Saturday, April 10, 2010

Picking Up Speed

Last week I closed by saying that the first of the apprentices would be arriving the next day, and now they are here. Nilsa arrived on Sunday night, and Rich and Garrison both made their appearance the next morning. They've been here less than a full week, and already the group is tight.

Living here at the Inn is a very different experience now than it was when I sat down to write last week's entry. Things are a lot more formal now than they were a week ago. The refrigerator has a chore schedule attached to it, and at every meal one person is responsible for cooking and another for clean up. Out of courtesy for my fellow ETC residents, I have assigned myself clean-up slots exclusively.

Meals now begin with a series of ceremonies. When the food is ready someone steps out onto the deck and blows a note on a conch shell to summon the diners. When everyone has gathered around the table we join hands. The first time we did this, it seemed as though the hand-holding went on for an inordinately long time, but after nearly a week of this, the extended time spent in the circle around the table seems normal, and I'm starting to enjoy it whereas at first I got fidgety after a couple of minutes.

Once the circle has formed, Merry, the innkeeper, asks the group how their day went and invites people to share whatever details they like about it. After that comes the food tour in which the person who prepared the meal describes its various components. This usually comes with accompanying gestures, and the person doing the gesturing points to each dish without releasing the hand of the person next to them.

After the meal, each person washes his or her own plate, and the person assigned to clean-up takes care of the pots, pitchers and pans, common dishes, and assorted kitchen utensils. That person wipes down the counters and the table, and generally re-sets the kitchen for the start of the next cycle.

There are two bathrooms here in the Inn, and they need to be accessible during peak traffic periods, so we have notices posted specifying when it's okay to shower and when the bathrooms need to be left free. Readers outside of the United States may find amusement in the fact that American's will ask about the location of the 'bathroom' when what they really need is a toilet. Toilet is not an acceptable word for polite conversation in the US.

There are multiple composting toilets in outbuildings here at the ETC, and there are also outbuildings containing solar showers, so regardless of your need, ample facilities await you, but because of their single-functionality you won't be able to pretend that you were bathing or resting when in fact you were pooping. I think of my experience here as a scouting mission into one possible energy-descent future; one in which people live in closer proximity than they did in energy-rich 20th Century suburbia. In such a future, the fact that humans excrete both liquids and solids will not endure as a taboo subject.

Sex is not the taboo subject that it used to be. In fact, due to it's utility in selling products, anyone plugged into the corporate media will be reminded every few seconds that humans have sex with one another and that those who use the advertised products will have more frequent and better sex with nubile young partners. I hear tell that folks who spend time here at the ETC tend to hook up for durations both short and long, and as the sun shines and the trees turn green and more bodies move through the space I think I can feel an established hook-up energy stirring on site. There are detailed protocols posted for low-friction communal living, but the sex protocols remain un-posted. None of the outbuildings seem sufficiently isolated or sound-proof for total privacy, and I'm wondering if stealth sex is the norm or if the unwritten protocol is for everyone else to turn a deaf ear when ardor overcomes discretion.

On Thursday I made my first airport run. It's a good 90-minute drive to the Nashville airport, and as I left myself no buffer for contingencies I put my brain on idle and let my GPS device do the navigating. On the drive from Summertown to Nashville I listened to episode #52 of the Diet Soap Podcast, on which I appeared as a guest. (If you're of a mind to give it a listen, I would recommend that you first listen to the previous three episodes which feature interviews with James Howard Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, and Robert Jensen. You might also take in episode 200 of the C-Realm Podcast, which features the first part of the conversation that continues between Doug Lain and me in Diet Soap #52.) I arrived at the baggage claim a minute or two before my passenger, and all went well. When I arrived back here at the Inn, I dropped off my passenger and then parked my truck up at the top of the hill. I got back here on foot just as Cliff, the gardener and the person most responsible for structuring the time and experience of the permaculture apprentices, was loading a wire cage into the back of the ETC car. He was planning to take Nilsa, Rich, and Garrison out to his farm to show them his nascent permaculture operation, and then they were going to go to Yoder's, a local Mennonite-run grocery store to buy some laying hens.

The trip to Cliff's farm was rewarding, and even a cursory summation of the information he imparted would require a blog post unto itself. In short, his ambitions inspired me.

When we arrived at Yoder's, we saw the chickens in a wire cage out by the road. They cost ten dollars each according to the hand-written sign attached to the cage. Cliff announced his intention to talk old man Yoder into parting with 5 for $40. That cage held four Rhode Island Red hens, two turkens (chickens with featherless necks that make them look like turkies, and a small rooster with tufts of feathers on his feet.) We all agreed, without specifying why, that we didn't want the turkens, and Cliff did manage to get Mr. Yoder to sell us the four hens and the rooster for $40. Later Nilsa and I both expressed a bit of nagging guilt at having left the turkins behind.

