Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Greetings once again from the 20 something,

I believe that this entry will be of but a slightly different flavor. School has been in session for a little while now and the little house that could has come great distances since the beginning of my stay. And when I mention the house I might also be meaning the inhabitants of the little house that could; for it is inhabitants are as dynamic as the property. I myself have long been removed from the scene of home renovations. The last time I took part in home renovation was over a decade ago and I had little knowledge of what was going on. I was happy swinging hammers and pulling nails. Here, some ten years later, swinging and digging, I have conti
nued to piece together this puzzling world we live in. Living here in Wanganui so far has been awesome. After a long break from team sports I was again reunited with one of my favorite games, well sort of. Saturday softball league is not quite the same as highly competitive division three baseball, but it functions in the same way. A bunch of people get together and face-off for an afternoon of hooting, sliding, diving and the occasional muffed error. I felt a little lost on the tiny field facing pitches that rose rather than came down from the pitcher and at the same time felt once again home on the diamond. The more we build, paint and shift things round the yard of 10 Arawa Pl. the more it is beginning to feel like home.
Inside we have been slowly working on sanding, priming, painting and installing finish wood work. The rather mundane task is far more exciting than normal. Most of the trim pieces are recovered and pre-used. Sanding away the graffiti and rough edges reveals the often beautiful wood which would have otherwise found its way into a landfill. Saving these distressed looking boards and fitting them into their new homes has become very satisfying on many levels. The house becomes more 'finished,' it is cleared of stock piled timber and we are saving timber from trips to the landfill.

Recycling is a nice word, but transforming is a better fit for what we have been doing. Whether is it is once tagged up trim becoming finish trim work, or a garden bed being harvested and top dressed to receive seedlings, life here is often about helping along transformations that will sometime later help out the inhabitants of the little house that could.

We recently took on the task of harvesting broad beans. In this process we were clearing garden space for seedlings which were ready to be planted. Dhal was being slow cooked on the solar cooker, but our Bhutanese meal would not be complete without a healthy portion of cheesy potatoes. Luckily some new season potatoes were ready to be harvested. Taking out potatoes freed up top soil which would go into the bean beds becoming seedling beds and the potato plant was becoming green mulch for other vegetable beds. Many activities that alone seemed very simple and each for its own cause, together became integral for the transformation of multiple spaces in the yard.

Just a few days later I found myself in another yard thats always changing; the softball diamond. It has been more than a year since I have even thought about tossing a ball around the yard let alone getting out in the field to shag fly balls and have crack at the bat. I had a tough time at bat getting hit a couple of times and walked another few times, but I had an amazing day getting sunburnt and hanging out with my new extended northland family. Not much had changed about the game going from baseball to softball, but the way I played the game had changed. I used to be uber competitive out on the diamond and it sort of was not much fun anymore. Saturday out in the field it was all about fun, I could not even tell you the score of any of the three games I took part in. A case study in the transformation of attitude when all that matters are the smiles and the laughs. I continue to look at sports in this new way. People need to lighten up and have a little more fun with their life. No need getting all upset about a few hours of a game. Next week will bring another game and a fresh beginning with more smiles to be shared.

And as we returned home from the play day it was very cool to see the transformations going on at Arawa Pl. The wind netting stretches the whole west side of fence. We fenced in the fruit forest which now houses the ducks who seem very happy with their new habitat. Garden beds have been cleaned of crops and replaced with seedlings . It's the season of change as we move into the summer. However, back home in the states we are changing out of fall and thanksgiving to the snow winter.

We sat down for a little kiwi thanksgiving and talked about all the changes Dani and Nelson had seen take place during the past 12 months. I just thought a bit about their perspective. They had seen the little house that could in the beginning, I have seen the pictures, and it has come very far in 12 months. I have seen the little house that could transform in just a few short busy weeks. At dinner I said I was thankful for how such a dynamic time in my life; full of traveling and unknown destinations could be such tranquil times full of learning and new understandings. School will be in session here in Wanganui for a few more weeks, but for me school will be in session as long as I am amongst people and places like the little house that could, where time facilitates transformations and days are dynamic.

The Twenty Something

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Occupy Arawa Place

I've been thinking about writing this post for a long time. There are lots of possibilities. But I believe that protest starts at home. This is our occupy movement.

There are lots of injustices in this world and its unsustainability is profound. Some people address these by making signs and marching. Others write checks to non-profits. Our protest looks like this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And, of course, this.

I submit that anyone who wants to address social, economic and ecological inequality in the world should start by looking in the mirror. Gandhi is known for having urged us to be the change we wish to see in the world. The Buddha taught that the way to relieve suffering is to follow the eightfold path. I've enjoyed talking to a new occupyer at Arawa Place, Tom the intern, about Buddhism.

