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