar root wood pipe which, when packed with rich cherry tobacco, provides moments of relaxed contemplation as I'm working in the woods. As for the drugs, I am experimenting with growing a range of medicinal mushrooms in felled logs. Having read the work of fungal pioneer Paul Stamets I've become a believer in the idea that there is a lot of knowledge and wisdom that's been lost in this world and that we have our work cut out to try and rediscover it — and that mushrooms can help us on that quest. Thus I'll be quite scientific about it, making notes and observations.

This slacker shall continue to work every day in 2015. For me, my life has become entwined with and inseparable from my work. In a good way. I hope to get bees this year, and I'm sure there will be a lot of learning to do. What with writing, producing charcoal, cultivating mushrooms, nurturing Fox Wood and growing food, I have to remember to leave time for the other good things in life, such as walking on the beach, cooking, swimming, reading, listening to music, and now, kayaking. I do all of these enjoyable things with my kids too. I don't see why they shouldn't grow up learning that the more enjoyable things in life are usually free.

So, to anyone reading this, I hope 2015 will be a good year for you, that you will grow wiser and more resilient, that you will continue to move in the right direction away from the unfolding train wreck of our modern world, that good health keeps your cheeks rosy, that you don't take yourself too seriously and that you continue to keep your balance as you navigate your kayak down the creek of chaos and avoid ending up it without a paddle.


  1. Hepp! You're alive!

    Paddle on dude. :)


    1. Yep, still alive :)

      As ever, my new year's resolutions are to update this blog more.

  2. I just discovered this site (via Doomstead Diner). Wonderful writing, though I don't understand how you find the time.

    1. Hello Don and welcome!

      How do I find time? Oh, that's easy, I have a two-pronged approach:

      1) Drop out of paid work that puts too many demands on you (I currently work only 5 hours a week as a cleaner at a holiday home)

      2) Do everything SLOWLY. Seriously, it took me a year to dig out a pond. A friend said I should hire a digger and bulldozer for a day, but that would have cost hundreds of pounds. Instead, I just moved a few barrows of soil every time I visited the woodland and, bingo, after a year it was done and it didn't cost a penny. Same deal with digging out the basement. These days, money is my limiting factor, not time.

  3. Fantastic photo! Did you actually take it? If so, without anything else, you had a good 2014.

  4. Wonderful writing -I very much enjoyed reading your blog this morning, especially your essay on marijuana, as it was quoted at the Drug Policy Alliance page. Yes, that was last month, but my New Year's resolution was to try and catch up!

  5. Hi Jason,
    Well done on scoring the kayak and trip! What an experience. Out of interest, where the 300 trees a mixed batch of species or predominantly a single local species. I mention that question because I’m close to harvesting the mature blackwood seeds (Acacia Melanoxylon) here and setting up a nursery bed for them.
    I hear you man! Hehe! Digging by hand is not much fun, and 100 trailer loads is a fair amount of material to remove. Still, bit by bit the job slowly gets done.
    I saw a show with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall where he ate squirrel and it looked like pretty tasty and good meat. How did your experiment turn out? Possums here might be a bit gamey, but the fur is amazingly soft. I ate a guinea pig once which was quite tasty but had way too many bones.
    Please let us know when the ebook is available. You may just have written your own category! Congrats on the two publications too. Very well done.
    Yeah, there’s no maudlin or gloomy here unless of course I’ve been burnt out and then I’ll reserve the blog title: “Mordor”. Still, I guess at that point I’ll learn from the episode as to what worked and what didn’t and rebuild the house / sheds / garden etc. I’ve already thought about some changes I’d make to the design of the house should it ever get wiped out so it ain’t the end of the world.
    Anger tends to be a mask for fear. Household debt is non existent on this farm, but in the greater community here it is rising and that is a disaster. I always reckon whomever controls the debt, controls the asset.
    Jason, now I feel like I’m missing out. No one dares sending me that sort of rubbish. They instinctively recognise that it is all a bit hippy dippy up here and they can’t deal with the ear bashing they’ll get from me if they did dare! Hehe!
    Paul Stamets is a pretty clever bloke. Other than meditation I don’t dare mess with my consciousness though as you never quite know if you’ll be a recreational user or a habitual user so caution is always the watchword. There is no condemnation in that though as what you get up to is your business as far as I’m concerned.
    Anyway, Paul is the reason I bring so much varied composted woody mulch onto the farm. Does it work – yeah! The place here is still green whilst all around is a sea of yellow, dried grasslands. The top soil is chock full of mycelium. The wallabies eat the magic ones you know…
    Keep up the good work, I love the photos from your place as it looks great.

    1. Hi Chris. The trees I planted were mostly Italian alders. I bought them already grown to about a foot high (and they have doubled in size in the last year). The reason I got so many was because they are nitrogen fixers, and also because the future forest garden is exposed and I need a nice fast-growing tree to make windbreaks for the fruit orchard.