It reminds me that this is all about mindfulness. It is about living in mindfulness toward all life on Earth, toward those less fortunate than us, toward future generations, toward energy and toward materials. And at the same time, as another occupyer of Arawa Place reminds us...

you've got to have fun too.

We (I) have decided to name her Billy T. James, after the amazing New Zealand comedian, because she keeps me smiling and laughing.

And now that we are nearly done with the permaculture installation on our 700 square meters, we are looking at the abandoned plot out front that is full of weeds and rubbish (like out section was a year ago).

It may be time soon for a dozen fruit trees to start occupying that space. Wacha reckon?

Peace, Estwing

Thursday, November 24, 2011


We are thankful for the excellent feedback we have received on many of our projects lately. Most recently, the River City Press ran this front page story yesterday.

And last week the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia published this overview of my research in secondary school science.

We hope everyone has a good day. Go Lions!

Peace, Estwing

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some of you will be familiar with this headline:

Hopefully it was on every front page on the planet. As should this one:

From the latter:

NEW DELHI | Wed Nov 23, 2011 8:27am EST

(Reuters) - Global climate talks need to focus on the growing threat from extreme weather and shift away from political squabbles that hobble progress toward a tougher pact to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, the head of the U.N. climate panel said.

I think about the interface of science and economics and politics all the time. I think about the effects of extreme weather on our coastal property. And I'm working to protect it from such extremes. This willow tree indicates the direction and strength of the prevailing winds off the Tasman Sea.

We have added extra bracing in the house to protect against high winds, and we have built fences and planted trees as wind breaks for our gardens and fruit trees. But those outdoor efforts have not been enough for a week and a half of relentless westerlies with the worst predicted to come tomorrow. So Tom the Intern and I got to building an eco-thrifty windscreen.

First we pulled and straightened nails from salvaged wood. (Pulling nails is the first skill we teach interns. It cultivates patience, humility and mindfulness toward materials.)

Materials list:
De-nailed timber: free
Straightened nails: free
Wind netting: $5 at Hayward's Auctions

The New Zealand Building Code is very strict on bracing, as it should be in such a windy country. I've adopted that idea of overbuilding for wind into this project by placing the timber in between the existing posts and the iron fence, and then securing them with heavy galvanized nails.

And we attached the wind netting to the uprights with 20 mm battens that "sandwich" the netting in between. This reduced point stress that would be caused by using staples.

And for $5 and a couple of hours work we have a strong wind screen that has made an immediate difference for our vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

A large part of eco-thrifty living and low budget / high performance permaculture is hard work and a willingness to learn new things constantly. It is also knowing when to buy something of top quality and when to re-use materials or substitute alternatives. There are no rules. Every area is a grey area. And, as we've seen from Wellington to Washington, we cannot count on governments to be proactive on climate change...or nearly anything else. Worldwide there has been a shift in attitude about climate change from one of mitigation to one of adaption. While we do our best on both fronts, it appears that the majority has spoken, and we need to double-batten the hatches.

Peace, Estwing

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hi All,
I am Tom the new intern at the eco-school and I have just arrived from a semester at Uni in Dunedin. I hail from Maine, United States, but I have been on the road since June 3rd spending two months in Bhutan with the School For Field Studies before arriving in Dunedin. Anywho I got some fresh thoughts and a new post enjoy!

When many say first impressions are everything, I believe that it is quite paradoxical because that same many could later say don't judge a book by its cover. Book covers and first impressions can be understood to be pretty similar. As I sit and read cover stories like: Lawmakers Concede Debt Talks Are Close to Failure and Stocks, So Far Resilient, Face a Week of Challenges I try to think about my first impressions of the United States from an abroad perspective. Things start to look pretty grim. I even try to go the Environmental News Network site, but I read: Pumping water from High Plains aquifer reducing stream flows, threatening fish habitat and Uranium Mining — The Virginia Battleground — Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests. The perspective of America from abroad may change a little bit with the last head line, however, the general impression of what is going on across the pond seems to be less than bright green and sunny. I have been traveling outside the states since the first week in June and I had many first impressions and books to judge, none however turned out as they seemed. The two months spent in Bhutan studying community forestry with The School for Field Studies culminated with presenting our research to the Bhutanese Ministry of Agriculture. I can tell you my first impression of Bhutan was of happy Bhuddist monks hanging out in the Himalaya. When I left Paro International Airport for New Zealand at the end of July my understanding of Bhutan had formed into a very complex network of ideas including sustainable agriculture models, development policies and how it all gets tied together with Bhuddist philosophies such as following the middle path when developing development policy. A very far cry from the bald burgundy clad monks smiling amongst towering snowcapped peaks, I arrived to The Eco-School here in Whanganui about a week ago and I tried to reserve my first impressions and book cover judging until now. Spending a semester at university in Dunedin showed me just the sort of impressions many kiwi's had of the United States and I took my time to show them a different side from the headlines, perhaps even try to inform them of the context the headlines come from. So my impressions and judgments of this "eco-school" have been cooking slowly on the back burner for the past seven days and they are ready to be served up.

