Well I got a videocamera for Christmas, so I'm going to be doing a bit of what the kids call Video Blogging, or "Vlogging." Its way easier and better than writing all of this down! I don't really like spending a lot of time editing either, so I'm going to upload the videos individually.

Anyway, I'm spending a week farm-sitting for my friend Kirsty at her farm in Big Stone Gap, VA. FarmLIFE is a strangely capitalized animal farm with chickens, sheep, cows, and a very naughty llama!

But why am I writing this? I'll let the videos speak for themselves.

I've had better luck with these sheep:

Anyway, we'll see how this whole video blogging thing goes. Bear with me while I figure it out!


My life begins

I felt like my life finally got started today. I was at a farmer's meeting for ASD, and I pitched the idea of a couple of workshops on forest grown crops. I expected almost no interest, but was pleasantly surprised when several of the farmers got really quite excited. I think phrasing is incredibly important in this sort of thing. If I had said something to the effect of "How many of you are interested in Non-Timber Forest products?" probably like one hand would have gone up, if that.

Rather than use that totally valid and scientifically accurate term, I chose to pose the question practically: "How many of you have a little woodlot that you would like to grow something in?" Seven or eight hands went up at this point, out of something like 15 households represented. I had mentioned Shiitake Mushrooms, which can be grown in logs under natural shade. It almost seemed like I had struck a dormant nerve, because everyone seemed to have heard of growing mushrooms but no one had talked about it. People began asking me questions as if I knew anything substantial about it (I don't) and I could see the hunger for this sort of information in everyone's eyes. It felt like I was standing on the edge of a tipping point, like all the ingredients to the reaction were sitting there waiting for a catalyst to kick it into high gear (wow three metaphors!). These people had experience growing things, interest in trying new things, and forest land to grow them on. All they need is practical information, maybe a few seeds, and BAM! we're growing things in the forest instead of cutting it down.

After the meeting, I talked to several of the farmers individually, and found out that some of them already had ideas about where and how they would go about growing things in their woods. One couple told me of their plans to purchase a Shiitake Mushroom kit, another guy thought Goldenseal (a medicinal herb) would grow well on his land. I even got to talking about what to do with Sustainable Woods' scrap wood. This is another problem entirely, but one that I've been thinking about since I saw the piles of woodwaste, more than we could ever burn in our kilns, at the Castlewood sawmill. His idea was to create vegetable boxes and wine racks, which would be labor intensive, but I asked him if he would make a prototype that we could show around.

Needless to say I am really excited about all of this, since its exactly the type of thing I need to learn about if The Plan is ever going to work. I wonder if this is how it feels to be "born again?"

Born all right the first time,


Extreme Weather Slideshow!!

As an addendum to my previous post, check out this slideshow about weird weather and climate change:

Peace and Plants,

Weird Weather Everywhere I go

Eating dinner at Anthony's after seeing the dry lake (previous post), we talked about the drought, the mild winter last year and the early winter this year. I realized that tales of strange weather have been following me around wherever I've gone. When I arrived in Costa Rica, two summers ago, our group was told that this was the hottest, driest summer they could remember. In Oklahoma, this summer was wetter than normal, allowing us to plant grasses late. My grandfather in Northern Mexico has told me that its too cold and wet to plant his regular crops, and he's thinking of switching them out. Each winter since I've arrived in Virginia has been milder than the last, to the point that summer vacation at my highschool started early for two years because of unused snow days.

This commonality of weird weather brings to mind two points for me. The first is that climate change is no longer something we have to worry about for "our children." Its happening now, and people are trying to adapt to their new climate. The second is that climate change is not simple gradual warming, it means a change in everyone's climate in a different direction. The fact that its getting colder and wetter in the Sonoran Desert (my Mexican homeland) doesn't disprove climate change, it confirms it.

There are people out there who will throw a report in your face that says its getting colder here or there, laughing at those "global warming liberals." These people are dead wrong. If climate change wasn't happening, we wouldn't see progressive change in any direction at all. The reason it was originally called global warming was because the average temperature of the planet is going up. We've started using the term climate change because climatologists realized how misleading the term global warming is.

One of the main features of climate change is that extremes in climate tend to increase. Depending on where you are, this could mean flood or drought, a hot summer or a cold winter. Last year, D.C. had a huge dry spell followed by torrential downpours. The main thing to know is that the weather probably isn't going to stop being weird any time soon. So be ready.


The Dry Lake

I went on a little photo assignment today, with the goal of capturing the beauty of our most plentiful wood, poplar, in a recently installed ceiling. It was a little awkward showing up at a stranger's house to photograph their ceiling, but the Sharon and Powell were great sports and even posed for me and rearranged furniture. Here's some of the pictures from the trip:

Powell is quite a nature aficionado, and showed me the trail system he built behind his house in a steeply sloping wooded area. The whole understory was covered in rhododendrons (laurel) and was quite beautiful. As we were walking around, we got to talking about the elephant in the forest.


At the bottom of the hill we were on was a little kayak dock, and the neighbors had a large dock with boats somewhere between skips and yachts. The water, however, was nowhere to be found. In fact, the South Holston Reservoir was been almost twenty feet lower than normal, leaving the inlet that Powell and his neighbors shared high and dry. Powell and Sharon told me that the Southeastern Drought was to blame. In the past few years, the South has been experiencing a massive drought, straining the water supplies of many southern cities. Seeing the dry lake bed made me feel like I was watching a glacier melt or New Orleans drown, not thinking about or imagining what the future effect of climate change might be, but seeing it, here and now, with my own eyes.

As I headed home, feeling the disjointment of driving through the mountains while listening to an electronic radio station, I snapped a few pictures of the dryness of the lake.

This is the first weird thing I saw as I was driving to Powell and Sharon's house. Its a huge, two level dock in the middle of what looks like a normal field, with no sign of the lake anywhere in the landscape (I'm not hiding it with camera angles).

In this dramatic shot, the normal level of the lake is the top of the denuded slopes, where the silhouette of the land is straight, rather than tree covered.