      As for the other trees, I am growing a few hundred from seed each year in little pots. Most of them are oaks, but this year I couldn't find many acorns, so they are holm oaks from acorns I found lying on a carpark. It is my aim to be able to sell young trees on a local market stall, along with the charcoal and mushrooms (and maybe books!).

      This year I'm planting a large number of trees again. These include hazel, beech, olive, walnut, lime, willow, service and a couple of others. I'm also planting another 10m of edible hedging (dog rose, apple, crab apple, pear and various others - plus several species of fruit bush). There are also another 8 apple trees going into a mini orchard space, including four cider apples (my woodland neighbour is building a cider barn so I'm thinking ahead here).

      Squirrels taste very nice! Here in the UK we are over-run with American grey squirrels which were imported as 'woodland ornaments' by the Victorians. They're pretty cute but they cause widespread damage to woodlands as they strip off tree bark to get at the sugars during the winter. The native red squirrel has no such bad habits, but it being driven to local extinction by the greys, who also carry a pox virus.

      I've never deliberately and directly killed an animal before, so I thought long and hard about doing this. I set up a feeding station full of peanuts which the squirrels can't resist. It is right by the caravan, so I basically just sit in there reading, air rifle to hand, and wait for them to come. In each case so far it has been instant death. Skinning them was tricky until I watched a Youtube video of how it's done. I've then chopped them up (feeding the unwanted bits to the local foxes) and casseroled them. They need a very long cooking time as the meat is tough.

      I hear you about the mushrooms. My main plan is to grow and sell edible varieties, and experiment with growing medicinal ones (as well as herbs). I guess we are on the same kind of wavelength when it comes to these things.

      Good luck with the fires. They have even made the news over here. Your attitude seems eminently sensible - if fire sweeps through you can learn and rebuild. Ever thought of building some kind of underground shelter to keep you safe during a bushfire?

      Wallabies eating magic mushroom? Now I know why they have that funny look on their faces ...

  6. Hello Jason - strange to read this as I also met Archdruid Greer at the OBOD gathering last summer...and I think my girlfriend met the girlfriend of Greg from Plan It Earth some months ago on the train out of Paddington. Good luck and thanks for the blog. Cheers. Guy.

  7. Thanks for the inspiration. I needed it!

    I've been contemplating gettin' back on the meat wagon. It's hard to do what we do with no support. Your words are support for me.

    1. Hang in there. I know things can get tough. Re-reading what I wrote above I realise I might sound a bit triumphalist. This wasn't my intention - just trying to highlight that alternatives are possible. I've done my time on the equivalent of the meat wagon.

  8. That is some impressive stuff. By the way, my husband took about a year to dig out a hole to put in a water cistern, as we are dependent upon a small spring. Then there was the building of the cistern itself. All in all, a project of about 2 years.
    We've dug out a small pond, too, although we refuse to line it and therefore he is now in the 3rd attempt to correct excessive leaking. The organisms show up though! We delight in listening to the frogs. We stocked it with goldfish and lotus lilies.
    So-you cooked squirrels in red wine. Most interesting. We have not yet tried squirrel, and I am sorry to report that our little, gray squirrels are mingier than the European red ones, but people do regularly eat them. Not tough?
    As to chooks, we have made two attempts to get the right bird, a meat bird with some egg laying, a viable breed that can reproduce, and I just realized that the right breed is surely the Dark Cornish.
    My foraging is behind. For some reason, the black walnuts did not make a big harvest this year, which is rare, and we had to cut down our own two big ones for reasons of garden safety (they restrict other plants healthy growth), and then I gathered some acorns but was too busy to figure out what to do with them in time. Now they're moldy. I'm quite intrigued/challenged to make something tasty out of acorn meal.

    1. Nooo - I'd never eat a red squirrel. Not only are they an endangered species but they are not damaging to the woodland habitat. It's just the American greys that do all the damage ... including eating most of my annual nut harvest. Some of them are whoppers, about 1kg each (about 2lb).

      I haven't tried eating (blanched) acorns yet, but hope to do so when we get a good year.

  9. I had no idea that our grey squirrels were over there, or that they are destructive, or that the reds are endangered.

  10. Hi Jason,

    As a regular reader of JMG I've noticed your comments on his blog, which is why I'm now reading yours.

    Two things I'd like to mention for now. I've grown cultivated hazels for some years now here in Herefordshire. I've found the 2 varieties that perform consistently well with good crops of tasty nuts are Webbs Prize Cob and Cosford Cob. Other hazels can be disappointing with the nuts inside the shell not fully grown. I've also grown Italian Alder from seed, but haven't attempted to coppice it yet. I'm not actually sure if it responds well to coppicing, but at some point I'll try it. I planted it for the N fixing and that it is more suited to drier conditions than other alders.

    The acorns from holm oaks are supposed to less bitter than other oaks, so good luck with that.

    I usually buy trees and seed from Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust. I'm a subscriber to the excellent Agroforestry News. Did you know he has a sale of trees and fruit bushes until the end of February?

    I also thought you might like this video of a rocket stove charcoal maker.

    Best wishes



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