One of the first things I did on this last morning of 2015 was water the herbs and vegetables. A process that takes well over an hour. This is good reflection time. One of the things on my mind this morning was asking myself the question: what had motivated me to put so much of our garden under production? It wasn’t a rhetorical question. The growing season coincides with the busiest time of the year for me, so why add to the work load?
Much of what I grow are herbs. Many of them have historical associations with the old magic and I enjoy researching the human usage of these plants because I like stories. Some of them have genuine medicinal value and beautifully nuance the tastes of home cooking. I do not subscribe to the shonky lunacies of homeopathy or ‘alternative medicine’.
Reasons for growing vegetables are manifold. The food tastes better and is better for you. Shop bought fruit and vegetables are bred for longevity of shelf life, appearance and capacity to be transported, not for taste or nutrition. Home grown produce does not carry the burden of massive exposures to agricultural chemicals forced on mono-cropping farmers by the unsuitable nature of those sorts of agricultural practises.
Humans have difficulty imagining the reality of large numbers. Since humans have had the intellectual capacity to be aware of it, there have been more people living on the planet than can be comfortably imagined. But we didn’t know! We knew the people in our village or town and knew vaguely that there were others around over the horizon. With the invention (largely a function of the size of our population) of mass communications we daily have our noses rubbed in it by the media. If we have the huge misfortune to live and work in cities we meet them daily on the freeway or the train. Our reality includes huge steel, glass and concrete boxes full of people doing essentially the same things, wearing the same clothes, driving the same cars and drinking the same beer. We are ciphers, we try to live vicariously through the flatscreen, sport, drama, music or infotainment, but deep-down we know it is all a crock of shite.
The more we are paid, the more we need to demonstrate our rise in importance and success. The only way to demonstrate this is to buy stuff. Stuff defines us socially. Stuff articulates our aspirations and/or provides evidence of our relative wealth. The Apple/android thing is a neat example of this. Buying ‘organic food’ from boutique shops is another example. As the wealth spectrum broadens between the mega-rich and the ultra-poor things become quickly dysfunctional. Mega-rich behaviour becomes more bizarre and the mega-poor become more desperate. Stuff has become decoupled from intrinsic aesthetics and utility and become markers for relative affluence. Modern cars need multiple computers in order to function and manage all the convenience and high-performance features built into them. The essential nature of the internal combustion engine powered car has not changes a great deal from the first models marketed by Henry Ford. Social and economic status is measured by the brand and number of ’features’ a car possesses. Other examples are many. The difference between a $1,000 domestic sound system and a $5,000 sound system, measured by performance, is between 5 to 10 percent (and that difference is only really audible to people with undamaged hearing) – it’s not about music, it’s about demonstrating your social and economic status. The building of hugely expensive oversized dwellings, the inputs for the construction of which have almost infinite environmental persistence and have carbon footprints sized way beyond any benefits they may incur in later energy saving, is another example.
Are you still with me? What has all this got to do with growing vegetables in your garden, community allotment, high-rise balcony or artificially lit basement? There are important philosophical reasons to grow your own. It is important for reasons of perception and empowerment.
Humans are highly adaptable. We have populated every part of the Earth from The Sahara to the Arctic. We can survive the most oppressive, vile, inhuman conditions imposed on us by our fellow humans. It is a universal human attribute that regardless of the conditions we will create socio-political hierarchies within them. As homo-saps are increasingly becoming city dwellers, dislocated from the natural cycle that sustains us it is important that we have things in our life that remind us that we are part of an interconnected life web. Growing things is (and keeping pets) a way of reminding us of our connectedness to our poor struggling planet.
It’s not about saving the planet except in a symbolic way. Nothing is going to save us from catastrophe. Some of the rich and the lucky will survive and the planets ecosystem will get a whole new sandbox in which to play.
It is quite clear to everyone but the most terrified or belligerently naive that our nation is largely in the hands of self-serving, corrupt, complacent, conceited and evil men and that there is nothing we can do about it. Well, nothing on a macro-scale. We can make it better around here though. To do this we need to empower each other.