Cliff and I went out to collect the chickens. He moved the car over to their cage, popped the hatch and opened the ETC cage. Just as I was opening the road-side cage Garrison appeared and said that he'd never held a live chicken before. He seemed a bit uncertain about the prospect of reaching into that cage and grabbing hold of an uncooperative chicken. I have handled many a live and unwilling chicken, and after Garrison saw me stoop down and step inside that cage and lay hands on the first of the hens, he was gung-ho for the job, and we took turns extracting the four red hens and the silky rooster with the tufted feet and putting them in the cage in the back of the ETC Saturn.

As we drove back toward Summertown, Cliff pointed out a nondescript country gas station and explained that it is the closest place to the Farm to buy beer, and while Jim, the proprietor stocks the usual assortment of American macro-brews (“Like making love in a canoe,” as the Monty Python crew famously quipped at the Hollywood Bowl,) you can also find Red Stripe and a selection of seasonal offerings from Sam Adams and the New Belgium Brewing company (eco-friendly and employee-owned) at Jim's place. Alcohol was not allowed on the old Farm. These days Jim sells quite a bit of those high-end brews out of his little gray, concrete block building on that unremarkable stretch of rural Tennessee highway.

Now, I won't say that old hippies who have made their peace with capitalism drink more beer than idealistic young hippies working night and day to keep their commune afloat, but I will say that in the days when alcohol was forbidden on the Farm television was similarly proscribed. The ETC has a TV as does every residence that I have entered here on the Farm. The guidelines for living at the ECT posted on the fridge specify that neither drugs nor alcohol are allowed, and while I won't say that the Farm residents are making up for lost beer-drinking time, neither will I say that innkeepers, apprentices, and resident podcasters drink beer by candle light on school buses and cob cabins. I will say, however, that a good deal of bonding occurred on Thursday night and that I'm really starting to dig this community living thing.

At this point, the word-count tool tells me that I'm done, but long-time listeners to the C-Realm Podcast will understand that I can't leave off without saying something more about the chickens. When we got the chickens back here to the ETC and released them into the waiting enclosure with the cob henhouse, they knew in an instant that they had arrived in the Promised Land. Chickens often don't like to be moved to unfamiliar locations, and it's normal for hens to stop laying until they have adjusted to the change in scenery. As soon as these chickens hit the ground they were scratching and pecking, and within minutes the rooster had mounted one of the hens. They were home, and they knew it. We got our first egg the next morning.

I'm typing these words on my ancient laptop computer at the kitchen table, and every couple of minutes as I've typed the rooster has crowed, voicing his approval and enthusiasm for his new situation. I concur.


  1. Great post KMO!

    It's refreshing to encounter Americans who are aware of cultural differences overseas, like the toilet/restroom thing. Always strikes me as quaint when Americans ask for the restroom.

  2. It's good to know KMO that Fat Tire, and Mighty Arrow, and all the great New Belgium brews are available in TN! We are spoiled in Colorado! Thanks for the hen pics....I'm wishing our 10 fluffy baby chicks were grown and laying. Guess I'll have to wait!

  3. KMO, it is great to hear that you've landed in a good place. I've been listening the the C-Realm for a long time, and while you didn't talk about your personal life much, when you did, the tone of your voice told of the strain you were under.

    The work you did on the podcast has been top notch, and I'm glad you can put your energy full time into pursuits meaningful to you. You've been broken down to your core in an alchemical furnace; I hope the next stage of the process is more comfortable. At any rate, the work you do on The Farm will have a greater influence on the world than what you did at the call center.

  4. Podcast 200 was a really satisfying smorgasbord of different feelings. I loved it but it hurt.
    Those of us who believe in the probability of collapse are perhaps either speaking from experience or predicting the collapse of our own personal and professional lives. Indeed the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. We imagine we have a little more control over the microcosm, which may or may not be true. I was shocked and sorry to hear that Kevin got divorced, because I hope my marriage does not go the same way because of diverging beliefs about the future. There's COLLAPSE for you.
    I am still hoping for a technological fix to Peak Oil. Moreover, why did Mother Earth give humans such fertility unless she really liked them? I hope maybe there is a purpose to everything that happens.
    Like Galadriel I think maybe all we can do is keep to the moral high ground, knowing we cannot control the big picture.
    Knowing what we know, where is it safe to run?