Awaking from my slumber on the 7002 service bus from Wellington to Whanganui my eyes were treated to the bright sun and post-industrial architecture of downtown Whanganui. What sort of eco-school could exist in a suburban place such as this? After a trip to the consignment building supply warehouse, a tour of town and ride down to the little blue place on the end of Arawa Pl. I had reached the a little piece of eco-forward property nestled amongst the sprawl of suburbia. My vision of these eco-forward properties was really anchored in time spent in towns such as Waitsfield, where I would see domestic wind and solar and folks driving ancient Mercedes powered by grease. It did not take more than thirty minutes at 10 Arawa Pl. before I really understood what was going on. A case study in eco-forward suburban renovation was going to be my place of residence for the next good chunk of time.

This is no regular school. My first lesson was on pulling and straitening nails. Not so odd to me, I had pulled and straitened many a nail building forts from scrap wood found behind me shed at home. Back when I was ten I thought I was building sweet-as forts rather than recycling good materials. Lesson one was more than recycling materials, it was a time for yarns (kiwi word for good talk) about my travels, thoughts on my new home,what I really wanted to learn while I was here and to learn the meaning of work. Work is tough, but we all have to do it at some point, but not indefinitely.

To tell you the truth, I am a Mainer and have grown no more vegetables than the average first grader. I have caught a fair number of fish in my day, but I am no seasoned catcher of wildlife. I honestly believe I have lots to learn about living. When I say living I mean things I learned about really living and livelihood while in Bhutan such as growing your own food, dealing with less than ideal climate situations and most importantly living a proud life of happiness that would proliferate to others long after I have left this world. As a 20 something college student who thinks they are a parasite to society because they are still funding their life via their parents and part time "jobs" at the ski mountain I feel I have heaps to learn before I can actually live. By live I mean lead a life of happiness where I am free from worries about the status of national finance or how much oil is left in the ground. One should be knowledgeable and conscious of their environmental impedance and distributing their wealth; in whatever form it comes, knowledge or resources such as space, building supplies, food etc. The headlines above should be no stress, but to those whose food, income and livelihoods are somehow connected to those headlines they are of some worry.

The rest of the first week here at the eco-school has helped me to synthesize some ideas about how to be worry free and more or less disconnected from the headlines, first impressions and book cover judging most of society succumbs to on a daily basis. All it required was opening of my eyes, and listening to Nelson as we worked on new garden beds, installed wind netting, and tidied up an edge of the property so that it would provide wind protection, hold soil and produce food.
Check out the before and after pictures found below!

The ways we went about such projects were all lessons in resilience to the instabilities of what is going on in the headlines. Many of us lead comfortable lives now, but how comfortable will your lives be if a financial crisis really sets in or in the event of the long predicted peak oil? I am starting to really believe that If you can produce most of your own food and rely little on electricity and or oil you will be very comfortable. To be comfortable though you will need some knowledge about how to live. And so I open my eyes, mind and ears…a man can know everything, but still have lots to learn.

The cooked up first impressions I promised to serve up are actually pretty raw. The synthesis so far has settled out of yarns on the geopolitical status of our world, growing your own food and Bhuddism in permaculture. Surely my most fascinating synthesis yet as I have begun to read An Earth Users Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow. On the first page you will find three conditions: care for the earth, care for people, redistribute surplus(citation). Easy enough to digest, now how about Bhuddism and these three conditions? If one goes about the three conditions with a Bhuddist mentality of right intention then perhaps the world will be the most extraordinary place in the universe. Quite an idealist and over simplistic statement, but after spending two months in a Bhuddist land I came to believe that the Bhutanese people had little worry about headlines in western papers or the status of peak oil. If you argue that that is because they do not have knowledge of the headlines, well, your more or less wrong, there is cable television and internet throughout many parts of the country of 700,000 people. I think worry would spread if there was worry. But, these beautiful people, to me, seemed very content with their livelihood. They are producing their own food, shelter, most of their own clothes and would still go on living that way if global finance collapsed and oil ran out. 10 Arawa Place is certainly no Bhutan, but it is a residence working towards being able to live comfortably even amongst times of economic uncertainty and rising energy costs. It is also home to two magical humans caring for the earth, caring for people and redistributing surplus knowledge to a 20 something hoping to learn about living.

Kadinshela (thanks in dzonka, language of Bhutan)
The Twenty Something