So take time out from Face Book and/or vicarious flatscreen sport and grow some vegetables, it is real, there is a beginning a middle and a good feed at the end. Growing your own creates seasonal surpluses, these give opportunities for community sharing, and this enriches us all. These days more often than not the things we have in common are news of the antics of the likes of Pink or some temporary sports hero than the commonality of our own community lives. Growing stuff is relatively easy to do and provides an instant opportunities for sharing and conversation.
Next thing on the agenda for this morning before it got too hot was check out the holiday visitors who are using our halls. I visited The Main Hall to confirm that Mr Plumber had fixed the toilet leak and that everything else was going fine with the Cinema. I dropped in at The Muddie to see that everything was ok with Theo’s, reminding them of the changes they need to make in preparation for the community markets, and The Oval to make sure SUFM was not having any problems. These holiday visitors – The Cinema, SUFM and Theo’s do important work here in the summer both for our visitors and local young people. They offer safe places to interact and alternative things to do when sun and surf palls or the weather goes bad. When The Community Precinct Committee of Management completes the precinct redevelopment there will be even more opportunities for community interactions.
After scuttling around on my bike till about 2.00 pm when it got too hot to be outside. I picked up Neil Young’s autobiography. This has been nagging me quietly from the bedside table since my friend Paul sent it to me some time ago. I have greatly enjoyed Neil Young’s music since I bought his eponymous disc all those years ago. The group of musicians, of which he was a part, including David Crosby, Steven Stills, Graeme Nash, Jerry Garcia, JJ Cale, Ry Cooder, George Harrison, Paul Kantner, Roger McGuinn etc defined a musical generation and continues to influence.
Having dipped briefly into the book I am not surprised to discover a standard type of U.S. celebrity. Childlike/childish, obsessed by stuff, sentimental and slightly addled. As usual it is hard to accept that the 75 year old author of this rambling narrative wrote ‘The Old Laughing Lady’ at 25. Of course when I reprise some of my writings from 1975 I find it initially hard to believe I was the author.
Punters have unreasonable expectations of the people they elevate to famousness. Of course they do, that is the point. The average punter is a vicarious creature who espouses, purchases and mimics. There is a desperate desire to acquire some of the glory that they have vouchsafed to the very normal human being lionized. A weird process, where people are built up to impossible proportions and when found wanting or crack under the strain are torn down and vilified: for sundry alleged ‘sins’, for growing old or for speaking their minds. Sometimes they are crucified.
All this aside, Young has stacked up an impressive body of work.
Oddly enough after delving for some time into Neil Young’s obsessions with model trains, Yankee gas guzzlers and exotic audio file formats I felt the overriding urge to decobweb my bedroom. This is especially strange when you consider it hasn’t been treated so, in a thorough manner, for about ten years. It was quite cobwebby in places. Why on this stinking hot last day of 2015 I should emerge from Neil Young’s life with ancient cobwebs on my mind is a mystery. I decobwebbed. The room looks amazingly different. I don’t think the impulse came from one of those ludicrous notions that you should start The New Year with a clean sweep or anything like that. Calendars are maps of things to do not signifiers of places to be. That last sentence sounds quite clever but I don’t think it means anything.
During the day I have fielded a couple of phone-calls and a visit from some friends and acquaintances who wanted to grizzle about the state of some of our community organizations. This happens often these days and has accelerated as the year ends. We are currently in a particularly depressing part of a cycle that afflicts small communities more or less continuously.
One of my ongoing projects is interviewing local people about their Mallacoota life: history, thoughts and feelings within our community. One of the most often repeated comments from people who were born here or who have been here for a very long time is that the sense of community is rapidly dissolving. This needs to be arrested if our community’s social health is to be maintained.
We are isolated physically and we are small. We don’t have city resources or city distractions. We don’t need city thinking. Too often ambitious and socially and personally insensitive people move into our community and try to ‘show us how to do it’. For a period of time they flail around trying inappropriate strategies learnt at a city campus or organization causing social upheaval and community damage. They generally eventually flounce off, complaining of ungratefulness, leaving us all to pick up the pieces. I have been involved in our community for nearly thirty years and I have seen it happen here, many times on different scales.
We have to leave city thinking behind. Hierarchical thinking is deadly. Small communities need to celebrate and demonstrate their commonality. Imported from urban environments – ‘Committee think’ is an ever present trap for our community organizations. Committees that become internally involved with petty politics, personal ambition and procedural ephemera become dislocated from the organizations membership or service group. This causes a lack of interest by the membership in the organizations activities and governance. The organization become irrelevant and ineffectual. Too often a city solution is then tried, as an easy option, and a paid position is created to do the organizations job. To pay someone to run a community organization that is dedicated to empower people to be involved and act collectively is a nonsense. You have to seriously wonder about the sort of dislocated reasoning that gives birth to these sort of ideas and the ethical and intellectual qualities of a person who would contemplate attempting the job. Sometimes organizations reach the end of their use-by date and should quietly fold their tents and leave the field clear for fresh blood with fresh ideas.
We need to think everything we do carefully through and create strategies to empower ourselves. We have a country community with country community issues. We need to empower each other by giving each other the space to do what we do well for the benefit of each other.
Just prior to writing this I was scrolling through my Facebook page. As usual global warming and the evil, lunatic antics of our Federal Government are trending in a fairly major way. Having been a grass-roots social/political activist since the far off times of Vietnam and Apartheid I have not much cause for optimism. As I said earlier, there is nothing we can do go avert the catastrophe of global warming. The populations are too huge, human neurology too conflicted between our past evolutionary imperatives and our current rational needs to adjust these behaviours.
Locally however I do believe we can make a difference to our lives, the lives of our children and to a very small extent (by example) the wider world. We do need to adjust our behaviours to try and minimize the effects locally – to try and ride the change.
This means personal and community based activities. This means reducing our dependence on manufactured stuff, being as self-sufficient we can be, making things to last, only making things that can be easily and efficiently recycled and then recycling. Plastic bag free Mallacoota is only the tip of the iceberg for our town but a very important start if we can pull it off.
It means stop using planes except in emergencies.
It means leaving our cars at home unless we need to transport major items. It means riding our bikes everywhere. It means developing our local public transport system from just a shuttlebus to a service that will help free-up our roads for the safe use of pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders. This will reduce the community’s carbon footprint. Use public transport to travel out of town.
Stop using our oceans as rubbish dumps – I was horrified to see that recently a regional organization on an information sharing visit was handing out balloons in a coastal community!
It means turning the ecological desert called our golf course into a multi-use golf-club, environmental park and food farm for everyone.
It means turning largely vegetarian, only eating meat that you have known personally or are genuinely free-range and encouraging our local food outlets to stock accordingly.
It means getting Mallacoota off the grid in a meaningful way. To do this we not only need to install the appropriate technology but we also have to revolutionize our power usage. Energy sustainability is not just about replacing one power source with another that is less polluting it is about using less power altogether. We need to build dwellings that don’t need air-conditioning and minimum active heating and that need minimum fixed light sources. It means building public and private buildings with materials that require the absolute minimum carbon footprint – mud and wood, with modern design tweaks, still seem to best fit the bill. We need to train ourselves to think about energy in a way that minimizes its effective use, not as a convenient thing to be thoughtlessly employed.
The future will be hard but easier for us living in the country. We can make it even easier if we are prepared to revolutionise how we behave. We can help sustain a bearable living environment for our grandchildren or would you rather have a pink IPad, a 4 wheel drive monstrosity, a holiday in Bali and a boutique beer?
Well there is my New Year’s Eve. I employed the last few hours of 2015 writing this.
Have a great rest of your life and I will see you around town.